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70th Anniversary of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Uncensored Information. On Every Platform.
Across Frontiers.


With its first on-air message on July 4, 1950, Radio Free Europe (RFE) began its mission of providing uncensored news and information to people denied the right of access to a free press. This first radio broadcast was addressed to audiences behind the “Iron Curtain” in communist Czechoslovakia. By the end of 1954, RFE and Radio Liberty (RL), its Russian-language counterpart, were serving as substitute” or “surrogate” media in 25 languages across Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

A merged RFE/RL expanded in 1994 to the Western Balkans, and over the next 15 years to Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan’s Pashto-speaking tribal regions with a mandate to provide an alternative to extremist propaganda in addition to state-controlled news. It expanded again in 2019 and 2020, relaunching on digital platforms to Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary to address threats posed to Europe’s newest democracies by disinformation and declining media pluralism.

RFE promised audiences in its first broadcast that it would serve as a “permanent and reliable source of information.” Seventy years on, its mission continues.

“What made [RFE] important was its impartiality, independence, and objectivity…not only for dissidents but for the entire listening public, who receive not only truthful news about various ideals and other lifestyles, but also hope.”

Vaclav Havel, President of post-Soviet Czechoslovakia

“For 25 years he [Jan Nowak-Jeziorański] was a dominant voice at Radio Free Europe, that great beacon of hope that brought so many through the darkest hours of communism. Nowak's commitment to democracy is an inspiration to all Americans, and this commitment is still being felt in his native Poland.”

“It is not only in the past that Radio Free Europe, which has even been proposed for the Nobel Prize, has rendered a significant service to the Hungarian people and to all those who played a prominent role in the course of the peaceful change of regime in Hungary, but, in my opinion, it continues to be indispensable today and in the future as well on the palette of free Hungarian telecommunication.”

“As the new Prime Minister of Hungary, I take this opportunity to express the heartfelt gratitude of the nation to Radio Free Europe for its almost 40 years of activity. Radio Free Europe has rendered a great service to us: It has given us the gift of truth about our own country and the world at large, and has done so at a time when telling the truth was counted as a crime against the state.”

Former Slovak Prime Minister Iveta Radicova recalled that RFE's broadcasts "brought a small island of freedom to people's homes.” She added that RFE's journalistic professionalism would still be of value in post-Communist Europe today, as corruption issues threaten democracy in the region.

“Radio Liberty was our connection with our own country.”

Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Russian poet

On the importance of Radio Free Europe’s relationship to the trade union: “The degree cannot even be described. Would there be earth without the sun?”

Solidarity President Lech Wałęsa

“Radio Free Europe has been a lot more important than the armies and the most sophisticated missiles. The ‘missiles’ that destroyed Communism were launched from Radio Free Europe, and this was Washington’s most important investment during the Cold War. I don’t know whether the Americans themselves realize this now, seven years after the fall of Communism, but we understand it perfectly well.”

Emil Constantinescu, President of Romania from 1997 to 2000

“The attempt at complete censorship failed gloriously; it was Radio Free Europe that broadcast the Romanian Revolution live.”

Ross Johnson, Former Radio Free Europe Director (1988 to 2002)

“Many assumed that with the end of the Cold War, the raison d'être of Radio Liberty might actually cease to exist, I have always been, and remain, in opposition to this notion. Why? Because many challenges and questions await response. Therefore, rather than yield to complacent voices, you must remain the stalwart champion of democratic ideals.”

Edward Shevardnadze, President of the Republic of Georgia, 1995-2003, made on May 3, 2001

“All through the years of communism, the Radio provided the only avenue for free exchange of information, for free journalism and also the only, or rather, the main source for communication between the opposition at home with the public, the general society, and the nation, I believe that our society owes Radio Free Europe immense gratitude for the role it has played in the past.”

Vaclav Havel, former President of the Czech Republic, 1993-2003, made during May 2001

“With the Cold War gone, some observers have found it reasonable to hand over the mission of domestic enlightenment to newly liberated local media. But in fact, as Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty contend, the new democracies are fragile, and local media in many places are shallowly rooted. Aspiring democrats look to the foreign radios to keep the foreign media honest and to prevent anti-democratic backsliding --- crucial goals”

Excerpt from editorial titled "Radio Free America," August 7, 1992, The Washington Post

RFE/RL Milestones

Profiles

Over seven decades, RFE/RL has relied on the best media talent, the bravest journalists, and expert staff to connect with audiences and deliver essential news. It has also served as a unique source of cultural programming, especially broadcasts of banned music and literary works and screenings of independent films, buoying the spirit of people denied not only political, but also cultural freedoms. Some of the most storied RFE/RL personalities are profiled here.

Interviews

Service Highlights

25 Years in Prague

RFE/RL Looks Back On 20 Years In Prague
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