Iraqi culture minister with close ties to Czech Republic discusses culture and democracy on visit to Prague

Mufid al-Jazairi

The minister of culture on the Iraqi Governing Council, Mufid al-Jazairi, is a name familiar to many Czechs. Mr al-Jazairi, who is a Kurd and a member of the Iraqi Communist Party, studied journalism in Prague, married a Czech woman and learned to speak the language well. Taking time out from his busy schedule, the Iraqi culture minister returned to Prague recently, where he spoke about the connection he perceives between culture and democracy.

Mufid al-Jazairi, currently attempting to highlight the importance of culture in Iraqi society, says the task is not an easy one after decades of rule by Saddam Hussein. He describes the lack of culture as an "ally of dictatorship", and says that is why Saddam would not tolerate free artistic expression.

"He tried to put an end to culture, to deform culture. And the Ministry of Culture at that time was indeed a kind of Ministry of Anti-Culture, because what were the results of the Ministry of Culture of Saddam Hussein? The result is that the majority of the people were pushed far from culture and we have now in Iraq two or three generations who are so far from culture that we have to prepare big efforts in order to attract them."

Culture is important in any society, but given the present state of Iraq many would say the country's first priority must be elections which would pave the way for the handover of power to an elected government. Mr al-Jazairi says, however, that the country is - at the moment - not yet ready for such a step.

"Elections now for technical reasons are not possible. But free elections, democratic elections are so necessary that you cannot imagine that we could go towards the goal of establishing a democratic regime without free and fair democratic elections. Democratic elections are one aspect of a democratic regime, democratic society...I think that we look forward to a democratic life. Democracy should be a symptom of all aspects of our life, everywhere, in all fields."