The foreigner is only a foreigner in a foreign land

Due to the changed socio-political atmosphere in Iran after the revolution of 1979 and my own attitude/manner, I had great difficulties in assimilation to the new system. Therefore, I decided to leave my country towards Europe and I came to Germany on my own in 1987.

I was convinced that with my Iranian high school diploma and no knowledge of the German language I could live like the ladies in the series “Three Angels for Charlie.” Three beautiful detectives women work on behalf of their boss Charlie, but he only speaks to them from a loudspeaker. We never get to see Charlie, but that hardly bothered anyone because the three beauties enchanted us. Through their success as well as their beauty, they became style-setters for fashion and makeup for the late 1970s.

Very soon I realized  that I could not simply stay here. It was a big shock and I lost my hope at first. During my desperate search for a solution, a countryman suggested that I talk to Kambiz Ghawami. At that time, Kambiz  was working as a student advisor at the University of Applied Sciences in Wiesbaden. I visited him and after a 30-minute conversation, he recommended to study either economics or business administration, gave me forms, and explained to me very precisely and calmly how and where I should apply. It was like a miracle. I had hope again and this conversation brought the so urgently sought redemption.

That’s how I got to know the WUS. I became an active member and since 1989 I regularly participated in various seminars, wrote several articles, for example on the 45-year history of the German Committee of the WUS. In the election period 1995 I was then elected to the Executive Board and for the election period 1996 to the Council of Delegates of the WUS. I wanted to be an active member and to pass on all my experience. Finally, I stood for election to the Board again in the 2016 election period. Since then, I am pleased to say, I am back as a board member.

When I look back, the WUS philosophy and the commitment to social issues run like a red thread through my life. The challenges always change, but my aim to find solutions together in solidarity, to get involved and thereby meet new people and experience beautiful encounters, to contribute with my own  knowledge and skills and to stand up for people and their rights have remained the same aims for me over the years. I would like to remain true to this philosophy.

I would like to explain some experiences and adventures from my life, my work and from my engagement, highlighting the relation to the goals and values of the WUS

Migration and globalization as normality and lifelong challenge 

Working and finding home in Germany, Austria, Bavaria and Frankfurt

Full of confidence and energy, I started as a portfolio manager at a bank in Austria in 2010. Embedded in a panorama of the beautiful Alps, the drive takes me through urban Bavarian villages, where time seems to have stood still for years, to my new work. A town in Austria with a population of around 2.000, 10 banks and a casino. The special advantages of investing money in the so-called “customs union area” in the Alps were described by the customer advisors as “absolute discretion and confidentiality”. This was also the unique selling point of investing money in the Alpine state. Questions about the origin of the money were not asked. Discretion was considered a point of honor.

During my two-year stay in this place, I was able to gain very interesting experiences. I was in a beautiful but at the same time conservative environment and in a tax haven. From both a social and a business perspective, I gathered many interesting impressions.  I remember a phone call, put through by the head office, that the gentleman on the other side of the line was looking for a Mr. Rashidi. I corrected the title “Mr.” and wanted to take the call. The gentleman on the other side insisted on speaking to Mr. Rashidi. To him, a woman with a foreign name and in the position of portfolio manager did not seem right!!! When I offered him to talk to my father if he really wanted to talk to Mr. Rashidi, he finally accepted that he could talk to me about his matter regarding a capital market issue.

I didn’t like the life in the small alpine village. I was ready to take on new challenges. After two years, the opportunity for change came: I received an interesting offer from a well-known company. Although the position as portfolio manager was not in Frankfurt, my supposed city, but in Munich. I accepted the offer, so I could at least return to Germany and work there again in 2012.

At my new employer, a large reinsurance company, I was relatively fast given a lot of responsibility for managing large portfolios. Since then, my responsibilities have included market analyses, strategy recommendations, but also the execution of trading for the group, which sometimes involve a very large volume. In doing so, I have to coordinate  various departments and banks before I can finally start with the trading. I am also responsible for investment strategy and trading of financial instruments in Australia and New Zealand and had the opportunity to visit both countries on annual investor trips several times. These involve meetings between foreign investors and key financial authorities and institutions such as the central bank, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Economics; a very intensive program with up to six meetings per day with short breaks followed by an evening networking program. By now , the “explosives test” at Sydney or Auckland airport have become routine for me during these trips. I was allowed to successfully complete this test at least once each time. Today, I can pass the test without needing any explanation from the friendly officers! I think I stand out because I enter with my German passport like all other travelers with a 3-month visa, and before that I have to declare my place of birth, namely “Tehran / Iran”. A country that is known to be under observation for its domestic and foreign policy.

My life in southern Germany has enriched me with many new experiences: After more than 20 years of living in the northern part of Germany, I was once again a ” foreigner ” in Bavaria in a double sense: once as a German with a migration background and once as an immigrant. Very appropriate to the sentence of Karl Valentin ” Foreigner is the foreigner only in the foreign “. The Bavarian language alone is very  special. Despite many swear words and curses, people here can be very polite, as the Bavarian subjunctive shows. For example, if a Bavarian shows up for an appointment, he says “I waar jetz do!” when entering the room. (“I would be there now!”). In this way, he does not express doubts about his own existence, but rather wants to use the subjunctive to politely let people know: “There I am, if it would be all right with you.” When it comes to the local weather, it is also interesting to see that the hairdryer wetter from the Alps is said to be the best known trigger of many complaints ranging from headaches to heedlessness. Another finding is the appreciation of beer, which is a main food here. Bavarian beer is still produced in accordance with the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516. According to this, only water, malt, hops and yeast are used. With this, Herzog Wilhelm IV created at the time the world’s oldest food law provision that is still valid today!

In solidarity with others, beyond state structures, offering help, spontaneously and individually, because that is alive and make spontaneous help possible without being swallowed up by bureaucracy, building bridges for those arriving.

I did not come to Germany as a refugee, but I often feel as a refugee. In this respect, the events in 2015 and 2016 in Germany with regard to the “refugee crisis” have moved me. I could not only sit and follow the events through media and so I decided to be there in person.

Because of my language knowledge, I was able to be active as a volunteer around Munich’s main train station. I also helped in a refugee reception center, where together with other volunteers we sometimes had to take in more than 20.000 refugees in a day. It was impossible to continue working at the refugee reception center every night after work. In addition, there was the emotional pressure of seeing the misery in front of one’s own eyes and also the hope of the refugees to somehow be able to stay in Germany or in Europe This was  familiar to me. I therefore had to take a few times vacation from work to cope with everything physically and mentally. Without any official training, I helped together with other volunteers many helpless refugees. I recognized some of them on the street and talked to them. The term “street worker” fits well here. My ” territory ” was the bus and main train stations as well as refugee reception center near the central train station. My voluntary services included talking to the refugees and, depending on their personal situation, taking them to the bus, train station or to the reception center. I also sometimes bought a ticket for a bus or a train. I was happy to do it and glad that I could. It was a very depressing, and at the same time beautiful and unforgettable experience.

Gradually, everything was settled more and more by the official relief organizations and the city. I was allowed to accompany  refugees to appointments with the authorities, doctors or lawyers, in case I wanted to help out further. However, the volunteers could and were no longer allowed by the authorities to simply approach the refugees directly. I couldn’t cope with the new rules and help system. It was not voluntary and spontaneous help, but increasingly consisted of following rules and writing reports. Everything was structured and regulated down to the last conceivable detail. Nothing for me!

Human Rights

Due to my years of professional experience and overcoming professional challenges as a migrant and a woman challenges as a migrant and as a woman in the still male-dominated world of work and finance, I am attentive to problems of colleagues. In the new job, I was often asked for advice and was able to give useful advice. I was finally elected as a full works councilor in 2014 with a very good result. After that, I was a member of some very interesting committees, such as the works committee, the economic committee and the personnel committee.

Working as a works council member is a challenge, but at the same time it is a confirmation for me. Here I can stand up for my colleagues and actively work for fair working conditions and a better working world. However, it is not always easy to get involved in this area. On the one hand, there are my colleagues, for whom I only want the best. At the same time, I am committed to the good of the company. The goals of the employees are not always the same as those of the company, and a middle ground must be found. Overall, a time-consuming but also valuable activity and experience. I don’t have to find out about our company and upcoming decisions or financial events on the intranet, but I’m there in advance, I can have my say and in some cases influence business decision. I also learn to listen, no matter how difficult it is sometimes to understand a problem.

After four years of regular term, I ran for the second time and was again allowed to return with a very good result. The second period has so far been accompanied by some restructuring, a period with more personnel law/legal issues and new insights.

Building bridges and enabling encounters between Germany and Iran, being in solidarity with the people in Iran and being connected to the country, even if I cannot identify with the country’s politics.

Negotiations took twelve years until the international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program was agreed in July 2015 (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA). It was a great success: In return for Iran’s controlled shutdown of its nuclear activities, the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU) and the USA gradually lifted their economic sanctions. International monitoring in exchange for more trade – that was the “deal” that was supposed to ban the danger of an Iranian bomb.

Finally, on July 14, 2015, the negotiating parties reached a comprehensive compromise and agreed on the nuclear deal in Vienna. The core of the international agreement is the significant reduction of Iran’s nuclear activities: this includes substantially limiting the number of centrifuges used for uranium enrichment and the stocks of enriched uranium, as well as refraining from independent reprocessing of fuel rods. In addition, there is systematic and comprehensive monitoring by the IAEA. In return, the negotiating partners are gradually lifting all sanctions related to the nuclear program and offering their support – first and foremost the Europeans and the Russians – in civil nuclear cooperation.

The agreement was a major diplomatic success because it prevented an impending war using the tools of diplomacy (including economic sanctions). Moreover, it has since strengthened the international nonproliferation rulebook in that Iran is now subject to strong controls after past lapses. And even though the agreement itself is not a treaty under international law between the eight parties involved, it became binding worldwide when it was adopted by the UN Security Council in Resolution 2231.

Following the finalization of the nuclear agreement, the United Nations, the U.S. and the EU lifted their sanctions as agreed. As of January 2016, trade with Iran resumed in all areas (Federal Agency for Civic Education, the international nuclear agreement, under license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 by Cornelius Adebahr).

Through the WUS, I found out about a delegation trip to Tehran led by the former Minister of Economy Sigmar Gabriel in early October 2016. Gabriel had chaired the 5th meeting of the German-Iranian Economic Commission together with the former Iranian Minister of Economy and Finance Tayebnia. It was the first meeting after 15 years. Gabriel also opened a German-Iranian business forum. The existing problems in payment transactions with Iran and unequal treatment of European companies compared to American ones by the U.S. government were topics. Finally, I was able to travel with the delegation to Tehran. It was a very informative and unforgettable trip with many valuable experiences. Through the appointments with various Iranian authorities, I was able to get information, ask questions and have conversations in the front row as an Iranian within the German business delegation.

How politics in the USA influence the world

With the election of U.S. President Donald Trump in November 2016, the initial euphoria was quickly followed by disillusionment: concerns about a change in policy in Washington deterred companies and potential investors from doing further business in and with Iran. This was particularly fatal from an Iranian perspective. For while Tehran – as confirmed by the IAEA – had complied with all the conditions of the agreement, the promised economic upturn remained short-lived. Despite the new U.S. administration beginning to dismantle the agreement, President Hassan Rouhani, who was considered a moderate, succeeded in being re-elected in May 2017. While conservatives and hardliners in the country railed against the lack of trade and growth, he was able to rally moderates and reformers around the argument that he alone could still save the agreement. In 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the international nuclear agreement with Iran and imposed draconian sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Since then, the oil-rich country has been mired in an acute economic crisis, which has been exacerbated by the Corona pandemic since February 2020. Following Joe Biden’s victory in the U.S. presidential election, there is now renewed hope that the United States will return to the Vienna nuclear agreement and lift its sanctions against Iran. This would allow Europeans to trade with Iran again.

Mahnaz Rashidi

Author profile
Mahnaz Rashid

Mahnaz Rashidi studied economics at the University of Frankfurt. She came to Germany from Tehran alone in 1987. She started her professional career in 1991 at the Dresdner Bank as an employee. Later after graduation she started to work in different banks and investment companies as an analyst and as a portfolio manager in Germany and in Austria. Since 2012 she is working in Munich. She has been an active member of WUS since 1989 and since 1995 is board-member of WUS Germany.