Cold War Politics in exile Brought to Light

November 30, 2014

Radio Free Europe has gained such a mythical reputation that it is surprising, how little actual scholarly literature there is on the broadcasts or the organizations arranging them. The Inauguration of Organized Political Warfare. Cold War Organizations sponsored by the National Committee for a Free Europe/Free Europe Committee edited by Katalin Kádár Lynn and published by Helena History Press fills the gap.

The organization behind the radio station was Free Europe Committee. Even the name causes confusion, because it was founded as the Committee for Free Europe in May 1949, though a few weeks later the appendix ‘National’ came along. The name Free Europe Committee was adopted in 1954. It pretended to be a private enterprise of freedom-loving Americans, but was covertly funded by the CIA. When this was revealed to the public in 1971, the public funding to the FEC ended. Radio Free Europe, however, was re-organized and their broadcast continues today.

Although RFE took the biggest share of FEC’s activity, the anthology focuses on the organization behind it. The FEC was divided between nationalities, each composing their own committee. Most of the articles are constructed like this. The articles of Czechoslovakian, Bulgarian, Hungarian, and Romanian examples stand alone, but on the other hand, overlap each other. This overlapping proves similarities and the need for cooperation in the research.

Jonathan L’Hommedieu introduces the three Baltic committees together in the article. As the Baltic States were occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union, they were exceptions among the exile groups. Consequently they had active legations in the US, but lacked broadcasts by the RFE, mostly due to the small size of the populations. Overall, the Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian committees were as independent as the others. Thus, there is little justification to study them together; or vice versa. There should be more transnational research on emigrant politics like this.

The book also contains articles on the Assembly of Captive European Nations or Free Europe University in Exile. Naturally, the Baltic emigrants took part in these forms of cooperation. Latvian Vilis Māsēns was the first chairman of the ACEN and shaped the organization. Many Baltic students continued their education in the FEC sponsored Collège de Europe Libre in Strasbourg. As the US foreign policy started to emphasize co-existence with the USSR, the funding of FEC was considerably diminished. Consequently, the actions of ACEN were severely damaged and the College closed once and for all in 1958.

Despite the thorough articles, the book is merely an introduction to the topic. The same group came together last September in Gdansk to discuss the main activity, Radio Free Europe, and the publication is expected soon. Plans were also made for the next conference on transnational networks. For anyone interested in the political activity of emigrants of the Cold War, this book is a definite companion.

Pauli Heikkilä