The Foreign Service Journal, September 2022

86 SEPTEMBER 2022 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Broadcasting Behind the Iron Curtain ColdWar Radio: The Russian Broadcasts of the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Mark G. Pomar, Potomac Books, 2022, $34.95/hardcover, e-book available, 344 pages. Reviewed by Eric Rubin The history of U.S. radio broadcasting to the former Soviet Union and the former Soviet bloc is a barometer of the history of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War. The work of the Voice of America, Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe tracks closely the history of U.S. foreign policy toward the Soviet Union, from the U.S.-Soviet alliance during World War II through the most fraught periods of the Cold War. Author Mark Pomar—an expert on Soviet and Russian affairs and former assistant director of the Russian Service at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty—lays out the early days of the radio services, during the years of the anti-German alliance that saw the U.S. praise and wel- come the shared effort to defeat Hitler’s Germany, an effort that was reflected in Hollywood films, mass-market paper- backs and popular culture. Pomar then traces the decline of the U.S.-Soviet relationship into the dark- est days of the Cold War, when “God- less Communism” was depicted as the greatest threat to our civilization and the radios reflected that perspective in their programming. Pomar’s analysis is most compelling in dissecting the conflicts between American foreign policy (which often sought to find accommodation with the Soviet Union and accepted its existence as a given) and hard-core Russian nation- alist ideology (which con- sidered the Soviet state an outrage that could only be destroyed and overcome). The strain between Jewish dissidents and traditional Russian nationalists runs through this narrative as a constant source of conflict. Nostalgia for the former czarist system moti- vated many of those who devoted their careers to the radio services, but was not welcomed by the contemporary Soviet émigrés who saw the problem as lack of democracy rather than abandonment of traditional values. The radios were often viewed by Washington policymakers as a source of irritation and distraction. Pomar goes into great detail on the tension-filled months that led up to the Soviet invasion of Hun- gary in 1956, and the unproven allega- tions that the U.S.-funded radio services encouraged the Hungarians to rise up against their Soviet overlords. There was constant division between those who sought the “rollback” of com- munism and those who sought to push the Soviet system to change in ways that advanced U.S. interests. Radio Liberty’s role in encouraging the long-running efforts at promoting insur- gency in Soviet-ruled Western Ukraine throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s was controversial, as were the radio services’ responses to the assassination of Ukrainian, Russian and East European dis- sidents in Western capitals. The case of militant Ukrainian nationalist leader (a divisive figure, seen as a freedom fighter and/or Nazi collaborator, depending on whom you ask) Stepan Bandera, killed in Munich in 1959 by the KGB not far from the radios’ then-head- quarters, was only the most famous of a series of Soviet assassinations abroad. It is hard to conjure up the central- ity of shortwave radio in the days before the internet, although some of us are old enough to remember the excitement of tuning into Radio Beijing, Kol Israel and Radio Moscow as kids. We and our NATO allies spent billions to construct a network of relay stations and transmitters across the globe, to ensure maximum penetra- tion of the Soviet bloc’s airways. Communist jamming was only spo- radically successful, and it cost the Soviet bloc governments a fortune. Many central figures in the struggle against communist tyranny spoke and wrote admiringly of the crucial role U.S. international broad- casting played in keeping them informed of what was happening in their own coun- tries, among them Lech Walesa, Alexan- der Solzhenitsyn and Vaclav Havel. The U.S. stationed technicians across the globe in places as diverse as Monro- via, Liberia, and UdonThani, Thailand, Pomar’s analysis is most compelling in dissecting the conflicts between American foreign policy and hard-core Russian nationalist ideology. BOOKS