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The East: Book Lauds International Broadcasters For Defeating Communism

  • Stuart Parrott

London, 28 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Poland's Lech Walesa has paid a new tribute to the role of Western radio broadcasts in contributing to the defeat of communist regimes in Eastern and Central Europe and the former Soviet Union.

He said: "When it came to radio waves, the iron curtain was helpless. Nothing could stop the news from coming through -- neither sputniks, nor mine fields, high walls nor barbed wire." He added: "The frontiers could be closed; words could not."

Walesa's writes in the foreword to a book about international broadcasting, "War of the Black Heavens," launched last night at a reception in London. The book, by Michael Nelson, a former general manager of Reuters news agency, is about the information battle between the West and the communists in the Cold War era.

The book focuses on the impact of the broadcasts of Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, the Voice of America and the BBC.

Walesa says: "If it were not for independent broadcasting, the world would look quite different today. Without Western broadcasting, totalitarian regimes would have survived much longer. The struggle for freedom would have been more arduous and the road to democracy much longer."

"In Poland, as in other communist countries, we listened to Radio Free Europe and other broadcasting stations despite the continual interference. From these broadcasting stations we gleaned our lessons of independent thinking and solidarity action."

Walesa adds: "The bloodless war on air ended with the defeat of the regimes that tried so hard to suppress the truth. And although we know well how this recent cold war ended, the study of its course is truly exciting."

Speaking at the book launch ceremony last night, the author, Michael Nelson, said he decided to write it after hearing of the impact of western broadcasts on a visit to Eastern Europe in 1990.

He said the title, "War of the Black Heavens," was taken from a commentary by a Novosti correspondent on August 21, 1968, the day of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.

The unnamed Novosti correspondent wrote in Izvestia: "They are jointly known as the 'black heavens'. . .historians have still to elucidate fully the vile role played by these Western radio stations."

Nelson says his research in the archives of the Soviet Central Committee confirmed "that the communists believed that Western radio propaganda was the strongest and most effective weapon that existed for ideological intervention in the Soviet Union."

In the introduction to his book, he writes: "The communists were so frightened by the western Radios that they even resorted to assassination of their staffs and bombing of their stations."

How different would history have been if there had been no western broadcasting? Nelson says in his book that he has posed this question to many Russians and Central/East Europeans.

Among the typical responses he received were: "The revolutions would have come later" and "The Soviet Union would today be like North Korea."

But he says perhaps the most interesting response was: "The revolutions would have been bloodier because from 1956 the Western radios always counseled restraint." Nelson said: "We should record our debt to the politicians who gave the radios life, to the officials who administered them, and to the journalists who wrote the stories which brought democracy to the peoples of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union."

("War of the Black Heavens, The Battles of Western Broadcasting in the Cold War," by Michael Nelson, is published by Brassey's, London and Washington.)