Voices of Freedom or Western Provocation?
60 Years of Radio Free Europe in Munich and Prague
April 28-30, 2011 Munich/Prague
Organizer: Prof. Dr. Martin Schulze Wessel and Dr. Robert Luft (Collegium Carolinum, Munich), Dr. Zuzana Jürgens (Czech Center Munich), and Ústav pro studium totalitních režimů in Prague
“Volá hlas svobodného Československa, rozhlasová stanice Svobodná Evropa…(Here is the voice of free Czechoslovakia, Radio Free Europe…)“ – with these words, the American radio station, Radio Free Europe (RFE), began regular broadcasting from Munich on 1 May 1951. Its broadcasting services to other Eastern European countries followed in quick succession. Today RFE/RL continues to broadcast from Prague to several Arabic, Asian, and CIS states.
Against the background of discussions between “East” and “West”, between “free democracies” and socialist “people’s republics”, post-war radio broadcasters gained a new significance. In contrast to the traditional media, radio waves could penetrate the “Iron Curtain”. As a relatively new medium, radio assumed a new role as a mediator of information, worldviews, opinions, and rumour across state borders and the Cold War divide in 1950s Europe – similar to the internet today. Radio Free Europe shaped “images” of the “East” and the “West” in both East and West, and can thus be seen as an important and abiding protagonist in the Cold War.
Until 1989, emigrants from East Central, South East and Eastern Europe comprised the majority of Radio Free Europe's staff. In programming for their native countries and local compatriots, they provided coverage of political and social developments in their respective countries, as well as information on “Western” culture. Although the reception of Radio Free Europe was forbidden in socialist states, for many people in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, RFE was for decades one of the few alternative sources of information. As such, Radio Free Europe represented an important bearer and mediator of knowledge for almost 40 years in Eastern Europe. Today it is often claimed that, through its activities, Radio Free Europe contributed to the fall of communist regimes and to the (re-)establishment of democracy in Eastern and East Central Europe.
However, the role of RFE – and later, of Radio Liberty (RL) – as an instrument of politics, the station’s significance in the formation of block identities and the crystallisation of alternative public fora and spheres of cultural and social dissent, as well as changes in programming goals and contents have not yet been adequately explored. In this light, the conference focuses on the activities and structures of the radio station, and on its significance and reception in a transnational context.
The central idea of the conference is that in the analysis of the phenomenon of RFE as a whole, we need to put stronger emphasis on the ideological and political categories of the time. While the prevailing view at RFE itself was that their mission was democracy and freedom, in East European countries RFE programs were often perceived as interference in domestic affairs or as Western propaganda. The research of the phenomenon of RFE needs to take into account this wide range of different views.
Given the special position of RFE (long based in Munich and broadcasting predominantly for the audience behind the “Iron Curtain”), the conference focuses both on the role of RFE as broadcasting agent in the target countries and on RFE as a pan-European phenomenon. The station’s significance for Western Europe in general and for West Germany in particular requires closer attention and a re-evaluation.
The conference welcomes papers from various fields of study: history, politics, media and cultural studies, literature, and other disciplines. Contributions should address, but are not limited to, the following topics:
• Political Dimensions: What political structures were behind RFE? To what extent may we claim that RFE was politically significant? What role did RFE play in German and American foreign and domestic policy as well as for the idea of the Cold War “block thinking”?
• The day to day operations and work procedures at RFE: The conception of RFE and its objectives. Who worked for RFE? What programming guidelines did program makers have to follow at different stages in the station’s history? What was the relationship between the broadly autonomous national desks and the overall concept of RFE?
• Program contents:
What information was collected and how was this information transmitted? What concepts of democracy, communism, culture and social change were communicated by RFE? How did program formats and contents change over time?
• Reception: To what extent did RFE contribute to the crystallisation of alternative or oppositional public fora in the countries to which it broadcast? What was the relationship between programming and historical events? What role did RFE play for dissidents? How was RFE viewed in West Germany, in the USA, and by communist regimes?
• Comparisons with other transnationally operating broadcasting stations during the Cold War era (BBC, Voice of America, Deutsche Welle etc.).
The program of the conference will include both scientific discussion as well as round tables and podium discussions with former RFE journalists and other contemporary witnesses.
The languages of the conference are English, German and Czech.
The academic presentations will be published in conference proceedings.
Please send your proposals in German, Czech or English (max. 2 pages) by 20 October 2010 to
Tel. +49/89/55 26 06 – 0
FAX +49/89/55 26 06 – 44
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