A five-floor fortress, surrounded by a very tall double fence, with reinforced gates, fitted with a sophisticated alarm system. This is Radio Free Europe’s new premises in Prague, in the Hagibor suburban neighbourhood, officially inaugurated last May.
The relocation from the centre of Prague of this broadcasting station, financed by the United States Congress, was made necessary to avoid possible terrorist attacks, following the 9/11 disaster in 2001. The previous radio station, located in the city centre, close to the National museum and Venceslao square, was too exposed to danger, after the Twin Towers attack, despite the strong military surveillance measures that had been adopted.
The new Hagibor centre in Prague is even fitted with an air-conditioning system with special valves that afford protection to the 500 employees in case of nuclear radiation.
The broadcasting station is a symbol of European Atlantic relations which date back to the Cold War period and, nowadays, Radio Free Europe broadcasts in 26 languages, directing its own programmes mainly towards the ex Soviet Union countries, the Arab states, as well as ex Yugoslavia. Its declared objective is: “to promote democratic values and institutions by the diffusion of information and ideas”.
Its first headquarters were in Munich in 1950 and the objective in Washington was to spread the voice of America beyond the Iron Curtain. The very first short-wave Radio programme to be transmitted was on 4th July, 1950 and was directed towards Czechoslovakia. Those were the Cold War years and funding of Radio Free Europe was done through the CIA, the American Intelligence Agency which, it seems, also offered constant collaboration for running transmissions. The authorities of the Soviet Union – as well as the other countries of the Warsaw Pact – responded with systematic counter measures to disturb the radio transmissions: boycotting measures which practically lasted until the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.
A few years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the democratization of its satellite countries, the budget of Radio Free Europe in Munich, was subject to considerable reductions. Washington was faced with the problem of what to do with the radio, which seemed to have exhausted its purpose.
It was then that ex president Vaclav Havel, hero of the Velvet Revolution, decided to apply to the White House. He was able to convince Bill Clinton to transfer the radio – which at the time was transmitting to Chechnya and Yugoslavia – over to Prague. For this purpose, the Czech government made available, at a symbolic price, the palace which had been the seat of the ex Czechoslovak confederal parliament. Transmissions began in Prague in 1995.
Now that the relocation of the Radio to Hagibor in Prague has taken place, the previous building has been handed over to the National museum, which will utilise its premises for exhibitions and expositions.
The first exposition, which has already been scheduled, is entitled “Be Free” and its aim is to create the same atmosphere that prevailed in Czechoslovakia from the 1950s to the end of the regime. The inauguration has been fixed for next autumn, when the Czech Republic will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.
By Giovanni Usai