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Broadcasting Freedom

Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty

Arch Puddington
Copyright Date: 2000
Edition: 1
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    Broadcasting Freedom
    Book Description:

    Among America's most unusual and successful weapons during the Cold War were Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. RFE-RL had its origins in a post-war America brimming with confidence and secure in its power. Unlike the Voice of America, which conveyed a distinctly American perspective on global events, RFE-RL served as surrogate home radio services and a vital alternative to the controlled, party-dominated domestic press in Eastern Europe. Over twenty stations featured programming tailored to individual countries. They reached millions of listeners ranging from industrial workers to dissident leaders such as Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel.

    Broadcasting Freedomdraws on rare archival material and offers a penetrating insider history of the radios that helped change the face of Europe. Arch Puddington reveals new information about the connections between RFE-RL and the CIA, which provided covert funding for the stations during the critical start-up years in the early 1950s. He relates in detail the efforts of Soviet and Eastern Bloc officials to thwart the stations; their tactics ranged from jamming attempts, assassinations of radio journalists, the infiltration of spies onto the radios' staffs, and the bombing of the radios' headquarters.

    Puddington addresses the controversies that engulfed the stations throughout the Cold War, most notably RFE broadcasts during the Hungarian Revolution that were described as inflammatory and irresponsible. He shows how RFE prevented the Communist authorities from establishing a monopoly on the dissemination of information in Poland and describes the crucial roles played by the stations as the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union broke apart.

    Broadcasting Freedomis also a portrait of the Cold War in America. Puddington offers insights into the strategic thinking of the RFE-RL leadership and those in the highest circles of American government, including CIA directors, secretaries of state, and even presidents.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4782-6
    Subjects: History, Performing Arts, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xx)
  4. 1 “It Will Be Seen Who Is Right”
    (pp. 1-19)

    It was, fittingly, on May Day, the most revered holiday of the international working-class movement, that Radio Free Europe inaugurated its full broadcast service to the peoples of Eastern Europe. Once regarded as an inspirational commemoration of the democratic Socialist vision, May Day had been expropriated by the forces of world communism, which is to say by Stalin and his devoted acolytes in what were then known as the satellite countries. In Eastern Europe, May Day in 1951 was celebrated with the emblems of Soviet militarism and the wooden slogans promoting “peace” and the anti-imperialist cause instead of the traditional...

  5. 2 Crusade for Freedom
    (pp. 20-32)

    For those who were present, the dedication of the Freedom Bell stands as one of the Cold War’s more inspirational, if forgotten, moments.¹ Some four hundred thousand Germans lined the streets of West Berlin on October 24, 1950, to cheer Gen. Lucius Clay, the hero of the Berlin Airlift and the figure who symbolized the Free World alliance of the United States and Europe, as he proceeded in a cavalcade from Tempelhof Airport to the Schoeneberger Platz (later renamed John E Kennedy Platz), the site of West Berlin’s city hall. Joining Clay on the dais were a number of West...

  6. 3 “The Mills of God Grind Slowly”
    (pp. 33-60)

    On a December day in 1953, Lt. Col. Josef Swiatlo, one of Poland’s highest ranking secret police officials, slipped away from a traveling companion during a shopping expedition in West Berlin, made his way to a Western embassy, and asked the astonished officials there for asylum. Swiatlo was not the first Communist functionary to have defected to the West. But Swiatlo was no ordinary member of the party apparatus. He had served as chief of Department Ten of the UB, as Poland’s secret police were popularly known. Department Ten was responsible for the political and ideological purity of Communist Party...

  7. 4 “We Tore a Big Hole in the Iron Curtain”
    (pp. 61-72)

    One of the most spectacular projects undertaken by Radio Free Europe was the balloon operation. From the night in August 1951 when the first balloons were sent aloft until the project’s end in November 1956, millions upon millions of leaflets, newspapers, stickers, and political souvenirs were dropped into Communist Eastern Europe bearing messages that reinforced the themes featured in RFE broadcasts. Balloon leaflets urged Hungarian peasants to abandon the collective farms, encouraged Czechs and Slovaks to boycott national elections, and provided Poles with written versions of the Swiatlo revelations. The balloons also provoked a degree of official Communist fury never...

  8. 5 Right-Wingers and Revanchists
    (pp. 73-88)

    Throughout the Cold War, Radio Free Europe’s principal broadcasting facilities were located in Munich. Munich was not the preferred site for RFE’s European operations; feelers had been extended to France, Italy, Luxembourg, and Spain by the Free Europe Committee during its search for a broadcast headquarters, and in each case, the response had been negative, for either political or technical reasons. Germany, on the other hand, was still under military occupation, and John J. McCloy and other American officials in the office of high commissioner for Germany were actively promoting the integration of West Germany into the Adantic Alliance. a...

  9. 6 Revolution in Hungary and Crisis at Radio Free Europe
    (pp. 89-114)

    During the entire Cold War in Eastern Europe, no single event produced as much death and destruction as the Hungarian Revolution. The immense human toll included between ten and twenty thousand dead, and thousands more wounded, imprisoned, deported to the Soviet Union, or forced into exile. The revolution also destroyed many of the assumptions on which American policy toward the satellite regimes was based, or seemed to be based. Having stood aside, impotently, as the Red Army ruthlessly smashed the first real attempt to overthrow the yoke of Communist oppression, the United States was to abandon all pretense that its...

  10. 7 Peaceful Coexistence
    (pp. 115-134)

    Shortly after the Hungarian Revolution had been crushed, Ferdinand Peroutka was summoned to a meeting to discuss the future of broadcasting to Czechoslovakia. As the chief editor of the Voice of Free Czechoslovakia and the service’s most respected political commentator, Peroutka would ordinarily be expected to take a principal role in formulating the political line, particularly when the request for new propaganda strategies originated in the American government, in this case the CIA. Peroutka, however, was less than enthusiastic. As he saw things, Czechoslovaks were unlikely to respond to appeals for resistance given a recent history that included the dismantling...

  11. 8 “The Iron Curtain Was Not Soundproof”
    (pp. 135-141)

    That American youth culture has never been given due credit for its contribution to communism’s demise is not altogether surprising, given that many of those who wrote the Cold War’s history were convinced that rock music exercises a pernicious influence on all societies, especially the Capitalist democracies of the West. Yet while historians may consider it regrettable, there is no doubt that for Eastern Europe’s younger generation, rock music’s anarchistic rhythms and message of individualism and personal freedom signaled a rejection of the entire fabric of state socialism, with its stodginess, its censorship and prohibitions, its limits on travel, its...

  12. 9 August 21, 1968
    (pp. 142-152)

    By 1968 the changes that were introduced in the wake of the Hungarian Revolution had transformed Radio Free Europe’s coverage of the Communist world. This was particularly true of the station’s positive attitude toward the controversial phenomenon of reform communism. Whatever the predisposition of the individual broadcaster, some of whom found the very notion of reform communism difficult to swallow, the station’s official policy was to give a degree of credit to regimes that instituted policies of incremental change or that seemed to inch away from lockstep endorsement of Moscow’s international stance.

    Radio Free Europe remained, of course, a powerful...

  13. 10 From Liberation to Liberty
    (pp. 153-174)

    On March 1, 1953, a new international broadcasting station, Radio Liberation from Bolshevism (RL), inaugurated programming to the peoples of the Soviet Union. According to the recollections of RL veterans, Boris Shub, a Russian American intellectual who was a guiding spirit in the station’s early years, had proposed that broadcasts include, over the ticking sound of a metronome, the announcement “The era of Stalin is coming to the end, the era of Stalin is coming to the end.” The idea was rejected on the grounds that Stalin, then seventy-three years old, might rule for many years to come.¹ In fact,...

  14. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  15. 11 The Perils of Ostpolitik
    (pp. 175-186)

    By the late 1960s, the anti-Communist consensus that had enabled the United States and Europe to maintain a more or less unified policy of containment had clearly broken down. A shift toward a vague kind of neutralism was particularly noticeable among the parties of the liberal Left. In varying degrees, the Democrats in America, the British Labor Party, and the social democratic parties of the Nordic countries were beginning to distance themselves from a foreign policy ideology grounded in anticommunism. While no important party was prepared to advocate the jettisoning of the Atlantic Alliance, significant elements were beginning to call...

  16. 12 Senator Fulbright’s Crusade
    (pp. 187-213)

    The most serious threat to the radios was not Ostpolitik, but Senator J. W Fulbright. Whereas German leaders such as Brandt and Schmidt declined to provoke a confrontation with the American government over the freedom radios’ presence in their country, Fulbright attacked the stations head-on. He pursued his campaign with the same zeal that drove his campaign for a U.S. military withdrawal from Vietnam. He was both shrewd and tenacious, and he believed passionately in the rightness of his cause. He also came reasonably close to achieving the total shutdown of RFE and RL.

    For those who were involved in...

  17. 13 Frequency Wars
    (pp. 214-224)

    Perhaps the greatest compliment paid Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty was the extraordinary steps the Soviet bloc took to prevent their message from reaching the people of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. From the moment the two stations went on the air, Communist authorities deployed the most technologically advanced methods to interfere with, or “jam,” their signals and, in some cases, render the broadcasts unlistenable. In response, RFE and RL hired a team of radio engineers whose principal mission was to develop strategies to break through the static. The result was a constantly escalating battle of the airwaves....

  18. 14 Bombs, Spies, Poisoned Umbrellas
    (pp. 225-252)

    Although jamming was the preferred method to thwart the radios, much rougher tactics were also employed. Journalists were blackmailed, threatened, beaten, and murdered—in the most notorious case, by a poisoned umbrella. Their relatives behind the Iron Curtain were persecuted. Spies found their way to key staff positions, where they remained, undetected, for years. And in the most serious attempt to silence Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, the radios’ Munich headquarters was bombed in an operation masterminded by the legendary terrorist Carlos. Bombings and assassinations were not, in fact, a Soviet trademark in its dealings with the United States....

  19. 15 The Reagan Years
    (pp. 253-283)

    Of America’s nine Cold War presidents, none was as committed to the mission of the radios as Ronald Reagan. Although principally remembered for his defense buildup and support for anti-Soviet forces in various Third World locales, Reagan also believed that America should conduct a vigorous offensive in the global war of ideas.

    Reagan therefore embarked on a program to strengthen the instruments of what had come to be known as “public diplomacy.” Reagan himself set the tone by trumpeting the superiority of American democratic capitalism and speaking of communism as an evil and doomed system. He created new projects to...

  20. 16 Victory
    (pp. 284-306)

    At the time of his ascension to power, Mikhail Gorbachev was regarded in the West as a formidable adversary—a leader who was committed to economic modernization, an aggressive diplomacy, and military parity with the United States. Despite his dissatisfaction with the Soviet system’s inefficiencies, there was nothing in Gorbachev’s biography that suggested anything less than total belief in communism. Nor was there any reason to believe that Gorbachev would tolerate a non-Communist path in any of the East European satellites or a retreat from the USSR’s involvement in Afghanistan, Africa, Central America, or other Third World outposts. That his...

  21. Epilogue
    (pp. 307-313)

    The end of the Cold War brought a brief period of recognition and acclaim to Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. On returning to their native lands, the exiled editors and commentators were hailed as comrades-in-arms of the freedom struggle. Jan Nowak received a tumultuous welcome when he arrived in Warsaw in 1989. Kyrill Panoff, chief editor of the Bulgarian section, was asked by the leader of the democratic opposition, Zhelyu Zhelev, to address a huge Sofia May Day crowd in 1990, something Pan off recalls as one of the most thrilling experiences of his life. Mircea Carp, an editor...

  22. Appendix: Policy Guidances
    (pp. 314-340)
  23. Notes
    (pp. 341-358)
  24. Bibliography
    (pp. 359-364)
  25. Index
    (pp. 365-382)