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From Free Europe to Free Poland: Free Europe Committee in the Cold War

A. Ross Johnson

This report summarizes five panel discussions and the workshop of a symposium “From Free Europe to Free Poland: Free Europe Committee during the Cold War,” held at Gdańsk University on September 5-6, 2014. The conference was sponsored by the University of Gdańsk, the European Solidarity Center, and the Institute of National Remembrance, with assistance from the Wilson Center, Leiden University, Helena History Press, Hoover Institution Archives, Open Society Archives, and Polish Radio.

From Free Europe to Free Poland: Free Europe Committee in the Cold War 

Summary of Panel Discussions

Summary of Workshop Discussions



This report summarizes five panel discussions and the workshop of a symposium “From Free Europe to Free Poland: Free Europe Committee during the Cold War,” held at Gdańsk University on September 5-6, 2014. The conference was sponsored by the University of Gdańsk, the European Solidarity Center, and the Institute of National Remembrance, with assistance from the Wilson Center, Leiden University, Helena History Press, Hoover Institution Archives, Open Society Archives, and Polish Radio. The Honorable Bronisław Komorowski, President of Poland, was the honorary patron of the conference. The Honorable Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of Estonia, delivered a keynote address “The Continent of Émigrés – 25 Years Later.” Stephen D. Mull, U.S. Ambassador to Poland, opened the second day of the Symposium with a speech “The Right to Know: Promoting Free Media in Central and Eastern Europe.”[1] The summary of panel presentations was prepared from the video record by Samantha Robbins and Ellen Weintraub, Wilson Center, and Agata Grochowska, University of Gdańsk, and was edited by A Ross Johnson. The workshop summary was prepared by Giles Scott-Smith.

The Gdańsk Symposium examined the history of the Free Europe Committee (FEC, originally the National Committee for a Free Europe, NCFE) as a major instrument of American policy toward Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe during the Cold War. A public-private partnership of the United States Office of Policy Coordination/Central Intelligence Agency and leading members of the American establishment, the FEC organized a multiplicity of programs aimed at utilizing the talent of East Europeans forced into exile by the Communist regimes. The aim was to promote the peaceful liberation of their countries from Soviet rule and return to what would later be termed a “Europe whole and free.” The FEC spawned and was supported in part by the Crusade for Freedom, which publicized the Communist threat and solicited contributions from American citizens.

The best known project of the Free Europe Committee was Radio Free Europe (RF), and a considerable body of scholarly and memoir literature has been devoted to the history of RFE.[2] The FEC undertook many other projects intended to counter Communist domination of Central and Eastern Europe, and these activities have received much less attention from scholars. FEC projects included the Free Europe Press (which sent leaflets by balloon and mail and later books by mail and travelers to Eastern Europe), the Free European University in Exile in Strasbourg, the Mid-European Studies Center in New York, a number of National Councils, the Assembly of Captive European Nations, international lecture programs, the associated Crusade for Freedom, and more. At the end of the 1960s, projects other than RFE still accounted for a fourth of the FEC budget.

The Gdańsk Symposium assembled an international group of scholars and archivists working on Cold War history to examine scholarship on the FEC to date and to explore possibilities for additional research. The Symposium also included veterans of some FEC programs. Five symposium panels provided an overview of research findings on the FEC to date and panel presentations and discussion are summarized in this report. The Symposium also included a workshop in which scholars and archivists compared research findings, identified research gaps, and shared knowledge of archival and other resources. A summary of the workshop discussions is included in this report.

The Symposium organizers plan a follow-on conference in 2016 to explore at greater depth some of these issues. They welcome comments on this report and suggestions for future research at the email address

Gdansk Symposium Organizing Committee:

  • A Ross Johnson (chair), Wilson Center and Hoover Institution
  • Katalin Kádár Lynn, Helena History Press
  • Anna Mazurkiewicz, University of Gdańsk
  • Giles Scott-Smith, Leiden University

Summary of Panel Discussions


Panel 1 - The Role of the Émigrés in Early Cold War American Foreign Policy

Jakub Tyszkiewicz (moderator) posed several questions on the role of émigré communities in American policy during the early Cold War: How did the United States view the role of émigrés in the Truman and Eisenhower Administrations? Were they viewed as important political factors, as useful tools, or as cannon fodder in U.S. psychological warfare and intelligence operations? Were different national groups treated the same by the U.S. government? Did it put greater emphasis on cooperation with certain groups, for example, Poles or Czechs?

Truman and Eisenhower Administration Approaches to Political Warfare

Scott Lucas said there is still much that we do not know about the history of the Cold War. Considering the story of liberation, specifically U.S. ties with émigré communities, American strategy was characterized not by coherence but rather incoherence. U.S. strategy for Eastern Europe during the early Cold War lacked developed, connected thought for implementation. Much is known about what United States policy makers did, but the significance of local factors must be recognized—émigré communities, displaced persons, and those who remained in Eastern Europe after 1945—including their concerns, aspirations, and activities, and how these may or may not have paralleled what Americans perceived and attempted in their foreign policy. The term “freedom” was embraced, but what did it meant to try to intervene for freedom? What were the complications?

U.S. officials were unclear as to what the Truman and Eisenhower administrations dictated. In 1952, Tracy Barnes, senior staff member of the Central Intelligence Agency and member of the Psychological Strategy Board, questioned whether or not the United States was pursuing a policy of liberation. At that point, there were many programs that suggested liberation, but no definitive answer existed to his question. No clarity was given as to whether the American goal was to free East European nations from communist domination by whatever means possible. In 1960, C. D. Jackson, former president of the Free Europe Committee (FEC) and advisor to Eisenhower on psychological warfare, made a similar complaint. Jackson stated that instead of pursuing liberation, the United States had refrained from it. He pleaded with Eisenhower to respond; however, Eisenhower did nothing.

The myth of coherence in U.S. policy makes for an easier story—and sells more books. The myths of Truman’s policy of containment and Eisenhower’s push for liberation have been undone by scholarship. The only point of coherence in terms of involving émigrés and building strategy came in May 1948 from the State Department policy planning staff under George Kennan, which stated that the United States would pursue strength in Western Europe and liberation in Eastern Europe; that the United States would intervene in France and Italy to support non-Communist political parties in those countries; and that the United States would create an institution and structures to support émigrés and the local peoples of Eastern Europe. The organization and tactics were implemented, but the strategy was not.

Often considered the “holy grail” in the American fight against communism, National Security Council Report 68 (NSC-68) issued in April 1950 was not a coherent document. It referred to economic aid, information policy, and political maneuvers but it prioritized rapid military expansion. NSC-68 stated that the United States would retract Soviet power in Eastern Europe; however, there was no clarity on what retraction meant. Following NSC-68, Eisenhower’s subsequent New Look policy was also incoherent as were other subsequent policies. The United States did not intervene in Eastern Europe after Stalin’s death in March 1953 nor in East Germany during the uprising of June 1953. Evolution, not revolution, became the United States’ mid-1950s tactic, which was also not a clearly developed strategy. This incoherence continued through the 1960s up to the supposed end of the Cold War under Ronald Reagan.

Does incoherence in U.S. foreign policy mean that the United States had no impact? No. Programs were implemented, but tactics had to work with a local dimension. Vast amounts of money were spent on Radio Free Europe, the Free Europe University in Exile, people to people programs, leadership programs, books, and leaflets. Connections had to be established with local communities, such as the post-1956 policy towards Poland. If American strategy did not work with locals, it would look like imposition rather than cooperation and partnership, which was a recurring problem with émigré communities. Émigrés often complained that they were being dictated to, not being listened to. Americans responded by saying that émigré communities were divided, uncoordinated, and fought amongst themselves.

Activities at the local level were extremely important. State-private networks in the United States, Britain, and Western Europe worked with NGOs both covertly and overtly. There was a network of lawyers, journalists, labor movements, students, and economists in Eastern Europe and amongst émigré communities, who focused on development. They were not the highest level people, but liberation happened over a period of time through cultural and economic shifts. Where American policy was significant was in providing links to those networks by disseminating and debating of information, although it was not always an equal relationship. Locals had to understand an alternative so that when they rose up against something, they had an alternative to seek based on their experiences.

At the Museum of Communism in Prague, there is an exhibit on the Czech group Plastic People of the Universe. The group was influenced by music they heard on international radio stations. While attempting to give a series of concerts in Prague, Czech authorities arrested them. Their cause to freely play music in public was taken up by intellectuals, lawyers, playwrights, and figures such as Václav Havel. The conflict led to the drafting of Charter 77, which was based not on rights dictated to them by the U.S. government but from their own experiences and interactions with what they observed abroad.

Mechanistic intervention and contextual intervention are different. Rather than telling émigrés and displaced people to do something, American intervention worked best when it recognized context—the possibilities within economic or cultural systems and resulting questions about various issues. By recognizing context, as Kennan wanted to do, the strength of the “free world” and weaknesses of communism can be observed and contemporary debates engaged.

Ronald Reagan did not end the Cold War. The Cold War was brought about by a set of conditions in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union which people reacted to and found the space to pursue what they considered freer economic and political systems. Karl Marx got it right but in the wrong way; the communist economic system failed. The system could not support its projects and opened space for countries to negotiate paths to freedom.

The story of the FEC, the story of Poland, Czechoslovakia, or Hungary, is the story of how people found the space to negotiate without a coherent strategy. When President Obama made the statement that the U.S. has no strategy to handle current events, he was not only expressing the difficulties of liberation and intervention today, but also expressing the difficulty in American policy dating back to the end of World War II. Does this mean that there is no hope without an American strategy? No. It is not the rights or wrongs of American action that determine what happen in these countries. It was the local conditions that were the basis for what became a free Europe and a free Poland.

Origins of the Assembly of Captive European Nations (ACEN) and Its Role in US Policy

Anna Mazurkiewicz reviewed the history of the ACEN and its role in American policy. Whose interests did the émigrés really represent? They were foreigners, aliens? Were they foreign agents on American soil working for the benefit of their homelands? Were they ethnics? Were they representatives of a diaspora? Were they employees of the American government? Who, exactly, were the émigrés? How can one study their actions outside of the FEC? Can one look at their personal contacts or membership in other organizations? To what extent were their activities limited and censored? What was their actual impact on the actions that were being undertaken?

Central and East Europe post-WWII exiles were political elites affiliated in one way or another with the FEC. The ACEN, created on 20 September 1954, is the best known example. Created as an umbrella organization for united political exiles form Eastern Europe, the ACEN was supported by the FEC from 1954 to 1972 before operating independently until 1989. ACEN acted as a discussion forum for exiles where joint positions and policy papers were prepared. It was a political lobby where Central-Eastern Europeans attempted to form a common point of view to be expressed to the United Nations, U.S. Congress, U.S. Department of State, and other governmental bodies in order to obtain funds. People interested in the communist world could get basic information at the New York office. The organization was a symbol that Central/East Europeans could move beyond their difficult past and cooperate. The FEC viewed the ACEN as a major propaganda tool, but both sides benefited from the relationship. Émigrés were an asset to the U.S. administration while American support legitimized the émigrés activities and global engagement.

John Fousek has argued that American global engagement after the Second World War was a combination of three parts: conviction of national greatness, global responsibility, and anti-communism.[3] Émigré anti-communism, as described by Fousek, was not synonymous with a return to the ancien régime nor a longing to return or gain privilege. It became a common fight against a common enemy.

The FEC and ACEN worked on a different front. They helped mobilize society and elites in America, Western Europe, and Third World countries. A 1954 FEC Memorandum of Agreement on Exile Activity stated that the purpose of exile activity in the U.S. was to further political warfare objectives of the FEC in countries behind the Iron Curtain and also to help shape domestic public opinion. The U.S. used exiles as propaganda tools in programs in South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Latin America.

A common misconception that emerged after World War II about émigrés is that they suddenly appeared. Political exiled elites did not randomly appear; they were in touch during World War II, often in intelligence operations or underground governments. After the war, political leaders in Central Eastern Europe, mainly from the Peasant Parties, were closely connected to the American government. They were provided stipends and opportunities to continue political work while in exile. The United States helped a number of people escape Central Eastern Europe. In 1947, Frank Wisner helped at least five political leaders escape from Romania, Charles Katek assisted thirty Czechs to leave Czechoslovakia, and many citizens in Hungary, Bulgaria, and Poland were helped to leave.

Yalta represented failed promises of free elections and withdrawal of Soviet troops from Central/Eastern Europe. Yalta was silent on how its provisions would be implemented. Initially, the U.S. believed that the exiled elite were meant to be returned to their countries; in the meantime, they were useful sources of intelligence and knowledge on Eastern Europe’s history, culture, economy, and military conditions. Elites were kept alive and working until it was realized in 1953 that they were not returning to their homelands. Radio broadcasts continued, and the U.S. tried to have an impact beyond the Iron Curtain by using contacts to spread the idea of a whole and free Europe.

The exiles also benefitted. They received financial and political support and status. By receiving aid, the exiles gained access to the U.S. Congress, Department of State, and international institutions. They wanted to be present in these organizations, and cooperation gave them more lobbying power. Exiles were able to build global networks while maintaining the independence of their own opinions. In return, exiles had to respect U.S. political priorities, as Americans did not feel obliged to support activities not in line with their own policies.

Difficulties existed in this relationship. Cooperation was often difficult, and exiles found it easier to unite behind the party they belonged to before leaving their home countries. Instead of forming one national delegation, they were divided regionally. Exiles did not want to be held accountable for their actions upon return, so they did not compromise their political beliefs while abroad. C. D. Jackson characterized the relationship as a separation between church, the world of exile politics, and state, the FEC.

Émigrés, FEC, and CIA Cooperation in the Early Cold War

Hugh Wilford addressed the relationship between émigrés and the CIA in the context of other CIA operations involving covert subsidy groups before the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. The relationships were more complex than the term “front” suggests, but the term is used for simplicity.

The FEC and CIA’s relationship with émigré groups cannot be understood unless seen through a global context. There was a vast array of front operations such as the Congress for Cultural Freedom and Free Trade Union Committee that shared a common history and web of individuals. The same figures appear not only in émigré operations, but also in labor, intellectual, and other organizations. This was a period when groups were pressing themselves on the attention of the CIA and other parts of the U.S. government. All groups suffered from internal disunity, which compelled the CIA to assert a new degree of control—a move from partnership to CIA management. The émigrés’ tendency to assert themselves, however, did not disappear, and a degree of independence or autonomy remained.

A decisive push came from government circles such as George Kennan’s State Department policy planning staff and also from émigrés for the creation of CIA-funded groups. The August 1948 OPC Memorandum focused initial planning discussions on displaced persons in Germany.[4] Émigré groups in the United States began pressuring the Department of State, which shifted attention to U.S.-based émigrés instead.

A parallel can be observed in FEC and early CIA operations involving other groups. Representatives of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) are the most obvious example, in particular, its foreign policy unit, the Free Trade Union Committee (FTUC), run by former leader of the U.S. Communist Party turned anti-Stalinist, Jay Lovestone. Ex-Trotskyist New York intellectual James Burnham bombarded Washington with anti-Soviet exhortations until he was recruited by the CIA as an in-house consultant on political warfare. Many connections appear. Lovestone helped set-up and run the FEC’s labor division. Burnham was the principal architect of the CIA-funded intellectual front, the Congress for Cultural Freedom, and advised the CIA extensively on émigré matters, such as the establishment of the Free Europe University in Exile. Other individuals include Carmel Offie, Lawrence de Neufville, and Julius “Junkie” Fleischmann all of whom repeatedly crossed between different organizations insuring the same strategic and tactical debates were heard.

Several common traits appeared in these groups. Many recipients of CIA subsidies during this period were extremely proactive. This tendency carried on after the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) and CIA began setting up front committees. The same proactivism was evident in labor unions. Lovestone was constantly badgering his CIA contacts for money for various operations. Disunity was another common feature. National, ethnic, and political division plagued émigré operations as well as labor groups. Lovestone often argued with representatives of AFL’s rival labor organization, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), and disliked the Reuther brothers, who were less hardline anti-communists. In the American Committee for Cultural Freedom (ACCF), the Congress for Cultural Freedom’s U.S. affiliate, there were constant arguments between moderate liberal anti-communists and hardline ex-communists. These divisions proved difficult for CIA to handle.

Internal disunity was an additional problem. This caused the FEC to abandon its initial plan to run operations through councils of US-based émigrés and shift back to the earlier focus on individuals in Europe. This move was followed by the softening of the FEC’s initially hardline anti-communist stance leading to the eventual surrender of liberation as a serious aim of émigré operations in favor of self-liberation. Similarly, both Lovestone and Burnham were pushed aside. Harsh anti-Stalinism was abandoned in favor of the more positive social-democratic message of the CIO’s Reuther brothers. The FTUC withdrew from émigré affairs, and the FEC took over management of labor operations. Cultural diplomacy shifted from anti-communism and unifying conservative intellectuals to soft-sell diplomacy that also appealed to the non-communist left.

At this point in the early 1950s, the CIA asserted control over the FEC and other front groups. Two factors helped lead to this. First, Walter Bedell Smith became the new director of the CIA. He wanted to rein in some of the front groups funded by the CIA as well as to professionalize CIA covert operations. Second, Tom Braden, predisposed to the non-communist left, took over front operations.

Émigrés and other groups did not leave the picture altogether. The Assembly of Captive European Nations (ACEN) became a tool for émigrés to continue pursuing their goals downplayed by the CIA. The ACEN was viewed as a thorn in its side by the U.S. government in the 1960s. The ACCF became a refuge for hardline intellectual Cold War warriors and former communists who had become neoconservatives. That was not the message the Paris branch of the Congress for Cultural Freedom wanted to push, and it also irritated the CIA.

The broad pattern among these groups was one of initial partnership followed by assertion of CIA control, although impulses of private citizens persisted. Looking at one final group, the American Committee on United Europe (ACUE), the same parallels can be seen. The ACUE was the CIA’s covert channel to the federalist leadership of the European Movement. It was viewed as a sister organization to the FEC. The FEC and ACUE were originally devised by Eastern European émigrés, most importantly in the case of ACUE the Pole Józef Retinger; Allan Dulles was a crucial figure in the formation of both groups; Thomas Braden was involved in both groups; émigrés were deployed to support European integration in a similar manner; and the names are even alike. The ACUE and FEC were two sides of the same coin of U.S. early Cold War strategy. One helped to integrate and stabilize Western Europe while the other worked on the liberation of Eastern Europe.

Physiological Warfare Efforts in the Early Cold War Era

Michael Warner reviewed the history of psychological warfare during the twenty-five year period between 1946 and 1971, when CIA sponsorship of the FEC ended. This was a brief time in history when covert action was the way the United States dealt with many émigré groups.

It is crucial to remember how the United States viewed the world at the end of World War II. American policy was influenced by the wartime experience of policymakers. American troops were quickly pulled out of Europe leaving only 38,000 soldiers spread across the entire continent. The United States had no combat formations of ability to respond if needed to the Red Army

After Yalta, the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union became hostile. The Soviets subverted Eastern Europe with great speed. This was seen by the Americans as a repetition of what the Nazis had done in Czechoslovakia and Austria—trickery imposed upon peoples. In 1939, an old German battleship appeared in the Gdansk harbor on a goodwill mission; however, after anchoring near the Fortress of Westerplatte, the first shots of WWII were fired. The U.S. again saw a totalitarian power gaining entrance through deceit and deception that would take over the area.

The United States’ response was to fight the Soviets through covert action. At this time, the Department of State was weak, the Department of Defense was newly created, and the Army and Navy did not communicate. It fell to the intelligence community to battle against the Soviet Union, and the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) was formed and later merged with the CIA.

The new CIA officers were comprised of World War II veterans with experience and contacts in Europe, such as Frank Wisner and Allan Dulles; however, there were very few operational contacts. In the beginning, no doctrine existed for setting up organizations abroad. The CIA fell back on émigré communities, which had readymade access to countries of interest. The CIA also relied on the opinion of the American elite with European contacts. A new National Committee for a Free Europe was established, later the FEC, from the elite, internationally oriented people from New York and Washington.

Operations were improvised and executed ad hoc. The new organization looked to American public opinion—how the public regarded the situation in Europe. Doctrine was later established and coherence grew based on an innate American notion of how societies function. The Americans understood that the Nazis and Soviets worked in a similar manner to each other. In the American understanding, ideologies are alien to the natural order of how people want to think and live. Fascism and communism can only prosper if imposed on the people; they are a cancer within societies and survive through their control of truth.

How do you defeat the Soviet’s monopoly of truth? Americans looked to the principles of the Declaration of Independence and John Locke: order comes from liberty. If you let people do what they naturally want to do with their natural rights, they will create order. Look to the Seal of the United States: “E pluribus unum. One out of many.” Truth is a weapon, and the Americans sought to give truth to the people of Europe. They wanted to show Europeans a life outside of totalitarian ideology.

The mechanics of this, however, were complicated. In practice, the funding of front groups was undertaken hastily and in an insecure fashion during the 1950s, which caused the collapse of many organizations in the 1960s. Covert subsidies were exposed, embarrassing the CIA. Many groups and arrangements were simply ended, but the radio operations RFE and RL survived and prospered without covert subsidies.


Asked to elaborate on the role of émigré groups and the relationship with CIA, Warner stated that there is an overlap between émigré groups and CIA. There was a middle ground where members promoted their ideas both to the CIA and to the groups they represented. Mazurkiewicz found émigré groups to be agents of their actions, but their actions were severely limited. For example, ACEN wanted to include representatives from Yugoslav nations, but the U.S. government prohibited their joining. ACEN wanted to cooperate with Ukrainian exiles, but Ukrainians were considered a separatist and not national group. Exile groups had their own agenda, which first focused on their homeland and then the region, but their actions were limited. Independence of opinions was restricted. When Khrushchev visited the United States in 1959, émigrés demonstrated against him across from the UN with a huge poster demanding that he liberate the colonial nations. The Department of State had the poster covered.

Wilford focused on the impact of locals on the ground in target countries. The CIA’s message worked well with groups that were already interested in Atlanticism, American ideas of productivity, and so on. It would not appeal to those not already predisposed toward American core values. Cultural diplomacy worked best when it focused on bridge building rather than merely a message that communism is bad. That was not enough to excite audiences in Western Europe; you needed something more positive.

Lucas stated that it was not as simple as saying you’re promoting the truth. Everyone said they were promoting truth. The first question: when you have different émigrés and displaced people, how much of a consensus exists among these groups so that a line of approach can be developed? If five, six, or seven different groups have different opinions, it is a problem for everyone because a strategy can’t be devised. The second question: how much do the émigré, displaced, or diaspora communities connect with, actually have contact with, and reflect the views of the people inside those countries? There was not a single Poland, Czechoslovakia, or Hungary after World War II. There were many different Polands, Czechoslovakias, and Hungarys because many different interests were at play. How much of a message could you obtain from these groups that represented a significant proportion of the population in those communities? The American thought was that the locals would rise up if they wanted to. Some people supported the communist party. Why? What were the motivations? These questions complicated the notion during the early years that the CIA would work with émigrés to carry out liberation. It was never going to be that easy.

Panel 2 – The Origins of the Free Europe Committee and the Launching of Radio Free Europe

A Ross Johnson (moderator) noted that the main architects of the Free Europe Committee (FEC) and Radio Free Europe (RFE) were George Kennan, Frank Wisner, and Allen Dulles. Despite the fact that the FEC and RFE were funded secretly by the U.S. Government through the CIA, they had considerable autonomy. And by the end of the 1960s, CIA Director Richard Helms stated that RFE no longer needed support from CIA. The FEC had autonomy because important strategic initiatives developed not top-down from the CIA or State Department but bottom-up, from FEC and RFE. Radio broadcasts were the best-known and most successful of many FEC projects. There was also an important book distribution program (discussed in Panel 4). Radio Free Europe was not one singular broadcaster, instead it consisted of a network of national broadcasting stations (termed “services” or “desks”), and RFE’s decentralization was one of the keys to its success. When looking at the history of Radio Free Europe it is therefore necessary to look carefully at each country and national broadcasting service. Questions for research about the individual services include the following: How important were initial RFE broadcasts from New York? Who were key broadcasters or other actors? Where did they come from and how did they assume their positions? What was the relationship between the RFE desks in Munich and New York? How did broadcast policy change over time? What were the most important programs in the broadcast schedule? What kind of audience feedback was there? How soon did the communist regimes take notice? What was the relationship to other FEC projects? How effective were the individual national broadcasts?

RFE Czechoslovak Service

Anna Bischof discussed the history of the Czechoslovak service. Radio Free Europe was one of the few employers in the West that allowed exiles to work in their native language in an intellectual environment for a decent wage. The desks were assembled by looking for émigrés, and most of those hired were very closely associated with the first Czechoslovak Republic. Few of the initial editors and broadcasters had no professional experience with broadcasting; most were newspaper people and thus early programs were written in the style of newspaper articles. Gradually broadcasts became more professional with the help of U.S. training.

The Czechoslovak desk was not a homogenous group of people. All opposed Soviet communism, but otherwise they differed in political orientation. There were two generations of émigrés. The first generation came from the wave of Czechs and Slovaks that left in 1948; the second generation were those who left the country after the 1968 Prague Spring. There was much contention between these two waves of émigrés because the 1968 group (sometimes termed “reform Communists”) were partly supportive of the early regime and communist ideology, whereas the 1948 group was not. The 1968 group included professionally trained and skilled radio journalists, unlike the 1948 group which was trained on the job. The Czechoslovak desk was the only RFE bilingual desk and therefore had a relatively large staff. (The U.S. declined to establish a Slovak Desk until Slovakia became an independent state in 1993.) The leadership structure of the Czechoslovak desk reflected this linguistic and ethnic divide. Normally the head of the desk was a Czech but the second in command was a Slovak.

Although listening to RFE was not forbidden, people still generally feared being caught listening to the station. Jamming by the Czechoslovak regime continued until late 1988. Broadcasts considered to be the most important, for example certain political commentaries were scheduled when jamming would be less efficient, which meant on Sunday, when people often traveled to the countryside, where jamming was less effective.

The overall message broadcast from the Czechoslovak service became more moderate over time. In 1951 the mission was to remind listeners that they were being ruled by agents of a foreign power, but by 1972 the mission had shifted to performing the function of free press so that listeners could form their own views based on the information provided.

There was a great deal of animosity between the Czechoslovak exile groups. This presented a challenge for RFE, because they presented themselves as the voice of the émigrés and had to attempt to keep internal quarrelling out of the broadcasts. But since many of the members of the desk were also members of conflicting émigré organizations, it was hard to keep the tensions completely out of the programming.

RFE Polish Service

Paweł Machcewicz discussed the Polish desk of Radio Free Europe (RFE), which first operated from New York, and then beginning in 1952 operated mainly from Munich. In New York the broadcast team was small, and program tapes had to be flown to Germany and broadcast by a small transmitter in the US occupied zone. In this early stage the impact of RFE was relatively limited and was mentioned in Polish regime reports on the same level as the BBC, Radio France, and Radio Madrid. The real breakthrough came in 1952 when the Munich desk of the Polish service was created and expanded quickly. In 1955 the New York desk became subordinate to Munich.

RFE was designed to be something different from the Voice of America, it was supposed to give émigrés a new opportunity to speak to their countrymen directly. It was a tool of psychological warfare. The U.S. government saw it as a long term investment so that when the iron curtain did fall they would have sympathetic allies that would assume power. RFE was originally seen as the most important tool in preparing these émigrés for important positions in their home country once they were liberated by western forces.

In the case of the Polish desk, the RFE American management in 1952 established an advisory committee with émigré politicians that were supposed to give their opinions on the quality of the programming. This project failed because the émigrés felt their opinions did not have any influence, and disappointment in the program among émigrés was widespread. Over time the team in Munich gained considerable influence behind their iron curtain. But who had real influence over the programming? CIA gave more freedom to the Polish émigrés than the State Department, which consistently attempted to influence the content. The Free Europe Committee also provided policy guidance for each desk. But since daily broadcasting included over 20 hours of air time, it was impossible for the U.S. government or RFE American managers in Munich to oversee each and every program. Over time the Polish service gained more autonomy, but there were still many conflicts along the way.

The FEC also sponsored another tool of psychological warfare, balloon leaflets. Balloons would carry leaflets to Poland to encourage people to carry out various forms of oppositional activity. Polish Service director Jan Nowak was concerned about this policy because it created the risk that Poles would behave in a more radical way, when they had already paid a heavy price for resistance during World War II. Nowak convinced the FEC, State Department, and CIA that a moderate strategy would be more effective. So instead of encouraging oppositional activity, balloons carried brochures written by defectors, copies of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and similar publications.

RFE Romanian Service

Ioana Macrea-Toma said the Romanian service shared similar characteristics with other RFE services. The Romanian Service too experienced disunity and the service had more freedom under CIA supervision as opposed to the State Department.

The problem for the Romanian service was that although it had the largest audience it had the scarcest access to sources of information. One reason was the RFE “two source rule” whereby editors had to check information credibility by finding two sources for a story, yet very few western newspapers covered Romania. Unlike some other eastern European countries, Romania had no collective social or cultural protest movements, just a series of small isolated revolts. Even today historians still cannot find much information about the major actors in the Romanian service. In the 1960s the Romanian desk had an easier time finding information about Romania because Romanians were able to travel and would then talk to RFE editors. But it was a very closed circuit of obtaining often very dubious information and inadvertently perpetuating conflicts occurring within the country.

Research indicates that cultural broadcasts had a larger impact than political broadcasts in Romania, starting in the 1960s. Monica Lovinescu, an editor from Paris, was the main actor in Romanian broadcasting during this time. Her mission was the most pro-western mission and by far the most open minded. In Romania politics are best understood through the prism of culture. The most significant editors came from the literary and cultural field. The issues were not those of political parties but a matter of intellectualism versus collectivism. There was a sense of intellectual isolation among Romanian exiles in New York and Paris. The messages broadcast to the Romanians did not lead to social awareness as intended but instead were received more like cultural petitioning.

RFE Hungarian Service

András Mink reviewed RFE Hungarian broadcasts, arguing the inevitable inconsistency of U.S. Cold War strategy. The United States had a moral obligation after the Second World War to represent democratic values, including to the Soviet Empire in the east. The image of the Soviet threat was not a traditional geopolitical threat but an ideological one that posed a direct threat to U.S. interests and the American way of life. The U.S. also assumed that appeasement and concession would not solve the problem, but it was aware that containment must not lead to an outbreak of open military conflict, since no one wanted a third World War. This situation created a flexible pattern which enabled the US to adjust tactics to a new situation, like after the Hungarian Revolution in 1956.

RFE Hungarian language broadcasts started from the New York office in 1950 and were more of an experimental program that had many difficulties. A daily program of one hour was broadcast from a ship in the Mediterranean Sea. The Hungarian broadcasts had little impact in the initial years.

The situation changed when Radio Free Europe opened its office in Munich. Most editors and decision making transferred to Munich. The priority of the Hungarian desk was news and political analysis. Programs were developed which targeted different audiences. The language was aggressive and sometimes provocative, but very effective because the programming was based on information received from recent refugees. RFE became wildly popular but this proved to be counterproductive sometimes because it reinforced among the audience the idea that communist rule was coming to an end soon, whereas in fact it would continue for decades.

Programming started to change in the 1960s. Personal attacks ended and new genres appeared. There were more cultural programs and fewer political programs because according to audience surveys after the 1956 revolution the audience was less receptive to political messages. Some Hungarians liked the social benefits of the communist state (pensions and health care) and were not enthused with the idea of a capitalist system but instead hoped for a reformed democratic socialist system. This made RFE cautious about sending direct anti-communist messages in fear of alienating the listeners.


 Johnson highlighted ley themes in the individual presentations: the importance of individual actors; generational gaps and conflicts, and changes over time in programming—for instance popular music became a method of attracting listeners to more political programs scheduled afterwards.

Asked about psychological warfare and lessons learned from the Second World War, Machcewicz cited the enormous success of the BBC in Poland at that time; Radio Free Europe was definitely trying to build from that. And by the end of the Cold War, the RFE Polish service had in fact reached the same popularity level as the BBC during the Second World War. The balloon leaflets, however, were not successful in Poland.

Asked about the reliability of listener surveys, and whether they were used to reinforce decisions on programming that had already been made, Johnson noted that surveys became possible only in the 1960s when travel from Eastern Europe became possible. Efforts were made to adjust for the non-representative nature of the samples. Mink agreed that almost no one from the East traveled to the West in the 1950s, so information was only acquired from refugees, but that all changed in the 1960s. The surveys started combining results from both tourists and refugees which gave very opposite accounts, one group planned to remain in the communist controlled country from which they came whereas the other group fled their homeland. Reliability was not the key issue; the type of information RFE acquired was not necessarily what it wanted to hear because Hungarians were not necessarily in favor of a free capitalist society. Machcewicz added that the Polish communist authorities created a team of professional sociologists who in the 1960s started to carry out surveys. These surveys were confidential and only intended for official state and party use. According to these surveys the size of the audience of Radio Free Europe rose and fell according to the economic and political situation in Poland. When there was general peace and stability the number of listeners dropped, but during times of economic downturn and unrest the numbers quickly spiked. Macrea-Toma added that when polls were conducted for the Romanian service, this was done under very difficult and stressful circumstances. The pollster had to select a meeting place that provided some degree of privacy and had to try to record accurately the interviewee responses. The questions posed often gave results that were self-confirming.

Panel 3 - Exile Support Programs of the Free Europe Committee

Katalin KádárLynn (moderator) suggested that when the National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE) was founded in 1949, it would have been hard to imagine that its exile support programs would become so diverse and far-reaching within only a few years.

Key organizations that received support included national committees or councils of the captive nations, the International Peasant Union, World Trade Union in Exile, Christian Democratic Union, Mid-European Study Center, Assembly of Captive European Nations (ACEN), and the Free European University in Exile. Hundreds of organizations were supported by the NCFE (after 1954 the Free Europe Committee (FEC). Funded programs ranged from the arts, such as the Philharmonia Hungarica, to sports and touched on all aspects of émigré life. In 1959, fifty Polish organizations received FEC support in Germany, Austria, and France.

Through the mid-1990s there was a dearth of information on FEC non-radio activities and organizations. Much research existed on Radio Free Europe because it was the dominant division of the NCFE/FEC in terms of visibility and budget. Exile support programs were neglected by scholars for several reasons:

  • Exile support programs had, by virtue of purpose, targeted refuges in their émigré communities. Programs were implemented by exiles for exiles.
  • Archival materials were poorly preserved, destroyed, or were classified and therefore unavailable for research.
  • Scholarly interest was simply not present. The exile support programs had not influenced U.S. policy enough to make them worthy of study.

Starting in the late-1990s well researched and readable works began to appear, for example, Walter Hixon’s Propaganda, Culture, and the Cold War, Frances Stonor Saunders work on the Congress for Cultural Freedom, and Hugh Wilford’s book on the CIA and public-private nature of the FEC.[5] In 2000, the majority of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty archives were acquired by the Hoover Institution. The corporate records of their parent organizations were now available—not in entirety, but in a large enough scope that various aspects of the FEC could be studied. Later, key information on the FEC’s formation was slowly declassified, much due to Ross Johnson’s research in the CIA archives.[6] Emerging scholars began to choose topics relating to the FEC and its programs for research.

National councils, national committees, and committees of national liberation represented captive nations, which became Soviet satellites. In the first press release on the formation of the NCFE, Chairman Joseph Grew stated that “the promise which we [the United States] gave at Yalta remains unredeemed.” Émigré leaders intended that the organization be in the forefront of psychological warfare for liberation. Grew also said that “we [the United States] have a definite self-interest in helping to keep alive, and in full vigor, political leaders who share our view of life.” In 1952, RFE Director Robert Lang referred to the national committees as cold storage reservoirs for the day of liberation.

Regardless of the dysfunctional nature of the exile support programs, they did perform valuable and long-lasting service on behalf of countrymen in exile and at home. Programs were most effective on the local level, primarily in providing refugee and relocation services. Malcolm Proudfoot’s work on post-war immigration and displaced person (DP) programs indicated that over one million DPs were relocated. They were all clients of refugee aid services provided by various national councils supported by the NCFE.

Council for Free Czechoslovakia

Francis Raška argued that the Czechoslovak exile community was based on the myth of an ideal Czechoslovak society. Initially it was dominated by people who themselves contributed to the communist takeover in 1948. After 1945 parties making up the so-called National Front banned pre-war political parties. With the Communist putsch in 1948, the National Front became the primary political party. There was a myth during this period that those legitimated after 1945 were allowed to participate in a democratic process in Czechoslovakia. They were the real heroes, antifascist fighters, and the ones who suffered. This myth transferred to the exiles with the thought that it was the exiles’ job to work towards freedom. In Britain, C.P. Mayhew stated that “this is the ‘thin end of the wedge’ and that if we do not intent to use Czech refugees for propaganda and intelligence purposes, we would not be wise to open our doors to these Czech MPs.” C.F.A. Warner said he thought “most of these MPs will drift on to America before they become out of date (and therefore valueless) and have become much of a nuisance here [Britain].”

Several conflicts made the task of Czechoslovak exiles difficult if not impossible. First, there was an insistence by lead Czechoslovak politicians that the Council of Free Czechoslovakia be organized along party lines. The problem was that many émigrés did not participate in Czechoslovak politics after 1945 because pre-war parties were banned. Second, Czech-Slovak relations remained contentious. How would power be distributed along ethnic lines? Third, there was a problem of who got support from the FEC. Ferdinand Peroutka decided who was going to speak on RFE, and receive stipends, in the early 1950. The archives contain evidence of considerable hatred, revenge, and political warfare within the émigré community. A final conflict was the bickering among members of the Council of Free Czechoslovakia. This resulted in a number of splits within the organization. The FEC got so fed up with the infighting that it terminated all support for the Council of Free Czechoslovakia in 1957, concluding that differences between factions were irreconcilable. In 1961, the Committee of Czechoslovakia and Council of Czechoslovakia were formed from the original organization.

In 1974 under the leadership of Professor Mojmir Povolny, a political science professor at Lawrence University, the groups were reunited. Povolny became president of the unified council and remained in that office until shortly before his death. Povolny resolved many of the previous conflicts. The concept of political party representation was scrapped all altogether. Povolny explained that there would be no party representation because parties had not properly existed since the communist coup. Contact was initiated with the emergent Czechoslovak dissident group responsible for Charter 77 and maintained throughout the 1980s.

The stubbornness of the younger post-1948 generation did not allow them to cooperate productively with people who left after 1968 because they were considered former communists. The inability to work together and intolerance of one faction for another resulted in the ineffectiveness of Czechoslovak exiles.

Romanian National Committee

Marius Petraru noted that scholarship on the Romanian National Committee developed only recently, with no work yet in English. In 1945, there was a large emigration of Romanians, and in 1949 most political leaders met in Washington to form the Romanian National Committee (RNC). It had access to its own source of funds. The Romanian National Fund (called the Alexandru Cretzianu Fund) was established during World War II and became important in spring 1944 when Romanian political leaders foresaw imminent occupation by Russian troops and transferred government funds abroad for the purpose of supporting the political and intellectual elite that emigrated. Twenty million Swiss francs were deposited as a private fund with the Romanian legation in Bern under the control of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Constantin Vişoianu. Special funds were also held in accounts of Romanian ambassadors in Lisbon, Madrid, and Ankara. In Ankara, Romanian ambassador Cretzianu had access to about USD 235,000. In Lisbon, Brutus Coste had access to almost USD 100,000. In Madrid, Scarlat Grigoriu had access to almost USD 165,000.

Vişoianu transferred six million Swiss francs from the Bern funds to Cretzianu in Ankara in 1945. The Romanian communist leaders learned of the funds and set out to recover the money. On October 13, 1945, the Romanian regime granted power of attorney to a Swiss lawyer in Bern in order to block the Cretzianu account and to start legal action, eventually unsuccessful, to recover those assets. Later that year, Nicolae Rădescu, first leader of the RNC, sent a letter to the court in Bern and sued Cretzianu to block his fund, because the RNC had split in 1950, and Rădescu did not want Cretzianu funds going to a rival council. This lawsuit lasted until 1957 with the court again ruling in favor of Cretzianu. Vişoianu, now RNC president, discovered in December 1970 that the Cretzianu account was being unblocked. At this time, Cretzianu had stopped financing expenses of the committee. Vişoianu asked that the remainder of the funds be transferred for a board of trustees to manage. The request was denied and Cretzianu declared that his wife would manage the fund after his death. Cretzianu died in 1980 and nothing is known of what happened to the fund. The papers of Alexandru Cretzianu are closed to the public until 2020.

The Alexandru Totescu Fund (also called the Lisbon Fund held by the Romanian Legation in Lisbon) was another private fund used by the Romanian National Committee starting in 1949. It was classified as emergency financing available for use. The United States had not yet allocated funding for RNC activities, and the situation of Romanian refugees and students in Germany and France was critical. The Committee asked Totescu, then charge d’affaires in Lisbon, to make his fund accessible. The Lisbon Fund was valued at USD 140,000 and later supplemented with an additional USD 170,000 from the Romanian delegation in Madrid. According to payment orders, the fund was managed by Totescu, and a greater part of the money went to the founding of Carol I University in Paris. It covered the foundation budget until 1955 and also covered expenses of Romanian refugees in Paris, Rome, and Geneva. By 1955, however, the fund was exhausted.

The most important financial support for the RNC came from the National Committee for Free Europe (NCFE). As of November 1, 1949, the RNC received USD 16,000 in support per month. Out of the monthly allowance, almost USD 7,000 went towards expenses in the United States, USD 3,000 for representatives and agencies of the Committee, USD 1,800 for the Committee newspaper published in Romanian, and USD 4,000 for refugee assistance.

The Romanian National Committee split in 1950, and NCFE suspended its financial payments for almost one year. They refused to pay the rent for the office in Washington and the salaries of hired personnel. All subsidies were cut off. Surprisingly, however, they continued to provide subsidies to the other group created from the split: Rădescu’s Romanian National Council. Funding went back and forth between 1950 and 1952.

RNC president Vişoianu sent a letter to Romanian representatives in Paris and described the situation. He stated that the NCFE wanted positive results and would not provide funding before receiving a list of all RNC tasks as well as Vişoianu’s guarantee that they would be fulfilled. The RNC faced the same financial difficulties ten years later and repeatedly asked the FEC for support. Conflict between the FEC and ACEN in the spring of 1963 also affected RNC activities. On June 7, ACEN Chairman Vasil Gërmenji was summoned by Albert Kappel, Director of the Exile Relations Division of the FEC, and advised that monthly FEC grants to cover regular or fixed expenses of the ACEN and its overseas representation would be reduced by July 1, 1965. Following the end of all FEC support for émigré organizations in 1971, the RNC continued minimal operations through self-funding and sporadic donations it received for Romanian publications.

Although the Romanian National Committee had substantial funds of its own compared to other national committees, it failed to unify and consolidate the actions of Romanian exiles in its fight for the liberation of Romania from the communist regime.

Baltic Freedom Committees

Jonathan H. L’Hommedieu suggested that, unlike U.S. policy today, over the last 100 years American policy towards the Baltic States—Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia—has been ambivalent. During World War I, Woodrow Wilson advocated the right of self-determination, but the United States was one of the last countries to recognize the independence of the Baltic States. In 1940, the Roosevelt Administration claimed it would not recognize the Soviet annexation of the Baltics; three years later, they tacitly accepted the Baltics falling into the Soviet sphere of influence after the war. Relations between the United States and the Baltic States were maintained through exile communities.

After debates in 1950 and 1951, the National Committee for Free Europe (NCFE) allowed Baltic consultative panels to be formed. The panels’ objectives were to advocate RFE radio broadcasts; promote the liberation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania; and create unity amongst Baltic exiles. Each objective failed. There were no FEC Baltic radio broadcasts until 1976, and they were transferred to RFE from Radio Liberty in the early 1980s. There was no liberation until the collapse of the Soviet Union. There was little promotion of unity among émigrés.

The Baltic Freedom Committees need to be placed into a larger framework to attract scholarly interest. Four themes in the Baltic narrative are applicable to all scholarship related to the FEC and the Cold War exiles. The first theme is the question of policy guidance from the Department of State as it pertained to the activities of the NCFE/ FEC. Policy concerning the Baltics and continued non-recognition of Soviet annexation was strict. During the debates on establishing Baltic consultative panels, questions were raised on what the panels might mean for continued recognition of the Latvian-Lithuanian Legation in Washington, D.C. and the Estonian Consul-General in New York. An argument was made that because the United States recognized democratic representatives of these countries, there was no need to use resources to organize Baltic émigrés under the auspices of the NCFE. It was thought such efforts could undermine the role of the Baltic diplomats in Washington and New York. Baltic diplomats were consulted on whether they would allow organizations to come into existence and on the composition of the panels. The major concern was that the panels should not duplicate the diplomats’ activities—primarily those dealing with official recognition. Their efforts could help organize the emigration in a broader sense.

The second theme was the contradictory mission of the consultative panels to both promote liberation of homelands and promote liberty amongst émigrés. This was inherently contradictory. It is impossible to have rhetoric of liberation within exile groups while promoting unity within the groups at the same time. The perspective of exiles in the United States and Europe at this point was that if the aim was to achieve liberation in a relatively short time, the ultimate goal would be to return home and have influence on the political situation. This led to competition amongst parties. The history of the interwar years and World War II also exacerbated tension. From 1940 onwards, the United States recognized continued existence of the interwar Baltic republics through diplomats in Washington. By the end of World War II, the diplomats included representatives of democratic Baltic political elites from the 1920s and 1930s, but also individuals from the late 1930s. Who would be represented on the panels? Geography presented another issue. Most activities of the panels occurred in the United States, which held the largest Latvian and Lithuanian émigré communities. In contrast, the largest Estonian community was located in Sweden. Estonian exiles in Stockholm complained to American officials that little funding was being provided to them despite their proximity to the homeland. The number of individuals to be on the panels early on was low: seven Latvians, seven Lithuanians, and five Estonians.

A third theme is that much study on FEC activities is about transfer of information from the free world behind the iron curtain. The Baltic consultative panels were successful in disseminating information throughout the United States. The quarterly journal Baltic Review provided information on Baltic history to American audiences. It was an example of cooperation between Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia during the 1950s. Freedom Day, held from June 1952 onward, consisted of demonstrations in New York, festivals, and declarations made by leading politicians. This played an important role in educating the American public on current events in the Baltic States.

The fourth theme is that failure is not necessarily a bad thing. The original consultative panels were unsuccessful at initiating radio broadcasts, short-term liberation, and promoting unity within exiles throughout the West. These failures showed the next generation of exiles and émigrés what did not work. The next generation was able to create flexibility in understanding their role in Western society compared to their relationship with home countries. There was a willingness to work together and to put aside partisan differences. New strategies were put in place. Concern grew in the 1960s that the fate of the Baltic states would go unnoticed as the first generation of exiles aged. The Baltic annexations were the first real example of Soviet aggression, but newer cases emerged in 1956 Hungary and 1968 Czechoslovakia. Many in the Department of State openly discussed how the non-recognition policy could be wound down. Lessons learned from this early period instructed a new generation to change strategy, and they played a significant role in the late 1980s through independence.

Free Europe University in Exile

Veronika Durin-Hornyik discussed the Free Europe University in Exile (FEUE), a fellowship institution of the FEC which operated from 1951-1965. The history of the university can be divided into two parts: as the educational corporation of the FEC until 1958 and the Free Europe Scholarship Fund after 1959. While an educational corporation, the university’s goal was to assist Eastern European refuges living in Western Europe to complete university studies. As a scholarship fund, it was complemented by large scale of joint operations carried out by the FEC Western European Operations Division based in London. In the 1960s, students from Third World countries and uncommitted areas in Africa, Asia, and Latin America became targets.

The FEUE’s fifteen years of existence is a story about an ambitious cultural endeavor. The FEC’s original aim was to form future leaders in case of collapse of communist regimes behind the Iron Curtain. In the 1960s, the 1950s policy of liberation was forgotten and replaced with influencing tomorrow’s leaders, who would introduce democracy and influence the Third World and uncommitted areas during the Cold War.

The Free Europe University in Exile was created in Strasbourg, France, a location chosen due to its proximity to Germany—the heart of Western Europe and the site of many DP camps—and France’s history as a destination for émigrés. Young refugees could be easily found, and European culture flourished in Strasbourg at the Council of Europe. The FEUE had a complicated organization chart. It was a United States educational corporation which then created a Western European Branch in Paris. A French association had to be set up as a legal entity in order to manage and channel funds between the U.S. and France. The heart of the operation was the study center in Strasbourg called Collège de l’Europe libre. It functioned as a boarding school, with an American dean in charge, and all fellows were lodged there.

A Committee on Awards and Placement selected the students who would attend the Free Europe University in Exile. There were five criteria in order to be selected:

  • A refugee from Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, or Yugoslavia.
  • A university-aged student.
  • A baccalaureate or some other kind of qualification.
  • Capable of following courses in French.
  • Aspirations to future leadership.

There were three obligations for renewal of the fellowship. First, students had to be successful in their studies at the University of Strasbourg. Second, they had to participate in national seminars led by national tutors, and third, participate in annual conference series on political, social, and cultural topics. The last two extracurricular obligations, held at the study center, aimed to keep national sentiment alive while in exile.

The idea of the university originated not from the FEC but from a Polish exile group around the Paris-based Polish exile review Kultura with the encouragement of James Burnham. Through this channel, the FEC became aware of the idea to create a university for exiled students. It was appealing to the FEC because it fit within their policy of liberating citizens from communist regimes. The FEC made an early attempt to create the university in 1950 without the knowledge of the Kultura group but this attempt failed. A second attempt succeeded, and, the university officially opened in November 1951. It hosted approximately 200 refugees, men and women, each year. Problems immediately appeared. Students came from diverse backgrounds and many could not follow university studies or understand the French lessons. Because forming future leadership was the most important goal of the university, political indoctrination became the main focus. Meanwhile, outside the university, the policy of liberation was postponed. But how to form a future generation of leaders without knowing when these countries would be liberated? The university was a vicious circle. Each year everyone waited for changes to happen so the students could go home, but it never happened.

In 1955, the FEC decided to change the university’s structure from a boarding school to an external fellowship institution. Free Europe fellows could choose the university where they wanted to study. The only obligation was to return for the summer lecture series on political and social questions. While waiting for liberation, students would contribute to the spread of awareness on communist dangers in the free world. The Hungarian Revolution changed the university’s life completely, and the educational corporation was phased out in 1958. The public announcement on the closure suggested that after seven years of operation, most of the young displaced men and women had finished their education or reached adult life.

In 1959, the FEC changed its policy to face challenges of peaceful coexistence. The new policy was that evolutionary liberalizing change in economic and social life be actively encouraged in all captive nations—a bridge-building policy for the 1960s. Again it was decided to prepare East European students in Western countries for the gradual liberalization of their native homelands. By the end of the 1950s and into the 1960s, uncommitted areas became important. It was decided to restart the fellowship program with the same organized summer lectures. Students from Western Europe, Eastern Europe, and Third World countries all participated in the lectures on social and political questions. Although the summer lectures succeeded in gaining a serious academic reputation in Europe, the FEC decided to abolish the Western European Operations Division in 1965 and end all its youth activities, due to détente and budgetary considerations.


Asked whether any active intelligence operations were present on campus at the Free European University in Exile both in its first and second incarnations, Durin-Hornyik responded that when the university was first created, the CIA only followed what was happening. After a crisis in the university’s administration, the CIA sent a person to help officials outline a plan for the school. In the 1960s, the mixture of Western, East European refugee, and Third World students at the same place led the CIA to fear a Communist plan to sabotage Free European University in Exile. This is a possible reason why university activities stopped in the 1960s.

Asked at what point the FEC realized that the Romanians were operating with substantial independent funding and whether this led the FEC to cease funding, Petraru pointed out that the State Department and the FEC knew about this from the outset. It did result in a lack of trust between the FEC and the Romanian National Committee, and the FEC reduced its monetary support. Several other private funds existed, but no one knew about them. For example, the Nicolae Malaxa fund. He was a well-known industrialist and held more than ninety percent of Romanian industry before World War II. He moved to the United States and tried to buy his freedom and citizenship. He was involved in politics, espionage, and gave blank checks to the Romanian National Council that split off from the RNC, yet no one knows about those funds.

Asked how the Committee for Free Czechoslovakia funded itself after FEC ended funding, Raška answered that reliance shifted to membership contributions. The situation became so financially dire that towards the end of the 1970s that the Committee had to sell the building they worked from and live off that money. In the 1980s, the group met in the Bohemian National Hall in New York City, which was in ruins at the time. One must keep in mind that Czechoslovak money belonging to the people who went back in 1945 was most likely repatriated with them and there was no time to send it out of Czechoslovakia in 1948.

Kádár Lynn noted that the Hungarians had a royal Hungarian legation in Madrid. The Franco government did not recognize communist Hungary and allowed the royal Hungarian legation to operate in Madrid under Ferenc Marosy until 1965. This was especially useful for émigrés because typically if one wanted to obtain documents, they were not easily obtained from Hungary. They could instead be sent to Marosy, and he would stamp everything to create valid papers. The FEC funded the Marosy and Royal Hungarian legation in Spain until 1965.

Asked if there was a united European dimension to the Free European University in Exile, Durin-Hornyik said that European integration was a topic at the summer conferences, but there was no idea about a united Europe. When the university was founded, the noble goal was to reconcile European nations, but each national group had different nationalistic tendencies and opinions.

Asked if there were examples of the so-called “Ahmed Chalabi” effect of one person from a country being taken to represent that country as a source of authority or potential leadership, but in reality, not being a particularly useful source of information, Raška said that in his opinion there was no one from the early Czechoslovak emigration that was considered a possible leader. Archival documents show that both the U.S. government and NCFE often complained that so much discord in the group showed the small-mindedness of the Czechoslovak people. Without Edvard Beneš they were lost in a political wilderness. The classic example of the old emigration was Jíři Horák, who tried to reestablish a Social Democratic Party in Czechoslovakia after 1989. He was so unsuccessful that he returned to America. There were no Czechoslovak exile heroes. If any had a real impact it was the later exiles, the post 1968 group that emigrated to Western Europe and the United States.

Asked about influential exiles, Durin-Hornyik stated that the Free European University in Exile and its follow-up program assisted approximately one thousand students, and about eighty-five percent were considered deadweight by the FEC. Most became ordinary citizens of Western Europe, but there were some very famous fellows who held successful careers. One example is Maciej Morawski, a Free European University fellow and became a correspondent for the RFE office in Paris. Petraru added that the NCFE also supported and provided funds for Carol I University in Paris. The university was reopened in 1950 in Paris after relocating from Bucharest. Some students from Carol I University also attended the Free European University in Exile.

KádárLynn added that among the 1956 emigration were figures like General Béla Király, who was head of the Hungarian National Guard during the Hungarian Revolution and actually had some influence on policy. He was involved in the case of returning the Hungarian crown and crown regalia to the communist government of Hungary by the Carter Administration, a decision opposed to by ninety-nine percent of the emigration. It was on Kir Béla Király’s recommendation that the crown be returned.

A Symposium participant cited the example of Mikołajczyk, who left Poland in 1947 for the United States. At first it seemed he would be the exiled hero of Poland, but this did not happen. There was no such Chalabi effect, but a very long-term perspective by the 1970s and 1980s that treated a handful of émigrés as an NGO or think tank. They did have influence in the Department of State, albeit on a country or regional desk level. They had friends in Congress placing their interests in congressional record.

Asked about the relationship between Congress and the lobbying of the various national councils, L’Hommedieu cited the House of Representatives Kersten Committee, which in the early 1950s examined the annexation of the Baltic states. Charles Kersten, a Wisconsin representative, had a strong Polish constituency and was prone to ideas of liberation. The Baltic National Committees played a large role in soliciting testimony for the Committee from Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians residing in the United States and Western Europe. After the first round of investigations, a broader investigation into Soviet and communist atrocities across Europe and around the world began. The Kersten Committee is the best example of Baltic exile influence in Congress. From then on, Congress became the most important arm of government for émigrés. Raška emphasized the influence of more recent émigrés on the Helsinki process and the American Congressional Committee involved in that, in particular Millicent Fenwick. Kádár Lynn explained that the Hungarian National Council was very proactive from the outset in lobbying Washington. They had a degree of success. Sir Leslie Munro led the UN Special Committee on the Problem of Hungary. The Hungarian National Council provided a great deal of support to prevent the seating of the Hungarian Communist delegation in the United Nations. All of the national committees had some Washington lobbying activity. Petraru cited again the case of Nicolae Malaxa, who attempted to buy his freedom and citizenship in the United States and was embroiled in a scandal when he contributed more than USD 100,000 towards the Nixon election campaign.

Asked about the reaction of the Baltic states to the Helsinki process, since there was a moment where it appeared that the Cold War was over and the Soviets had won, L’Hommedieu said that when doing research at Ford Library he was surprised to find 25-30 boxes on the Baltic States; typically, only one or two folders are available. The boxes contained constituent mail blasting President Ford for traveling to Helsinki to sign the Final Act. Ford had a large Latvian constituency in Michigan and gave an impassioned speech before leaving defending the signing. After 1975, those who initially criticized the Helsinki process as being an act of appeasement found that the act turned out to be one of the greatest weapons against the Soviets in the 1980s.

In contrast to the Baltic exiles, Raška said Czechoslovaks exiles viewed Helsinki as a godsend. Now Western governments could have monitors for human rights. The Soviets were not aware of what they would be dealing with when signing. What the Soviets were concerned with were borders in Europe. With the exception of Ruthenia, Czechoslovakia didn’t lose any territory, so that was not an issue. Human rights were the primary question

Panel 4 – From Leaflets to Books: The Printed World Program of the FEC and Beyond

Władysław Bułhak (moderator) noted that the Panel included both historians of and participants in the printed word program (often called the “book program”).

Leonard Baldyga said the Polish Communists viewed USIA and CIA as two sides of the same coin, although in fact USIA and CIA did not coordinate their printed word programs. When he served as cultural officer in Poznań in the mid-1960s, he was closely monitored by the Communist authorities. A 2500 page report on his activities in the Institute of National Remembrance files shows the degree of penetration of the secret police; they had someone present and reporting from nearly every event or meeting he attended. He revisited Poland as USIA Director for Soviet and East European affairs in November1982 seeking to reestablish cultural ties disrupted by martial law. But his official meetings were cancelled, and a demonstration was organized against him at the Catholic University in Lublin (KUL) as a purported CIA agent.

Baldyga pointed out that the USIA’s efforts to conduct cultural programs in Poland were reinforced by the activities of Polish Catholic church within Poland and by the external support provided by the extensive ethnic Polish communities in the West. He was able to help establish the English Department at the University of Poznań with 20,000 books provided by USIA. The first American Studies program in Eastern Europe was opened at the University of Warsaw in 1975 and also included a large donation of books from USIA. He pointed out that it was USIA, and not the State Department, that funded the opening of the America Consulate in Kraków which initially operated as a cultural center and library where Western books and publications were easily made available. Because of funds available under the PL480 program, he had an unlimited budget and was able to order thousands of books which were used for a variety of purposes, including distribution to Polish students attending the annual English Language Summer Seminars. USIA’s cultural and information work was easier in Poland than in other Soviet bloc countries because Poles were more willing to take risks. Despite being watched day and night by the secret police, Baldyga and his fellow USIA Embassy and Consulate Officers were able to maintain a wide range of contacts throughout Poland.

Małgorzata Choma-Jusińska discussed the influence of the book program on the relationship between the West and the Polish elites. Alfred Reisch’s book Hot Books in the Cold War provides details on dates, names, and places connected with the distribution of books and magazines to countries behind the iron curtain.[7] The book project and other Free Europe Committee projects helped break down the isolation between East and West. Many social and cultural émigré institutions were involved in facilitating scholarly and other exchanges, although people who lived in communist countries were very careful in their first contacts with such institutions.

The printed work program distributed many political books, but dictionaries and encyclopedias were also important, especially for scholars and teachers. The books were collected in the libraries of Polish universities, especially at KUL (The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin), the only non-state university at that time.

Both recipients of the books and the organizers considered the project to be very effective. While George Minden’s claim that in the 1960s Polish intellectual elites had virtually no problem with obtaining all the books they needed was exaggerated, in the 1970s and 1980s uncensored books were available not only to intelligentsia in Kraków, Warsaw, and other large cities, but also to people in smaller towns.

To sum up, since the 1950s publications provided by the book project and contacts with people outside the Communist orbit were essential to enhancing freedom behind the iron curtain. Many factors led to the fall of communism, and the book project only one, but it helped greatly to create social elites that evolved onto a strong opposition.

Paweł Sowiński drew on his interview research to suggest that social networks played a significant role in the printed word program, not individuals alone, but vast networks of people. Book circulation allowed people to express themselves. In the case of Poland, networks were first built by émigrés—individuals and associations. A pull effect was created for the younger generation to move to the West. Older generations allowed the younger generations to adapt better to western political activity. The networks were stronger when they were informal and included people of different ages, backgrounds, and experiences.

Some books circulated by the book program were very small and with tiny print. Such books could be easily hidden in pockets and jackets from border guards and customs officials. But Western books also made their way to the libraries of regime officials.

Bułhak said that he was a client of the book program. As a student in London in 1988, he went from library to library in order to get as many books as he could.

Mirosław Chojecki said his activities were recorded in 18,000 pages of secret police files now at IPN. He had an agreement with Minden of the International Literary Center that he would send 300 issues of the Kontakt magazine from Paris to Italy, Sweden and other European countries and even to New York. For each issue of the 300 copies he received 1/3 of the price from Minden, and that was enough to cover the cost of printing. He described himself as “the minister of transportation-smuggling” in the foreign branch of Solidarity and smuggled radio and printing equipment as well as books to Poland. The Polish University in Exile in London played a role. Also important were RFE publications, including Poland under Martial Law[8] and The Underground Structure of Solidarity,[9] which became a source of information on Poland for the foreign branch of Solidarity. And RFE influenced public opinion in Europe.

Robert Gillette described Moscow in the early 1980s as a depressing and oppressive place, even when the sun was shining. But beneath the surface was a lively social network. The Leninist social system was alien to human nature, so to cope with it people developed their own social networks. These networks were interdependent, overlapping, and interconnected. Moscow was a large village of networks of mutual support. The failure of Soviet propaganda was made clear in these networks because what was represented in the media did not reflect the reality of their lives.

This situation produced a hunger for information. It was not a passive yearning for truth; people became hunters and gatherers of truth, they began to assemble their own truths about how the outside world worked through foreign radio broadcasts and books. Some were afraid to associate with foreign journalists. Other Russians welcomed contact. A man from a village in Siberia whom Gillette met in Novosibirsk had with him two copies of the USIA magazine Amerika. Every paragraph was annotated with questions, some from a circle of friends that would get together and talk about America. That man became a client of the book program.

In order to obtain Russian language books for such people, while visiting London Gillette was directed to the Universal Book Exchange. There he selected books to be sent on to him at an accommodation address at the U.S. Moscow embassy, where he would collect the books and distribute them to Russians. Many of the books were widely circulated on the black market.

Andrzej Mietkowski encountered the book program in Paris, where he was an involuntary exile in the early 1980s. Since he was a student of Russian literature, a friend showed him an apartment depository full of magazines like Time and Lancet and books by Camus, Nabokov, and many others, all in Russian. The book depository belonged to the Paris branch of Minden’s network, coordinated by Anna Anatolievna Rutczenko. Mietkowski began to export books to communist countries. Together with Jan Chodakowski, he accumulated some 4000 books in adjoining garages and distributed them to Polish visitors. Their biggest delivery (around 1,000 books) was for members of a church choir visiting from Poland. Eventually Mietkowski returned to Poland with the rest of the books and started reprinting and distributing them.

Witold Pronobis coordinated the RFE Independent Press Unit that helped to create Polish opposition through the readings on the air of Polish underground publications, books and news releases acquired by RFE. RFE management understood that Polish underground press was flourishing and was a good example for other Soviet bloc countries. There was a sustained effort to obtain the latest documents, newspapers, and books. The Frankfurt book fair was a venue where émigré publishing houses promoted their publications. Eventually publishers contacted RFE in order to have their publications presented on the radio. The “paper revolution” meant the end of censorship in Poland, as independent magazines and books previously printed on a modest scale became easily available.


Asked whether it was necessary for the book program to be covert and whether it could have been overtly funded by the USIA, Baldyga said the program had to be covert. If USIA had openly funded and supported the book exchange program they would have been limited to what materials they could distribute. Congress would certainly denounce questionable materials. But there could have been better coordination between the CIA and USIA.

Asked whether there was coordination between USIA and the Ford Foundation, or between CIA and Ford, Baldyga stated that he knew for certain that the Ford Foundation had no connection with CIA. Chojecki responded that it did not matter to him with whom in the U.S. he was dealing—at that time in Poland you could work either for Americans or for Russians and he chose to work for Americans.

A Symposium participant pointed out that the 1980s were a very difficult time for USIA because of the freeze in U.S.-Polish government relations and in that situation the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) helped fund a book program. Mietkowski mentioned the organization “Resistance International,” established in Paris by the Russian emigrant Vladimir Bukowski and a Cuban poet Armando Valladares, who had support from NED. The organization convened conferences for anti-communist intellectualists interested in Soviet disinformation and in intellectual counters to communism.

Other printed word projects were mentioned in the discussion. After martial law was lifted, a group from Ireland arrived in Wroclaw. They represented the Ukrainian emigration and were searching for possibilities to send books to Ukraine. Solidarity helped them to deliver books by rail. The unanswered question was: who delivered the books to Wroclaw?

In concluding remarks, Sowiński argued that a book program combining the efforts of the government and social networks was a good alternative to state politics. Choma-Jusińska concluded that according to the plan of the book project organizers, communist intellectual elites were main receivers of the books because they were in charge and should be properly influenced. And with those elites the books were safe, no one would confiscate them. The Catholic Church was also one of the organizers of the project who was able to circulate the books safely. Chojecki said that the book project was one of the cheapest ways to destroy communism. Pronobis added that the impact of the book program was magnified since RFE transmitted the content of the books to a wide audience. Mietkowski was convinced that all the cross-border projects (including RFE and the book program) were very important for the creation of an alternative culture in Poland. Gillette offered an illustrative anecdote on how much Poland was saturated with forbidden materials by 1985. Adjacent to his apartment in Warsaw was a small grocery shop where the owner would tally bills on used RFE publications.

Panel 5 – Crusade for Freedom: Impact in America and behind the Iron Curtain

Giles Scott-Smith (moderator) asked how the Free Europe Committee (FEC) presented itself to different publics. The FEC was a private organization and represented the values of the American people and not just the values of the American government. How did it do that? How did the FEC convince the American public that this was a cause worth donating money to? How was the Crusade for Freedom represented? And then on the other side, what was the message in Central and Eastern Europe? How was the FEC represented? Are there any similarities?

Richard Rowson said the FEC represented an historic commitment by the American people to the people of Eastern Europe to their right to free and unfettered information, their right to “know”—and the link between that right and the right to choose their own form of government. On the basis of that commitment, FEC initiated the organization of Radio Free Europe and the book program described in the previous panel, among others, and assumed responsibility for their effective operation by formulating mission statements and strategic policy guidelines, ensuring financial support, and overseeing general operations.

Instrumental in coalescing public support was a national campaign named the Crusade for Freedom evoking the term used in WWII. Launched in 1949, it mobilized the nation behind the Free Europe cause, creating a personal commitment by individual American citizens who were asked to “buy into” liberating the “captive people” of Eastern Europe by contributing (financially) to their freedom. This bond was “sealed” at rallies in scores of communities across the nation at which many thousands of individuals contributed to the founding of Radio Free Europe (RFE) and other Free Europe initiatives supporting the right of East European nations to their independence and re-entry into the broader community of free European nations.

An example of the success of the Crusade for Freedom and the powerful impact RFE had on the American public was a 1960s bus and railway poster which pictured an attractive young couple listening to a small transistor radio. The caption read: “The in sound from outside”—Radio Free Europe. This simple statement said it all. Reliable public opinion polls indicated that an amazing 85-percent of the American people could name “RFE” and the same percentage could also describe its mission. The Crusade for Freedom was not seen as a government initiative, but as a citizen movement reflective of universal values in which Americans believed and other people had a right to enjoy. Indeed, the Crusade did establish a common unity of purpose between American citizens and their government.

FEC programs emerging from this unprecedented people to people initiative varied in their operations and developed separate identities, but they all had a common theme flowing from the FEC mission statement articulated by then FEC President, C.D. Jackson, to “provide an uncensored marketplace of ideas where people have the opportunity to find their own truths.”

When I joined the FEC in 1962, twelve years after RFE had begun broadcasting, FEC and RFE in particular faced the need to adapt their policies to the major shifts taking place in the nature of the Cold War. FEC and RFE were in the process of changing from a hard line focus on anti-communist propaganda to a more sophisticated and open strategy characteristic of an effective communication medium. It maintained its sharp, critical edge as it capitalized on the new openings offered by détente to better advance its mission.

For example, as détente eased Cold War tensions, the regimes in East Europe undertook departures from their former orthodoxy especially in the economic sphere. This opened up new avenues for RFE and for other FEC programs, especially George Minden’s book program and George Truitt’s International Development Foundation, which advanced free market ideas in developing countries. The Helsinki Accords of 1975 provided a new, powerful tool, because of the international monitoring process to which Bloc countries were subjected regarding their abuses of human rights and denial of the free flow of information. Once the gates were opened by the Accords, albeit ever so slightly, control by East European regimes and their Soviet overlords was weakened. As an example, genuine discussion was triggered on the rights of people to “know.” FEC and RFE seized the opportunity to re-emphasize the right of “ seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” assured by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Helsinki Accords confirmed Article 19 and strengthened the right of all FEC programs to provide information and analysis denied by the communist regimes. This accelerated change and loosened regime control, a major factor in the eventual demise of communist rule in 1989.

The post-1989 events connected freedom to democracy itself, as an essential next step to ensure the preservation of newly won freedom and independence. Poland took the lead by establishing its own democratic, constitutional system that guaranteed that the freedoms gained would be preserved. The Polish experience became the example for the rest of East Europe and countries seeking democratic governance elsewhere in the world.

FEC made a strong contribution to freedom and democracy in East Europe during the Cold War. Of all the FEC programs, the most successful were RFE, which had some 20 million listeners daily, and the book program, which delivered over five million books and other written materials to some 25,000 individuals and institutions behind the Iron Curtain.

Richard Cummings pointed out that the Panel was taking place on September 6th, the anniversary of the day in 1950 when the Freedom Bell arrived in New York City and started its tour around the U.S. On the tour through 24 major US cities, 16 million signatures were collected from Americans who supported the Crusade for Freedom and RFE. The Crusade had a life of its own outside RFE, with the goal “to aid the cause of freedom in Europe and elsewhere by influencing and promoting the dissemination of information.”

Through the Crusade, Americans could send Freedom-Grams to Eastern Europe. They only had to sign a Freedom-Gram, which contained a simple message about freedom that was translated into all the RFE languages (including initially Albanian), and the messages were carried across the iron curtain to East Europeans using balloons. It was an opportunity for the American people to “enlist in the global battle against communism.” The Crusade placed advertisements in newspapers to encourage Americans to donate funds. By 1960 revenue to the FEC from Crusade donations was approximately USD 20 million, as compared to the USD 131 million provided by the U.S. Government through the CIA. But the point of the Crusade for Freedom and the appeal to Americans to donate to it was not to cover the costs of RFE but rather to make Americans feel personally involved and raise awareness of the Communist threat and the FEC response.

The Crusade for Freedom changed its name in 1960 to the Radio Free Europe Fund, so that people would associate the Fund with the work that RFE did. Additionally, the religious connotation of a “crusade” did not resonate with fund raising. Large ads carried the message that all Americans could help fight Communism by supporting Radio Free Europe. Through the 1950s and early 1960s, the advertisements were sensational and some even implied that WWIII loomed. But by the end of the 1960s and early 1970s, the tone was less alarming and focused on the information of the Cold War. One ad, for example, said, “The Iron Curtain is not soundproof.” This and other messages aimed at building popular support for RFE, without soliciting individual money donations.

Kenneth Osgood focused on how the Crusade for Freedom and RFE influenced American culture. There were two main functions of the Crusade for Freedom campaign: firstly the basic service of advertising and secondly as cold war propaganda. The goals of any institutional advertising are to insulate an organization from controversy, build good will, and spread awareness of it. RFE and its funding arm, the Crusade for Freedom, are interesting cases because the campaigns involved public relations for an organization that did not operate in the U.S. It was remarkable that Americans supported the Crusade and RFE to such an extent even though they could not listen to RFE broadcasts in the East European languages.

The campaigns also functioned as a sort of war propaganda, which has the goal of convincing one side that the other side’s view is wrong in order to weaken its impact. The Cold War was an ideological fight and it was important for the U.S to raise doubts about information or news that came out of the USSR. Another goal of war propaganda is to demonize the enemy and make it into something that you cannot do business with—“truth is different for communists than it is for us.” This demonization, however, created complication for diplomacy between the two sides. It became very hard to make deals and manage arms control and other relationships with an adversary demonized to the public. The image of “the other” was prevalent in early Cold War campaigns. Until the mid-1960s the paramount image of the anti-communist campaign was barbed wire, which turned a metaphor into a powerful and tangible symbol.

The campaign created a sense of the mission and gave it an identity. The images and advertisements allowed Americans to see themselves as pure and heroic. There were often religious themes when it came especially to the various creeds stating “we believe in freedom of religion, we believe in democracy.” This also made the cause of RFE a noble one. Americans saw themselves as rescuing the people trapped behind the iron curtain.

The campaigns were used to humanize East Europeans because their image in the early 20th century was not positive. East Europeans were thought of as anarchist radicals, and this was not helped by the fact that a Czech anarchist shot President McKinley. Americans also had a hard time relating to East Europeans because many were either Roman Catholic or Jewish. So the Crusade for Freedom had to combat these negative stereotypes by showing Americans that these people were not too different and they were also lovers of democracy and freedom – very American values. Advertisers avoided showing Eastern Europeans in traditional clothes and preferred presenting them in suits and clothes that made them look more familiar and less foreign.

The campaign sought to bring the Cold War home for Americans. The threat of communism was very distant for many people, so in order to make Americans more involved advertisers brought the war home and made the threat more imminent.

Lastly the campaign was used as a tool of domestic mobilization. Once the American people committed to an idea they would be less likely to back away from it. The Crusade for Freedom was focused on getting people to donate only one dollar because it created a psychological bond to the effort, and since RFE could count on receiving all its basic funding from the CIA.

The campaigns had long-term consequences. After 20 years of intense propaganda against communism, it was hard for Americans to change gears with détente. Americans had been repeatedly told that as long as Eastern Europe remained in the hands of the Soviet Union, they would have to remain on watch. But when the time of détente came, many were skeptical because they understood that there was no doing business with “the other” and that the ultimate goal was not to accept communism but to end it.

Prokop Tomek said historians have failed to fully appreciate the context and background of the origins of the National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE) as a psychological warfare project and component of the Cold War. Considering the impact in the target countries, the printed word programs were, after RFE broadcasts, the most important activity. The leaflet operations of the Free Europe Press directed at Czechoslovakia were the most extensive yet lacked any visible impact. The first operation, Winds of Freedom, was linked to the start-up of full-scale RFE Czechoslovak broadcasting and aimed to bolster hope in the possibility of liberation. The second operation, Prospero, took place in June 1953 and was a reaction to the unrest following the currency reform of June 1 and unrest in East Germany that same month. The campaign was again relatively short and correlated with RFE broadcasting. The most interesting operation was the third one, VETO. The title indicted the focus on a series of engineered elections planned during 1954, including the first parliamentary election since 1948. The main objective of the VETO campaign was to unsettle and engage the enemy through the actions of a mobilised indigenous population. Slogans such as the "doctrine of liberation" were intended for domestic voters in the U.S. The influence of leaflet campaigns on the population cannot, even in hindsight, be objectively determined. At the time, it seemed that direct reaction was minimal. According to what is now known about the social movements of the time, the focus on workers and primarily non-political aims was not entirely without value. There were many worker strikes in Czechoslovakia in 1954-1957, but there is no proof of a direct correlation with the VETO campaign.

The leitmotif of VETO was the "Popular Opposition" program formulated by Czech journalist Václav Holešovický and termed “Ten Demands of the Czechoslovak Popular Opposition.” The demands included such points as restoring the original functions of the trade unions, guaranteeing free time for the working class (no more "working Sundays"), and more housing for families. The Popular Opposition project did not leave any visible mark on the lives of the citizens of the 1950s. The time for working class mobilisation was not yet ripe. Nevertheless, the Popular Opposition program was clearly in line with the Czech tradition of peaceful resistance. There were similarities with the call for action by Charter 77 in its 1987 initiative titled “A word to compatriots” that also supported the path of taking small steps toward political change.

The FEC began mailing printed material to Czechoslovakia in the late 1950s. Printed media indirectly disseminated western political values, culture, and views and aimed to encourage revisionist trends among the new elite. Materials were sent under the names of politically neutral cover organisations. While the distribution of leaflets by balloon across the border was aimed at the masses and in support of their economic goals, the new mailing project attempted to stimulate specific presumably dissatisfied individuals in the political and government apparatus and offer them an alternative. In light of further developments in Czechoslovakia, it cannot be ruled out that this approach enjoyed certain success in the 1960s. The FEC Press and Special Project Division donated USD 4,600 to cover the living expenses for eleven eastern-European intellectuals at the Pen Club international congress in New York in 1965. One of these intellectuals was Vaclav Havel. Scholars in Czechoslovakia could not afford to buy Western books, and the book program allowed them to keep abreast of worldwide developments in their fields. One would be hard pressed to place a numeric value on this today. It is difficult to estimate to what degree it helped avoid a confrontation by means other than books. Books were also an inconspicuous propaganda tool. The Cold War was primarily a battle of ideas, ideologies, propaganda, and words.


Asked about the reference to Radio Free Asia in some Crusade materials, Cummings said that RFA began broadcasting in 1951 but stopped broadcasting in 1953 because by then almost all privately owned radios had been confiscated in China. Americans living on the west coast supported RFA because the Chinese threat seemed imminent to them, while Americans on the east coast felt the threat from the Soviet Union. Rowson added that both RFE and RFA sought to create the link between freedom and democracy.

Asked about the motivation of American corporations that donated to the Crusade, Cummings noted that the donations were tax free. Presidents put a great deal of pressure on corporations to donate. Osgood added that there was a social network of corporations that had ties to the White House and the Presidents used these connections to pressure the corporations. The anti-communist message was easy for heads of corporations to support, especially when considering the communist ideologies that sometimes appeal to workers and labor unions. The cost of fundraising often absorbed the total funds raised, so what was important was appealing to hearts and minds to support the anti-communist cause. Cummings added that newspaper campaigns were sometimes focused on émigrés from specific countries.

Asked about the current political situation and Russian aggression in Ukraine and whether the U.S. should continue foreign broadcasting, Osgood said that RFE/RL needs to keep broadcasting now more than ever because of all the disinformation coming from the Russian side. People in Ukraine need help to achieve what has been achieved in Eastern Europe. The challenge is exactly the same as it was in the Cold War. RFE/RL has access now to social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter. But caution must be exercised on looking too much to the examples of the past. The political environment has changed and media culture has changed, we cannot simply repurpose the tactics used during the Cold War.

Summary of Workshop Discussion


The conference workshop was organized to bring together historians and archivists actively engaged with the history of FEC and affiliated organizations, to enable discussion on the state of play in the field, and to lay the ground for an initial inventory of resources, developments, and opportunities for possible collaboration.

The workshop was divided up into seven broad subject fields, each one with a designated spokesperson to introduce the topic and provide an overview of the principle findings, relevant questions, and unresolved issues. The spokespersons were asked to identify continuing gaps in the field, which issues and topics still deserve more attention, and possible ways for attracting and directing resources towards these areas. Following the presentations by the spokespersons, the floor was opened for all present to make further contributions.

The workshop produced a wide-ranging overview of the state of FEC-related research. The existing archival holdings were specified in detail by the representatives of the Hoover Institution and the Open Society Archives (OSA), including the ongoing digitalization project of the OSA. This also identified the principal gaps, since key areas of FEC and FEC-related activity remain classified and held by the CIA. While the CIA has shown itself to be willing to declassify FEC/RFE planning documents (and records related to the publication of Dr. Zhivago in Russian), there has been a reluctance to extend this declassification, for instance concerning records related to the wider FEC book program with the Soviet bloc after 1971. RFE/RL has now submitted an FOIA request for the unclassified AmComLib / RL corporate records still held by the CIA.

The workshop’s principal results can be summed up as follows:

  1. Pursue options with the CIA for the further declassification of FEC-related materials, particularly concerning George Minden’s book program after 1971.
  2. To gather together an inventory of the principal locations for FEC-related holdings, in order to facilitate ongoing research and promote cooperation. Governmental archives (including secret service records) in (some) Central European countries continue to be an untapped source with great potential.
  3. Although much excellent work has been done on RFE, there remain gaps concerning the operations of the national broadcasters (such as content analysis, audience reception, FEC management oversight of all operations, the West German context).
  4. There is a major discrepancy between the extent of research on FEC/RFE and on Radio Free Asia/Asia Foundation. More work is needed on RFA/AF, also to allow for comparisons between the European and Asian theaters for US psychological warfare operations.
  5. There remain gaps concerning the wider context of FEC operations, and operations loosely affiliated with FEC (Obor, George Truitt and International Development Foundation, Bolesław Wierzbiański news service, FEC national committees in Latin America)
  6. The public relations dimension of FEC has so far only really been covered via the Crusade for Freedom, yet FEC’s wider intellectual impact (via its publications, academic contacts, and the Mid-European Study Center) and lobbying (relations with Congress, Captive Nations Week) has not yet been fully explored.

Workshop Discussion

Chair: Giles Scott-Smith

Subject Fields and Spokespersons:

1. Archives/Sources (Anatol Shmelev, Gabriella Ivacs)

2. U.S. Psychological Warfare/Role of émigrés (Michael Warner)

3. National Councils/émigré organizations supported by FEC (Katalin Kádár Lynn)

4. FEC and RFE (Ross Johnson)

5. Books/Leaflets (Leonard Baldyga)

6. Public Relations (Richard Cummings, Kenneth Osgood)

7. FEC and the third world (Richard Rosen)

1. Archives/Sources

Anatol Shmelev:

  • FE/RL corporate and broadcast records are held at Hoover Archives, Stanford. These corporate records contain FEC materials.
  • The records are organized by office/unit (New York / Washington DC) in an alphabetical file in title order, containing memoranda, correspondence, reports on émigré groups, microfilm and microfiche.
  • Notable series include:
    o   Office of Policy Director (including guidances on policy)
    o   Historical file by subject (created in Prague for an internal history that did not materialize)
    o   Washington Office File (large volume of correspondence, board of directors, executive committee, minutes of meetings) including materials on the balloon operations, West European Advisory Committee, relations with CIA (using codenames, e.g.‘Judane’)
  • The Hoover Library contains valuable additional materials such as pamphlets, reports, etc. These can be accessed via the Society Publications card catalog, looking under headings such as: FEC, Crusade for Freedom, Freedom Fund, etc.

Register of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty corporate records:

Register of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty broadcast records:

Gabriella Ivacs:

  • The Open Society Archives hold around 111,000 digital FEC files, transferred from both hard copies and microfilm.
  • These files include:
    o   President’s Office and CIA-FEC (‘executive committee’) correspondence
    o   New York and Munich cipher messages (not everything has been deciphered.
    o   RFE/RL engineering department technical reports.
    o   RFE/RL News and Information Department.
    o   RFE/RL Background Reports / Situation Reports.
    o   RFE/RL Polish Underground Press.
    o   RFE/RL Hungarian Radio Monitoring.

These collections are sometimes incomplete. These materials are now partly available online:


  • The Hoover Archives’ collection of FEC corporate records is incomplete (especially concerning Radio Liberty, AmComLib, and the ongoing book program after 1971).
  • The CIA holds copies of the missing originals, FOIA requests are being pursued to have sets of these documents released. (In November 2014 RFE/RL filed an FOIA request for the Soviet/AmComLib materials held by the CIA.)
  • Human resource /personnel records are retained by RFE/RL and privacy issues complicate the granting of access. Any approach aimed at gaining access to these files will be laborious as a result.
  • Materials available via http://www.cia.govare a limited resource, as are documents made available by the Wilson Center (, the Allen Dulles papers held at Princeton, and various presidential libraries.
  • Alternative resource: Baltic Heritage Network (

2. U.S. Psychological Warfare/Role of Émigrés

Michael Warner:

  • Although the macro-level (general policy documents and apparatus of US psychological warfare) is well covered by now, operational details remain patchy, with details being fragmentary and spread across a multitude of documents held in different repositories.
  • 1940s: Very good records are available, displaying a continuity in ideas/concepts. Most OSS materials are now declassified.
  • 1950s: Some materials still restricted, especially operational files.
  • 1960s, 1970s: Similar to 1950s. FRUS is nevertheless a rich open source for tracking how government thought about the issue at the macro level.
  • 1980s: No FRUS (yet), and major gaps remain in the historical record.
  • Overall, the Hoover Archives hold better organizational records than the CIA itself. It is therefore possible to recreate the historical record ‘from the outside in’. U.S. government documentation does not necessarily reflect reality, only the perceptions/interpretations of various offices concerning what they are doing and achieving.


  • Historical accounts of US psychological warfare can be created, but they need to be conscious of the continuing large gaps in the record.
  • Operational records are not available, but analyses are easier to obtain.
  • East European security service archives are a rich source.
  • Few graduate students are studying Cold War operations.
  • There has been a shift in research since the 1990s, away from the operation of US national security towards the study of ideology in US foreign policy, including the involvement of the private sector (state-private networks) and public diplomacy.
  • Issues this raises:
    o   The need to address what we mean by ‘political warfare’.
    o   The need to pursue this research beyond the 1950s Eisenhower period.
    o   The need to take into account the multiple narratives involved, and how the interactions between a multitude of actors prevents any clear black-white conclusions.

3. National Councils and Émigré Organizations Supported By FEC

Katalin Kádár Lynn:

  • The Hoover Archives are by far the best holdings of FEC records, but materials held at the FDR, Truman, and Eisenhower presidential libraries are also of value.
  • The principal archives for materials on émigré organizations: Hoover (Stanford), Georgetown, Library of Congress. Hoover holds the records of most of the FEC National Committees, although there are no Hungarian National Council records in the US.
  • The archive of ‘The Pond’ network was declassified in 2012 and is a very useful source for émigré research covering 1942-1954, see
  • Other researchers looking at important elements of FEC history:
    o   Toby Rider on Hungarians and sport and the Cold War
    o   Tibor Glant on FEC networks in the Nixon era
  • The way ahead:
    o   More work in Central European government archives, where much untapped material is held.
    o   Establish more collaborative research ventures, perhaps by using the ‘Need to Know’ conference series as a way to bring researchers together and initiate projects.
    o   The need for an accessible spreadsheet identifying the location of FEC-relevant archival materials, including those materials not in public holdings (such as family collections).
    o   Make use of the IPN’s central research project, covering emigration during Cold War, see
    o   Concentrate on some of the major gaps, such as the activities of the National Committees in Latin America.

4. FEC and RFE

Ross Johnson:

  • Several books exist that cover the history of RFE from top-down perspectives: Michelson, Cummings, Nelson, Puddington, Johnson .
  • New directions in RFE research:
    o  The micro-levels of RFE history, such as Susan Haas’ forthcoming book on RFE’s central news operations (her dissertation is available online already).
    o   The need for research into the various national units, audience research units, and national services, and how they operated. Some have been covered (Anna Bischof on the Czech service), but the state of play on this front needs to be clarified with a full inventory to see what can be compared and where the gaps are.
    o   An important gap is content analysis: what was actually broadcast? The Polish and Romanian cultural programs have been analyzed, but what else has been done?
    o   What was the impact of the broadcasts in the communist world? How did the media environment there respond? (Prokop Tomek and the responses of the Czech state)
    o   To what extent do we know the full story of the German context (national and local) in which RFE functioned?
    o   Sociological research into the dissemination and adoption of values (audience research, linking broadcasts to ways of life / expectations)
    o   To what extent was the RFE’s own leadership reflective on what they were doing?


  • Radio Free Asia (ended in 1953) and its successor the Asia Foundation (run separately from FEC) need to be covered in more detail. The need for comparison between RFE and Radio Free Asia. There were many similarities, but RFE is regarded as successful whereas RFA is considered a failure. What was the response of Beijing? How did Beijing analyze Hungary 1956 and the role of RFE? (Mao’s ‘anti peaceful evolution’)US strategy towards China was complex and quite different from the one implemented in Europe – this offers promising scope for new research that can address the differences and the reasons behind them. What was the diplomatic dimension to the RFE (RFA) history? That should not be lost in the micro-level histories. The Lyndon Johnson library holds some interesting materials related to RFE. The German context is still under-researched Comparative studies across the national broadcasts are definitely needed. Analyzing audience responses is a new trend in research – how did the broadcasts relate to the solidifying / fragmenting of value-systems? Useful to compare sociological studies from East and West

5. Books and Leaflets

Len Baldyga:

  • The files covering the book program run by George Minden from 1971-1990 are missing. Paweł Sowiński is currently filling in some of the gaps by approaching the operation from the receiving end in Poland (via IPN).
  • Alfred Reisch’s papers held at the OSA in Budapest do include Minden’s travel reports after 1971).
  • The recent Dr. Zhivago project is a good example of a positive move into declassification. (Despite the successful event ‘Marshall Plan for the Mind: The CIA Covert Book Program during the Cold War’ held at the Wilson Center in January 2015, so far there have been no moves to declassify any new materials on the book programs still held by the CIA.)
  • Małgorzata Choma-Jusińska is carrying out research on the book program’s operations in Poland, including interviewing people who were involved, and is overseeing publication of Alfred Reich’s book in Polish

6. Public Relations

Kenneth Osgood:

  • Public relations research covers a variety of themes:
  • Anti-communism and stimulating / sustaining it in the United States.
  • The role of US media and news distribution (how FEC materials were fed into the mainstream).
  • Memorialization (Hungary 1956) for political ends.
  • Impact in politics—the role of lobbying, proclamations, resolutions, and the connections with Congress.
  • Impact on intellectual production—the Mid-Europe Study Center’s book series and other outlets for scholarly research

Richard Cummings:

  • Polish, Czech and Slovak leaflets are held at the Hoover Archives.
  • The papers of Abbot Washburn, responsible for the Crusade for Freedom and the Freedom Bell, are held at the Eisenhower library.
  • The papers of John Page are held at U Wisconsin, Madison.
  • Others worth exploring more are Bill Paley (CBS), Frank Stanton.


  • RFE made films about itself, many of which have been digitized.
  • The Captive Nations Proclamation and Lev Dobriansky is worth exploring in more detail.
  • A five-part documentary on the Polish RFE service has been produced.
  • Archives of Polish Public TV and Polish Public Radio include many relevant materials.
  • Some short films involving people giving opinions on RFE are currently being prepared by Polish Public TV

7. FEC and the Third World

Richard Rowson:

  • A range of FEC activities have not yet been covered in detail:
    o   Exile Operations run out of London.
    o   The Obor book program in Indonesia (Obor is ‘freedom’ in Indonesian), run by John Page. Page was inspired by George Minden and was funded by International Nickel Corp. and the Rockefeller Foundation. Obor subsidized Indonesian publishers to translate democracy literature, and ran a whole network of editors/translators for this purpose, many of whom moved on into the mainstream media networks. The project later moved on to Vietnam and Morocco (where it collapsed).
    o   Bolesław Wierzbiański’s news service covering the Caribbean and Latin America.
    o   George Truitt (Czech émigré) and the International Development Foundation, focused on Africa. IDF ran disinformation campaigns. Where are Truitt / IDF papers? Both IDF and Obor were already running when John Richardson took over as president of FEC.
    o   John Page and John Richardson (room-mates at Harvard) both supported Christian Democratic movements in Latin America (this grew out of the Christian Democratic Union).


  • The importance of Eduardo Frei Montalva in Chile—were there links with FEC-related Christian Democratic networks?
  • There are gaps in our knowledge of connections between FEC networks and Social Democrats (Quenby Hughes has written on links between FEC and AFL/CIO)
  • Blažej Velim (links with Social Democrats)
  • The existence of a Rumania College in London?
  • Connections between FEC and the Pro Deo movement in France
  • The role of FEC in education (Free Europe University in Exile, Strasbourg)
  • There was a French counterpart to FEC founded in the late 1950s (Guy Mollet) but it lacked funding to have much of an impact, and it was used mainly as a cover organization
  • Sam Coppens ran jazz shows for RFE (records of his correspondence with RFE is available)



Len Baldyga
Retired USIA diplomat

Anna Bischof
Collegium Carolinum and University of Munich

Andrzej Borzym
Independent Historian

Władysław Bułhak
Polish Institute of National Remembrance

Mirosław Chojecki
Independent Publisher and Film Producer

Małgorzata Choma-Jusińska
Polish Institute of National Remembrance

Richard Cummings
Independent Historian; former RFE/RL security director

Veronika Durin-Horynik
University of Paris-East

Robert Gillette
Former Los Angeles Times correspondent in Moscow and Warsaw

Gabriella Ivacs
Open Society Archives

A Ross Johnson
Wilson Center and Hoover Institution

Katalin Kádár Lynn
Eotvos Lorand University; Helena History Press

Piotr Kosicki
University of Maryland

Jonathan L’Hommedieu
Armstrong Atlantic State University

Clara Lewin
Open Society Archives

Scott Lucas
University of Birmingham

Paweł  Machcewicz
Institute of Political Science, Polish Academy of Science

Anna Mazurkiewicz
University of Gdańsk

Andrzej Mietkowski
Polish Radio

András Mink
Open Society Archives

Kenneth Osgood
Colorado School of Mines

Marius Petraru
California State University, Sacramento

Patryk Pleskot
Polish Institute of National Remembrance

Witold Pronobis
Former RFE Polish Independent Press Unit director

Francis Raška
Charles University

Richard Rowson
Council for a Community of Democracies; former FEC Director for Policy and Planning

Giles Scott-Smith
Leiden University

Anatol Shmelev
Hoover Institution

Maciej Siekierski
Hoover Institution

Nick Siekierski
Institute of History, Polish Academy of Sciences

Paweł Sowiński
Institute of Political Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences

Ioana Macrea-Toma
Open Society Archives

Prokop Tomek
Czech Military History Institute

Jakub Tyszkiewicz
University of Wroclaw

Barnabás Vajda
University of J. Selye, Komárno

Michael Warner
American University; former CIA historian

Hugh Wilford
California State University, Long Beach

Yang Zhang
Zhejiang University, Hangzhou

[1] A complete webcast of the panel proceedings is available at IPNtv:

[2] A select bibliography of works in English is available at

[3] John Fousek, To Lead the Free World: American Nationalism and the Cultural Roots of the Cold War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).

[4] Memorandum of Conversation, August 26, 1948, CIA mandatory declassification review document number C05458947, obtained and contributed by A. Ross Johnson., accessible at

[5] Walter L. Hixon, Parting the Curtain: Propaganda, Culture, and the Cold War, 1945-1961 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997); Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009)

[6] A. Ross Johnson, “Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Liberty,” CWIHP e-Dossier 32, accessible at

[7] Alfred A. Reisch, Hot Books in the Cold War: The CIA-Funded Secret Book Distribution Program behind the Iron Curtain (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2013).

[8] “Poland under Martial Law: A Selection of Documents (December 1981-December 1982),” accessible at

[9] “The Underground Structure of Solidarity,” accessible at

About the Author

A. Ross Johnson

A. Ross Johnson

History and Public Policy Program Fellow;
Senior Adviser, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; former Director, Radio Free Europe

Before his passing in February 2021, A. Ross Johnson was a Wilson Center History and Public Policy Fellow and Senior Advisor for Archives at RFE/RL. He was a former director of Radio Free Europe. 

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