RFE/RL Has Lost Its Uniqueness Warns Former Director of Radio Liberty's Russian Service


Interview with Former Director of Radio Liberty’s Russian Service, Italian journalist, writer and Russian expert Mario Corti.

In a nutshell, the station [Radio Liberty] has abandoned its uniqueness, its identity, its face.

Mario Corti

Mario Corti

Those among the old KGB and the new FSB , who see the U.S. as an enemy rather than a valuable and generous partner of Russia, could only be enormously happy with such leaders in charge of U.S. international broadcasting as the current U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) executive team. They have no reason to worry or need to do anything themselves to undermine U.S.-funded broadcasts; it is being done for them by these American government officials who are now trying hard to hide their mistakes from the White House, the U.S. Congress and the American public.

Directors of language services at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a U.S. taxpayer-funded international broadcaster with headquarters first in Munich, Germany and now in Prague, the Czech Republic, enjoyed at one time a great deal of authority. They often disagreed over programming issues with the radio station’s American management and on numerous occasions their arguments prevailed. Their expert knowledge of their countries and their cultures was widely respected.
In 1956, the head of Radio Free Europe’s Polish Service, Jan Nowak Jezioranski, successfully resisted pressures to call for a violent overthrow of the communist regime in Poland, knowing that such a call would inevitably lead to a Soviet Army invasion. In 1996, many years after leaving RFE/RL, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. He was able to survive his many battles with his American bosses because ultimately they realized that his knowledge of Poland was more sophisticated than theirs.
In better years, language service directors like Jan Nowak could arrange face-to-face meetings with individual members of RFE/RL’s previous oversight body, the Board for International Broadcasting (BIB), who actively sought their opinions on programming issues and acted as advisers rather than as micromanaging CEOs.
Rank and file journalists working at RFE/RL were also unafraid to voice their dissent as their rights and fair treatment were protected by German labor laws and membership in professional unions.
A drastic change in this tradition of dialogue and tolerance of dissent occurred in the 1990s with the creation of a new oversight agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the move of RFE/RL from Germany to the Czech Republic, and the arrival of a new American management team selected by the BBG. Using a communist era Czech law still on the books, BBG and RFE/RL lawyers worked hard to find ways to deny their journalists in the Czech Republic the right to form an effective union. Foreign journalists employed by RFE/RL were deprived of many of the protections of both Czech and American labor laws.
The most dramatic change, however, occurred in the status of RFE/RL language service directors. They lost practically all of their previous authority and direct access to BBG members. The new RFE/RL management insisted that they must report only to them and follow an entirely new programming philosophy developed by a key Board member Norman Pattiz for Radio Sawa and Alhurra Television. These were the two new private broadcasting networks for the Middle East which Mr. Pattiz, a Democrat, created in close cooperation with the Bush White House. His preferred talk show and music format, which he imposed on Middle Eastern broadcasting while terminating all Voice of America Arabic programs with their more serious news and cultural content, as well as his authoritarian radio management style more suitable for the competitive American market than for a multicultural journalistic institution with a mission of supporting freedom of expression, was also being forced on RFE/RL.
If language service directors resisted these changes, their new American bosses were more than ready to fire them or to eliminate their broadcasts altogether, and many lost their jobs and their programs. They were further humiliated by having to sign secrecy agreements to receive their severance pay. It is highly ironic that this condition was being imposed by a publicly-funded institution that claims to promote openness and transparency in the countries to which it broadcasts. The main purpose of this policy, it seems, was to hide management mistakes from the Administration, the U.S. Congress, and American public. Dissent over programming issues that could help identify waste of taxpayers money and problems, such as airing statements by Holocaust deniers on Alhurra Television, was ruthlessly stamped out at the stations under BBG’s management, including RFE/RL.
The consequences of the new BBG management style were disastrous in terms of journalistic integrity, mission effectiveness and audience ratings for RFE/RL, as they were for BBG broadcasting in the Middle East and for the Voice of America (VOA) in Washington, D.C., which is also managed by the BBG. BBG decision to terminate all Voice of America radio broadcasts to Russia, just 12 days before the Russian incursion into Georgia last summer, resulted in an unprecedented 98 percent drop in VOA’s audience reach in Russia, from 7.3% in 2007 to 0.2% in 2009 (est.).
Soviet jammers of VOA and RFE/RL shortwave radio signals during the Cold War and media restrictions imposed more recently by the Kremlin had not been nearly as effective in silencing U.S. broadcasts in Russia as BBG’s own actions, supposedly based on solid audience research. Only one BBG member, Blanquita Welsh Cullum, a Republican,  was said to have voted against ending VOA radio programs to Russia and her attempts to resume these broadcasts after the conflict in Georgia flared up were reportedly blocked by other BBG members, both Democrats and Republicans. In the latest Federal Human Capital Survey, the BBG was once again rated by its employees at the very top of the list of the worst-managed federal agencies.
After the move of RFE/RL headquarters to Prague, language service directors and rank and file journalists quickly lost almost all of their previous independence and authority. With each passing year, they became more and more silent. Visits to Prague by BBG members started to resemble meetings of the Soviet Central Committee. Uncomfortable looking Board members sitting on a podium in a long row in the former communist Parliament building gave inconsequential answers to a small number of questions allowed from the audience of employees fearful of losing their jobs and having to go back to Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and other countries governed by authoritarian regimes.
Tengiz Gudava

Even more disturbing for supporters of media freedom, however, were frequent firings of famous journalists, writers and artists who were some of the intellectual giants of international broadcasting. One of those fired was Mario Corti, the former head of RFE/RL’s Russian Service, a distinguished Italian journalist, writer, and analyst of Russian politics, society, and culture, admired  among his colleagues for his intellect and the courage to stand up to the RFE/RL management and the BBG. Another was a famous former Soviet dissident Tengiz Gudava, who after his expulsion from the USSR became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Tengiz Gudava was truly a renaissance man. He had a doctorate degree in biophysics, was a journalist, poet, novelist, and musician. He was also a passionate defender of human rights, for which he had spent five years in a Soviet labor camp. He and Mario Corti were both fired by RFE/RL for resisting programming changes demanded by the station’s American managers and the BBG.

Last month, Tengiz Gudava was killed in Prague under still unexplained circumstances. It does not appear at this time that his death was related to his work as a journalist, but because of Tengis Gudava’s dissident status and his sharp criticism of Radio Liberty’s new programming philosophy, Mario Corti broke his long silence about the circumstances of the conflicts they both had with the station’s management and about their firing. Mario Corti gave an interview to a Georgian-American journalist Ia Merkviladze, which was published in online Russian-language magazine in New York City «Мы здесь», and also spoke with FreeMediaOnline.org, a San Francisco-based media freedom nonprofit, where he sits on the board of directors.


FreeMediaOnline.org interview with Mario Corti


FREEMEDIAONLINE.ORG: Both you and the late Tengiz Gudava had worked at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as journalists for many years, and you also as director of Radio Liberty’s Russian Service. What did you learn about his death and what can you tell us about him as your friend and a fellow journalist?

MARIO CORTI: Unfortunately, his tragic death is still shrouded in mystery. I grieve, especially for his family.

Tragedy has surrounded many Radio Liberty employees. I have already experienced several deaths of my former Radio Liberty colleagues, among them those who died in undetermined circumstances. There was also a personal tragedy in Tengiz’s life. He totally identified himself with his job at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Because of this, he suffered when he was deprived of his much loved work, his extremely popular and much needed program about relations between various nationalities of the former Soviet Union. Tengiz was able to establish a real dialogue on the air. He built bridges between different cultures and religions.

FREEMEDIAONLINE.ORG: What other Radio Liberty journalists died in mysterious circumstances? Could there have been a link between their journalistic work and their tragic deaths?

MARIO CORTI: Certainly there was a link between a bomb placed at RFE/RL headquarters in Munich back in the 1980s and RFE/RL journalistic activities. Fortunately, no one had died in that attack, but a telephone operator had her face seriously burnt. What made the most impression on me, also because at the time I was the acting director of the Russian Service, was the murder of Molly Riffel-Gordin. She was the anchor of “Contacts”, a very popular program she hosted under the pseudonym of Inna Svetlova. She was shot in her face on July 25 1997 while on her way from the central train station to the RFE/RL headquarters in Prague. Czech and German police worked on the case, which still remains unsolved.

Another tragic although not violent death happened on April 5, 2000. On his way home from work Alexander Batchan died of a heart attack. He was a well known journalist who had previously worked for the Voice of America and had recently moved to RFE/RL. And he was only 47.

FREEMEDIAONLINE.ORG: Georgian journalist Ia Merkviladze who interviewed you wrote that when he left Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Tengiz Gudava was angry and upset and accused RFE/RL management of KGB-ness. What made Mr. Gudava voice such accusations?

MARIO CORTI: Naturally, he was puzzled as to why he and his program were taken off the air. Among other things, he pointed out that some RFE/RL employees were graduates of the university which trained children of party members and nomenklatura for careers as Soviet diplomats and KGB officers. But from my perspective, the push for a drastic change in Radio Liberty’s programming philosophy came primarily from the new American management at RFE/RL, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees RFE/RL, and from their private consultants. They were responsible for eliminating popular programs and taking off the air highly respected and admired radio personalities, including Tengiz Gudava and others.

FREEMEDIAONLINE.ORG: Until now you were publicly silent about your dispute with the American management at Radio Liberty. What else did you tell about it to the Georgian journalist who interviewed you after Tengiz Gudava’s death?

MARIO CORTI: I told her that I did not leave Radio Liberty voluntarily. The RFE/RL management first removed me from my position as director of the Russian Service, and then fired me. After my removal, I could have left slamming doors, especially since I refused to accept my severance pay when I was told to leave. RFE/RL has a policy of offering severance pay combined with secrecy agreements to dissident journalists to stifle public criticism of management decisions and any future discussion of the management’s mistakes. I could have gotten my “hush money” had I only agreed to conditions which I considered as highly improper, even indecent, not only in relation to me but to other RFE/RL journalists and the reputation of the radio station itself, as well as the image abroad of America and American institutions.

FREEMEDIAONLINE.ORG: It seems that despite your disputes with the RFE/RL management, you, Tengiz Gudava and other journalists who had been fired were motivated by a strong desire to save the radio station’s mission as you saw it.

MARIO CORTI: I told the Georgian journalist that I have always had, and still have, great respect and awe for this venerable institution. Its mission is indeed more noble than the judgment and behavior of some individuals who unfortunately happened to work there. I refer here to some of the former American managers. In addition to firing me, they used the pretext of “restructuring” the Russian Service to get rid of  highly talented and experienced journalists who also disagreed with their programming ideas. Unfortunately, the late Tengiz and Serge Iourienen were also among those who had been let go at that time. Another distinguished RFE/RL journalist Lev Roitman, who was also highly critical of the changes being imposed on the Russian Service, left of his own volition.

FREEMEDIAONLINE.ORG: Can you be more specific as to the circumstances that led to your departure from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty?

MARIO CORTI: It all started with a sudden change in the upper management of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty ordered by the Broadcasting Board of Governors in Washington, D.C. Suddenly Jeff Trimble appeared, replacing the very professional Bob Gillette as Radio Liberty Director. Mr. Gillette, a former Los Angeles Times correspondent, was a great journalist and a true gentleman. Then Tom Dine, replaced the competent and very engaged Kevin Klose, a former Washington Post correspondent in Moscow, as the president of the entire corporation. They, in turn, brought their own people and placed them within the organization.

Jeff Trimble, whom Tom Dine called his “eagle,” turned out to be the engine of reform. Neither man had much familiarity with radio journalism and, in my opinion, they did not fit into the radio station milieu. They could never understand that Radio Liberty had its own special culture. At the very mention of the word “tradition” they laughed.

American managers who supported me and the Russian Service were themselves marginalized or forced out by the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Fortunately, they went on to other distinguished careers in the private and public sector. After leaving RFE/RL and the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), which is part of the BBG, Kevin Klose was hired for a high level executive position at National Public Radio (NPR). Bob Gillette has worked in promoting responsible journalism and media freedom in the Balkans.

As for the team that the BBG brought in to replace them, after some years at RFE/RL Tom Dine returned to lobbying in the United States. Only Jeff Trimble is still associated with U.S. international broadcasting. He eventually replaced Tom Dine and served as RFE/RL’s acting president and is now the executive director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors in Washington, D.C. He was reportedly instrumental in implementing the BBG’s decision to terminate all Voice of America radio broadcasts to Russia just 12 days before the Russian-Georgian war last summer. This move has also led to a tremendous decline in employee morale as well as a historically unprecedented drop in VOA audience ratings in Russia. According to one estimate, the audience reach declined 98 percent in less than a year.

FREEMEDIAONLINE.ORG: How did you describe Mr. Dine’s and Mr. Trimble’s role at Radio Liberty to the Georgian journalist?

MARIO CORTI: They wanted to leave their own footprint in order to justify their existence to the BBG. Since they were “new” themselves, they thought this meant they should do something different, i.e., “new” in response to the demands from the BBG. In the final analysis, what really happened was just “change for the sake of change,” but it had a profound impact on Radio Liberty’s mission and the talented and dedicated journalists who worked there.

They searched for a formula for success, which they found in Moscow “talk” radio stations such as “Ekho Moskvy”. I don’t want to be misunderstood, “Ekho Moskvy” is a great station and provides a valuable service under somewhat difficult circumstances. But in my opinion, the thinking on the part of RFE/RL’s American managers was simple and superficial: since radio stations like Ekho Moskvy were successful, that meant to the RFE/RL managers that their formula should be copied, especially since it corresponded in some ways with Norman Pattiz’s idea of a successful commercial radio station. To them, this was “new.” To me and others who have known Russia for a long time and worked there sometimes for many years, it was a completely misguided idea.

For once, Moscow stations always had and still have FM frequencies, which Radio Liberty could not obtain then from the Russian authorities and still cannot get them now. It was vital for Radio Liberty to expand distribution of its programs in Russia in other ways, which is not a simple task given the political conditions, but that’s what they needed to focus on. Unfortunately, they had no idea where to start, and yet they didn’t  want to listen to any advice.

Instead of dealing with the real problem of program delivery, program distribution, cooperation with independent media, and media restrictions in Russia, they decided to take the easy but pernicious path of reforming the Russian Service from within, because it was easy and they could not think of anything else to do. Their idea was to change Radio Liberty’s broadcasting in form and content as if this alone could solve the problem of program distribution and prevent a fall in audience ratings. As it turned out, their strategy only made audience ratings fall even faster to a level much lower than ever before, which I’m sure is not what the U.S. Congress and U.S. taxpayers expected from the BBG, but that’s what they got.
The BBG now tries hard to keep this information secret and blames media restrictions in Russia, which do account for some drop in audience ratings for RFE/RL and VOA but cannot be blamed for the dramatic declines resulting from BBG-ordered programming and program delivery changes. For one thing, RFE/RL is still on the same AM frequency in Moscow, but the number of listeners there has been consistently dropping.

FREEMEDIAONLINE.ORG: What were some of the ideas which were advanced by the consultants hired by the Broadcasting Board of Governors and implemented by the RFE/RL’s top management?

MARIO CORTI: They wanted to concentrate broadcasting on Moscow and St. Petersburg — mainly Moscow. “Forget about the regions,” they told us. They also wanted more talk shows and — this may sound hilarious to those who know something about radio broadcasting in the Soviet Union — to rely on the old Soviet era UKV (Ultra Short Wave) frequencies, which were designed to prevent Soviet citizens from using their radio sets to listen to Western FM stations in border areas, where such signals could be heard. Knowing that UKV receivers were no longer being produced and the band was being phased out, I vigorously objected to their claims that Ultra Short Wave broadcasts were a good alternative, but I think it was one of RFE/RL’s managers who suggested that there are North Korean radio receivers which can pick up these frequencies and are still being sold in Russia. The idea that broadcasting on Soviet era frequencies being phased out can be a reasonable solution was rather typical for the team of RFE/RL managers and their BBG-hired consultants, who were undoubtedly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for their recommendations.

FREEMEDIAONLINE.ORG: Did did you make any alternative recommendations to Mr. Dine and Mr. Trimble?

MARIO CORTI: Besides continuing some of the general goals set by my predecessor, the highly admired and respected journalist and manager Yuri Handler, I decided to decentralize Radio Liberty broadcasting, getting away from Moscow-centrism and expanding the network of correspondents in the regions. It seemed to me that people in Moscow knew little of what was happening in the regions, and listeners in the regions highly valued the attention paid to their concerns. I expanded the St. Petersburg bureau and opened a bureau in Ekaterinburg.

Since we did not have at the time and still do not have an FM frequency, I thought that we should rely on medium wave (AM) frequencies as part of a multi-platform program delivery strategy, which would also include traditional shortwave frequencies, Internet,  television, and cooperative projects with independent journalists and media. AM frequencies were more available, some with good signal quality, and had a good geographical reach unlike UKV. In Moscow we had our own license for a medium wave frequency. I found a similar solution in St. Petersburg, which would have allowed us to transmit our signal to the whole north-west of Russia, where most of the population lives. The management again didn’t listen to our recommendations. I also talked to them about the Internet and digital broadcasting. Now it’s commonplace, and tomorrow, will be even more so. They laughed at these ideas and said that BBG consultants knew better what would work and what would not.

I should mention that shortly before my removal as Russian Service director our audience reach in Russia, as reported by the audience research organization contracted by the Broadcasting Board of Governors,  peaked at around six percent, a figure well beyond what RL was able to achieve since. It was then that the new American management decided to put its plan into action and break with the culture, traditions and intellectual sophistication of the radio’s Russian Service. They abandoned the foundations laid by Yuri Handler together with Kevin Klose. They were determined to transform Radio Liberty into more of a “chat” radio, a clone of Ekho Moskvy and Radio Sawa. Again, Ekho Moskvy is a good station, but the RFE/RL management had no way of achieving the necessary signal strength and program distribution, and on top of that they had pretensions to be a real competitor to Ekho Moskvy — something that was totally unreasonable given their interference with programming and the political conditions in Russia. And so on and so forth. Later on, the management closed down the Ekaterinburg bureau and greatly reduced the St. Petersburg bureau staff. When Radio Liberty in St. Petersburg was taken off UKV, the Soviet era frequency pushed by the BBG consultants, nobody had listened to it for a long time. No one, it seems, had access to those “fantastic” North Korean receivers.

FREEMEDIAONLINE.ORG: The BBG-ordered research also showed that a focus on human rights and high culture in Radio Liberty programs to Russia was passe and should be replaced. You pointed out that some of the consultants who presented this research had links to former BBG member Norman Pattiz, the chief architect of Radio Sawa and Alhurra Television broadcasts to the Middle East. Were you pressured to change Radio Liberty’s Russian programs to make them conform to the style of Radio Sawa?

MARIO CORTI: One of the reasons given for my removal was that I “resisted changes”. After my removal, the RFE/RL management put their own people in management positions in the Russian Service to carry out their plans. They shut down many cultural programs, including the brilliant and popular broadcasts by Sergei Iourienen. They also shut down serious analytical programs, “Commentators at a Roundtable,” as well as Paramonov’s show (which they later reinstated), shut down Savitsky’s popular program on jazz (recently reinstated). They changed the format of other shows, expanded the number of talk shows, and so on.

In a nutshell, the station has abandoned its uniqueness, its identity, its face. Although not nearly as drastic as the BBG’s new format formula for Russia, a similar process was going on and is still going on in Great Britain at BBC’s Russian Service, which has resulted in vehement protests from a lot of respected people, including famous British academics.

FREEMEDIAONLINE.ORG: In your interview with a Georgian journalist you said that Tengiz Gudava and other journalists who were associated with Radio Liberty did not know the full picture of your battles with RFE/RL’s new American management. You also said that with people like that in charge of RFE/RL, “KGB-FSB can sleep soundly.” What did you mean by that?

MARIO CORTI: Let me put it this way. Jeff Trimble and Tom Dine were unhappy with the work of the Russian Service. In particular, Jeff Trimble was unhappy with the Russian Service newscast. I was unhappy too, but for different reasons, I wanted to make it more relevant to people most deprived of access to uncensored information, those who are particularly vulnerable in Russia today.

At one point Trimble — based on a study of our news made by his assistant Michele DuBach who later was appointed by him as Director of Broadcasting — even announced his decision to close our news service. He did not carry it out because he was afraid of a mass rebellion in the Russian Service. To bolster their position in favor of a possible future attempt to get rid of RL Russian Service news, he and Tom Dine ordered outside research. They first applied to the famed Annenberg School of Journalism, which — by the way — recently issued a study highly critical of  BBG’s proud creation Alhurra Television for practicing substandard journalism and lacking audience and effectiveness — a study which the BBG executive staff tried hard to suppress until they were ordered to release it by the Obama Administration.

In the case of Radio Liberty’s Russian Service, they didn’t get the negative result they really wanted. The international group of journalists put together by this respected institution [the Annenberg School of Journalism] to evaluate the RL Russian Service came to a generally positive and encouraging conclusion about our performance. I can imagine their surprise when reading the study issued by the Annenberg School of Journalism they discovered that the single most praised feature of our broadcasts was the Russian Service newscast. Then, the management decided to obtain research from Russia on the image of the Russian Service programs among the listeners in Russia. Here again, they miscalculated. The results of this research were also very positive for us.

So here you have three Russian Service success stories in a row: a positive evaluation by the Annenberg School of Journalism, the positive image study, and the peak of around six percent in our audience reach in Russia. So what did RFE/RL management and the BBG do at this point? They hired someone who had previously worked for BBG member Norman Pattiz — it was the latter who had the brilliant idea of creating Sawa Radio and Alhurra Television — and they got exactly the results Jeff Trimble had originally wanted to get. Based on these results, they proceed to “reform” the Russian Service. Great programs were eliminated, audience ratings immediately dropped. I would point out that similar  BBG “reforms” at VOA last year produced an even greater, 98 percent drop in audience reach in Russia; millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars have been wasted. It’s shameful how the  generosity of the American people in support of much needed broadcasting that promotes understanding between nations and cultures is being abused by these officials.

In my opinion, those among the old KGB and the new FSB officials, who see the U.S. as an enemy rather than a valuable and generous partner of Russia, could only be enormously happy with such leaders in charge of U.S. international broadcasting as the current U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) executive team. They have no reason to worry or need to do anything themselves to undermine U.S.-funded broadcasts; it is being done for them by these American government officials who are now trying hard to hide their mistakes from the White House, the U.S. Congress and the American public.

FREEMEDIAONLINE.ORG: When Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty was based during the Cold War in Munich, West Germany, RFE/RL employees had full protection of the German labor law. The BBG and RFE/RL management used a communist era Czech law to deprive foreign journalists working for them in Prague of some of these basic protections. Do you think that this policy is designed to make journalists more dependent on the management and to stifle independent journalism and criticism at RFE/RL? Are these journalists vulnerable, in your opinion?

MARIO CORTI: Obviously they are vulnerable. Back in Munich many were members of the German journalists unions while others belonged the Newspaper Guild in New York. Nothing like this is true now. Now, according to the RFE/RL new Policy Manual, EEO regulations do not apply to non-American employees. And a Czech Court recently ruled that Czech labor law regulations do not apply to non Czech employees working for RFE/RL. So RFE/RL is allowed to do with its non American and non Czech employees — and they are the majority — whatever it wants, whether it’s right or wrong. They don’t have to worry about any legal consequences. What they don’t realize, however, is that employees without any rights will have little loyalty and little reason to alert the management to possibly fatal journalistic and programming mistakes if voicing dissent can result in them losing their jobs. Hopefully, the European Court of Human Rights, to which some former employees are turning now, or the Obama Administration will soon put a stop to this shameful treatment by RFE/RL and the BBG of its foreign journalists and other  foreign workers.

FreeMediaOnline.org allows republication of its interviews with attribution and link to our site.


More about Mario Corti

Mario Corti was born in Italy but his parents took him to Argentina, where he developed a lifelong interest in Russia. Later on he became a fluent Russian speaker and writer. Living in Italy in the 1970s, he was active in defense of human rights in the Soviet Union and published Russian samizdat books, articles and documents.

From 1979 until 2005, he worked at the U.S.-funded international broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. He became the head of Radio Liberty’s Russian Service but left the station together with other veteran journalists over a programming dispute with the American management. He is an author of numerous books and articles, many of them published in Russian. Dreif, a book written in Russian about philosophy and culture, was published in Russia and Ukraine in 2002. His book, Salieri i Mozart, on the relationship between the two composers, was published in Russian in 2005. His articles on human rights and Soviet dissent have appeared in several languages in many countries. He speaks Italian, Rusian, English, German, Spanish, and French and has a working knowledge of several other European languages. Dividing his time between Italy and Russia, he now works as a freelance journalist and a consultant for a media group based in Saint Petersburg.


More about Tengiz Gudava

Tengiz Gudava, who had a Georgian father and a Russian mother, was a former dissident who organized music concerts in support of human rights in the Soviet Union and spent five years in a labor camp before being expelled to the West in 1987. He joined Radio Liberty and wrote and produced popular programs in defense of human rights for Russian and Georgian shortwave broadcasts.

Gudava was a harsh critic of the current Russian leadership. After he was dismissed from RFE/RL in 2004, he also posted on his personal website biting criticism of Radio Liberty’s new management and programming philosophy. On the night of April 15, Gudava left his Prague apartment on foot to buy cigarettes. He was found unconscious on a road in a secluded area about a 20 minute drive from his home. Police attributed his death to a car accident but could not explain how he ended up in a strange location a long distance away from his apartment in Prague.

This interview was first published by FreeMediaOnline.org Logo. FreeMediaOnline.org & Free Media Online Blog, May 19, 2009, San Francisco.