Your browser (Internet Explorer 7 or lower) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.


Radio Free Europe: An Insider’s View

Back to Diplomats and Diplomacy

Radio Free Europe: An Insider’s View

Veteran RFE insider J. F. Brown’s story of the critical role Radio Free Europe played during the Cold War is the 53rd volume in the ADST-DACOR Diplomats and Diplomacy Series. Brown, a widely recognized expert on Eastern Europe who served as RFE director in 1978–83, offers a balanced and penetrating analysis of what made RFE tick. He explains how RFE functioned as a decentralized organization that empowered exiles and points out what it could––and could not—offer East European listeners. RFE, he writes, “broke the communist information monopoly and gave East Europeans the chance to think and judge for themselves.”

Brown’s explanations of the function of the central news department, of discussions with and trust of exile country broadcast chiefs, and of the cautious approach to broadcasting to Poland under martial law after 1981 illustrate the editorial policies and internal relationships that made RFE a success. His portraits of key personalities demonstrate that RFE was not just an institution; it was a unique multinational group of men and women who played a critical role throughout the Cold War.

“Asked if Radio Free Europe had contributed to the victory of the Solidarity trade union in Poland, Lech Wałęsa replied, ‘Would the earth exist without the sun?’ Czech president Václav Havel later characterized RFE’s influence and significance as ‘great and profound.’” So writes A. ROSS JOHNSON, Wilson Center senior scholar and a former director of Radio Free Europe, in the book’s foreword.

The historical analysis Brown brings is extremely valuable and adds the insight of a first-rate analyst to such topics as the contrast between how RFE handled the Hungarian and Polish events of the 1950s, the ‘Czech spring’ in 1968, the Gomułka period in Poland, the developing independence of Ceauşescu’s Romania, and others. All are given perceptive treatment.”–– R. EUGENE PARTA, coauthor with A. Ross Johnson of Cold War Broadcasting: Impact on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe

JAMES F. BROWN (1928–2009), a widely recognized expert on Eastern Europe during the Cold War, spent twenty-seven years at Radio Free Europe, retiring as director in 1983. He was subsequently an associate of St. Anthony’s College, Oxford; member of the RAND Corporation research staff; fellow at the RFE/RL Research Institute; fellow at Aspen Institute Berlin; and visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and the American University, Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. He is the author of The New Eastern Europe (1966), Surge to Freedom: The End of Communist Rule in Eastern Europe (1991), Hopes and Shadows: Eastern Europe after Communism (1994), and three other books on Eastern Europe. He received an M.A. in history from Manchester University and served four years in the Royal Air Force.