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The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II by Victor Suvorov

By Ted Lipien

I would like to thank Bill Coe for bringing Victor Suvorov’s book to my attention.

Journalists reporting on Vladimir Putin’s latest attempt to re-write history with his propaganda and disinformation blaming the start of World War II on Poland–the first victim of the war and the first country to resist militarily Hitler’s Nazi Germany–should read The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II by Victor Suvorov. He is a former Soviet military intelligence officer who had defected in 1978 to the United Kingdom and wrote about a dozen books on the Soviet Union and the history of World War II.

Suvorov’s main thesis is that after the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939 (Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) and the division of Poland by Germany and Soviet Russia, Stalin was secretly preparing a massive military attack on Germany. This theory is disputed by most historians who believe that Stalin was not planning an immediate attack on Hitler’s armies and in fact provided Germany with industrial and military aid, although Stalin undoubtedly had hoped that eventually he would be able to launch an attack and occupy Eastern Europe, including Germany, if Germany exhausted itself fighting the Western allies.

On one point, however, Suvorov is right. Stalin enabled Hitler to start World War II on September 1, 1939 and joined the war against Poland on September 17, 1939. Most Western historians agree with this assessment.

Suvorov is also right that some Western historians treat the Soviet Union as “a regular country, just like any other” and still repeat some of Soviet propaganda claims without questioning and further analysis. 1 The same could be said about some Western journalists–those who had reported about the Soviet Union in the past and those who now cover Vladimir Putin.

Victor Suvorov described in his book the Soviet Union as “a criminal conglomerate” headed by Stalin. The same approach is useful in reporting on Putin and his pronouncements. Most journalists do not treat seriously arguments by Holocaust deniers. They should treat Putin the same way since he is the prime denier of Stalin’s genocidal crimes. His denial of Stalin’s co-responsibility for launching World War II falls into this category.

Many journalists simply cannot understand Putin’s motives. They get hung up on reporting in depth what he says and trying to analyze it as disputes between nations over history and international politics. Even Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which during the Cold War was known and valued for not being fooled by Soviet and communist propaganda, now occasionally uses the “on-the-one hand, on-on-the-other hand” style of reporting, as in its recent report, “Poland, Russia Again In War Of Words Over World War II.”

When reporting on Putin’s statements, this opening paragraph of the RFE/RL report is not particularly helpful in signaling that Putin is engaged in denying genocidal actions by one of his predecessors in the Kremlin.

RFE/RL: A war of words has intensified between Poland and Russia over who is to blame for starting World War II, with each accusing the other of distorting history. 2

While the RFE/RL report includes balancing material, it lacks sufficient context and analysis. It treats Putin’s obvious lies as an alternative view of history. Such reporting helps to advance the Kremlin’s current propaganda and disinformation narrative, although most of RFE/RL online content thankfully does not. RFE/RL has been in fact improving its reporting on Russia in recent months under a new management. The Voice of America (VOA) English News Service, however, simply failed to report at all initially on Putin’s latest series of historical lies, while the VOA Russian Service waited several days and then translated and posted on its website the very inadequate RFE/RL news report.

Victor Suvorov, the former Soviet spy, defector and amateur historian, studied the history of the Soviet Union using what he describes as “methods of intelligence.” His advice is: “do not believe what is officiously demonstrated to you; seek what is hidden.” 3 An extensive knowledge of Soviet propaganda techniques and how they were used in the past to dupe many Western journalists, intellectuals and political leaders is absolutely necessary for objective reporting on Putin and any of his statements.

Vladimir Putin is an ex-KGB officer and a master of manipulating journalists and public opinion. One of Suvorov’s observations in his book, although not about Putin but about Stalin, describes exactly what Putin is doing to confuse and divide foreign public opinion: “one who wins the war is the one who prepares for war by dividing his enemies and making them fight each other, not the one who makes loud pronouncements.” 4

While Putin relies on his propagandists to do most of the disinformation work, and makes loud pronouncements only from time to time, his statements also cannot be taken at face value and reported simply as news, even with the usual balancing responses from those whom he attacks. Many Western journalists initially made the mistake in reporting on Hitler and Stalin by focusing on what they said rather than on what was not being said or widely reported.

One of the hushed up episodes of propaganda history is how easily Stalin working through his ideological agents of influence, both the so-called fellow travelers and a few actual agents of Soviet intelligence services, manipulated various U.S. government departments during World War II. A large number of Soviet sympathizers who were employed by the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration during the war at the Voice of America, helped to cover up Stalin’s atrocities and spread his propaganda. The early VOA chief news writer was Howard Fast, an American Communist, best-selling author and later the winner of the 1953 Stalin Peace Prize. A few of his colleagues employed by VOA’s foreign language desks left the United States after the war and worked for communist regimes in East-Central Europe.One of them was his Polish translator Mira Złotowska, later known as Mira Michałowska or Mira Michal. Another one was Stefan Arski, aka Artur Salman, who after leaving VOA was a chief anti-U.S.propagandist in Poland. 5

After World War II, the Voice of America was reformed and security background checks for its officials and journalists were considerably strengthened. Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were created to counter Soviet propaganda more effectively through in-depth analysis and commentary by competent experts and news reporters.

This kind of journalism is again necessary when dealing with master propagandists like Putin, but unfortunately it is still currently largely missing in U.S.-funded media outreach by the Voice of America and to some degree by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Until very recently, the Voice of America Russian Service employed as a freelancer a TV journalist who prior to his work for the U.S. government media agency produced for Russian television anti-American propaganda videos filled with conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic themes.

In the past, RFE and RL were much better by being different from the more official and federal Voice of America. This managerial and journalistic advantage has largely disappeared when both organizations were placed in the same federal agency, although RFE/RL technically still maintains its non-profit NGO status. The officials in U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), who now manage both VOA and RFE/RL, are mainly responsible for America’s current inability to stand up to Putin. They lack an in-depth knowledge of the history of Soviet and Russian propaganda and disinformation.

After I alerted the USAGM Board of Governors, VOA posted a few new news agency reports on some of the international responses to Putin’s latest propaganda offensive against Poland, but it was too late and too little. VOA did not even bother to do its own original reporting in English on this topic to offer an alternative to reporting by RT and other Kremlin media.

Perhaps of all the responses, the best rebuke to Putin’s propaganda came from the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. In a relatively short document, he presented how World War II was started by Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Russia.

Statement by the Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki

Unfortunately, the more time passes since these tragic events, the less our children and grandchildren know about them. That is why it is so important that we continue to speak out loud, telling the truth about World War II, its perpetrators and victims – and object to any attempts at distorting history.

The memory about this evil is particularly important for Poland – the war’s first victim. Our country was the first to experience the armed aggression of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Poland was the first country that fought to defend free Europe.

However, resistance to these evil powers is not only the memory of Polish heroism – it is something much more important. This resistance is the legacy of the entire now free and democratic Europe that fought against two totalitarian regimes. Today, when some want to trample the memory of these events in the name of their political goals, Poland must stand up for the truth. Not for its own interest, but for the sake of what Europe means.

Signed on 23 August 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was not a “non-aggression pact.” It was a political and military alliance, dividing Europe into two spheres of influence – along the line formed by three Polish rivers: the Narew, Vistula, and San. A month later it was moved to the line of the Bug river, as a result of the “German-Soviet Boundary and Friendship Treaty” of 28 September 1939. It was a prologue to unspeakable crimes that over the next years were committed on both sides of the line.

The pact between Hitler and Stalin was immediately put into effect: on 1 September 1939 Nazi Germany invaded Poland from the west, south and north, and on 17 September 1939 the USSR joined in, attacking Poland from the east.

On 22 September 1939 a great military parade was held in Brest-Litovsk – a celebration of Nazi Germany’s and Soviet Russia’s joint defeat of independent Poland. Such parades are not organised by parties to non-aggression pacts – they are organised by allies and friends.

This is exactly what Hitler and Stalin were – for a long time they were not only allies but in fact friends. Their friendship flourished so much that, when a group of 150 German communists fled the Third Reich to the USSR before World War II broke out, in November 1939 Stalin handed them over to Hitler as “a gift” – thus condemning them to a certain death.

The USSR and the Third Reich cooperated closely all the time. At a conference in Brest on 27 November 1939, representatives of both countries’ security services discussed the methods and principles of cooperation to fight Polish independence organisations on the occupied territories. Other conferences of the NKVD and SS officers on their cooperation were held inter alia in Zakopane and Krakow (in March 1940). These were not talks on non-aggression – but on liquidating (that is murdering) people, Polish citizens, and on joint, allied actions to bring about a total destruction of Poland.

Without Stalin’s complicity in the partition of Poland, and without the natural resources that Stalin supplied to Hitler, the Nazi German crime machine would not have taken control of Europe. The last trains with supplies left the USSR and headed for Germany on 21 June 1941 – just one day before Nazi Germany attacked its ally. Thanks to Stalin, Hitler could conquer new countries with impunity, lock Jews from all over the continent in ghettos, and prepare Holocaust – one of the worst crimes in the history of humankind.

Stalin engaged in criminal activities in the east, subduing one country after another, and developing a network of camps that the Russian Alexander Solzhenitsyn called “the Gulag Archipelago.” These were camps in which a slave, murderous torture was inflicted on millions of opponents of the communist authorities.

The crimes of the communist regime started even before the outbreak of World War II –the starvation of millions of Russians at the beginning of the1920s, the Great Famine which led to the death of many millions of inhabitants of Ukraine and Kazakhstan, the Great Purge during which nearly 700 thousand political opponents and ordinary citizens of the USSR, mostly Russians, were murdered, and the so-called “Polish Operation” of the NKVD in which mainly the USSR citizens of Polish descent were shot to death. Children, women and men were destined to die. In the “Polish Operation” alone, according to the NKVD data, over 111 thousand people were shot to death deliberately by Soviet communists. Being a Pole in the USSR at that time meant a death sentence or many years of exile.

This policy was continued with crimes committed after the Soviet Union invaded Poland on 17 September 1939 – the crime of  murdering over 22 thousand Polish officers and representatives of elites in places such as Katyn, Kharkiv, Tver, Kyiv, and Minsk, the crimes committed in the NKVD torture cells and in forced labour-camps in the most remote parts of the Soviet empire.

The greatest victims of communism were Russian citizens. Historians estimate that between 20 and 30 million people were killed in the USSR alone. Death and forced labour-camps awaited even those that every civilised country provides care for – prisoners of war that returned to their homeland. The USSR did not treat them as war heroes but as traitors. That was the Soviet Russia’s “gratitude” for prisoners of war – soldiers of the Red Army: death, forced-labour camps, concentration camps. 

Communist leaders, Joseph Stalin in the first place, are responsible for all these crimes. Eighty years after World War II started, attempts are made to rehabilitate Stalin for political goals of today’s President of Russia. These attempts must be met with strong opposition from every person who has at least basic knowledge about the history of the 20th century.

President Putin has lied about Poland on numerous occasions, and he has always done it deliberately. This usually happens when Russian authorities feel international pressure related to their activities – and the pressure is exerted not on historical but contemporary geopolitical scene. In recent weeks Russia has suffered several significant defeats – it failed in its attempt to take complete control over Belarus, the EU once again prolonged sanctions imposed on it for illegal annexation of Crimea, the so-called “Normandy Format” talks did not result in lifting these sanctions and simultaneously further restrictions were introduced – this time by the US, significantly hindering the implementation of the Nord Stream 2 project. At the same time Russian athletes have just been suspended for four years for using doping.

I consider President Putin’s words as an attempt to cover up these problems. The Russian leader is well aware that his accusations have nothing to do with reality – and that in Poland there are no monuments of Hitler or Stalin. Such monuments stood here only when they were erected by the aggressors and perpetrators – the Third Reich and the Soviet Russia.

The Russian people – the greatest victim of Stalin, one of the cruellest criminals in the history of the world – deserve the truth. I believe that Russians are a nation of free people – and that they reject Stalinism, even when President Putin’s government is trying to rehabilitate it.

There can be no consent to turning perpetrators into victims, those responsible for cruel crimes into innocent people and attacked countries. Together we must preserve the truth – in the name of the memory about the victims and for the good of our common future.

Notes:

  1. Victor Suvorov, The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2008), xxi.
  2. RFE/RL, “Poland, Russia Again In War Of Words Over World War II,” December 23, 2019, https://www.rferl.org/a/poland-russia-world-war-molotov-ribbentrop-soviet-nazi-pact/30339545.html.
  3. Victor Suvorov, The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2008), xxii.
  4. Victor Suvorov, The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2008),113.
  5. Ted Lipien, “Mira Złotowska – Michałowska — a VOA friend of Stalin Peace Prize winner,” Cold War Radio Museum, December 10, 2019, https://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/mira-zlotowska—michalowska—-a-voa-friend-of-stalin-peace-prize-winner/.
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Radio was a ‘childhood companion’ of Polish Nobel Prize author Olga Tokarczuk

I learned something today by reading on the Internet the Nobel Prize in Literature Lecture delivered on December 7, 2019 at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm by Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk. As a young girl growing up in Poland in the 1960s and the 1970s, a country at that time still under communist rule until 1989, she was often listening to the radio. As she described it, radio was her “great childhood companion.” In her Nobel speech, Tokarczuk mentioned hearing programs from all kinds of different stations—Warsaw, London, Luxembourg and Paris.

Olga Tokarczuk – Nobel Lecture

Only literature is capable of letting us go deep into the life of another being, understand their reasons, share their emotions and experience their fate.

Literature Laureate Olga Tokarczuk
Photo: Clément Morin

The first photograph I ever experienced consciously is a picture of my mother from before she gave birth to me. Unfortunately, it’s a black-and-white photograph, which means that many of the details have been lost, turning into nothing but gray shapes. The light is soft, and rainy, likely a springtime light, and definitely the kind of light that seeps in through a window, holding the room in a barely perceptible glow. My mom is sitting beside our old radio, and it’s the kind with a green eye and two dials—one to regulate the volume, the other for finding a station.

Photo by Dušan Tatomirović

This radio later became my great childhood companion; from it I learned of the existence of the cosmos. Turning an ebony knob shifted the delicate feelers of the antennae, and into their purview fell all kinds of different stations—Warsaw, London, Luxembourg and Paris. Sometimes, however, the sound would falter, as though between Prague and New York, or Moscow and Madrid, the antennae’s feelers stumbled onto black holes. Whenever that happened, it sent shivers down my spine. I believed that through this radio different solar systems and galaxies were speaking to me, crackling and warbling and sending me important information, and yet I was unable to decipher it.

News and literature in the age of the Internet

By Ted Lipien

Only literature is capable of letting us go deep into the life of another being, understand their reasons, share their emotions and experience their fate.

I have never met Olga Tokarczuk and never had a chance to interview her, but in 1984, when I was working for the Voice of America (VOA) Polish Service broadcasting from Washington D.C., I interviewed for the radio the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature winner Czesław Miłosz, a Polish poet of the World War II generation who had spent a good portion of his life living in exile in the United States before his death in 2004. His and Tokarczuk’s political outlook based on liberal ideas guiding their creative writing is similar, but the books they wrote express their interest in people and human events by looking at them from different angles and using different literary forms. One common theme uniting them is that Miłosz like Tokarczuk wanted to be a witness to history and was committed to preserving historical truth.

Now that I know about Olga Tokarczuk’s early fascination with radio, if I had had a chance to interview her, I would have wanted to ask her whether in her teenage years she had listened to Polish programs of Radio Free Europe, the BBC and the Voice of America as they had a great impact on me when I was growing up in Poland in the 1960s. Born in 1962, she could have heard these broadcasts if her mother had listened to them, as millions of Poles did at that time, or she may have started listening to them a few years later on her own, but she did not mention these stations by name in her Nobel Lecture. I wonder what she thought about life in Poland before the fall of communism. Did it bother her to be lied to about history by Communist Party officials and regime journalists? Did she at any time want to leave Poland and live in the West? Could she have become a great Polish writer if she had emigrated? Czesław Miłosz went into exile in the early 1950s, but he was already at that time a well-known poet in Poland.

By joining the Voice of America staff in 1973 as a young trainee-broadcaster after emigrating to the United States from Poland three years earlier, I tried to repay my debt of gratitude to the Western radio stations for giving me an honest portrayal of history. Radio was then the most powerful medium for instant international communication with nations whose rulers did not want theirs populations to receive outside news. Communist regimes resorted to jamming radio signals of these stations but without much success. Radio was the only way for journalists in the West to reach large numbers of people living in Poland under communism and is was largely the only way for the Poles to get uncensored news and information although some of them lived through World War II and experienced post-war communist repressions or they could learn about history from their parents and some of the more school teachers who were willing to take risks and teach true history to students. I had two such teachers in my youth.

In her lecture, Tokarczuk made some interesting observations how the media world has changed since the arrival of the Internet.

The world is a fabric we weave daily on the great looms of information, discussions, films, books, gossip, little anecdotes. Today the purview of these looms is enormous—thanks to the internet, almost everyone can take place in the process, taking responsibility and not, lovingly and hatefully, for better and for worse. When this story changes, so does the world. In this sense, the world is made of words.

The flood of stupidity, cruelty, hate speech and images of violence are desperately counterbalanced by all sorts of “good news,” but it hasn’t the capacity to rein in the painful impression, which I find hard to verbalize, that there is something wrong with the world. Nowadays this feeling, once the sole preserve of neurotic poets, is like an epidemic of lack of definition, a form of anxiety oozing from all directions.

There are now millions of sources of what is described as “news.“ Practically everyone with access to the world wide web can be a provider of either true knowledge or fake news, sometimes to hundreds of thousands or millions of people at practically no cost. During World War II and the Cold War, usually only governments could afford the high price of high-power transnational shortwave radio transmissions of news programs. Now, almost anyone can play the role of a journalist or a commentator. For the money totalitarian and authoritarian regimes spent before on radio transmissions, they can now hire at much less expense an army of anonymous trolls to manipulate public opinion at home and abroad.

Journalism is only as good and as honest as the people who deliver the news. Had Tokarczuk been alive during World War II and listened to wartime Voice of America broadcasts, she would have heard pro-Soviet and pro-Stalin propaganda delivered from the United States in Polish by such journalists as Mira Złotowska and Stefan Arski who later went back to Poland to work for the communist state media, or she would have heard English news written by the Stalin Peace Prize future winner, American communist author Howard Fast. However, if she had listened to the Voice of America during her youth from the 1960s until the 1980s, she would have heard the programs of the famous World War II anti-Nazi Polish underground army fighter and anti-Communist VOA broadcaster Zofia Korbońska. Had she listened to Radio Free Europe in the 1960s and the 1970s, she would have heard not only political news, but also the RFE music program, “Rendez-vous at 6:10,” hosted by Janusz Hewel. I had tuned to his program regularly in my youth and later worked with him when he was hired by the Voice of America moved to Washington, DC. She mentioned listening to Radio Luxembourg. The station was famous among teenagers in Poland for its music programs.

When it came to political news and information, the message was then, as it is now, only as good as the messenger. Tokarczuk believes that in the current informational chaos filled with hate speech, feel-good stories and fake news, literature can help readers find a deeper understanding of the world by providing a broader context in which humans look at themselves and interact which each other. In remembrance of her mother, she titled her lecture “The Tender Narrator,” hoping perhaps that she may encourage more people to communicate with love rather than hatred. Her advice may be much more difficult to apply to short-form journalism and to social media posts on the web, but journalists should pay attention to her words. Tokarczuk has received anonymous death threats on social media from fringe anti-Semitic Polish extremists. I also saw respected Voice of America journalists in the United States publicly posting a video with the VOA logo condoning violence against an American politician. The Polish extremists are almost certainly not journalists, and some of them may be Vladimir Putin’s trolls, but both in the United States and in Poland, social media outlets have contributed to destroying among journalists and other Internet users many previously observed limits of personal and journalistic decency, not to mention journalistic accuracy and objectivity.

To my disappointment, I did not find last week on the Voice of America English news website any coverage of Olga Tokarczuk’s Nobel Lecture. When international news radio broadcasting was still popular, it may seem now that it was a much better medium for practicing good and comprehensive journalism, allowing for a more nuanced presentation of facts and opinions than the Internet has done so far. That may be true to some degree. VOA’s radio journalists were focused not only on delivering news censored behind the Iron Curtain but also on presenting and explaining ideas behind the news. The Internet, however, has far more information that can be instantly accessed in much less time than the radio was able to provide during the Cold War. The problem is not the amount of information but people’s ability to find accurate news and, more importantly, find an objective analysis. During the Cold War, radio listeners learned to trust some of the individual broadcasters and reject those they disagreed with, just as they do now, but now their sources of information are almost limitless, confusing, and often anonymous or operating under false flags.

For better or for worse, the era of international radio broadcasting is largely gone, as it has been replaced now in most countries by Internet-based platforms of trans-border communication. Such trans-border communication in itself is also becoming less relevant in most countries for many news consumers interested in domestic issues, unless it is managed by journalists living in diaspora who are in touch with their audience and have in-country news contacts on a daily basis. In general, people prefer the ease of using domestic media and domestic information sources for both domestic and foreign news over media outlets run by foreign governments or other foreign entities. This was also the case for practical rand technical reasons during the Cold War, but people behind the Iron Curtain knew then that not all news from domestic sources was accurate and that much of it was disinformation and propaganda. They had to rely on stations such as Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, the BBC or the Voice of America to be fully informed.

Thanks to the Internet, dissident journalists can now reach their audience in most countries and still remain independent from any inside or outside government support. They can be working in their own countries or abroad. There are still, however, states such as China, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, Vietnam, Iran and Russia, where many dissident journalists are in prison. Many journalists have been victims of assassinations. Hundreds of millions of poor people still have no Internet or mobile phones. If had a chance to interview Olga Tokarczuk, I would have asked her how she would propose to bring more decency to journalism and how she would want to communicate her message to help journalists in countries without a free media in their struggle for universal human rights. Would her message be different for countries such as the United States and Poland which have a free media and free speech? Olga Tokarczuk’s idea of relying on literature to expand understanding of other people’s emotions and actions is a correct one, but what would be her advice for journalists in the era of the Internet?

Olga Tokarczuk – Nobel Lecture

How we think about the world and—perhaps even more importantly—how we narrate it have a massive significance, therefore. A thing that happens and is not told ceases to exist and perishes. This is a fact well known to not only historians, but also (and perhaps above all) to every stripe of politician and tyrant. He who has and weaves the story is in charge.

Today our problem lies—it seems—in the fact that we do not yet have ready narratives not only for the future, but even for a concrete now, for the ultra-rapid transformations of today’s world. We lack the language, we lack the points of view, the metaphors, the myths and new fables. Yet we do see frequent attempts to harness rusty, anachronistic narratives that cannot fit the future to imaginaries of the future, no doubt on the assumption that an old something is better than a new nothing, or trying in this way to deal with the limitations of our own horizons. In a word, we lack new ways of telling the story of the world.

John Amos Comenius, the great seventeenth-century pedagogue, coined the term “pansophism,” by which he meant the idea of potential omniscience, universal knowledge that would contain within it all possible cognition. This was also, and above all, a dream of information available to everyone. Would not access to facts about the world transform an illiterate peasant into a reflective individual conscious of himself and the world? Will not knowledge within easy reach mean that people will become sensible, that they will direct the progress of their lives with equanimity and wisdom?

When the Internet first came about, it seemed that this notion would finally be realized in a total way. Wikipedia, which I admire and support, might have seemed to Comenius, like many like-minded philosophers, the fulfillment of the dream of humanity—now we can create and receive an enormous store of facts being ceaselessly supplemented and updated that is democratically accessible to just about every place on Earth.

A dream fulfilled is often disappointing. It has turned out that we are not capable of bearing this enormity of information, which instead of uniting, generalizing and freeing, has differentiated, divided, enclosed in individual little bubbles, creating a multitude of stories that are incompatible with one another or even openly hostile toward each other, mutually antagonizing.

Furthermore, the Internet, completely and unreflectively subject to market processes and dedicated to monopolists, controls gigantic quantities of data used not at all pansophically, for the broader access to information, but on the contrary, serving above all to program the behavior of users, as we learned after the Cambridge Analytica affair. Instead of hearing the harmony of the world, we have heard a cacophony of sounds, an unbearable static in which we try, in despair, to pick up on some quieter melody, even the weakest beat. The famous Shakespeare quote has never been a better fit than it is for this cacophonous new reality: more and more often, the Internet is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury.

Research by political scientists unfortunately also contradicts John Amos Comenius’ intuitions, which were based on the conviction that the more universally available was information about the world, the more politicians would avail themselves of reason and make considered decisions. But it would appear that the matter is not at all so simple as that. Information can be overwhelming, and its complexity and ambiguity give rise to all sorts of defense mechanisms—from denial to repression, even to escape into the simple principles of simplifying, ideological, party-line thinking.

The category of fake news raises new questions about what fiction is. Readers who have been repeatedly deceived, misinformed or misled have begun to slowly acquire a specific neurotic idiosyncrasy. The reaction to such exhaustion with fiction could be the enormous success of non-fiction, which in this great informational chaos screams over our heads: “I will tell you the truth, nothing but the truth,” and “My story is based on facts!”

Fiction has lost the readers’ trust since lying has become a dangerous weapon of mass destruction, even if it is still a primitive tool. I am often asked this incredulous question: “Is this thing you wrote really true?” And every time I feel this question bodes the end of literature.

In this ardent division into truth and falsehood, the tales of our experience that literature creates have their own dimension.

I have never been particularly excited about any straight distinction between fiction and non-fiction, unless we understand such a distinction to be declarative and discretionary. In a sea of many definitions of fiction, the one I like the best is also the oldest, and it comes from Aristotle. Fiction is always a kind of truth.

I am also convinced by the distinction between true story and plot made by the writer and essayist E.M. Forster. He said that when we say, “The king died and then the queen died,” it’s a story. But when we say, “The king died, and then the queen died of grief,” that is a plot. Every fictionalization involves a transition from the question “What happened next?” to an attempt at understanding it based on our human experience: “Why did it happen that way?”

Literature begins with that “why,” even if we were to answer that question over and over with an ordinary “I don’t know.”

Thus literature poses questions that cannot be answered with the help of Wikipedia, since it goes beyond just information and events, referring directly to our experience.

But it is possible that the novel and literature in general are becoming before our very eyes something actually quite marginal in comparison with other forms of narration. That the weight of the image and of new forms of directly transmitting experience—film, photography, virtual reality—will constitute a viable alternative to traditional reading. Reading is quite a complicated psychological and perceptual process. To put it simply: first the most elusive content is conceptualized and verbalized, transforming into signs and symbols, and then it is “decoded” back from language into experience. That requires a certain intellectual competence. And above all it demands attention and focus, abilities ever rarer in today’s extremely distracting world.

Humanity has come a long way in its ways of communicating and sharing personal experience, from orality, relying on the living word and human memory, through the Gutenberg Revolution, when stories began to be widely mediated by writing and in this way fixed and codified as well as possible to reproduce without alteration. The major attainment of this change was that we came to identify thinking with language, with writing. Today we are facing a revolution on a similar scale, when experience can be transmitted directly, without recourse to the printed word.

There is no longer any need to keep a travel diary when you can simply take pictures and send those pictures via social networking sites straight into the world, at once and to all. There is no need to write letters, since it is easier to call. Why write fat novels, when you can just get into a television series instead? Instead of going out on the town with friends, it would be better to play a game. Reach for an autobiography? There’s no point, since I am following the lives of celebrities on Instagram and know everything about them.

It is not even the image that is the greatest opponent of text today, as we thought back in the twentieth century, worrying about the influence of television and film. It is instead a completely different dimension of the world—acting directly on our senses.

I don’t want to sketch an overall vision of crisis in telling stories about the world. But I’m often troubled by the feeling that there is something missing in the world―that by experiencing it through glass screens, and through apps, somehow it becomes unreal, distant, two-dimensional, and strangely non-descript, even though finding any particular piece of information is astoundingly easy. These days the worrying words “someone, “something,” “somewhere,” “some time” can seem riskier than very specific, definite ideas uttered with complete certainty―such as that “the earth is flat,” “vaccinations kill,” “climate change is nonsense,” or “democracy is not under threat anywhere in the world.” “Somewhere” some people are drowning as they try to cross the sea. “Somewhere,” for “some” time, “some sort of” a war has been going on. In the deluge of information individual messages lose their contours, dissipate in our memory, become unreal and vanish.

Literature is one of the few spheres that try to keep us close to the hard facts of the world, because by its very nature it is always psychological, because it focuses on the internal reasoning and motives of the characters, reveals their otherwise inaccessible experience to another person, or simply provokes the reader into a psychological interpretation of their conduct. Only literature is capable of letting us go deep into the life of another being, understand their reasons, share their emotions and experience their fate.

For full text of Olga Tokarczuk’s Nobel Lecture, see:

Olga Tokarczuk Nobel Lecture: The Tender Narrator

1.

1953 CIA Source: People Died in Czechoslovakia Because of Pro-Communist Propaganda from Voice of America

OPINION AND ANALYSIS

Cold War Radio Museum Cold War Radio Museum

By Ted Lipien

Note: The article has been updated to include information that Heda Margolius Kovály had worked in the 1970s as a freelance reporter for the Voice of America Czechoslovak Service under a radio name Kaca Kralova.

A declassified CIA report from 1953 featured a claim by a still unidentified Slovak source asserting that some Slovaks lost their lives and freedom because the U.S. government-run Voice of America (VOA) was broadcasting pro-communist propaganda and continued to downplay Stalinist crimes in radio programs to Czechoslovakia even into the early 1950s despite the drastic change of U.S. policy toward Moscow at the start of the Cold War. Another CIA source said in 1952 that “The greater the number of people listening to VOA, the greater the responsibility of those making these broadcasts.”

“A great deal of harm can be done by irresponsible broadcasting,” the CIA source warned.

Other sources said that Western broadcasts, particularly those by Radio Free Europe (RFE) and the BBC, had enough warnings of the regime’s atrocities being perpetrated even against Communist Party members, but they observed that at least in the early phases of the Cold War, committed Communists in Czechoslovakia were not regular listeners to these American and British radio programs.

According to accounts from two persons, one of them, an unidentified CIA source, and another, the wife of a communist regime technocrat who became a victim of the Stalinist trials, in the period shortly after World War II a small group of dedicated communists in government positions in Czechoslovakia had refused to believe in Stalin’s crimes and initially dismissed Western radio reports about communist terror, regarding such broadcasts as subversive work of imperialist propaganda. Later, some of them paid with their lives for their outright rejection of outside sources of information, but confirmation bias among those blinded by ideology, partisanship and propaganda was just as strong then, if not stronger, than it is today.

There is also the question of whether more non-Communists and Communists could have received a better warning and perhaps been able to save their lives if the U.S. government-run Voice of America prior to the creation in 1950 of also U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe, instead of supporting the consolidation of communist regimes in Eastern Europe, adequately presented all available evidence of Stalinist crimes in the Soviet Union and elsewhere and had done it without triggering popular uprisings, which at that time would have been both bloody and pointless because of the massive presence of Soviet troops in East Central Europe and Moscow’s willingness to use them.

Getting answers to these questions is not easy. One source who was presumably a well-informed Slovak told the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1953 that as a result of U.S. policies and VOA broadcasts shortly after World War II, “many Slovaks paid with their lives or freedom” because of the Yalta Agreement and because they did not receive accurate information from VOA about the danger of returning from the West to communist-ruled Czechoslovakia. The same source also said that even when the U.S. government drastically changed its policy toward Moscow and the Soviet Block a few years after the war, “this new policy has not been reflected in VOA broadcasts to Czechoslovakia.” 1 Some of the early VOA broadcasters set an example by returning after the war to Czechoslovakia, where they joined or supported the Communist Party. They were, however, far from the only ones to have been deceived by Soviet propaganda which had presented anyone opposed to Stalin as a right-wing, pro-Nazi, imperialist reactionary and enemy of the working class. It was a failure on the part of many intellectuals and journalists on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

In the later years of the Cold War, the reformed Voice of America played a major role in breaking down the communist monopoly on information, but the organization’s early history presented on VOA’s official website is full of inaccuracies and misleading information. VOA still maintains that “The Voice of America began broadcasting in 1942 to combat Nazi propaganda with accurate and unbiased news and information” and that “Ever since then, VOA has served the world with a consistent message of truth, hope and inspiration.” 2 For most of VOA’s existence, the statement is true, but at times, especially during the early years, some VOA officials and broadcasters were stretching the truth and even lying because of their ideological bias and unwillingness to accept facts which contradicted their worldview. At various times, VOA censored reports about Stalin’s orders to murder thousands of WWII Polish military officers in the so-called Katyn Massacre and, as late as the 1970s, limited readings about Stalinist crimes from Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago.

Getting a more accurate picture of the role of U.S. government-run radio broadcasting during World War II and for a few years after the war requires analyzing primary sources, including contemporary accounts by early listeners to VOA programs, formerly classified State Department and CIA memoranda, and remarks by members of the U.S. Congress reprinted in the Congressional Record, some of which were used for this article. As early as 1943, slightly over a year after Voice of America programs went on the air, President Roosevelt’s White House received a warning from a high-level State Department official, supported by the U.S. Army Intelligence, that VOA’s first pro-Soviet director, a theatre producer and later Hollywood actor John Houseman, was hiring his communist friends to work on U.S. radio broadcasts to Europe. The memorandum written by FDR’s personal friend and advisor, Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, remained classified for several decades.

Blinded by Communist Propaganda

The April 1973 photo shows Heda Margolius Kovály signing copies of “The Victors and The Vanquished,” the first edition published by Horizon Press. The book was published in two sections, the first by Margolius Kovály, the second by Erazim Kohak. Following this edition, her memoir was published on its own several times, finally with the title “Under A Cruel Star.” Photo: Courtesy Margolius Family Archive.

[wiki]Heda Margolius Kovály[/wiki] (1919 – 2010), who recounted in books and interviews how a dismissal of even most obvious facts by committed Communists happened nearly 50 years ago without initially an effective challenge from Western journalism, was a low-ranking member of the Communist Party in post-World War II Czechoslovakia. She was the wife and later widow of [wiki]Rudolf Margolius[/wiki] (1913 – 1952), Czechoslovak Deputy Minister for Foreign Trade (1949–1952) in the Soviet-dominated regime. Her husband later became the youngest communist co-defendant in the infamous 1952 Rudolf [wiki]Slánský trial[/wiki] and lost his life. She would eventually become a freelance contributor to Voice of America radio programs to Czechoslovakia after emigrating to the United States. Her VOA radio name in the 1970s was Kaca Kralova.

While able to notice some of the early troubling signs of the failures of the communist economy in the late 1940s, Margolius Kovály freely admitted, after her escape from Czechoslovakia following the Soviet-led invasion of the country in 1968, to being generally blinded by communist propaganda along with her husband and other Communists in the years immediately after the end of World War II. In her memoir, Under a Cruel Star Publisher: Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc., 3 published in the West, Heda Margolius Kovály made several comments about Western radio broadcasting during the early years of the Cold War.

According to her, Communist Party members like her first husband and their spouses were not among regular listeners to such broadcasts because they thought, at least initially, that Western radios spread nothing but lies about communism.

“It seems beyond belief that in Czechoslovakia after the Communist coup in 1948, people were once again beaten and tortured by the police, that prison camps existed and we did not know, and that if anyone had told us the truth we would have refused to believe it.” 4

At some point, the couple may have seen the writing on the wall, but according to Margolius Kovály‘s memoir, at first they did not believe in what Western broadcasters were reporting about human rights abuses being committed by the regime they supported.

“When these facts were discussed on foreign broadcasts, over Radio Free Europe or the BBC,” she wrote years later, “we thought it only more proof of the way the ‘imperialists’ lied about us.” 5

She admitted that it was not until the 1950s that she started to comprehend the true nature of Stalinism. Margolius Kovály wrote in her book that the final awakening to the grim reality of life under Soviet-imposed communism came only several years after the war after she had experienced communist repression in her own life.

“It took the full impact of the Stalinist terror of the 1950s to open our eyes.” 6

An Anti-Semitic Party Purge

Despite his relatively low-level government position, her husband, Rudolf Margolius, was arrested in 1952 and tortured to force him into making a preposterously false confession to preposterously false charges leveled against him at his political trial. Accused of participating in a “Trotskyite-Titoite-Zionist” conspiracy against the communist state, he received a death sentence on November 27, 1952 and was hanged by the Czechoslovak communist regime on December 3, 1952 along with ten other more senior party members. A former inmate in Nazi concentration camps who barely survived the Holocaust, married to another Holocaust survivor, he was only 39 years old at the time of his execution. Three of the defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment. Of the fourteen Czechoslovak communists sentenced in the Slánský trial for alleged anti-state crimes, eleven were Jews. Heda Margolius Kovály recalled that announcers of the regime-controlled Radio Prague were playing up the fact that most of the defendants were, as they put it, “of Jewish origin” even though earlier the communist doctrine only emphasized and promoted class, religious, ideological and, in some cases, ethnic hatred.

Heda Margolius was not arrested with her husband, which was the usual fate of spouses of Soviet leaders killed during Stalin’s reign of terror in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. In this respect, Czechoslovakia after the war was slightly different from Russia under Stalin. She herself never held any government positions and worked as a graphic artist for a state company. Following her husband’s execution, she became a freelance translator. After she had been abruptly fired from her regular job, she could only get menial paid work in Czechoslovakia, and even that with much difficulty. While falling seriously ill and being unable to move on her own during her husband’s trial, she was forcefully discharged from a hospital in Prague on the orders of the communist party and later suffered many other indignities as a single working mother in a communist state.

She and her husband were not communists before the war. As survivors of the Holocaust, they only joined the party after the war’s end, as she explained, in a mistaken belief that communism could help to eliminate ethnic hate and create a tolerant society. Over time, even without the benefit of Western broadcasts, to which she, by her own account, had not listened regularly, she developed doubts about the Stalinist system based on her own observation of everyday life of ordinary people and tried to persuade her husband to resign from his government job, although not from the Communist Party. He also apparently started to have his own doubts, but for him they turned out to be too late. In 1952, he became one of the victims of the Stalin-inspired anti-Semitic party purge in Czechoslovakia, not because he did anything to betray the party or the communist regime but largely because he was Jewish and happened to be responsible for negotiating a trade deal with Great Britain. Stalin did not want satellite countries to become more independent like Tito’s Yugoslavia and to develop economic relations with the West. In a fascist-like fashion, Stalin and his communist supporters in Czechoslovakia had used anti-Semitism to instill fear among party members and the population while at the same time trying to benefit from widely-held anti-Semitic prejudices. The Soviets found many local communist collaborators willing to carry out their plans.

The Slánský trial, while orchestrated in Moscow by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, was executed with the help of some of the top Czechoslovak communist leaders and the local secret police. [wiki]Rudolf Slánský[/wiki] was in many ways different from Rudolf Margolius. Slánský was a Czechoslovak communist long before the war and became a senior member of the ruling establishment in post-war Czechoslovakia. He was a hardliner whom Rudolf Margolius, according to his wife, intensely disliked and avoided. He was also a propagandist. While living in exile in the Soviet Union during World War II, Slánský prepared broadcasts to Czechoslovakia over Radio Moscow. After the war he became the Czechoslovak Communist Party’s General Secretary, a position second only to the party chairman [wiki]Klement Gottwald[/wiki], and had a leading role in organizing communist rule though the illegal [wiki]1948 Czechoslovak coup d’état[/wiki]. Both Slánský and Margolius were, however, among those arrested in 1951 and 1952 on trumped-up charges of being supporters of anti-Stalin Yugoslav communist leader [wiki]Josip Broz Tito[/wiki], Western spies, and Zionists. Slánský was the chief defendant. He and most of the other executed Czechoslovak Communist Party officials convicted on the basis of fabricated evidence and false confessions extracted under torture were Jewish, as were Rudolf Margolius and his wife. The Slánský trial had very strong anti-Semitic overtones.

While Rudolf Slánský was a senior communist leader, himself responsible for some of the earlier atrocities against non-communists, Rudolf Margolius was not a member of the top leadership and had nothing to do with the earlier repressive measures. He was a deputy minister, an economist and a technocrat. Being Jewish and linked with foreign trade with the West made him, however, an easy target for Stalinist hardliners in the Czechoslovak regime and their Soviet patrons who were calling the shots. He may have been able to save himself if he had somehow managed to resign from his government position sufficiently early even if he could not withdraw from the party without reprisals, but apparently he did not have enough information and did not know that his life was endangered.

After her husband was arrested, Heda Margolius quickly realized that what Western radios had been saying were not lies. It was, however, too late to save her husband. She lost her privileged position as a wife of a communist official. Soon after her husband’s arrest, she was expelled from the communist party, lost her job, was forced to move out of their comfortable state-assigned apartment in Prague, and reduced to living in squalor. For years, she was unable to find steady employment using her professional skills and could only do freelance and menial work, which was often not enough to support herself and her young son. She lost her husband, her health and an opportunity for a decent life in communist-ruled Czechoslovakia.

Isolation from the West

The trauma of World War II, Nazism and the Holocaust, the Yalta Agreement, the overbearing presence of the Soviet Army, the willingness of some democratic Czechoslovak politicians to try to reach an accommodation and appease Moscow and local Communists, repression, propaganda and censorship by the communist regime, the initial failure of Western journalism, and the early pro-Soviet propaganda from the Voice of America before the station changed its course may have all contributed to the general confusion over Communism and Stalin’s political aims. Even if VOA broadcasts had not tried initially to hide Stalin’s crimes in the Soviet Union, it seems that both by circumstances beyond their control and in some cases also by choice, senior communist officials in Czechoslovakia and in other Soviet-dominated countries were for the most part isolated from the West and from Western sources of information until at least the early 1950s.

The son of Rudolf and Heda Margolius, Ivan Margolius, an architect and writer who since the 1960s has lived in Great Britain, told Prague Radio in a 2017 interview that his parents and other Czechs who had found themselves after the war in a similar situation as theirs, were cut off from the outside world. As Jews, they were also profoundly affected by the Holocaust, which, as he pointed out, may explain their initial support for Communism.

So, after the war, the impact of all of those horrors made him realize that he should do something to make the world better, and obviously the people who were incarcerated in the camps and in ghettos had lost contact with what was happening in the world. They had no information on what was happening politically elsewhere, so when they came out after the war, they didn’t have time to absorb the past six years of the war, in turn resulting in them being blinded by their experience and gave them this vision that they have to make the world better so that wars would never return and so that injustice towards minorities in the camps and the ghettos by the Nazis would never develop again, so that’s why he got involved with the government at the time, although it was a minor role; in the end being a deputy minister of foreign trade. [Read and listen to Radio Praha interview with Ivan Margolius, “‘Hitler, Stalin and I’ — An Oral History Based on Heda Margolius Kovály‘s Interviews with Czech Filmaker Helena Treštíková — Published in English.”]

As deputy minister for foreign trade, Rudolf Margolius made two official trips to Great Britain to negotiate a trade deal and was therefore not completely cut off from the Western world and alternative sources of information. It was, however, apparently not enough for him to break loose. Communist officials traveling abroad were closely watched. If he had defected in Britain, he would have been separated from his wife and she would be most likely arrested. There was no evidence that he had contemplated asking for political asylum. In the end, his official trip to the West, although approved by his superiors, may have become a major factor in his later arrest by the communist regime.

Holocaust and Communist Genocide

Both Heda Margolius Kovály and her first husband were among the few Czech-Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. The horrific experience of seeing your closest family members being marched to the gas chambers was how she explained their initial decision to join the Communist Party after the war despite some reservations. As an economist, her husband initially thought that socialism and communism would guarantee prosperity for Czechoslovakia and any other communist-ruled nation. They also naively thought that the triumph of socialism and communism would put a final end to anti-Semitism, racism and poverty. Both of her parents were murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz while she herself was selected to be worked to death or killed later. Her husband was also a former Nazi concentration camp prisoner.

They seemed unaware that, like Hitler, Stalin also had been responsible for the murder by execution or starvation of millions of innocent people in the Soviet Union. Other Czech communists who had spent the war in the USSR and saw the crimes of the Soviet regime refused to share this knowledge after they returned to Czechoslovakia. If they did share such information and were denounced, they would have been promptly jailed and convicted of being traitors and enemies of the state.

Margolius Kovály wrote in her book that both she and her first husband eventually became disillusioned with communist rule, but they remained party members until their expulsion shortly after Rudolf Margolius’ arrest in 1952. Despite earlier doubts and warnings from friends, her husband refused to resign from his high-level position in the Ministry for Foreign Trade. In response to her pleas, he once had asked to be transferred from his government job, but the party rejected his request. He apparently did not seriously contemplate giving up his party membership. If he had, that in itself could have become a basis for being disgraced, losing his privileged status and possibly being arrested.

After the show trials in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, it should have been obvious to communists who had gained power in Eastern Europe with the help of the Red Army that none of them was safe, but many still refused to accept such facts and chose to believe instead, as Heda Margolius Kovály pointed out, that those accused by the party had been in fact guilty of their alleged crimes.

Such ignorance is difficult to understand. However, most Western and Czechoslovak journalists failed to report with sufficient detail on the enormity of the earlier genocidal crimes in the Soviet Union under Stalin. During World War II and for a few years afterwards, the Voice of America protected Stalin by covering up the truth about his crimes. The later excuse of VOA officials and journalists was that they did not know and could not have discovered the truth, but quite a few Roosevelt administration officials did know the facts and hid them from Americans and foreign audiences to protect the military alliance with the Soviet Union during the war, or did it out of their ideological sympathies, or both. Not all Americans, however, were deceived by propaganda. Both before and during World War II, some independent journalists and several members of the U.S. Congress were trying to expose Stalin’s genocidal crimes and questioned the necessity and value of concessions being made to appease the Soviet dictator.

Jamming of Radio Free Europe and Voice of America in Czechoslovakia

While it is not safe to make general observations on the basis of one personal account, Margolius Kovály and her husband were probably typical examples of idealistic and dedicated communists who initially refused to accept the evidence of the regime’s human rights abuses and made little effort to listen to Western broadcasts. Such a dismissive attitude may not have been true, however, of the rest of the population in Czechoslovakia, especially not for the regime’s early democratic opponents and non-communist victims of the regime who had relied on Radio Free Europe, the BBC and later the reformed and more assertive Voice of America for uncensored information and moral support.

Margolius Kovály was not completely unfamiliar with Western broadcasting. In her memoir she notes that she had listened earlier to the BBC programs in Czech during the war after her escape from a Nazi labor camp transport and her return to Prague, at that time still under German occupation. Presumably, she found the earlier BBC broadcasts during the war sufficiently credible and useful. She also recounted how most of her old friends among Czechs, who feared being shot by the Germans for helping an escaped Jew, had refused to give her shelter. 7

In another passage in her book, Heda Margolius Kovály suggests that after the communist coup in Czechoslovakia in 1948, listening to Radio Free Europe and other Western radio stations may have been nearly impossible due to the intentional jamming of their radio signals by the regime’s jamming transmitters. Other contemporary accounts also discuss intentional jamming, but most writers indicate that despite difficulties they were able to listen to such broadcasts, especially outside of the big cities. As the wife of a busy communist government official who worked long hours at the ministry, she apparently spent most of her time in Prague.

Very few people listened to foreign broadcasts such as Radio Free Europe or the BBC, partly out of fear, but mainly because the broadcasts were so effectively jammed that it was almost impossible to understand what was being said. 8

Committed Communists Refused to Believe

The first Radio Free Europe radio broadcast on July 4, 1950 was to Czechoslovakia under the name “the Voice of Free Czechoslovakia.” At that time, the Voice of America was still both unwilling and unable to counter Soviet propaganda with regular and effective programs specifically designed to expose communist crimes. Heda Margolius Kovály was probably right that in the beginning of communist rule over Eastern Europe, getting accurate information, even for those who sought it out, was not easy. It was, however, not completely impossible.

While ordinary people found valuable information and moral support in Western broadcasts, this is not how Heda Margolius Kovály described attitudes toward RFE and the BBC among communists in Czechoslovakia shortly after the war. While listening to Western radio stations in private homes among family members was fairly safe, many people were still afraid of being caught and imprisoned for either listening or repeating of what they had heard. This may have been especially true among Czechoslovak communists who were blinded by ideology and propaganda from their own party propagandists, journalists and broadcasters. All of them also had much more to lose as members of the privileged elite. Margolius Kovály initially seems to had underestimated the opposition to communism among ordinary Czechs and Slovaks, but in her book she honestly describes her own and her first husband’s wrong beliefs and mistakes. She may have also underestimated the ability of ordinary Czechs and Slovaks to tune in to Western shortwave radio broadcasts in spite of jamming.

It was true, however, that opponents of the regime would have been too fearful to share their real opinions with a party member and the wife of a high-level communist official. Getting accurate information, particularly during the early years of the Cold War, was not an easy task behind the Iron Curtain.

“Occasionally someone would catch a few words out of context, surmise the rest, and pass it on. That first bit became further distorted by repetition until people dismissed it with a wave of the hand, ‘Now you see how they lie!’” 9

A CIA View

American-funded Radio Free Europe ([wiki]Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty[/wiki]) was explaining much better than VOA in various languages what was actually happening in communist-ruled nations, but the early transmitters used in West Germany to broadcast such programs were weak and subject to intentional jamming of radio signals by communist regimes.

A report prepared in 1952 by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which then under a veil of secrecy was managing Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, stated that “VOA’s one competitor is Radio Free Europe, which is regarded by the Czechs almost as their own station; RFE seems to understand the difficult life in the CSR and the desperation and hopes of the people. If RFE could overcome some technical difficulties, it would lead VOA by a wide margin…” 10 The same source in the now declassified CIA report said in 1952 that “Listening to Voice of America broadcasts in Czechoslovakia today is truly nation-wide; about 70-80 per cent of the adult population listens regularly to at least two programs a week.” 11

At that time, the Voice of America, the official radio station of the U.S. government, still largely refrained for various reasons from directly criticizing communism and consistently exposing Stalin’s crimes. However, personal observations, the word of mouth stories and improved power of U.S. broadcasts combined with the BBC’s broadcasting to Czechoslovakia should have provided over time a sufficient warning about communist atrocities to anyone willing to open their eyes. The 1952 CIA report said that “The quality of VOA reception on the whole can be described as good.” 12

According to Margolius Kovály, however, many communist bureaucrats in the early years of communist-ruled Czechoslovakia apparently refused to listen to Western radios out of a combination of loyalty to the party, ideological blindness, isolation and fear. This changed later in the Cold War when such listenership in the entire Soviet Block became nearly universal, but if one is to accept her observations as accurate, the ideological enthusiasm of early Czechoslovak communists combined with fear prevented some communist functionaries from seeking out alternative sources of information.

The 1952 CIA report tends to confirm her observations while making a distinction between listening habits of hardline communists as opposed to those of the rest of the population.

Generally, the great majority of the Czech people like most of the VOA programs quite well. They look eagerly to VOA as a source of information on the free world, a ready reporter of world news, defender and promoter of American interests and the American way of life, and the interpreter of American opinion on the activities of the Communists in that part of the world behind the Iron Curtain. There are only two small groups in Czechoslovakia that do not listen to foreign broadcasts; the “hard core” Communist Party members, and the small group of over-intellectualized individuals, who hate Communism but have no faith in Western democracy. The latter group is very dangerous; checking its growth depends on the effectiveness of VOA and other foreign broadcasts. 13

Otherwise, a CIA source presented a picture of widespread listening to Western radio broadcasts while pointing out some of the deficiencies in Voice of America programs in Western attitudes toward Czechoslovakia.

The programs beamed to Czechoslovakia prove that VOA has much good, factual material about the CSR. But one gets the impression that VOA does not have up-to-date information concerning the people, ie, their state of mind after three years of communist propaganda and mental pressure. This lack of understanding seems to me to be the major cause of difference in the reaction of listeners to RFE and VOA. This lack of understanding on the part of VOA might be caused by isolation or by insufficient contact. In this respect, RFE, has a tremendous advantage in having its headquarters close to the Czech border; it is able to establish direct contact with refugees, can “eavesdrop at the Iron Curtain.” It appears to me that VOA, located on a distant continent, either does not get enough intelligence reports about the people of Czechoslovakia, or such reports reach VOA through such complicated channels that they arrive too late to give an up-to-date picture. 14

Polish Communist Defector Reveals Regime’s Brutality in RFE and VOA Broadcasts

As late as 1951, the Voice of America, which was at that time located in New York but managed from Washington by the State Department, while usually less jammed than RFE, was under heavily criticism in the United States, particularly from Republicans in the U.S. Congress, for failing to counter Soviet propaganda. Voice of America listeners in communist ruled Poland, in letters smuggled to the United States described VOA programs as “uninteresting, drab, bureaucratic in tone, unconvincing.”

“They give the impression that they are prepared and spoken by clerks who do their job perfunctorily without any intelligent understanding of the human element or of Polish susceptibilities,” was one of many critical comments. Congressman Richard B. Wigglesworth (R-MA) read to the House of Representatives on July 24, 1951 highly critical comments on Voice of America broadcasts to Poland which, he said, had been “collected from letters and other messages by Polish writers and newspapermen” and brought to the United States by recent refugees. Management reforms carried out at VOA after such criticism resulted in making VOA programs to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union more focused on events behind the Iron Curtain, more hard-hitting and ultimately more effective, but not nearly as effective as Radio Free Europe which continued to expose in much greater detail the corruption, crimes and failures of communist regimes.

There is ample evidence that after the Slánský show trial, many more Communist Party members started to tune in to Western radio broadcasts. As Radio Free Europe named communist informers and secret police officials who tortured political prisoners, communist apparatchiks and secret police members had additional reasons for paying attention to what their friends and neighbors may have been learning about them even while the regime tried to jam these radio transmissions to make listening difficult. Details of communist secret policy brutality, including accounts about disgraced and imprisoned communist leaders being tortured, were exposed in Radio Free Europe and Voice of America broadcasts by Polish defector [wiki]Józef Światło[/wiki], a former high-level member of the secret police. Interviews with Światło were used in RFE, Radio Liberty, and VOA programs to other countries, including Czechoslovakia, opening the eyes of many communist apparatchiks and making them realize that even they were not safe from the whims of their communist comrades and the feared secret police.

High-level Czechoslovak officials and party leaders in other Warsaw Pact countries were later provided in some cases with regime-prepared transcripts of Radio Free Europe, Voice of America, BBC, and other Western media broadcasts and newspaper articles about them and the situation in the Soviet Block nations. All evidence seems to indicate that Western radio broadcasting in local languages had a powerful impact not only on the general population but eventually also on the regime elites although Margolius Kovály seems to suggest that at least in the early years of communism in Czechoslovakia, Western radios’ influence among higher-level officials was small because they refused to listen and to believe in the veracity of what Western broadcasters were saying. They were blinded by their own propaganda. In the end, it were the non-communists who over time had forced a peaceful regime change in Czechoslovakia and in other Warsaw Pact countries in East Central Europe although some former disenchanted communists had joined the ranks of the opposition in later years of the Cold War.

Primary Victims of Communism were Non-Communists

Ironically, industrial workers were the first to rebel openly against communism in large numbers in some of the other Warsaw Pact countries, particularly in Poland in 1956, 1970, 1976, and 1980. They were avid listeners to Western radios. It is important to note in this context that communists represented only a tiny portion of the victims of post-war political terror in Czechoslovakia and in other countries, the point also made by Heda Margolius Kovály in her memoir. The Czechoslovak regime imprisoned and tortured thousands of its democratic opponents, ethnic Czechs, Slovaks, Germans, Hungarians, Poles, Jews and anybody else suspected correctly or incorrectly of being an enemy. Ordinary citizens also experienced much earlier than the communist elite what it meant to live under communist lawlessness and communist economy. In her book, Margolius Kovály described her own early observations of how the Czechs had to suffer due to shortages of food and consumer goods under communist rule. At that time, she and her husband had been largely protected from experiencing such economic difficulties, but that changed drastically for her and her son after her husband was arrested.

[wiki]Miroslav Lehký[/wiki], a scholar who has conducted research for the Prague-based Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes on communist repressions in Czechoslovakia, found documentary evidence about hundreds of thousands of Czechs and Slovaks who were victims of communism.

The fabricated political trials that the communist regime used to eliminate the opponents of the regime, which were based on investigations carried out by the State Security Service (“StB”) using torture and gross physical and psychological violence, resulted in the conviction of more than 257,000 people between 1948 and 1989, and if we include the people convicted by martial courts, the number exceeds 267,000 people. The very archival documents of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (“UV KSČ”) dating back to the 1950s list almost 27,000 people convicted for “anti-state crimes” between 1948 and 1952. The people were sentenced to severe imprisonment (15 or 25 years, or for life) and their personal property was forfeited and their civic and political rights taken away from them. A total of 248 people (including one woman) were executed for political reasons. 15

Miroslav Lehký also made observations similar to those made in her books by Heda Margolius Kovály by about the isolation of the people in Czechoslovakia forced on them by the communist regime, although in the case of certain communist officials and activists, the intellectual isolation was also self-imposed.

The totalitarian regime in Czechoslovakia could not exist without isolating its citizens from each other (using terror, violence, and an atmosphere of fear, distrust, and suspicion) and isolating its citizens from the free world around them. The communist ideology was based on a fictitious vision of the world, world order, and the human being. Thus, any confrontation of the ideology with reality posed a lethal threat to the regime. 16

A Slovak View

There were not only differences in how various Western broadcasters were perceived by “hard line” and ordinary Communist Party members versus the rest of the population, but also differences between how Czechs and Slovaks in Stalinist Czechoslovakia saw these broadcasts, with Slovaks being more critical toward the Voice of America, according to a CIA report dated June 17, 1953. By that time, the Voice of America was already partially reformed and Radio Free Europe was transmitting massive amounts of uncensored information about the situation in Czechoslovakia since the station started broadcasting in 1950.

It appears, however, from the two CIA reports, that VOA programming was still substandard for some listeners. The CIA’s source was particularly critical of VOA broadcasting in Slovak.

In Slovakia, there is open criticism of VOA’s Czechoslovak programs because they offer no hope of Slovakia ever becoming an independent state. Slovaks do not recognize any so-called Czechoslovak nation; they consider themselves a different nationality. VOA broadcasts to Czechoslovakia, in nu opinion, dwell on an ideology with which the majority of Slovaks do not agree. Although the broadcasts are in both Czech and Slovak, the Slovak is so poor that the people make jokes about it.

Many of the programs are very unpopular in Slovakia and result in bitter criticism of VOA. The Slovaks are not interested in hearing praise of Czech Sokol activities, Czech cultural activities, Dr. Eduard Benes, or the other things which are completely Czech. VOA broadcasts to Czechoslovakia may be compared with Radio Prague broadcasts prior to 1939 and between 1945 to 1948. As far as Prague is concerned, Slovakia has always been a peripheral area, and the Slovaks are completely fed up with this attitude.

It should be remembered that, in 1946, the Czechs voted for the Communists; Slovakia voted anti-communist, thanks mostly to the efforts of the Catholic clergy. If VOA wants any support in Slovakia, it must not forget these facts. If VOA had taken these facts into account some time ago, resistance to the Communist regime would be much more stubborn than it is today. Furthermore, more Slovaks would have defected to the West. Many of those Slovaks who fled before the Soviets to Austria after World War II, would have never returned to Slovakia if the US had had a better grasp of the political situation. As the result of US policies, many Slovaks paid with their lives or freedom.

The US is now following an entirely different policy from that of the years immediately following World War II, but this new policy has not been reflected in VOA broadcasts to Czechoslovakia.

17

Communist Propaganda in Early Voice of America

In her book, Margolius Kovály does not specifically mention the Voice of America, making direct references instead to RFE and the BBC, but the source quoted in the 1953 CIA report alluded to a little known historical fact that during World War II VOA had been dominated by pro-Soviet officials and pro-communist broadcasters who promoted Soviet propaganda and Russia’s influence over Eastern Europe.

The head of VOA’s Czechoslovak Desk during World War II, Dr. Adolf Hoffmeister, left the United States after the war, joined the Czechoslovak Communist Party and worked as a diplomat. He eventually had a falling out with the Czechoslovak regime. A member of VOA’s Polish Desk during the war, Stefan Arski, became later for many years a key anti-U.S. propagandist for the communist regime in Warsaw. Arski never broke with the Polish party and received many state awards for his work as a communist journalist.

The source quoted in the CIA report asserted that some individuals who supported the communist takeover in Czechoslovakia in 1948 were still preparing VOA programs in the early 1950s.

It is the opinion of the Slovaks that members of the so-called Czechoslovak National Council in the US control most VOA broadcasts to Czechoslovakia. These are people who were responsible, either directly or indirectly, for the assumption of power by the Communists in 1948. The reasoning in Slovakia runs something like this: “Are these the people we are supposed to listen to? Are these the people who want to run the country again? With the support of the US, these people will again give the orders on how to run the country”. The members of the Czechoslovak National Council in the US represent a very small minority; they never cared about the welfare of the Slovak people, and now are interested only in enriching themselves. Eighty-five percent of the Slovak population is Roman Catholic. About 700,000 Slovaks, mostly Roman Catholics, are living in the United States, and those people in Slovakia want to know why they never hear on VOA about these people, their organizations, such as the Catholic Union, Slovak League, Brotherhood of Slovak Catholics, and their various publications in the, US. I would suggest that this group of Slovaks develop a separate program of broadcasts to Slovakia. 18

In the initial years of the Cold War, the Voice of America was not of much help in countering Soviet propaganda, having been earlier a conduit for Soviet propaganda during World War II. This VOA’s initial failure was exposed by many critics, including the new acting chief of VOA’s Romanian Service, Dr. John Cocutz, who had testified in Congress in 1953 that many VOA managers and broadcasters “didn’t know what it was all about, what communism was.” 19

In his congressional testimony, Dr. Cocutz quoted his supervisor telling him that he [Cocutz] was under the mistaken impression that the Voice of America existed to fight communism, “while we are not,” the VOA official in charge of broadcasts to the region reportedly said. 20 As he testified later in Congress, Dr. Cocutz told his boss that he was surprised to learn that VOA was not in the business of fighting communism.

Well, I am surprised, because I left my job at the University of Georgia purposely to fight against communism. There is no business for me to be here then. I can go back to the university, if I can’t fight communism here. 21

Naivety about communism was not limited to idealistic party members behind the Iron Curtain. Soviet propaganda managed to confuse a lot of people in the West, including a number of left-leaning intellectuals and journalists. One of the many was Pulitzer Prize New York Times reporter [wiki]Walter Duranty[/wiki] who had lied in his reports about the show trials in Moscow and the regime-created famine in Ukraine in the 1930s.

Some of those deceived by Soviet propaganda included from 1942 to 1945 early Voice of America officials and broadcasters and later some U.S. State Department diplomats who from 1945 to 1953 were responsible for directing VOA programs. According to Dr. Cocutz’s testimony, the VOA official in charge of radio programs to Eastern Europe explained to him in the early 1950s the need to refrain from criticizing communism using arguments very similar to how idealistic communists justified their work for the Czechoslovak regime and their initial refusal to believe what Radio Free Europe was saying about communism.

Then he added another remark, saying that he was informed by some people that communism helped some poor people in some parts of the world… 22

Fortunately, other prominent Americans, aware of the power of Soviet propaganda, pushed hard to create Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty and advocated for reforming the Voice of America. Personnel and programming reforms at VOA took several years and their progress varied from service to service.

Czechs and Slovaks interviewed by the CIA in the early 1950s offered various advice for the Voice of America. Some of the advice was more appropriate for Radio Free Europe which already successfully produced such programs.

…a weekly program be directed at Communist Party members, during which the Party would be attacked relentlessly. Purges of long standing Party members their offenses and threatened punishments should not only be reported but also made the subject or commentaries. The life and deeds, promises and lies of communist leaders should be publicized. By the same token, rank and file CP members should be warned, but it should be pointed out that they will be judged by their deeds and not just by Party membership. Such a program would cause chaos and disorganization in Czechoslovakia, and increase passive resistance on the part or the Czechs. 23

The Czech source quoted in the CIA report emphasized the need for bold but also responsible journalism.

In conclusion, the Voice of America is a part of the daily life or the millions in Czechoslovakia; indeed the whole nation tries to tune in VOA every day. The greater the number of people listening to VOA, the greater the responsibility of those making these broadcasts. A great deal of harm can be done by irresponsible broadcasting.

In this connection

(a) A greater sense or responsibility should be adopted and more care should be devoted to factual reporting.

(b) More emphasis should be placed on the survival of people behind the Iron Curtain and less to the American way or life; ie, more attention should be devoted to events and problems in Czechoslovakia.

(c) More of the human touch and more optimism should be included in programs.

(d) The Communist Party should be more severely attacked; government leaders should be assailed, but not to such an extent that the plain people would be forced to stick with the CP out of desperation.

(e) The people of the CSR should be convinced of the growing strength of the West; VOA should keep harping on the backwardness of the Soviet orbit in all fields of science.

(f) All programs should be prepared with the thought that the Voice of America is playing a major role in shaping the future course or history during this crucial struggle. 24

The Slovak source in the CIA report offered additional advice for VOA from a perspective of a Slovak listener to Western broadcasts.

I would like to make the following suggestions with regard to VOA broadcasts:

a. Broadcasts should support the most effective battle against Communism.

b. Further, they ‘should emphasize cooperation among the European nations.

c. They should not try to force the idea of national union upon a people such as the Slovaks.

d. A more responsible group should be put in charge of the programs. 25

Early Non-Communist Opponents and Escapees from Czechoslovakia

By the early 1950s, many people in Czechoslovakia who suffered daily shortages of food and other basic consumer goods were eager to get uncensored news from Western sources. By that time, VOA was already beginning to include more information on communist repressions behind the Iron Curtain. Its initial pro-communist bias slowly diminished and was eventually eliminated as a result of strong criticism from the U.S. Congress, which prompted internal personnel changes and other reforms. Most of the information on human rights abuses, however, continued to come from Radio Free Europe which specialized in providing local news and hard-hitting commentary.

Among faithful listeners to Western broadcasts were thousands of Czechs and Slovaks who tried to make daring escapes to the West thorough the well-guarded Iron Curtain. Some succeeded, but many more were shot by communist border guards or arrested, tried and sentenced to prison terms. The stories of those who succeeded to escape were presented in RFE and VOA programs. One archival United Press Photo dated March 22, 1954, showed four members of a Czech escapee family of ten being interviewed by the Voice of America. They can be seen smiling but with their eyes masked “to prevent identification by their Red enemies,” as the photo’s caption said. The photo also included this description:

[They] make no attempt to cover their glad smiles, as they tell their compatriots behind the Iron Curtain via Voice of America just how good it feels to be free.

Early Opponents of Communism: Milada Horáková

While communist officials initially may have not seen the need to listen to such Western broadcasts or were too afraid to listen or afraid to admit to anyone that they listened, regular listeners included opposition figures and millions of Czechs and Slovaks. One of the few brave individuals who showed courage and dignity in opposition to communism was [wiki]Milada Horáková[/wiki], a human rights lawyer who was tried and executed by the regime in 1950, two years before Rudolf Margolius’ trial and execution. [See: [wiki]Milada (film)[/wiki] and read and listen to Radio Praha program, “Milada Horáková: Dignity in the Face of Fanaticism.”] A survey conducted by Radio Free Europe among visitors from Czechoslovakia in the West in 1963 showed that weekly listenership to Radio Free Europe at about 30% of adult population, VOA at about 15% and BBC slightly less than 10%. Surveys were conducted among travelers from Eastern Europe by independent research firms in Western Europe. 26

The New York-based Committee for a Free Europe, the organization composed of prominent private Americans working with U.S. government officials who created Radio Free Europe and placed it initially under the secret watch of the Central Intelligence Agency, produced in 1951 a comic book commemorating Milada Horáková‘s life. [Read and listen to Radio Praha program “National Archive Analysing New Milada Horakova Documents.”]

An ad placed in American magazines by the Radio Free Europe Fund in 1966 described a young listener to RFE broadcasts in Czechoslovakia.

The truth can become a very
precious thing to a young mind
in a closed country:

“Dear Friends,

I began listening to your broadcasts when I was a small child.

Today I am 22.

And for most of what I know about the world, I have to thank Radio Free Europe.”

The young woman who wrote that letter lived in Communist-ruled Czechoslovakia.

Ten years ago, she though the world ended with that ugly barbed wire fence.

Today she knows different. And what’s more important, she knows who built it.

There are 82 million people like her living in the Iron Curtain countries of Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Poland and Hungary. And more of them listen to Radio Free Europe than ever before.

The news, not only of their own country, but of the outside world, is broadcast without bias or distortion and in their own language.

Radio Free Europe is on the air up to 19 hours every day.

The one-time Communist monopoly of information in Eastern Europe has been broken.

The truth is getting through, helping millions work toward their freedom.

And with that as a goal, a great many people have a great many more reasons to go on living.

Give to Radio Free Europe, Box 1966, Mt. Vernon, N.Y.

Some Communists Returned to Power After Imprisonment

Some high-ranking members of the Communist Party, even those who had been imprisoned during the Stalinist period and survived, including Czechoslovak President [wiki]Ludvík Svoboda[/wiki], returned to high-level party and government posts upon their release from prison following the death of Stalin in 1953 and the limited liberalization in the Soviet Union initiated by Nikita Khrushchev. Svoboda opposed the Soviet invasion but later cooperated with the Soviets and supported crackdowns on the remains of free press and anti-communist dissidents. Soviet Russia was the ultimate arbiter of keeping East European communist leaders in power and they usually justified and excused their cooperation with Moscow by claims that any effective opposition would lead to a bloody Soviet invasion. One of such imprisoned communist leaders in Poland was [wiki]Władysław Gomułka[/wiki] who after his return to power in 1956 and a brief period of relative liberalization also presided over a crackdown on dissidents. Gomułka survived Stalin because, despite pressures from Moscow, the Polish Communist Party procrastinated and did not stage a show trial for its imprisoned leaders. Thousands of Polish non-communists, however, were tried and executed. Even though his wife, [wiki]Zofia Gomułkowa[/wiki], was Jewish, several years after his return to power Gomułka helped to initiate an anti-Semitic campaign to purge Polish Jews from party, army and government positions in Poland in 1968 in a campaign similar to the anti-Semitic purges conducted earlier in the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. Polish Jews were not arrested in 1968, but they lost their jobs and were forced to leave Poland. Gomułka and his wife supported the anti-Semitic campaign. The pattern of anti-Semitism among Soviet and East European communist parties put a lie to Soviet communist claims of the movement’s opposition to fascism and other racist ideologies.

Gomułka also strongly supported the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia to squash reforms of the 1968 [wiki]Prague Spring[/wiki] initiated by the Czechoslovak Communist Party under pressure from the population. Ultimately, it was almost all about power and privilege to which communist elites held on for as long as the Soviet Union was willing to support them with the threat of a military invasion in case a popular anti-communist uprising would be allowed to get out of control.

Aftermath

Rudolf Slánský, Rudolf Margolius and the others convicted in the 1952 Slánský show trial were quietly rehabilitated by the Supreme Court in communist-ruled Czechoslovakia in 1963. The rehabilitation came much later than for some communists in the Soviet Union and in Poland and was done without much publicity. Communist Czechoslovak President Ludvík Svoboda awarded the Order of the Republic posthumously to Rudolf Margolius.

An early opponent of communism in Czechoslovakia, dissident writer [wiki]Pavel Tigrid[/wiki] saw Margolius as both a communist idealist and a victim of communism.

Margolius… survived the Nazi concentration camps and after the war enrolled into the Communist Party from the real conviction: that never again would be repeated what had happened in the past, that no one would be persecuted for his or hers racial, national or social origins, in order for all people to be equal, in order to establish an era of real freedom. A couple of years later the comrades succeeded in what the Nazis had not managed: they killed him. 27

After her escape form Czechoslovakia 1968 as the country was being invaded by the Soviet Union with the help of some of the other Warsaw Pact armies, Heda Margolius Kovály lived in the United States and worked at the Harvard Law School Library. For several years in the 1970s, he worked as a freelance reporter for the Voice of America Czechoslovak Service under a pseudonym Kaca Kralova. It was a common practice for at least some VOA broadcasters and freelancers to use pseudonyms during the Cold War in order to protect family members and friends still in countries behind the Iron Curtain from possible reprisals. She worked mainly with Vojtech Nevlud in the Czechoslovak Service, sending scripts to him for approval and then reading them over the phone to be recorded in a VOA studio in Washington. Her reports, mostly on cultural topics, would have been used by the Czechoslovak Service in the second half of each broadcast, mostly about 17 minutes into the early half hour shows and about 25 minutes into the one hour shows. During the 1970s, Voice of America foreign language services were again largely restricted in their ability to originate their own political reports and commentaries. Most of the service-originated reporting was on American topics dealing with culture and non-political issues, such as the reports written by Margolius Kovály, although some original political reporting, carefully monitored by the management, was allowed from in the 1970s time to time in VOA’s East and Central European language services. It was a period of détente in Washington’s relations with the Soviet Union. Both political and budgetary restrictions were placed on VOA by the Nixon and Ford administrations. Heda Margolius Kovály produced for VOA several dozen scripts in Czech between 1973 and 1976. She most likely used the pseudonym to appear as an ordinary member of public rather than as an intellectual speaking to others from an “elevated” platform, and also mainly to protect any friends of hers still in Czechoslovakia.

Page from a report for Voice of America Czechoslovak Service by Kaca Kralova, radio name of Heda Margolius Kovaly. Photo: Courtesy of Margolius Family Archive.

Heda Margolius Kovály returned to Prague with her second husband in 1996 and died in 2010. [wiki]Ivan Margolius[/wiki], her son from her marriage to Rudolf Margolius, left Czechoslovakia in 1966, knowing that political repression would prevent him from going to a university and getting more than a menial job. He settled in the United Kingdom where he became a successful architect, author, and propagator of Czech culture and technology.

Jana Horakova Kansky, the daughter of Milada Horáková, was for many years not allowed to leave Czechoslovakia to join her father who had escaped to the West. She was also not allowed to study at a university. She did not emigrate to the United States until 1968. [Read and listen to Radio Praha program, “Jana Horakova-Kansky – Still Proud of Mother’s ‘Enormous Courage’.”]

While most of the surviving major Nazi mass murderers were tried and punished after the war, most of the communist officials, torturers who extracted false confessions, and judges who sent Milada Horáková, Rudolf Margolius and other innocent people to their deaths, avoided punishment or received only minimal sentences after the end of the Cold War.

Later in the Cold War, the reformed Voice of America Czechoslovak Service played a major role in bringing uncensored news to Czechoslovakia. It included journalists Vojtech Nevlud and Frantisek Lysy.

Pavel Pecháček, a Czech journalist who was director of VOA’s Czechoslovak Service and later served as director of RFE/RL’s Czechoslovak Service called the creation of RFE/RL and VOA “one of the greatest gifts the United States has bestowed on oppressed people living under totalitarian regimes.”

Zdenek F. Sedivy, who also served for many years as one of VOA’s employee union stewards, and Miro Dobrovodsky, profiled in a 2004 VOA English report, were some of the best known radio personalities in Slovakia.

“There were signatories for freedom. At that time, that was the kind of journalism… Under normal circumstances, it is not news if you are reading 25 names. But behind the Iron Curtain, if you read twenty-five names of people who had signed something against the regime, it was hot stuff, and a major story.”

To illustrate the importance of VOA’s news to the Slovak and Czech audiences, Mr. Dobrovodsky quotes a friend who returned from a visit to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, when it was still under the communist regime. His friend recalled that as he walked through the city night, a familiar tune – VOA’s old “Yankee Doodle” station I.D. – caught his ear:

“He said that he was walking in a new quarter of town, high-rises, you know, and at 9 PM he heard Yankee Doodle in stereo. And I said to him that we aren’t broadcasting in stereo. And he says, ‘No, no, no, but it’s August, every window is open, and when you hear it from a thousand windows, even quietly, it sounds like Yankee Doodle in stereo.’” 28

Ivan Medek “became a vital link to the outside world” after he started to report in the late 1970s as the VOA Czechoslovak Service correspondent in Vienna. [Read and listen to Radio Praha report, “Legendary Czech Broadcaster Ivan Medek Remembered.”]

Some of the on-the-ground reporting in the period shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall and during the Velvet Revolution came from VOA’s English roving East European correspondent Jolyon Naegele. [Read and listen to Radio Praha program, “Jolyon Naegele – A Voice of the West for Many Czechs in the 1980s.”]

We will never know what exact impact Western radio broadcasts had on members and leaders of the Communist Party and government officials in Czechoslovakia in the early years of communist rule, but the contribution of both RFE and VOA to the peaceful fall of communism is unquestionable. In the end, communism fell in Czechoslovakia and in other countries not because of anything communist leaders did to reform the system but because the centralized socialist economy failed, the Soviet Union started to disintegrate and the population lost its fear of the authoritarian regimes.

Ivan Medek and other journalists established close contacts with the Czechoslovak dissident movement Charter 77 and reported on it for VOA. Radio Prague reported, “As former president Václav Havel told Czech Television, that role was crucial.”

Without his work at Voice of America, the Charter and the whole movement would, by a long way, not have had the same weight, influence and reach. 29

Photo of former anti-communist dissident [wiki]Václav Havel[/wiki] visiting Voice of America in February 1990 as the last President of Czechoslovakia. The photo is from the archive of Marek Walicki, former RFE Polish Service broadcaster and former deputy director of Voice of America Polish Service. Havel served as the first President of the Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003. He often praised RFE and VOA broadcasts and invited RFE/RL to move from Munich, Germany to Prague. The move was completed in 1995.

Heda Margolius Kovály died in Prague in 2010. A book published in 2018 in English by her son, Hitler, Stalin and I: An Oral History, based on interviews with Heda Margolius Kovály by award-winning Czech film documentarian Helena Třeštíková, includes Margolius Kovály‘s assessment of the impact of Nazism and Communism on the 20th Century, the two totalitarian ideologies she managed to survive and outlive.

People ask me frequently what was worse, Nazism or Communism. It is difficult to decide. Nazism was clearly a gangster ideology that encouraged people to the worst behavior, plotting toward wars, calling one race superior to others and simply killing people and stealing; whereas, the Communists abused people’s altruism and kindness. They allured them with talk of humanity’s highest ideals, so it is difficult to say which was worse. I think Communism was worse because it lasted longer, so they could actually do more evil and harm than the Nazis. The statistics say that Stalin murdered more people than the ones who perished in both of the world wars. 30

Unfortunately, the newest book has no references to Western radio broadcasts during the Cold War, but Margolius Kovály confirms once again that in the early, post-World War II years of communist-rule in Czechoslovakia, party members like herself and her husband initially rejected reports of the regime’s atrocities as fabrications and imperialist propaganda.

People were being arrested from the very beginning of the Communist regime, and when we found out we used to say: “Good God, how is it possible –such good people, and they’re traitors. They’re saboteurs. They wouldn’t have been arrested if they were innocent.” And we weren’t concerned any further. Or we got terribly angry: “How was it possible?” 31

Heda Margolius and her first husband Rudolf Margolius were not unique in being blinded by communist ideology and by its propagandists. Many people, both in Czechoslovakia and the in the West, were deceived by both Nazi and Soviet propaganda, including many people who called themselves “journalists.” Hitler had his European supporters outside of Germany. He had supporters in the United States before World War II.

The Communist Party USA consistently toed the Moscow line during the Hitler-Stalin Pact and while Stalin was planning to take over Eastern Europe with the help from naive President Franklin D. Roosevelt. American communists were doing everything possible to help Stalin succeed.

During the war, even the U.S. government-run Voice of America, a broadcasting unit within the Overseas Branch of the Office of War Information (OWI), became a pro-Soviet propaganda platform thanks to Stalin sympathizers among its key officials and actual communists among some its broadcasters.

Many other Western journalists in Europe and in the United States at first refused to believe in reports of Soviet atrocities and later tried to avoid reporting on them and their own failure to spot them.

During the war, VOA tried to cover up Stalin’s crimes and was reluctant to expose them even for a few years after 1945. In the 1970s, VOA censored Alexandr Solzhenitsyn for a few years in response to pressure from Moscow and Soviet propaganda.

Only Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty managed to avoid being tainted with repeating Soviet propaganda and resorting to censorship to make communism and the Soviet empire look better than they were. RFE and RL were one of the few Western institutions that were not corrupted by Soviet influence and disinformation.

Propaganda from Russia ruled by President Vladimir Putin continues to confuse a lot of people today. In this context, the initial political blindness of idealistic Czechoslovak communists who had experienced Nazism and the Holocaust is perhaps more understandable than the blindness of Roosevelt administration officials and quite a few pro-Soviet Western journalists. Propaganda is a powerful and dangerous weapon because it is often used to promote hatred, often with the help of journalists blinded by left-wing or right-wing ideologies and partisan bias.

Intellectual enablers of Fascism were roundly and justly condemned and the most brutal Nazi criminals were punished. Most Communists who had committed criminal acts avoided punishment and their intellectual enablers continue to be praised. In 2017, the Voice of America broadcast a program in which American Communist Angela Davis was hailed as a fighter for workers and women’s rights and not a word was said about her earlier support for the Soviet Union and her refusal to defend political prisoners in communist-ruled Czechoslovakia and independent trade trade union leaders jailed in communist-ruled Poland.

Genocidal crimes committed by Communists are still not widely known. Miroslav Lehký and others have called for an international debate to classify them as crimes against humanity.

A thorough settlement of such crimes and a clear declaration thereof is not only required in terms of justice – it is also of utter importance for our present and future.

The history is not over and we can see attempts at establishing other totalitarian regimes that may be much more refined and sophisticated than the previous ones. They test us – the extent to which we will make concessions.

Our unwillingness or inability to deal with our past thoroughly may endanger our freedom and democracy and serve such regimes in the future. 32

There is also the need to avoid demonizing groups and political opponents as both Nazis and Communists did. Margolius Kovály’s advice was: people should try to be tolerant toward each other and avoid being consumed by hate. It is an especially good advice for intellectuals and journalists.

I wish for the world to come to its senses, for people to finally agree and stop hating each other. The whole of my life, I have tried not to hate, to overcome those terrible events that happened to me without hating anyone. When people stop hating their fellowmen just because they are a bit different, or richer, or poorer, or less intelligent, when they have a bit of understanding for each other and wish each other all the best, then the world will be a sensible place. However, if people want to settle their debts and find pleasure in vindictiveness and the suffering of their fellowmen, then all is lost; that will be the end. Now we have the available machinery; we could explode it all. 33


Colorized Photo of Milada Horáková at her trial by Cassius Chaerea is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Ted Lipien is a former director of VOA Polish Service and former VOA acting associate director.

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Notes:

  1. Central Intelligence Agency, “Slovak Reaction to VOA Broadcasts,” June 17, 1953. Last accessed January 2, 2019, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP80-00810A001400310007-5.pdf.
  2. Voice of America, “VOA History.” Last accessed January 3, 2019, https://www.insidevoa.com/p/5829.html.
  3. Margolius Kovály, Heda. Under A Cruel Star: A Life in Prague 1941-1968. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1989.
  4. Heda Margolius Kovály, Under A Cruel Star: A Life in Prague 1941-1968 (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1989), p. 11.
  5. Margolius Kovály, Under A Cruel Star, p. 11.
  6. Margolius Kovály, Under A Cruel Star, p. 11.
  7. Margolius Kovály, Under A Cruel Star, p. 40.
  8. Margolius Kovály, Under A Cruel Star, p. 94.
  9. Margolius Kovály, Under A Cruel Star, p. 94.
  10. Central Intelligence Agency, “Voice of America Broadcasts to Czechoslovakia,” May 20, 1952. Last accessed January 2, 2019, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/0002653697.
  11. Central Intelligence Agency, “Voice of America Broadcasts to Czechoslovakia,” May 20, 1952. Last accessed January 2, 2019, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/0002653697.
  12. Central Intelligence Agency, “Voice of America Broadcasts to Czechoslovakia,” May 20, 1952. Last accessed January 2, 2019, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/0002653697.
  13. Central Intelligence Agency, “Voice of America Broadcasts to Czechoslovakia,” May 20, 1952. Last accessed January 2, 2019, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/0002653697.
  14. Central Intelligence Agency, “Voice of America Broadcasts to Czechoslovakia,” May 20, 1952. Last accessed January 2, 2019, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/0002653697.
  15. Miroslav Lehký, “Classification of crimes committed between 1948 and 1989 and the prosecution of these crimes after 1990.” Last accessed January 3, 2019, http://old.ustrcr.cz/data/pdf/publikace/sborniky/crime/lehky-miroslav.pdf
  16. Miroslav Lehký, “Classification of crimes committed between 1948 and 1989 and the prosecution of these crimes after 1990.” Last accessed January 3, 2019, http://old.ustrcr.cz/data/pdf/publikace/sborniky/crime/lehky-miroslav.pdf
  17. Central Intelligence Agency, “Slovak Reaction to VOA Broadcasts,” June 17, 1953. Last accessed January 2, 2019, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP80-00810A001400310007-5.pdf.
  18. Central Intelligence Agency, “Slovak Reaction to VOA Broadcasts,” June 17, 1953. Last accessed January 2, 2019, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP80-00810A001400310007-5.pdf.
  19. Voice of America: Report on the Government Operations Made by Its Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1954), p. 3.
  20. Voice of America: Report on the Government Operations Made by Its Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1954), p. 4.
  21. Voice of America: Report on the Government Operations Made by Its Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1954), p. 3.
  22. Voice of America: Report on the Government Operations Made by Its Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1954), p. 3.
  23. Central Intelligence Agency, “Voice of America Broadcasts to Czechoslovakia,” May 20, 1952. Last accessed January 2, 2019, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/0002653697.
  24. Central Intelligence Agency, “Voice of America Broadcasts to Czechoslovakia,” May 20, 1952. Last accessed January 2, 2019, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/0002653697.
  25. Central Intelligence Agency, “Slovak Reaction to VOA Broadcasts,” June 17, 1953. Last accessed January 2, 2019, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP80-00810A001400310007-5.pdf
  26. R. Eugene Parta, “Listening to Western Radio Stations in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Bulgaria: 1962-1988.” “Longitudinal Listening Trend Charts.” Prepared for the Conference on Cold War Broadcasting Impact, Stanford, California, October 13-15, 2004.
  27. Pavel Tigrid, Kapesní průvodce inteligentní ženy po vlastním osudu (Toronto: 68 Publishers, 1988), p. 97.
  28. Voice of America, “A VOA Journalist Looks Back – 2004-04-09.” Last accessed January 2, 2019, https://www.voanews.com/a/a-13-a-2004-04-09-32-1-66344307/545153.html.
  29. See Radio Praha report, “Legendary Czech Broadcaster Ivan Medek Remembered.”
  30. Heda Margolius Kovály (Author), Helena Treštíková (Editor), Ivan Margolius (Translator), Hitler, Stalin and I: An Oral History (Los Angeles: Doppel House Press, 2018), p. 153.
  31. Margolius Kovály (Author), Treštíková (Editor), Ivan Margolius (Translator), Hitler, Stalin and I: An Oral History, p. 153.
  32. Miroslav Lehký, “Classification of crimes committed between 1948 and 1989 and the prosecution of these crimes after 1990.” Last accessed January 3, 2019, http://old.ustrcr.cz/data/pdf/publikace/sborniky/crime/lehky-miroslav.pdf
  33. Margolius Kovály (Author), Helena Treštíková (Editor), Ivan Margolius (Translator), Hitler, Stalin and I: An Oral History (Los Angeles: Doppel House Press, 2018), p. 152
A.

Advertising for Radio Free Europe During the Cold War

 
 

 
 

This ad for Radio Free Europe was placed in American magazines in 1969 toward the end of the CIA’s involvement with Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. Such advertising by Radio Free Europe in American media would also soon end.

This particular ad, as opposed to previous Crusade for Freedom and Radio Free Europe Fund ads, appears to be representing directly Radio Free Europe. It does not appeal to Americans for financial donations to support Radio Free Europe as the Crusade for Freedom and Radio Free Europe Fund ads did earlier. As it was confirmed later, these advertising and fundraising campaigns provided only a tiny fraction of money needed to run the station. Until 1971, almost all of Radio Free Europe’s budget came from funds secretly channeled by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) which also secretly managed the station.

The 1969 magazine ad shows two attractive but serious looking young people, a man and a woman, dressed in what could pass for Kalvin Kline clothes. They appear to listen intently to a small transistor radio which the woman is holding in her hand. Their faces express sadness and concern. The ad seems to suggest that Radio Free Europe is changing with the times as its audience is becoming younger. It seems designed to target young Americans in an attempt to convince them to become interested in Radio Free Europe and supportive of its mission.

 

 

Radio Free Europe

 

The In Sound from Outside

 
More than half the people in East Europe are under thirty. When they want to know what’s happening–they switch to Radio Free Europe. For the facts about East Europe and RFE, write Radio Free Europe, Box 1969, Mt. Vernon, New York 10551
 

ADVERTISING COUNCIL

 

advertising contributed for the public good

 

 
 

In his book, Radio Free Europe’s “Crusade for Freedom”: Rallying Americans Behind Cold War Broadcasting, 1950-1960, Richard H. Cummings, Director of Security for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) for 15 years beginning in 1980, describes in great detail Radio Free Europe’s “Crusade for Freedom” and its various public relations activities. It was the decades-long advertising and fund-raising campaign for Radio Free Europe, conducted mostly in the United States by the organization known as Crusade for Freedom Inc. In 1960, it was renamed as Radio Free Europe Fund and used it as its official name since December 1962.

The creation of Radio Free Europe was presented to the public as a private initiative launched in 1949 by a group of prominent Americans called the National Committee for a Free Europe. The creation of RFE was in fact a secret U.S. government initiative funded directly by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The purpose of the Crusade for Freedom advertising campaign started by the National Committee for a Free Europe was to win the support of ordinary Americans for RFE’s mission of broadcasting uncensored news and commentary by shortwave and medium wave radio to the communist-ruled nations behind the Iron Curtain.

Robert T. Holt, an author of an early history of Radio Free Europe, does not mention the CIA connection in his book, radio free Europe, published in 1958, but he noted that U.S. government provided financial support. 1

 

 
Some people might object to referring to RFE as a “private” or “unofficial” undertaking because it is commonly believed that it has received funds from the United States government. Obviously any financial relationship that might exist between Washington and RFE cannot be discussed in this volume. The important point is that the United States government emphasizes the private status of RFE.
 

 

Radio Free Europe broadcasts started on July 4, 1950 with a program beamed to Czechoslovakia. Radio broadcasts to other Soviet Block countries were soon added and quickly became highly popular among listeners in East Central Europe.

When in the early 1950s, the Crusade for Freedom organized an operation of sending millions of anti-communist leaflets in balloons across the Iron Curtain, the U.S. State Department responded to protests from communist regimes in Czechoslovakia and Hungary that both the radio and balloon-leaflet operations were undertaken by a private organization and that neither the U.S. government nor the U.S. authorities in West Germany were involved. 2

The U.S. diplomatic response was mostly untrue, but the times were different. In terms of the severity of government repression and media censorship, communist atrocities in the Soviet Block were not in any way comparable to today’s repressions and censorship in most countries, including Putin’s Russia. There were also no direct means of communications between individuals and groups, such as the Internet. Governments controlled most trans-national radio transmissions. They were too expensive and commercially unprofitable to be undertaken by the private sector. The need behind the Iron Curtain for government-funded surrogate (in place of local communist media) radio broadcasts, such as those by Radio Free Europe, was overwhelming and could not be met by anybody else, including the Voice of America. A 1951 Crusade for Freedom Fact Sheet said that “RFE is not restricted by the ethics of diplomacy which effect (sic) Voice of America.”

In the early years of the Cold War, some individuals in Eastern Europe caught listening or sending letters to RFE and VOA were sent to prison. Thousands of opponents of communist regimes were still being arrested and executed. RFE and later Radio Liberty, which broadcast to the Soviet Union, played a critical role in helping to undermine the communist monopoly on information. Over four decades, their radio broadcasts, as well as VOA broadcasts in the later years of the Cold War, contributed to the final collapse of the Soviet empire in the last decade of the 20th century.

By most accounts, the creation of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty was a noble effort funded by the U.S. government and supported by the vast majority of American people–probably the best investment ever made in defeating an oppressive, murderous and dangerous strategic enemy using peaceful, non-lethal means. U.S.-supported broadcasting behind the Iron Curtain was opposed only by the radical Left—American Communists such as Angela Davis—and a few Democrats in the U.S. Congress, most notably Senator J. William Fulbright (D-AR). Most other Democratic and Republican leaders and both Democratic and Republican administrations were highly supportive of the two radios. (In 2017, the Voice of America presented Angela Davis as a defender of workers’ and women’s rights.)

As some knew and many suspected, most of the funding for Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty did not come from direct contributions to the Crusade for Freedom and Radio Free Europe Fund made over the years by individual American citizens and some West Europeans. The operating funds came secretly from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The intelligence agency’s involvement with Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty ended in 1972 after its managing role and funding were exposed in many media reports. Since that time, the radios have been paid for openly through appropriations from the U.S. Congress.

Even under CIA’s management, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty journalists enjoyed far greater independence than Voice of America (VOA) broadcasters. Started in 1942, VOA broadcast during the war promoted Soviet propaganda and repeated Soviet lies about the Katyn massacre of thousands of Polish militarny oficers while also suppressing other news that could shed light on Stalin’s crimes. Following World War II, VOA then under the State Department, engaged in limited censorship of news to which the Soviet government might object the most in diplomatic exchanges and its own propaganda, including the Katyn massacre, which was either ignored or minimized even in VOA’s Polish broadcasts in the later 1940s and as late as 1950-1951.

Most of such censorship by VOA’s management and some broadcasters stopped by 1952 as a result of criticism and pressure from members of both parties in the U.S. Congress. But during the Nixon-Ford administrations, VOA again engaged in limited censorship of some news related to Katyn.

In the 1970s, VOA’s senior management in response to directives from the United States Information Agency (USIA) and the White House banned reading long excerpts from books by Russian dissident writer Alexandr Solzhenitsyn.

Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, with headquarters in Munich, West Germany, never censored reporting on Katyn or readings from Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. Their “unofficial” status protected them from most censorship pressure coming from the White House or the State Department, but the journalists working for the radios never actively opposed any long-term U.S. foreign policy objectives.

Before the CIA connection was revealed, many Americans were deceived by the Crusade for Freedom and Free Europe Fund advertising campaign into believing that the stations depended solely or mostly on private donations. American officials who proposed these campaigns were, however, convinced that their ultimately false claim of Radio Free Europe’s and Radio Liberty’s independence from U.S. government control and funding allowed the stations to be more hard-hitting on communism, reject criticism from communist regimes, and be more effective in countering Soviet propaganda. This strategy worked for a while, but in restrospect it was a mistake which was later corrected.

Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were in fact able to broadcast during the Cold War much more detailed local news and commentary about the countries in the Soviet Block than the openly U.S.-funded and U.S. government-controlled Voice of America. Whether it was necessary to keep the U.S. government’s funding support secret for many years to achieve this goal can be debatable, but the end result was positive, at least initially in the United States, and behind the Iron Curtain. Radio Free Europe was able to break the communist monopoly on local news, which was something that VOA was not able to do from New York and later from Washington under the control of the State Department and, in the later period of the Cold War, the United States Information Agency (USIA).

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, actor Ronald Reagan, television personality Ed Sullivan, CBS television news anchor Walter Cronkite, and entertainers Bob Hope and Bing Crosby were among many well-known Americans who appeared in various Crusade for Freedom commercials, radio programs and television films for American audiences.

Edward R. Murrow, a highly respected American journalist who during the Kennedy administration became the director of the United States Information Agency, narrated broadcasts in support of Radio Free Europe.

The Advertising Council, commonly known as the Ad Council, an American nonprofit organization that produces, distributes, and promotes public service announcements, helped to place various Radio Free Europe ads and commercials, including the “Freedom-Gram.” Americans were asked to sign “Freedom-Grams” to communicate their individual messages of support to persons behind the Iron Curtain.

Americans also signed earlier the campaign’s “Freedom Scroll” and donated money to Radio Free Europe. In return for their contributions, they were given Crusade for Freedom’s buttons with an image of the Freedom Bell.

A newspaper advertisement with a photograph of Dwight D. Eisenhower published in 1950 had this message from the former World War II Supreme Commander and future U.S. President 3

 
“THE Crusade for Freedom is a roll-call for all Americans who love freedom. Millions of signatures on the Freedom Scroll will give warning to aggressors and encouragement to the oppressed
 
“Your name on the Freedom Scroll will be enshrined with the Freedom Bell behind the Iron Curtain in Berlin, proclaiming your faith in God and your devotion to the cause of liberty everywhere.
 
“Your contribution to the Crusade for Freedom will help Radio Free Europe pierce the Iron Curtain…give hope and courage to 80 million people now living in Eastern Europe, who keep alive in their hearts the hope of freedom and self-government.
 
“I urge every American to join with the leader of the Crusade for Freedom, General Lucius D. Clay. By doing so, you will strengthen your country’s cause and comfort your country’s friends on both sides of the Iron Curtain.”
 
DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER
 

In 1951, Hollywood actor and future U.S. President Ronald Reagan recorded a television commercial for the Second Annual Crusade for Freedom Campaign. 4The commercial opened with:

 

 
My name is Ronald Reagan. Last year the contributions of 16 million Americans to the Crusade for Freedom made possible the World Freedom Bell–symbol of hope and freedom to the communist-dominated peoples of Eastern Europe. And built this powerful 135,000 Watt Radio Free Europe transmitter in Western Germany.
 

 

 

 

President Eisenhower repeated his support for the Crusade for Freedom and Radio Free Europe in a letter to Americans released in November 1954. He had a generally low opinion of the Voice of America and pointed out in his memoirs that early pro-Soviet and pro-communist VOA officials and broadcasters were insubordinate even toward already pro-Soviet President Roosevelt. In his book he condemned biased VOA officials and some reporters.

The CIA supported the Crusade for Freedom and later the Radio Free Europe Fund until 1968 and continued supporting Radio Free Europe until June 30, 1971. Its total support was slightly over $300 million.

Richard H. Cummings explained the initial secrecy surrounding the Crusade for Freedom and the Radio Free Europe Fund and their historical legacy. 5

 

 
The dynamic early Cold War combination of Radio Free Europe and the Crusade for Freedom was a powerful change management tool of the U.S. government. This mobilization tool should not, in my opinion, be seen as an evil “deus ex machina” in the government’s Cold War activities but a successful evolutionary process involving the government, private industry, mass media, academia, religious leaders, and, lastly, “your average Joe.” The Crusade for Freedom could be termed a “fraud” on Americans, but it was, in my opinion a benign fraud: it probably gave most Americans what they wanted anyway: pageantry, a feeling of belonging and contributing to a justified cause–a Cold War consensus. I found no evidence that any individual or group financially profited from the contributions paid out in good faith for a good cause.
 

 

In Cummings’ view and in the view of listeners who benefitted from Radio Free Europe programs, including Ted Lipien, future director of the Voice of America Polish Service during Solidarity’s struggle for democracy in the 1980s and later VOA acting associate director, it was a benign and most likely also a necessary deception.

Sig Mickelson, former president of the Free Europe and the Radio Liberty Committees and later president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Inc. reported in his book, America’s Other Voice: the Story of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty that “from 1951 through 1976, [Crusade for Freedom/Radio Free Europe Fund] receipts totaled about $50 million and campaign costs about $20 million, for a net of approximately $30 million, only a tiny fraction of the total sum required to operate Free Europe.” 6

One of the goals of the Crusade for Freedom and the Free Europe Fund advertising and fund-raising campaign, as described in Mickelson’s book was “to acquaint citizens of the United States with efforts to preach the virtues of freedom to peoples behind the Iron Curtain.” 7

The most important goal, however, according to Mickelson was “to provide cover so it would appear the funding was derived from the general public and not from any governmental source, particularly not from the CIA.” 8

The United States maintained diplomatic relations with countries in the Soviet Block. When communist officials complained to American diplomats about Radio Free Europe broadcasts, they would respond that the U.S. government had no control over these broadcasts. They knew it was not true, but it helped to win the Cold War.

Millions of East Europeans and Soviet citizens were grateful for Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty programs and did not care much how they were financed. Most assumed correctly that the U.S. government was firmly behind the broadcasting effort. It was not a well-kept secret.

Media reports in the West and some members of the United States Congress started to reveal in the 1960s the CIA’s involvement with the two radios. U.S. officials and members of Congress eventually concluded that open funding of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty and discontinuing the CIA’s role were a better option.

 


 
 

Notes:

  1. Robert T. Holt, radio free Europe (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1958), p. 7.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Richard H. Cummings, Radio Free Europe “Crusade for Freedom”: Rallying Americans Behind Cold War Broadcasting, 1950-1960 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2010), p. 31.
  4. Ibid., p. 53.
  5. Ibid., p. 3.
  6. Sig Mickelson, America’s Other Voice: The Story of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (New York: Praeger, 1983), p. 58.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
C.

Cold War Lessons for Voice of America in China

Cold War Radio Museum Cold War Radio Museum

During the Cold War, it would have been unthinkable for the United States government to put in charge of U.S. international broadcasting through the Voice of America (VOA) an American businessman like Armand Hammer who had made millions for his company in various business deals with Soviet Russia. U.S. international broadcasting and business activities behind the Iron Curtain, even if perfectly legal under U.S. laws, were simply not compatible.

This prudent practice was abandoned under the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), now called the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM), giving rise to management scandals and questions about impartiality and credibility of the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN). Some past and current BBG and USAGM officials have had corporate business interests in China, Russia, and the Middle East. At the Hudson Institute panel on China-Vatican relations, Cold War Radio Museum founder Ted Lipien talked about the current VOA China problem while discussing briefly U.S. broadcasting to East Central-Europe during the Cold War.

He noted how the Polish Catholic Church dealt with communist propaganda during the Cold War and the different roles played in 1956 by the Hungarian and Polish services of Radio Free Europe.

 

Some of the favorite and still used regime tactics against their own populations and foreign public opinion are: deceptive and misleading propaganda, disinformation, creating divisions, divide et impera, infiltrating and controlling churches, and using religion to gain legitimacy and to triumph in the area of foreign policy and domestic and foreign public opinion.
 
Churches, therefore, must be forever vigilant. They must avoid making unnecessary far-reaching concessions and must have a clear and convincing public message in explaining their dealings with any repressive governments;they must engage in effective public diplomacy. They must at all times retain the respect and support of their members.
 

 
Thanks to Poland’s Roman Catholic Primate Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, and by the way, the Polish Service of Radio Free Europe under its director Jan Nowak, Poland avoided the 1956 Hungarian experience, while the Hungarian Service Radio Free Europe broadcasts were far less restrained and implied the possibility of active Western support for the Hungarian freedom fighters that was simply not feasible and not even contemplated by the United States or the West.
 
The vast difference between China and Poland is that in 1950 the Catholic Church in Poland was truly powerful, both in numbers and cultural influence even when it faced a tremendous threat from the Soviet-imposed communist regime. It also had a powerful and wise single statesman-like leader in Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski.
 
Even without him, the Polish Church still had a lot of leverage. It could call on the population to take or not to take certain actions. The Polish Church had no media access, but every Sunday the bishops could reach and address millions of Catholic Poles. In the radio age it had no radio, but it had a powerful pulpit to speak directly to millions of people, at least one day a week, while Radio Free Europe and to a much lesser extent the Voice of America provided another channel for free, uncensored information.
 
Both Wyszynski and Wojtyla secretly communicated through intermediaries with the head of the Polish Service of Radio Free Europe, and I was able to interview Cardinal Wojtyla during his visit to Washington in 1976, two years before he became Pope.
 

 
In re-reading some of the documents while preparing this presentation, I was struck by how often Cardinal Wyszynski mentions Communist propaganda, its dangers and the need to counter propaganda lies with the truth.
 

 

Full video from the panel discussion, “China-Vatican Relations and Religious Freedom in China October 11, 2018 Event” can be seen HERE.

This Cold War Radio Museum video podcast summarizes the issues of Chinese government pressure on the Voice of America Mandarin Service broadcasters.

In my presentation last week at the Hudson Institute on the State-Church Relations in Poland Under Communism, the Vatican’s Ostpolitik, and the lessons of these historical events for today’s China-Vatican relations, (I must add that I’m not a China expert) I mentioned the plight of Voice of America Mandarin Service journalists who believed they were resisting pressure from Beijing to censor VOA reporting and and got punished by their own senior management in the Federal agency of the U.S. Government for wanting to air live a lengthy interview with a whistleblower. Senior management ordered them to cut short the interview and to limit the scope of questions. I wish more people would come to their defense or at least demand a full and transparent investigation.
 
I’m disappointed that outside media and press freedom organizations have not paid sufficient attention to how these VOA journalists are being treated, as well as to business interests in China and in Russia of a few among past and current officials in charge of VOA in its parent Federal entity, the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM), formerly called the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which on its own has has tried to interfere with and restrict domestic US watchdog reporting about its management failures—not to the same degree as the governments of China and Russia, of course, but disturbing enough, since this is a US government media outreach operation funded by taxpayers to promote press freedom abroad.
 
I’m Ted Lipien, independent journalist and writer, former acting associate director of the Voice of America, and co-founder of the online Cold War Radio Museum and pro-media freedom watchdog website BBGWatch.com.
 

 
 
 

V.

Voice of America Polish Service Broadcaster Irene Broni Resisted Nazis and Communists

By Ted Lipien

Voice of America Polish Service Program “All About America” (Ameryka w Przekroju), July 9, 1983

Irena Radwańska Broni: Returning to the U.S. citizenship oath ceremony at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson would certainly approve of using his home for this purpose. … Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Born in other countries, yet believing you could be happy in this, our laws acknowledge, as they should do, your right to join us in our society, ….” 1

Irene Broni (Irena Radwańska), who died two years ago on July 22, 2016, was one of the most versatile and talented former Voice of America (VOA) Polish Service radio broadcasters. She helped to transform the Voice of America from being a colluding voice for Stalin’s propaganda during World War II to a genuine and trusted voice for freedom during the Cold War. As a teenager, she fought and was wounded in the first days of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis, which the then Voice of America in the United States Office of War Information (OWI), dominated by pro-Soviet sympathizers, almost completely ignored to comply with Stalin’s wishes who wanted to see the uprising fail and the Polish anti-communist underground army destroyed. Czesław Straszewicz, a Polish journalist based in London during the war, wrote in the 1950s about the harsh negative impact of VOA’s pro-Kremlin wartime broadcasts on the audience in Nazi-occupied Poland and among the free Poles abroad.

“With genuine horror we listened to what the Polish language programs of the Voice of America (or whatever name they had then), in which in line with what [the Soviet news agency] TASS was communicating, the Warsaw Uprising was being completely ignored.” 2

After being sent to a forced labor camp in Nazi Germany following the collapse of the uprising, Irena later found her way to the Polish Army of General Władysław Anders which was fighting alongside American, British and other allied troops against the Germans in Italy. Since she was still a minor, the Polish Army sent her to a school in the British Palestine.

After the war, like many Poles in the West who saw their country betrayed by U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at wartime conferences with Stalin at Tehran and Yalta, Irena did not return to communist-ruled, Soviet-dominated Poland. She finished her education at a music conservatory in London and later worked as a pianist with Polish emigre artists. Later during the Cold War, she spent eight years as a host of various music and history programs at the American-funded Radio Free Europe (RFE) in Munich, West Germany.

After emigrating to the United States and working several years as a pianist, Irene Broni, whose radio name at VOA was Irena Radwańska, joined in 1977 the Voice of America Polish Service team which was working to establish VOA’s reputation in Poland as a pro-freedom American radio broadcaster. This was achieved thanks to such great journalists as Zofia Korbońska, another hero of the Warsaw Uprising, Irena Radwańska and many others who had joined the VOA Polish Service after the war and replaced its former pro-Soviet staff.

During World War II, the Voice of America was a major conduit for Soviet propaganda. Its first director, John Houseman, was forced to resign in 1943 after high-level officials in the State Department secretly accused him to the FDR White House of hiring Communists. But some of Houseman’s successors at VOA and some of the early Polish Service broadcasters continued to follow the Soviet line for the rest of the war by minimizing reporting on the Polish Government in Exile in London, its armed forces fighting the Germans, and the Warsaw Uprising. As hearings before a bipartisan committee of the House of Representatives revealed in 1952, some of these early VOA Polish Service broadcasters returned to Poland after the war to work as anti-American propagandists for the communist regime.

The anti-Nazi Polish armed revolt in August 1944 was launched by the underground resistance movement Armia Krajowa (Home Army), which Irena joined despite her young age. During that time, VOA largely ignored anti-Nazi Poles like her because they refused to support Soviet rule in Poland. But in later years, thanks to Irena and her older VOA colleagues, some of whom also had fought the Nazis, survived the Warsaw Uprising and worked earlier at Radio Free Europe, the Voice of America Polish Service was slowly transforming itself into an uncensored voice of freedom from Washington. This change took decades to complete and required VOA Polish Service to protest from time to time against the upper management’s attempts to censor the truth about the Katyn massacre of thousands of Polish officers by the Soviet NKVD secret police and to resist occasional management directives to downplay human rights reporting. The Voice of America eventually became during President Ronald Reagan’s administration nearly as popular in communist-ruled Poland as the Polish Service of Radio Free Europe, which remained the most listened to and the most influential Western radio station broadcasting in Polish.

In 1982, Irene Broni was one of the Polish Service’s recipients of the Superior Honor Award “For exceptional service, professionalism, and devotion to duty in the preparation of Voice of America broadcasts to the people of Poland” during the martial which was imposed on December 13, 1981 by General Wojciech Jaruzelski and his pro-Soviet communist regime against the Solidarity labor union movement lead by Lech Wałęsa, future Nobel Peace Prize winner and future President of independent Poland. The award ceremony coincided with the visit to the Voice of America by President Ronald Reagan on February 24, 1982 to mark the 40th anniversary of VOA’s founding in 1942. A Superior Honor Award was also given in 1982 to VOA English News Vienna correspondent David Lent for “covering the events in Poland in 1981, culminating in the imposition of martial law in December.”

Irene Broni later received two VOA Excellence in Programming Awards for her popular Saturday radio show about life in the United States, Ameryka w Przekroju, and her special report from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, on the Polish-American observances of the Warsaw Uprising’s 45th anniversary. During that time, VOA broadcasters like Irene Broni who reported on all aspects of life in America adhered strictly to the VOA Charter. They produced programs that were informative, in her case also highly entertaining, and presenting a variety of different opinions on controversial issues. Partisanship in reporting on American politics was meticulously avoided by most foreign language service VOA broadcasters.

With their rich life and professional experience, these Central European journalists also could not be fooled by Soviet propaganda. When faced with inaccuracies in some VOA English reports on Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, they were not afraid to make their views known to VOA and United States Information Agency (USIA) officials. The majority of the upper agency management was strongly supportive of VOA’s Polish Service, especially during the Solidarity’s struggle for democracy. Many USIA and VOA managers during the time Irene Broni worked in the Polish Service had spent years abroad as diplomats or journalists, spoke foreign languages and were not permitted along with their immediate family members to do private business in countries ruled by oppressive regimes. Hiring personal acquittances was also not as easy as it has become in later years.

Irene Broni was able to use her outstanding broadcasting talents. History was one of her passions. In 1985 she interviewed several current and former VOA Polish Service journalists who, like her, had led incredibly eventful lives in one of the most difficult periods of the 20th century. Former VOA Polish Service deputy director Zdzisław Dziekoński participated in the Warsaw Uprising for which he was recognized by President Reagan in a White House ceremony. Irene Broni also interviewed anti-Nazi resistance hero Zofia Korbońska who risked her life daily to send coded radio messages from Nazi-occupied Poland to a Polish radio station in Britain. Irene interviewed another Polish Service broadcaster Ryszard Mossin, one of hundreds of thousands of Polish prisoners in Stalin’s Siberian camps who was later a radio reporter with General Anders’ Polish Army in Iraq and Italy, worked for the BBC and Radio Free Europe and ended up with VOA. She also recorded a radio interview with her former husband Feliks Broniecki who was a Polish soldier in the West during World War II, worked at the BBC and Radio Free Europe, and later joined the Voice of America, where he retired as Polish Service director in 1982. Another one of Irene’s interviewees was a pre-World War II Polish journalist Tadeusz Strzetelski. My outstanding deputy Marek Walicki, a Warsaw Uprising survivor and former Radio Free Europe correspondent, recognized and encouraged Irene Broni’s radio hosting and interviewing talents. She was a dynamic radio personality who easily connected with her audience and listeners of various ages. She corresponded by letter with many of them in Poland and even invited one to stay at her home on a visit to the United States. She was a friendly and generous person.

Marek Walicki’s photo (above) from KARTA website shows Irene Broni first on the left in a red and black dress. 1990, Waszyngton, USA. Nowy Rok w redakcji Sekcji Polskiej Głosu Ameryki. [1990, Washington, DC, Voice of America Polish Service New Year party.] Irena Radwańska, Helena Skotowska, Jerzy Rudzki, Marek Krzyżański-Parker, Tadeusz Walendowski, Marek Święcicki (trzeci z prawej) [third from the right], Wojciech Żórniak (z ręką w górze) [with his arm raised], Waldemar Chlebowski (drugi z prawej) [second from the right], Manuela Pinto Da Silva, originally from Portugal, who worked as a producer in the Polish Service. Fot. Marek Walicki, kolekcja Marka Walickiego, zbiory Ośrodka KARTA. Link. 

After her retirement from VOA in 1996, Irene Broni was active in various Polish-American organizations in the Washington, DC area, published a community newsletter, and helped to stage several plays by Polish writers in local theaters and a Polish opera at the Kennedy Center. In 2003, she helped to organize a campaign to send Christmas packages to soldiers from Poland serving in Iraq alongside American troops.

In commenting on the role of the Voice of America during the time when Irene Broni Radwańska was a Radio Free Europe and later Voice of America broadcaster, Lech Wałęsa said in 2002: “It is difficult to imagine what would have happened if it were not for the Voice of America and other sources with the help of which the true information squeezed through, which showed us a different point of view, which said that we are not alone, and that something is happening in our country — because our mass media did not do that.” – Lech Wałęsa, 2002

Link to Lech Wałęsa video interview: Part One and Part Two.

To this day some of the current and former Voice of America officials continue to ignore the most outstanding anti-communist VOA foreign language broadcasters while still praising pro-Soviet sympathizers such as John Houseman who had turned the early VOA into a propaganda mouthpiece for Stalin and tried to help Soviet Russia establish communist regimes in Eastern Europe.

Irene Broni Radwańska was a proud Pole, a proud American and a great Radio Free Europe and Voice of America broadcaster in the noble fight against totalitarian ideologies and their propaganda.

Some of the biographical information about Irene Broni (Irena Radwańska) came from the manuscript on the history of the Voice of America Polish Service written in Poland by Jarosław Jędrzejczak, a former longtime listener to VOA Polish broadcasts.

The photo of the VOA Polish Service staffers showing Marek Walicki, Roma Starczewska Murray, Krystyna Wojtasik, Mirek Kondracki and Jarosław Anders was originally published in the Voice of America promotional calendar for 1990. The image to the left shows a cover of the VOA Polish Service brochure from the early 1990s.

Ted Lipien is a former director of VOA Polish Service and former VOA acting associate director.

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Notes:

  1. Thomas Jefferson’s letter to Hugh White, Esq., May 2, 1801. Irene Broni misspoke saying that Jefferson wrote these words 55 years after the Declaration of Independence; it was 25 years.
  2. Czesław Straszewicz, “O Świcie,” Kultura, October, 1953, 61-62. I am indebted to Polish historian of the Voice of America’s Polish Service Jarosław Jędrzejczak for finding this reference to VOA’s wartime role.
B.

Brief History of VOA’s Domestic Propaganda

OPINION

Cold War Radio Museum Cold War Radio Museum

How Voice of America Censored Solzhenitsyn

 

Brief History of VOA’s Domestic Propaganda

 
By Ted Lipien

The Voice of America (VOA) was an easier target than Radio Free Europe (RFE) or Radio Liberty (RL) for U.S. government bureaucrats wanting to restrict human rights broadcasting to the Soviet Union in 1974 as part of the Nixon-Ford-Kissinger policy of détente. These efforts by top U.S. officials were in themselves a major victory for Soviet propaganda even if they turned out not to be completely successful. Soviet leaders, diplomats and propagandists managed to convince Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Presidents Nixon and Ford that Russian Nobel Prize-winning author of The Gulag Archipelago Alexandr Solzhenitsyn was somehow an enemy of détente and ought to be ostracized in the West, and not just in the Soviet Union and countries under Moscow’s domination.

By that time, February 1974, the Soviet leadership had already forced the writer into exile and deprived him of his Soviet citizenship. In the end, U.S. government’s attempts at censorship, however, were largely limited to federally-funded overseas broadcasts of the Voice of America, from which Solzhenitsyn was banned for a number of years in the 1970s. The U.S. government ban had no direct effect on private American media, over which the Nixon and Ford administrations had no influence as far as their own coverage of Solzhenitsyn was concerned. All American journalists, however, were targets of Soviet propaganda and disinformation campaign which eventually negatively affected most of American media’s reporting on Solzhenitsyn. Some of the false labels attached to him by the KGB started to appear with greater frequency in U.S. media reports as he continued his life in exile in the United States from 1976 until 1994.

The Soviet propaganda victory was significant but not complete. As a result of pressure from the U.S. administration, Solzhenitsyn was banned by VOA, but not to any large degree by RFE or RL. Unlike RFE and RL, pro-Soviet propaganda and censorship of enemies of Soviet communism had a long tradition at the Voice of America. It went back to World War II and the Office of War Information (OWI) where the Voice of America originated in 1942. From its very beginning, VOA was also an integral part of the U.S. federal bureaucracy, while RFE and RL, although initially funded and managed by the CIA, and after 1972 overseen by the presidentially-appointed Board for International Broadcasting (BIB), were not within any federal government agency. They were headquartered in Munich, West Germany, thus removing them even further from the reach of overzealous U.S. government officials.

During World War II, U.S. government propaganda and censorship were not only designed to influence foreign audiences. They were also used by officials of the OWI in charge of the Voice of America to deceive Americans at home. By 1974, when the Soviet government expelled Solzhenitsyn from the country of his birth, VOA was already prohibited by law since 1948 from engaging in any attempts to influence domestic public opinion in the United States. That was not the case for VOA during World War II.

President Roosevelt specifically selected Elmer Davis for his OWI role because he wanted him to use his popularity as a domestic radio broadcaster to help deliver the White House message directly to Americans.

A memorandum from President Roosevelt to Elmer Davis, dated November 20, 1942, described want the president wanted him to do for American radio audiences in addition to any broadcasts abroad by what became known later as the Voice of America.

THE WHITE HOUSE
 
MEMORANDUM FOR HONORABLE ELMER DAVIS
 
November 20, 20142
 
Here is another one who seeks your voice [in the United States].
 
F.D.R.
 
Enclosure
 
Transmitting memorandum which the President
received from Honorable Harry L. Hopkins under date of
11/19/42, regarding – “What would you think
of Elmer Davis giving a weekly summary of the
war news over the air? I think the public have
confidence in Davis. He has an excellent radio
voice. It is possible we could get all stations
in the United States to carry it. He would
make the news interesting.” 1

Elmer Davis did as he was asked. He began recording weekly broadcasts for both the Voice of America and American radio networks at home. One of his commentaries for American radio listeners and for VOA audiences overseas was a lie (he claimed after the war he did not know it was a lie) in support of Soviet propaganda claims on the murder of several thousand Polish military officers in Katyń.

Shortly after assuming his government position, Davis also proceeded to try to censor foreign language press in the United States. They included Polish American newspapers and radio stations which were beginning to report on the fate of Polish deportees in Russia and correctly blamed Stalin for the Katyń executions.

In a December 23, 1942 memo to Attorney General Francis B. Biddle, Davis called for a U.S. government action against Polish American newspaper Nowy Świat. The paper’s only crime was reporting news about Stalin and the Soviet Union that the Roosevelt administration did not want Americans to read. Nowy Świat was also critical of OWI propaganda in the U.S. and VOA broadcasts in Polish and in other languages.

The enclosed translation of material appearing in the Polish newspaper Nowy Swiat seems to this office sufficiently serious to call for some action, if that can legally be taken. 2

The Office of War Information also produced propaganda films for domestic consumption, including documentaries justifying the illegal internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry on the orders of President Roosevelt. The future Democratic Senator from California Alan Cranston was one of the officials at the OWI in charge of providing U.S. government propaganda to American newspapers and radio stations. He was the strongest supporter of government censorship directed against newspapers and radio stations which criticized the Soviet Union. In a memorandum to OWI director Elmer Davis, dated January 7, 1943, in preparation for a meeting with the U.S. Attorney General Francis B. Biddle on foreign language press, Cranston made a strong bid for shutting down American newspapers which did not want to toe the administration’s line in support of the war and U.S. allies. These war allies included Russia, but also smaller nations such as Poland and others not wanting to be dominated by the Soviet Union or having their territory annexed by Russia after the war.

I feel that at tomorrow’s meeting with the Attorney General Biddle we should strongly advise that the worst of these papers be suppressed or barred from the mails immediately. 3

The only specific reference in the Cranston memo was to German-language papers published in the United States. He described them as symbolizing “Nazism, Fascism and opposition to the war effort of the U.S. and the United Nations.” But the real target of Cranston’s attack, as seen in other memos from that period, were Polish American papers, which could hardly be accused of any pro-Nazi sympathies as Poland was then under German occupation. They supported the war with Germany but were at the same time strongly critical of the Soviet Union. Since by 1943, the German American newspapers would hardly dare or even want to support Hitler and oppose the war with Germany, Cranston’s memo applied largely to other ethnic newspapers.

Direct action against the worst papers would bring into line several score more which are not openly seditious, but which are still lukewarm about the war.

Later in his memo, Cranston added:

The coddling of these papers is senseless, and so is the fear that action against them might backfire. No court would overrule action against a foreign language paper in wartime.

Cranston informed Davis that the U.S. government had not paid sufficient attention to foreign language press in the United States.

The monopoly position of the foreign language press — many readers have no other sources of information — should make action against the foreign language press more justifiable than action against the English language press.

In 1943, domestic propaganda and censorship activities of the then VOA’s parent federal agency, the Office of War Information, prompted Rep. Joe Starnes (D-AL) to issue a warning that Americans don’t need a government-run domestic propaganda agency which also engages in censorship.

“Censorship of the press and colorization of the news on domestic policies by a centralized Government agency will blanket the fires of freedom burning on the hearthstones of our people.” “I repeat,” Rep. Starnes added, “America needs no Goebbels sitting in Washington to tell the American press what to publish or the American people why we are at war.” 4

Rep. Joe Starnes was one of many members of Congress demanding a ban on spending of taxpayers’ money by the Executive Branch to propagandize to Americans. During the war, the Congressional Record became one of the main repositories of American protests, statements and newspaper articles condemning Soviet aggression against democratic nations and exposing Soviet propaganda in support of such aggression. The Congressional Record was then the true “voice” of America; the Voice of America was not. Operating within the wartime U.S. mega-propaganda agency, it engaged in unrelenting support for the Soviet Union and its war aims, most of which were in opposition to American values and interests.

VOA’s pro-Stalin propaganda included covering up of Soviet crimes, such as the execution murder on the orders of Stalin of thousands of Polish POW military officers and other Polish officials, which became known as the Katyń Forest massacre. Katyń is mentioned briefly by Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago as a Soviet crime although he did not become a Gulag prisoner until after the war.

The U.S. Congress continued to pay close attention to the Voice of America. Members of a bipartisan investigative committee of the House of Representatives were especially harsh in their 1952 report in condemning censorship of American media and censorship of news about Soviet crimes in VOA’s overseas broadcasts during and after the war.

Furthermore, members of the staff of both OWI and FCC did engage in activities beyond the scope of their responsibilities. This unusual activity of silencing radio commentators first came to light in August 1943 when the House committee investigating the National Communications Commission discovered the procedure.
 
The technique utilized by staff members of OWI and FCC to silence was as follows: Polish radio commentators in Detroit and Buffalo broadcasting in foreign languages after the announcement of the discovery of the mass graves of Polish officers at Katyn reported facts indicating that the Soviets might be guilty of this massacre.
 
In May 1943 a member of the FCC staff suggested to a member of the OWI staff that the only way to prevent these comments was to contact the Wartime Foreign Language Radio Control Committee. This committee was made up of station owners and managers who were endeavoring to cooperate with the OWI and FCC during the war years. Accordingly a meeting was arranged in New York with two of the members of this industry committee. They were specifically requested by the OWI staff member to arrange to have a Polish radio commentator in Detroit restrict his comments to straight news items concerning Katyn, and only those by the standard wire services. The fact that a member of the FCC staff attended this meeting is significant because the FCC in such a case had no jurisdiction. In fact, the FCC member was in New York to discuss the renewal of the radio license of one of these industry members. The owner of the radio station in Detroit was contacted and requested to restrict the comments of the Polish commentator on his station, and this was done.
 
By applying indirect pressure on the station owner, these staff members accomplished their purpose, namely, keeping the full facts of the Katyn massacre story from the American people. (See vol. VII of the published hearings.) Office of Censorship officials testified and supported the conclusion of this committee that the OWI and FCC officials acted beyond the scope of their official Government responsibilities on this matter of Katyn.
 
Testimony before this committee likewise proves that the Voice of America-—successor to the Office of War Information-—had failed to fully utilize available information concerning the Katyn massacre until the creation of this committee in 1951. The committee was not impressed with statements that publication of facts concerning this crime, prior to 1951, would lead to an ill-fated uprising in Poland. Neither was it convinced by the statements of OWI officials that for the Polish-Americans to hear or read about the Katyn massacre in 1943 would have resulted in a lessening of their cooperation in the Allied war effort.” 5

Similar condemnations of VOA’s censorship of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn were heard in the U.S. Congress in the 1970s.

Censorship–activities against U.S. media during World War II eventually contributed to the OWI’s demise in 1945 and to enacting a law restricting domestic distribution of VOA programs. Repeatedly exposed and condemned in Congress by both Democrats and Republicans, wartime U.S. government propaganda and censorship activities prompted the passage of the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act. It severely limited domestic dissemination of VOA broadcasts, required strict security clearances for VOA employees and gave preferences to hiring U.S. citizens. In 2013, Congress relaxed some of the restrictions on domestic distribution of VOA programs, raising fears that VOA officials and journalists could once again engage in partisan domestic propaganda, which indeed happened in 2016.

Based on previous behavior of former officials in charge of the Voice of America, fears of VOA-generated domestic propaganda are not unfounded. There was a widespread concern in Congress during and after World War II that Voice of America broadcasters, blinded by Soviet propaganda and sympathetic to the Soviet Union, were using American tax money to promote Soviet interests at the expense of U.S. interests. The same bipartisan congressional committee led by a Democrat, Rep. Ray Madden (D-IN), concluded in 1952 that these charges were essentially true. The committee blamed Roosevelt administration officials, including those in charge of VOA, for ignoring and damaging longterm U.S. national interests, even if some of their decisions may have seemed justified at the time by wartime policy objectives.

The committee also disclosed that ideological preferences and biases of VOA officials and journalists played a crucial role in their pro-Soviet propaganda during the war and even for a few more years after the war. 6 The 1948 Smith-Mundt Act, also known as the U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (Public Law 80-402), was designed to eliminate such bias and to prevent the Executive Branch, including VOA journalists, from propagandizing to Americans. It was not designed specifically to prevent internal censorship in VOA programs targeting foreign audiences, as Alexandr Solzhenitsyn found out in 1974 when VOA Russian Service journalists were forbidden by Nixon and Ford administrations officials to try to interview him or to allow him to read from The Gulag Archipelago for radio listeners in the Soviet Union. The management of the Voice of America enforced this ban and placed its own severe restrictions on VOA’s foreign language services. Most of them lasted until the Reagan administration took office in 1981.

The next several Cold War Radio Museum articles will examine these events and provide a historical perspective and rich documentation from the Congressional Record and from previously classified U.S. government documents on how the censorship of Solzhenitsyn by the Voice of America was part of a larger pattern of Soviet propaganda influence going back to World War II. Hopefully, they will also offer some lessons for today’s propaganda wars being waged against the United States by Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and ISIS.

Russian Propaganda and U.S. Politics

Radio Liberty Fails on Russian Interference

The Obama “Reset” with Russia

Brief History of VOA’s Domestic Propaganda

China, Iran, Cuba, North Korea

 
Main article for “How Voice of America Censored Solzhenitsyn” Cold War Radio Museum Exhibit in November 2017:
 

SOLZHENITSYN Target of KGB Propaganda and Censorship by Voice of America

 
Chapters
 

Solzhenitsyn – Target of Red Propaganda

Censorship at the Voice of America – A Historical Background

Decision to Ban Solzhenitsyn from VOA

Political Fallout for President Ford

Fallout for VOA Managers During Reagan Years

Criticism in Congress

VOA Foreign Broadcasters Against Institutional Censorship

Solzhenitsyn Criticizes VOA and Radio Liberty in 1982

A Partial Reconciliation with VOA

Solzhenitsyn Records for VOA

KGB, Solzhenitsyn and U.S. Media

Another Solzhenitsyn Reading on VOA

Conclusions

Photos: (Top) Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and his wife Natalia Dmitriyevna Solzhenitsyn exiting from Alaska Airlines plane upon their arrival on May 27, 1994 in Vladivostok as they returned from exile in the United States.
(Bottom)Local Russian officials and VOA reporter Ted Lipien awaiting the arrival of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn in Vladivostok on May 27, 1994. VOA had no plans for on-the-ground coverage of Solzhenitsyn’s arrival in Russia, but Ted Lipien and VOA Russian Branch Chief Sherwood Demitz who were in Vladivostok on a marketing trip to promote rebroadcasting of VOA programs by local radio stations sent in a report to Washington.

Disclosure: Ted Lipien was VOA acting associate director in charge of central news programs before his retirement in 2006. In the 1970s, he worked as a broadcaster in the VOA Polish Service and was a reporter and service chief in the 1980s during Solidarity’s struggle for democracy in Poland. He is one of the co-founders and supporters of BBG Watch whose volunteers monitor management and performance of taxpayer-funded Voice of America and other U.S. government-run media operations within the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

 

 
 

Notes:

  1. Joe Starnes, “The Work of the O.W.I., Congressional Record, July 1, 1943.
  2. “The Katyn Forest Massacre. Final Report of the Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre pursuant to H. Res. 390 and H. Res. 539, Eighty-Second Congress, a resolution to authorize the investigation of the mass murder of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk, Russia,” (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1952), accessed October 26, 2017, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=osu.32435078695582.
  3. Ibid.
R.

Radio Free Europe 1966: A Girl Behind Barbed Wire Fence Ad

Cold War Radio Museum Cold War Radio Museum

The Crusade for Freedom was the name of an advertising campaign designed to get Americans to contribute money to Radio Free Europe which broadcast radio programs in various languages to the captive nations behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. The ad seen here is from 1966 and appeared in an American magazine. This particular ad seems to have been originated directly by Radio Free Europe or a support organization and was not part of the earlier Crusade for Freedom campaign which started in 1950 and ended in 1960.

 

She can’t come to you for the truth , but you can reach her.

 
The truth can become a very precious thing to a young mind in a closed country:
 
“Dear Friends,
 
I began listening to your broadcasts when I was a small child.
 
Today I am 22.
 
And for most of what I know about the world, I have to thank Radio Free Europe.”
 
The young woman who wrote that letter lived in Communist-ruled Czechoslovakia.
 
Today, there are 82 million people like her in the Iron Curtain countries of Eastern Europe. And more of them listen to Radio Free Europe than ever before.
 
Radio Free Europe gets the truth through—up to 19 hours every day.
 
And because of it, a great many young, and older people alike, have a great many more reasons to go on living.
 
The Iron Curtain isn’t soundproof.
 
 

Give to Radio Free Europe
BOX 1966, Mt.Vernon,N.Y.

 

Soviet and Western critics of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, its sister station broadcasting to the Soviet Union, argued that such advertising campaigns obscured the fact that the bulk of RFE’s budget came from the CIA which continued its support and management oversight until 1972. Ultimately, however, the money came from U.S. taxpayers through the U.S.Congress at the request of both Democratic and Republican administrations. Since 1972, the station’s budget was no longer kept secret and appeared in congressional appropriations.

The initial secrecy about the source of funding was a mistake on the part of the stations’ early organizers. Audiences in Eastern Europe did not care much where the money for Radio Free Europe came from, although the CIA connection would have been an embarrasment if it were officially revealed. The people in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and other countries in the Soviet Block were encouraged by the U.S. government organizing in the early 1950s and supporting what was a surrogate radio in addition to the Voice of America (VOA), the official American station which broadcast since 1942 but did not provide much local and regional East European news or sharp political commentary. During World War II, VOA, which was then dominated by a pro-Soviet management and broadcasters from the far-left, actually supported communist movements and Stalin’s designs on Eastern Europe which they saw as both progressive and peaceful. For several years after the war, VOA’s management, then within the State Department, still prevented a group of anti-communist journalists newly hired after the war from being too vocal in criticizing Russia and exposing Stalin’s crimes. This led to calls for establishing RFE which became the main lifeline to freedom for millions of loyal radio listeners.

The far left in the West, however, used the initial secrecy for what was largely their unfair and misguided criticism of the stations echoing similar criticism from the Soviet Union. Western critics ignored RFE’s and RL’s tremendous contribution to opposing tyranny and giving hope to the people living on a daily basis with censorship and oppression.

Not to be ignored was also the fact that the East Europeans found themselves under Soviet and communist domination partly as a result of the indifference if not outright support for Stalin from the American administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and many leftist intellectuals in the United States and Western Europe. Many of those who initially supported and defended Stalin later criticized Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.

The majority of Americans, however, remained opposed to communism and the expansion of Soviet influence and looked sympathetically on the freedom broadcasts funded by their government.

Private funding for sustaining political broadcasts in multiple languages over several decades was never feasible, but thanks to ads and commercials such as the one with a picture of the girl behind the barbed wire fence of the Iron Curtain, many Americans contributed individually small amounts of money to keep the fight for freedom alive with uncensored news and commentary. They, rather than the critics of Radio Free Europe, were on the right side of history when communism finally collapsed in most of the Soviet Block toward the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s.

One of the support organizations for RFE during the 1960s was the Radio Free Europe Fund whose membership included executives of major U.S. corporations and other prominent Americans. In February 1962, the group met at the White House with President John F. Kennedy who expressed his support for Radio Free Europe’s mission.

 
 

S.

SOLZHENITSYN Target of KGB Propaganda and Censorship by Voice of America

OPINION

Cold War Radio Museum Cold War Radio Museum

How Voice of America Censored Solzhenitsyn

 


 

 

SOLZHENITSYN Target of KGB Propaganda and Censorship by Voice of America

 
By Ted Lipien
 
 

This research article written for Cold War Radio Museum website to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik coup in Russia deals primarily with censorship at the U.S. taxpayer-funded and government-run Voice of America (VOA) during the policy of détente in the 1970s as it was directed by higher-level officials against Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, one of Russia’s most famous writers. VOA’s silencing of Solzhenitsyn’s voice in its broadcasts and restrictions on readings from his major work, The Gulag Archipelago, were a direct result of a successful KGB-run propaganda and disinformation campaign affecting U.S. policy at the White House level all the way down to U.S. government officials in charge of the Voice of America. The KGB, the security agency of the Soviet Union from 1954 until 1991, in addition to conducting foreign intelligence operations, also suppressed internal dissent and took active measures abroad, including propaganda and disinformation, against anyone viewed by the communist authorities as an enemy of the Soviet Union. In a partial relief for truth-deprived audiences behind the Iron Curtain, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, also U.S. government funded radio broadcasters, were largely unaffected by Soviet propaganda or censorship by U.S. government officials in response to threats from the Kremlin. Their censorship-free broadcasts beamed by shortwave radio signals behind the Iron Curtain helped to compensate to some degree for VOA’s failures and helped to save America’s reputation among the East Europeans and the Russians as the leader of the Free World and a champion of freedom.

As revealed by Major Vasili Mitrokhin, the KGB senior archivist who had defected to the United Kingdom in 1992 after providing the British embassy in Riga with a vast collection of KGB files, during the 1970s and 1980s, Solzhenitsyn was a target of an unprecedented disinformation campaign undertaken by the KGB through its multiple operatives abroad who also received assistance from other Soviet Block intelligence agencies. 1 KGB smears aimed at discrediting the dissident writer, human rights defender and Nobel Prize winner by portraying him as an anti-Western Russian nationalist and enemy of détente managed to intimidate and influence American policy makers at all levels and successfully undermined his reputation in the West even to this day. The KGB also spread false accusations of pro-Nazi sympathies and anti-Semitism to discredit Solzhenitsyn and anyone associating with him or offering him support.

The senior management of the Voice of America followed the lead of the Nixon White House and the United States Information Agency (USIA) in caving in to pressure from Soviet propaganda which also managed to influence some but not all of the VOA central English newsroom journalists and their managers. Even VOA foreign language services were not completely immune to the onslaught of Soviet propaganda although many tried to resit it and, as far as they could, opposed orders from higher management to ban Solzhenitsyn from their broadcasts until specifically ordered to stop their efforts to interview the writer. In the end, KGB propagandists and censors within the Voice of America and the United States Information Agency, whose officials had the final authority over VOA until 1999, prevailed in their determination to deny the exiled writer a chance to present himself and his accounts of Stalinist crimes in his own voice to audiences behind the Iron Curtain which were exposed to Soviet propaganda lies about him from their local communist-controlled media. After his forced exile to the West in 1974, Solzhenitsyn was banned from participating in VOA programs for almost ten years, during Nixon and Ford administrations, and for all practical purposes also during the Carter administration as Russian Service broadcasters gave up on trying to interview him and he stayed away from the station.
 

Censorship at the Voice of America – A Historical Background

 
The banning of Solzhenitsyn by the Voice of America in 1974 was not the first or the only triumph of Soviet propaganda in forcing the U.S. government-run radio station to cover up or at least limit reporting on Stalin’s crimes. During World War II, the Voice of America practiced what one of its former anti-communist journalists described in 1950 as “Love for Stalin.” 2 Wartime VOA presented Stalin as a radical democrat devoted to securing peace and social justice, lied for him and attacked his critics when they accused him of ordering the cold-blooded murder of thousands of Polish military officers in Katyń and deportations and deaths of millions of civilians of many nationalities. The KGB operation to discredit Solzhenitsyn in the West for disclosing this and many other crimes was linked by history to the same campaign of smears and censorship of Stalin’s critics during World War II, in which the Voice of America also played a key role. For those who are not familiar with U.S. government-funded international broadcasting, I include a brief historical background on institutional censorship at VOA in response to Soviet and Russian propaganda since the station’s launch by the Roosevelt administration in 1942 within the Office of War Information (OWI).

An exhibit item in the Gulag Museum in Magadan, Russia. 1994 Photo. (An online virtual Gulag Museum with an introduction by Anne Applebaum, Pulitzer Prize author of “Gulag: A History“ can be viewed on the website of The Museum on Communism–a project of the non-profit, non-partisan Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, established by an Act of Congress on December 17, 1993 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.)

The banning of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn from participating in Voice of America radio broadcasts to Russia in the 1970s ordered by the station’s own U.S. government management was a shameful and long-lasting episode in the history of otherwise mostly positive contributions of many rank and file VOA journalists, even in that period, to the eventual fall of Soviet communist totalitarianism brought about by the 1917 Bolshevik coup. During that time, VOA reported, sometimes extensively, on Solzhenitsyn’s expulsion from the Soviet Union and on some of his statements, but in a move that would discredit the station for many years, the senior management forbade the Russian Service from trying to interview the human rights defender-writer or to allow him to read excerpts from his Gulag Archipelago literary history of Stalinist atrocities, for which he had won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970.

It was not the first or the last example of VOA caving in to the power of Soviet propaganda, disinformation, blackmail and character assassination–tactics which have again become familiar in the era of Vladimir Putin. Such censorship, whether initiated by high-level officials within the Executive Branch of the U.S. government or on occasion by VOA managers and journalists, which happened regularly under both Democratic and Republican administrations, always provoked severe criticism from the U.S. Congress, parts of American media and ordinary Americans. 3 Censorship of such human rights advocates as Solzhenitsyn was profoundly in conflict with American values, but the ban on his participation in VOA broadcasts initiated in 1974 lasted almost a decade. It was one of the biggest triumphs of KGB-inspired disinformation campaign carried out at times with willing and at other times with unwitting participation of U.S. officials in charge of VOA who were all too easily influenced and intimidated by Soviet threats.

Neither government bureaucrats nor journalists like to admit that they engage in propaganda or that they have been successfully duped or threatened by secret services and propaganda operations of another country. Whenever in its more distant past or in recent years the leadership of the Voice of America has originated propaganda of its own or practiced censorship, the usual response from American government officials in charge of the organization was that they were following and protecting good journalistic principles and that their critics got their facts wrong. Needless to say, it was almost always the opposite of the truth. These VOA officials also developed a common habit among government bureaucrats everywhere of going on the offensive and attacking their inside and outside critics. During World War II, they even criticized American and foreign victims of their censorship, sometimes using the same accusations as those advanced by communist propagandists against the same individuals and groups.

In another similarity with today’s information wars, these Soviet propaganda claims against governments, soldiers, politicians, writers and artists, many of whom lost their lives fighting Nazi Germany or protecting Jews, unashamedly also libeled them as Nazis and anti-Semites. To a surprising degree, many of these Soviet disinformation attacks filled with falsehoods, which today would be described as “fake news,” were accepted as true and repeated by some Western politicians, progressive fellow travelers and journalists, just as RT and SPUTNIK, under the control of Putin, a former KGB officer, achieve their propaganda goals today with the help of social media and some Western journalists, commentators and even politicians.

Most of the time in the past, decisions to ban certain well-known and highly-respected newsmakers from VOA programs or to censor their message by limiting criticism of totalitarian regimes were in response to contemporary concerns of U.S. foreign policy with the objective of advancing immediate policy and military goals. The United States and the Soviet Union became military allies against Hitler’s Germany after the brief Hitler-Stalin alliance which helped to start World War II with their joint attack on Poland in September 1939. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact became part of the VOA news silence when after Hitler’s betrayal of Stalin and his attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, the U.S. and Russia were allies and understandably had similar propaganda messages against Nazi Germany. But during World War II, VOA officials and journalists, motivated by their own personal ideological agenda, also actively engaged in censorship and propaganda not only driven by U.S. government policy but also on behalf Soviet policy interests and in furtherance of their own political views. They eagerly repeated the Kremlin’s propaganda messages because they coincided with their deeply-held personal beliefs and their desire to advance political and social change.

More recently, personal, partisan, ideological and even corporate interests of officials in charge of VOA, some of whom engage in significant corporate business activities in countries like Russia and China and depend in their private life and family investments on the goodwill of authoritarian regimes, also appear to influence programming decisions with the help of equally partisan managers, journalists and commentators they had hired as U.S. government employees or contractors. Since Russian government’s propaganda is just as pervasive today as Soviet propaganda was during the Cold War and employs remarkably similar themes and techniques, the danger of the Voice of America becoming a mouthpiece for hostile propaganda or not countering it as it should is greater than ever under the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) of today, the final successor to the Office of War Information and as dysfunctional and unaccountable as VOA’s original parent agency.

Institutional censorship at the Voice of America can be divided into several different periods in terms of its motives and intensity. During World War II, VOA officials and journalists, many of them fellow travelers for Soviet communism, which they naively believed to be radical democratic socialism, spread Soviet propaganda at the request of the Roosevelt White House and even more frequently at their own initiative. Their propaganda, closely reflecting the Moscow line, was designed to hide Stalin’s crimes and to help him establish pro-Soviet regimes in East-Central Europe, which these American officials equally naively saw as the only guarantee of post-war peace and social progress. They operated with hardly any outside controls other than the criticism from members of Congress and condemnations from more independent U.S. newspapers and a few private radio stations. This period was characterized by close coordination of American and Soviet propaganda to fight the Nazis, but also by the secret institutionalized collusion of some American officials with their Soviet counterparts to help Russia defeat democratic opponents of communism in East Central Europe and to help spread Soviet influence in Western Europe. Not even the Roosevelt White House, the State Department or the U.S. military approved of some of the blatantly pro-Soviet VOA programs during World War II which could have prolonged the war in North Africa, Italy and France and could have increased American war causalities. As Prof. Holly Cowan Shulman observed in her book on propaganda in the early wartime years of the Voice of America, “The [VOA] propagandists believed they could make their own version of American foreign policy come true.” 4

In many instances in the past when the VOA management had engaged in censorship or outright lies, including the coverup of Stalin’s crimes by the wartime Office of War Information director Elmer Davis, his chief deputy Robert E. Sherwood (the founding father of VOA, author of propaganda directives, and initiator of coordination of propaganda between the U.S. and the USSR) 5 , Hollywood actor John Houseman (VOA’s first director), future U.S. Senator from California Alan Cranston (OWI’s censor of Stalin’s critics in U.S. media), some of their questionable and even illegal activities were eventually exposed. 6 Elmer Davis’ anti-Nazi commentaries, which included a heavy dose of Soviet propaganda and denials of Stalin’s crimes and his imperialistic intentions, were broadcast by the Voice of America to audiences abroad, as well as on domestic radio networks in the United States. While the transcript of Elmer Davis’ Voice of America broadcast on Katyń, in which he repeats Soviet propaganda claims and denies Soviet responsibility for the mass murder, was already made public by the Madden Committee in 1952, a recording of the same broadcast on a radio network in the United States in 1943 was recently discovered in the WNYC New York public radio station’s online audio archives. 7

During World War II, Voice of America’s founding fathers–Sherwood, Davis, and Houseman–initiated the VOA coverup of Stalinist crimes, including the Katyń Forest massacre, the 1940 murder of thousands of defenseless Polish POW officers by the Soviet NKVD secret police, which Solzhenitsyn mentions in The Gulag Archipelago. The Madden Committee, a bipartisan committee of the U.S. House of Representatives which in the early 1950s had investigated the role of the Office of War Information and the Voice of America during the war and afterwards in covering-up the Katyń massacre and other Soviet crimes, concluded that while some of it could be excused as a wartime necessity, American officials and VOA journalists mislead the American public about the true nature of the Soviet regime.

“The Katyn investigation revealed that many individuals throughout the State Department, Army Intelligence (G-2), Office of War Information and Federal Communications Commission, and other Government agencies, failed to properly evaluate the material being received from our sources overseas. In many instances, this information was deliberately withheld from public attention and knowledge. There was a definite lack of coordination on intelligence matters between Army Intelligence (G-2) and the State Department, at least as far as the missing Polish officers and the Katyn massacre was concerned.
 
The possibility exists that many second-echelon personnel, who were overly sympathetic to the Russian cause or pro-Communist minded, attempted to cover up derogatory reports which were received concerning the Soviets.”

The Madden Committee also said in its “Final Report”:

“Testimony before this committee likewise proves that the Voice of America—successor to the Office of War Information—had failed to fully utilize available information concerning the Katyn massacre until the creation of this committee in 1951.”

The bipartisan congressional committee added:

“This committee believes that if the Voice of America is to justify its existence it must utilize material made available more forcefully and effectively.”

But even the Madden Committee was not made aware in 1951 and 1952 of many secret U.S government diplomatic cables and other communications which showed the extent to which Robert E. Sherwood, a “Founding Father” of the Voice of America, and other Office of War Information officials, coordinated VOA’s wartime propaganda with Soviet propaganda and became advocates for Stalin’s plans for the domination of Eastern Europe.

Cordell Hull was U.S. Secretary of State from 1933 until November 30, 1944.
John Gilbert Winant was U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1941 to 1946.
Robert Pell was the head of the State Department Office of Public Information and the department’s official liaison with the Office of War Information.

The fact that the successors of Voice of America’s “founding fathers” in charge of VOA in the 1970s during the Cold War with the Soviet Union would prevent Solzhenitsyn from reading from his book about Stalin’s crimes showed the long lasting power of Soviet propaganda and the ability of the Soviets to use it to intimidate several generations of American officials with fake news. Had Solzhenitsyn been a rabid Russian nationalist with fascist sympathies, as the KGB propaganda presented him to be, he would hardly be writing with great empathy about the the persecution in Russia of the Czechs, Slovaks, West Ukrainians, West Byelorussians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Moldavians and Poles whose countries were fully or partially annexed by Stalin at the beginning of World War II in cooperation with Hitler. No Russian nationalist would write about Russian soldiers robbing noncombatants and the elderly and gang-raping women and girls to death during the war with Germany–scenes of brutality and inhumanity described by Solzhenitsyn in a poem composed while he was imprisoned in the Gulag. Not being able to write it down, he memorized his long poem titled “Prussian Nights” about what he had observed as a Red Army officer during the war. A Russian “nationalist” would have never written such a poem. Solzhenitsyn was above all a champion of human dignity of every person regardless of their background, but the KGB used his writings to accuse him of being a Nazi sympathizer and anti-Semite. Worse yet, they found many people in the West who wanted to believe in such crude and deceitful propaganda, just as RT does today.

In the KGB’s eyes, they were defending the honor of the Soviet Union and Soviet soldiers from “this hooligan Solzhenitsyn,” as Soviet communist leader Leonid Brezhnev had called him, according to the minutes of the January 7, 1974 meeting the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. 8 Brezhnev who also said that Solzhenitsyn was “out of control” had a good reason to worry. Solzhenitsyn was writing about communist crimes that were a taboo subject in the Soviet Union. The Soviet leadership kept denying for decades that these crimes had ever happened. In “Prussian Nights,” the author described the gang-rape of a Polish woman whom the Red Army soldiers mistakenly thought to be a German. In the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Solzhenitsyn also wrote about several thousands of Polish officers and members of the intelligentsia who were imprisoned in Katyń, near Smolensk, and brutally murdered in the spring of 1940 by the NKVD on the orders of Stalin and the Soviet Politburo.

SOLZHENITSYN – THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO:They took those who were too independent, too influential, along with those who were too well-to-do, too intelligent, too noteworthy; they took, particularly, many Poles from former Polish provinces. (It was then that ill-fated Katyn was filled up; and then, too, that in the northern camps they stockpiled fodder for the future army of Sikorski and Anders.) They arrested officers everywhere. Thus the population was shaken up, forced into silence, and left without any possible leaders of resistance. Thus it was that wisdom was instilled, that former ties and former friendships were cut off. 9

By not allowing the VOA Russian Service to have Solzhenitsyn read this passage and other similar passages from his book dealing with people of many nationalities who became victims of Stalin’s mass deportations and murders, the leaders in charge of the Voice of America in the 1970s did enormous harm not only to VOA shortwave radio listeners in Russia but also to VOA listeners in Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic countries and many others–all of them at that time under Soviet domination. The same censorship order applied to all VOA language services. It was the continuation of the pro-Soviet censorship that started at the Voice of America during World War II and lasted with various intensity until the Reagan administration took office in 1981.

In the third volume of The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn has another reference to the Katyń Forest massacre, which during World War II was falsely blamed by Soviet and VOA propaganda on the Germans. The Katyń Soviet atrocity story was largely ignored by VOA until about 1952, reported on more extensively and truthfully later in the 1950s, to some degree in the 1960s but with diminishing frequency, and again largely ignored in the 1970s.

SOLZHENITSYN – THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO: They shot them in a different way too–right at the Onufriyev cemetery, behind the women’s barracks (the former guest house for women pilgrims). And in fact that road past the women’s barracks was christened execution road. In winter one could see a man being led barefoot along it, in only his underwear, through the snow (no, it was not for torture! it was just so his footgear and clothes should not go to waste), his hands bound behind his back with wire,[n.15] and the condemned man would bear himself proudly and erectly, and with his lips alone, without the help of his hands, smoke the last cigarette of his life. (This was how you recognized an officer. …)”
15. A Solovetsky method, which, strangely was repeated with the corpses at Katyn Forest. Someone remembered–a matter perhaps of tradition? or was it personal experience? 10

Exhibit items in the Gulag Museum in Magadan, Russia. 1994 Photo.

Solzhenitsyn also writes in a footnote in The Gulag Archipelago about the 1944 Warsaw Uprising and makes a point that Russian soldiers fighting on the side of the Germans helped to crush the anti-Nazi Polish resistance. No Russian nationalist would admit to such Russian co-responsibility, but Solzhenitsyn did. And yet, the KGB somehow managed to convince quite a few Western journalists and intellectuals that he was a reactionary and a Russian nationalist of the worst kind.

SOLZHENITSYN: Still worse: in October, 1944, the Germans threw Kaminsky’s brigade–with its Muslim units–to suppress the Warsaw uprising. While one group of Russians sat traitorously dozing beyond the Vistula, watching the death of Warsaw through their binoculars, other Russians crushed the uprising! Hadn’t the Poles had enough Russian villainy to bear in the nineteen century without having to endure more of it in the twentieth? For that matter, was that the last of it? Perhaps more is still to come. 11

Stalin allowed the Poles to bleed and the Warsaw Uprising to fail. About 200,000 people in Warsaw died during the uprising. The Germans turned the city into ruins. Stalin would not even allow American and British planes with supplies for the Polish fighters to land on the side of the river under Soviet control. Writing about it in such powerful language, Solzhenitsyn showed his humanity and solidarity with the oppressed anti-communist Poles–something pro-Soviet propagandists at the Voice of America during World War II were unwilling to do. As described by a Polish radio journalist Czesław Straszewicz who at the time of the Warsaw Uprising was working in London, wartime Voice of America broadcasts from Washington followed the Soviet example of ignoring the Polish resistance.

STRASZEWICZ: With genuine horror we listened to what the Polish language programs of the Voice of America (or whatever name they had then), in which in line with what [the Soviet news agency] TASS was communicating, the Warsaw Uprising was being completely ignored.
 
I remember as if it were today when the (Warsaw) Old Town fell [to the Nazis] and our spirits sank, the Voice of America was broadcasting to the allied nations describing for listeners in Poland in a happy tone how a woman named Magda from the village Ptysie made a fool of a Gestapo man named Mueller. 12

The bulk of personal stories in Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago were about Lenin’s and Stalin’s brutal extermination of millions of Russians and Ukrainians. During World War II, the Voice of America leaders and broadcasters censored all reports on such Soviet atrocities; in the 1970s the officials in charge merely limited coverage of such stories and testimonies by Soviet and East European eyewitnesses of these crimes. When confronted during and after the war by members of Congress, VOA officials would never admit they did anything wrong. The pro-Stalin propagandists at the Office of War Information and the Voice of America–Davis, Sherwood, Cranston, Houseman and others–tried instead to blame their critics or even Stalin’s victims. They claimed they had absolutely no idea Stalin was a mass murderer and insisted that their actions were motivated by wartime patriotism and military necessity. They embraced Soviet propaganda claims that anyone opposing Stalin must be a Nazi, a reactionary nationalist, and enemy of social justice. Sometimes many years later, they repeated the same Soviet propaganda lies to justify their earlier decisions. Apologist-historians who distorted the early history of the U.S. government broadcasting station by hiding its collusion with Soviet communism during World War II made future censorship easier to implement and justify.

The second period, after President Truman abolished the discredited Office of War Information and moved the Voice of America to the State Department in 1945, saw the departure from VOA of many of the Soviet sympathizers (a few of them, such as Polish communist Stefan Arski, aka Artur Salman, and Czechoslovak communist Adolf Hofmeister, went to work as propagandists or diplomats for communist regimes) and a significant lessening of pro-Soviet messages in the early post-war period VOA broadcasts. However, intentional cover-up of the most egregious Soviet mass murders continued by State Department officials in charge of VOA, some of whom were still sympathetic to the Soviet Union. Even some VOA service directors justified their limited censorship by claiming they were afraid of provoking uprisings in communist-ruled nations. Some said they hoped Soviet jamming of VOA shortwave radio broadcasts would not increase if the American radio broadcasts were not overly critical of communist leaders.

The Korean War and a bipartisan congressional investigation of the Katyń Forest massacre launched by the Madden Committee, named after Indiana Democrat Rep. Ray Madden, forced the leadership of the Voice of America at the State Department to drop their then already limited censorship of Soviet human rights abuses and to adopt a much stronger anti-Soviet and anti-communist tone which lasted for about two decades. Newly-hired broadcasters who were refugees from communism tried hard to reverse the previous pro-Soviet line of U.S. government broadcasting at the Voice of America. At the same time Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were created as non-governmental entities, funded by a secret congressional appropriation and operating until 1972 under general control of the CIA. This period of relatively censorship-free VOA broadcasting in support of democracy in the Soviet block lasted from about 1951 until about 1970. However, the Johnson administration engaged in some heavy-handed censorship of VOA broadcasts during the Vietnam War. This prompted the resignation in 1965 of VOA director Henry Loomis, but Vietnam War-related censorship continued.

In the early 1970s, the U.S. policy of détente in relations with the Soviet Union and other Soviet block countries during the Nixon and Ford administrations saw the reappearance of a different kind of limited censorship at the Voice of America, specifically in the interest of better U.S.-Soviet relations. Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were much less affected by this change, but they were also under constant pressure form the State Department and U.S. ambassadors in the region to moderate the tone of their broadcasts. Semi-private RFE and RL management based in Munich was, however, much better able to resist such pressures than the Voice of America. RFE/RL’s management was also much more anti-communist than some of the officials in charge of VOA.

Only in the beginning in 1981, the Reagan administration abolished what remained of the censorship of VOA broadcasting to the Soviet Union and East-Central Europe. VOA’s audience in the region increased. In some countries, such as Poland, it increased dramatically during the Reagan years. The censorship-free VOA broadcasts were not the only or even the determining factor, but in a few years they helped to bring about the opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

A different kind of self-censorship and loosening of journalistic standards and controls over programming reemerged with the establishment of the Broadcasting Board of Governors in 1995. Partisan members of the BBG board, some of whom have done corporate business in Russia and China, have encouraged hiring officials and journalists who shared their commercial approach to broadcasting and strongly partisan views (Republican BBG board member were much less successful in filling BBG and VOA positions than the Democrats). There has also been a push from the management for journalistic compromises to get VOA programs accepted for rebroadcasting on local networks in countries ruled by authoritarian regimes. The upper management selected by BBG boards was no longer clear about the mission of serving the most information-deprived nations and groups. The new focus on commercial models and commercial measures of audience reach rather than mission effectiveness led to self-censorship and lowering of intellectual and journalistic standards. In the words of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the agency had become “practically defunct” and lost a sense of purpose that it had throughout most of the Cold War. Not even Solzhenitsyn, who decried censorship and Voice of America’s insufficient effectiveness against Soviet propaganda, would suggest, however, that VOA was ever pro-Soviet during the time he was banned by VOA in the 1970s. Such criticism of VOA with regard to Putin’s Russia became increasingly common under the BBG, as well as criticism of unprecedented partisanship, never before seen in VOA broadcasts. 13

It should be noted that throughout the Cold War, including those times when the VOA management had practiced limited censorship, many VOA journalists in foreign language services still succeeded in providing their audiences behind the Iron Curtain with plenty of much-needed information. Despite many management-imposed restrictions, the overall contribution of Voice of America journalists to expanding freedom and democracy during the Cold War made a significant difference. It was not until the Cold War ended and the Voice of America was placed under the Broadcasting Board of Governors in 1999 that VOA Russian Service broadcast what turned out to be a fake interview with Russian opposition politician and Putin’s opponent Alexei Navalny. 14 The incident had all the hallmarks of an operation by the Russian security service FSB, the successor to the KGB, very similar to those carried out by the KGB against Solzhenitsyn in the 1970s and 1980s. Shortly before the Navalny incident in 2012, but also under the oversight of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an independent Russian media scholar and journalist Dr. Nikolay Rudenskiy concluded in a study commissioned by the BBG that the VOA Russian Service programs have acquired a “pro-Putin bias.” He also urged more VOA programming on the history of Russia under communism. 15
 

Decision to Ban Solzhenitsyn from VOA

 
The best descriptions of how the leadership of Voice of America had tried several times to censor the Nobel Prize winning author Alexandr Solzhenitsyn in the 1970s can be found in the published memoirs of Victor Franzusoff, the late VOA broadcaster, writer, editor, commentator, and Chief of the Russian Service. 16 Franzusoff wrote in his book, “Talking to the Russians,” that after the Soviet government had expelled Solzhenitsyn from Russia and stripped him of his Soviet citizenship in 1974, VOA’s Russian Service correspondent in Munich, West Germany, Eugene Nikiforov, asked the author for an interview, and Solzhenitsyn agreed. Franzusoff, who had recently been promoted to be the Chief of the Russian Service, described how he was elated by the prospect of a VOA interview with the famous Russian dissident writer. But to his enormous disappointment, the VOA management ordered him to stop his correspondent from conducting the interview.

Franzusoff explained that during the last months of the Nixon administration he was told the State Department had made the decision that “until further notice VOA should have nothing to do with the dissident writer.” Whether such a decision had originated in the State Department rather than being taken jointly by officials in charge of the United States Information Agency (USIA) and the Voice of America is not clear. Franzusoff commented “this decision made no sense to me, of course, but my hands were tied.”

When shortly thereafter, The New York Times began publishing excerpts from Solzhenitsyn’s novel The Gulag Archipelago which exposed Stalin’s horrific crimes against the Russians and other nationalities, the VOA Russian Service wanted to broadcast them in Russian to the Soviet Union. Despite being snubbed earlier, Solzhenitsyn gave VOA permission to read excerpts from what Anne Applebaum, a Pulitzer-winning historian of Stalin’s terror described as one of the most influential books of the 20th century. 17 The Russian Service broadcast news reports on some of the details in The New York Times prepared for them in English by the VOA central newsroom, but VOA’s senior management again intervened and would not permit full excerpts to be read by Solzhenitsyn or anybody else. At the same time, on Radio Liberty based in Munich and also funded by the U.S. government but outside of the federal bureaucracy, “Russians heard the forbidden writings of Solzhenitsyn, broadcast day after day, in their entirety,” as journalist Arch Puddington, former deputy director of the New York Bureau of Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty, noted in his “Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty” history of RFE/RL. 18

Other language services of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, including the RFE Polish Service which unlike VOA had never censored the Katyń story, also produced special broadcasts based on “The Gulag Archipelago.”

“The RFE Polish Service serialized the text of Solzhenitsyn’s three-volume “Gulag Archipelago” and presented it in its entirety on the radio in 15-minute segments. In a letter to Solzhenitsyn, Director Zygmunt Michałowski said, ‘It was our intention to reveal to the Polish people the communion of suffering which all the peoples subjected to communist rule have been sharing in varying degrees’.” 19

The situation of Voice of America foreign language broadcasters under the management of its own senior officials and Foreign Service officers from USIA on rotational assignments at VOA was completely different from how RFE and RL operated. Journalistic freedom and flexibility of VOA broadcasters were severely constrained.

“Once again the VOA management directed that the project be scrapped,” Victor Franzusoff wrote with great regret. He disclosed in his book that he was informed in a memo from the management that “the purpose of the Voice of America was to offer the news and culture of America to the Soviet Union, and Solzhenitsyn was not (yet) an American.”

Except for Solzhenitsyn “not being yet an American,” which as a Russian writer and patriot he was not planning on becoming (his wife and children did acquire U.S. citizenship), this was, of course, untrue, since the VOA Charter, which was already in effect although not yet as U.S. law, did not limit the Voice of America to broadcasting only American news and only about American citizens. Besides, Solzhenitsyn was a major newsmaker whose book became a bestseller in the United States and worldwide. It was a pure case of more political censorship from the leaders in charge of VOA in a misguided attempt to support tactical goals of the policy of détente with the Soviet regime. Former VOA program director, journalist Alan L. Heil, Jr., in his book Voice of America: A History, links the order to prevent VOA from reading from Solzhenitsyn’s works to the United States Information Agency (USIA) director James Keogh, who was appointed by President Nixon, but Keogh was hardly the only one among USIA’s and VOA’s own officials and managers who were wary of interviewing Solzhenitsyn or allowing him to record large portions of his book for VOA’s audiences in the Soviet Union.

 ALAN HEIL, JR.: “Keogh and agency policy officers questioned whether the Voice of America should broadcast excerpts. ‘To read from the book,’ Keogh said ‘would be outside the normal style of Voice of America programming and would tend to reinforce Soviet charges that the United States is utilizing these events as a political weapon and is intervening in the domestic affairs of the USSR.’ He denied that USIA had ‘muted its Voice’ but said it would not turn backward to what he called ‘the old Cold War style of broadcasting.'” 20

In his book, Alan Heil does not write where exactly within the U.S. government bureaucracy the idea of censoring Alexandr Solzhenitsyn first originated. Some of VOA’s central English newsroom reporters and managers with no cultural ties to the captive nations of East Central Europe and the Soviet Union were also not keen on allowing VOA foreign language services to broadcast large portions of books by such strongly anti-communist authors as Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. Even before Solzhenitsyn arrived in the West, there was a firm internal opposition within VOA’s own management outside of the foreign language services to giving exiled Russian and any other so-called “émigré” figures extensive airtime, even though these individuals were completely banned in official circulation in the Soviet Union and only available to a limited number of people in samizdat form.

Some VOA central English newsroom reporters and their managers agreed with the USIA director that reading long excerpts from Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago or allowing the author to read them was inappropriate for the Voice of America. They would compromise, however, by permitting to broadcast several ten-minute excerpts only after they have been carefully selected by the central English newsroom and offered to the Russian Service for translation. As Alan Heil reported in his book, “the Current Affairs Division [central English] under Bernie Kamenske had issued a dozen Gulag-related pieces, including extensive excerpts. These were devoured quickly by the USSR Division and its Russian Branch, translated, and broadcast to the Soviet Union, where the book, of course, was unavailable to the public.” 21 Heil does not explain why the Russian Service would have to translate centrally-produced scripts in English when they had access to the Russian original and later Solzhenitsyn’s offer to record excerpts from Gulag Archipelago. These restrictions on VOA’s foreign language services enforced by central management were in place long before James Keogh made his decision on banning readings from Solzhenitsyn’s book. Listening to short segments of the book and to radio scripts translated from English would also be hardly satisfactory to anyone behind the Iron Curtain eagerly waiting to find out in far greater detail than what VOA was willing to offer about the prisoners of the Gulag and continuing human rights violations under communism. These people were subjected to severe censorship and propaganda by their own regimes, but many of VOA’s own editors and journalists in the central news service were not persuaded that it was VOA’s job to give the listeners what they wanted to hear because, in their view as Western-trained journalists, such programs might undermine VOA’s journalistic standards and credibility. In their uni-cultural Western outlook, they allowed themselves to became convinced by Soviet propaganda aimed at them that Solzhenitsyn’s words and books were also to some degree propaganda. They were not propaganda in the view of millions of Russians and East Europeans. Many Russia experts in the West, including journalists in VOA’s foreign language services, also did not see The Gulag Archipelago as propaganda.

Who at USIA or VOA first proposed banning readings by Solzhenitsyn and who supported the ban may never become known, but VOA’s management accepted James Keogh’s decision as final. “Keogh’s view prevailed as broadcast policy.” Alan Heil wrote. Russian Service broadcasters were devastated but, as recent immigrants, they could not afford losing their government jobs. Heil wrote that “A VOA internal memo had contended that the Gulag excerpts were essential, if listeners in the USSR were to adequately evaluate the facts amid Soviet media distortions of Solzhenitsyn’s work.” 22 He does not make it clear who was the author of the memo. It reflected the views of Victor Franzusoff and Russian Service journalists which were ignored. Whoever within VOA wrote the memo, no higher-level USIA Foreign Service officer or any of the permanent VOA managers resigned in protest over the ban on Solzhenitsyn. VOA managers, many of whom had been or still considered themselves to be journalists, implemented the censorship decisions wherever they may have come from, even if some disagreed with what was being done. The directives could have very well come from Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger who later convinced President Ford not to receive Solzhenitsyn at the White House. That decision by Ford was roundly criticized in Congress by both Republicans and Democrats and cost him dearly politically in the United States but was well received by the Kremlin as yet another proof the of the effectiveness of Soviet propaganda and KGB’s active measures.
 

Political Fallout for President Ford

 

Much of the Soviet pressure was in the form of KGB-orchestrated propaganda, but Ford and Kissinger also received warnings about Solzhenitsyn from Soviet ambassador to Washington Anatoly Dobrynin and from Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. According to the memorandum of conversation of the Brezhnev-Ford meeting in Helsinki on July 30, 1975, President Ford was highly critical of Solzhenitsyn, while General Secretary Brezhnev said that Solzhenitsyn “is nothing more than a zero for the Soviet Union.” 23 For someone so unimportant, as Brezhnev tried to present the dissident writer to be, the KGB spent enormous resources on trying to discredit Solzhenitsyn and apparently succeeded even with Secretary Kissinger and President Ford. The Soviet propaganda also worked on USIA director James Keogh and some VOA managers and journalists, but certainly not, at least not yet at that time, on the majority of American politicians and ordinary Americans for whom Solzhenitsyn was still a heroic figure. Propaganda takes a long time to do its damage, but as the memorandum of conversation of the Brezhnev-Ford Helsinki meeting shows, Secretary Kissinger and President Ford had bought into the Soviet narrative.

Henry Kissinger, Leonid Brezhnev, President Ford, and Andrei Gromyko outside the American Embassy, Helsinki, Finland. July 30, 1975. Courtesy Gerald R. Ford Library.

Memorandum of Conversation
 
[Secretary Kissinger gets up to leave briefly.]
 
Ford: I must say Mr. General Secretary, Mr. Solzhenitsyn has aligned himself—
 
Kissinger: I am not leaving because you mentioned that name. [Laughter]
 
Ford: Mr. Solzhenitsyn aligned himself with those who are very severe critics of the policy I and you believe in, détente. Senator Jackson, Mr. George Meany, President of the American Federation of Labor, have spoken out critically. Meany has embraced Mr. Solzhenitsyn. Some of these critics encouraged Mr. Solzhenitsyn to continue his criticism of détente.6 As I said before, it is my firm belief that détente must continue and become irreversible if we want to achieve that kind of world which is essential for peace. The figures you mentioned, of course, are very disappointing to those who criticize détente. And any improvement there—in the requests or the figures of those who get permission to leave—would undercut some of the criticism and enhance our ability to proceed with détente as we want to do. But I repeat: détente can and will work and can be made irreversible—particularly if this Saturday we can make headway on SALT.
 
Brezhnev: I mentioned Solzhenitsyn just in passing. There was some information that he wanted to change his way of life and become a monk or something. Reportedly there was some priest going around with him at some point. He is nothing more than a zero for the Soviet Union. 24

Without being direct, Brezhnev told Ford how he wanted the U.S. government to treat Solzhenitsyn. He ought to be isolated, become nobody and live like a monk. Ford and Kissinger complied as far as they could. This is exactly what the KGB smear campaign against Solzhenitsyn was also designed to achieve.

Before the Helsinki summit, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and President Ford’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs Brent Scowcroft argued vigorously against proposals for inviting Alexandr Solzhenitsyn to meet with the President at the White House. Ford initially agreed with them but later changed his mind under public pressure, especially from members of Congress, including many prominent Republicans. But when the White House came up with various conditions to make the visit seem less important, Solzhenitsyn decided he was not going to submit to more public humiliation. He met instead with Democratic and Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill who never wavered in their support for him and for human rights in the Soviet block. The details of how Scowcroft tried to dissuade President Ford from meeting with Solzhenitsyn are in his July 11, 1975 memorandum to Kissinger.

Message From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft) to Secretary of State Kissinger
 
Washington, July 11, 1975, 1553Z.Tohak 21/WH51212. 1. The President this morning decided that if he gets a question Saturday night at his press conference on Solzhenitsyn, he will say that he would be happy to see him, as a great literary figure.2 I argued long and hard against it, but in the end I lost. The basic argument presented was that the President not seeing him is building into a major domestic political issue on which the right and the left are joined, the President’s good friends are not with him in light of the variety of other kinds of people he sees, and the whole concept of détente in this country will in the end suffer seriously. One other element raised was that with the Apollo–Soyuz launch, next week will be “Soviet week” and the President’s very high “pro-Soviet” visibility in connection with the space mission will make the refusal to see Solzhenitsyn stand in even more marked contrast and accentuate the criticism.
 
2. As an example of the sentiment and “unholy alliance” which is building on the issue, there was cited the reception on Capitol Hill for Solzhenitsyn next Tuesday, thus far sponsored by 24 Senators.3 It is being held in apology to him for the President’s unwillingness to meet with him. The sponsors thus far are: Jackson, Biden, Bumpers, Church, Glenn, Humphrey, Inouye, Magnuson, McClellan, Pastore, Ribicoff, Stevenson, Stone, Williams, Case, Brock, Buckley, Helms, Javits, Packwood, Roth, Schweiker, Stevens, Taft and Weicker.
 
3. I argued against each and every point made, adding that the previous reasons for not seeing him remained completely valid and that it would now in addition be claimed that the President was caving under public pressure. I still lost.
 
4. If you wish to weigh in again on the issue, I suggest you do so today if possible. If it is possible to dissuade him, you are certainly the only one who can do it.
 
Warm regards. 25

Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Assistant (Friedersdorf) to President Ford
 
Washington, July 12, 1975.
 
SUBJECT Solzhenitsyn
 
I am concerned about the Solzhenitsyn issue and its impact on the right wing on the Hill.
 
One possible solution might be to host a meeting, a luncheon or some other type of event as soon as possible for Solzhenitsyn, Nureyev, and Rostropovich.
 
Both Nureyev and Rostropovich are now appearing in the Kennedy Center before sell out crowds and both are highly publicized exiles but not nearly as controversial, of course, as Solzhenitsyn.
 
They are all three artists of great talent and the meeting could be held as an artistic and intellectual event rather than any political gathering.
 
I just don’t think this issue is going to go away with the conservatives and, of course, it has adverse impact with the liberals too.
 
With all due deference to Dr. Kissinger, I believe that if détente is so fragile that it cannot stand a meeting with Solzhenitsyn, it will fall on some other account. 26

On July 13, Kissinger and Ford had a conversation in which Kissinger urged him not to receive Solzhenitsyn.

Kissinger: I hope you won’t see Solzhenitsyn before you see Brezhnev.
 
President: He was pretty good on television.
 
Kissinger: What would our guys say if he entertained someone trying to overthrow you?
 
President: I think the worst is over. We took a lot of flak.” 27

The Ford administration’s decisions with regard to Solzhenitsyn were widely reported, analyzed and criticized in the media and on Capitol Hill. One of many Americans who knew about and commented on President Ford’s reluctance to invite Alexander Solzhenitsyn for a visit at the White House was Senator James R. Buckley. Speaking on the floor of the Senate on July 16, 1975, he unleashed his criticism on Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for urging President Ford not to meet with Solzhenitsyn.


The Secretary of State is reported to believe that the symbolic effect of a meeting between the President and Solzhenitsyn could be to the disadvantage of the United States, presumably because it would offend the sensibilities of the leaders of the greatest tyranny the world has known. The foundations of détente must be weak indeed if the President of the strongest nation of the Free World must avoid meeting with the most eloquent living spokesman of the values represented by the Free World. Détente on such terms is neither worthy of the United States nor worth the keeping. Nor will it buy us ultimate safety from the dangers of which Mr. Solzhenitsyn warns. 28

During the Reagan administration, James R. Buckley served as President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty from 1982 to 1985.

On July 21, 1975 Solzhenitsyn rejected the open invitation to meet with Ford at the White House. He also criticized the President for planning to attend the upcoming European Security Conference in Helsinki, which he called “the betrayal of Eastern Europe.” 29 Solzhenitsyn was right in his assessment of Ford, but he was partially wrong in his prediction about the Helsinki Accords. After Jimmy Carter won the presidential election in 1976, he and his National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski used the human rights provisions of the Helsinki Accords to put pressure on the Soviet Union. President Reagan also used it for the same purpose. Human rights activists in the Soviet block likewise cited the Helsinki Accords as a legal justification for their demands of more freedoms. But Solzhenitsyn and many others also correctly saw the Helsinki conference as recognizing Soviet domination of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania because the accords provided for international recognition of the post-war borders, including the the Soviet annexation of the Baltic States.

Regardless of any assessments of the Helsinki Accords, American politicians and their advisors influenced by the Kremlin’s narrative against Solzhenitsyn eventually paid a heavy political price for their lack of a longer vision of American principles and values in their treatment of the Russian writer. At the suggestion of his future National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter used during the October 6, 1976 presidential campaign debate Ford’s refusal to receive Solzhenitsyn at the White House without any conditions attached to the visit.

“I would only add that on East-West you ought to stress the excessive promises made, Ford’s ambiguity on detente (the non-use of the word, the Solzhenitsyn incident, etc.), the indifference to human rights, etc.,” Brzezinski wrote in his talking points for Carter’s debate with President Ford. 30In the debate, Carter used Brzezinski’s suggested wording on the treatment of Solzhenitsyn by the Ford administration.

 CARTER: He’s also shown a weakness in yielding to pressure. The Soviet Union, for instance, put pressure on Mr. Ford, and he refused to see a symbol of human freedom recognized around the world–Alexander Solzhenitsyn. 31

President Ford paid a political price for caving in to Brezhnev’s demands and for following Kissinger’s advice. In the October 1976 debate Carter particularly ridiculed Ford for his comment, “I don’t believe that the Poles consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. Each of those countries is independent, autonomous; it has its own territorial integrity.” This statement by Ford, most likely a oversimplification of what he might have heard from Kissinger and his National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, may have contributed to his defeat in the 1976 presidential race. In the debate, Carter also mentioned Radio Free Europe, which Zbigniew Brzezinski, his future National Security Advisor, strongly supported.

CARTER: The fact is that secrecy has surrounded the decisions made by the Ford administration. In the case of the Helsinki agreement, it may have been a good agreement at the beginning, but we have failed to enforce the so-called Basket 3 part, which ensures the right of people to migrate, to join their families, to be free to speak out. The Soviet Union is still jamming Radio Free Europe. Radio Free Europe is being jammed. 32

Solzhenitsyn’s name came up again in Brzezinski’s memorandum to Carter in 1977 about how to handle an open letter to the U.S. president from Soviet dissident Dr. Andrei Sakharov. Brzezinski reminded Carter that “For you not to respond might cause some to draw analogies with Ford and Solzhenitsyn,” a reference to to Kissinger’s advice to Ford not to meet with Solzhenitsyn in 1975 because he believed such a meeting would have had a negative impact on U.S. relations with Soviet leaders. 33 Nevertheless, Brzezinski urged Carter to be cautious in how any response to Sakharov is released and handled by Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and the State Department because “It could establish a dangerous precedent.” Brzezinski wrote that “…perhaps less inflammatory to the Soviets would be a public release in Washington of a reply expressing your general sentiments on the issue.” “This avoids the problem posed by direct communication with a private citizen who is in opposition to his government,” Brzezinski suggested.

Carter wrote in his memoirs, “While improving diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union was an important goal of mine, I had made it clear in the campaign that I was not going to ignore Soviet abuse of human rights, as I believed some previous administrations had done.” 34
 

Fallout for VOA Managers During Reagan Years

 
Even if individual managers and editors in charge of VOA central English programs disagreed with some of Keogh’s 1974 directives on banning Solzhenitsyn, they were by no means in favor of greatly expanding coverage of Soviet and East Europe dissident movement. It was almost impossible for VOA foreign language journalists to get approval from senior VOA management to initiate original programs on any topic that might prove to be controversial for communist regimes. Despite the Cater administration’s renewed emphasis on defending human rights as part of U.S. foreign policy, not much had changed at the Voice of America during the Carter years. Mid-level managers and editors in charge of VOA programs, most of whom had been with the agency for many years and appeared to be Democrats, continued to restrict coverage by VOA’s foreign language services just as they did during the Nixon and Ford administrations. In the early days of the Reagan administration, some of the same VOA managers were again strongly opposed to new USIA director Charles Z. Wick’s ideas of giving dissident writers, artists and other critics of communist regimes, or even President Reagan, more extensive airtime. They were later moved to less important positions and replaced by a new management team both at USIA and at VOA. But until that time, the Voice of America paid dearly for its partial censorship of Solzhenitsyn in lost credibility among its audiences and in bad publicity in U.S. media, both conservative and some liberal, as well as on Capitol Hill, among both Democrats and Republicans. As Alan Heil reported in his book, Wick ordered senior and mid-level personnel changes at the Voice of America.

ALAN HEIL: Wick demanded the removal of VOA USSR Division chief Barbara Allen, a foreign service officer. It was one of the last of the purges, designed to placate an ultraconservative congressman from Long Island who considered VOA Russian broadcasts “too soft” and accused VOA of downplaying the views of dissident writer Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. 35

Of course, the “ultraconservative congressman Long Island” was not the only one who considered VOA Russian broadcasts to be “too soft.” So did Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, other Soviet dissidents and many journalists working for VOA’s Russian Service. Like their colleagues in various other VOA foreign language services, they welcomed the radical changes in programming policy and reassignments of certain longterm managers who were placing restrictions on original reporting by language services and on topics which they would be allowed to cover in the 1970s. It was truly a Reagan revolution at the Voice of America, which also removed previous reporting and interviewing limitations in VOA broadcasts to Poland and multiplied VOA’s audience to levels never before achieved, not even during the anti-communist protests of 1956, 1968, 1970, and 1975. In September 1982, President Reagan nominated Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, an editor at Reader’s Digest, to be Voice of America director, where he served through August 1984. He was greatly admired by VOA foreign language journalists and just as strongly despised by some of the managers, who were removed, and many VOA central newsroom journalists who remained. It was Tomlinson’s reforms and leadership which allowed Solzhenitsyn to be invited to participate in VOA programs to Russia.
 

Criticism in Congress

 
The strongest opposition to how the Executive Branch, including the leaders of the Voice of America, mistreated Solzhenitsyn and mismanaged VOA was always in the U.S. Congress. At the time when USIA and VOA officials were still banning Solzhenitsyn during the Nixon and Ford administrations, members of Congress of both parties proposed resolutions granting him honorary U.S. citizenship. They were not in the end voted into law but received strong bipartisan support. On February 18-19, 1974, Senator Helms introduced the first of several Senate resolutions granting Solzhenitsyn honorary United States citizenship. Helms greatly admired Solzhenitsyn’s writings and after Solzhenitsyn’s arrival in the United States, the two men met, exchanged letters and established a long-lasting personal friendship. 36

S.J. Resolution 188 of February 19, 1974 had numerous co-sponsors in the U.S. Senate, both Democrats and Republicans.

Long after the events of 1970s, Senator Helms introduced the Foreign Affairs and Restructuring Act of 1997. Signed into law by President Clinton on October 21, 1998, the legislation abolished the United States Information Agency and folded most of its operations into the State Department. The Voice of America was put under the Broadcasting Board of Governors. In his memoirs Helms wrote, “At long last the United States Information Agency and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency were brought under the control of the State Department and the President of the United States.” 37 Helms considered this a major victory, but the Broadcasting Board of Governors turned out to be disastrous for U.S. international media outreach and U.S. public diplomacy languished within the State Department. Russian propaganda under President Putin became more effective and more dangerous than it had been during the Cold War. Whether the censorship of his friend Alexandr Solzhenitsyn contributed to Helms’ antipathy toward the United States Information Agency and VOA and whether it was a factor in his decision to push for the elimination of USIA cannot be ascertained, but it also cannot be discounted.

The word of the Voice of America censoring Solzhenitsyn and banning his participation in VOA programs after his expulsion to the West quickly spread in Washington. On March 7, 1974, Senator Harry F. Byrd, Jr. (I-VA), spoke in the Senate and inserted into the Congressional Record a Washington Post op-ed by Rowland Evans and Robert Novak tilted “Voice of America Speechless on Gulag Archipelago.” It was highly critical USIA director James Keogh and the Voice of America management. 38

Evans and Novak wrote that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow “commended VOA’s first handling” of the Solzhenitsyn story. But, according to Evans and Novak, “the diplomatic cable [from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow] also strongly pressed USIA, which runs VOA, to be sure to get into ‘the substance’ of Gulag–that is to beam great gobs of it into the heart of Russia.”

 Mr. HARRY F. BYRD, JR. Mr. President, in a column published in the “Washington Post” on March 7, Rowland Evans and Robert Novak point out that the Voice of America has broadcast very little concerning “Gulag Archipelago,” the latest work by exiled Soviet writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
 The failure on the part of the Voice of America comes despite a request for fuller coverage from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, according to Evans and Novak.
 The columnists indicate that the omission of details about Solzhenitsyn’s work, which is an attack on the policies of the Stalin era, is the result of a conscious effort at the policy level of the U.S. Information Agency not to offend the leadership of the Soviet Union.
 The Voice of America has a basic mission to get across the truth behind the Iron Curtain. Failure to communicate the content of “Gulag Archipelago” seems to me to represent an abandonment of this basic mission.
 The Voice of America should not be subject to policy dictation based on the theory that all will be well is we are nice to the Kremlin. As Evans and Novak state:
 ’Such a with could destroy its credibility and lose its audience.
 I ask unanimous consent that the column “Voice of America Speechless on ‘Gulag Archipelago’,” be printed in the Extensions of Remarks.

The Washington Post‘s columnists then reported on and criticized the lack of response to the diplomatic cable, other than censorship, from the USIA director:

 ROWLAND EVANS AND ROBERT NOVAK: Keogh, biographer and longtime idolater of Richard M. Nixon, takes the public position that USIA is committed ‘to support, not oppose U.S. foreign policies. Responding last week to his critics, he said: ‘The principal goal of American foreign policy is to affect the foreign policies of other nations toward negotiations and away from confrontation, not to transform the domestic structures of these societies.
 That is a shocking admission that VOA is being switched from no-holds-barred news into a policy arm of the U.S. Such a switch could destroy its credibility and lose its audience.

According to Evans and Novak, Senator Henry M. Jackson (D-WA) also expressed his misgivings about USIA’s banning of Solzhenitsyn from VOA broadcasts to Russia and received a response from USIA deputy director Eugene P. Kopp that “the new regime at USIA was trying to ‘reach a wider Soviet audience with more news and information about the United States.'” “In short, spare newsless Russians the harsher facts of Soviet life and give them goodies about America,” Evans and Novak commented with a strong dose of sarcasm. They also pointed out that the Russian Service of the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) and the German overseas radio, Deutsche Welle, have been reading lengthy excerpts from Gulag. Evans and Novak did not mention that Radio Liberty, which operated outside of the USIA but with U.S. government funding, also broadcast large segments from Solzhenitsyn’s book.

On April 3, 1974, Representative John M. Ashbrook (R-OH) spoke in the House of Representatives on Voice of America’s censorship of the Russian Nobel Prize-winning author.

 Mr. ASHBROOK. Mr. Speaker, recently I contacted James Keogh, Director of the U.S. Information Agency, to express my concern over the reluctance of the Voice of America to broadcast into the Soviet Union extensive excerpts of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book “Gulag Archipelago.” This work which is strictly prohibited in the Soviet Union deals dramatically and factually with the existence of the concentration camp system in the Soviet Union–an area that the Soviets obviously do not want publicized.
 I have received a letter from Mr. Keogh in which he details the coverage given to news about Solzhenitsyn and about his book. Keogh does write:
 
  ’What VOA has not done is use its own polemics to attack the Soviet Union … We considered–but decided against–reading on the air large segments of the book.’
 
 Marita E. White, Assistant Director of Public Information for USIA, in a letter to the New York Times of March 17, 1974, quoted Mr. Keogh further:
 
  ”We do not–as the official radio voice of the United States–indulge in polemics aimed at changing the internal structure of the Soviet Union. To read from the book would be far outside the normal style of Voice of America programming and would tend to reinforce the Soviet charges that the United States is utilizing these events as a political weapon …”
 
 In other words, Mr. Keogh seems to be admitting that the broadcasting of extensive excerpts of the “Gulag Archipelago” by the VOA would have a strong impact in the Soviet Union.
 Alexander Solzhenitsyn has written on the inability of the West to deal with the reality of Soviet power:
 
  ”The timid civilized world has found nothing with which yo oppose the onslaught of a sudden revival of barbarity, other than concessions and smiles.”
 
 At this point I include in the RECORD the text of Mr. Keogh’s letter to me as well as an open letter to the Congress of the United States from the ‘Committee for Human Rights in the Soviet Area’ at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mass.:
 


 
U.S. INFORMATION AGENCY,
Washington, D.C. March 29, 1974.
The Honorable JOHN M. ASHBROOK,
House of Representatives.
 
 DEAR CONGRESSMAN ASHBROOK: This is in response to your letter of March 18 expressing concern over the Voice of America’s coverage of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book, “Gulag Archipelago.”
Recent news columns have interpreted the fact that VOA is not reading extensive excerpts of this book as a decision to soften VOA coverage of events in the Soviet Union. This is utterly untrue. There has been no change in policy regarding broadcasts to the Soviet Union. Nor has VOA changed its approach to the substance or frequency of news or political programming.
 VOA has covered the developing Solzhenitsyn story fully and factually as it has covered other aspects of the dissident movement in the U.S.S.R. Since “Gulag Archipelago” was published on December 28, the book and Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s plight have been reported almost hourly in VOA newscasts in languages of the Soviet Union. In that period of time, these broadcasts carried some 2,500 news stories on the Solzhenitsyn case, adding up to more than 40 hours of broadcast time. In addition, the VOA broadcasts to the Soviet Union in the same period of time carried 95 hours of special reports on the Solzhenitsyn story, including reviews of the book, and comments by public figures and journalists in the U.S. and abroad. This adds up to a total of 135 hours of straightforward broadcasting Between December 28 and March 6.
 What VOA has not done is use its own polemics to attack the Soviet Union on this issue. This is consistent with enunciated U.S. foreign policy. We considered–but decided against–reading on air large segments of the book. To do so would have been a sharp departure from the normal VOA programming pattern and would have duplicated the programming of Radio Liberty which is broadcasting the text of the book to the people of the Soviet Union. Thus, I believe, the Voice of America and Radio Liberty fulfill their separate missions.
 It is my sincere hope that this information will help establish the record.
 
Sincerely,
 
JAMES KEOGH, Director. 39

Keogh’s letter represented a typical response from a U.S. government official to charges of censorship. It rejected them as “utterly untrue” but did not address any of them directly. Keogh used program statistics, no doubt obtained from VOA’s senior managers, on the overall coverage of the Solzhenitsyn’s story. But while VOA was reporting news on Solzhenitsyn, including attacks on him by Soviet propaganda which he was not able to answer promptly, VOA did not broadcast in any great detail the content of his book in English, Russian or in any other language. The Gulag Archipelago which generated these Soviet propaganda attacks on the author, was not available for purchase to the audience in the Soviet Union or in any country under Soviet domination. Only the Voice of America, Radio Liberty, Radio Free Europe and other Western radio stations broadcasting on shortwave and medium wave in Russian and in other foreign languages could familiarize the Russians and East and Central European in more detail with what Solzhenitsyn had written. VOA would not be one of them by the decision of its own management, presumably forced upon it by policy makers but not necessarily totally opposed by VOA’s programming leadership.

VOA officials must have also informed the USIA director that reading on the air large segments of the book “would have been a sharp departure from the normal VOA programming pattern.” This was not entirely true since a few more independent VOA foreign language services already had rather lengthy literary programs in which readings from banned authors were included from time to time, although such programs were not viewed with great favor by VOA’s senior management. In the experience of many foreign language journalists at that time, USIA Foreign Service Officers on rotational assignments at VOA were more likely to approve more creative and more independent programs being originated within these services than VOA managers, some of them journalists with prior experience in U.S. commercial media who occupied their positions within the central services.

There was also another angle of the controversy which Keogh’s letter did not address. Alexandr Solzhenitsyn had agreed to be interviewed by VOA and later offered to read the excerpts from The Gulag Archipelago. It would have been a major journalistic coup for any news organization. The letter from the Committee for Human Rights in the Soviet Area, signed by members of the campus community at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, stressed that “to preserve our own security and be able to divert the world’s resources to more productive ends than armaments, we need to make the elimination of the Soviet monopoly on information a priority policy objective.” Solzhenitsyn reading from his book for the VOA audience in the Soviet Union would have helped to diminish the Soviet monopoly on information. He was not allowed to do it through the Voice of America by U.S. officials intimidated by Soviet propaganda, but they could not stop Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty from giving extensive airtime to readings of Solzhenitsyn’s books.

On January 28, 1975, Rep. Ashbrook continued his criticism of Voice of America’s censorship of Solzhenitsyn.

 Mr. ASHBROOK. Mr. Speaker, the Voice of America has become another victim of détente. In the past the VOA served as a lifeline for those living under communism. Opposition stirring within Communist countries was a major part of program broadcasting.
 All this has changed, however, under the leadership of James Keogh, Director of the U.S. Information Agency. According to a recent story in Time magazine, the VOA is now trying to avoid “provocative” stories.
 This policy has been evident for some months. In the April 3, 1974 CONGRESSIONAL RECORD, for example, I expressed my concern over the reluctance of the VOA to broadcast into the Soviet Union extensive excerpts of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book “Gulag Archipelago.” Although the VOA program department planned on doing a series of 10-minute excerpts, the project was vetoed by the U.S. Information Agency.
 Numerous incidents such as this have led many to charge that political considerations are being allowed to suppress legitimate stories. A Yugoslav writer has said:
 
  ”The VOA is jamming itself–apparently out of some misguided spirit of détente.”
 
 This charge has been basically admitted by USIA Director Keogh himself. In the Time interview, Keogh stated:
 
  ”Détente has changed what we do in USIA. our program managers must be sensitive to U.S. policy as enunciated by the President and the Secretary of State. That policy is that we do not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. We’re not in the business of trying to provoke revolutions.”
 
 It is extremely unfortunate that the VOA is no longer servings a lifeline for those living under communism. The cause of freedom can only suffer. 40

Representative Ashbrook inserted into the Congressional Record the text of the article from the December 16, 1974 issue of Time. The news magazine reported that “Some editors and reporters in the radio’s U.S.S.R. division have grumbled about interference from the glavlit–the Russian term for official censor.“

The Time article also described well the mood of powerless defiance among VOA Russian Service broadcasters.

TIME: Because the Voice [of America] has always been a lifeline for dissidents in Communist countries, many apparently now feel let down. … Pavel Litvinov, a Soviet intellectual now in exile in the U.S., gave a speech to Voice employees in the U.S.S.R. division in which he said: “The quality of your broadcasts to my country has declined 500% in the last few years.” Astonishingly, the audience burst into applause. 41

The entire decade of the 1970s was a period of stagnation and great disappointments for VOA foreign language journalists working under severe constraints imposed not only by the various administrations, with the Nixon and Ford administrations being by far worse than the Cater administration, but mostly because of barriers created by their own internal senior management in charge of central programming and most other programming decisions. Time magazine article reported that VOA could not even speak in more detail on the situation of workers behind the Iron Curtain.

TIME: VOA’s Munich bureau suggested a series on young workers in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Washington turned the idea down, according to one VOA official, because “if it had been honest and accurate, it would have been offensive to the governments involved; it would have seemed gratuitous and ideologically polemical.” 42

The Voice of America management continued to snub Solzhenitsyn on orders of the Nixon and Ford administrations, most likely originating from Secretary of State Henry Kissinger or National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, although there is no unclassified written document indicating that they had ordered or told USIA director to issue the ban on VOA interviewing the writer.

Aware of Kissinger’s and President Ford’s almost inexplicable hostility toward Solzhenitsyn, a bi-partisan group of Senators, led by Henry “Scoop” Jackson, the Democratic Senator from Washington, hosted a reception for the author in the Russell Office Building on July 15, 1975. Members of the House of Representatives were also present, as well as many private citizens. 43

Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Jesse Helms in Washington, D.C., June 1975. Photo Credit: The Jesse Helms Center.

As described by Estelle Snyder in her article “Champions of Freedom: Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Jesse Helms,” for North Carolina History Project, Ford’s and Kissinger’s treatment of Solzhenitsyn met with a strong rebuke from Republican Senator Jesse Helms.

 ESTELLE SNYDER – NORTH CAROLINA HISTORY PROJECT: The following day, the Secretary of State was quoted as saying that “Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s militant views are a threat to peace.” Kissinger went on to say that he had recommended that President Ford not meet with the author. Kissinger charged that Solzhenitsyn advocated an aggressive policy to overthrow the Soviet system and added “I believe that if his views become the national policy of the United States we would be confronted with considerable threat of military conflict … I believe the consequences of his views would not be acceptable to the American people or the world.
 Senator Jesse Helms once again took to the Senate floor to challenge Kissinger’s characterization of Solzhenitsyn’s advocacy as favoring aggression. Helms said Kissinger’s words revealed his “complete ignorance” of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s philosophy, adding, “Here is a Nobel Prize winner … a man who literally was willing to lay down his life in defense of freedom, who was oppressed in a concentration camp and our Secretary of State does not know enough about him to even characterize Mr. Solzhenitsyn accurately, fairly or properly.” 44

 

VOA Foreign Broadcasters Against Institutional Censorship

 

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. 1994 Photo.

When in 1975 Solzhenitsyn came to Washington and New York to give talks sponsored by the American labor union federation AFL-CIO, Victor Franzusoff approached him again with the hope of securing an interview. He may have thought that Solzhenitsyn’s appearance in Washington could no longer be dismissed by the VOA management as having nothing to do with America. But this time, however, the author had had enough of VOA’s unjournalistic behavior. This is how Victor Franzusoff described his conversation with Solzhenitsyn when they met after the AFL-CIO event in Washington:

 VICTOR FRANZUSOFF: “Why should I give you an interview?” he [Solzhenitsyn] asked me. “Twice now I’ve agreed to work with you, and twice you’ve decided I wasn’t worth your time.”
 ”We weren’t permitted to interview you before,” I tried to explain. “But now that you’re part of American life…”
 ”You don’t want to hear what I have to say,” Solzhenitsyn said. “And I don’t want to speak to an organization that’s afraid of offending the Kremlin.”

Franzusoff wrote that when reporters covering the event asked him what he and Solzhenitsyn talked about, embarrassed Franzusoff told them, “I’m sorry, but I can’t repeat it.” He added, “It was an exclusive to the Voice of America.”

Kolyma Exhibit in Gulag Museum in Magadan. 1994 Photo.

This was not the first time, the top management of the Voice of America, as well as some of its journalists, engaged in banning or muting a well-known figure who wanted to expose Stalinist crimes. Other VOA journalists resisted this kind of censorship for many years, with some successes and many remarkable failures. Victor Franzusoff was one of the first post-war Voice of America hires who tried to reverse “Love for Stalin” which set the tone for VOA’s first World War II broadcasts. “Love for Stalin” was a term used by a wartime VOA journalist, Julius Epstein, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, one of the few who initially objected to the outright Soviet propaganda present in VOA programs from 1942 until a few years after the war. 45 Because of his criticism of pro-Soviet propaganda, Epstein claimed he had lost his job at VOA in 1945. His continued criticism of pro-Soviet censorship in VOA programs in the immediate post-war period brought on personal attacks on him from U.S. officials in charge of VOA. One VOA director, State Department diplomat Foy D. Kohler, referred to Epstein’s immigration status in a 1951 memo: “he is not be [sic] best type of new American citizen” and urged that he be investigated. 46 This attack on Epstein was partly caused by his successful efforts to get the U.S. Congress to investigate the Katyń Forest massacre and other mass murders of the Poles in the Soviet Union later estimated to include more than 20,000 Polish military officers and intellectual leaders. In newspaper articles and letters to members of Congress and officials of the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, Epstein kept presenting the history of VOA’s censorship of the Katyń story. He disclosed that the Voice of America had censored in 1950 an interview with Polish World War II military officer, Captain Józef Czapski. He had been a prisoner in the Soviet Gulag and led an unsuccessful search in the Soviet Union during the war for his missing fellow officers. The Voice of America would not interview Józef Czapski, who was also a writer and artist, until after the Reagan administration took office in the 1980s. Only then did the VOA’s censorship of the Katyń murder story ceased completely and for good.

After repetition of Soviet lies about the Katyń Forest massacre during the war, partial censorship continued after the war even though VOA, still under the State Department, started to hire journalists who had a more sober view of communism. Victor Franzusoff was one of them. He emigrated to the United States in 1938, served in the U.S. Army in World War II and later as an interpreter at the Potsdam Conference. He joined the Voice of America in 1947. Another hire was Alexander Gregory Barmine, a Red Army general and Soviet intelligence agency GRU officer who had defected to the West in 1937. After service in the U.S. Army and the U.S.Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the wartime agency responsible for external intelligence and sabotage against Axis countries, he became the Chief of the Russian Service. He was also one of those who helped to reverse VOA’s earlier pro-Soviet propaganda line. A hardline anti-communist, Barmine was forced to leave the Russian Service in the mid-1960s.

Another post-World War II hire was a VOA Polish Service broadcaster and editor Zofia Korbońska. During World War II, she was a member of the Polish underground anti-Nazi resistance at the time when the Voice of America was broadcasting propaganda in support of the Soviet and communist takeover of Poland. She also had tried to get the Voice of America to speak more forcefully about human rights violations behind the Iron Curtain. 47

The censorship by the VOA management of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, which Victor Franzussof described in his book happened in the 1970s, a period when VOA broadcasts to Russia were generally supportive of human rights and democracy but increasingly muted in this message because of the policy of détente with the Soviet Union and some of the other communist regimes. Knowing how demoralizing and dangerous communist propaganda was for the victims of totalitarian regimes, Franzusoff was trying not to let the VOA censors have the last word. Still hoping for an interview with Solzhenitsyn, Franzusoff tracked down him and his friend, Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, when both of them and their wives were touring the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. Once again, burned by the previous snub from VOA’s leadership, Solzhenitsyn would not yet agree to give an interview, but he promised to send Franzusoff his future press releases in Russian. This still, however, presented a problem for VOA Russian Service broadcasters, according to Franzusoff. He wrote that Solzhenitsyn told him VOA may broadcast his press releases to the Soviet Union even before the American media receives them. Franzusoff was not sure, however, whether the management would allow the Russian Service to use Solzhenitsyn’s press releases if they were not reported on first by other American news organizations. One of the measures of control, VOA program directors had over foreign language service was to make their access to wire services in the central English newsroom as difficult as possible, forcing them to rely on centrally-produced English news and radio scripts which then had to be translated into foreign languages. Foreign language VOA broadcasters often did not know immediately about significant news developments until the newsroom decided what was or was not worth reporting.

In describing Solzhenitsyn’s generous offer of providing the Russian Service a first look at his press releases, Franzusoff commented on the difficult situation of VOA foreign language broadcasters.

“I thanked him, but told him nervously, that VOA was only allowed to broadcast news that was in the public domain or had already been aired by the U.S. media,” Franzusoff wrote.

Most of these management-imposed restrictions on VOA’s foreign language services, which were clearly designed to assist in censorship when necessary, were not removed until the Reagan administration took office in 1981. The leadership of the Voice of America, not just the officials of the United States Information Agency and the State Department but also some of Voice of America’s own longtime managers who enforced or tolerated such censorship for many years even if they partly disagreed in Solzhenitsyn’s case, indeed came to regret it. Some managers who were soft on Russia were moved into less prominent positions during what Alan Heil described as “the dark days of 1981 and 1982” after the Reagan administration took office. 48 Many of VOA’s foreign language broadcasters, however, felt liberated by these changes and their new freedom to report on topics which were previously off limits or severely restricted. No major programming scandals in broadcasting to the Soviet block by VOA foreign language services occurred during the Reagan years as opposed to numerous embarrassing U.S. media reports on censorship at VOA and rebukes from Congress during the previous period.

For many VOA journalists in the language services, the Reagan years were the best and brightest when they could finally originate programs and interviews which the managers who were reassigned would have never allowed in previous years.

John Houseman, VOA’s first director in charge of radio production. VOA’s first directors responsible for program policy and content were Robert E. Sherwood and Joseph F. Barnes. Sherwood was President Roosevelt’s speechwriter. Barnes was a left-leaning journalist.

In 1982, Hollywood film actor John Houseman, who could be considered the first VOA director in the Office of War Information in charge of radio production, made an appearance at the Voice of America headquarters in Washington for the fortieth-anniversary observances on February 24. Forty years later he still managed to obscure his role as an implementor of propaganda in VOA’s wartime broadcasts that was so strongly pro-Soviet and in support of communists in Eastern and Western Europe that he was forced to resign by the Roosevelt administration in 1943. It happened after VOA in one of its broadcasts insulted the King of Italy whom the U.S. wanted for an ally against Germany, calling him the “moronic little King.” 49 (VOA The State Department refused to issue Houseman a U.S. passport for official VOA travel abroad. He wanted to visit Robert Sherwood in London where he was in charge of coordinating American and Soviet propaganda in VOA broadcasts. The trip, which after the initial delay would have put Houseman in London shortly after the discovery by the Germans of the Katyń graves of more than 4,000 Polish officers executed by the Soviet NKVD, would have likely focused on how to protect Stalin of being accused of committing this mass murder. Houseman, who even in his memoirs referred to wartime VOA as a propaganda and psychological warfare organization and in an ethnic slur in his book used the favorite Soviet propaganda label of anti-Semitism for all those who opposed Stalin’s territorial and political demands, presented himself to VOA journalists in 1982 as a defender of truthful reporting. 50 He, of course, did not say that it was under his watch when VOA first started to promote the Soviet Katyń lie in April 1943 and established a long tradition of censoring and later minimizing reporting on the Soviet Gulag and communist atrocities. It was under Houseman, Davis, Sherwood, and Cranston that VOA began to ban representatives of democratic government which were part of the anti-Nazi coalition but which Stalin wanted to replace with communist governments loyal to Moscow–a tradition that would continue and culminate in the banning of Alexander Solzhenitsyn from VOA Russian broadcasts.

With a few exceptions, VOA employees who attended the fortieth-anniversary celebration knew nothing of this history. Alan Heil recalled in his book that Houseman’s speech gave encouragement to all those who saw Reagan administration officials at the Voice of America as a threat to objective and truthful journalism.

ALAN HEIL: “He [Houseman] reminded the packed auditorium that honest reporting had been the key to the Voice’s credibility when the tide turned in the direction of an Allied victory the end of World War II. That underlying theme sustained VOA through the difficult winter of 1981/1982. 51

VOA’s original propagandist for Stalin, who helped to cover up the crimes of the Soviet dictator and participated in the first major collusion between government officials of the United States and Russia to deceive Americans and foreigners alike, managed in 1982 to deceive a new audience, a new generation of VOA journalists, or at least many of them, with the same propaganda claim of honest journalism that was never true. While during World War II, VOA did not broadcasts outright lies that could be easily exposed, for example if it tried to claim victories in battles which ended in defeats for the U.S. military, it did lie about the Katyń massacre. Even the State Department, which was not at all keen on publicizing the Katyń murders, warned VOA not to lie for Stalin. The warning was ignored. 52 VOA also lied by omission when it failed to report on other Soviet atrocities, and it lied in presenting Stalin as a democrat. 53 Sherwood, Barnes and Houseman would have never allowed any reporting on Stalin’s orders to deport entire ethnic groups and on how hundreds of thousands of these deportees died in Siberian gulags or were sentenced to death and killed by the NKVD. Exposed during the 1950-1952 congressional investigation, these facts were quickly hidden by the management from VOA staff and forgotten, which made new censorship and new bans on witnesses of communist crimes easier to implement. Whether during the 1970s Solzhenitsyn ban or today in the case of the shortened VOA Mandarin Service interview with whistleblower Guo Wengui and what seems to be an informal ban on his future participation in VOA broadcasts to China, poor knowledge of VOA’s past mistakes contributes to these scandals. They follow the same pattern.

The Voice of America might do better in the future if it would recognize the real heroes of VOA’s early years. These were not Houseman or Sherwood, both propagandists and censors for Stalin. These would be such journalists as Austrian Jewish exile Julius Epstein, Polish exile Zofia Korbońska, and Russian Jewish exile Victor Franzusoff. Epstein, who helped to expose VOA’s censorship of the Katyń story, died in 1975. Korbońska, who fought with VOA management over continuing censorship of the Katyń story, died in 2010. Franzusoff, who opposed the VOA ban on Solzhenitsyn in the 1970s, died in 1996. They were the real heroes.
 

Solzhenitsyn Criticizes VOA and Radio Liberty in 1982

 
The Reagan administration reforms of U.S. international broadcasting took several years to take hold due to internal bureaucratic opposition. These reforms were partly due to Solzhenitsyn’s earlier public criticism of the Voice of America, but while they were beginning to bear fruit, he still remained critical of VOA Russian Service broadcasts. In 1982, Solzhenitsyn published an article in National Review, in which he strongly rebuked VOA, as well as Radio Liberty leaders, for their continued timidity in response to totalitarianism. In the article titled, “The Soft Voice of America,” Solzhenitsyn’s description of him becoming a target of censorship by the VOA management matches what Victor Franzusoff wrote in his book.

 ALEXANDR SOLZHENITSYN: In December 1973, when I was still in the Soviet Union, The Gulag Archipelago was published in the West. VOA—or, rather, one VOA announcer—read an excerpt from Gulag on the air. Immediately, Radio Moscow started screaming that VOA had no right to interfere in the internal affairs of the Soviet Union, that the broadcast had fouled the international atmosphere. And what did VOA do? With the agreement of the State Department, it took the announcer off that assignment and forbade the reading of The Gulag Archipelago to Russia! More, for several years it was forbidden to quote Solzhenitsyn on VOA, so as not to discredit Communist propaganda. My book was written for Russians. Millions of copies were read in the West, but it could not be read to our Motherland! 54

“Not to know what is happening in and to your own country is crippling. That is why the Voice of America’s self-imposed limits are so misguided,” Solzhenitsyn also observed in his 1982 National Review article.

One of the more frequently quoted sentences from Solzhenitsyn’s article was:

 ALEXANDR SOLZHENITSYN: “Thus, instead of effectively giving us news, VOA helps to keep us ignorant. In order not to violate State Department policy, it gives us a stone in place of bread.”

Solzhenitsyn also wrote that “the broadcasts present Americans as more trivial and less significant than they really are, i.e., they are doing America harm.”

Victor Franzusoff agreed with some of the criticism, but also pointed out that by appealing to younger listeners with lighter programs, including American jazz, VOA was able to expand its audience in the Soviet Union. 55

Solzhenitsyn ended his National Review article, however, on a hopeful note:

 ALEXANDR SOLZHENITSYN: Still, there is a Latin proverb that goes, “Dum spiro, spero” — where there’s life, there’s hope. Thirty years have gone by, but that does not mean that we should not begin again today. We do not know how much time history will give us, and maybe it is still possible to accomplish much if the Reagan administration actively undertakes to improve U.S. broadcasts. I am not speaking about an increase in the budget, but about a fundamental change in direction. I have said much that needed to be said. The rest is in the hands of your administration.

In his book written many years later, Victor Franzusoff agreed with some of Solzhenitsyn’s criticism of VOA’s Russian Service and disagreed with him on some other points.

 VICTOR FRANZUSOFF: Personally, I feel he [Solzhenitsyn] was right in scorning much of the fluff that we were broadcasting to the U.S.S.R., most of which was translated from the central English output that was being broadcast in various languages all over the world. On the other hand, it was hard to deny that we were actually reaching people. 56

Franzusoff explained that in addition to “the fluff” produced by VOA’s English Service and translated into Russia, the Russian Service also offered its own lighter material and worked with VOA’s talented and popular music contractor and jazz expert Willis Connover.

 VICTOR FRANZUSOFF: So although I can understand Solzhenitsyn’s point that sports, fashion, and rock ‘n’ roll were irrelevant and even offensive to those who had fought and risked their lives for human rights, I must defend the value of reaching a vast audience. We were reaching that audience with lighter material–some of which I very much enjoyed, by the way–and that material in its own way spoke for freedom of expression, freedom of thought.

What did not speak for freedom of expression, however, was the VOA’s management ban on interviewing Solzhenitsyn and airing large excerpts from The Gulag Archipelago. With many hours of daily radio broadcasting to Russia, the Voice of America had plenty of time to air both serious and lighter material, both of good quality and without censorship. One did not exclude the other. On that point, Solzhenitsyn and Franzusoff were in full agreement. There was censorship. Most members of the U.S. Congress and Americans who knew about it strongly disapproved.

 

A Partial Reconciliation with VOA

 
Alexandr Solzhenitsyn eventually reconciled with the VOA Russian Service during the later years of the Reagan administration and was allowed to make recordings for radio broadcasts to Russia.

Mary G. F. Bitterman, appointed VOA director during the Carter administration, was viewed by most VOA staffers as an improvement over her most immediate predecessors, but the permanent senior managers from previous years remained firmly in charge. She managed to improve employee morale which led to some limited programming initiatives in the language services. After the 1980 November presidential election, won by Ronald Reagan, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn sent a conciliatory letter to Victor Franzusoff, in which he praised its historical program “Thirty-Five Years Ago.” Ten days earlier, American newspaper columnist Jack Anderson published a column highly critical of the management of the Russian Service. It was titled: “VOA in Russian: Embarrassing Voice.” Mary Bitterman responded to Anderson’s column with a letter to Congressman John Buchanan (R-TN) who inserted it in the Congressional Record on December 5, 1980. Solzhenitsyn’s letter to Victor Franzusoff and VOA Russian Service broadcaster O. V. Volkonsky was also printed in the Congressional Record.

[Translation of letter received by VOA-Russian Service]
To: The Chief of the Russian Section of the Voice of America-V. A. Franzusoff
To: Co-worker of the Russian Section O. V. Volkonsky

 GENTLEMEN: I am a constant and grateful listener to your historical broadcasts “Thirty-Five Years Ago”.
 I also receive requests from the USSR to thank you for these broadcasts and to continue them in their present form.
 I would like to emphasize, although you know this yourselves, that it is almost impossible to imagine correctly the course of basic international events by information given out within the Soviet Union. Such a situation was particularly acute in the immediate post-war years, when listening to Western broadcasts was not yet widespread, and, because they were fiercely jammed. That is why the events of the first post-war years are greatly distorted or not clear in the minds of our population. That is why your broadcasts are of such exceptionally informative worth. And I am writing this letter to ask that you on no account discontinue this series, but continue it further, year after year.
 I also appeal to you with the following request: could you supply the All-Russian Memorial Library with all the scripts of these broadcasts? Our Library would preserve them as part of our history for future Russian readers who today are deprived of the possibility of listening to these broadcasts or have missed some of them. I would be extremely grateful to you for such a gift. It would not be necessary to send each script separately, but in large packets, once every three months.
And, if possible, to include all those broadcasts up to the present time–too.
 With gratitude and best wishes.
  A. SOLZHENITSYN
NOVEMBER 28, 1980 57

The December 5, 1980 letter from Solzhenitsyn was not an across the board enforcement of the Russian Service’s programming. He praised only a single series of programs dealing with the history of the Soviet Union. It was, however, a sign of changing times for VOA. Mary Bitterman, appointed by President Carter, had been in her position for only ten months, but she managed to improve employee morale and encouraged reforms. As a Carter administration holdover appointee, she would be soon replaced. Major reforms carried out by the Reagan administration appointees finally allowed VOA foreign language services to expand their original programming. Alexandr Solzhenitsyn would be invited to record excerpts from his books.

Mary Bitterman’s letter shows that as late as 1980, there were serious morale and programming issues in the Russian Service, but it still managed to attract a large audience in Russia. In introducing Mary Bitterman’s letter, Rep. Buchanan expressed his support for the Voice of America. He was correct that VOA did not have sufficient personnel and funding, which would be increased during the Reagan administration, but the major problem was still the holdover management, the restrictions which it continued to impose on VOA’s foreign language services, and still poor employee morale. Many of these mid-level permanent managers would soon be reassigned by new Reagan administration appointees.

THE VOICE OF AMERICA’S RUSSIAN SERVICE
 
 (Mr. BUCHANAN asked and was given permission to address the House for 1 minute and to revise and extend his remarks and include, extraneous matter.)
 Mr. BUCHANAN. Mr. Speaker, in recent weeks there has been criticism, and I believe unfounded criticism of the Voice of America’s Russian Service.
 As a member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. I have listened to witness after witness describe the value of the Voice’s broadcasts into the Soviet Union and the extent to which these individuals have gone just to hear what the Voice has to say.
 This is not to say that the Voice’s Russian broadcast service is perfect. I know of no Federal agency, private organization or independent news organization which is. There are major differences among members of the Soviet dissident movement outside the U.S.S.R. and these may, from time to time, be reflected in the Russian service.
 But I will say to our colleagues that I believe the Voice is comprised of many very dedicated and able people who are doing a tremendous job despite the constraints, monetary and personnel, which we in the Congress, in response to administration recommendations, have placed upon it and on the International Communication Agency as a whole.
 I would like to call to the attention of our colleagues two letters which I believe are relevant to the quality of the
the Russian Service. The first is a letter from Alexandre Solzhenitsyn to the chief of the Russian Service commending its programming
 The second is a letter from Voice Di­rector Mary Bitterman in answer to the changes concerning the Voice.
 Mr. Speaker, I must admit that I have had some problems with some of the appointments made by the Carter admin­istration within the foreign affairs agen­cies. These appointments have not al­ways given the type of leadership which I believe to be best for our country.
 Mary Bitterman is not among this group. In the 10 months in which she has served as Director of the Voice, she has done an outstanding job not only with the programing, but with the morale of the personnel as well. She has brought a dynamism which has long been lacking but which has been sorely needed at the Voice.
 I have also talked with Mrs. Bitter­man about her recommendations for the future of the Voice and believe them to be right on target. It is my sincere hope that she will be asked to implement these recommendations.
 In a world of expanding communications, we need to enhance our own communications and, hence, understanding. Regrettably, we have not done so.
 The Republican Party platform specifically addresses this concern and I believe the Reagan administration will work to expand the capabilities of the Voice and of the other aspects of the International Communication Agency.
 During the years in which it has been my privilege to serve as the ranking minority member of the subcommittee which has oversight and funding authority for the ICA and the Voice, I have been at once impressed by the actions of the Agency on the one hand and frustrated by the severe constraints placed upon it on the other.
 The fact of the matter is the Voice is not doing all it could do because it does not have what it needs to get the job done. It does not have the resources, personnel or monetary, and this is coupled with the problem of locating individuals proficient in the many languages in which the Voice now broadcasts or in which it would like to broadcast.
 Notwithstanding these limitations. I believe the Voice is doing an essential job in telling the story of the great reality of this country and providinq information to the peoples of many lands who thirst for truth.
 I would hope that our colleagues would take the time to read these two letters and encourage them to do so.
 
INTERNATIONAL COMMUNICATION AGENCY,
Washington, D.C., November 20, 1980.
 
 DEAR JOHN: Knowing of your interest in the Voice of America, I wanted to share with you our reaction to Jack Anderson’s column on the VOA Russian Service. While I appreciate the uniqueness of Mr. Anderson’s investigative reports, I feel compelled
to place his assertions in this case into perspective.
 Mr. Anderson’s November 18 article “VOA in Russian: Embarrassing Voice” does a disservice to the dedicated employees of the Voice of America and to the readers of his column. It is a collection of a few facts, many half-truths and a number of downright erroneous statements.
 The Voice of America Russian Service broadcasts 14 hours per day, seven days a week. It is staffed by Russian-speaking professionals who labor under the same intense deadline pressures that their commercial colleagues do at NBC, ABC and CBS, but with the added factor of having to translate everything into a second language. All the staffers speak Russian, but are of many backgrounds. A few are relatively recent arrivals in this country, but most were either born here or immigrated decades ago. As in any organization, each staffer has his or her professional strengths and weaknesses. All had to pass a qualifying examination in translation and announcing to be hired, just as all had to pass a security background check.
 Are there internal problems in VOA’s Russian Service? Yes. But Mr. Anderson has not presented them accurately. Allow me to address the points he raised.
 The article cites errors in VOA Russian broadcasts. Without question, under the intense pressures of translation and broadcast deadlines, some errors have occurred. VOA has recognized this and has made major efforts to correct it. In June 1980, for example, the Russian Service instituted an editor-of-the-day system that has tightened up program control greatly, a fact explained in detail to Mr. Anderson’s researcher but not mentioned in the article. I think it is significant that the “bloopers” we could verify from Mr. Anderson’s list were two and three years old.
 Mr. Anderson described an instance of an “unfair promotion.” An incident did occur in early 1979 in which a producer reported another employee as having been under the influence of alcohol while in a studio in the evening preparing a broadcast to the Soviet Union. Questioned by his supervisors, the employee denied the charge. He has had an excellent, even exceptional job history at VOA and is a very productive staffer. He was promoted not because of “bureaucratic buddy-buddyism,” but because he was the most qualified person for the job.
 The question of the amount and kind of coverage given Soviet dissidents is a perennial issue. Mr. Anderson is correct in the thrust of this portion of his article, but not in his particulars. VOA responsibly covers news of interest to Soviet listeners, including “dissidents” news. I would cite our coverage of Andrei Sakharov’s exile to Gorky, the many international hearings that have been held in his name, all of the public hearings held by the U.S. CSCE Commission and our present detailed coverage of the CSCE Conference in Madrid as prime examples of in-depth, authoritative journalism in this field.
 We do insist that all news be verifiable, and to achieve this we normally require two independent sources.
 VOA is under regular pressure from many sides to carry more information of specific cases involving Soviet dissidents and refuseniks. That is natural and we sympathize with the motives of the people that urge this on us. But VOA must maintain its standards of verifiability. If VOA reports are “distorted due to the paucity and one-sideness of broadcast information on the internal Soviet scene, it is in large measure due to the same limitations that face all Western media, including the newspapers that carry Mr. Anderson’s column.
 The quotation from instructions to a VOA Russian employee to stop collecting examples of mistakes in broadcasts, is accurate, as far as it goes. Seeing a self-appointed inspector search through old scripts for errors in full view of the staff members who had written those scripts was having a devastating effect on staff morale, and it had to be stopped. What Mr. Anderson did not report was even more important. In a separate memorandum and a later meeting with supervisors, the employee was urged to concentrate on current broadcasts and to point out any mistakes she spotted before airtime.
 Mr. Anderson’s use of the loaded term “emigre” is demeaning, and carries the connotation of “alien.” VOA Russian Chief Victor Franzusoff, who is described as an “emigre Russian,” came to this country in 1938 and became a U.S. citizen in 1940, while serving in the U.S. Army. He served for two years in the European theatre in World War II. Does Mr. Anderson mean to imply that naturalized Americans are less worthy than born ones?
 While making a passing reference questioning the effectiveness of VOA Russian broadcasts, Anderson’s article never really addresses that subject. I would like to set the record straight. Most people who are acquainted with the Soviet Union know that VOA Russian-language shortwave broadcasts are one of the very few channels of outside information open to Soviet citizens. When former Soviet dissident Aleksandr Ginzburg came to Washington shortly after the famous Dissidents-for-Spies swap in 1979, he said “Literally everyone who reads a newspaper in the Soviet Union listens to the Voice of America.” Letters from listeners, interviews with recent emigrants and reports from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow confirm this startling statement. VOA has been cited freely as a source of information in public lectures in Moscow, and it is clear that the Kremlin leadership relies on VOA as a source of information about U.S. policy, particularly in times of international crisis. Estimates done by our friendly competitors, BBC, Deutsche Welle and Radio Liberty, confirm that VOA listenership is far ahead of the other three. An M.I.T. study judged weekly Soviet adult listenership to be 27.5 million.
 My career in broadcasting has brought me into contact with industry professionals in our own country and throughout the world.
 The Voice of America’s staff, functioning under rather difficult circumstances, is the most dedicated group of broadcasters I have known.
 
Sincerely yours,
 
MARY G. F. BITTERMAN,
Director. 58

 

Solzhenitsyn Records for VOA

 
Thanks to the efforts of new VOA Russian Branch Chief and USSR Division Director Mark Pomar, Solzhenitsyn finally agreed to read for the VOA Russian broadcasts from August 1914, his newly-written book on the history leading up to the Bolshevik Revolution, part of The Red Wheel cycle of his historical novels. To avoid accusations of favoring any particular Russian émigré writer or any political Russian movement, the Russian Service broadcast a series of programs under the rubric “Russian Voices from the West.” Many of these writers and other well-known Russians were living in exile the United States. They represented different generations of dissidents with differing ideas of what free Russia should be, but they were invariably attacked by Soviet propaganda as Cold War warmongers. Non-Jews were liberally attacked as fascists and anti-Semites. Repeated by the more liberal U.S. media and some academics, these propaganda and disinformation messages originated by the KGB had a definite intimidating effect on successive U.S. administration until the election of Ronald Reagan led to a drastic change of U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union, management reshuffle at USIA and VOA and changes in VOA programs to the Soviet block. But even some officials of the Reagan administration, including Richard Pipes, an American academic with Polish-Jewish background who was President Reagan’s advisor on East European and Soviet Affairs at the National Security Council, seemed to have accepted the idea that Solzhenitsyn was an anti-Semitic Russian nationalist. Among many who were not buying the Soviet propaganda message and came to Solzhenitsyn’s defense was Jewish Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel who wrote: “He is too intelligent, too honest, too courageous, too great a writer.” 59

Solzhenitsyn was definitely a Russian patriot and a spiritual man who was brought up in the Russian Orthodox tradition and who did not have a good understanding of how to navigate between various ideological movements in Western democracies. While he was sharply critical of Western materialism and moral decay, he was not against the West. As he tried to explain a number of times, he wanted to warn the West about communist totalitarianism and to strengthen its resolve to oppose violations of human rights. As someone who saw mass murders under Stalin with his own eyes and powerfully exposed to the Russians and the outside world his own country’s government’s crimes against his own compatriots as well as against other ethnic groups, including Jews, he could hardly be accused of anti-Semitism or intolerant nationalism. His second wife’s mother was Jewish. Solzhenitsyn expressed a number of times his strong support for independence and freedom for non-Russians forcefully annexed into the Soviet empire, which in itself was an unforgivable crime as far as the KGB was concerned. Still, the Soviet KGB guessed correctly that the propaganda charges of nationalism and anti-Semitism it fabricated against him would resonate with at least some American officials, some of the more liberal media figures and left-leaning intellectuals in the West, specially when paired with anti-Cold War, anti-fascist and pro-peace propaganda messages.

In May 1982, Victor Franzusoff received from Solzhenitsyn’s wife Natalia Dmitriyevna the Russian translation of his open letter to President Reagan, explaining why he had turned down the President’s invitation to lunch at the White House. Solzhenitsyn was willing to meet with Reagan but did not one to be included in a group of “émigré politicians” and “Soviet dissidents.” “As a literary writer, I belong to neither of these categories. I cannot take a place in the wrong line,” Solzhenitsyn wrote in his open letter to President Reagan. But as reported by Franzusoff, Solzhenitsyn was particularly incensed by some of the KGB-inspired labels attached to him not only by some of the American media but also by some Reagan administration officials who otherwise contributed to helping bring about the downfall of communism in the Soviet Union.

  ALEXANDR SOLZHENITSYN: Furthermore, the White House has let it be known that a meeting with me would be undesirable because I am a symbol of “extreme Russian nationalism.” This label is an insult to my compatriots, to whose suffering I have devoted my life as a writer.
 I am not a nationalist but a patriot. I love my country and therefore understand well that others love theirs. I have often expressed publicly my views that the interests of the Soviet people demand the immediate end of Soviet seizures. 60

Aware of the controversy surrounding the Russian writer, Mark Pomar cleared the idea of interviewing Solzhenitsyn with VOA deputy director Melvyn Levitsky, a State Department career diplomat who from 1972 to 1975 was a Political Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and from 1982 to 1983 served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. Levitsky was later U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria and Brazil. 61 After discussing the project with Levitsky, Pomar then traveled to Solzhenitsyn’s home in Vermont with a VOA sound engineer to interview him and to record his readings from his book August 1914. The recordings were brought back to Washington, divided into 36 separate programs about 30 minutes long and broadcast to the Soviet Union over many weeks.

At the time, the KGB’s secret operation designed to discredit Solzhenitsyn in the West as being anti-Semitic and a supporter of fascist Russian nationalism was still in full swing. The KGB was hoping that mainstream U.S. media would report on these accusations, and they were not disappointed. The Washington Post had an article on February 4, 1985, “Version of Solzhenitsyn Novel, Broadcast by VOA, Causes Flap.” “A new version of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s famous novel August 1914, being broadcast by the Voice of America into the Soviet Union, has the Soviet-watching community in an uproar over charges that parts are subtly anti-Semitic,” was the dramatic lead sentence. The Washington Post dwelt at length on these charges, but also quoted Mark Pomar and other experts who dismissed them as a complete distortion of Solzhenitsyn’s real views if not an actual libel. That the KGB was involved in spreading these rumors about Solzhenitsyn was assumed by Soviet experts in the West but the full extent of the KGB smear propaganda operation against him was not yet known.

 JOANNE OMANG – THE WASHINGTON POST: “Mark Pomar, Chief of VOA’s Russian Service, called allegations that the novel [August 1914] is anti-Semitic ‘absolutely ludicrous.’ He added that Solzhenitsyn would be ‘furious’ at the suggestion.” 62

 

KGB, Solzhenitsyn and U.S. Media

 
Mark Pomar was right. In September 1974, Yuri Andropov, then Chairman of the Committee for State Security (KGB) and later General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, approved a large-scale, multi-faceted plan (no. 5/9-16091) “to discredit and destabilize Solzhenitsyn and his family and cut off his communications with Soviet dissidents.” As described in The Mitrokhiv Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West, a book by British historian Christopher Andrew and former senior officer of the Soviet Foreign Intelligence service Vasili Mitrokhin who defected to the United Kingdon in 1992: “The KGB sponsored a series of hostile books and articles, among them a memoir published under the name of his first wife, Natalia Reshetovskaya.” Solzhenitsyn, whom the KGB gave codename PAUK, was subjected by the KGB to “a constant stream of threats against his children.” The family received “suspicious packages which looked as if they might contain explosives.” While Solzhenitsyn was in Zurich, Switzerland, the KGB even managed to plant within his inner circle three agents of the Czechoslovak intelligence service, one of whom served as the editor of a Czech edition of The Gulag Archipelago until their KGB connection was revealed. The Czechoslovak intelligence officer who temporarily infiltrated Solzhenitsyn’s inner-circle was Valentina Holubová who, as reported by Andrew and Mitrokhin, “seems to have arrived on his doorstep on his first day in Zurich, claiming to be from Ryazan (where she had been a schoolteacher) and bearing a bouquet of roses and lilac.” 63

In July 1975, the French newspaper Le Monde used a distorted quote from one of Solzhenitsyn’s speeches in the United States to smear him as a Nazi sympathizer even though he fought the Germans during World War II as an artillery officer in the Red Army and was twice decorated. Le Monde wrote “Alexander Solzhenitsyn regrets the the West joined forces with the USSR against Nazi Germany during the last war.” It was a complete distortion of Solzhenitsyn’s views. It was fake news, but there is no proof that it was planted by the KGB. 64 It showed, however, that Western media was susceptible to Soviet propaganda and was already turning against the writer.

After Solzhenitsyn delivered his famous commencement address at Harvard University on June 8, 1978, in which he rather bitterly denounced “a decline in courage” in the West in opposing communist ideology “particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society,” and making them “accomplices” in the suffering of those living under communist rule, the KGB concluded that Western media was not going to respond kindly to such harsh accusations. The Soviet intelligence service decided that no active measures were required to counter the Harvard Address. They were right. Solzhenitsyn’s Harvard speech met with a hostile reception by both The New York Times and The Washington Post. As reported by Andrew and Mitrokhin, the Times writer found “Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s world view…far more dangerous than the easy-going spirit he finds so exasperating,” while the Post denounced his “gross misunderstanding of western society.” 65

The New York Times, the newspaper, which in the 1930s published fake news reports by its Moscow Bureau Chief Walter Duranty, denying the Bolshevik-created famine and millions of deaths in Ukraine, and which submitted his earlier reports for the Pulitzer Prize, received in 1932 and never revoked, proceeded to challenge and lecture the writer in its editorial of June 13, 1978. Insultingly tiled “The Obsession of Solzhenitsyn,” the editorial distorted and made a mockery of his views in a manner eerily similar to the KGB propaganda narrative although not as crude as the Soviet propagandists would present it on their own. Calling Solzhenitsyn a “zealot,” the paper’s editorial writers wrote:

THE NEW YORK TIMES: The trouble is, of course, that life in a society run by zealots like Mr. Solzhenitsyn is bound to be uncomfortable for those who do not share his vision or ascribe to his beliefs. Dissent was punished long before there was a gulag. …
 Much as we have been instructed and inspired by Mr. Solzhenitsyn, his willingess to set aside all other values in the crusade against Communism bespeaks an obsession that we are happy to forgo in this nation’s leaders. A certain amount self‐doubt is a valuable attribute for people who have charge of nuclear weapons. 66

Considering that The New York Times, The Washington Post, as well as the Voice of America during World War II also largely ignored the Jewish Holocaust and Stalin’s crimes, their condemnation of Solzhenitsyn, a prisoner of the Gulag for eight years for criticizing Stalin in a letter to a friend, and presenting him as if he himself was a threat to freedom by merely exercising his freedom of speech and daring to criticize the West, including its media, was grossly disingenuous. 67 It was true that Solzhenitsyn did not fully understand Western societies. He appeared too critical and his comments in the Harvard Address about the rule of law may have been poorly phrased and misinterpreted, but his criticism of the Western media did not mean that he favored censorship. Unlike The New York Times and The Washington Post, Harvard Magazine wrote: “Solzhenitsyn’s brilliant, iconoclastic speech ranks among the most thoughtful, articulate, and challenging addresses ever delivered at a Harvard Commencement.” Not every one’s mind in the West had been already poisoned by KGB propaganda. Sholzhenitsyn should have acknowledged his Western admirers and supporters more emphatically, but his bitterness was also not too difficult to understand by those who were familiar with Russia’s history under communism and the West’s compromises with Stalin. Attacks on Solzhenitsyn in The New York Times and The Washington Post were no doubt reported on by the Voice of America in reviews of American press, but the writer could not answer them directly in his own voice in any VOA program. 68

Another Solzhenitsyn Reading on VOA

 

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn reading from March 1917, part of The Red Wheel cycle of novels on the fall of Imperial Russia. Voice of America Russian Branch chief Natalia Clarkson traveled to Solzhenitsyn’s home in Vermont in 1987 for an interview and to record the author reading excerpts from his book. VOA sound engineer Robert “Bob” Louis Cole was in charge of the recordings. Bob Cole passed away in 2017. Courtesy Photo from VOA Russian Service 2017 video interview with Natalia Clarkson.

Fortunately, after the 1980 presidential election won by Ronald Reagan, who was also portrayed by America’s more left-leaning media as a warmonger of the worst kind ready to start World War III with the Soviet Union at any time, the Voice of America was under a new management. After the 1984 series of recordings from August 1914, in 1987, the Russian Service again reached out to the author and he agreed to record excerpts from his March 1917 book. 1987 marked the 70th anniversary of both the February Revolution and the Bolshevik or October Revolution of 1917. The second Uprising was in reality a coup by a small group of communists who lacked any popular support in Russia. Russian Branch chief, Natalie Clarkson, traveled to Solzhenitsyn’s home in Vermont and recorded a large number of readings by the author which were then broadcast to Russia. She pointed out that the concept behind this series of recordings of Solzhenitsyn reading his book was to show that the Bolshevik coup later in the year (the October Revolution) was preceded by a genuinely grass roots protests and revolt in February 1917 O.S. (March N.S.) 69
 

Conclusions

 
While the senior management prevented the VOA Russian Service from interviewing Alexandr Solzhenitsyn throughout the 1970s, during the same time he gave a lengthy interview to the BBC. In April 1976, Congressman Jack Kemp (R-NY) inserted the text of the BBC interview into the Congressional Record. In his BBC interview, Solzhenitsyn addressed some of the criticism hurled against him by the KGB and all too often repeated in Western media. In response to the statement that he had become an impassioned critic of the West and the question whether he favored a return to a patriarchal kind of Russia and orthodoxy, Solzhenitsyn criticized Western media for sloppy reporting. This did not win him friends among many liberal-minded journalists in the United States and in Western Europe who saw such criticism as a justification of their continued their attacks on the writer. Anyone one who criticized the press had to be against the Western concept of a liberal society, a nationalist and a supporter of government censorship. Solzhenitsyn, of course was not, but it did not prevent some journalists from repeating these charges.

 SOLZHENITSYN: You know, that is one of the consequences of the weak sense of responsibility of the press. The press does not feel responsibility for its judgements; it makes judgements and sticks on labels with the greatest of ease. Mediocre journalists simply make headlines of their conclusions which suddenly become the general opinion throughout the West. You have just enumerated several propositions, and practically all of them are not true. Firstly, I am not a critic of the West. I repeat that for nearly all our lives we worshipped the West. Note the word ‘worshiped.’ We did not admire it; we worshipped it. I am not a critic of the West. I am a critic of the weakness of the West. I am a critic of the fact which we can’t comprehend: how one can lose one’s spiritual strength, one’s willpower, and, possessing freedom, not to value it, not to be willing to make sacrifices for it.
 A second label, just as common, was pinned on me: that I wanted to return to a patriarchal way of life. Well, as you see, apart from the half-witted, no normal person could ever propose a return to the past because it’s clear to any normal person that one can only move forward.
 I’ll just cite one more example. Take the word ‘nationalist.’ It has become almost meaningless, and it’s used constantly; everyone flings it around. But what is nationalist? If someone suggests that his country should have a large army, should conquer the countries which surround it, should go on expanding its empire, that sort of person is a nationalist. But if, on the contrary, I suggest that my country should free all the peoples it has conquered, should disband the army, should stop all aggressive actions, who am I? A nationalist. If you love England, what are you? A nationalist. And when are you not a nationalist? When you hate England, then you are not a nationalist. 70

One of the moderators conducting the BBC interview, British journalist, author and satirist Malcolm Maggeridge, whom Rep. Jack Kemp described as “perhaps one of the most profound social commentators of this century,” remarked about Solzhenitsyn: “if you encased the earth in concrete, there would still be a crack in that concrete, and through that crack something would grow. That’s Solzhenitsyn.” It was an accurate description of who Solzhenitsyn was.

But strong language from Solzhenitsyn was offensive to the ears of many Western liberals, some of whom may have felt guilty about their earlier support for communism. Malcolm Maggerige was one of them before becoming an anti-communist after working as a journalist in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and observing the Ukraine famine. With many Western journalists resenting being preached to by Solzhenitsyn about Stalin’s crimes and their own shortcomings, the KGB had an easier time of discrediting the dissident writer with the support of parts of Western media. Solzhenitsyn did not say anything that was untrue, anything close to proving that he was an intolerant nationalist, which he absolutely was not, or anything else that conservative intellectuals such as Maggeridge in Britain or William Buckley in the United States were not already saying. But the KGB-designed labels stuck to him for the rest of his life and after his death. Large parts of the left-leaning elites in Western Europe and the United States found the truth in Solzhenitsyn’s life, in his words and in his books difficult to swallow and felt compelled to lash out at him for sins he did not commit except in the minds of KGB propagandists.

While liberal Western media were the easiest target for KGB propaganda, not everybody in the West fell for it. Solzhenitsyn’s denunciations of weaknesses in Western societies, which he said were motivated by his deep appreciation of the Western culture and concern for its future, were embraced by many conservatives, including Senator Jesse Helms and Ronald Reagan. Solzhenitsyn also had his admirers and defenders among some of the brightest Western writers and thinkers on the liberal side. Perhaps the most eloquent tribute to Solzhenitsyn was written by Canadian American writer Saul Bellow, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature. Bellow’s parents were Jewish immigrants from the Lithuanian part of the Russian Empire before the October Revolution. His Jewish-Lithuanian-Russian immigrant ancestry may have made it easier for Bellow to understand Solzhenitsyn’s views of Russia and the West.

  SAUL BELLOW: The word “hero” long in disrepute, has been redeemed by Solzhenitsyn. He has had the courage, the power of mind and the strength of spirit to speak the truth to the entire world. He is a man of perfect intellectual honor and, in his moral strength, he is peculiarly Russian. To the best Russian writers of this hellish century it has been perfectly clear that only the power of truth is equal to the power of the state. 71

In the conclusion of his letter, published in The New York Times on January 15, 1974, Bellow pointed out that scientists, artists and intellectuals have a different role in society than diplomats who pursue the policy of détente with the Soviet government. He did not specifically mention journalists, but he would no doubt include them with artists and intellectuals. This point was completely lost on anyone in charge of Voice of America broadcasts who supported the ban on interviewing Solzhenitsyn.


  SAUL BELLOW: Persecution of Solzhenitsyn, deportation, confinement in a madhouse or exile will be taken as final evidence of complete moral degeneracy of the Soviet regime.
 We cannot expect our diplomats to abandon their policy of détente (whatever that may mean) or our great corporations to break their business contracts with Russia, but physicists and mathematicians, biologists and engineers, artists and intellectuals should make it clear that they stand by Solzhenitsyn. It would be the completest betrayal of principle to fail him. Since America is the Soviet Government’s partner in détente, Americans have a special responsibility in this matter.
 What Solzhenitsyn has done in revealing the unchecked brutality of Stalinism, he has done also for us. He has reminded every one of us what we owe to truth.

Solzhenitsyn was difficult to comprehend by a Western mind. He tried but largely failed to explain to Westerners his views on religion, history and man. The narrative that became dominant in the West, thanks in large part to the KGB, was of Solzhenitsyn as an extreme right-wing nationalist. The man, however, was a profound believer in dignity of every man and woman. Half-Ukrainian, he was a Russian cultural and religious patriot, but, above all, a defender of the defenseless and the forgotten. In his 1975 speech to the AFL-CIO, he tried to counter yet another label being attached to him by poorly-informed media in the West. He realized that “anti-communist” became a pejorative term among many Western intellectuals and journalists.

ALEXANDR SOLZHENYTSYN: There is a word very commonly used these days: “anti-communism.” It’s a very stupid word, badly put together. It makes it appear as though communism were something original, something basic, something fundamental. Therefore, it is taken as the point of departure, and anti-communism is defined in relation to communism. Here is why I say that this word was poorly selected, that it was put together by people who do not understand etymology: the primary, the eternal concept is humanity. And communism is anti-humanity. Whoever says “ant-communism” is saying, in effect, anti-anti-humanity. A poor construction. So we should say: that which is against communism is for humanity. Not to accept, to reject this inhuman Communist ideology is simply to be a human being. It isn’t being a member of a party. It’s a protest of our souls against those who tell us to forget the concepts of good and evil.

Perhaps the best and most honest portrait of Solzhenitsyn as a person, writer, philosopher, Orthodox Christian, husband and father, can be found in David Remnick article “The Exile Returns” in the February 1994 issue of The New Yorker. It seems to be custom written for for Western readers fed on the KGB caricature of his life and his beliefs. It exposes the KGB and media lies and shows Solzhenitsyn as he really was.

 DAVID REMNICK – THE NEW YORKER: In terms of the effect he has had on history, Solzhenitsyn is the dominant writer of this century. Who else compares? Orwell? Koestler? And yet when his name comes up now it is more often than not as a freak, a monarchist, an anti-Semite, a crank, a has-been, and not as a hero. One afternoon in Cavendish, I was in the kitchen with Natalia [Solzhenitsyn’s wife] and Stephan [his son], and I asked if Solzhenitsyn planned to make any public appearances, any speeches, before leaving Vermont for Moscow this spring.
 “Who would ask him to speak in America?” Natalia said. “Who in America wants to hear him?”
 “Face it, Mom,” Stephan said. “It hasn’t worked out here.” 72

It hasn’t worked out in the United States for Solzhenitsyn partly because the relentless Soviet propaganda carried out over many years and KGB active measures helped to turn a great man into a villain in the eyes of many superficial American journalists and some but not all left-leaning intellectuals. Remnick noted that “As recently as 1993, the Boston Globe’s former Moscow correspondent, Alex Beam, published an opinion piece in the paper under the headline ‘SHUT UP, SOLZHENITSYN’.”

Remnick defended Solzhenitsyn.

DAVID REMNICK: “…there is no greater story of human dignity in this century than that of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn…. To mock him is to mock the uncommon, the rare appearance of the superior and necessary man.” 73

The shabby treatment the great Russian writer had received from the Voice of America management in the 1970s despite the best efforts of Victor Franzusoff and other VOA journalists to avoid censorship was repeated at the time of his death in August 2008 when VOA was already under the watch of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. VOA reports on his death and his legacy, all too brief and superficial considering that people like Solzhenitsyn, Vaclav Havel and Lech Wałęsa were the ones who made VOA during most of the Cold War an important news organization representing the U.S. government and the American people, followed the now usual but highly deceptive practice of fully “balanced” journalism which placed words of praise for the writer on the equal footing with KGB-originated propaganda smears from several decades earlier. They were quoted being repeated by distinguished Western journalists and scholars. That kind of journalism at the Voice of America practiced now under the Broadcasting Board of Governors is what made the KGB propaganda so successful against Solzhenitsyn in the 1970s and what makes Putin’s propaganda on RT and SPUTNIK effective today in disrupting American politics. When Western journalists treat propaganda as nothing more than news that only needs to be “balanced,” they in effect help to legitimize falsehoods as an acceptable point of view and make propaganda successful. Hillary Clinton and her supporters found out the hard way during the 2016 presidential election campaign how the Kremlin’s propaganda works in conjunction with the dirty tricks of the FSB.

There was no mention in the VOA reports at the time of Solzhenitsyn’s death in 2008 of the decades-long KGB disinformation campaign against him. There was also no mention of VOA’s shameful censorship of the great author and his books in the 1970s.

Only the change in U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union and in the management of the Voice of America during the Reagan administration made it possible for the Russian Service to invite Solzhenitsyn to speak to VOA’s audience. These changes helped to hasten the fall of the communism in Russia, allowing the writer to return to his home country in 1994. Solzhenitsyn died of heart failure in Moscow on August 3, 2008. He was 89.

 

SOLZHENITSYN Target of KGB Propaganda and Censorship by Voice of America

 
Several earlier Cold War Radio Museum articles also examined these events and provided a historical perspective and rich documentation from the Congressional Record and from previously classified U.S. government documents on how the censorship of Solzhenitsyn by the Voice of America was part of a larger pattern of Soviet propaganda influence going back to World War II. Hopefully, the whole series on how Voice of America censored Solzhenitsyn will offer some lessons for today’s propaganda wars being waged against the United States by Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and ISIS.

Russian Propaganda and U.S. Politics

Radio Liberty Fails on Russian Interference

The Obama “Reset” with Russia

Brief History of VOA’s Domestic Propaganda

China, Iran, Cuba, North Korea

 

Photos: (Top) Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and his wife Natalia Dmitriyevna Solzhenitsyn exiting from Alaska Airlines plane upon their arrival on May 27, 1994 in Vladivostok as they returned from exile in the United States.
(Bottom)Local Russian officials and VOA reporter Ted Lipien awaiting the arrival of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn in Vladivostok on May 27, 1994. VOA had no plans for on-the-ground coverage of Solzhenitsyn’s arrival in Russia, but Ted Lipien and VOA Russian Branch Chief Sherwood Demitz who were in Vladivostok on a marketing trip to promote rebroadcasting of VOA programs by local radio stations sent in a report to Washington.

Disclosure: Ted Lipien was VOA acting associate director in charge of central news programs before his retirement in 2006. In the 1970s, he worked as a broadcaster in the VOA Polish Service and was a reporter and service chief in the 1980s during Solidarity’s struggle for democracy in Poland. He is one of the co-founders and supporters of BBG Watch whose volunteers monitor management and performance of taxpayer-funded Voice of America and other U.S. government-run media operations within the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

 
 

Notes:

  1. Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West, (London: Penguin Books, 2000), 416–419.
  2. Former Office of War Information editor and therefore also Voice of America journalist Julius Epstein quoted by Congressman George A. Dondero (R-MI) in Congressional Record, August 9, 1950. The quote was from the article which was published in the Evening Star Washington newspaper on August 7, 1950. George A. Dondero, Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the 81st Congress, Second Session, Appendix. Part 17 ed. Vol. 96. August 4, 1950, to September 22, 1950 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1950), A5744-A5745.
  3. In his “Capitol Stuff” column, reporter and commentator John O’Donnell wrote in Times-Herald Washington newspaper on August 20, 1943: “The misnamed Office of War Information has apparently decided to end its career by suicide and this may be all for the best.Few honest newspaper tears are going to be shed over the demise of an outfit which from birth was a New Deal Roosevelt propaganda body (as discovered by the last Congress which amputated its domestic claws) and throughout its career gave off the distinctly unpleasant stench of being a parking place for pay-roll patriots, political stumble bums and the incompetent sweepings of editorial rooms.”
  4. See Holly Cowan Shulman, The Voice of America: Propaganda and Democracy, 1941-1945 (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1990), pp. 99-102. Prof. Shulman wrote: “Sherwood, Barnes, Wartburg, and Johnson, and their like-minds colleagues the Overseas Branch [OWI’s Voice of America] believed that propaganda could mold and influence foreign policy. Propaganda, in other words, was not merely an expression of policy made by others. The propagandists believed they could make their own version of American foreign policy come true. They believed they were right; they argued that they understood the foreign influence of American policy ways that the State Department, and even the president, did not; and they used the Voice of America to enter the foreign policy debate between members of the Roosevelt’s administration.”
  5. To view some of Sherwood’s previously classified propaganda directives and memos on World War II coordination of U.S. propaganda with Soviet propaganda, see: “75th Anniversary of Voice of America – Propaganda Coordination with USSR,” Cold War Radio Museum, January 17, 2017, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/75th-anniversary-of-voice-of-america-propaganda-coordination-with-ussr/, and “Why WWII Voice of America ignored the Holocaust,” Cold War Radio Museum, March 27, 2017, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/why-wwii-voice-of-america-ignored-the-holocaust/.
  6. Elmer Davis and Alan Cranston made several attempts, (a bipartisan congressional committee found some of Cranston’s actions to be illegal), to shut down Polish American radio stations and newspapers which published reports about the Katyń Forest massacre as a mass murder committed by the Soviets.
  7. As quoted by David Remnick, “The Exile Returns,” The New Yorker, February 14, 1994, accessed October 25, 2017, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1994/02/14/the-exile-returns.
  8. Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation I-II (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1974), 77.
  9. Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation III-IV, 42-43.
  10. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 257. Solzhenitsyn is mistaken on the date of the Kaminsky brigade’s participation in suppressing the Warsaw Uprising. It was in August and September, 1944. The uprising ended on October 2, 1944.
  11. Czesław Straszewicz, O Świcie,” Kultura, October, 1953, 61-62. I am indebted to Polish historian of the Voice of America’s Polish Service Jarosław Jędrzejczak for finding this reference to VOA’s wartime role.
  12. Robert Reilly, “How to Make the Voice of America Come Through Loud and Clear,” The Wall Street Journal, February 17, 2017. https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-make-the-voice-of-america-come-through-loud-and-clear-1487375332.
  13. Michele Kelemen, “Russian Accuses Voice Of America Of Fake Interview,” NPR, February 20, 2012, http://www.npr.org/2012/02/20/147064987/russian-accuses-voice-of-america-of-fake-interview.
  14. Nikolay Rudenskiy, Deputy Editor, Russian Online Media Outlet Grani.ru, “VOICE OF AMERICA RUSSIAN WEBSITE EVALUATION QUESTIONNAIRE,” 2011. Online: http://bbgwatch.com/bbgwatch/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Rudenskiy.pdf.
  15. Victor Franzusoff, Talking to the Russians (Santa Barbara: Fithian Press, 1998).
  16. Applebaum, Anne (2007), “Foreword”, The Gulag Archipelago, Perennial Modern Classics, Harper.
  17. Arch Puddington, Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2000), 273.
  18. Cissie Dore Hill, “Voices of Hope: The Story of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty,” Hoover Digest 2001 No. 4 (October 30, 2001): https://www.hoover.org/research/voices-hope-story-radio-free-europe-and-radio-liberty.
  19. Alan Heil, Jr. Voice of America: A History.(New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 160. Heil cites James Keogh’s response to Representative Robert L. Sikes, March 5, 1974.
  20. Alan Heil, 160.
  21. Aland Heil, 161. Heil wrote in a note for this statement: “Author’s notes and Kingsley’s talking points, February 26, 1974.”
  22. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Kissinger Reports on USSR, China, and Middle East Discussions, 1974–76, Box 1, USSR Memcons and Reports, July 20–August 2, 1975—Ford/Brezhnev Meetings in Helsinki (Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe). Secret; Nodis. Initialed by Rodman. All brackets, with the exception of those describing omitted material, are in the original. The meeting took place at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence. Ford and Brezhnev met during the summit held at the conclusion of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. The full memorandum of conversation is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVI, Soviet Union, August 1974–December 1976, Document 171.
  23. “Memorandum of Conversation,” Helsinki, July 30, 1975. Online: https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v16/d171. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Kissinger Reports on USSR, China, and Middle East Discussions, 1974–1976, Box 1, USSR Memcons and Reports, July 30–August 2, 1975—Ford/Brezhnev Meetings in Helsinki (CSCE). Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Rodman. Brackets are in the original. The meeting was held in the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence.
  24. Message From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft) to Secretary of State Kissinger, July 11, 1975, Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State, accessed October 27, 2017, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v16/d163.
  25. Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Assistant (Friedersdorf) to President Ford, July 12, 1975, Office of the Historian, United States Department of State, accessed October 27, 2017, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v16/d165.
  26. Editorial Note, Office of the Historian, United States Department of State accessed October 27, 2017, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v39/d319
  27. Senator James Buckley, “Statement on Kissinger,” Congressional Record, Proceedings and Debates of the 94th Congress, First Session, Volume 121–Part 18 (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1975), July 16, 1975, 23009.
  28. Bernard Gwertzman, “Solzhenitsyn Says Ford Joins in Eastern Europe’s ‘Betrayal’,” The New York Times, July 22, 1975, 1 and 9.
  29. Zbigniew Brzezinski, “Memorandum From Zbigniew Brzezinski to Jimmy Carter,” September 27, 1976. Online: https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1977-80v01/d10. Source: Carter Library, 1976 Presidential Campaign, Issues Office, Issues Office—Stuart Eizenstat, Box 9, Debates—Briefing Material. No classification marking. Carter initialed the top right-hand corner of the first page of the memorandum. Brzezinski circled the word “debate” in the subject line of the memorandum. Brzezinski attached a copy of his Columbia University business card to the memorandum and added the following handwritten comment: “Stu—I hope the enclosed is of help in order to focus the debate. ZB.” The second Presidential debate was scheduled to take place in San Francisco on October 6; for additional information, see Document 11.
  30. Gerald R. Ford, “Presidential Campaign Debate,” October 6, 1976. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=6414.
  31. Gerald R. Ford, “Presidential Campaign Debate,” October 6, 1976..
  32. “Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter,” Washington, undated, Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State, accessed October 27, 2017, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1977-80v06/d2.
  33. Jimmy Carter, “Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President.”
  34. Alan Heil, 209.
  35. Estelle Snyder, “Champions of Freedom: Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Jesse Helms,” North Carolina History Project. Online: http://northcarolinahistory.org/commentary/champions-of-freedom-alexander-solzhenitsyn-and-jesse-helms/.
  36. ”Senator Helms and the State Department,” The Jesse Helms Center, accessed November 6, 2017, https://www.jessehelmscenter.org/archives/from-the-vault/senator-helms-and-the-state-department/.
  37. Harry F. Byrd, Jr. “Voice of America Speechless on ‘Gulag Archipelago’,” Congressional Record, Volume 120–Part 5, March 7, 1974, pp. 5833-5834.
  38. John M. Ashbrook, “VOA and Solzhenitsyn,” Congressional Record, VOLUME 120–PART 7, pp. 9702-9704.
  39. John M. Ashbrook, Congressional Record, VOLUME 121-PART 2, January 28, 1975, pp. 1642-1643.
  40. John M. Ashbrook, Congressional Record, VOLUME 121-PART 2, January 28, 1975, pp. 1642-1643.
  41. John M. Ashbrook, Congressional Record, VOLUME 121-PART 2, January 28, 1975, pp. 1642-1643.
  42. Congressional Record, 94th Congress, 15 July, 1975.
  43. Estelle Snyder, “Champions of Freedom: Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Jesse Helms.” Online: http://northcarolinahistory.org/commentary/champions-of-freedom-alexander-solzhenitsyn-and-jesse-helms/
  44. Epstein wrote in 1950: “There are still too many of the old OWI [Office of War Information] employees working for the Voice, both in this country and overseas. I mean those writers, translators and broadcasters who so wholeheartedly and enthusiastically tried for many years to create ‘love for Stalin,’ when this was the official policy of our ill-advised wartime Government and of our military government in Germany. There is no doubt that all those employees were at that time deeply convinced of the absolute correctness of that pro-Stalinist propaganda. How can we expect them to do the exact opposite now?” See Dondero, Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the 81st Congress, Second Session, Appendix. Part 17 ed. Vol. 96. August 4, 1950, to September 22, 1950, A5744-A5745.
  45. Memorandum from Foy D. Kohler (OIB/NY) to All Commission Members, December 18, 1951; RG 0059, Department of State, U.S. International Information Administration/International Broadcasting; Entry# P315: Voice of America (VOA) Historical Files: 1946-1953; Reports Psychological Operations POC THRU Katyn Forest Massacres III; Container #18; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
  46. Ted Lipien, “LIPIEN: Remembering a Polish-American patriot,” The Washington Times, September 1, 2010, accessed October 26, 2017, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/sep/1/remembering-a-polish-american-patriot/.
  47. Alan Heil, 219
  48. Holly Cowan Shulman, 101.
  49. John Houseman, Unfinished Business Memoirs: 1902-1988 (New York: Applause Theatre Book Publishers, 1989), 247-249. Houseman wrote: “Psychological warfare could not furnish me with the theatre’s climaxes and consummations; there was no applause for the Voice of America… .”(247) “Why were the Poles, after centuries of partition and suffering, riddled with anti-Semitism and obsessed by mad dreams of a ‘Greater Poland’?”(249)
  50. Alan Heil, 208
  51. After Joseph Goebbles’ propaganda machine announced the discovery of the Katyn graves on April 13, 1943, a note dated April 22, 1943 addressed to Assistant Secretary of State Adolf A. Berle included a warning for the OWI to exercise caution in reporting on the Katyn story.
  52. See Ted Lipien, The Triumph of Propaganda – Voice of America and Katyń, BBG Watch, April 13, 2016, accessed October 26, 2017, http://bbgwatch.com/bbgwatch/the-triumph-of-propaganda-voice-of-america-and-katyn/.
  53. Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, “The Soft Voice of America, National Review (February 24, 2015, first published April 30, 1982), http://www.nationalreview.com/article/414310/soft-voice-america-aleksandr-solzhenitsyn.
  54. Franzusoff, 145.
  55. Victor Franzusoff, 145.
  56. Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, “Translation of Letter received by VOA-Russian Service” as placed in the Congressional Record by Rep. John Hall Buchanan Jr., “The Voice of America’s Russian Service,” Congressional Record Volume 126-PART 24, December 5, 1980, 32615-32616.
  57. As placed in the Congressional Record by Rep. John Hall Buchanan Jr., “The Voice of America’s Russian Service,” Congressional Record Volume 126-PART 24, December 5, 1980, 32615-32616.
  58. Thomas, DM. Alexander Solzhenitsyn: A Century in his Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998, 491.
  59. Franzusoff, 191.
  60. Mark Pomar, (Chief, Russian Service, Voice of America, August 1983 to July 1986, in discussion with the author, October 17, 2017.
  61. Joanne Omang, “Version of Solzhenitsyn Novel, Broadcast by VOA, Causes Flap,” The Washington Post, February 4, 1985, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1985/02/04/version-of-solzhenitsyn-novel-broadcast-by-voa-causes-flap/af632be4-a157-4322-95b1-370b606db787/
  62. Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, 414.
  63. Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, 612.
  64. Andrew and Mitrokhin, 416–419.
  65. Editorial,”The Obsession of Solzhenitsyn,” The New York Times, June 13, 1978, http://www.nytimes.com/1978/06/13/archives/the-obsession-of-solzhenitsyn.html
  66. “The Voice of America—the United States Government overseas radio broadcasting station founded in 1942—ignored the subject of the Holocaust throughout the Second World War,” American scholar Holly Cowan Shulman wrote in a 1997 article published in Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. She noted that U.S. government officials in charge of VOA were “either Jewish or philo-Semites,” but the radio station during World War II “said very little about the persecution of the Jews of Europe at all.” Holly Cowan Shullman, “The Voice of America, US Propaganda and the Holocaust: ‘I Would Have Remembered’,” Historical Journal of Film, Radio & Television 17, no. 1 (March 1997): 91-103.
  67. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “The Exhausted West,” Harvard Magazine, July August 1978, https://harvardmagazine.com/2011/04/greatest-hits-solzhenitsyn.
  68. Natalie Clarkson, (Chief, Russian Branch, Voice of America, 1980s), in discussion with the author, October 18, 2017.
  69. Jack Kemp, “A Rare TV Interview with Solzhenitsyn and When Congress Should Invite him to Address a Joint Session,” Congressional Record, VOLUME 122–PART 9, April 9, 1976, pp. 10260-10261
  70. Rep. Philip M. Crane inserted in the Congressional Record the letter from Saul Bellow which appeared in the New York Times of January 15, 1974. The letter sent from Chicago was dated January 7, 1974. Philip M. Crane, “Solzhenitsyn: A Hero for Our Time,” Congressional Record Volume 12-Part 1, January 24, 1974 (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1974), 815.
  71. David Remnick, “The Exile Returns,” The New Yorker, February 14, 1995. Online: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1994/02/14/the-exile-returns.
  72. David Remnick, “Reds Scared,” The New Yorker, October 30, 1995, 109, 111 quoted in Edward E. Ericson, Jr., “The Gulag Archipelago: A generation Later,” Modern Age, 155, accessed October 25, 2017, https://isistatic.org/journal-archive/ma/44_02/ericson.pdf.
C.

China, Iran, Cuba, North Korea

OPINION

Cold War Radio Museum Cold War Radio Museum

How Voice of America Censored Solzhenitsyn

 


 

China, Iran, Cuba, North Korea

 
By Ted Lipien

When in 1974 the Voice of America (VOA) banned Alexandr Solzhenitsyn from its programs, the push for the ban may have originated with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Today, personal, ideological and partisan preferences of VOA managers and journalists largely determine what news stories about Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea are covered in full and who may or may not be interviewed by the U.S. taxpayer-funded media outlet. The additional factor, absent during the Cold War, are corporate or family business interests of some of the key Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and VOA officials in countries ruled by authoritarian regimes. Those were also absent during the Cold War. They appeared when the BBG became VOA’s parent agency in 1999.

As misguided as Kissinger and Presidents Nixon and Ford were in their assessment of the tyrannical Soviet regime and in their presumed behind-the-scenes effort to censor the Voice of America programs on Solzhenitsyn, they believed that the policy of détente and any orders issued to VOA through the United States Information Agency (USIA) were in America’s national interest and in support of U.S. foreign policy. Today, BBG and VOA officials, managers and reporters make their programming decisions in almost complete secrecy based on their own personal, often partisan, views and preferences without hardly any scrutiny or accountability.

The Ford administration’s decisions with regard to Solzhenitsyn were widely reported, analyzed and criticized in the media and on Capitol Hill. One of many Americans who knew about and commented on President Ford’s reluctance to invite Alexander Solzhenitsyn for a visit at the White House was Senator James R. Buckley. Speaking on the floor of the Senate on July 16, 1975, he unleashed his criticism on Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for urging President Ford not to meet with Solzhenitsyn.


The Secretary of State is reported to believe that the symbolic effect of a meeting between the President and Solzhenitsyn could be to the disadvantage of the United States, presumably because it would offend the sensibilities of the leaders of the greatest tyranny the world has known. The foundations of détente must be weak indeed if the President of the strongest nation of the Free World must avoid meeting with the most eloquent living spokesman of the values represented by the Free World. Détente on such terms is neither worthy of the United States nor worth the keeping. Nor will it buy us ultimate safety from the dangers of which Mr. Solzhenitsyn warns. 1

During the Reagan administration, James R. Buckley served as President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty from 1982 to 1985.

In the end, President Ford did not meet with Solzhenitsyn, although faced with growing public pressure he eventually issued an open but vague invitation which the Russian writer, having been publicly humiliated by the administration, refused to pursue. The Voice of America would not interview Solzhenitsyn until after the Reagan administration took office. But the public debate and criticism of Kissinger and Ford, as well as condemnations of censorship by the Voice of America, had at least a partial effect on U.S. international broadcasting at that time. Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were able to defend their journalistic independence and continued to air extensive excerpts from The Gulag Archipelago. Of course, if RFE and RL were in the hands of supporters of détente and the Soviet Union, overseen by private businessmen eyeing making profits for their corporation in the Soviet block, and staffed by partisan journalists selected by partisan officials, the result might have been quite different even at Radio Liberty. Fortunately, unlike VOA, RFE and RL maintained their independence under the presidentially-appointed Board of International Broadcasting (BIB). Its members were strong critics of communism and were not pursuing private business deals in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe. Benefiting from public criticism of the Nixon and Ford administrations, even a few of the VOA foreign language services were able to go around at least some of the restrictions being imposed on them by the management.

In the 1970s, there was a spirited public debate about censorship at the Voice of America when Alexandr Solzhenitsyn was in the news after the publication of The Gulag Archipelago and his forced exile from the Soviet Union. Today, with almost no one in Washington, in the rest of America and hardly anywhere in the world paying attention, Broadcasting Board of Governors and Voice of America officials and journalists decide on their own, according to their own personal and ideological preferences, which newsmakers and which polices deserve their supportive coverage, and which do not. After the end of the Cold War, personal political preferences of key Broadcasting Board of Governors officials and, in some cases their private business interests, seem to have replaced institutional U.S. foreign policy goals as the driving force for programming decisions. The ability of BBG chairmen and members to do corporate business in Russia and China and to influence hiring of partisan managers, who in turn hire partisan reporters, transformed VOA from a largely nonpartisan federal organization representing the entire U.S. government and most of America into a taxpayer-funded medium of political and ideological advocacy for some of its officials and journalists.

When in 2011, the Voice of America posted what was presented a news video by one of its correspondents who was granted a visa to go to North Korea, the VOA video turned out to be largely devoted to repeating North Korean propaganda. It was praised, however, in a BBG press release. 2

The VOA video did not show pictures of prisoners in the North Korean gulag or faces of starving North Koreans. It showed well-fed children of the North Korean communist elite and shops full of food and merchandise. Self-censorship has replaced former institutional censorship at the Voice of America with even more devastating results. Hardly anyone in the United States noticed this example of VOA’s kowtowing to a repressive regime. During most of the Cold War, some VOA programs were censored, but VOA was never accused of repeating or promoting communist propaganda. When VOA censored Solzhenitsyn in 1974, at least the censorship was met with widespread public condemnation in America.

During Barack Obama’s presidency, VOA strongly supported and rarely questioned his administration’s policy toward Russia during the so-called “Reset” period of improving relations with the Kremlin. Following the same pattern, VOA later became a taxpayer-funded advocacy outlet for President Obama’s outreach to Iran and Cuba and pursued its own policy of wooing the North Korean regime. VOA Persian Service editors banned certain critics of the Iranian government from participating in VOA programs while giving apologists for the Iranian regime an open platform without being challenged. 3 The Voice of America also became a target of successful Iranian hacking and disinformation attacks. 4 A Twitter account presented as belonging to the director of VOA Persian programs and followed by VOA’s own Persian Service and many VOA and BBG managers and reporters was declared by the BBG in 2016 to be fake after being allowed to stay online for several years. 5 During the 2016 presidential election campaign, the Voice of America showed an unprecedented bias in favor of the front-runner Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton and produced one-sided programs with unchallenged accusations against both Senator Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. 6

After the 2016 election, there have been plenty of opinions expressed in more left-leaning liberal media, including The Washington Post, as to how President Trump might be a threat to VOA’s future independence and objectivity by using VOA to promote his policies at home. 7  The truth is, the Trump administration has not done anything yet to VOA, but VOA’s independence, objectivity and effectiveness around the world have already been largely destroyed by the bureaucracy of its BBG parent agency over more than a decade of mismanagement and chaos. The greatest turn for the worse happened during the last two years. 8

The most current controversy over the senior management’s decision to shorten a Voice of America Mandarin Service interview with Chinese whistleblower Guo Wengui despite objections of many VOA rank-and-file journalists 9 is a reminder of similar incidents during the Cold War when officials of the U.S. international broadcasting agency spiked interviews with famed Russian writer Alexandr Solzhenitsyn over the objections of the then VOA Russian Service Chief Victor Franzusoff and his staff.

After the April 19, 2017 Guo Wengui interview incident, senior leaders of the Voice of America and its parent federal agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, known for its perennially low employee morale, the worst in the federal government among medium size agencies 10 put on forced leave with pay some of the best VOA Mandarin Service broadcasters who had objected to the shortening of the interview. It was cut short after the Chinese government protested and made threats to withhold visas for VOA reporters going to China. The full interview was to reveal details of corruption among senior Chinese communist leaders and provide examples of China’s influence buying and spying operations in the United States. To prevent VOA from interviewing Guo Wengui, the Chinese government intensified its propaganda campaign against him.

The forced suspensions of VOA Chinese journalists by the agency’s leadership, which denied caving in to any pressure from Beijing, were an unprecedented move against such a large number of VOA foreign language broadcasters never before attempted by any previous management. The State Department denied any role in the interview incident. Chinese American community has established a legal defense fund, VOA5 Justice, Inc., for the VOA Mandarin Service journalists placed on forced suspension. Several members of Congress have asked for an investigation by the Office of Inspector General (OIG). One of the signatories was House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) who is one of the few members of Congress paying close attention to U.S. international media outreach and urging reforms. The letter was also signed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) who has strong support among Cuban Americans. Meanwhile, an independent human rights NGO inquired whether any senior BBG and VOA officials might have business interests in China. Chinese Americans, Iranian American, Cuban Americans, Korean Americans and a fews other ethnic groups in America are still paying some attention to U.S. international broadcasting, but the scrutiny is not nearly as intense and as effective as it was during the Cold War.

When several years ago, I met the late Harry Wu, a former prisoner of the Laogai, the Chinese equivalent of the Soviet Gulag, he described to me how similar Solzhenitsyn’s experience in Soviet labor camps was to his in China. Harry Wu was deeply alarmed by what he saw as the declining quality of some of the VOA programs to China, VOA’s reluctance to focus on some of the most controversial issues of the communist government, and the growing influence of Chinese propaganda in the U.S., but he defended VOA journalists and lobbied against BBG-proposed program cuts in the China Branch. Shortly after his sudden and tragic death in 2016, the Laogai Museum he had established in Washington shut its doors. Some Chinese Americans blame it on pressure or interference from the the Chinese government. Harry Wu was also a victim of smear campaigns orchestrated against him by China’s security services, just as Solzhenitsyn was a victim of defamation by the KGB.

 
The next several Cold War Radio Museum articles will examine these events and provide a historical perspective and rich documentation from the Congressional Record and from previously classified U.S. government documents on how the censorship of Solzhenitsyn by the Voice of America was part of a larger pattern of Soviet propaganda influence going back to World War II. Hopefully, they will also offer some lessons for today’s propaganda wars being waged against the United States by Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and ISIS.

Russian Propaganda and U.S. Politics

Radio Liberty Fails on Russian Interference

The Obama “Reset” with Russia

Brief History of VOA’s Domestic Propaganda

China, Iran, Cuba, North Korea

 
Main article for “How Voice of America Censored Solzhenitsyn” Cold War Radio Museum Exhibit in November 2017:
 

SOLZHENITSYN Target of KGB Propaganda and Censorship by Voice of America

 
Chapters
 

Solzhenitsyn – Target of Red Propaganda

Censorship at the Voice of America – A Historical Background

Decision to Ban Solzhenitsyn from VOA

Political Fallout for President Ford

Fallout for VOA Managers During Reagan Years

Criticism in Congress

VOA Foreign Broadcasters Against Institutional Censorship

Solzhenitsyn Criticizes VOA and Radio Liberty in 1982

A Partial Reconciliation with VOA

Solzhenitsyn Records for VOA

KGB, Solzhenitsyn and U.S. Media

Another Solzhenitsyn Reading on VOA

Conclusions

Photos: (Top) Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and his wife Natalia Dmitriyevna Solzhenitsyn exiting from Alaska Airlines plane upon their arrival on May 27, 1994 in Vladivostok as they returned from exile in the United States.
(Bottom)Local Russian officials and VOA reporter Ted Lipien awaiting the arrival of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn in Vladivostok on May 27, 1994. VOA had no plans for on-the-ground coverage of Solzhenitsyn’s arrival in Russia, but Ted Lipien and VOA Russian Branch Chief Sherwood Demitz who were in Vladivostok on a marketing trip to promote rebroadcasting of VOA programs by local radio stations sent in a report to Washington.

Disclosure: Ted Lipien was VOA acting associate director in charge of central news programs before his retirement in 2006. In the 1970s, he worked as a broadcaster in the VOA Polish Service and was a reporter and service chief in the 1980s during Solidarity’s struggle for democracy in Poland. He is one of the co-founders and supporters of BBG Watch whose volunteers monitor management and performance of taxpayer-funded Voice of America and other U.S. government-run media operations within the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

 

 
 

Notes:

  1. Senator James Buckley, “Statement on Kissinger,” Congressional Record, Proceedings and Debates of the 94th Congress, First Session, Volume 121–Part 18 (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1975), July 16, 1975, 23009.
  2. As of November 6, 2017, the BBG press release on the visit to North Korea by a VOA Korean Service correspondent was shown with the January 1, 1970 date when in fact it was issued in 2011. The change of date makes it more difficult to find. See Broadcasting Board of Governors Press Release, “VOA Reporter Gets Rare Glimpse of Life in North Korea” accessed November 6, 2017, https://www.bbg.gov/1970/01/01/dddd/. Also see, “BBG makes press release with VOA North Korean propaganda hard to find,” BBG Watch, August 29, 2017, accessed November 6, 2017, http://bbgwatch.com/bbgwatch/bbg-makes-press-release-with-voa-north-korean-propaganda-hard-to-find/.
     

  3. “Opinion Journal: Voice of Anti-Americanism,” The Wall Street Journal, December 11, 2014, accessed November 6, 2017, http://www.wsj.com/video/opinion-journal-voice-of-anti-americanism/E9C9A9F6-3AB2-43F1-8A7B-077D60AA55EE.html.
     

  4. “Voice of America internet site hacked by Iranians,” CNN, February 22, 2011, accessed November 6, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/02/22/iran.voa.hacking/index.html.
  5. “BBG management followed, legitimized fake VOA Iran Twitter feed for years,” BBG Watch, February 22, 2017, accessed November 6, 2017, http://bbgwatch.com/bbgwatch/bbg-management-followed-legitimized-fake-voa-iran-twitter-feed-for-years/.
  6. Dan Wright, U.S. State Media Runs Hit Piece on Bernie Sanders, ShadowProof, June 16, 2016, accessed November 6, 2017, https://shadowproof.com/2016/06/16/us-state-media-runs-hit-piece-on-bernie-sanders/.
  7. Callum Borchers, “The news outlet Trump could most easily control says he has not interfered at all,” The Washington Post, July 26, 2017, accessed November 6, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/07/26/the-news-outlet-trump-could-most-easily-control-says-he-has-not-interfered-at-all/?utm_term=.94ea54fcc1d4.
  8. Robert Reilly, How to Make the Voice of America Come Through Loud and Clear, The Wall Street Journal, February 17, 2017, accessed November 6, 2017, https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-make-the-voice-of-america-come-through-loud-and-clear-1487375332.
  9. Evelyn Cheng, “How an interview with one Chinese billionaire threw a US broadcaster into turmoil,” CNBC, June 9. 2017, accessed November 6, 2017, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/06/09/interview-with-guo-wengui-throws-voice-of-america-into-turmoil.html.
  10. “The Broadcasting Board of Governors, another regular bottom-feeder that oversees the Voice of America and other government broadcasters, also scored 56. But unlike DHS, BBG is going backward. It scored two points better last year.” See, Joe Davidson, “Homeland Security finally shows employee morale improvement, though still rates low,” The Washington Post, September 20, 2016, accessed November 6, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2016/09/20/homeland-security-finally-shows-employee-morale-improvement-though-still-rates-very-low/?utm_term=.cf2e6ba5ad09.