Pavel Minařík and the Cold War on the airwaves

Pavel Minařík in 1976, photo: CTK

If there was one sound guaranteed to infuriate Czechoslovakia’s communist leaders during the 1970s and 80s it was the call-sign of the US-funded Radio Free Europe, broadcasting from Munich to the countries of the Eastern Bloc. After the Soviet-led invasion of 1968, many Czech and Slovak émigrés of a wide variety of political hues ended up working for the station’s Czechoslovak Section. Back home they found a receptive audience and Czechoslovakia’s communist leaders became little short of obsessed with discrediting Radio Free Europe’s broadcasts. Here is a short extract from a Czechoslovak Radio programme from 1976, which opened by playing that despised call-sign:

Pavel Minařík in 1976,  photo: CTK
“This is the signature of an illegal radio station, which is a tool of the subversive and espionage activity of the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of North America [sic], infamously known by the abbreviation CIA.”

The report then turned its venom to dissidents within Czechoslovakia:

“The word dissident is of Latin original. It means turncoat or separatist. But for Radio Free Europe it has a different meaning: it means ally!”

Czechoslovakia’s campaign against the station reached its peak in 1976, with an event that is pure Cold War. On January 29 the Czechoslovak Union of Journalists in Prague hosted a high-profile press conference, attended by no less than 137 journalists from 16 different countries. The man introduced as the hero of the day was the Czechoslovak counter-intelligence agent, Captain Pavel Minařík. He had been working for several years as a Radio Free Europe announcer in Munich, but had secretly been sending regular reports back to Prague. Now he was back home, and for nearly two hours he drew a picture of Radio Free Europe as hotbed of American espionage:

“The CIA, through its agents and camouflaged behind a different façade, has absolute control over Radio Free Europe and determines all programming, in Munich and in its branches in Paris, Rome, London, Vienna and Brussels.”

He went on to name numerous former colleagues as CIA agents, although in the great majority of cases the evidence he offered was extremely thin. But some damage was done in the very fact that a Czechoslovak agent had managed to remain undetected for so long within the station.

Captain Minařík became a hero of the regime, and one normalization pop-star, Josef Laufer, even wrote a song in his honour:

“Thank you! Thank you! Brave lad, for your courage, wisdom and strength! You are our captain – they are superfluous. You have added azure to the wings of peace.”

After the fall of communism in 1989, Pavel Minařík did not last long at Czechoslovakia’s Interior Ministry. Like many former agents, he began a second career as a businessman, and earlier this year a court in Brno found him guilty of an insurance scam worth several million Czech crowns. The result of an appeal is pending.

The episode featured today was first broadcast on April 9, 2009.

About the series