Accessibility links

Breaking News

'They Touched The Minds and Souls Of Romanians'

My love affair with Radio Free Europe began long before I had the chance to join its ranks.

Unlike many of my fellow Romanian listeners, what attracted me to it was not the desire to hear the news. As a news writer at the Romanian News Agency, I had direct and continuous access to the international news agencies. And domestic news -- I had no interest at the time.

Rather than the news itself, it was the kind of journalism that Radio Free Europe developed that attracted me -- the freedom of expression its broadcasters enjoyed and the way they touched the minds and the souls of their Romanian listeners. It was, if I may say so, a professional attraction and envy.

I just dreamed of becoming one of them. I started to plan my escape to the West in the mid-1960s. As a Jew, I could apply to emigrate to Israel, and this is what I did. After a stressful wait, I finally got permission to emigrate. In February 1973, I ended up in Washington, D.C.

I was in my third month as a proofreader in an editorial room when a phone call opened up new and much-desired horizons for me. Noel Bernard, who was the director of the Romanian Service at the time, was on the phone asking for a meeting with me that same afternoon. We met in his room at the Howard Johnson's across the street from the Watergate. I came out of that room as RFE's Romanian Service Washington correspondent.

Little did I know then that roughly 16 years later I would be called to sit in Noel Bernard's office as director of the Romanian Service during the fateful year of 1989. Toward the end of that year, I went back to my old job in Washington, which I enjoyed tremendously, only to be called back to Europe a few years later. That was in 1994 that I was again stationed in Munich as the director of the Romanian Service. I made the move to Prague and served there until my retirement in 2003.

It is with great sadness that I view the end of RFE/RL's broadcasts to Romania. I was part of it for over 30 years. If our business was to go out of business, I should be cheerful at that. But I am not at all, being doubtful that going out of business at this very moment is really our business. This is Nestor Ratesh reporting -- again -- for Radio Free Europe.

Nestor Ratesh was director of RFE/RL's Romanian Service in 1989 and again from 1994 until 2003. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.