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Macrea-Toma, Ioana

Beyond the Cold War Linearities: Radio Free Europe and the Interplay of Distant Fantasies

Beginning as a CIA funded American campaign of liberating people from the totalitarian rule, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty outlasted all similar attempts of shattering illusions about Communism. However, beyond the usual linear narrative depicting the radio station as an effective Cold War weapon, one can discover a profusion of broadcasting topics, side-stories and entangled histories, which account for the unintended consequences of a (counter) propagandistic project. Instead of endorsing pedestrian military rhetoric, they reveal the “fictitiousness” of propagating Western policies or of raising political consciousness.
By focusing on the general problems of assessing the impact of the radio on remote audiences and on two specific case studies inter-relating Romanian editors and listenership, I intend to provide quantitative and qualitative evidence about the difficulties and paradoxes of estimating, producing and receiving a message of freedom. Archival material (from the funds of the Open Society Archives) such as the listeners’ messages and letters to the Romanian Desk of RFE and the administrative “audience analyses reports” will not only reveal – once again – the existence of “fiction in the archives”, but will also place personal narratives in the context of a broader understanding of communication processes.

The confrontation of the inputs coming from vox populi with the synchronic anti-totalitarian criticism voiced by the editors of the most appreciated cultural broadcast of the Romanian Desk will reveal the potential of conceptual history, interactionist sociology and social history in analyzing the impact of Western broadcasting on the masses, but also on the editors themselves. Rather than discovering a straightforward liberating message and a mass of gradually emancipated recipients, I will perceive the existence of a vertical interaction, within which the transmitter growingly indulges into a self-centered abstract anti-Communism fostered by an interwar elitist pedagogical ethos, while the audiences remain trapped within the concrete reality. These communicational insights will provide the empirical background for the reflection on the epistemological trends and the scientific tools developed during the Cold War as a consequence of the obsessive concern with the profiles of the hidden listeners.

Thursday 29 Oct, 11.15-12.45 SESSION 1
Panel: On the Airways: Media in the Cold War