"You've got to keep in mind," said Radio Liberty official Frank Starr, "that these people came out of a strongly adversary society in the Soviet Union, where one had to fight for everything. So it's still natural for them to fight."
Starr is director of Radio Liberty's "Russian Service" and the people he is talking about are Russian emigrants, old and new, who work for the U.S. sponsored radio station that broadcast daily into the Soviet Union. Its news and commentary in 16 languages often provide information that Soviet citizens can get in no other way.
And they are, indeed, fighting at least some of them. Only now it is among themselves, in a bitter, lingering feud that has brought charges of fascism and anti-Semitism and a court suit for defamation of character.
It has also disrupted relations among people in the station's newsroom and rattled American officials who oversee the station's operations.
Victor Fedoseyev, a Soviet dissident who arrived in the West in 1971 and works as a senior program specialist, says what is at stake is "the question of free access to a microphone of people with anti-Semitic or non-democratic Russian nationalist tendencies."
American officials say Fedoseyev exaggerates the danger. But the dispute going on here has them worried for several reasons.
The charges of anti-Semitism could erode congressional support for the station's budget.
It could cause problems with the left wing of West Germany's ruling Social Democratic Party, which has never been too happy with the station's presence here.
And there is also worry that the feud's supercharged language will grade conference to review compliance with the 1975 Helsinki agreements on European security and co-operation.
The roots of the Radio Liberty dispute go back to the late 1960, when a new wave of emigrants - the first in many years - were allowed out of the Soviet Union.
Many were younger, more liberal and better educated than their predecessors.Many were Jewish activists and dissidents. Many came from places in the Soviet Union other than the Russian heartland. But all were fresh, with up-to-date language skills critical for an emigre radio station. Radio Liberty, with its first crack at new talent in a long while, hired many of them.
Until that new wave, the station had been staffed for more than 20 years largely by emigres, and their offspring, who had come from what was a different kind of Soviet Union. They had come to the West after the 1917 revolution or before World War II or with retreating German forces. Many were conservative, Orthodox Christian and to sian Nationalists.
American officials concede that some were and remain sympathetic toward an organization know as the People's Labor Alliance an anti-Bolshevik group with headquarters in West Germany that is described by critics as tending toward both anti-Semitism and a Musolini-style fascism.
Given the new mixture of ethnic and national rivalries and the fact that some of the new arrivals quickly moved into important jobs, some bitterness was inevitable.
But beginning in 1975, the tone of the argument became nasty, with some earlier emigres complaining that the station was becoming dominated by liberal Jews.
Victoria Semenova, a producer-annoucer, wrote a widely circulated memorandum which was quoted in the People's Labor Alliance publication, charging that many Radio Liberty programs did not have "a Russian spirit." "By spirit," she wrote. "I mean one based on Christianity and Orthodoxy. Why are the programs of Radio Liberty not carried out for Russia and the Russian people?" she asked.
Many Jewish staff members thought that the memo was anti-Semitic and that it implied that they were somehow "less Russian" than the others, Semenova was reprimanded by American officials, who emphasized the station's responsibility to deal with all the Soviet Union and not just Russia.
In November 1976, Radio Liberty was expanded and reorganized. Some American officials were transferred, and Vladimir Matusevith, a Jew who left the Soviet Union in 1968, lost his job as director of the Russian Service.
In January, the well-known Soviet emigre scientist Leonid Plyusch visited Radio Liberty and during a meeting a staff member disparaged Jews as the source of all trouble in Russia.
That drew a complaint from Jewish dissident Rachel Fedoseyev, Victor Fedoseyev's wife, who said the incident was characteristic of what had been happening at the station for more than a year without interference by the American managers.
American officials reprimanded both the staff member and Mrs. Fedoseyev.
Then 70 staff members signed a statement accusing Mrs. Fedoseyev of inciting national hatred. She filed a libel suit against a dozen of the signers.
In the termath, former Russian Service director Matusevith wrote to U.S. Ambassador Walter Stoessel in Bonn citing "an escalating atmosphere of anti-Semitism" and asking for an investigation.
The Board for International Broadcasting, which oversees the station from Washington, told Matusevith it had "been aware for some new actions would alleviate his concerns.
This apparently was a reference to the hiring of Starr, veteran Moscow correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, as director of the Russian Service.
Things have calmed down some since Starr's arrival in May, although the court hearing set for this month may stir them up again.
"Certainly there are fewer memos and epithets flying around and people aren't calling each other fascists in the halls," Starr said.