From the not-too-distant past, here’s a story that details radio’s power to influence, inform and even provoke.
In 1978 Romania had been living under the totalitarian regime of Nicolae Ceausescu for 13 long years. All aspects of
media were controlled by the government, leaving Romanians with one porthole to the world outside their borders – Radio Free Europe.
In July of that year, General Ion M. Pacepa, chief of Romania’s intelligence service (Securitate), defected to the US, creating a media sensation of his own in both East and West. In a letter of explanation to his daughter two years later, Pacepa would write:
In 1978 I got the order to organize the killing of Noel Bernard, the director of Radio Free Europe’s Romanian program who had infuriated Ceausescu with his commentaries. It was late July when I got this order, and when I ultimately had to decide between being a good father and being a political criminal. Knowing you, Dana, I was firmly convinced that you would prefer no father to one who was an assassin.
Ceausescu then hired famed terrorist “Carlos the Jackal” to travel to the US and kill General Pacepa (who was by then living under a
new identity) and made available 37 kilograms of plastic explosives, 7 sub-machine guns, one Walther PP pistol, 8 Stechkin pistols and 5 hand grenades.
Unable to find Pacepa, “Carlos” bombed Radio Free Europe’s studio in Munich in 1981.
According to Pacepa, “he (Ceausescu) hated Radio Free Europe most of all.” He would soon have reason to hate RFE
Noel Bernard died under mysterious circumstances in 1981.
Now safely in the US, General Pacepa published “Red Horizons” in 1987, a book about his experiences in Securitate. The book revealed the inner workings of the Romanian security force that kept the populace under control, in the dark and very much isolated from the world at large.
With the book unavailable in Romania, Radio Free Europe, under its new Romanian Service director Vlad
Georgescu decided to read the book over the air in a series of broadcasts aimed into Romania from transmitters near Munich. When Ceausescu learned of this he sent Georgescu’s sister-in-law to the US to tell Georgescu that he would be killed if he continues with the readings.
A total of 12 broadcasts were made, after which Georgescu told his listeners: “If they kill me for serializing Pacepa’s book, I’ll die with a clear conscience that I did my duty as a journalist.”
These broadcasts began in 1988 and it would later be reported that “the streets of Romanian towns were empty” during Radio Free Europe’s broadcasts of “Red Horizons”.
- Radio Free Europe’s Vlad Georgescu died in November 1988 from the same illness as his predecessor, Noel Bernard – brain cancer, due, it is widely believed, to have been caused by radiation poisoning.
- General Pacepa continues to live in the US and writes for several conservative publications. His book “Red Horizons” is available here.
- In 1989, Dana Pacepa was able to emigrate to the US, joining her father after 11 years. This is an interesting story in itself and can be read about here.
- Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena were overthrown and executed on Christmas Day 1989.
- “Carlos the Jackal” is serving a life sentence in a French prison.
- Radio Free Europe continues to broadcast (in 28 languages) on AM, FM and shortwave frequencies, though as a mere shadow of its former self.
Released in 2007, Cold Waves (Cold War + Radio Waves) by Romanian film director Alexandru Solomon, documents the history of Radio Free Europe’s Romanian service and the impact it had on Romanian society.
An interesting write-up of the film can be read here and the trailer is here: