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Interconnectedness of Political Struggle: Iranian-Russian Political Resistance in Conversation

This text is a conversation between Iuliia Gataulina and Mina Shahmoradi, respectively members of Russian and Iranian political activist groups in Tampere, Finland. We see value in this conversation because it does not usually happen: in today’s increasingly polarized world, we have been witnessing how the political opposition usually acts along the same lines as the structures of power they presumably oppose. To enrich our knowledge on the interconnectedness of political struggle, it is important to break away from the nationalistic and geopolitical blocks of thinking and actions of resistance and put ourselves in conversation.

While we have known each other for more than a year now, this text-in-conversation was born out of our participation in the discussion event “Fighting for all the oppressed – the interconnectedness of struggle” organized by Democracy Club (Demokratiaklubi) in Tampere, Finland, a free and open discussion platform about politics in Finland and around the world. The starting point for our discussion was the assumption that embracing the interconnectedness of political struggles among oppressed communities can drive positive change by recognizing that different groups often face similar forms of oppression and exploitation. Extending empathy and solidarity can contribute to a more just and equitable society by bringing people together for collective action, amplifying the message, and leading to more effective efforts to challenge systemic discrimination and inequality.

We start the discussion with an autoethnographic introduction on our political and activist history and positionality.


I come from Ulyanovsk, Russia. This is a big, but quite peripheral city, located in the Volga region. The Volga region was colonized in the 16th century by Muscovite Russia but is still home to many ethnic groups in Russia, including Volga Tatars.

I am Russian but I also have Tatar roots. My grandfather was a Tatar who was “Russified”: because of some tragic developments in his life and the Soviet politics of Russification of different ethnic groups, the family lost the Tatar heritage. I only bear my Tatar surname and the knowledge of my connection to the ethnic group.

I am a queer person and a feminist, and back in Russia I worked and volunteered in different feminist and LGBTIQ+ initiatives.

Now, I am a postdoctoral researcher at Tampere University, Finland, in the field of political science and International Relations. After the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by the Russian state, I became active in the local Russian-speaking antiwar group “Tampere Against War.”[i]

This group was formed around the desire to support forces from and in Russia and Belarus who oppose their authoritarian and oppressive state regimes. The group has also dedicated considerable efforts to condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine through direct political actions on the streets of Tampere as well as by trying to give visibility to geographically wider protests and activities against the war.


I am a queer from eastern Kurdistan in Iran. I have been denied any education of/in my mother tongue. The systematic national oppression has been pressuring Kurdish people to talk with their kids only in Farsi, as my family chose, too. I understand my mother tongue but cannot speak or write it.

I am from a leftist family, and I have seen the oppression towards them from an early age. I am familiar with the bitter experience of imprisonment and execution that happened to my close relatives. People getting imprisoned, tortured, killed. Expelled from workplaces, denied secondary education, deprived of property, and forcefully misplaced, merely because of their way of thinking and for questioning the regime.

I have been oppressed as a “woman” in Iran, with almost no recognized right on self-determination, facing different degrees of discrimination in social, educational, and working environments. And I did not have the space to recognize and embrace my queerness.

I started my activism in Finland around the time the Jin Jiyan Azadi (Woman Life Freedom) movement in Iran began to overtake the country. With some other women, we started to organize demonstrations in Tampere, Finland. Later, we continued to raise awareness about the situation of women and freedom fighters in Iran by holding different events by our organization “Nainen Elama Vapaus ry” (Woman Life Freedom, in Finnish). Our goal has been to educate ourselves as well as the Iranian and international communities in Tampere about the situation in Iran and more broadly in the Middle East, about the discriminative ways of oppression, and about how the imperial, misogynistic, and supremacist power structures are in place.

Interconnectedness of oppression and political struggle

When talking about our activisms, we enrich each other on the particularities of our situations. At the same time, we also realize that to some extent it is beneficial to go beyond specificities and instead to think about the root causes of oppression, the common grounds of both oppression and liberation. We try to keep this balance between somewhat totalizing binary of universality versus particularity. Mina understands the root of all suffering stemming from the same phenomena of exploitation and hierarchical structures which enable it. Iuliia, for her part, formulates her compass for political struggle against different forms of supremacy which propagate oppression, exploitation, and dispossession. Despite our different life trajectories, we found that we share the same experiences of oppression through homophobia, patriarchy, and colonialism, as ethnonationalist states wiped out our language and our family history.

In the contemporary, interconnected world, oppression and liberation also become interconnected. The deterritorialized workings of imperialism and exploitative capitalism recontextualize themselves in different parts of the world, although forms and scales differ. We find ourselves fighting for liberation across borders and positionings. Interconnectedness manifests not only in the oppressive workings of power but also through more hopeful manifestations of humanity’s communal existence on the planet engrained in life with other species and forms. It is important to understand the interconnectedness of our political struggle in order to figure out how we might claim our life-making projects back collectively.

But binary thinking, especially along the lines of the civilizational East/West divide, prevents us from searching for the common ground and from being in conversation. We have witnessed how people who fight against some forms of oppression easily attach themselves to “civilizational” projects and ideas (usually rooted in the ideas of supremacy), which justify dehumanization of people who do not fall into this “civilizational project.” It is heartbreaking to see how different oppressive political-economic regimes use the language of “civilization”; but it is even more heartbreaking when oppositional political groups and individual figures who claim to be fighting against these authoritarian, fascist, and colonial regimes, resort to the same civilizational language. This civilizational language in today’s world is increasingly formulated around the East/West divide or falls into nationalistic sentiments. As a result, oppositional forces oftentimes reproduce the same dividing lines and logics which undergird oppression.

Beyond nationalistic and geopolitical thinking of resistance

The political struggles that we observe around us mostly do not address this issue at its core. People in Iran fight the Islamic Republic, people in Russia fight the Russian state, and even people in Finland, opposing the neoliberal-imperial system, fight the struggles of their political surroundings only. Therefore, we keep reproducing resistance which is conceptually locked in to the ideas of nation states, geopolitical blocks, and the East/West divide.

This re-creation of nationalistic and geopolitical blocks happens along several lines. Some parts of the European left (including in Finland) support the so-called Eastern power bloc (namely China, Russia, and Iran) under the assumption that it becomes the best bet against the economic and political power structures of Western hegemony. While sometimes it can be strategically acceptable to lean on the actions and resources of these states, it is important to keep in mind that these geopolitical structures operate in the same system of power and wealth accumulation, which allows them to oppress the people they rule.

Another example of nationalistic thinking in a political struggle, especially when it comes to opposing the war in Ukraine, is the homogenization of Russia. This is present in the discourses of different political and activist groups in Europe, including Ukraine, and even Russians residing abroad. By homogenizing and totalizing “Russia” and organizing the political struggle accordingly, these discourses completely disregard the fact that “Russia” is an enormous political and economic imperial entity, dominated by a Moscow-centric state. There is, to say the least, a multiplicity of different ethnic groups inside Russia who are silenced, unrepresented in the political and administrative structures, stripped of their autonomy, and dispossessed of the resources of the lands where they live on and come from. This is an imperial and authoritarian state, holding power through the settler institutions (through administrative, penitentiary, and even education systems). Disregarding the different types of oppression permeating Russia, some opposition groups oppose the Russian state only based on the civilizational idea that this is a barbarous country with barbarous people who can only produce barbarous government. This line of thinking, unfortunately, comes even from the Russian opposition. Some Russian political groups in exile have attempted to propose openly fascist solutions (with the background of Eurocentric liberal political thinking) to differentiate “good Russians” from the bad. This latter category would include those who demonstrated active resistance (meaning liberal political protest) towards the war in Ukraine, while others should apparently pay the price for their silence and supposed indifference (again understood from a liberal point of view).

Similarly, the inequalities in Iran (which also affect the possibilities and resources for political struggle among different groups) have not been adequately addressed. Iran is home to many religious groups other than Muslims, and many ethnic groups other than Persians, including Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Balouchs. These groups have not been successful in getting their voices and resistances heard and acknowledged. The demography and geography of the protests during the Jin Jiyan Azadi movement showed us that Kurdish and Balouch people were targeted, arrested, and killed the most. It indicates that these groups, by showing the most drastic opposition to the regime, have become subjugated to higher forms of oppression. Their resistance, however, has been overshadowed by the nationalist fraction of the opposition, which consists of supporters of the Pahlavi monarchy, and by reformists who have more support within the Islamic Republic. The greater visibility of these two groups, which have more resources and opportunities for representation, has led to some ill-informed skepticism towards the liberatory ethos of the movement. Thus, it is rarely acknowledged that the nationalist fraction of the opposition has more resources in the political struggle because of their formerly privileged position and their contemporary belonging to its exploitative and supremacist ruling power. Although the skepticism of international political groups attempting to understand the political situation in Iran better is laudable, it still lacks understanding of the different oppressed groups in Iran and their positioning in the political struggle.

Decoupling from the West

The obsession of some opposition groups with the idealized picture of a liberal democracy as the only destination and point of reference for political struggle only reinforces this East/West or “civilized”/“uncivilized” divide. We believe that in order to have truly emancipatory political actions and cooperation, we need to decouple political resistance from the West and liberal democracy as a main point of reference. Opposition to the fascist, authoritarian, and imperial regimes should not translate to mere opposition to everything these regimes do. We have witnessed how the opposition falls into this trap in both Iran and Russia: while the Iranian and Russian governments use anti-Western propaganda to justify their actions and to claim their existential identity, the opposition tends to construct its fight in direct contradiction of the states’ propaganda (rather than looking beyond the power structures that underlie oppression on both sides). This propagates the shallow idea that if we “Westernize” the Russian or Iranian states by implementing more rigorously liberal politico-economic policies, we will successfully turn these states into working democracies. Subsequently, if some Russian or Iranian resistance groups, while opposing their state regimes, criticize any European politics of dispossession and colonialism, they easily become accused of pro-Iranian or pro-Russian propaganda and dismissed in their political struggle.

Together for Palestinian lives

The consequences of the opposition being “coupled” with the West, or at least caught up in Iran/West or Russia/West binaries, have been devastating to observe in the case of the genocide currently underway in Palestine. Since the Russian and Iranian states “support” Palestine (although this “support” should equally be deconstructed and critically evaluated as a geopolitical asset for these states), the overwhelming majority of the Russian and Iranian oppositions stand with Israel. Criticism of any Western policy of dispossession and colonialism (including Israel’s genocide backed up by the Western states) is equated with Iranian/Russian propaganda and with support of these states. They have increasingly categorized the nexus of Hamas, Russia, and Iran as a core of terrorism, affirming that liberal democracies and the “civilized world” need to defend themselves from this frontier of evil. This line of thinking shows not only complete disregard of the genocide against Palestinians but also neglect of the Iranian and Russian resistance. The opposition tends to ignore people’s struggles and even genocide, all in the name of opposing the Russian or the Iranian states.

In conversation

We admit that it is hard to imagine political actions beyond power structures we have inherited and operate within. While using them strategically can be an option, it is important to build grassroot communications and to learn about the specificities of each struggle, while at the same time finding our common ground.

We have positively observed political groups in Tampere in conversation. We, as part of Iranian and Russian political groups, have organized political events together, learned from each other, and supported each other’s struggles. This is a long and ongoing process, but we believe it is necessary to build in a world penetrated by wars and different forms of violence – if we want to work for more hopeful futures.

[i] The views expressed in this essay may not correspond to those of all members of “`Tampere Against War.”

Iuliia Gataulina is a postdoctoral researcher in International Relations at Tampere
University. Her doctoral dissertation, “De/re/composing authoritarian-neoliberal assemblages. Ethnography of Russian universities and beyond,” conceptualized the workings of neoliberalism beyond the Global North, specifically investigating how neoliberal reforms can reinforce the authoritarian modes of governance. Her postdoctoral project, “Pluriversal waters: Tracing hydro-ontologies across colonial-extractivist assemblages,” continues to investigate the political implications of capitalism, i.e., its connection to the colonial extractivist practices beyond the East-West divide and human-nonhuman interactions. Iuliia has been active in LGBTIQ+ and feminist activist groups in St Petersburg, Russia, and Russian-speaking oppositional groups in Tampere, Finland.
Photo credit: Jonne Renvall

Mina Shahmoradi is a queer from eastern Kurdistan in Iran and a political activist in the organization “Nainen Elama Vapaus ry” (Woman Life Freedom), now based in Tampere, Finland. Mina’s activism in Finland started around the time the Jin Jiyan Azadi (Woman Life Freedom) movement in Iran began to take over the country. The goal of Mina’s activism, as part of Nainen Elama Vapaus ry and beyond, has been to educate themselves as well as the Iranian and international communities in Tampere about the situation in Iran and more broadly in the Middle East, about the discriminative ways of oppression, and about how the imperial, misogynistic, and supremacist power structures are in place.