Monthly Archives: August 2015

International Shortwave Radio Broadcasting in Latvian Language

During the Cold War shortwave radio broadcasting was essential tool of propaganda used by both sides. United States spent large sums of money to host two major shortwave services – the Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe (RFE). The goal of these stations was to broadcast the American point of view to the people of the Eastern bloc trapped behind the Iron Curtain.  The stations had many language services that broadcasted to the targeted nations in their own native language. The workers of these stations were exiles, who wished to fight for freedom on the airwaves.  VOA and RFE broadcasted in Russian, Polish, Hungarian, Czech and many other languages. Eventually both stations started the Latvian service to reach out to the people of the occupied country. Broadcasts in Latvian were hosted also by Radio Vatican, National Radio of Spain and Radio Free Russia. All these broadcasts made great impact on anti-soviet movement and played important role in process of restoration of independence. Today the shortwave radio is almost forgotten so it’s worth to remember once again. Also, within the context of present day war of information between West and Russia this serves as reminder. Article describes the history of these Latvian western radio stations in detail.

USA VOA sticker

Voice of America (Amerikas Balss)

Voice of America was the first US shortwave radio station funded and controlled by the state. It was established on 1942 dictated by the need for state propaganda during the World War II. The Office of War Information hosted the station and it was mainly for Germany and Japan.  On 1945 it was transferred to the Department of the State. The political situation rapidly changed into confrontation between two former allies US and USSR so on 1947 the VOA started broadcasting in Russian. It was done to counter the soviet propaganda and spread the US view of democracy to the soviet people. Eventually VOA sought the need for broadcasts for the people in the occupied Baltic States. US never recognized the occupation of Latvia, the Latvian embassy in Washington worked in exile and US hosted large number of Latvian refugees. So work begun on organizing the VOA Latvian service.

The preparations were made on autumn of 1950. The Latvian ambassador in exile Jūlijs Feldmanis came to Latvian exile newspaper Laiks (Times) in Brooklyn New York to gather staff for the new service. The volunteers had to fill Security Clearance inquires of the State Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The questions mainly focused on person’s biography, workplace, organizations and relatives to test the applicant’s political loyalty to US. Also the inquiry needed three witnesses to confirm the fairness of the given information.

The first who applied were Orests Berlings, Ēvalds Freivalds, Irēne Karule, Arvīds Klāvsons and Aleksandrs Liepa and the well-known actor and stage director Osvalds Uršrteins.  Berlings had experience working in pre-war Latvian newspaper Brīvā Zeme (The Free Land) and the newspaper of the displaced people in Germany Die Post un Im Ausland (Post in Foreign Land) Freivalds also worked in Brīvā Zeme, later in the Latvian State Radio, in exile was editor of the Austrijas Latviešu Balss (Voice of Latvians in Austria).  Karule as student worked in Latvian State Radio for a short time in 1940. Klāvsons was chief editor of the pre war newspaper Rīts (Morning) He took part in the anti-Nazi resistance group during the Nazi occupation.  In Germany he edited the Latvijas Ziņas (Latvian News) in the Latvian refugee camp in Esslingen. Liepa also worked in Rīts and in Germany was one of the founders of the Latvian Press Workers cooperation assembly and edited the newspaper Latvija (Latvia).

Shortly after New Year’s Eve on 1951 the volunteers were invited to interviews to the VOA office in New York. The interviewer was Robert Bauer chief of European section. All except Klāvsons were admitted to the service. The heads of the Latvian Service was Benno Ābers who edited the Latvian Encyclopedia before the war,  Vilis Masēns from the Latvian diplomatic staff and director of the service Harijs Lielnors the only one with US passport, resident since 1923.

Lithuanians were first to broadcast on February 16 1951 the Lithuanian Independence day. Latvians and Estonians first broadcast on June 3 1951. The radio programs were produced by Osvalds Uršteins whose professionalism soon lead him to produce programs for other language services. Meanwhile FBI excluded Aleksandrs Liepa for “bad political background”, while Vilis Masēns left the service to work for the Committee for a Free Europe, Inc. The service hired more workers including Alfrēds Bērziņš the Minister of Social Affairs during Kārlis Ulmanis dictatorship and was active in the Latvian exile and author of many books.

First broadcast started with words of former actor Milda Zīlava with words in English: “This is the Voice of America. The following broadcast is in Latvian”, and then the same in Latvian. After statement that the broadcast will take place every day, the announcer Masēns introduced Latvian ambassador in exile Jūlijs Feldmanis and one now forgotten member of the US congress. Masēns then read the statement of the US State Secretary Edward W. Barrett that US never accepted and recognized the occupation of Latvia. After 15 minute broadcast Masēns, named the times and frequencies and in the ending statement read the VOA standard phrase “We broadcast truthful news, no matter good or bad, but always true!”, and with that Zīlava said farewell words “To hear us again, dear listeners!”.

First broadcast was met with excitement by the staff by the fact that it was received in Latvia. Many exiles were inspired by the War in Korea hoping that it will lead to ultimate collapse of communism and liberation. On November 18, Latvian Independence day, special broadcast by Irēne Karule touched the issues of the Latvian history. The history or wars, resistance, independence and occupation and hope for brighter future were written in poetry. The peculiar programming style different from VOA standard was impressing and Irēne Karule was rewarded. Later however, the VOA standards were applied to Latvians too.

Osvalds Uršteins (producer) and Irēne Karule (both behind) interviews a refugee from Soviet Union Žanis Nice on 1953

Osvalds Uršteins (producer) and Irēne Karule (both behind) interviews a refugee from Soviet Union Žanis Nice on 1953

Latvian VOA service survived many presidential administrations from Harry S Truman to George W Bush. It had to confirm with the changing foreign policy of every president, to not made aversions and create unfilled hopes within listeners. Bravura and empty promises done more harm than good so were forbidden. The staff was forbidden to express their personal views that in many cases were difficult task because Latvian exiles mostly opposed the US attempts of appeasing the Soviet Union.  The broadcasts were supervised, nongovernmental views were only allowed in the press reviews. The core of every program was official news from Washington, accustomed to Europe and Latvia. The station broadcasted news about worker uprising in East Berlin on 1953, the Hungarian uprising on 1956 when VOA added eight special daily broadcasts. VOA also reported on the Cuban missile crisis, actions of the Latvian exiles and Latvian anti-soviet resistance movement. Briefly from 1956 to 1958  reacting to the events in Hungary VOA set up a station in Europe in Munich and Latvian service moved there involving local exiles. However, two years later VOA cut funds to Europe station and Latvians moved back to US. Onwards from 1987 the VOA Latvian service covered all the news of the restoration movement. On 1987 when first mass protests took place in Latvia, VOA and Radio Free Europe was one of the first to announce the dates and places of the protests. It helped to gather large masses to the events and boosted the campaign for full independence from USSR.

The VOA Latvian service was in brief trouble after the election of Richard Nixon. VOA intended to shorten the broadcast times for Baltic service stations. The reason stated was the soviet jamming stations that required new frequencies and longer broadcast times for Russian service. The real reason was Nixon detente policy to ease relations with Soviet Union that also meant easing the stance on Baltic States occupation. The act was met with many protests from the Baltic exiles who complained to the Unites States Information Agency (USIA) After Nixon resignation, the new president Jimmy Carter renamed to International Communications Agency. His doctrine for defending the civil rights and weak position to USSR was not enjoyed by Baltic exiles either. More favorable was Ronald Reagan with his “crusade against communism” that was enjoyed by the Latvian VOA staff.

The reaction from Latvian audience in homeland was mixed. At first it was met with excitement; however after 1949 mass deportations many Latvians found VOA promises of coming liberation empty and unsettling. The reaction from soviet authorities was the establishment of the powerful jamming stations. Despite that the VOA broadcasts were still heard. The Latvian radio factories VEF and Radiotehnika produced the radios in masses. The authorities tried to limit the frequency range for domestic models. KGB persecuted people caught listening to VOA. Despite all of this the facts shows that VOA affected the Latvian listeners. On first year of broadcast Irēne Karule interviewed student in exile who received state grant.  The broadcast was heard by her father who was just released from soviet prison camp and found out his daughter is alive and well in America. He sent the letter from Denmark to VOA editorial in New York. The post address was written in Latvian; surprisingly the Danish post office managed to translate the address and sent it to New York. The daughter who was unaware of his father’s fate was also exited. Five Latvian fishermen who demanded political asylum in Newfoundland claimed they heard VOA in their ocean trawler and back home in Latvia. The editorial received letters from Latvia, praising and criticizing the broadcasts. Broadcasts were also listened by the Latvian exiles in Europe.

After the restoration of independence, VOA Latvia service worked until 2004 when it was closed by the decision of Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). The service was no longer sustainable due to the financial situation and changes in the US foreign policy. The Latvian exiles were getting old and the number of listeners in Latvia significantly dropped. VOA used FM frequencies hosted by Latvian State Radio and other radios. Shortwave radios became use less and less. The service was closed with its staff expressing hope that after 30 years of work the VOA Latvian service had reached its goal. Latvia was independent and member of NATO with open connections to the western world.

VOA Latvian service interval signal (2002)

RFE Sticker

Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty (Radio Brīvā Eiropa) (Radio Brīvība)

The communist takeover of Eastern Europe and soviet anti-western propaganda sought US counter action. The National Security Council issued NSC-4-A order to the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to “initiate and conduct covert psychological operations to counterattack soviet and soviet inspired activities which constitutes a threat to the world peace”. One of these operations was to create “surrogate radio stations” that would broadcast anti-soviet information to the soviet occupied countries, and yet they must not be officially connected to the US government.  Former US ambassador in Moscow George F. Kennan lead the creation of the Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty who made the guidelines for these covert CIA propaganda stations. Frank Wisner later CIA director was in charge of the Office of Special Projects set the practical stage for these stations to work. Radio Liberty or Radio Svoboda was primary for Soviet Union in Russian language that started to work on 1949. Radio Free Europe was made for Eastern European communist controlled countries and begun work on 1950 in Czech language, eventually broadcasting in Polish, Hungarian, Romanian, Bulgarian, ect. RFE was known for its propaganda campaign “Crusade for Freedom”. RFE is often mentioned as one of the prominent stir ups of the Hungarian revolution on 1956 when it actively supported the resistance against the soviet invasion. Perhaps a bit too actively, for the Western support never came and revolution was crushed and soviets blamed RFE for provoking the nation into fight. On 1967 leftist magazine Rampant disclosed the RFE and RL connection with CIA. Scandal erupted the White House.  At one point disappointed Richard Nixon who wanted completely re-organize the CIA thought about closing the stations.  However, on 1973 the decision was taken to turn RFE/RL into new hybrid organization both funded privately and by the United States congress.  The RFE/RL works this way until this day.

Baltic services came to RFE bit later than VOA. The CIA front organization The National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE) that directed RFE rejected first calls from Lithuanian exiles to include Baltic nations in their program. NCFE indented to use RFE to organize anti-communist exiles in US to serve as surrogates for the lack of democratic institutions in homeland.  American policy makers were thought that such committees might duplicate or worse make the exiled Baltic diplomats representing their republics irrelevant with broader exiled communities globally. NCFE also determined the Baltic service as too costly in comparison to already existing language services. After VOA started its Baltic services, the NCFE saw that as prime excuse not to make their own broadcasts.

The Baltic exiles became more organized and cooperative and eventually gained more support from NCFE. NCFE supported the Baltic Freedom Rally on 1952 in New York that took place again many years ahead. Over the decade more new generation exiles started to take active part in the community and lobbied the NCFE. After 1967 CIA cover up and changes into US foreign policy towards detente, state the policy towards RFE changed. On 1971 the campaigns in US congress started to fully detach RFE and RL from CIA and on 1973 as mentioned above the stations were now funded by US congress. This decision was actually favorable for Baltic exiles because now they could more openly influence the congress and RFE to include them into broadcasts. After joint lobby attempts by the Baltic exile organizations, the proposal for adding Baltic language broadcasts was added to 1974 Fiscal Budget plan. The proposal again sought opposition because of financial expenses. Representative of the exiles Ilgvars J. Spilners head of American Latvian Alliance  (ALA) made testimony to the congress explaining the importance of these broadcasts. Spilners described to the congress of the dangers of Russification in the Baltic States and determined that more broadcasts in native language would help the Baltic nations to survive the assimilation. Spilners also noted that RFE Baltic surrogate stations would also broadcast more news from the Baltic States then allowed by official VOA. Spilners convinced many congress men including Robert H. Steele to push for Baltic service within RL Eventually thanks to his efforts on 1975 all three Baltic language services started broadcasting. In February Lithuanian started first on July Latvian and Estonian followed. Baltic services were included within Radio Liberty because it was intended mainly for nations in Soviet Union.

The chief editor of the Latvian service was Valdemārs Kriecbergs who worked in pre war Latvian Foreign ministry and on 1956-1958 worked in VOA European station in Munich. The broadcasts were 30 minutes long were irregular at the beginning, then from September the broadcasts were daily, discussing political, social and economic issues. The very first members of the staff were Valdemārs Kriecbergs, Vilis Skutāns, poet Margarita Ausale and Dagmāra Vallena. The studio was in RL headquarters in Munich. The transmissions took place from 100 KW transmitter  in Lampenheim, West Germany. The staff workers used aliases due to the omnipresent surveillance from KGB. On 1982 the new chief editor was Vilis Skultāns (alias Pēteris Vijums). Valdemārs Kriecbergs only came to his duty after his employers re-assured that RL Russian editorial would not influence the Latvian service. The 24 hour Russia service tried to affect colleague services. However it was baffled itself in the conflict between old generation WWI/WWII exiles and new generation exiles many of them with Jewish origin.

One of the five most known RL Latvian service staff journalists were Margarita Ausala, philologist and poet, and was active in the academic circles. Egīls Švarcs was well received musician in Soviet Union where he lead the Riga Music Hall orchestra later emigrated to Germany and took up the radio microphone. Born in US from exiled family in West Germany Juris Kaža was one of the youngest members of the service. He was working there for three years, and then started long carrier in many foreign media including Associated Press, Radio Sweden. Kaža now works and lives in Latvia, an active journalist and blogger. Doctor in philology Dzintra Bungs made many studies and reports about the issues in the Baltic States that were used by many RL/RFE services for their broadcast programs. Rolfs Ekmanis started working on 1975 as Māris Rauda, commented on social and national issues within the Soviet Union. On 1986 he became the senior editor; on 1990 he became the chief of the RFE Latvian service. On 1993 he left the radio to work in Arizona State University.

Rolfs Ekmanis in his Latvian editorial office in Munich

Rolfs Ekmanis in his Latvian editorial office in Munich

The program started with brief musical interval signal, the program announcement, daily news, on Sundays- weekly review of events. The news are followed by detailed commentary about world events, including those in occupied Baltic countries, materials from the Baltic press in exile, interviews and brief excepts from books and printed works. Latvians were first in RL to extend program time from 30 minutes to 60 minutes. Despite soviet jammers the station was receivable and listener reports and letters concluded that station receives significant attention. Most Latvians liked to listen to Latvian language stations and found RL best alternative to soviet stations. It was reported that families and friends gathered to listen to scheduled RL broadcasts with no objections. Sometimes in Latvian journals the soviets published texts condemning or ridiculing the RL broadcasts showing how disturbed were the authorities by these broadcasts.

Satirical soviet magazine Dadzis on Radio Free Europe

Satirical soviet magazine Dadzis on Radio Free Europe

On 1984 the Latvian service was moved to Radio Free Europe. RFE involved broad spectrum of Latvian exiles all across the world. On 1986 the new soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev fully stopped the shortwave jamming allowing the RFE and VOA to freely broadcast in the Latvian radio waves. RFE journalists freely entered Latvia, and featured the leading forces for independent Latvia. Same as VOA or even more it aided the restoration movement. After Latvia became independent again,  RFE was featured on Latvian FM frequencies. Some of its staff members moved to Latvia and took part in local social and political activities. Radio Free Europe ceased its Latvian broadcasts for the same reasons as VOA on 2003. Radio Liberty still broadcasts on Russian and Belarusian to counter resurgent anti-democratic regimes in Russia and Belarus.

Radio Free Europe Latvian service interval signal 1999


Radio Vatican   (Radio Vatikāns)

Historically the Latvian service on Radio Vatican was the oldest broadcasting already on 1948. Radio Vatican (Radio Vaticana in Latin) was founded on 1931 as the voice of the catholic people across the world. First, broadcast took place on October 2 1948 for 15 minutes once a week. From 1966 Programma Lettone started to broadcast four times in a week, from 1975 six times in a week and extended to 20 minutes. First broadcasts were mainly religious, preaching’s, prayers and papal news. Later the program included news about Catholics in Latvia, life of other confessions and lives in exile. The station recommended believers not engage into political resistance or subversion; however the soviet power regarded the Catholic Church as dangerous anti-soviet element.  As first foreign broadcast in Latvian it gathered large audience and interest. The radio called to gather in the churches to pray for free Latvia, for God to open road to free Latvia more quickly. After radio mentioned Kārlis Ulmanis and Stalin as man with no honor the broadcasts were targeted by jammers. The jamming stopped in the sixties making the station better receivable than the other ones.

The Vatican radio host can only be clergy man, his assistant must so too. Other staff members can be laity. At first programs was lead by Jesuit father Pāvils Beičs. For long years chief editor was father Staņislavs Kučinskis who after finishing Catholic Studies in Latvia, in thirties went to Rome, then to Krakow to study theology. After that he worked as priest in various places across Italy. He also proved himself as historian writing researches about Catholic history. On 1968 the editorial was joined by Monsignor Ārvaldis Andrejs Brumanis. Brumanis was conscripted into Latvian Waffen SS Legion, wounded in Pomerania, taken captive in Belgium where he finished the Latvian Catholic Seminary.  He also finished Louvain University Faculty of History and doctor in theology. On 1996 Pope John Paul II consecrated him to the Bishop of Liepāja, in Latvia.

One of the prominent laity staff members were Dr. Marta Rasupe who came to Rome after winning in international Romanic language competition and became doctor in philology in Rome University where she headed the Latvian section for long decades. She worked as reporter for the radio using her great translation and academic skills, made rich programs of culture.

Starting from seventies, the radio talked more about the difficult relations between the Church and the soviet power. Radio also called Latvians to keep their national traditions. The Lithuanian Catholic underground magazine Lietuvos kataliku bažnyčios kronika was featured by the radio exposing the persecution of the Catholic priests and believers across the Soviet Union. The Vatican Latvian service continued broadcasting until 2012 when major service cut by the Radio Vatican was made. It was the oldest and longest Latvian language service.

Radio Vatican Interval signal 1982


National Radio of Spain/Voice of Free Latvians Radio (Radio Nacional de Espańa/ Brīvā Latviešu Balss)

National Radio of Spain (NRS) came in to light in 1937 during the Civil War controlled by the Francisco Franco regime. Franco’s Spain was one of the countries in the West who did not recognize the occupation of the Baltic States and hosted their embassies in exile. As anti-communist regime it allowed NRS broadcast in 16 languages of the nations within Soviet Union. The Latvian program was called Brīvā Latviešu Balss – the Voice of Free Latvians (VFL) the people who created the service was Latvian diplomatic envoy in Spain Roberts Kampus and daughter of famous Latvian writer Pāvils Rozītis Dzidra Rozīte.

Roberts Kampus was Independence war veteran, studied in Latvian University and Sorbonne University in thirties worked in embassies in Moscow, Stockholm, Rome and London. From 1953 he was the Latvian envoy in exile in Madrid. The service started broadcasting on 1955 and was directed by Kārlis Videnieks until 1961. Every day program was aired twice in 24 hours made almost by Videnieks alone. He was replaced by Teodors Strautmanis, who worked in the newspaper Rīts (Morning), during Nazi occupation was editor of the foreign section of the newspaper Tēvija (Fatherland). He escaped soviets by crossing the Baltic Sea and arrived in Sweden where edited newspaper Latvju Avīze (Latvian Newspaper). Before taking job in Madrid, he worked at the VOA section in Munich.

From 1964 to 1965 the service was directed by Vilis Skultāns who worked in the Latvian Telegraph Agency before the war. He was the one who first informed Latvian foreign minister Vilhelms Munters about the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. During Nazi occupation he worked in Tēvija (Fatherland), and then was conscripted in to Waffen SS where he worked in front line newspaper Daugavas Vanagi (Hawks of Daugava). He spent two years in refugee camps. After that, he took part in the exile social activities published in many newspapers.

The work in RNS was difficult do to the primitive technical recourses. The twenty-minute program was made by only two people, sometimes just one. If one of the workers fell sick, he could not be replaced. The RNS did not pay full salary to the two staff workers and the exile organizations were not generous either. With some funding the exiles gave information materials often in novice level. One of the top contributors of information was closed society Apvienība Tēvzemei (Alliance for Fatherland). The less known organization in undated report stated that NRS VFL broadcasted AF materials were sovereign and independent broadcasts for free and democratic Latvia. The AT refuses to support the official views of Washington and condemns the non-political, pro-American agenda of the American Latvian Alliance. AT opposed the Truman Doctrine for it only wowed to prevent the communist expansion outside its borders, but allowed to exist within.

As other stations the RNS VFL was jammed by soviets, except the times when jammers were turned off so the soviet agents could listen to VFL. RNS did not have the funds for broadcasting at many frequencies at once from various places and repeat them. Despite technical issues and jammers the radio was heard in Latvia, and through covert ways the listener letters were received. Some listeners praised the station for its sharp “poisonous” tone when criticizing the soviet power. Others praised for playing the national anthem on the morning of the November 18th. As the radio aired on mornings some described them as the happiest time of the day. Meanwhile soviet newspapers condemned the “fascist pirates” on the radio waves.

Skultāns wrote memorandum on the future of the Latvian broadcast and presented it at the 1st Latvian Culture congress in Chicago and Madrid radio committee to improve the station was formed. The radio station program consisted of every day news, cultural events and reviews.  Once a week a special program was aired to counter claims of the soviet propaganda. Twice a week the radio talked about Russification and some economical issue. Skultāns made strong anti-communist comments more sharper than all other Latvian language services.  Radio also told stories of the brave Latvian Waffen SS legion fighting the soviets and countered the soviet accusations towards them.

On May 31 1965 for unknown reasons the RNS VFL was suddenly taken off air. At first the shutdown was temporally, and then it held for 52 months.  Officially the reason was technical issues, but as it was rumored it was due to change of Spanish foreign policy. After months of unsuccessful talks Skultāns abandoned Madrid and went to Frankfurt. There the Voice of Free Latvians made second coming as part of Radio Free Russia.

On 1969 the RNS unexpectedly restored the Latvian service. Skultāns returned to Madrid. On September 20 1969 narrator Ivonna Muktāne announced on the radio waves: “This is broadcast for our Latvian fatherland and freedom from the main Spanish National radio in Madrid. We broadcast every day from 21:15 to 21:30 on Latvian time on 32,04 meter shortwave with two repeats on 15:45 to 16:00 in the evening on 30,7 meter shortwave. Please tell your trustful friends and relatives, so they can also listen to our programs! Skultāns meanwhile was cautious about longevity of the Latvian program in Spain due to the coming changes in the Spanish government. He warned member Silvestrs Lambergs of ALA that criticized by many the VFL on Radio Free Russia might live longer than VFL on Spanish radio. ALA planned to take over the VFL broadcast and made Lambergs as supervisor. Lambergs had received special education in radio programming and later did half-hour Latvian radio programs in Latvian in Boston.

Skultāns had issue gathering staff members and financial support. Many offered support, but later declined. The religious programming was troubled because preacher Vilis Vārsbergs was always late in submitting program materials and was out of contact. ALA Information Bureau paid its reporters no more than 8$ for every text. Eventually the Madrid editorial came into conflict with ALA because it started to ignore ALA directives and sent program texts. Skultāns originally promised to work in Madrid for three months so ALA tried searching for a new chief editor. The search failed for the candidates the editor of newspaper Latvija (Latvija) Austra Liepiņa was seen as unfit for radio, while flamenco guitarist Andris Kārkliņš who know Spanish very well was seen as too young for such job. So Skultāns was left as chief and even tasked to write three programs in a week.

From 1955 to 1965 VFL featured programs in Latgalian – a distinct form of Latvian language in Latvian eastern part of Latgale. The programs were hosted by Vladislavs Lōcis. When Latgalians tried to apply for new radio show promising no financial need for Latgalian exiles have enough support on their own, the ALA rejected because it would not have any control over this broadcast. Also, the issue was raised over Latgalian language that was not knowledgeable to all Latvians and ALA demanded not to allow Lōcis to appear every week on the radio, and send their broadcast text to ALA in middle-Latgalian dialect that is more knowledgeable to the common Latvian. Meanwhile the Spanish radio management on 1970, 1971 and 1972 issued orders to Latvians to use only Spanish official sources. In each situation the order was quickly canceled and Spanish bureaucracy apologized for misunderstanding. The management was unaware of the Spanish non-recognition policy and did not coordinate their decisions with the governmental officials.

The issues between ALA and VFL grew stronger. ALA paid ridiculously low salaries to two assistants of Skultāns Ivonna Muktāne and Elza Grigāne De Miguel – 100$ in a month. While Skultāns asked to increase the salary, ALA ordered to fire one of the workers. Ignoring Skultāns ALA ceased payments to both workers, who for patriotic reasons decided to stay at the station. ALA then came to decision to end all financial support to Madrid station. Estonians and Lithuanians who continued to support the broadcasts were puzzled by this action, while Spilners started campign to support the radio station. ALA only agreed to finance VFL in case if Spanish radio increases the transmitter power. While such promises were made,  they were not fulfilled and funding problem continued. On June 14 1972 Ivonna Muktāne went to Venezuela to give birth to a child and become a citizen of the country. Elza Grigāne asked for replacement, but it never came. While Lithuanian and Estonian service went on full swing, the Latvian service of the National Radio of Spain was closed forever.

National Radio of Spain interval signal 1965

The Radio Free Russia transmitters used by the Voice of Free Latvians

The Radio Free Russia transmitters used by the Voice of Free Latvians

Свободная Россия/Brīvā Latviešu Balss (Radio Free Russia/Voice of Free Latvians)

The National Alliance of Russian Solidarists (Национально Трудовой Союз) NTS was formed on 1930 by the group of Russian anti-communist exiles. Their aim was topple the Bolshevik regime in Russia. By 1932 they tried to infiltrate their members in the Soviet Union, spread anti-communist propaganda using balloons. Their members were arrested in Soviet Union and persecuted by the Nazis. From today’s perspective a peculiar thing was their symbol – the Ukrainian trident along the Russian tricolor.  NTS survived the war and continued to establish contacts with Russian compatriots. KGB tried to silence the organization by sending Captain Nicolay Hohlov to assassinate the NTS leader Gregory Okolovich. Instead Hohlov asked for political asylum in West Germany and joined the NTS. Later Hohlov to KGB shame even became professor in American university. In late forties NTS acquired transmitter from the US army and started its clandestine broadcasts on 1950. The station was called Свободная Россия – Radio Free Russia. The transmitter was mounted on cargo truck moving along the border of the soviet controlled Germany. Antenna was simply thrown on the trees of the high-points. The Western German and US intelligence kept closed eyes on this operation, only in some cases asked to move truck to another hilltop. Eventually RFR moved to two stationary transmitters and without any license broadcasted daily for 13 hours for years. On 1958 KGB bombed the NTS transmitter in Sprendlingen. Despite the all the odds NTS survived the Cold War and ceased its activities after the fall of Soviet Union.

After National Radio of Spain closed the Latvian service Vilis Skultāns was looking for new radio station to host his Latvian service. American Latvian Alliance asked Skultāns to consider hold talks with West German radio Deutsche Welle broadcasting in nine languages, create independent station or hold talks with NTS in Frankfurt. Also, the Radio Vatican was asked to allow more room for political content. Deutsche Welle rejected the offer and Radio Vatican also refused. Meanwhile NTS was more approaching to allow Latvians to join their radio. Using NTS contact person Ojars Gobiņš who was in good relations with Ukrainian and Russian anti-communists he established friendly contacts with the movement.

On 1966 Skultāns issued manifesto all exile organizations explaining the goals of the Voice of Free Latvians. The station was set to fight russification, keep Latvians in hope for liberation day, strengthen the national self-conscience and resist the repression and injustice. The station was supported by Alliance for Fatherland AF who sent tape recordings of program Freedom for Fatherland. Station was also supported by Russians from Latvia such as Lev Rahr, who was Latvian citizen and served in the Latvian army. He helped Latvians to reach common agreement with NTS leadership. The agreement was made on commercial basis, NTS did not censor the station and the station kept its Madrid radio name – The Voice of Free Latvians. One of the Latvians dean Miķelis Lizdiks asked can Latvians speak freely against the russification in Latvia and against the Russian chauvinism as whole. The answer was yes – from all republics Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have full rights for independence. Only demand was not to associate whole Russian people with communism. However, the heads of the leading Latvian exile organizations did not believe the Russian promises for support for independence. Month later NTS sent letter in German where he again re-assured that Latvia that was annexed by Soviet Union has full rights of restoring independence, also adding many citations from NTS conferences supporting this view.

On October 15 1966 the Voice of Free Latvians was back on the airwaves. The broadcast started with NTS hosts in Russian saying “let’s give the microphone to our Latvian common thinkers”, afterwards the voice in Latvian issued: This is VFL, the broadcasts take place every day from 9:00 in the evening to 9:10 with two repeats right after that. Our wavelength is   26 and 46,9 meters. Long live free Latvia!” Followed by nationalist slogans and reading of the poem by Jānis Jaunsudrabiņš Remember Latvia! the first issue of the program was “Communist party troubles in Western world”. The station aired from 21:00 to 21:30, containing 10 minute original program, repeated two times, to avoid the soviet jammers. The location of the station was kept secret to avoid KGB sabotage.

NTS demanded 1 000 Deutschmarks in a month, later slightly increasing it. However, because of financial shortages, Latvians could not always pay in time. They were forced to send apply to increase the debt period that NTS accepted. NTS cut monthly pay to 700 DM. On 1968 Latvians owned 4 200 DM to NTS. With all the NTS cuts the supporting organizations from Chicago and AF still could not assemble enough funds to pay of NTS. Latvians had to decrease the broadcast times while both supporting sides conflicted with each other. The station workers had no pay; often had use their own funds to buy tapes, writing materials and sometimes even half of program time. Such situation went on until 1969. The main Latvian exile organizations not only denied support for the VFL but also condemned the only politically free Latvian radio station that had no funds to sustain itself.

While NTS demanded only to cover financial issues and did not mind nationalistic rhetoric voiced by VFL, other Latvians in exile raised suspicion that VFL is hosted by Russians and condemned the VFL association with Russian chauvinists. VFL tried to show voice of reason that not all Russians are communists and many Russians are anti-communists and Latvian allies and more danger comes from Latvian communists.

Other critics raised arguments that the station was not receivable in Latvia. While an argument that station cannot be received in the UK was ridiculous because station was aimed at Riga, many claimed that there is no one from Latvia who had listened to the “NTS Latvian Broadcast”. VFL countered the arguments that they have received letters from listeners in Latvia and their broadcasts are interesting to Latvian listeners then the Latvian VOA report on US Foreign  Secretary daughter’s wedding with Afro-American.  On 1968 Latvian National Fund made secret survey in Riga and Ogre where 25 people stated they mostly listen BBC World Service in Russian, VOA in Latvian and the VFL despite, the fact it’s jammed more than others. One NTS agent in USSR was tasked to drive from Leningrad to Tbilisi and measure the reception of the NTS radio. His report concluded that VFL is receivable very well in Latvia outside large towns. And, with that the best source was soviet newspapers that complained about Radio Free Russia and mentioned Latvians. Despite the KGB efforts VFL received letters praising the station. VFL broadcasted wide spectrum of political and historical issues. They were not affected by other state guidelines were more nationalistic and anti-communistic.

On 1969 National Radio of Spain suddenly renewed broadcasting in Latvian. Most of the VFL staff moved to Madrid. Meanwhile for three years VFL continued broadcasting on Radio Free Russia. Dean Miķelis Lizdiks worked alone in the Frankfurt transmitter. Loaded with work and lack of funds Lizdiks eventually gave up on 1971. On 1972 NTS received letter in Russian, that claimed that in deep regret the VFL have failed to attain its goal and was never received by anyone in Latvia and disappointed financers have cut all funding. While the statement was false and self inflicting, the VLF was received in Latvia, the true reason was lack of support from exile committee, NTS accepted the closure and sent their best regards.

Radio Free Russia interval signal 1972

This is the long story short about the international broadcasting in the Latvian language. While VOA and RFE/RL was supported by the US government and managed to reach enough quality, the Voice of Free Latvians was troubled by the lack of the support amidst Latvian exiles. The story of the Voice of Free Latvians is unique one because for one period of time it operated as unlicensed clandestine service hosted by Russian exile nationalist movement. Until the appearance of RFE/RL Latvian service the VFL was only alternative to the VOA and Radio Vatican. Both VOA and RFE/RL can be praised for their work transmitting the western point of view to Latvians kept behind the Iron Curtain. The stations inspired Latvian anti-soviet resistance and kept the ordinary Latvians hesitant to the sovietization and russification. While Latvia is multiconfesional country with Catholic Church only playing main role in some regions, the Radio Vatican service did great work exposing the soviet repressions against Christians and kept the spirit of religion among the Latvian believers. During the soviet rule Catholics were the most resistant to the soviet policy of atheism, while Lutherans and Orthodox were more willing to give up their faith.  Voice of Free Latvians meanwhile broadcasted alternative point of view not affected even by their hosts the Spanish Franco government and NTS the Russian exile movement.

Today the situation again resembles the days of the Cold War where information and propaganda is used as essential part of hybrid warfare. The propaganda wars now mostly takes place on television on the internet as shortwave broadcasting has been used by only few countries in the world. But, the methods are often the same, and Latvia and the West as whole again needs a lot of recourses to counter propaganda coming from Russia and various terrorist organizations. Latvia now is independent country with the Western support, so the need for defending its point of view relies heavily on us. The lesson from Latvian exile bickering over the Voice of Free Latvians shows how good projects can be doomed by people who are interested in it in the first place. Today Latvian information services are unable to form a TV program in Russian language and the attempts on foreign language service on internet often give poor results. The defeat in the information war can once again lead to situation where exiles and refugees are forced to seek means of broadcasting information to the homeland controlled by hostile forces. Because of this all past lessons are meant to be taken into account. The propaganda and information is one of the essential weapons of the national security.

Selected Sources:

Johatan H. L’Hommedieu. Baltic Language Broadcasting: Emigre Politics and American Cold War Radios.    Latvian History Institute Journal.  2014. Nr. 2

Richard H. Cummings. (2009) Cold War Radio. The Dangerous History of the American Broadcasting in Europe, 1950-1989. New York. Mc. Farland& Company Inc.

Rolfs Ekmanis. Starptautiskie raidījumi latviešu valodā 20. Gs. Otrā pusē.

Rolfs Ekmanis.  Starptautiskie raidījumi latviešu valodā 20. Gs. Otrā pusē. Radio brīvā eiropa / Radio brīvība (rfe/rl) – v

Rolfs Ekmanis. Starptautiskie raidījumi latviešu valodā 20. Gs. Otrā pusē. Radio brīvība (rl) paspārnē 1975-1984– i

Rolfs Ekmanis. Starptautiskie raidījumi latviešu valodā 20. Gs. Otrā pusē. Radio brīvība (rl) paspārnē 1975-1984 – ii

Rolfs Ekmanis. Starptautiskie raidījumi latviešu valodā 20. Gs. Otrā pusē. Radio Vatikāns.

Rolfs Ekmanis. Starptautiskie raidījumi latviešu valodā 20. Gs. Otrā pusē. Madrides brīvā latviešu balss 1955-1965

Rolfs Ekmanis. Starptautiskie raidījumi latviešu valodā 20. Gs. Otrā pusē. Brīvā latviešu balss frankfurtē 1965–1972 – i daļa.

Rolfs Ekmanis. Starptautiskie raidījumi latviešu valodā 20. Gs. Otrā pusē. Brīvā latviešu balss frankfurtē 1965-1972 – ii daļa.

Rolfs Ekmanis. Starptautiskie raidījumi latviešu valodā 20. Gs. Otrā pusē. Brīvā latviešu balss frankfurtē 1965-1972 – ii daļa. Brīvā latviešu balss frankfurtē 1965-1972 – iii daļa.

Rolfs Ekmanis. Starptautiskie raidījumi latviešu valodā 20. Gs. Otrā pusē. Latviešu balsis atkal madridē 1969-1972


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