INTERVIEW WITH JAN NOWAK
INTERVIEWER: Roll 10127, sixteenth of February, interview with Jan Nowak. So, could we start off, could you tell me why RFE was set up and by whom?
JAN NOWAK: Radio Free Europe was set up at the time when Americans thought that either Soviet expansionism may lead to war or that they can really expand without war through their Fifth Column and the decision was made, I believe in '47, '48, to contain Soviet expansionism without war, if possible. And that's how the Radio Free Europe was born. The main architects were George Cannon, who doesn't want to admit it now, but all the documents indicate he was the one, and Alan Dulles as a private lawyer in New York. So the Radio Free Europe was born in the State Department planning committee staff and in the Century Club in New York, because this is where Alan Dulles and all the veterans of OSS - Office of Strategic Services - were gathering and discussing the idea was born there. One of the men who participated in these dinners was Robert Joyce, who was on the Staff Planning Committee and he suggested to Cannon. And Cannon was not only the architect of the containment policy, but also of liberation policy, because he's on the record books saying, we did manage to save Western Europe by Marshall Plan, now the turn comes to Eastern Europe, we have to push the Soviet power out of East Central Europe. So this is how it was born. I believe that they had no clear idea how to act. They simply felt that one should take advantage of prominent exiles, former top politicians who had to leave their countries, to escape from their countries, like [unintelligible name] Polish Prime Min... before... Prime Minister, like Dimitrov from Bulgaria and some prominent figures from Czechoslovakia and so on. And they wanted to give them resources and possibilities to influence their own countries. That was the basic idea. But later, they were encouraged by tremendous success of Radio RIAS in radio in American sector of Berlin, which was run by the Germans, financed by the United States, but it was all day radio station which was really competing with the Communist domestic radio and had tremendous influence, tremendous success. So later, they did decide that one should broadcast from proximity of the countries of East Central Europe and that it should be all day effort. Did call for tremendous resources one of two fathers of Radio Free Europe, Alan Dulles, became the head of CIA and he was the one who allocated these tremendous resources to build up this big, giant radio in the American zone of occupation, because this was the only place where Americans had sovereign power and that's how it started really.
INT: What was the National Committee for Free Europe? Just very briefly what it was and what...
JN: National Committee for Free Europe was an umbrella organisation, which included research, exile relations, and the radio. Radio was one of the branch of the National Free Europe Committee.
INT: Fine. Can you tell me who funded the whole radio projects and how much of it was CIA money?
JN: The initial idea was that it should be a private radio, because Americans did feel that they should not be made responsible for radio, otherwise they will lose their embassies and their presence there. But it should be totally independent and they hoped that Crusade for Freedom, fund-raising venture, will collect enough money, private money, because it was tax-free, they were disappointed, only one third of the budget could come from private contributions and the rest had to come through the secret channels and they did go through CIA. Initially, CIA was only to provide seed money until the Crusade for Freedom will collect enough funds, since this was a disappointment until '72, I believe, Radio Free Europe was covertly funded by CIA and later openly by the US Congress.
INT: Fine. So what did you hope to achieve through RFE?
JN: Initially we expected that Radio Free Europe will break the monopoly of information and propaganda, will make censorship ineffective. It will be enough to turn the knob of radio, to got the news which the regime did want not to spread, to be a secret. But later, you see I have to say that the idea was that between the wars, over thirty years, the population of the Soviet Union was hermetically sealed from any outside influence, other than their own sources of information and propaganda, and there were no short wave radios broadcasting to these countries and as a result, they did manage to brainwash people, because they were subjected to only one source of information, the government one, one source of idea, one source of propaganda. Now, our job was initially to liberate captive mind or to prevent brainwashing. Later, we really thought that we could achieve much more. After studying anatomy of the non-organised resistance, some kind of a moral resistance of people, we felt that our mission is to generate non-violent popular pressure on the government, which would gradually in evolutionary way, expand the imagine of freedom and in Poland it was a fantastic success. And we, I mean, only in Poland the church survived as an independent institution and in fact reached the climax of its influence with the Polish Pope, only in Poland collectivisation failed totally. Until the end, the eighty per cent of the Polish agricultural was in the hands of small-holders, intelligencia won considerable margin of freedom of expression, much wider than in any other states and the workers formed the first independent trade union. So we were very successful in generating consciously the popular pressure, but at the same time, trying to keep it below the boiling point, temperature, you see. And we did succeed.
INT: There was a sense in which you were keeping up morale and sort of combating subversion.
JN: This was one of the battles, but it was much more than that. Let's say dissidents, they would be totally isolated. We were a communications transmission belt, you know, conveyor belt between few dissidents, such as Solzhenitzyn in Russia and the masses of population. Without us nobody would knew about Polish dissidents who were very active. So, there were many functions of radio. Publicity around the people who were resisting was creating some kind of a protection around them, because the Communist regime hated to do something that would attract attention of the West and attention of their own public. So we were trying to publicise people who were successfully resisting the regime and that was very helpful.
INT: Right, so overall in a sort of way, how would you summarise the aims of the RFE?
JN: The aims of RFE was to support popular non-organised and non-violent resistance, which would bring about not liberation, but liberalisation. The idea was we should not advise people what they should do, we never did, we never offered tactical advice, but we were assumed if they are fully informed and if they have access to other ideas, they will be in a position to form their own independent judgement, they will become independent in their own mind and then some kind of action will follow. That was the idea.
INT: So there was a sense in which it was sort of a battle of ideas. Could you describe for me how sort of overtly propagandistic it was in a sense of getting across a clear message about Western values.
JN: Well, you see, Radio Free Europe was too propagandist at the beginning and it was not... I was against it. I came from BBC school, I was trained by BBC, but the emotion of my staff, of my people, was so high that it was very difficult to restrain them. But later we all learned that propaganda is our enemy. The news were from the beginning exactly like BBC, it was based on BBC, but there was one basic difference. In BBC it was the same newscast for all countries, you see, and the items that were of no interest to Poles, like something that was going on in Zambia for instance or in some other former Commonwealth countries, were played first and the Polish events at the end very briefly. Here every Polish service, of track servi, the editor was responsible to construct the newscast in a manner that is attuned to the intof the audience, with the news about Polish developments first, with some kind of background, and the world developments at the end people were always more interested in local news than in something that's going far away. So, we did have, I believe, some kind of superiority, because the editor on duty had his instructions, news were totally separated from views. No comments allowed in the news. Every important news had to come from two sources, two press agencies for instance, or from the Polish monitoring of the Polish radio. The first priority was to get credibility as a condition of influence. That's why we were guarded in our news.