A path for transformation

Poland Today sits down with Mahan Charmshir, an Iranian living in Poland, to ask about his experiences in the country.

What were your first impressions of Poland?

Poles are very interesting and friendly to foreigners. It’s funny when they realise I’m Iranian, because they think I’m from Mars. They don’t see many Iranians, so they want to know about my culture, language and the political situation. They’ve heard about Iran in the media, so I’m asked a lot of questions. At the moment in Europe, it’s hard to find people like the Polish. They are very curious and open-minded. I’m interested in history and the best thing about Poland for me is that you can see everything together here. You can see history from the 13th century to the modern era. Kraków is my favourite place in Poland because with the history and architecture it feels like you’re living in the distant past. But in Warsaw you can see the history of the communist era and the visible transformation from communism to capitalism. If you want to see Europe in one package, Poland is a good country to visit.

What are the most striking similarities between Poles and Iranians?

Like Poland, so many people in Iran want to leave the country, especially to Australia, Germany and the United States, because they want good social services and better opportunities. It’s very strange because people elsewhere don’t seem to have the same desire to leave their country. People in Iran are in a situation that make them cautious about their future, and Poles have lived through similar experiences. We lived under sanctions, have been through a war and a revolution, and in these situations you have to defend what you have and protect your family. It’s a lot better in Poland, but you can still see people acting in the old ways: when they shop, they protect their place in the queue. However, Poles and Iranians are both very hospitable.

And the most striking differences?

Polish students live in a more open society and have access to things that Iranian youths don’t. When I talk to Polish people about Różewicz or any other Polish poet, they always ask me how Polish poets can be famous in Iran. I want to say that it’s because we read the best literature out there, but we just have to read whatever we can get hold of. Access to information in Poland is good because lots of people with different opinions can hold lectures and seminars. Because of the sanctions, Iran doesn’t have this level of access to knowledge. So, we have to learn whatever is available.

What advice would you give someone moving to Poland from Iran?

First of all, bring warm clothes! I lived in Malaysia where it’s always summer so the cold and snow was initially hard to adjust to. Then, they should visit and experience the atmospheres of different cities. The historical partitions of Poland left their mark on the cities so they should see how they differ, and decide which city they like best.

What Polish things do you wish they had in Iran?

The whole process of transformation. After 1989, Poland transformed economically, politically and culturally, reconnecting themselves to the Western world. I’m looking for a model that I can use back in Iran. Because Poland lived through this experience, I could use it as an example to help my country develop in the post-sanction era. I don’t want any kind of political change or revolution: everything in a country is related to the economy and when you trade with the world, it will eventually shape the society you live in. For example, if you have better access to cars and road infrastructure, you can teach people how to drive more safely and then they begin to respect the laws of the road. This transformation is the kind of transformation I want for Iran.

What are your thoughts on the future of Poland?

Nowadays, I don’t know what will happen with the new government, but, Poland is starting to become a player in Europe. Donald Tusk said, ‘if you do not find yourself at the table, you will find yourself on the menu’. This is important because Poland wants to participate more and more on the international scene: it wants to be at the table. Economically, it is doing great; it has a bright future and I am glad to be a witness of it.

Mahan Charmshir grew up in Tehran before moving to Malaysia. At Malaysia’s MARA University of Technology, he completed a bachelor’s in architecture before moving back to Iran. After working in architecture for two years, he took an MBA in branding before working in advertising for a further two years. He came to Poland in October 2015 to study for a degree in international relations at the University of Warsaw. In his free time, he enjoys reading, listening to rock and jazz music, and discussing world events with his friends.

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Written by: Liam Frahm

Liam Frahm is Poland Today’s editorial co-ordinator and is based in the United Kingdom. He currently studies politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford University and is interested in current and international affairs.