THE recent turmoil in Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is caused
by several factors: The original intention of President Clinton to
liquidate these Radios as relics of the cold war they helped to
win. The cutting by Congress of their combined budget by
two-thirds, which has resulted in the cessation of broadcasting in
several East European languages. The disclosure by Sen. Russell
Feingold (D) of Wisconsin of research on corruption and the misuse
of funds by the top executives of the Radios. The demonstration of
hundreds of employees in front of headquarters in Munich against
the plan to move operations to Prague.
All this creates pessimism about the future.
For more than 40 years, RFE/RL was probably the most important
and peaceful tool of the democratic world in fighting communist
totalitarianism. During this time the Soviet Union and its allies
spent five times as much money jamming the Radios than the Radios
themselves cost. The actual cost to the United States was minimal:
$218 million in RFE/RL's biggest year. It is no accident that
Presidents Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, and Boris Yeltsin, along with
former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, praised the Radios for
their role and pleaded with Mr. Clinton not to destroy them. The
situation in the old communist world is still dangerous. Communism
can easily be replaced by nationalism and fascism.
Clinton amended his original intention of eliminating the Radios
as a tool of the "cold war." Instead he took a half-step -
placing the hitherto independent Radios on a path to becoming a
subordinate entity of the US Information Agency and promising big
budgetary saving (all of $150 million, after several years) as a
result of this consolidation.
Everyone who knows the Radios knows this is a step toward
liquidation - since there is no point in having two separate and
duplicative broadcasting units under the same command.
Unfortunately, despite the misguided intent behind eliminating
an allegedly "right wing" anti-communist "cold war" entity,
there are reasons to criticize the Radios. But those reasons have
been exploited by ideological opponents of the existence of the
Radios, such as Senator Feingold.
For the last 10 years, there developed in the anti-totalitarian
institution of RFE/RL some of the same bureaucratic conditions
found in the communist world against which the Radios battled. One
is reminded of Friedrich Nietzsche's thought that "he who looks
too long down an abyss himself becomes an abyss."
Thanks to the unusual setup of the RFE/RL - it was broadcast to
a heavily jammed private market, making it hard to know who was
listening - the company's financial and marketing circumstances
were in some respects similar to those of a socialist enterprise. …