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Radio Liberty Celebrates 60 Years Defending Free Speech

RFE/RL President Kevin Klose, flanked by Russian human rights leader Lyudmila Alekseyeva (left) and journalist and author David Satter (right) at a Washington, D.C., reception to mark the 60th anniversary of Radio Liberty's first broadcast to Russia on March 1, 1953.
"Listen! Listen! Today, a new radio station, Liberation, begins its broadcasts."

Those words, spoken by broadcaster Boris Vinogradov on March 1, 1953, were the first to be transmitted by Radio Liberty, a new voice with a mission to promote "the principles of democracy" to Russian listeners behind the Iron Curtain.

Sixty years later, friends of Radio Liberty (Radio Svoboda, as it is known in Russia) gathered in Washington, Prague, and Moscow to celebrate its legacy and future as one of the most respected sources of independent journalism throughout the Russian Federation and beyond.

"(Radio Liberty is) journalism which is guided by an independent, skeptical, constant iterative search for factual reality, verifiable facts, context and consideration of many points of view," said Kevin Klose, acting president and CEO of RFE/RL, at an event commemorating the anniversary today at the company's Washington bureau. "That kind of journalism is a first, powerful step to allowing communities of people to share uncensored they can get a very clear picture of the issues in front of them."

The modern Radio Liberty is a multimedia, 24-hour news operation across nine time zones, broadcasting on radio, video, satellite, mobile, and Internet platforms. Its extensive network of journalists can be found in Moscow, Prague, and New York City, and includes freelancers throughout the Russian Federation, Europe, and Israel. The service has completed its move to a new bureau in Moscow, an open and flexible workspace complete with a state-of-the-art television studio.

Recently, the Russian service enhanced its live video streams and provided unique reporting from major events, including Moscow's "March of Millions" protest, the trial of members of the punk-collective Pussy Riot, the struggle of rights activists, and the ongoing controversy surrounding U.S.-Russian adoptions.

Lyudmila Alekseyeva, Russian human rights leader, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and stalwart Radio Liberty supporter, joined author and journalist David Satter in a "Dialogue on Liberty" discussion at the RFE/RL Washington event.

"Radio Liberty was not a station broadcasting from overseas, it was our station. And as a result of Radio Liberty, we were able to speak to our fellow citizens," Alekseyeva said. "I'm convinced that...a human rights movement was possible because of the existence of Radio Liberty."

Watch video of the "Dialogue on Liberty" in Washington:
Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

Dignitaries including Karel Schwarzenberg, deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs of the Czech Republic, home to RFE/RL's headquarters, praised the work of Radio Liberty. In a letter celebrating its anniversary, Schwarzenberg wrote, "Always a reliable provider of unbiased, uncensored and balanced news...Radio Liberty has been everything that totalitarian media are not."

In Moscow, Russian Service Director Masha Gessen met with U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who also congratulated Radio Liberty on its anniversary. Additionally, the Moscow bureau was connected via video link-up with colleagues throughout RFE/RL to toast Svoboda, and included a poignant recollection by Ruslan Gelischanow, deputy director of the Russian Service, of learning about Radio Liberty as a 5-year-old in a displaced persons camp in Germany.

In the days and weeks following the launch of the 1953 Russian broadcast, Radio Liberty added programming in other languages of the Soviet Union, including Georgian, Armenian, Azeri, and the languages of Central Asia. In 1955, the radio set up transmitters in Taiwan to make its Russian-language programs available to residents in eastern parts of Siberia and along the Soviet Union's Pacific coast.

Radio Liberty and its sister station Radio Free Europe, which broadcast to Eastern Europe, merged in 1976 under the name RFE/RL. Broadcasting to 21 countries in 28 languages, and with over 400 full-time journalists, 750 freelancers, and 19 local bureaus, RFE/RL is one of the most comprehensive multimedia news operations in the world.