In today's tour of state-sponsored propaganda, an Iranian truck driver gets her close up, a stamp dealer explains how he became an accidental propagandist for North Korea and Russia Today panders to a key Kremlin ally. We begin in Iran:
Iran's Hostess of the Highway
With all the talk that Iran is America's greatest enemy, it's easy to forget that the country's women enjoy freedoms not available to some of their peers in Muslim countries (we're looking at you, Saudi Arabia). One of those freedoms is the ability to drive, and Mehr News, a semi-official Iranian news site, is spotlighting the country's first professional cross-country semi-truck driver, whose name appears to be فرشته بیرانوند لرستانی in Persian, and Google Translate renders as Angel Biranvand Lorestani. The fabulous photo essay of her daily routine appears below and, as you'll see, there's no flat tire or faulty carburator that can stand in her way.
It's not exactly clear why Mehr News is choosing now to spotlight Iran's queen of the highway, but the short blurb in front of the photos say she's the first woman to break "the monopoly of men" driving semis across the country. But her life isn't just truck driving! The photo essay also shows her at home, watering plants, vacuuming, in the kitchen, reading a book, and much, much more. For what it's worth, it's also a nice story of financial self-determination as the Iranian economy struggles under heavy international sanctions. The country obviously has a long way to go toward gender equality, but at least Lorestani can roam the highways in peace (and get a little publicity for it to boot). As Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell notes, "This Iranian lady truckdriver is awesome."
An Accidental North Korean Propagandist Tells His Story
One year ago, Dutch stamp seller Willem van der Bijl was imprisoned in North Korea while trying to buy propaganda posters in the totalitarian country. Astonishingly, around the same time, a newspaper column with his name on it was published in the Pyongyang Times praising the free and fair elections of North Korea. Now free of his North Korean shackles, van der Bijl told NK News how the mishap happened (h/t Adrian Chen). Spoiler alert: He didn't suddenly develop a case of Stockholm syndrome for Kim Jong-un:
NK News: Why do you think the authorities were so keen to publish your fabricated opinion about the elections? How did you feel about that report?
Willem van der Bijl: It was by accident that, during my stay, I heard about the elections, and immediately I asked my friend if there was a possibility to visit an election point. After visiting the election building where I was able to see the whole procedure, I was interviewed by several journalists from newspapers and TV, and I told them; "this opportunity gave me totally new view on how elections are held" and that I was surprised to see how the elections system works in the DPRK. This was an ironic comment (in my view) on what I had seen. It works as follows: the voters enter the building and show their identification to two people sitting behind a table, your name is written on a list, and the voter is allowed to take a piece of paper from one of the two piles at the table (in front of the officials, and visible to everybody in the room) the paper is, per pile, coloured green or red, and it is your "free" choice as to whichever colour you like. After you took, in front of everybody, your (green I hope) piece of paper, you take it to a small area where you are all alone, but in front of two photos from the two leaders, and are able to put it in a box. So, there are your "free" elections.
From their point of view, a foreigner who says he is surprised etc., and if you miss the ironic undertone, is is a perfect piece of propaganda. Later I found out, my "interview" is on the internet as well, and even signed by me, with what is indeed my signature, as a scan from my passport.
Oh, those North Koreans: no sense of irony.
Russia Today Becomes Iran Today
Kremlin-backed news network Russia Today has long broadcast thinly-veiled love letters to Vladimir Putin but this week, it's doing a solid for Russian ally Iran as well. At the bottom of an article about German arm sales to Qatar, the outlet gives an Orwellian compliment to the Iranian government that comes out of nowhere:
Official Tehran has never hesitated to share the progress of military modernization in the country that started decades ago when the West refused to sell Iran arms after the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
Might that rather ham-fisted compliment have anything to do with Russia's on-again, off-again history of arm sales to Iran? Hard to say. But as Arab affairs commentator Sultan Al Qassemi notes, "Russia Today should change its name into Iran Today ... As bad as Arab news channels."