Vladimir Tismaneanu, a Romanian American political scientist and sociologist, is Professor of politics and Director of the Center for the Study of Post-communist Societies at University of Maryland (College Park). Timaneanu began contributing to RFE/RL’s Romanian Service in 1983. In this fond tribute marking the Service’s 60th anniversary, he describes the Service, known as Europa Libera, as "the spoken newspaper of Romanians everywhere” and “the source of our refusal to despair.”
Radio Free Europe: The Voice of Hope, Dignity, and Truth
Let me first congratulate the participants to this exceptionally significant event. In times of moral disarray, social oppression, political crisis, and continuous aggression against the autonomy of the mind, Radio Free Europe was indeed "ziarul vorbit al românilor de pretutindeni" (the spoken newspaper of Romanians everywhere). For millions of Romanians, it was the voice of hope, dignity, and truth. After 1989, it remained a model of objectivity, fair-mindedness, and genuine journalism.
I grew up listening to Radio Free Europe. In a Bucharest pervaded by official lies, with newspapers dominated by sycophantic poems and hagiographic articles celebrating the “victories of socialism” and the “triumphant march of Marxism-Leninism”, not to speak of the infinite genius of the general secretary (first Gheorghiu-Dej, then Ceauşescu), Radio Free Europe was indeed the source of our refusal to despair. I started listening to RFE haphazardly, “zapping” on our family’s radio receiver (an antiquated East German piece) and discovering the “forbidden fruits”: RFE, Voice of America, Deutsche Welle, Radio Vatican, BBC. I even listened to Ratio Tirana denouncing the Khrushchevite “traitors and renegades.”
Thanks to RFE—by far the most influential of all Western broadcasting to Romania—I learned a lot about the system. I made a habit of listening to director Noel Bernard’s superbly informed and remarkably balanced editorials. His extraordinary voice, penetrating and subtle, made the comments doubly effective. The rigor of the interpretation was complemented by the sobriety of his tone. To the prevailing legends about the continuous successes of Romania’s socialist strategy, Bernard opposed a lucid vision which emphasized the rise of anti-dogmatic forces within world communism. For him, communist tyranny was not irreversible. He insisted on the benefits of pluralism, a concept execrated by Romanian party hacks. Radio Free Europe under Noel Bernard and later under Vlad Georgescu proposed an alphabet of dignity and lucidity. Mention should be made of the directorship ensured in the late 1950s and early 1960s by the distinguished political scientist, Professor Ghiţă Ionescu, the author, among other seminal works, of that monument of insightful scholarship, the pioneering volume “Communism in Romania” (Oxford University Press, 1964).
Interested as I was in philosophical and cultural issues, I was addicted to the immensely influential broadcastings of Monica Lovinescu and Virgil Ierunca. My own formation owes a huge debt to those uniquely insightful discussions of major trends within contemporary political and aesthetic realms. Marxism was deconstructed unsparingly, with reference to the illuminating works on communism by Raymond Aron, Alain Besançon, Boris Souvarine, Jules Monnerot. Monica Lovinescu, Virgil Ierunca and their colleagues (among them Matei Cazacu, Alain Paruit and Şerban Cristovici) explored the meanings of totalitarianism and the ways to challenge the bureaucratic 2 Leviathan. Thanks to them I found out about Hannah Arendt, Orwell, Solzhenitsyn, Koestler, Nadejda Mandelstam, Ante Ciliga.
No less important, Radio Free Europe supported all dissident and oppositional activities in Romania. It became the tribune for defying the regime’s self-serving propaganda. From Paul Goma to Doina Cornea, from Dorin Tudoran to Radu Filipescu, from Dan Petrescu to Mircea Dinescu, from Ion Negoiţescu to Ion Vianu, from Vasile Paraschiv to William Totok, the voices of Romanian dissent had in Radio Free Europe’s their most consistent and influential ally. It was RFE that unmasked the Fascist turn of a group of party-backed Romanian intellectuals known as the “protochronists”. In their broadcastings, Monica Lovinescu, Virgil Ierunca, and Gelu Ionescu defended the real values of Romanian culture and the liberal, pro-Western voices among Romanian intellectuals (Gabriel Liiceanu, N. Manolescu, Andrei Pleşu). When in Romania the younger generation was exposed to the grotesque pageants of Adrian Paunescu’s sycophantic manipulations, Cornel Chiriac provided, at Radio Free Europe, an alternative set of genuine musical and universal human values.
For Ceauşescu and his clique, Radio Free Europe represented the ultimate villain, an enemy that need to be smashed, compromised, and eliminated. It was the voice of sedition, the invitation to truth in a system in which mendacity reigned supreme. Broadcasting about the rampant political corruption of the communist nomenklatura, denouncing the Securitate’s endless abuses, telling the truth about the communist party’s history, were clearly eye-opening undertakings.
For totalitarianism, truth is subversive. The regime reacted accordingly, unleashing sordid, slanderous campaigns against RFE’s most active editors. An attempt against Monica Lovinescu’s life was hatched. Directors Noel Bernard and Vlad Georgescu most likely lost their lives as a result of Securitate-planned criminal plots. Other broadcasters were singled out for the regime’s vicious attacks: Emil Georgescu, N. C. Munteanu, Şerban Orescu, Max Bănuş. Among the most influential voices, one should remember Nestor Ratesh (a splendid analyst of the American political and cultural scene), Emil Hurezeanu, an electrifyingly intelligent political commentator, as well as the thoughtful broadcasts by Mircea Carp and Nicolae Stroescu-Stănişoară.
On various occasions, Radio Free Europe helped Romanians understand their country’s predicament. During the 1977 earthquake, RFE helped create a sense of solidarity based on true information; in 1968, it kept Romanians aware of the search for democratic socialism in Czechoslovakia and the suppression of the Prague Spring by the Warsaw Pact; and, after 1985, it promoted the new ideas of reform, playing a major role in debunking Ceauşescu’s dismal dictatorship as totally decrepit and obsolete, even by Gorbachevite standards. Radio Free Europe broadcast invaluable information about the heroic initiative to create a free trade union of the Romanian workers (Ionel Cana, Gh. Brasoveanu, Vasile Paraschiv, Carl Gibson and others), the anti-communist strikes in Valea Jiului in August 1977, led by Constantin Dobre and his colleagues, as well as about the anticommunist movement in Brasov in November 1987. During the 1989 3 revolutionary upheaval, RFE was the main hope of the Romanians, a source of information, knowledge, clarity, and self-confidence.
After the demise of communism, RFE has continued to militate for democratic values, for tolerance, dialogue, and moral clarity. It has opposed communist restoration and criticized Ion Iliescu and his cronies for their refusal to engage in genuine democratization. For Romania’s democratic intellectuals, RFE has symbolized the values they cherish most dearly.
As a regular contributor to RFE’s Romanian service since February 1983, I consider its role a vital one in terms of defending what Vaclav Havel understood by living in truth. When one writes the history of Romanian communism and postcommunism, RFE’s decisive role in advocating an open society and opposing any form of totalitarianism should be prominently highlighted.