Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to move from Prague centre

Radio Free Europe

Radio Free Europe, which many Czechs listened to surreptitiously in the Communist era, moved from Munich to Prague in the early 1990s, at the invitation of then president Vaclav Havel. Though security was stepped up at its headquarters after 9/11, Czech politicians say its current location at the top of Wenceslas Square poses a threat to the general population. Now Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has finally found a new, safer location - in a new building in the Prague 10 district of Hagibor.

Political analyst Jiri Pehe was an editor at RFE during Communism; he discussed the changes seen at the station over the last 15 years with Martin Mikule.

"It has changed significantly because it has stopped broadcasting to countries in central Europe or east-central Europe. Radio Free Europe now broadcasts more to the former Soviet Union plus to some countries in the Middle East. But it would be probably more appropriate to call it Radio Liberty because there were always two radio stations working together - Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. There is not much left of Radio Free Europe but Radio Liberty keeps expanding and broadcasting to more and more countries."

Why is Radio Free Europe now particularly in the Czech Republic? Why was the Czech Republic interested in hosting RFE in its capital?

"I think it was partly a coincidence. In 1992, 1993 when the US Congress decided to cut the budget of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, there were two options; either to scale down the broadcast in Munich significantly and continue or to close down the radios completely. Given the living costs in Germany it was almost impossible to continue with the reduced budget. Another alternative was to move to one of the post-communist countries."

"And so happened that there was a group of people from the Czech Republic (originally from Czechoslovakia) - Mr. Pavel Pechacek, Jan Obrman, myself, and other people who were able to persuade the management of the radios to broach this idea with the supervisory board, with the supervisory board, with the congress, and in the end it was approved by Bill Clinton."

Do you think it's good for Radio Europe to be in Prague? What kind of advantage is it for them?

"For the Radios themselves it is certainly first the question of costs, it's cheaper to broadcast from the Czech Republic then from Munich where the costs of living and costs of anything are higher then in the Czech Republic, second I think it's natural for radio stations of this sort to be in a country that used to be a country that went through communism and later went through period of transition from communism to democracy."

Do you think it's a good decision for Radio Free Europe to move out of the centre? Do you think they've been threatened by terrorism in this current place?

"Undoubtedly, they have been threatened and both radio stations have for a long time been targets for various terrorist threats while they were still in Munich. On the one hand, we could argue, it's of course not good to make concessions, and one should be tough and keep the radio in the centre of the city because it looks that we are afraid of the terrorists. On the other hand, I think it's a very reasonable decision. If we know that this particular station is the biggest security risk in the Czech Republic then it should be certainly in a place where - if it is ever attacked - the collateral damage will not be huge."