Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Prague Wants to Thank the US by Housing Radio Free Europe

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Prague Wants to Thank the US by Housing Radio Free Europe

Article excerpt

THE corridors are eerily quiet these days in the building that once housed the federal parliament of Czechoslovakia.

Ever since the federation dissolved peacefully into the Czech and Slovak republics on Jan. 1, 1993, the building, located on Wenceslaus Square in Central Prague, has stood idle. Many halls aren't lit, and furniture is stacked in stairwells. Only a token staff of about 60 maintenance and clerical workers is left to roam the building.

Now Czech officials are pushing an idea that would make "one of the best locations in Prague," as Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec put it, once again buzz with activity. The Czech government has offered to lease the building to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, now based in Munich, Germany.

"We are prepared to accept Radio Free Europe if the United States wants to move it," Mr. Zieleniec says.

Conceived during the cold war to broadcast the American viewpoint beyond the Iron Curtain, the US government-financed radio stations are now facing the Congressional budget axe. Radio Free Europe is responsible for broadcasting to Eastern European and Balkan nations, while Radio Liberty targets the states of the former Soviet Union.

The Czech proposal could mean tremendous savings for the stations, and thus might seem like an offer the US couldn't refuse. Yet the Clinton administration hasn't exactly jumped at the offer.

Feasibility studies on moving the radio operations to Prague, as well as keeping them in Germany, are due to be completed this month, radio officials say. A decision on the possible move would be made only after a thorough cost analysis.

But the move is more than a matter of money, radio officials add privately. Many senior employees - Americans, as well as Eastern European emigres - have put down roots in Munich and aren't receptive to the prospect of exchanging their current lifestyles for the rigors of a nation making the transition from communism to a market economy.

An indication of the discontent was the resignation earlier this year of William Marsh as president of RFE/RL, ostensibly a protest against the move. In his resignation letter, Mr. …

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