February 04, 2012

Poland's President Visits Radio Free Europe's Former Headquarters in Munich

On Saturday, 4 February 2012, President Komorowski spontaneously visited the former headquarters of the "legendary radio," after having participated in the 48th Munich Conference on Security Policy. The photograph here shows him reading the commemorative plaque for Radio Europe, which reads, in part: "From this building, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty brought the message of freedom to the peoples behind the Iron Curtiain."

President Komorowski then met with former employees of the Polish Section of Radio Free Europe at the Polish Consulate General in Munich and decorated long-time RFE editor Alexander Zygmunt Menhard.

President Komorowski told former employees of the Polish Broadcast Service of Radio Free Europe, "In the beginning was the word. In the beginning was the free word, in the beginning of a difficult road back to independence, to build democracy in Poland. I wanted to say thanks to you for this penetrating free word, which meant also free thought, and historical memory."

For his outstanding contribution to independence, President Komorowski awarded the Commander's Cross of the Order of the Rebirth of Poland to "the soldier of Warsaw Uprising, longtime journalist of Radio Free Europe, and activist of the Polish community," Alexander Zygmunt Menhard.

The other former staff members with whom he met  included:

·      Ewa Chciuk-Celt, former Chief of Polish Research, 
·      Jerzy Kaniewicz, editor - specialist in Russian affairs, 
·      Irma Wysocka, speaker-announcer, 
·      Danuta Krajewska, researcher, 
·      Renata Rosenbusch, RFE librarian, 
·      Wieslawa Bylicka, monitor, 
·      Nina Kozlowska, Free-lance contributor to cultural programming,
·      Leszek Gawlikowski, editor Polish Broadcast Service.

President Komorowski also said he could not imagine that, it being his first time in Munich, he would not visit the offices of the radio, which broadcasts accompanied him almost from birth: "Please believe it, but the bang of jamming, hardly getting through with the free word (of RFE program) was accomplying my whole life, and certainly all of my childhood and youth, first in my parents' apartment and then also in my own."

In his speech President Komorowski spoke about the history of RFE and the fate of Poland connected to it. Reportedly, during the lunch, there were also some funny stories related to listening to the "forbidden radio station." 

A conference, "Radio Free Europe 60 Years in the Service of Free Poland," convened in Wroclaw on December 6 under the sponsorship of the Jan Nowak-Jezioranski East European College, the Institute of History of Wroclaw University, the Ossolineum, and the Free Speech Association, under the patronage of Bronislaw Komorowski, President of the Republic of Poland. Financial support was provided by the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education and the Institute of History.

President Komorowski welcomed the conference participants in a letter, which read, in part:

The mission of Radio Free Europe was to provide the truth to peoples deprived of their freedom by the communist regime and subjected to official slanderous propaganda. Today, in an era of electronic media, it is difficult to imagine the enormous importance at that time of being able to listen behind the Iron Curtain to radio programs that provided factual information about the situation in the world and in Poland. The history of the RFE Polish Service is a story of dedicated people - political activists, journalists, émigrés - who took risks to serve the cause of freedom. Thanks to [Jan Nowak- Jeziornaski], that great Pole, and his colleagues, the Polish Service of Radio Free Europe became an integral part of the Polish struggle for freedom.

There are countries today, some not far from our borders, where free access to information is blocked. So the mission of Radio Free Europe has not ended but continues to be to provide people with the truth. For me, as an activist of the democratic opposition, the most important lesson from the victory of RFE over the lies of the Communist system is the certain belief that truth cannot be suppressed. It is important that we always remember the crucial connection between truth and democracy...Only equal access to factual and objective information can guarantee that citizens are able can make knowledgeable and independent decisions. This places an enormous responsibility on the media, because the quality and objectivity of the information it conveys conditions the quality of democratic political life.

(Translation courtesy of A. Ross Johnson and the Cold War International History Project, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars)

Sources: Polish Press Agency (PAP), Reuters news agency, and the official website of the President of the Republic of Poland (the two photographs) http://www.president.pl/en/news/news/

1 comment:

  1. From former RFE Director A. Ross Johnson:

    The Polish Parliament has passed a resolution on marking the 60th anniversary of RFE Polish Broadcasting from Munich in May.

    That and related stories are on the Polish Radio web site at:http://www.polskieradio.pl/5/3/Artykul/529660,Maj-miesiacem-Radia-Wolna-Europa (in Polish).

    Komorowski’s December letter on RFE is available in partat http://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/radio-free-europe-60-years-the-service-free-poland

    Details on what is planned for May 2012 in Warsaw should be available soon.