Former Radio Liberty broadcaster calls on Secretary Clinton to confront damage to U.S. public diplomacy caused by BBG and RFE/RL officials
The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
November 9, 2012
Dear Mrs. Secretary,
On July 4, 1996, while visiting Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague as the First Lady, you called for “an alliance of democratic values” in a globalized world. Your speech, as you wrote later in your memoir, Living History, was broadcast to twenty-five million people. I had a privilege of listening to you in person.
On April 4, 2009, already as the Secretary of State and ex officio member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Board of Directors, you visited RFE/RL for the second time and praised its employees for helping
“to create a broad international agreement with values that respect human dignity, individual rights and responsibilities.”
You thanked RFE/RL staff on behalf of President Obama:
“He and I believe strongly that we have to do a better job in explaining American values. What you do here is an instrumental, essential part of everything America stands for.”
That time, I was not among your listeners. In 2005, after more than thirty years with the Radios in New York, Munich, and Prague, I retired as RFE/RL senior commentator. However, I know that your words were met with polite applause.
As Czech Senator Jaromir Stetina wrote to you in an open letter, From Fame to Shame: Stop Human Rights Violations and National Discrimination of Foreign Employees at the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:
“In your audience were hundreds of citizens and refugees from the Radio’s target countries who emotionally and politically identify with RFE/RL noble mission. At the same time, your professionally informed listeners were undoubtedly aware of anti-discrimination lawsuits brought against RFE/RL by their former colleagues, Croatian citizen Snjezana Pelivan and Armenian Anna Karapetian. Aware even more so because RFE/RL deprived all and any of its foreign employees of the very same values stressed so emphatically in your address.”
Senator Stetina is a prolific author, journalist, and popular public figure in the Czech Republic, who personally protested human rights violations in Cuba, Belarus, and Russia,
Presently, the court cases mentioned in the Senator’s letter to you — Karapetian vs.RFE/RL and Pelivan vs. Czech Republic as RFE/RL host country — are pending in the Czech Supreme Court and European Court of Human Rights respectively. Time and again covered by multilingual international media, these lawsuits destroy the trustworthiness of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as a tool of American public diplomacy. From Prague, RFE/RL broadcasts in 28 languages to 21 target countries. It is the largest American civil institution abroad financed by U.S. Congress. In public opinion of its target countries, RFE/RL, together with VOA, stands for U.S.A.
RFE/RL political and public purpose is formulated in its official Mission Statement:
“To promote democratic values and institutions,” “ strengthen civil societies by projecting democratic values,” “ provide a model for local media.”
Inflicting damage to reputation of the United States by making mockery of its own Mission Statement is not RFE/RL’s stated goal.
On October 8, Czech Helsinki Committee headed by Anna Sabatova, UN Human Rights Prize winner (along with Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, and such organizations as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International), published an appeal to the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Violations of Human Rights and Disregard of Moral Principles by American Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in Prague Should Not Go On. A personal copy of that appeal was addressed to you:
“Already three times Czech Parliament heard the interpellations concerning RFE/RL policies and actions in the Czech Republic. No reaction followed, either from RFE/RL or from BBG (…) Mrs. Pelivan has officially requested the government of Croatia to support her claim against Czech Republic in European Court of Human Rights.
Czech Helsinki Committee is also aware of Pelivan’s and Karapetian’s intention to appeal against Czech Republic and the United States to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. It means further internationalization of the scandal already caused by RFE/RL actions and policies.”
As you know, the U.S. Helsinki Commission consists of senators, congressmen, and includes your representative from the Department of State.
The presently unfolding scandal around Radio Liberty in Russia had nothing comparable by its scope in the long history of RFE/RL. On September 20-21, under the pretext of an anticipated technical reform, 34 experienced employees, including well known radio personalities, were summarily fired and prevented from entering their work places in the Moscow bureau by armed guards. Eight more staffers resigned in solidarity with their brutalized colleagues. The avalanche of published protests includes such names as Mikhail Gorbachev, Lyudmila Alexeeva who chairs Moscow Helsinki Group, leading figures of Russian democratic opposition to Putin’s regime, prominent scientists, a petition to White House signed by more than two and a half thousand listeners, etc.
Some of the protests from Russia are addressed to you personally. The virtual destruction of the RFE/RL Russian Service and cessation, as of November 10th, of radio broadcasts on medium waves in Russian, are seen by many of those protesting not simply as a fateful blunder by faceless bureaucrats managing RFE/RL and BBG, of which you are a member, but – true or not — as a result of American foreign policy direction playing into Putin’s hands. You are a privy to those policies too.
Writing to its American counterpart, the Czech Helsinki Committee noted:
“We consider deplorable RFE/RL’s activities in Prague and presently in Moscow to be the links of the same chain.”
Unfortunately, your remark, “we are losing the information war,” was correct when it was made in March, 2011, and became even more relevant today. We are losing mainly because of our inept public diplomacy entrusted to myopic bureaucrats. Partially, it is your own fault.
After January 20, when President Obama will be inaugurated for his second term in office, you plan to leave the Department of State. Part of your legacy will be current American public diplomacy with all its ups and downs.
As the most influential member of Broadcasting Board of Governors, you still have plenty of time in order to curtail by peaceful resolutions shameful for America lawsuits triggered by immoral policies of BBG-RFE/RL. Proper field of activities for RFE/RL — quite expensive tool of American public diplomacy — is not in foreign courts but in foreign public opinion.
It is still possible to reverse detrimental to American reputation destructive actions in Moscow spearheaded, with support of BBG, by RFE/RL president Steven Korn. True to the old saying, every land has its laugh, and every corn has its chaff. The United States deserve better than chaff of the corn.
The author had worked for more than 30 years in Munich, New York and Prague as Radio Liberty broadcaster, editor and senior commentator. He is married to Snjezana Pelivan.