Voice of America (VOA), today the largest U.S. government-funded international broadcaster, ceased its Czech language broadcasts exactly 15 years ago today, on 27 February 2004, shortly ahead of the country’s accession to the European Union. The move followed budget cuts by the U.S. Congress and, the Cold War long over, a shift to “new audiences and new priorities”. We look back at the station’s local legacy.
In the early years of Radio Free Europe, the U.S. station – although initially founded and largely secretly funded by the CIA – played a critical role in providing balanced, objective news to listeners in the Eastern Bloc, especially during turbulent periods of history. Having failed to live up its own standards when covering the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, RFE took a radically different approach to its coverage of the Prague Spring and Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, says former RFE director A. Ross Johnson.
Tom Dine is the president of the American Friends of the Czech Republic. The Washington-based foreign policy expert doesn’t have Czech roots. But he does have close ties to Prague, having been president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – which is based in the city – between 1997 and 2005. After a tree-planting ceremony by the Woodrow Wilson statue opposite the Main Train Station, which the American Friends helped restore, Dine shared some recollections of his years in the Czech capital.
Pavel Minařík, who was a spy for communist Czechoslovakia, has been sent to prison for four months for the possession of a weapon without a license, Právo reported on Tuesday. The one-time StB agent attempted to commit suicide with an illegally held weapon in 2015 while on probation for insurance fraud, the newspaper said. The court was unable to impose a fine on him as he is living without means in a Red Cross facility for pensioners. Mr. Minařík, who is now 72, infiltrated Radio Free Europe in West Germany in the mid-1970s and planned to blow up the station. He was tried in Prague and received a four-year jail term in 1993.
In this week’s Czech History we look at one aspect of the Cold War, the use of secret agents to spy on and disrupt the enemy’s propaganda services. In particular, we focus on the circus that surrounded the return of a Czechoslovak double agent Pavel Minařík 40 years ago in 1976 which was aimed at discrediting the US financed and Munich-based broadcaster Radio Free Europe.
The Centre for Documentation of Totalitarian Regimes has released a collection of radio speeches of the veteran writer, politician and broadcaster Pavel Tigrid, aired on Radio Free Europe at the beginning of the 1950s. The book will be presented on Wednesday at the Academia bookshop on Prague’s Wenceslas Square by culture minister Daniel Herman and former Radio Free Europe reporter Petr Brod. Pavel Tigrid established and for a number of years headed the Czechoslovak section of Radio Free Europe. He subsequently moved to Paris, where he set up and published a magazine called Svědectví. After 1989, he returned to Czechoslovakia where he worked as a Minister for Culture and later as an adviser to President Václav Havel. Tigrid died in 2003.
Wednesday is the 20th anniversary of the launch of Radio Free Europe broadcasts from Prague. The US-funded symbol of the Cold War had moved to the city’s former communist parliament building at the invitation of President Václav Havel, who was keen to reinforce the Czech Republic’s new ties with the West.
Czech leader Bohuslav Sobotka has announced plans to present his Prime Minister’s Medal to journalist Pavel Pecháček and Kevin Klose, the former president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in recognition of their contribution to democracy and freedom. The PM praised the two at a meeting on Tuesday marking the 20th anniversary of RFE/RL’s move to Prague from Munich, in which Mr. Klose – along with Václav Havel – played a major role. Mr. Pecháček worked for RFE after 1968 and in headed its Czech-language broadcasting in the early 1990s.
The Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellowship was founded in 2011 by the Czech Foreign Ministry, Radio Free Europe and Vize 97 -the Dagmar and Vaclav Havel Foundation, with the aim of advancing and promoting media freedom in the post-communist world. Fellows are selected from the RFE’s broadcast region where media freedom is stifled and independent journalists often work at risk. The selected journalists spend several months at RFE where they receive on-the-job training from seasoned professionals.
The Prague Freedom Foundation will present US Senator Roger Wicker with its first Defender of Freedom Award on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution that toppled communism in Czechoslovakia. The Senator is being so honoured for his support for maintaining Radio Free Europe broadcasts to the western Balkans. The award is to be presented on November 17th at a concert of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Washington. It will be attended by the Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, and the former US secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, among others.