50 years of Radio Free Europe

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50 years ago today, Radio Free Europe began broadcasting into Communist Europe from a converted goods lorry trundling along the Czechoslovak border. One of the pillars of the Communist regime was propaganda, aimed at making sure the people obeyed the rules. The only tool capable of breaking the information blockade was foreign radio, and Radio Free Europe played a pivotal role in this effort. Alena Skodova has this report:

In communist countries, surrounded by barbed wire, it was not easy to learn what was going in the rest of the world. It was even difficult to find out what was going on a few streets away. The regime had good reason to release information only after it had been approved by the communist bosses. The truth could have filled people with indignation, and any kind of spontaneous initiative was completely unthinkable. What would they have thought about the political trials which sent hundreds of innocent people to the gallows? What would they have thought about judges who used to consult their verdicts with top party officials? Czechoslovak journalists, too, were specially trained to help create "socialist reality" and "socialist consciousness".

But many skilled journalists fled the communist regime, and they were ideal candidates for posts at Radio Free Europe, which started its trial broadcast on July 4th, 1949 on the initiative of the US government. The station's name summed up its main mission - to help people in the communist world remain aware of European values and one day return to the free world.

Naturally, the communist propaganda masters immediately started churning out false accusations and slander against RFE, and something of a paradox emerged: journalists, who were spreading lies, started scolding those who were providing the truth. RFE's broadcasts were heavily jammed.

The breakthrough came in the 1970s, at a time when independent anti-communist initiatives started to crop up in Czechoslovakia. Radio Free Europe broadcast their pamphlets showing the people the true state of affairs in their country.

After the fall of communism, President Clinton proposed that Radio Free Europe be abolished, but found no support for the idea in Congress. At present RFE's headquarters are in Prague, and the station continues its work to help people in the post-communist countries successfully carry out transformation to become an integral part of the free world.