(p. A15) Mention the Voice of America or Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to most Americans, and they will give you a blank look.
. . .
. . . it amuses Mark Pomar, an American scholar of Russia who between 1982 and 1986 was assistant director of Radio Liberty (the Russian service of RFE/RL) and director of VOA’s U.S.S.R. division.
In the preface to “Cold War Radio,” his insightful, absorbing account of the remarkable work of these services, Mr. Pomar recalls an incident from 1984, when he traveled to Cavendish, Vt., to interview the exiled author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Checking into his hotel, Mr. Pomar announced that he was from Voice of America, and the clerk asked if that was “a national singing group.”
Today it seems obvious that VOA would interview Solzhenitsyn. Yet in 1984 VOA was still keeping its distance from the famous dissident, because many in the American foreign policy establishment were still committed to détente, the policy that regarded open criticism of the Soviet leadership as a barrier to nuclear-arms control.
To President Ronald Reagan, détente was “a one-way street that the Soviet Union has used to achieve its own aims.” So in that spirit, Mr. Pomar spent three days recording 20 hours of Solzhenitsyn reading from “August 1914,” the first in a cycle of novels about the travails of modern Russia. Despite being nine parts polemic to one part literature, the edited on-air reading was a success, and Solzhenitsyn joined the list of distinguished émigrés whose bonds with Russia, ruptured by repression, were partially mended by America’s “Cold War radios.”
. . .
These people had all been erased (we would say “canceled”) by the regime, so their commentary was implicitly political. But the radios also held explicitly political debates on extremely divisive topics. And no matter how heated these exchanges, the hosts insisted on maintaining “the norms and practices of Western discourse.” Mr. Pomar reminds us (lest we forget) that these norms and practices, so crucial to democracy, were an essential part of the message.
For the full review, see:
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 23, 2022, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Cold War Radio’ Review: Listen and You Shall Hear.”)
The book under review is:
Pomar, Mark G. Cold War Radio: The Russian Broadcasts of the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Lincoln, NE: Potomac Books, 2022.