De Toledano,









M. Wesley




INT: Fine. Now you described very well the news programming for us, but there must have been a range of programming going on. Editorially, what sort of programmes were you doing and, you know, what would you do with them?

JN: We did have, like a newspaper or any domestic radio, we had of course news, every hour on the hour, so that after two years everybody in Poland knew that with the stroke of the clock, there would be news, new news. But then we had only programmes of normal domestic radio station. We were to be a substitute of the free radio inside Poland. So we had music, we had sport, we had the religious programmes, we had programmes for youth, programmes for farmers, for workers, entertainment, features, round table discussions, press reviews. You had all of it there and it was arranged in such... And of course, we had comments, commentaries, which were called 'Facts and Views' about covering developments in Poland and developments in the world. That was always done together, not, never dispersed, so that again people knew very well that in the best listening time at eight, ten, in the evening, there would be fifty minutes of comments, political comment and political information. But it was, as I say, every programme that BBC Home Service would be broadcasting was there.

INT: Fine. Now you showed me pictures of Frank Sinatra and, you know, John Steinbeck and Martin Luther King at the radio stations. There's a sense in which some of the programmes were trying to get across Western values...

JN: (Interrupts) Correct.

INT: ...can you describe that a little bit for me.

JN: And we were greatly supported by Western leaders, both in Britain, in France, in United States and of course they carry considerable prestige. Presidents of the United States were broadcasting, were interviewed and this was broadcast. But it was done in a way that would never indicate that this is American station. The idea was that Poles should talk to Poles, Hungarians should broadcast to Hungarians and so on and so forth. And the audience considered us not American station, Polish station, because [laughs] you cannot forge freedom. If people are free in broadcasting, if they have enough freedom to say what they want, the listener will sense it. If he would be only, you know, a puppet who would be repeating somebody else's views, people will sense it immediately. We had considerable freedom. I was responsible for acting within the very broad framework of the political guidances which I accepted, they were discussed with me. But then I had the freedom to construct the programme in a manner was best attuned to the traditions, character, mentality and interest of my audience, of the Polish audience.

INT: It seems to me that the Cold War wasn't just about a sort of military and political conflict, it was very much about competing in the cultural sphere as well, of which RFE was at the very forefront...

JN: (Interrupts) Correct.

INT: Would you be able to describe that for me very briefly.

JN: Yes, well, of course we did have cultural problems, but we did try to do it in a way that would again project conflicting views, conflicting assessment, because this is the way to project freedom, you know. Freedom is a variety of views. The tyranny is just one view, but we had round table discussions of the prominent Polish writers and poets. Many prominent writers, poets and journalists were in the West, all over the world, and they were all had the voice and the place in our programmes, whatever their views, provided they were democratic views. And we were trying also to publicise writers and cultural activities in Poland, which displayed some independence. And by for instance, we had one on a New Year, we had a round table discussion of the Polish writers who were offering a prize to the best Polish novel or the best Polish poetry and people in Poland were extremely anxious to get the prize. And it was done in a discussion, so there was not just one prize. Everybody who was mentioned there is a candidate for prize, did have a source of pride. So the main thing was really to project cultural freedom and we did for instance broadcast in instalments good Polish novels, written in the West poetry. Once a week we had a programme of young Polish poets in Poland, because they were unknown and it was an effort to promote and it was very successful, because people were much more anxious to get the prize from Radio Free Europe than the prize from the regime. The prize from the regime was not recognised by the public.

INT: That was an excellent answer and an ingenious way of going about things. So, just to move on a bit. In the early fifties, can you tell me how much RFE reflected official government policy towards the Eastern European satellite states and could you tell me what that official government policy was?

JN: It was very ambiguous.

INT: Could you start again, saying the government policy was...

JN: Yes, well, the so-called policy of liberation...

INT: Sorry. We just have to start again, 'cos I was speaking at the same time as you. So the government policy or the policy of liberation.

JN: Until '56, US policy towards countries of East Central Europe was very ambiguous. It was called policy of liberation, but we were never told how the liberation should come. Is this the invitation to self-liberation, to revolutions, which we opposed very strongly, the Poles opposed it very strongly, or is the promise of military help, of liberation by the strength of arms? We didn't know. But not only I, but all my staff were unanimous in resisting any kind of encouragement to revolt or to violence. We had all suffered from the syndrome of the Warsaw uprising, which ended in a terrible disaster. The whole capital was in ruin, was totally destroyed, two hundred thousand people lost their lives and we dreaded that we can make something that would lead, even unintentionally, to another tragedy. So at that time, I was resisting very strongly any kind of, you know, encouragement to resist by violence or by any kind of self-liberation. Hungarians did not have the same kind of experience, therefore, because of the considerable autonomy of the ethnic staffs, policy of the Poles at the time of the '56 upheaval in Poland, was entirely different from that of the Hungarians. We were trying to use our influence to prevent explosion and we did them in a qualified manner, supported Gomulka, because Gomulka, who was a Communist, but he offered the only chance as acting as a buffer and to prevent Soviet invasion. While the Hungarian Radio Free Europe broadcast were destroying Nadj, who had only one week and being under constant barrage from Radio Free Europe as a Communist, he had no support and he lost. That was the difference and this is maybe the best evidence that at that time, each ethnic group, Poles, Hungarians, could really pursue their own policy line. Later it changed completely.

INT: OK. How far were you independent of the Americans, you know the State Department and how much did you see yourself as a European station?

JN: Until '56, we had no interference whatsoever. We had some rules. The problem was, for instance, the problem of Polish Western border with Germany, which was a very sensitive subject. Otherwise, there were very broad rules and we had to... I was responsible for respectthem, but within these rules, I was free to do what I want. This was the idea, that it should be Polish radio and that the idea was the radio would be effective only if it's run the Poles who know better how to influence Poles than Americans. So, after '56, after the tragedy of the Hungarian uprising, there was an effort to introduce censorship and to restrict our freedom. That came from the State Department and we resisted it. We did threaten a strike. And all these radio stations, all five, were formed as solid... form of solidarity and the idea of censorship was abandoned. We said, how can we fight the censorship in Poland and agree to be subjugated to the American censorship? It makes no sense. I must say, to the credit of Americans, they treated us as equal partners. And there was a lot of democracy in relationship between American management and me, for instance. We were stateless. We had no power behind us and yet I was never told, you obey or else. Things were discussed, compromise was sought, but no guidance and no rules would become a law, without mutual agreement that they are acceptable. But once the agreement was made, I had to be very careful to respect it and I was responsible.