President Havel crosses the Radio Free Europe Barricades


Since last week the Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty building, which stands at the top of Wenceslas square in downtown Prague, has been heavily protected by armoured personnel carriers and armed soldiers. There were worries that the station - which is financed by the American congress and broadcasts to many Islamic countries - may be a target of terrorist retaliation. And most recently, there have been many discussions about whether the station's offices should be moved to another location, outside the city centre. Peter Smith has more:

Recently, Prime Minister Zeman agreed that a move would be a good idea while President Havel felt a move would be absurd.

On Monday, in support of the RFE/RL's work, President Havel crossed the barricades outside the downtown building to show gratitude and support for their work and mission and to thank the management and staff for their efforts in contributing to the development of democracy and a civic society in the Czech Republic.

"I have stopped here for a short visit at this difficult time to repeat my thanks to you and give recognition of your broadcasting the 'message of truth', which I think is very important work. I know this well for I was an associate, an unpaid free-lancer and contributor to your broadcast for many years. I would also like to thank you for telling the Czech public about me. If your broadcasts hadn't covered my plight I would have remained in prison for a longer time than I did."

Jefim Fistejn, the assistant director of programming at RFE/RL programme director, told Radio Prague that the president's visit was of great importance to the station's staff:

"I see the importance of the time of the visit because it was not chosen by chance but was rather very well thought out. We have the feeling that the presence of our radio in the very centre of Prague can present a danger to the city and population. Havel's visit and his appreciation of the present functioning of the radio in the Czech Republic will probably eliminate this feeling among the staff."