BUCHAREST -- In a ceremony July 30 at the Cotroceni Palace in Bucharest, Romanian President Traian Basescu awarded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and the BBC the "High Commander of Cultural Merit" award for their decades of providing uncensored news and information to the people of Romania.
"This distinction represents a sign of recognition for these two radios that for more than 50 years were in a terrible struggle for the truth -- the truth about what was happening in their country in order to counter a powerful propaganda," Basescu said. "Radio Free Europe and BBC fought heroically in order to create a window through which the Romanians were able to see their truths."
Basescu called the radios' contribution to the coverage of the December 1989 overthrow of the communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu "extremely important."
RFE/RL recently announced that its Romanian-language service
will cease broadcasting to Romania on August 1, 2008.
On hand in Bucharest to accept the awards were RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin and the chief of the BBC's Romanian Department, Razvan Scortea. 'Extraordinary Bravery'
Gedmin dedicated the award "to the hundreds of RFE/RL journalists, researchers, and analysts who, over the course of nearly 60 years, displayed extraordinary bravery, dedication, and commitment to a free and independent press in Romania, often at great risk to themselves and their families."
He said it was humbling to hear stories from the president and the assembled Romanian guests about how Radio Free Europe changed people's lives.
"Americans are indebted to our Romanian friends for reminding us what it means to struggle for freedom," Gedmin said. "Your stories are a lesson for us about the values we cherish but sometimes risk taking for granted."
The Romanian Service began experimental broadcasting on July 14, 1950, and was fully operational by May 1, 1951.
For years, RFE/RL's broadcasts were a thorn in the side of Romania's communist rulers. In a 2006 address to parliament, President Basescu paid homage to the RFE/RL journalists who, he said, "fought with altruism and passion for the knowledge and utterance of the truth.... Their unforgettable Free Europe broadcasts were the moral conscience of Romanians."
The BBC Romanian Service started broadcasting on September 15, 1939. RFE/RL's Romanian-language broadcasts to Moldova and the Transdniester region will continue.RFE/RL's Romanian Service contributed to this report