Money as a mass medium: Each bill a provocation

2009/12/09

Published in “Süddeutsche Zeitung” on December 9, 2009
Source (German): http://www.sueddeutsche.de/,tt4m1/politik/727/497037/text/
By Gökalp Babayigit

The protest in Iran has discovered a new mass medium: The green movement writes or scribbles their anti-government slogans on money. The regime can not do anything.

The Ayatollah is banned from talking: The green movement has turned the Iranian Rial into a mass medium. Dissidents write or draw messages on bills. (Screenshot: payvand.com)

Batons, tear gas, arrests, internet censorship, and the general prosecutor resorting to threats: On the backdrop of such extensive repression, what has started happening in Iran in the beginning of this week inspires admiration.

On Monday, again thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets for the largest protests since the unrest in June that followed the scandalizing presidential election. And again: Batons, tear gas, arrests. In some places even shots were fired, according to eyewitnesses.

Back then, in June, the internet to an unprecedented extent served as a platform of communication for the protesters. Eyewitness reports reached the outside world via twitter, thus increasing the international pressure on Iran. They designed slogans and provided the protests with a manifest, though merely digital form.

However, the Iranians have invented another form of protest – one that is spreading uncontrollably, circulating at a maximum level, and that is resistant against tear gas. They express their criticism of the regime on money bills – money is used as a mass medium.

The Iranian-American website Payvand shows several pictures of money bills in the Iranian currency Rial, mostly with writings in symbolic green ink. The slogans read as follows: “(Ayatollah) Khamenei is an infidel and a servant of Putin”, “The Iranian people will gain justice, no matter how”, “Long live freedom”. Other bills display more elaborate drawings and pictures.

One bill displays the caricature of the likeness of Ahmadinejad, captioned with “Enemy of the people”. Some notes just have a green V on them. Others display the picture of the murdered Neda which has meanwhile become known world wide, underneath reads the equally famous slogan “Death to the dictator”. Neda Soltani has become the face of the bloody demonstrations of June. Her death had been captured on a video that was spread on Youtube. The 26 year old had been shot in an intersection in Tehran. Her picture on the money bills puts it straight: The Iranians have not forgotten her martyr.

Members of internet forums celebrate this simple, yet ingenious idea. “What is the regime going to do now – prohibit the money?” one user asks mockingly. “How satisfactory it must be for millions of frustrated and outraged citizens to be able to express their resentment in a way that can not be stopped by the government! Go Basijis, have fun beating up the bills!”

The government is aware of the problem, however, appears to be helpless. They start their usual scare tactics. “Every person who has scribbled even just a line on a bill has committed a crime”, says the head of the Iranian central bank Mahmoud Bahmani. Being asked whether he intends to withdraw the provoking bills from circulation, however, Bahmani does not give a straight answer. No decision has been made about it, but it is necessary to take measures against it, he says.

Very well possible that meanwhile there are already too many bills with a slogan or a picture on them. At any rate, the goal of the green movement is to have dissident slogans on all bills one day. The new motto is: “Each bill is a medium”.

This slogan is based on a children's verse: 'How is Iran? It is worried, its oil is gone, gave the gas to India, took China's garbage. Everything is imported, exports are forgotten, local production is closed down'

This cartoon of Ahmadinejad is captioned 'Enemy of the people'

'The Iranian people will gain justice'

'They stole oil-money and gave it to Chavez'

'Khamenei is an infidel and a servant of Putin.'

'Do not believe what the government says if the government is the only instance with freedom of expression.' This is a quotation from Ali Schariati, an ideologist of the Islamic Revolution.

Top: A picture of the dying Neda Soltani, caption 'Death to the dictator'. Bottom: Swastika combined with the logo of the state-run broadcasting company.

The covered slogan allegedly was 'Death to Khamenei'. The new, green slogan reads: 'Shame can not be covered'

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