Days of Iranian Culture, Broumov - Memory of the Heart

In this week's edition of the Arts, a festival of Iranian culture in Prague, at a difficult time for relations between Iran and the West. And an exhibition of photos from the Broumov region - once home to a large German community - is launched at Prague's Goethe Institute.

A little bit of Iran came to the Czech capital this week, with a series of Iranian films shown at the City Library in the Old Town. The event kicked off on Tuesday evening with a showing of Saint Maryam, an Iranian film about the life of the Virgin Mary, who is also greatly revered in Islam. But before the film there was a performance of traditional Persian music by a group of six musicians, flown in especially from Iran. Leading the ensemble was Seyed Amin Moosavi.

"The name of this music group is Hamnava - this means they are playing together. And this can also be said about the classical Iranian instruments which are used. I myself am the leader of these musicians, and for the past eleven years I've been teaching at the university in Teheran."

How popular is traditional Iranian music now, in today's Iran?

"We say this classical Iranian music is the 'mother' music of Iran, and you could say that without any exception you'll find a classical music instrument in every Iranian householf. In the universities, traditional Iranian music is taught. I play an instrument called a santur, and there are 5,000 pupils of this instrument alone."

Five thousand pupils of just this one instrument?

"Yes, so you can imagine how many people are interested in studying these classical instruments."

Photo: Antonio Melina/ABr
Translating for me there was Zdenek Cvrkal, chairman of the Czech-Iranian society, an organisation which helps bring two very different nations closer together. It was his society that organised the event with the Iranian Embassy.

"Our main aim is to show Czech people Iranian culture, which is why we decided to arrange this exhibition. This is not the first time we've done it, but it is the biggest such event in the three or four years of co-operation between the embassy and our society."

Today is a difficult time for relations between Iran and the rest of the world, especially countries like the United States. Do you feel the tension at this time?

"Me personally, I have no problems, because we're a non-political organisation, our main purpose is the cultural relationship. Politics is, however, close to that. The Czech Republic, as a member of the European Union, should not copy but use the common European policy."

Iran is a country you know well. President George W. Bush says it's part of the axis of evil. What do you think of such comments?

"I don't know. There are a lot of Iranians living in the United States - several million. The official political representation of Iran is one thing, the society of Iran is something else. There is of course tension between the USA and Iran, but I think to some extent it's a bit of a game. I think the American policy-makers know there's a very big difference between Arab countries and Iran, and the mentality of the country. I feel it's something of a political game, this relationship."

The audience at Tuesday's event was split evenly between members of Prague's small Iranian community and locals, some already acquainted with Iranian culture, others curious at what they would find, especially at a time when the country is being vilified in the West. Iranian Charge d'Affaires Majid Nili stressed the role of culture in breaking down barriers.

"Certainly culture plays an important role in improving and developing relations. I think if all countries come to a cultural point, to understand each other very well, many problems can be solved, without any difficulty. It's the easiest way."

And finally on to a very different event, at Prague's Goethe Institute. For the next four weeks the building is hosting a unique exhibition of photographs by Hana Jakrlova, depicting the little known region of Broumov in north-east Bohemia. Broumov and the surrounding villages were once home to a sizeable German community, almost all of whom were expelled after the war. Hana Jakrlova's photographs record the echoes of this lost community, in an exhibition entitled Broumov - Memory of the Heart. Hana Jakrlova herself says she was keen not to pass judgment on the past, merely to capture its legacy.

"I did not really want to do any kind of social documentary. I did not try to come up with any comments, because this issue has already been commented on quite a lot and it's been discussed. It's been painful, and passionate, and very frustrating and I think now - 15 years after the collapse of Communism - most things have already been said, and we all know that a great injustice happened."

The black and white photographs, which show tumbledown farmsteads, deserted landscapes and decaying religious icons, have a nostalgic, almost melancholic quality, showing as they do what happens when a community is uprooted. The exhibition has both Czech and German support, proof of the recent attempts at reconciliation. It comes to Prague after a successful showing in Broumov itself, and you can catch it at the Goethe Institute until October 14th.