May 19, 2015

U.S. Russian Language Television Program "Current Time" Expanding in Countries bordering Russia

The more things change, the more they remain the same. Here is the latest press release from the Broadcasting Board of Governors about U.S. television broadcasting, including programs of RFE/RL, to Russian speakers in countries bordering Russia.

Current Times Logo

Current Time Expanding In Eastern Europe

WASHINGTON (May 19, 2015) — Current Time, a TV news program for Russian-speaking audiences in countries bordering Russia, launched its new weekend edition with shows affording viewers a fresh alternative to Russian-controlled TV.

Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) share the mic on Current Time’s daily show Monday through Friday, and now will serve up weekend programs, with VOA hosting Current Time Week In Review (Настоящее время. Итоги) on Saturdays and RFE/RL taking charge of the Sunday program, Current Time This Week (Настоящее время. Неделя).

“We are expanding our efforts to bring independent, factual and compelling reporting to audiences that have little alternative to official Russian media,” said Nenad Pejic, RFE/RL Editor-in-Chief.

“The balanced and responsible discussion on Current Time is in marked contrast to the Kremlin’s aggressive media empire that denies an outlet for opposition alternatives and public debate,” added VOA Director David Ensor.

“For Moscow it is very important now to keep the victorious posture,” Dmitry Oreshkin told VOA’s Yulia Savchenko, host of the Saturday edition of Current Time.  Oreshkin heads an independent Moscow-based political research group.  “The Russian propaganda narrative is that America got scared of us,” he said. Other highlights from the inaugural Saturday program included coverage of the Kerry-Lavrov talks in Sochi, the issue of Ukraine’s future in NATO, and the latest diplomatic moves between Russia and China.

The first Sunday program, anchored by RFE/RL’s Sergey Dorofeyev, looked at Boris Nemtsov’s posthumously published report on Russian military involvement in Ukraine, the tenth anniversary of the Andijon massacre in Uzbekistan, and the trial of Nadya Savchenko in Moscow. The program included an exclusive interview with the Deputy Chief of Staff Colonel Valentin Fedichev of Ukraine’s Anti-Terrorist Operation, who noted that, ”Ukraine is facing well-organized Russian military aggression in the East.”

“With Current Time, our networks are offering audiences professional, independent journalism that they cannot get elsewhere. This includes reporting from the front lines, but also regional and global issues that receive little coverage on official channels,” said BBG Interim CEO and Director André Mendes.

Current Time is carried by more than 10 public and private affiliate channels in Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, and Ukraine, and is available to Russian speakers everywhere on digital platforms, including social media. Drawing on a network of reporters in the region, across Russia, and in European capitals and the U.S., it presents a daily, 30-minute mix of live news coverage, interviews, original features, and political satire. The show is one part of the U.S. government’s efforts to respond to Russian propaganda in the region.

May 15, 2015

RFE/RL Contributor Jail Sentence Extended in Azerbaijan; Shades of the Cold War

The case below could have been written at the height of the Cold War.  As I wrote in my December 14, 2014, blog posting Lessons Leanred from the Cold War: "In my opinion, if programming/information is perceived by the regime to be interfering in its internal politics, and thus a threat to the regime's existence, there is a good probability that the government/secret services would try to affect programming/information in three separate and distinct phases:

Direct Action against staff 
  •  Coercion, i.e. Threats and Intimidation
  •  Blackmail,
  •  Physical attack, kidnapping, murder...."

Below is reposted from the RFE/RL site:

Azeri Journalist's Jail Sentence Extended on Eve of European Games

(WASHINGTON - May 15, 2015An Azeri court ruled on May 14 to extend the imprisonment of Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist and RFE/RL contributor who was jailed last December in what is widely viewed as an act of retribution by Azeri authorities for exposing corruption linked to the country’s ruling family.

“We’re profoundly disappointed. Her imprisonment has nothing to do with any wrongdoing or law, it is about silencing Khadija and RFE/RL, by any means necessary, period,” said RFE/RL Editor in Chief Nenad Pejic.

The new ruling continues her detention until August 24.

Ismayilova was arrested on December 5 and initially charged with inciting a man to attempt suicide. The man later withdrew the accusation, but authorities leveled new charges against Ismayilova in February alleging tax evasion, illegal business activities, and abuse of power.

The latter charges derive from a broad-based attack against RFE/RL that the government launched last December. Authorities labeled RFE/RL journalists as "spies," raided and closed the company's Baku bureau, interrogated over 25 of its staff members and banned several from traveling outside the country, terminated the bureau’s lease, and recently froze the bank accounts of several free-lancers, preventing them from being paid.

Pejic said, “We will not let this attack on us and our people and RFE/RL families pass with impunity,” and indicated that the company is taking all steps to defend its rights and interests against the government's actions.

Ismayilova received the PEN American Center’s prestigious Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award on May 5 for her “hard-hitting investigations.” 
On the eve of the first European Games, which Baku will host in June, a group of prominent writers and editors have written to International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach urging him to demand Ismayilova's release and condemn human rights abuses in Azerbaijan.

April 11, 2015

Jan Mekota (1931 - 2015) RIP

Jan Měkota (born Jan Douba), one of the first employess of Radio Free Europe as an announcer and then editor, died of a long illness on April 10, 2015, in Munich, Germany. Here is his short but interesting biography as translated from Czech Radio: 

"Jan Douba was born April 11,1931 in Nova Pace, Czechoslovakia. He attended a commercial academy, but did not complete his study because at the age of eighteen, just before graduation, he escaped from Czechoslovakia in 1949 to the American occupation zone.

For three days, he was interrogated by American intelligence agency CIC, which examined the reasons that led him to escape Czechoslovakia. 

Then Jan Douba was sent by train to a refugee camp in Munich. After the establishment of the Czech refugee camp near Ludwigsburg, he was moved there. He spent nearly two years in Ludwigsburg and, together with other Czech emigrants, founded Masaryk University College, where he taught academics among Czech emigrants.

In 1951, Jan was offered an Australian visa, but he refused, and thus remained without citizenship. For this reason, he was subsequently transferred to the German camp at Nuremberg. Here auditioned for the emerging Radio Free Europe and met with Paul Tigrid. Given that he has passed the test voice, he was given for the position announcer.

May 1, 1951, Jan Douba, under the pseudonym Jan Měkota, became the youngest staffer of the newly established radio. His earliest work was in RFE newsroom. From 1952 to 1960, he then worked in Lisbon, where Radio Free Europe broadcast on shortwave.

He returned to Munich after eight years because of his desire to do a musical show, which had become very popular. In his turn, he interviewed, for example Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Louis Armstrong. and many other famous artists."

At left is a photo of Jan Mekota and Veleria Kaiml of RFE's Czechoslovak broadcast service interviewing jazz great Dave Brubeck in October 1964. 

Both photos courtesy of the RFE/RL Collection, Hoover Institution, Stanford, California.

March 24, 2015

Book of Interest: "Transnational Anti-Communism and the Cold War: Agents, Activities, and Networks"

Below is a breakdown of a recently published book of interest that adds considerably to Cold War historiography and deserves to be on the recommended list of books devoted to the Cold War. Chapter 6 has a short summary of the Free Europe Committee and Radio Free Europe.

Transnational Anti-Communism and the Cold War:
Agents, Activities, and Networks

Edited by Luc van Dongen, Stephanie Roulin, Giles Scott-Smith

Synopsis provided by publisher:

How was anti-communism organized in the West? Was it all run by the CIA? The book covers the aims, arguments and associations of a range of transnational anti-communist activists during the Cold War. While the CIA were obviously important, other motives, interests and financial sources were available. The contributors of this volume open up new fields of research to explore how far anti-communism was actually planned, coordinated and structured across Western nations. By taking a transnational approach, the book moves beyond simply reducing anti-communist activities to the interests of governments and instead focuses on the role of individuals and private networks, how they organized themselves and how they pursued their own interests. 

While Cold Warriors in both the US and Europe called for an anti-communist 'crusade', various factors – geopolitical interests, elitist prejudices, ideological divisions, religious beliefs – were influential in fuelling activism. This volume demonstrates the complex array of forces, factions and frictions that were active during the Cold War, and shows that Western anti-communism, despite its apparently straightforward goal to oppose Soviet power, moved along many different paths simultaneously.

Table of Contents

Introduction (Luc van Dongen, Stéphanie Roulin, Giles Scott-Smith)

1. The American Society of African Culture: The CIA and Transnational Networks among African Diaspora Intellectuals; Hugh Wilford
2. The American Federation of Labor and the Nordic Non-Communist Left; Dino Knudsen
3. 'Brother Tronchet': A Swiss Trade Union Leader within the American Sphere of Influence; Luc van Dongen
4. 'Not an Ugly American': Sal Tas, a Dutch Reporter as Agent of the West in Africa; Tity de Vries

5. Paix et Liberté: The Formative Transnational Anti-Communist Network; Bernard Ludwig
6. Gathering the Exiles: The Assembly of Captive European Nations; Martin Nekola
7. The Formation and Mutations of the World Anti-Communist League; Pierre Abramovici
8. The Necessity of Going Transnational: The Role of Interdoc; Giles Scott-Smith
9. Brian Crozier and the Institute for the Study of Conflict; Jeff Michaels
10. Global Crusade against Communism: The Cercle during the 'Second Cold War'; Adrian Hänni

11. The Sovietology of Józef M. Bocheński: Transnational Activism from Switzerland, 1955-1965; Matthieu Gillabert
12. Suzanne Labin: An Atlanticist Anti-Communist Professional; Olivier Dard
13. The Mont Pelerin Society and the Rise of the Postwar Neoliberal Counter-Establishment; Niels Bjerre-Poulsen
14. Better Dead than Red: Wilhelm Röpke, a Neoliberal Anti-Communist; Jean Solchany

15. Transnational Anti-Communist Fundamentalism: The International Council of Christian Churches; Markku Ruotsila
16. A Christian Kominform? The Comité International de Défense de la Civilisation Chrétienne; Johannes Grossmann
17. Bible Smuggling and Human Rights in the Soviet Bloc During the Cold War; Bent Boel

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillian, Transnational History Series

Format: Hardcover, Ebook (EPUB), Ebook (PDF)

March 03, 2015

The Jungle of Secret Services, Disinformation, and Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty

Last year, the German Historical institute (GHI) in Washington, DC, published Supplement 9 to its bi-annual Bulletin (52) with the title: "The Stasi at Home and Abroad: Domestic Order and Foreign Intelligence." This was a product of a 2010 workshop of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Cold War international History Project and the GHI.

The third part of Supplement 9 deals with the foreign intelligence service of the DDR: The Hauptverwaltung A (HV A). It is here that we read about Dr. Emil Hoffmann and his connection to the disinformation campaigns of the Soviet Union and East European intelligence services against Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty in the 1970s: 

Douglas Selvage looks at tradition in a very different way from the Stasi officers. In his article “SA-CIA-HV A: Dr. Emil Hoffmann and the ‘Jungle of the Secret Services’ (1934-1985),” he traces the biography of a German journalist and businessmen who was a Nazi propagandist in the Propaganda Ministry and the Foreign Office and worked after WWII first for the British MI6 service, despite having been active as a national revolutionary in the tradition of Gregor Strasser. After the British released him, he moved to the emerging field of East-West trade, and both the CIA and Soviet intelligence tried to recruit him. Beginning in 1956, the HV A tried to hire Hoffmann, giving up in the early 1960s, but finally managed to recruit him after his retirement in 1976. Selvage’s detailed and lucid analysis presents a story of shifting and unclear loyalties and commitments. Clearly, a Nazi past and active work for the West German New Right was no barrier to working for the HV A, and engagement for the other side, as Hoffmann’s case shows, made some people even more interesting for the intelligence services of the other. This deconstruction of the normative façade of intelligence services makes it clear that their analysis needs to be detailed and nuanced, focusing especially on their internal dynamics: ...

Below are excerpts from the fascinating study of Douglas Selvage:

On February 27, 1976, a routine summary of the Soviet press from the U.S. embassy in Moscow contained the following information item: Pravda reports from Vienna that “well-known West German publicist” Emil Hoffmann has sent to [the] embassies of CSCE signatories in that city a letter on “the illegal activities of radio stations Free Europe and Freedom [sic, Liberty].” Hoffmann says that the “subversive activity” of these stations “contradicts a basic principle of international law which is obligatory for all states — non-interference in the internal affairs of other states."

What Pravda failed to mention was that Emil Hoffmann was, in fact, a former member of the Nazis’ Sturmabteilung (SA) and one- time employee of Joseph Goebbels’s propaganda ministry. It also failed to report that Hoffmann had distributed the study on Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) at the behest of the East German Ministry for State Security (MfS, Stasi) — specifically, its foreign intelligence division, Hauptverwaltung A (HV A). What the U.S. embassy did not know and failed to report was that Hoffmann’s action constituted, to some extent, an act of personal revenge against the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), whose “terror” Hoffmann blamed for his loss of lucrative business deals in East-West trade and — from his perspective — his forced retirement as a journalist. Having worked for decades in East-West trade – the “jungle of the Secret services,” Hoffman called it – the former Nazi propagandist decided to moonlight in his retirement for the HV A.  

[H]offmann sparked renewed interest on the part of intelligence services, East and West, as he began a new career in East-West trade as a broker and journalist in 1949. From this point forward, Hoffmann posed a problem for intelligence services on both sides: Should they try to recruit him, arrest him, or simply keep him under “operational control”? They all agreed on the need to spy on him. The more attractive he became to one side as a potential target or agent, the more interesting he became to the other side. While Hoffmann, for his part, sought to avoid entrapment by the various intelligence agencies, he also sought to play upon their thirst for information for economic and journalistic benefits. If Hoffmann fell into the “jungle of intelligence agencies,” as he later wrote, it was a jungle with which he was quite familiar. Between 1949 and 1956, Hoffmann’s greatest fears in his erstwhile “jungle” were the CIA, which actively spied upon him, and the Stasi, which — he feared — might arrest him. 

Dr. Emil Hoffmann was born in 1911 and died in 1995. He was the author of West-Ost-Handel in Zwielicht (1955) and Mandat für Deutschland. Staatsfeind aus Verantwortung (1992).

To access and download only the Selvage article: 

Douglas Selvage is currently Project Director in the Education and Research Division of the BStU (Federal Commission for the Records of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic) in Berlin for the project “International Cooperation of the East European Security Services.” Before he joined the BStU in 2008, he served as a historian in the U.S. Department of State and as an assistant professor of history at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach. He has published widely on German-Polish relations during the Cold War, on the Helsinki Process, U.S. foreign policy, and the history of the Soviet bloc. 

January 30, 2015

In Memory of a Man they Just Couldn’t Gag: Vladimir-Georg Karassev-Orgusaar (1931-2015), RIP

Below is a tribute written by Jüri Estam in Tallinn, Estonia, to Vladimir-Georg Karassev-Orgusaar, who died this week in Paris.

In Memory of a Man they Just Couldn’t Gag: Vladimir-Georg Karassev-Orgusaar (1931-2015), RIP

Vladimir-Georg Karassev-Orgusaar – a talented stringer for RFE-RL in Paris from 1981 to 2000 – passed away on January 27, 2015, in the French capital. 

After his birth on December 14, 1931, in independent Estonia, he was taken to Russia by his mother. As a result he was fluent in both Russian and Estonian. 
Karassev-Orgusaar studied history and literature at Tomsk University, and filmmaking at the famed Moscow All-Union State Institute of Cinematography, under the tutelage of Sergei Gerasimov.

He returned to Estonia in the 1960s and made a number of documentary films about Estonian revolutionaries and various turning points in Estonian history.

Karassev-Orgusaar soon ran into trouble with the authorities, because his scripts tended to stray from the official “party line”. His 1968 documentary “Solstice" ("Pööripäev”) included scenes of Soviet tanks and armed Soviet soldiers on the streets of the Estonian capital in 1940, implying fairly clearly that Estonia’s incorporation into the USSR hadn’t been voluntary. His feature film "The Outlaws" ("Lindpriid”) was banned by the Soviet authorities, before it could be shown to the public. 

While at the Cannes Film Festival in 1976, Karassev-Orgusaar requested political asylum. He then worked as a freelancer for both the Russian and Estonian services of RFE-RL. 

Because of his training as an actor, and thanks to the timbre of his voice, his gift for diction and his erudition, the man was a natural for radio work. He was one of the top assets the Estonian Service of RFE-RL had at its disposal, and did superb work that Estonian audiences continue to praise to this day.

He was presented with the Order of the White Star, 4th Class on behalf of the Republic of Estonia at the Embassy in Paris in 2011 in recognition of his contributions to the restoration of Estonian national independence. 

Karassev-Orgusaar endured the cruel cuts of fate for many years as an exile and an outcast, and still hasn’t fully gained the attention or gotten the credit he may otherwise well have earned.

We pause to remember a man who never ceased applying his considerable cinematographic talents to the perpetual tug of war between justice and injustice, more through the airwaves then than at the movies. 

A collection may possibly be arranged in order to find a final resting place for Karassev-Orgusaar at the Père-Lachaise cemetery.

Jüri Estam has been employed as a journalist and communicator in many capacities. Born into an Estonian refugee family in the West, he worked as a broadcaster at Radio Free Europe from 1979 until 1989 and was a correspondent in Northern Europe in English and Estonian for the next two years. He moved to Estonia during the week that national independence was reclaimed in August of 1991, and did a stint with ERR at Estonian Television in the 90s as a current affairs program host and documentary filmmaker. Today he’s engaged in various communications activities as a consultant.

January 23, 2015

"Cold War Broadcasting" e-Dossier

For anyone interested in how the governments of Central/East Europe and Soviet Union viewed, acted, and reported about Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, this "e-dossier" is a treasure trove of information:

This e-Dossier contains translations of documents from Central/East European and Soviet archives concerning Western broadcasting during the Cold War. The documents show that the Communist regimes perceived "enemy" broadcasts as a serious threat to the systems they ruled and were prepared to take extensive countermeasures to limit the impact of the broadcasts.

The original documents were located in the national archives of Central/Eastern Europe and the former USSR, the Berlin repository for East German internal security files, the Hoover Institution Archives, and the National Security Archive. Michael Nelson kindly made available for publication documents he obtained from Russian Federation archives in preparing his book, War of the Black Heavens. Translations, some excerpts of longer documents that deal only in part with Western broadcasts, were made at CWIHP and the Hoover Archives.

Many of the translated documents were prepared for a Wilson Center-Hoover Institution conference on Impact of Cold War Broadcasting held at the Hoover Institution in 2004. All documents in this e-Dossier were originally published, along with revised conference papers, in Cold War Broadcasting; Impact on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, A. Ross Johnson and R. Eugene Parta, eds., New York and Budapest: Central European University Press, 2010.

The translated documents published here are indicative of Soviet and East European Communist regime assessments of and counter-measures to Western broadcasters, but they are not exhaustive. The Wilson Center holds several hundred analogous documents not yet translated. And thousands of related documents doubtless still lie in the archives, especially in the Russian Federation. See also CWIHP's collection of declassified U.S. government documents on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

A. Ross Johnson is a Woodrow Wilson Center Senior Scholar and author of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty; the CIA Years and Beyond.

R. Eugene Parta is the retired director of Audience Research and Program Evaluation for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague and author of Discovering the Hidden Listener: An Assessment of Radio Liberty and Western Broadcasting to the USSR during the Cold War.