Reviving a Radio Free Europe Myth

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Media reaction to the demonstrations in Iran has resurrected the widely believed myth that the broadcasts of the U.S.-run Radio Free Europe (RFE) encouraged Hungarians in 1956 to revolt against the "Soviet occupation" ["Realism on Iran? It's Called Freedom," op-ed, June 21]. After the revolution, the West German government conducted a thorough investigation of RFE broadcasts to Hungary in 1956 that completely absolved the station from having incited the Hungarians to revolt.

As a Foreign Service officer, I interviewed dozens of recent Hungarian refugees as the revolution was collapsing. Not a single one mentioned that RFE played any role in inciting them to revolt. The revolution actually began in Budapest with demonstrations of solidarity with the Poles, who had just courageously defied Moscow by installing a leader long opposed by the Soviets, Wladyslaw Gomulka. Things turned violent when nervous Soviet troops fired on demonstrators.

A number of refugees told me that once the fighting began, however, they expected U.S. assistance based primarily, if not solely, on Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1952 presidential campaign promises to "roll back the Iron Curtain." In any case, there was no way we could have intervened in Hungary without risking a conflict with the Soviet Union. Most refugees would not buy this argument, I quickly discovered.


North Bethesda

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