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Radio Free Europe and the Pursuit of Democracy

Radio Free Europe and the Pursuit of Democracy: My War Within the Cold War

Copyright Date: 1997
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 336
  • Book Info
    Radio Free Europe and the Pursuit of Democracy
    Book Description:

    From the 1950s to the aftermath of communist rule, two American-funded international broadcasting organizations-Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty-engaged in a prolonged battle of ideas: with remarkable persistence, the Radios fought against the spread of communist ideology. This book is a unique, personal account of Cold War combat over the airwaves, of psychological battles that succeeded in eroding the international appeal of the Soviet system and ultimately in helping to bring about the implosion of the Soviet empire.A leading expert on East and Central European and Soviet affairs, George R. Urban offers an insider's perspective on the history of Radio Free Europe by drawing on his service during the 1960s and his term as overall director in the 1980s. In vivid detail Urban describes how the Radios promoted the cause of liberal democracy and the free market economy for more than four decades and stood up against the Soviet system, with its clandestine offshoots and fifth columns in all the countries of the West. Urban contends that a second opponent was less visible but more powerful: influential members of the American and West European Left who believed the Soviet superpower should not be thwarted. The author explores the often controversial strategies and tactics employed by the staff and administrators of the Radios, sheds light on their role in the tragic 1956 Hungarian Revolution, examines the ideas and convictions of key figures, and reveals how communism was intellectually unmasked in a psychological contest that also made possible reconciliation between nations and individuals.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14902-9
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    This volume is about a war that did not happen—not on land, not at sea, not in the air. It has come to be known as the Cold War but it has a better claim to be remembered as World War III, for it flowed organically from the twin disasters of World Wars I and II and the fundamental reorganisation of the European power structure that followed the second. But it was a real war in another sense, too. The magnitude of the resources committed; the ferocity of the enmities and the subversion generated; the casualties and dislocations exacted...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Preparations
    (pp. 12-24)

    My eyes remained dry when the Soviet system finally imploded; yet I felt a curious pang of loss. A sparring partner who had in some ways served me well had fallen by the wayside. A predictable foe beyond the hills, often heard but seldom seen, had paradoxically been a source of reassurance. Having a great enemy had been almost as good as having a great friend and—at times of disaffection within our own ranks—arguably better. A friend was a friend, but a good adversary was a vocation. Or was it, I sometimes wondered, that my long preoccupation with...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Contest of Ideas
    (pp. 25-36)

    Precisely because ideology in the Soviet scheme of things had in effect little to do with improving the life of the man or woman in the street, I took the ideological appeal of communism seriously. Although its adherents were supposedly pursuing the millennium in the name of ordinary citizens, communism was in fact a secular religion attempting to shape those citizens’ minds and secure their loyalties. It gave me some wry satisfaction to observe it in action, for here was proof positive that even the most materialistic political philosophy yet known could not get its message across without making use...

  7. CHAPTER THREE High Communism
    (pp. 37-45)

    The more conventional impediments to our proper understanding of the communist system and to the forging of appropriate policies to counter it came from Soviet-friendly members of the Western intelligentsia and Western businessmen who felt threatened by any sign of instability in their Eastern markets.

    Businessmen had a profound interest in blunting the cutting edge of the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Control (cocom) list of proscribed Western high-technology exports. Their criticisms of the enforcement of cocom’s operating rules invariably went hand in hand with attempts to whitewash the Soviet system. They spoke well of the peaceful exertions of the...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Second Conductors
    (pp. 46-58)

    The questions I most frequently encountered on my travels in Russia and other parts of Eastern and Central Europe after the collapse of the Soviet system (earlier I had been debarred from going there) tended to boil down to these: Who had been in charge during the Cold War of Western “propaganda”? More particularly: Who had determined “the line” in those three influential organisations, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, and the bbc? Had there been—as many suspected—two “conductors” rather than one; and if so, who had been wielding the second baton?

    Behind these questions it was easy enough...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Reluctant Americans
    (pp. 59-73)

    Radio Free Europe was, on paper at least, a very different enterprise from the bbc, and one of great complexity. It stood for a new genre of psychological and political warfare. Sponsored by the U.S. government, it yet remained substantially outside its immediate control. Incorporated as “an independent broadcast media [sic] operating in a manner not inconsistent with the broad foreign policy objectives of the United States,” it served, in effect, the long-term, historical interests of the captive nations. Supervised by a board appointed by the American president, the Radio had, nevertheless, sovereign rights of policy making in conjunction with...

  10. CHAPTER SIX The Soft Approach to Communism
    (pp. 74-87)

    But I have run ahead of my story. With the election of Ronald Reagan and the eventual (and much delayed) appointment, in January 1982, of a revamped Board for International Broadcasting, some of the confused brief of the Radio was clarified. Frank Shakespeare, a former director of the U.S. Information Service and a leading supporter of Nixon, became chairman. This was decisive. Not only was Shakespeare a dedicated opponent of communism and Soviet power, but he was also a born leader, a devout Catholic, and an accomplished strategist. He eventually gathered round him a board which included James A. Michener,...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Before the Implosion
    (pp. 88-111)

    With my appointment as director of Radio Free Europe, thirteen years of thinking and writing in the relative tranquillity of my study in Brighton came to an end. The shock of being surrounded not by books but by a disputatious breed of bureaucrats and journalists from the United States and all parts of Western and Eastern Europe was profound. I found my first few months in the saddle utterly bewildering. An escape clause was written into my contract at my request, for experience in the 1960s had taught me that Munich was a destroyer of health and reputations. Yet I...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT The National Interest
    (pp. 112-122)

    Under the two Radios’ preceding board and management it was unstated policy that if and when a conflict arose between the American national interest, as interpreted by the executive arm of the U.S. government, and the long-term interests of the nations of Eastern and Central Europe, as interpreted by the surrogate radios, the American interest would prevail, although it was always assumed that such conflicts would be rare and could be kept from public view. But when Frank Shakespeare took over as chairman of the board, fresh priorities were laid down. The board decided that in any such conflict our...

  13. CHAPTER NINE Jealousies in the Region
    (pp. 123-136)

    Another group of problems that gave us cause for concern was the uneven affection in which some of the East and Central European nations held one another. We had to take careful account of their prejudices—old and new—not only because these could weaken the collective force of their resistance to Soviet hegemony but also because they threatened to undermine peace in the area if and when their sovereignty was restored. The Polish underground’s forward role in the mid-1980s was a case in point.

    Poland was then in the vanguard of self-liberation. The massive Polish underground, which expressed itself...

  14. CHAPTER TEN Draining the Poison out of the System
    (pp. 137-152)

    I am returning to a point I have already touched upon—the company I had to keep. Some of my fellow combatants were of an intolerant, obstructionist, even anarchistic disposition—outside the confines of Radio Free Europe as much as within. For novelists and playwrights, such characters will undoubtedly provide colourful material for the imaginative re-creation of the period. Some were larger than life, with ambitions that far exceeded their talents; others, deprived of the cosy integument of their communist “collectives,” were suffering the torments of insignificance and of not being understood. I marvelled at their refusal to make the...

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN Misapprehensions
    (pp. 153-164)

    When agreeing to head Radio Free Europe in 1983, I was, of course, aware that the moral regeneration of Eastern and Central Europe was too ambitious an aspiration to be named as a practical goal of our broadcasting, even though Shakespeare, Buckley, Bailey, and I were unanimous in thinking that that had to be our more distant objective. The Radio’s mandate called, first and foremost, for an evenhanded dispensation of untainted information and the presentation of conflicting opinions and life-styles. Thoughtful listeners were keen to receive those from us, and did, as György Konrád, former president of International pen, personally...

  16. CHAPTER TWELVE Dialogues
    (pp. 165-177)

    Disputatious conversations on the airwaves of Radio Free Europe, and the publications resulting from those conversations, were probably my most useful contributions to the Cold War, both before and after my stint as director of the Radio.¹ Like so much else in my life, they happened without forethought or design, and in some ways against my better judgement.

    Upon my return from a visiting fellowship in California in 1970, James F. Brown, head of the Research Department of Radio Free Europe, a respected scholar and later my predecessor as director, approached me to see whether I would record a number...

  17. CHAPTER THIRTEEN Companions
    (pp. 178-210)

    Can words describe a volcano in near-permanent eruption? Such was Melvin J. Lasky, senior editor ofEncountermagazine, in thought and character. Because Lasky’s monthly journal was a powerful inducement for some of the most intriguing minds of our time to join the network of our Radio University broadcasts, I will attempt to say something about this central figure of the Western world’s contest of ideas with the Soviet system.

    Despite our different backgrounds and temperaments, Lasky and I became close friends. We shared the expectation that Sovietism had to be dispatched and could be dispatched in our lifetime without...

  18. CHAPTER FOURTEEN 1956 Reconsidered
    (pp. 211-248)

    Having looked at the strengths and achievements of surrogate broadcasting, I will proceed to put a specimen of its weaknesses under the microscope—the record of Radio Free Europe broadcasting during the period of the Hungarian uprising of October-November 1956.

    My own participation in the Western broadcasting effort in 1956 was modest. It took the form (as the reader will be aware) of holding down a junior post in the European Service of the bbc at Bush House, in London, but I was also closely observing the work of Radio Free Europe. I had paid a couple of visits to...

  19. Appendix A: STASI and the Carlos Group
    (pp. 249-255)
  20. Appendix B: A Selection of Policy Guidances, 1984–1985
    (pp. 256-280)
  21. Appendix C: Excerpts from a Radio Free Europe Review, 1956
    (pp. 281-292)
  22. Notes
    (pp. 293-314)
  23. Index
    (pp. 315-322)