Promoting Free Media: Informing the 1989 Velvet Revolution and the Challenge Today | Wilson Center
6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

Promoting Free Media: Informing the 1989 Velvet Revolution and the Challenge Today

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The Woodrow Wilson Center, in cooperation with the Embassy of the Czech Republic & Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, present

Promoting Free Media: Informing the 1989 Velvet Revolution and the Challenge Today

Thursday, October 16, 2014, 2:00pm-6:00pm
Woodrow Wilson Center, 6th Floor Auditorium

Czechs and Slovaks regained their freedom in November 1989 through non-violent protests in Prague, Bratislava, and other towns of then Czechoslovakia. Their Velvet Revolution climaxed a decade of renewed civic challenges to a repressive Communist regime that began with Charter 77 dissidents including Vaclav Havel and accelerated after 1986. Deprived of objective information about developments in their own country, Czechs and Slovaks turned to the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and other Western broadcasters for information. Only through Western radio did they learn about accelerating challenges to Communist orthodoxy in Poland, Hungary, and the Soviet Union and about ferment in their own country.

Twenty five years after the Velvet Revolution, Europe today is whole and free, but democracy and prerequisite independent media are on the decline in much of the former Soviet Union and elsewhere. RFE/RL, now operating from Prague, VOA, Radio Free Asia, Middle East Broadcasting Network, and Radio Marti, all publicly funded by the U.S. Congress, work to redress the information deficit.

Photo: Wenceslas Square, 17 November, 1989

This Wilson Center event will feature two panels. A first panel will review the contribution of Western broadcasting to the successful Velvet Revolution and consider lessons from that experience. A second panel will examine the challenge faced today by the United States in providing objective information to authoritarian countries and in applying principles of successful Cold War broadcasting to communicating with unfree societies.




  • A. Ross Johnson

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

    President, Freedom House
  • R. Eugene Parta

    retired Director, Audience and Opinion Research, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; former Chair, Conference on International Broadcasting Audience Research