How Voice of America Censored Solzhenitsyn
SOLZHENITSYN, Target of KGB Propaganda and Censorship by Voice of America
By Ted Lipien
This research article, written for Cold War Radio Museum website to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik coup in Russia, deals primarily with censorship at the U.S. taxpayer-funded and government-run Voice of America (VOA) during the policy of détente in the 1970s as it was directed by higher-level officials against Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, one of Russia’s most renowned writers. VOA’s silencing of Solzhenitsyn’s voice in its broadcasts and restrictions on readings from his major work, The Gulag Archipelago, were a direct result of a successful KGB-run propaganda and disinformation campaign affecting U.S. policy at the White House level down to U.S. government officials in charge of the Voice of America. The KGB, the security agency of the Soviet Union from 1954 until 1991, in addition to conducting foreign intelligence operations, also suppressed internal dissent and took active measures abroad, including propaganda and disinformation, against anyone viewed by the communist authorities as an enemy of the Soviet Union. In a partial relief for truth-deprived audiences behind the Iron Curtain, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, also U.S. government-funded radio broadcasters, were largely unaffected by Soviet propaganda or censorship by U.S. government officials responding to threats from the Kremlin. Their censorship-free broadcasts, beamed by shortwave radio signals behind the Iron Curtain, helped to compensate to some degree for VOA’s failures. They helped to save America’s reputation among the East Europeans and the Russians as the leader of the Free World and a champion of freedom.
As revealed by Major Vasili Mitrokhin, the KGB senior archivist who had defected to the United Kingdom in 1992 after providing the British embassy in Riga with a vast collection of KGB files, during the 1970s and 1980s, Solzhenitsyn was a target of an unprecedented disinformation campaign undertaken by the KGB through its multiple operatives abroad who also received assistance from other Soviet Block intelligence agencies.[ref]Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West, (London: Penguin Books, 2000), pp. 416–419.[/ref]
KGB smears aimed at discrediting the dissident writer, human rights defender and Nobel Prize winner by portraying him as an anti-Western Russian nationalist and enemy of détente managed to intimidate and influence American policymakers at all levels and successfully undermined his reputation in the West even until now. The KGB also spread false accusations of pro-Nazi sympathies and anti-Semitism to discredit Solzhenitsyn and anyone associated with him or offering him support.
The senior management of the Voice of America followed the lead of the Nixon White House and the United States Information Agency (USIA) in caving in to pressure from Soviet propaganda, which also managed to influence some but not all the VOA central English newsroom journalists and their managers. Even VOA foreign language services were not completely immune to the onslaught of Soviet propaganda, although many tried to resit it and, as far as they could, opposed orders from higher management to ban Solzhenitsyn from their broadcasts until specifically ordered to stop their efforts to interview the writer. In the end, KGB propagandists and censors within the Voice of America and the United States Information Agency, whose officials had the final authority over VOA until 1999, prevailed in their determination to deny the exiled writer a chance to present himself and his accounts of Stalinist crimes in his voice to audiences behind the Iron Curtain which were exposed to Soviet propaganda lies about him from their local communist-controlled media. After his forced exile to the West in 1974, Solzhenitsyn was banned from participating in VOA programs for almost ten years. The ban started during the Nixon and Ford administrations and, for all practical purposes, continued during the Carter administration, as Russian Service broadcasters gave up on trying to interview him, and he stayed away from the station.
Censorship at the Voice of America – A Historical Background
The banning of Solzhenitsyn by the Voice of America in 1974 was not the first or the only triumph of Soviet propaganda in forcing the U.S. government-run radio station to cover up or at least limit reporting on Stalin’s crimes. During World War II, the Voice of America practiced what one of its former anti-communist journalists described in 1950 as “Love for Stalin.”[ref]Former Office of War Information editor and journalist Julius Epstein quoted by Congressman George A. Dondero (R-MI) in Congressional Record, August 9, 1950. The quote was from the article which was published in the Evening Star Washington newspaper on August 7, 1950. George A. Dondero, Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the 81st Congress, Second Session, Appendix. Part 17 ed. Vol. 96. August 4, 1950, to September 22, 1950 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1950), pp. A5744-A5745.[/ref]
Wartime VOA presented Stalin as a radical democrat devoted to securing peace and social justice, lied for him and attacked his critics when they accused him of ordering the cold-blooded murder of thousands of Polish military officers in Katyń and deportations and deaths of millions of civilians of many nationalities. The KGB operation to discredit Solzhenitsyn in the West for disclosing this and many other crimes was linked by history to the same campaign of smears and censorship of Stalin’s critics during World War II, in which the Voice of America also played a key role. For those unfamiliar with U.S. government-funded international broadcasting, I include a brief historical background on institutional censorship at VOA in response to Soviet and Russian propaganda since the station’s launch by the Roosevelt administration in 1942 and its placement a few months later within the newly-created Office of War Information (OWI).
The banning of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn from participating in Voice of America radio broadcasts to Russia in the 1970s, ordered by the station’s own U.S. government management, was a shameful and long-lasting episode in the history of otherwise mostly positive contributions of many rank-and-file VOA journalists, even in that period, to the eventual fall of Soviet communist totalitarianism brought about by the 1917 Bolshevik coup. During that time, VOA reported, sometimes extensively, on Solzhenitsyn’s expulsion from the Soviet Union and on some of his statements, but in a move that would discredit the station for many years, the senior management forbade the Russian Service from trying to interview the human rights defender-writer or to allow him to read excerpts from his Gulag Archipelago literary history of Stalinist atrocities, for which he had won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970.
It was not the first or the last example of VOA caving in to the power of Soviet propaganda, disinformation, blackmail, and character assassination–tactics that have again become familiar in the era of Vladimir Putin. Such censorship, whether initiated by high-level officials within the Executive Branch of the U.S. government or on occasion by VOA managers and journalists, which happened regularly under both Democratic and Republican administrations, always provoked severe criticism from the U.S. Congress, parts of American media, and ordinary Americans.[ref]In his “Capitol Stuff” column, reporter and commentator John O’Donnell wrote in Times-Herald Washington newspaper on August 20, 1943: “The misnamed Office of War Information has apparently decided to end its career by suicide and this may be all for the best.Few honest newspaper tears are going to be shed over the demise of an outfit which from birth was a New Deal Roosevelt propaganda body (as discovered by the last Congress which amputated its domestic claws) and throughout its career gave off the distinctly unpleasant stench of being a parking place for pay-roll patriots, political stumble bums and the incompetent sweepings of editorial rooms.”[/ref]
Censorship of such human rights advocates as Solzhenitsyn was profoundly in conflict with American values, but the ban on his participation in VOA broadcasts initiated in 1974 lasted almost a decade. It was one of the biggest triumphs of the KGB-inspired disinformation campaign, carried out at times with willing and at other times with unwitting participation of U.S. officials in charge of VOA. They were all too easily influenced and intimidated by Soviet threats.
Neither government bureaucrats nor journalists like to admit that they engage in propaganda or that they have been successfully duped or threatened by secret services and propaganda operations of another country. Whenever in its more distant past or recently, the leadership of the Voice of America has originated propaganda of its own or practiced censorship, the usual response from American government officials in charge of the organization was that they were following and protecting good journalistic principles and that their critics got their facts wrong. It was almost always the opposite of the truth. These VOA officials also developed a common habit among government bureaucrats everywhere of going on the offensive and attacking their inside and outside critics. During World War II, they even criticized American and foreign victims of their censorship, sometimes using the same accusations as those advanced by communist propagandists against the same individuals and groups.
In another similarity with today’s information wars, these Soviet propaganda claims against governments, soldiers, politicians, writers, and artists, many of whom lost their lives fighting Nazi Germany or protecting Jews, unashamedly also labeled them as Nazis and anti-Semites. To a surprising degree, many of these Soviet disinformation attacks filled with falsehoods, which today would be described as “fake news,” were accepted as true and repeated by some Western politicians, progressive fellow travelers, and journalists, just as RT (formerly Russia Today) and SPUTNIK, under the control of Putin, an ex-KGB officer, achieve their propaganda goals today with the help of social media and some Western journalists, commentators, and even politicians.
Most of the time in the past, decisions to ban certain well-known and highly respected newsmakers from VOA programs or to censor their message by limiting criticism of totalitarian regimes were in response to contemporary concerns of U.S. foreign policy to advance immediate policy and military goals. The United States and the Soviet Union became military allies against Hitler’s Germany after the brief Hitler-Stalin alliance, which helped to start World War II with their joint attack on Poland in September 1939. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact became part of the VOA news silence when after Hitler’s betrayal of Stalin and his attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, the U.S. and Russia were allies and understandably had similar propaganda messages against Nazi Germany. But during World War II, VOA officials and journalists, motivated by their own personal ideological agenda, also actively engaged in censorship and propaganda. They acted not only to help implement U.S. government policy but also on behalf of Soviet policy interests and in furtherance of their own political views. They eagerly repeated the Kremlin’s propaganda messages because they coincided with their deeply held personal beliefs and their desire to promote political and social change.
More recently, personal, partisan, ideological, and even corporate interests of officials in charge of VOA, some of whom engaging in significant corporate business activities in countries like Russia and China and depend in their private life and family investments on the goodwill of authoritarian regimes, also appear to influence programming decisions with the help of equally partisan managers, journalists, and commentators they had hired as U.S. government employees or contractors. Since Russian government’s propaganda is just as pervasive today as Soviet propaganda was during the Cold War, and employs remarkably similar themes and techniques, the danger of the Voice of America becoming a mouthpiece for hostile propaganda or not countering it as it should, is greater than ever under the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) of today — renamed in 2018 as the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM — the final successor to the Office of War Information and as dysfunctional and unaccountable as VOA’s original parent agency.
Institutional censorship at the Voice of America can be divided into several periods regarding its motives and intensity. During World War II, VOA officials and journalists, many of them fellow travelers for Soviet Communism, which they naively believed to be radical democratic socialism, spread Soviet propaganda at the request of the Roosevelt White House and even more frequently at their own initiative. Their propaganda, closely reflecting the Moscow line, was designed to hide Stalin’s crimes and to help him establish pro-Soviet regimes in East-Central Europe, which these American officials equally naively saw as the only guarantee of post-war peace and social progress. They operated with hardly any external controls or scrutiny, apart from the criticism from members of Congress and condemnations from some of the more independent U.S. newspapers and a few private radio stations. This period was characterized by close coordination of American and Soviet propaganda to fight the Nazis and the secret institutionalized collusion of some American officials with their Soviet counterparts to help Russia defeat democratic opponents of Communism in East-Central Europe and help spread Soviet influence in Western Europe. Not even the Roosevelt White House, the State Department, or the U.S. military approved of some of the blatantly pro-Soviet VOA programs during World War II, which could have prolonged the war in North Africa, Italy, and France, and could have increased American war causalities. As Prof. Holly Cowan Shulman observed in her book on propaganda in the early wartime years of the Voice of America, “The [VOA] propagandists believed they could make their own version of American foreign policy come true.[ref]”See Holly Cowan Shulman, The Voice of America: Propaganda and Democracy, 1941-1945 (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1990), pp. 99-102. Prof. Shulman wrote: “Sherwood, Barnes, Wartburg, and Johnson, and their like-minds colleagues the Overseas Branch [OWI’s Voice of America] believed that propaganda could mold and influence foreign policy. Propaganda, in other words, was not merely an expression of policy made by others. The propagandists believed they could make their own version of American foreign policy come true. They believed they were right; they argued that they understood the foreign influence of American policy ways that the State Department, and even the president, did not; and they used the Voice of America to enter the foreign policy debate between members of the Roosevelt’s administration.”[/ref]
In many instances in the past when the VOA management had engaged in censorship or outright lies, including the cover-up of Stalin’s crimes by the wartime Office of War Information director Elmer Davis, his chief deputy Robert E. Sherwood (the founding father of VOA, author of propaganda directives, and initiator of coordination of propaganda between the U.S. and the USSR)[ref]To view some of Sherwood’s previously classified propaganda directives and memos on World War II coordination of U.S. propaganda with Soviet propaganda, see: “75th Anniversary of Voice of America – Propaganda Coordination with USSR,” Cold War Radio Museum, January 17, 2017, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/75th-anniversary-of-voice-of-america-propaganda-coordination-with-ussr/, and “Why WWII Voice of America ignored the Holocaust,” Cold War Radio Museum, March 27, 2017, http://www.coldwarradiomuseum.com/why-wwii-voice-of-america-ignored-the-holocaust/.[/ref], Hollywood actor John Houseman (VOA’s first director), future U.S. Senator from California Alan Cranston (OWI’s censor of Stalin’s critics in U.S. media), some of their questionable and even illegal activities were eventually exposed.[ref]
Elmer Davis and Alan Cranston made several attempts, (a bipartisan congressional committee found some of Cranston’s actions to be illegal), to shut down Polish-American radio stations and newspapers which published reports about the Katyń Forest massacre as a mass murder committed by the Soviets.[/ref]
Elmer Davis’ anti-Nazi commentaries, which included a heavy dose of Soviet propaganda and denials of Stalin’s crimes and his imperialistic intentions, were broadcast by the Voice of America to audiences abroad, as well as on domestic radio networks in the United States. While the transcript of Elmer Davis’ Voice of America broadcast on Katyń, in which he repeats Soviet propaganda claims and denies Soviet responsibility for the mass murder, was already made public by the Madden Committee in 1952, a recording of the same broadcast on a radio network in the United States in 1943 was recently discovered in the WNYC New York public radio station’s online audio archives.[ref][/ref]
During World War II, Voice of America’s founding fathers–Sherwood, Davis, and Houseman–initiated the VOA cover-up of Stalinist crimes, including the Katyń Forest massacre, the 1940 murder of thousands of defenseless Polish POW officers by the Soviet NKVD secret police, which Solzhenitsyn mentions in The Gulag Archipelago. The Madden Committee, a bipartisan committee of the U.S. House of Representatives which in the early 1950s had investigated the role of the Office of War Information and the Voice of America during the war and afterward in covering up the Katyń massacre and other Soviet crimes, concluded that while some of the decisions could be excused as a wartime necessity, American officials and VOA journalists mislead the American public about the true nature of the Soviet regime.
The Katyn investigation revealed that many individuals throughout the State Department, Army Intelligence (G-2), Office of War Information and Federal Communications Commission, and other Government agencies, failed to properly evaluate the material being received from our sources overseas. In many instances, this information was deliberately withheld from public attention and knowledge. There was a definite lack of coordination on intelligence matters between Army Intelligence (G-2) and the State Department, at least as far as the missing Polish officers and the Katyn massacre was concerned.
The possibility exists that many second-echelon personnel, who were overly sympathetic to the Russian cause or pro-Communist minded, attempted to cover up derogatory reports which were received concerning the Soviets.[ref]Select Committee to Conduct an Investigation and Study of the Facts, Evidence and Circumstances of the Katyn Forest Massacre, The Katyn Forest Massacre: Final Report (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1952), pp. 11-13, https://archive.org/details/KatynForestMassacreFinalReport.[/ref]
The Madden Committee also said in its “Final Report”:
Testimony before this committee likewise proves that the Voice of America—successor to the Office of War Information—had failed to fully utilize available information concerning the Katyn massacre until the creation of this committee in 1951.
The bipartisan congressional committee added:
This committee believes that if the Voice of America is to justify its existence, it must utilize material made available more forcefully and effectively.
But even the Madden Committee was not made aware in 1951 and 1952 of many secret U.S government diplomatic cables and other communications which showed the extent to which Robert E. Sherwood, a “Founding Father” of the Voice of America, and other Office of War Information officials, coordinated VOA’s wartime propaganda with Soviet propaganda and became advocates for Stalin’s plans for the domination of Eastern Europe.
The fact that the successors of Voice of America’s “founding fathers” in charge of VOA in the 1970s during the Cold War with the Soviet Union would prevent Solzhenitsyn from reading from his book about Stalin’s crimes showed the long-lasting power of Soviet propaganda and the ability of the Soviets to use it to intimidate several generations of American officials with fake news. Had Solzhenitsyn been a rabid Russian nationalist with fascist sympathies, as the KGB propaganda presented him to be, he would hardly be writing with great empathy about the persecution in Russia of the Czechs, Slovaks, West Ukrainians, West Belorussians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Moldovians, and Poles, whose countries were fully or partially annexed by Stalin at the beginning of World War II in cooperation with Hitler. No Russian nationalist would write about Russian soldiers robbing noncombatants and the elderly and gang-raping women and girls to death during the war with Germany–scenes of brutality and inhumanity described by Solzhenitsyn in a poem composed while he was imprisoned in the Gulag. Unable to write it down, he memorized his long poem titled Prussian Nights about what he had observed as a Red Army officer during the war. A Russian “nationalist” would have never written such a poem. Solzhenitsyn was, above all, a champion of the human dignity of every person regardless of their background, but the KGB misquoted his writings to accuse him of being a Nazi sympathizer and anti-Semite. Worse yet, they found many people in the West who wanted to believe in such crude and deceitful propaganda, just as Vladimir Putin and RT use similar disinformation techniques today, this time with greater success among right-leaning Westerners.
In the KGB’s eyes, they were defending the honor of the Soviet Union and Soviet soldiers from “this hooligan Solzhenitsyn,” as Soviet communist leader Leonid Brezhnev had called him, according to the minutes of the January 7, 1974, meeting of the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.[ref]As quoted by David Remnick, “The Exile Returns,” The New Yorker, February 14, 1994, accessed October 25, 2017, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1994/02/14/the-exile-returns.[/ref]
Brezhnev, who also said that Solzhenitsyn was “out of control,” had a good reason to worry. Solzhenitsyn was writing about communist crimes that were taboo subjects in the Soviet Union. The Soviet leadership kept denying for decades that these crimes had ever happened. In Prussian Nights, the author described the gang-rape of a Polish woman whom the Red Army soldiers mistakenly thought to be a German. In the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Solzhenitsyn also wrote about several thousands of Polish officers and members of the intelligentsia who were imprisoned in Katyń, near Smolensk, and brutally murdered in the spring of 1940 by the NKVD on the orders of Stalin and the Soviet Politburo.
SOLZHENITSYN – THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO: They took those who were too independent, too influential, along with those who were too well-to-do, too intelligent, too noteworthy; they took, particularly, many Poles from former Polish provinces. (It was then that ill-fated Katyn was filled up; and then, too, that in the northern camps they stockpiled fodder for the future army of Sikorski and Anders.) They arrested officers everywhere. Thus the population was shaken up, forced into silence, and left without any possible leaders of resistance. Thus it was that wisdom was instilled, that former ties and former friendships were cut off.[ref]Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation I-II (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1974), p. 77.[/ref]
By not allowing the VOA Russian Service to have Solzhenitsyn read this passage and other similar passages from his book dealing with people of many nationalities who became victims of Stalin’s mass deportations and murders, the leaders in charge of the Voice of America in the 1970s did enormous harm not only to VOA shortwave radio listeners in Russia but also to VOA listeners in Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic countries, and many others–all of them at that time under Soviet domination. The same censorship order applied to all VOA language services. It was the continuation of the pro-Soviet censorship that started at the Voice of America during World War II and lasted with various intensities until the Reagan administration took office in 1981.
In the third volume of The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn has another reference to the Katyń Forest massacre, which during World War II was falsely blamed by Soviet and VOA propaganda on the Germans. The Katyń Soviet atrocity story was largely ignored by VOA until about 1952, reported on more extensively and truthfully later in the 1950s, to some degree in the 1960s but with diminishing frequency, and again largely ignored in the 1970s.
SOLZHENITSYN – THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO: They shot them in a different way too–right at the Onufriyev cemetery, behind the women’s barracks (the former guest house for women pilgrims). And in fact that road past the women’s barracks was christened execution road. In winter one could see a man being led barefoot along it, in only his underwear, through the snow (no, it was not for torture! it was just so his footgear and clothes should not go to waste), his hands bound behind his back with wire,[n.15] and the condemned man would bear himself proudly and erectly, and with his lips alone, without the help of his hands, smoke the last cigarette of his life. (This was how you recognized an officer. …)
15. A Solovetsky method, which, strangely was repeated with the corpses at Katyn Forest. Someone remembered–a matter perhaps of tradition? or was it personal experience?[ref]Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation III-IV, pp. 42-43.[/ref]
Solzhenitsyn also writes in a footnote in The Gulag Archipelago about the 1944 Warsaw Uprising and makes a point that Russian soldiers fighting on the side of the Germans helped to crush the anti-Nazi Polish resistance. No Russian nationalist would admit to such Russian co-responsibility, but Solzhenitsyn did. And yet, the KGB somehow managed to convince quite a few Western journalists and intellectuals that he was a reactionary and a Russian nationalist of the worst kind.
SOLZHENITSYN: Still worse: in October, 1944, the Germans threw Kaminsky’s brigade–with its Muslim units–to suppress the Warsaw uprising. While one group of Russians sat traitorously dozing beyond the Vistula, watching the death of Warsaw through their binoculars, other Russians crushed the uprising! Hadn’t the Poles had enough Russian villainy to bear in the nineteen century without having to endure more of it in the twentieth? For that matter, was that the last of it? Perhaps more is still to come.[ref]Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, p. 257. Solzhenitsyn is mistaken on the date of the Kaminsky brigade’s participation in suppressing the Warsaw Uprising. It was in August and September, 1944. The uprising ended on October 2, 1944.[/ref]
Stalin allowed the Poles to bleed and the Warsaw Uprising to fail. About 200,000 people in Warsaw died during the uprising. The Germans turned the city into ruins. Stalin would not even allow American and British planes with supplies for the Polish fighters to land on the side of the river under Soviet control. Writing about it in such powerful language, Solzhenitsyn showed his humanity and solidarity with the oppressed anti-communist Poles–something pro-Soviet propagandists at the Voice of America during World War II were unwilling to do. As described by a Polish radio journalist Czesław Straszewicz who at the time of the Warsaw Uprising was working in London, wartime Voice of America broadcasts from Washington followed the Soviet example of ignoring the Polish resistance.
STRASZEWICZ: With genuine horror, we listened to what the Polish language programs of the Voice of America (or whatever name they had then), in which, in line with what [the Soviet news agency] TASS was communicating, the Warsaw Uprising was being completely ignored.
I remember as if it were today when the (Warsaw) Old Town fell [to the Nazis] and our spirits sank, the Voice of America was broadcasting to the allied nations describing for listeners in Poland in a happy tone how a woman named Magda from the village Ptysie made a fool of a Gestapo man named Mueller.[ref]Czesław Straszewicz, “O Świcie,” Kultura, October, 1953, pp. 61-62. I am indebted to Polish historian of the Voice of America’s Polish Service Jarosław Jędrzejczak for finding this reference to VOA’s wartime role.[/ref]
The bulk of personal stories in Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago was about Lenin’s and Stalin’s brutal extermination of millions of Russians and Ukrainians. During World War II, the Voice of America leaders and broadcasters censored all reports on such Soviet atrocities; in the 1970s, the officials in charge merely limited coverage of such stories and testimonies by Soviet and East European eyewitnesses of these crimes.
When confronted during and after the war by members of Congress, VOA officials would never admit they did anything wrong. The pro-Stalin propagandists at the Office of War Information and the Voice of America — Davis, Sherwood, Cranston, Houseman and others — tried to blame their critics or even Stalin’s victims instead. They claimed they had no idea Stalin was a mass murderer and insisted that their actions were motivated by wartime patriotism and military necessity. They embraced Soviet propaganda claims that anyone opposing Stalin must be a Nazi, a reactionary nationalist, and an enemy of social justice. Many years later, they sometimes repeated the same Soviet propaganda lies to justify their earlier decisions. Apologist-historians who distorted the early history of the U.S. government broadcasting station by hiding its collusion with Soviet Communism during World War II made future censorship easier to implement and justify.
The second period, after President Truman abolished the discredited Office of War Information and moved the Voice of America to the State Department in 1945, saw the departure from VOA of many of the Soviet sympathizers (a few of them, such as Polish communist Stefan Arski, aka Artur Salman, and Czechoslovak communist Adolf Hoffmeister, went to work as propagandists or diplomats for communist regimes) and a significant lessening of pro-Soviet messages in the early post-war period VOA broadcasts. However, the intentional cover-up of the most egregious Soviet mass murders continued by State Department officials in charge of VOA, some of whom were still sympathetic to the Soviet Union. Even some VOA service directors justified their limited censorship by claiming they were afraid of provoking uprisings in communist-ruled nations. Some said they hoped Soviet jamming of VOA shortwave radio broadcasts would not increase if the American radio broadcasts were not overly critical of communist leaders.
The Korean War and a bipartisan congressional investigation of the Katyń Forest massacre launched by the Madden Committee, named after Indiana Democrat Rep. Ray Madden, forced the leadership of the Voice of America at the State Department to drop their then-already limited censorship of Soviet human rights abuses and to adopt a much stronger anti-Soviet and anti-communist tone which lasted for about two decades. Newly-hired broadcasters who were refugees from Communism tried hard to reverse the previous pro-Soviet line of U.S. government broadcasting at the Voice of America. At the same time, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were created as non-governmental entities, funded by a secret congressional appropriation, and operating until 1972 under the general control of the CIA. This period of relatively censorship-free VOA broadcasting in support of democracy in the Soviet block lasted from about 1951 until about 1970. However, the Johnson administration engaged in some heavy-handed censorship of VOA broadcasts during the Vietnam War. This prompted the resignation in 1965 of VOA director Henry Loomis, but Vietnam War-related censorship continued.
In the early 1970s, the U.S. policy of détente in relations with the Soviet Union and other Soviet block countries during the Nixon and Ford administrations saw the reappearance of a different kind of limited censorship at the Voice of America, specifically in the interest of better U.S.-Soviet relations. Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were much less affected by this change. Still, they were also under constant pressure from the State Department and U.S. ambassadors in the region to moderate the tone of their broadcasts. However, semi-private RFE and RL management based in Munich was much better able to resist such pressures than the Voice of America. RFE/RL’s management was also much more anti-communist than some of the officials in charge of VOA.
Only at the beginning of 1981, the Reagan administration abolished what remained of the censorship of VOA broadcasting to the Soviet Union and East-Central Europe. The Voice of America’s audience in the region increased. In some countries, such as Poland, it significantly increased during the Reagan years when I served as the VOA Polish Service chief. The censorship-free VOA broadcasts were not the only determining factor, but in a few years, they helped to bring about the opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
A different kind of self-censorship and loosening of journalistic standards and controls over programming reemerged with the establishment of the Broadcasting Board of Governors in 1995. Partisan members of the BBG board, some of whom have done corporate business in Russia and China, have encouraged hiring officials and journalists who shared their commercial approach to broadcasting and strongly partisan views (Republican BBG board members were much less successful in filling BBG and VOA positions than the Democrats). There has also been a push from the management for journalistic compromises to get VOA programs accepted for rebroadcasting on local networks in countries ruled by authoritarian regimes. The upper management selected by BBG boards was no longer clear about the mission of serving the most information-deprived nations and groups. The new focus on commercial models and commercial measures of audience reach rather than mission effectiveness led to self-censorship and the lowering of intellectual and journalistic standards. In the words of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the agency had become “practically defunct” and lost the sense of purpose that it had throughout most of the Cold War. Not even Solzhenitsyn, who decried censorship and Voice of America’s insufficient effectiveness against Soviet propaganda, would suggest, however, that VOA was ever pro-Soviet during the time VOA banned in the 1970s. Such criticism of VOA with regard to Putin’s Russia became increasingly common under the BBG and the U.S. Agency for Global Media, as well as criticism of unprecedented partisanship, never before seen in VOA broadcasts.[ref]Robert Reilly, “How to Make the Voice of America Come Through Loud and Clear,” The Wall Street Journal, February 17, 2017. https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-to-make-the-voice-of-america-come-through-loud-and-clear-1487375332.[/ref]
It should be noted that throughout the Cold War, including when the VOA management had practiced limited censorship, many VOA journalists in foreign language services still succeeded in providing their audiences behind the Iron Curtain with plenty of much-needed information. Despite many management-imposed restrictions, the overall contribution of Voice of America journalists to expanding freedom and democracy during the Cold War made a significant difference. It was not until the Cold War ended and the Voice of America was placed under the Broadcasting Board of Governors in 1999 that VOA Russian Service broadcast what turned out to be a fake interview with Russian opposition politician and Putin’s opponent Alexei Navalny.[ref]Michele Kelemen, “Russian Accuses Voice Of America Of Fake Interview,” NPR, February 20, 2012, http://www.npr.org/2012/02/20/147064987/russian-accuses-voice-of-america-of-fake-interview.[/ref]
The incident had all the hallmarks of an operation by the Russian security service FSB, the successor to the KGB, very similar to those carried out by the KGB against Solzhenitsyn in the 1970s and 1980s. Shortly before the Navalny incident in 2012, but also under the oversight of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, an independent Russian media scholar and journalist, Dr. Nikolay Rudenskiy, concluded in a study commissioned by the BBG that the VOA Russian Service programs have acquired a “pro-Putin bias.” He also urged more VOA programming on the history of Russia under Communism.[ref]Nikolay Rudenskiy, Deputy Editor, Russian Online Media Outlet Grani.ru, “VOICE OF AMERICA RUSSIAN WEBSITE EVALUATION QUESTIONNAIRE,” 2011. Online: https://bbgwatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Rudenskiy.pdf.[/ref]
The Decision to Ban Solzhenitsyn from VOA
The best descriptions of how the leadership of Voice of America had tried several times to censor the Nobel Prize-winning author Alexandr Solzhenitsyn in the 1970s can be found in the published memoirs of Victor Franzusoff, the late VOA broadcaster, writer, editor, commentator, and Chief of the Russian Service.[ref]Victor Franzusoff, Talking to the Russians (Santa Barbara: Fithian Press, 1998).[/ref]
Franzusoff wrote in his book, “Talking to the Russians,” that after the Soviet government had expelled Solzhenitsyn from Russia and stripped him of his Soviet citizenship in 1974, VOA’s Russian Service correspondent in Munich, West Germany, Eugene Nikiforov, asked the author for an interview, and Solzhenitsyn agreed. Franzusoff, who had recently been promoted to be the Chief of the Russian Service, described how he was elated by the prospect of a VOA interview with the famous Russian dissident writer. But to his enormous disappointment, the VOA management ordered him to stop his correspondent from conducting the interview.
Franzusoff explained that during the last months of the Nixon administration, he was told the State Department had made the decision that “until further notice, VOA should have nothing to do with the dissident writer.” Whether such a decision had originated in the State Department rather than being taken jointly by officials in charge of the United States Information Agency (USIA) and the Voice of America is not clear. Franzusoff commented, “this decision made no sense to me, of course, but my hands were tied.”
When shortly thereafter, The New York Times began publishing excerpts from Solzhenitsyn’s novel The Gulag Archipelago, which exposed Stalin’s horrific crimes against the Russians and other nationalities, the VOA Russian Service wanted to broadcast them in Russian to the Soviet Union. Despite being snubbed earlier, Solzhenitsyn gave VOA permission to read excerpts from what Anne Applebaum, a Pulitzer-winning historian of Stalin’s terror, described as one of the most influential books of the 20th century.[ref]Applebaum, Anne Applebaum, “Foreword”, The Gulag Archipelago, Perennial Modern Classics, Harper (2007).[/ref]
The Russian Service broadcast news reports on some of the details in The New York Times prepared for them in English by the VOA central newsroom, but VOA’s senior management again intervened and would not permit full excerpts to be read by Solzhenitsyn or anybody else. At the same time, on Radio Liberty based in Munich and also funded by the U.S. government but outside of the federal bureaucracy, “Russians heard the forbidden writings of Solzhenitsyn, broadcast day after day, in their entirety,” as journalist Arch Puddington, former deputy director of the New York Bureau of Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty, noted in his “Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty” history of RFE/RL.[ref]Arch Puddington, Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2000), p. 273.[/ref]
Other language services of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, including the RFE Polish Service, which, unlike VOA, had never censored the Katyń story, also produced special broadcasts based on “The Gulag Archipelago.”
The RFE Polish Service serialized the text of Solzhenitsyn’s three-volume Gulag Archipelago and presented it in its entirety on the radio in 15-minute segments. In a letter to Solzhenitsyn, Director Zygmunt Michałowski said, “It was our intention to reveal to the Polish people the communion of suffering which all the peoples subjected to communist rule have been sharing in varying degrees.”[ref]Cissie Dore Hill, “Voices of Hope: The Story of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty,” Hoover Digest 2001 No. 4 (October 30, 2001): https://www.hoover.org/research/voices-hope-story-radio-free-europe-and-radio-liberty.[/ref]
The situation of Voice of America foreign language broadcasters under the management of its own senior officials and Foreign Service officers from USIA on rotational assignments at VOA was substantially different from how RFE and RL operated. Journalistic freedom and flexibility of VOA broadcasters were severely constrained.
“Once again, the VOA management directed that the project be scrapped,” Victor Franzusoff wrote with great regret. He disclosed in his book that he was informed in a memo from the management that “the purpose of the Voice of America was to offer the news and culture of America to the Soviet Union, and Solzhenitsyn was not (yet) an American.”
Except for Solzhenitsyn “not being yet an American,” who, as a Russian writer and patriot, he was not planning on becoming (his wife and children did acquire U.S. citizenship), this was, of course, untrue, since the VOA Charter, which was already in effect although not yet as U.S. law, did not limit the Voice of America to broadcasting only American news and only information about American citizens. Besides, Solzhenitsyn was a newsmaker whose book became a bestseller in the United States and worldwide. It was a pure case of more political censorship from the leaders in charge of VOA in a misguided attempt to support the tactical goals of the policy of détente with the Soviet regime.
Former VOA program director and journalist, Alan L. Heil, Jr., in his book Voice of America: A History, links the order to prevent VOA from reading from Solzhenitsyn’s works to the United States Information Agency (USIA) director James Keogh, who was appointed by President Nixon. Still, Keogh was hardly the only one among USIA’s and VOA’s own officials and managers who were wary of interviewing Solzhenitsyn or allowing him to record large portions of his book for VOA’s audiences in the Soviet Union.
ALAN HEIL, JR.: Keogh and agency policy officers questioned whether the Voice of America should broadcast excerpts. “To read from the book,” Keogh said, “would be outside the normal style of Voice of America programming and would tend to reinforce Soviet charges that the United States is utilizing these events as a political weapon and is intervening in the domestic affairs of the USSR.” He denied that USIA had “muted its Voice” but said it would not turn backward to what he called “the old Cold War style of broadcasting.”[ref]Alan Heil, Jr. Voice of America: A History.(New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 160. Heil cites James Keogh’s response to Representative Robert L. Sikes, March 5, 1974.[/ref]
In his book, Alan Heil does not write where precisely within the U.S. government bureaucracy the idea of censoring Alexandr Solzhenitsyn originated. Some of VOA’s central English newsroom reporters and managers, especially those with no cultural ties to the captive nations of East Central Europe and the Soviet Union, were also not keen on allowing VOA foreign language services to broadcast large portions of books by such strongly anti-communist authors as Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. Even before Solzhenitsyn arrived in the West, there was a firm internal opposition within VOA’s own management outside of the foreign language services to giving exiled Russians or any other so-called “émigré” figures extensive airtime, even though these individuals were completely banned in official publications in the Soviet Union and their books and articles were only available to a limited number of people in samizdat form.
Some VOA central English newsroom reporters and their managers agreed with the USIA director that reading lengthy excerpts from Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago or allowing the author to read them were inappropriate for the Voice of America. They would compromise, however, by permitting to broadcast of several ten-minute excerpts only after they have been carefully selected by the central English newsroom and offered to the Russian Service for translation. As Alan Heil reported in his book, “the Current Affairs Division [central English] under Bernie Kamenske had issued a dozen Gulag-related pieces, including extensive excerpts. These were devoured quickly by the USSR Division and its Russian Branch, translated, and broadcast to the Soviet Union, where the book, of course, was unavailable to the public.”[ref]Alan Heil, 160.[/ref] Heil does not explain why the Russian Service would have to translate centrally produced scripts in English when they had access to the Russian original and later Solzhenitsyn’s offer to record excerpts from Gulag Archipelago. These restrictions on VOA’s foreign language services enforced by central management were in place long before James Keogh made his decision to ban readings from Solzhenitsyn’s book.
Listening to short segments of the book and to radio scripts translated from English would also be hardly satisfactory to anyone behind the Iron Curtain eagerly waiting to find out in greater detail than what information and commentary VOA was willing to offer about the prisoners of the Gulag and continuing human rights violations under Communism. These people were subjected to severe censorship and propaganda by their own regimes, but many of VOA’s own editors and journalists in the central news service were not persuaded that it was VOA’s job to give the listeners what they wanted to hear because, in their view as Western-trained journalists, such programs might have undermined VOA’s journalistic standards and credibility. In their uni-cultural Western outlook, they allowed themselves to become convinced by Soviet propaganda aimed at them that Solzhenitsyn’s words and books were also, to some degree, propaganda. They were not propaganda in the view of millions of Russians and East Europeans. Many Russia experts in the West, including journalists in VOA’s foreign language services, also did not see The Gulag Archipelago as propaganda.
Who at USIA or VOA first proposed banning readings by Solzhenitsyn and who supported the ban may never become known, but VOA’s management accepted James Keogh’s decision as final. “Keogh’s view prevailed as broadcast policy.” Alan Heil wrote. Russian Service broadcasters were devastated, but, as recent immigrants, they could not afford to give up their government jobs. Heil wrote that “A VOA internal memo had contended that the Gulag excerpts were essential, if listeners in the USSR were to adequately evaluate the facts amid Soviet media distortions of Solzhenitsyn’s work.”[ref]Alan Heil, p. 161. Heil wrote in a note for this statement: “Author’s notes and Kingsley’s talking points, February 26, 1974.”[/ref] He does not make it clear who was the author of the memo. It reflected the views of Victor Franzusoff and Russian Service journalists, which were ignored. Whoever within VOA wrote the memo, no higher-level USIA Foreign Service officer or any of the permanent VOA managers resigned in protest over the ban on Solzhenitsyn. VOA managers, many of whom had been or still considered themselves journalists, implemented the censorship decisions wherever they may have come from, even if some disagreed with what was being done. The directives could have very well come from Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, who later convinced President Ford not to receive Solzhenitsyn at the White House. That decision by Ford was roundly criticized in Congress by both Republicans and Democrats and cost him dearly politically in the United States. It was well received by the Kremlin as yet another proof of the effectiveness of Soviet propaganda and the KGB’s active measures.
Political Fallout for President Ford
Much of the Soviet pressure was in the form of KGB-orchestrated propaganda, but Ford and Kissinger also received warnings about Solzhenitsyn from Soviet ambassador to Washington Anatoly Dobrynin and Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. According to the memorandum of conversation of the Brezhnev-Ford meeting in Helsinki on July 30, 1975, President Ford was highly critical of Solzhenitsyn, while General Secretary Brezhnev said that Solzhenitsyn “is nothing more than a zero for the Soviet Union.”[ref]Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Kissinger Reports on USSR, China, and Middle East Discussions, 1974–76, Box 1, USSR Memcons and Reports, July 20–August 2, 1975—Ford/Brezhnev Meetings in Helsinki (Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe). Secret; Nodis. Initialed by Rodman. All brackets, with the exception of those describing omitted material, are in the original. The meeting took place at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence. Ford and Brezhnev met during the summit held at the conclusion of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. The full memorandum of conversation is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVI, Soviet Union, August 1974–December 1976, Document 171.[/ref]
For someone so unimportant as Brezhnev tried to present the dissident writer to be, the KGB spent enormous resources on trying to discredit Solzhenitsyn and apparently succeeded even with Secretary Kissinger and President Ford. The Soviet propaganda also worked on USIA director James Keogh and some VOA managers and journalists, but certainly not, at least not yet at that time, on the majority of American politicians and ordinary Americans for whom Solzhenitsyn was still a heroic figure. Propaganda takes a long time to do its damage, but as the memorandum of conversation of the Brezhnev-Ford Helsinki meeting shows, Secretary Kissinger and President Ford had bought into the Soviet narrative.
Memorandum of Conversation[Secretary Kissinger gets up to leave briefly.]
Ford: I must say Mr. General Secretary, Mr. Solzhenitsyn has aligned himself—
Kissinger: I am not leaving because you mentioned that name. [Laughter]
Ford: Mr. Solzhenitsyn aligned himself with those who are very severe critics of the policy I and you believe in, détente. Senator Jackson, Mr. George Meany, President of the American Federation of Labor, have spoken out critically. Meany has embraced Mr. Solzhenitsyn. Some of these critics encouraged Mr. Solzhenitsyn to continue his criticism of détente. As I said before, it is my firm belief that détente must continue and become irreversible if we want to achieve that kind of world which is essential for peace. The figures you mentioned, of course, are very disappointing to those who criticize détente. And any improvement there—in the requests or the figures of those who get permission to leave—would undercut some of the criticism and enhance our ability to proceed with détente as we want to do. But I repeat: détente can and will work and can be made irreversible—particularly if this Saturday we can make headway on SALT.
Brezhnev: I mentioned Solzhenitsyn just in passing. There was some information that he wanted to change his way of life and become a monk or something. Reportedly there was some priest going around with him at some point. He is nothing more than a zero for the Soviet Union.”[ref]Memorandum of Conversation,” Helsinki, July 30, 1975. Online: https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v16/d171. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Kissinger Reports on USSR, China, and Middle East Discussions, 1974–1976, Box 1, USSR Memcons and Reports, July 30–August 2, 1975—Ford/Brezhnev Meetings in Helsinki (CSCE). Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Rodman. Brackets are in the original. The meeting was held in the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence.[/ref]
Without being direct, Brezhnev told Ford how he wanted the U.S. government to treat Solzhenitsyn. He ought to be isolated, become nobody and live like a monk. Ford and Kissinger complied as far as they could. This is exactly what the KGB smear campaign against Solzhenitsyn was also designed to achieve.
Before the Helsinki summit, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and President Ford’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs Brent Scowcroft argued vigorously against proposals for inviting Alexandr Solzhenitsyn to meet with the President at the White House. Ford initially agreed with them but later changed his mind under public pressure, especially from members of Congress, including many prominent Republicans. But when the White House came up with various conditions to make the visit seem less important, Solzhenitsyn decided he was not going to submit to more public humiliation. He met instead with Democratic and Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill who never wavered in their support for him and for human rights in the Soviet block. The details of how Scowcroft tried to dissuade President Ford from meeting with Solzhenitsyn are in his July 11, 1975 memorandum to Kissinger.
Message From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft) to Secretary of State Kissinger
Washington, July 11, 1975, 1553Z.Tohak 21/WH51212. 1. The President this morning decided that if he gets a question Saturday night at his press conference on Solzhenitsyn, he will say that he would be happy to see him, as a great literary figure.2 I argued long and hard against it, but in the end I lost. The basic argument presented was that the President not seeing him is building into a major domestic political issue on which the right and the left are joined, the President’s good friends are not with him in light of the variety of other kinds of people he sees, and the whole concept of détente in this country will in the end suffer seriously. One other element raised was that with the Apollo–Soyuz launch, next week will be “Soviet week” and the President’s very high “pro-Soviet” visibility in connection with the space mission will make the refusal to see Solzhenitsyn stand in even more marked contrast and accentuate the criticism.
2. As an example of the sentiment and “unholy alliance” which is building on the issue, there was cited the reception on Capitol Hill for Solzhenitsyn next Tuesday, thus far sponsored by 24 Senators.3 It is being held in apology to him for the President’s unwillingness to meet with him. The sponsors thus far are: Jackson, Biden, Bumpers, Church, Glenn, Humphrey, Inouye, Magnuson, McClellan, Pastore, Ribicoff, Stevenson, Stone, Williams, Case, Brock, Buckley, Helms, Javits, Packwood, Roth, Schweiker, Stevens, Taft and Weicker.
3. I argued against each and every point made, adding that the previous reasons for not seeing him remained completely valid and that it would now in addition be claimed that the President was caving under public pressure. I still lost.
4. If you wish to weigh in again on the issue, I suggest you do so today if possible. If it is possible to dissuade him, you are certainly the only one who can do it.
Warm regards.[ref]Message From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft) to Secretary of State Kissinger, July 11, 1975, Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State, accessed October 27, 2017, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v16/d163.[/ref]
Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Assistant (Friedersdorf) to President Ford
Washington, July 12, 1975.
I am concerned about the Solzhenitsyn issue and its impact on the right wing on the Hill.
One possible solution might be to host a meeting, a luncheon or some other type of event as soon as possible for Solzhenitsyn, Nureyev, and Rostropovich.
Both Nureyev and Rostropovich are now appearing in the Kennedy Center before sell out crowds and both are highly publicized exiles but not nearly as controversial, of course, as Solzhenitsyn.
They are all three artists of great talent and the meeting could be held as an artistic and intellectual event rather than any political gathering.
I just don’t think this issue is going to go away with the conservatives and, of course, it has adverse impact with the liberals too.
With all due deference to Dr. Kissinger, I believe that if détente is so fragile that it cannot stand a meeting with Solzhenitsyn, it will fall on some other account.[ref]Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Assistant (Friedersdorf) to President Ford, July 12, 1975, Office of the Historian, United States Department of State, accessed October 27, 2017, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v16/d165.[/ref]
On July 13, Kissinger and Ford had a conversation in which Kissinger urged him not to receive Solzhenitsyn.
Kissinger: I hope you won’t see Solzhenitsyn before you see Brezhnev.
President: He was pretty good on television.
Kissinger: What would our guys say if he entertained someone trying to overthrow you?
President: I think the worst is over. We took a lot of flak.”[ref]Editorial Note, Office of the Historian, United States Department of State accessed October 27, 2017, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1969-76v39/d319.[/ref]
The Ford administration’s decisions regarding Solzhenitsyn were widely reported, analyzed, and criticized in the media and on Capitol Hill. One of many Americans who knew about and commented on President Ford’s reluctance to invite Alexander Solzhenitsyn to a visit at the White House was Senator James R. Buckley. Speaking on the floor of the Senate on July 16, 1975, he unleashed his criticism on Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for urging President Ford not to meet with Solzhenitsyn.
[ref]Senator James Buckley, “Statement on Kissinger,” Congressional Record, Proceedings and Debates of the 94th Congress, First Session, Volume 121–Part 18 (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1975), July 16, 1975, 23009.[/ref]
The Secretary of State is reported to believe that the symbolic effect of a meeting between the President and Solzhenitsyn could be to the disadvantage of the United States, presumably because it would offend the sensibilities of the leaders of the greatest tyranny the world has known. The foundations of détente must be weak indeed if the President of the strongest nation of the Free World must avoid meeting with the most eloquent living spokesman of the values represented by the Free World. Détente on such terms is neither worthy of the United States nor worth the keeping. Nor will it buy us ultimate safety from the dangers of which Mr. Solzhenitsyn warns.
During the Reagan administration, James R. Buckley served as President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty from 1982 to 1985.
On July 21, 1975, Solzhenitsyn rejected the open invitation to meet with Ford at the White House. He also criticized the President for planning to attend the upcoming European Security Conference in Helsinki, which he called “the betrayal of Eastern Europe.”[ref]Bernard Gwertzman, “Solzhenitsyn Says Ford Joins in Eastern Europe’s ‘Betrayal’,” The New York Times, July 22, 1975, pp. 1 and 9.[/ref]
Solzhenitsyn was right in his assessment of Ford, but he was partially wrong in his prediction about the Helsinki Accords. After Jimmy Carter won the presidential election in 1976, he and his National Security Advisor, Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, used the human rights provisions of the Helsinki Accords to put pressure on the Soviet Union. President Reagan also used it for the same purpose. Human rights activists in the Soviet block likewise cited the Helsinki Accords as a legal justification for their demands for more freedoms. But Solzhenitsyn and many others also correctly saw the Helsinki conference as recognizing Soviet domination of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania because the accords provided international recognition of the post-war borders, including the Soviet annexation of the Baltic States.
Regardless of any assessments of the Helsinki Accords, American politicians and their advisors influenced by the Kremlin’s narrative against Solzhenitsyn eventually paid a heavy political price for their lack of a longer vision of American principles and values in their treatment of the Russian writer. At the suggestion of his future National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter used during the October 6, 1976 presidential campaign debate Ford’s refusal to receive Solzhenitsyn at the White House without any conditions attached to the visit.
“I would only add that on East-West you ought to stress the excessive promises made, Ford’s ambiguity on detente (the non-use of the word, the Solzhenitsyn incident, etc.), the indifference to human rights, etc.,” Brzezinski wrote in his talking points for Carter’s debate with President Ford.[ref]Zbigniew Brzezinski, “Memorandum From Zbigniew Brzezinski to Jimmy Carter,” September 27, 1976. Online: https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1977-80v01/d10. Source: Carter Library, 1976 Presidential Campaign, Issues Office, Issues Office—Stuart Eizenstat, Box 9, Debates—Briefing Material. No classification marking. Carter initialed the top right-hand corner of the first page of the memorandum. Brzezinski circled the word “debate” in the subject line of the memorandum. Brzezinski attached a copy of his Columbia University business card to the memorandum and added the following handwritten comment: “Stu—I hope the enclosed is of help in order to focus the debate. ZB.” The second Presidential debate was scheduled to take place in San Francisco on October 6; for additional information, see Document 11.[/ref]
In the debate, Carter used Brzezinski’s suggested wording on the treatment of Solzhenitsyn by the Ford administration.
CARTER: He’s also shown a weakness in yielding to pressure. The Soviet Union, for instance, put pressure on Mr. Ford, and he refused to see a symbol of human freedom recognized around the world–Alexander Solzhenitsyn.[ref]Gerald R. Ford, “Presidential Campaign Debate,” October 6, 1976. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=6414.[/ref]
President Ford paid a political price for caving in to Brezhnev’s demands and following Kissinger’s advice. In the October 1976 debate, Carter ridiculed Ford for his comment, “I don’t believe that the Poles consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. Each of those countries is independent, autonomous; it has its own territorial integrity.” This statement by Ford, most likely an oversimplification of what he might have heard from Kissinger and his National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, may have contributed to his defeat in the 1976 presidential race. In the debate, Carter also mentioned Radio Free Europe, which Zbigniew Brzezinski, his future National Security Advisor, strongly supported.
CARTER: The fact is that secrecy has surrounded the decisions made by the Ford administration. In the case of the Helsinki agreement, it may have been a good agreement at the beginning, but we have failed to enforce the so-called Basket 3 part, which ensures the right of people to migrate, to join their families, to be free to speak out. The Soviet Union is still jamming Radio Free Europe. Radio Free Europe is being jammed.[ref]Gerald R. Ford, “Presidential Campaign Debate,” October 6, 1976..[/ref]
Solzhenitsyn’s name came up again in Brzezinski’s memorandum to Carter in 1977 about how to handle an open letter to the U.S. president from Soviet dissident Dr. Andrei Sakharov. Brzezinski reminded Carter that “For you not to respond might cause some to draw analogies with Ford and Solzhenitsyn,” a reference to Kissinger’s advice to Ford not to meet with Solzhenitsyn in 1975 because he believed such a meeting would have had a negative impact on U.S. relations with Soviet leaders.[ref]”Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter,” Washington, undated, Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State, accessed October 27, 2017, https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1977-80v06/d2.[/ref]
Nevertheless, Brzezinski urged Carter to be cautious in how any response to Sakharov is released and handled by Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and the State Department because “It could establish a dangerous precedent.” Brzezinski wrote that “…perhaps less inflammatory to the Soviets would be a public release in Washington of a reply expressing your general sentiments on the issue.” “This avoids the problem posed by direct communication with a private citizen who is in opposition to his government,” Brzezinski suggested.
Carter wrote in his memoirs, “While improving diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union was an important goal of mine, I had made it clear in the campaign that I was not going to ignore Soviet abuse of human rights, as I believed some previous administrations had done.”[ref]Jimmy Carter, “Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President.”[/ref]
Fallout for VOA Managers During Reagan Years
Even if individual managers and editors in charge of VOA central English programs disagreed with some of Keogh’s 1974 directives on banning Solzhenitsyn, they were by no means in favor of greatly expanding coverage of the Soviet and East Europe dissident movement. It was almost impossible for VOA foreign language journalists to get approval from senior VOA management to initiate original programs on any topic that might prove to be controversial for communist regimes. Despite the Carter administration’s renewed emphasis on defending human rights as part of U.S. foreign policy, not much had changed at the Voice of America during the Carter years. Mid-level managers and editors in charge of VOA programs, most of whom had been with the agency for many years and most of whom appeared to be Democrats, continued to restrict coverage by VOA’s foreign language services just as they did during the Nixon and Ford administrations. In the early days of the Reagan administration, some of the same VOA managers were again strongly opposed to new USIA director Charles Z. Wick’s ideas of giving dissident writers, artists, and other critics of communist regimes or even President Reagan more extensive airtime. They were later moved to less important positions and replaced by a new management team both at USIA and at VOA. But until that time, the Voice of America paid dearly for its partial censorship of Solzhenitsyn in lost credibility among its audiences and in bad publicity in U.S. media, both conservative and some liberal, as well as on Capitol Hill, among both Democrats and Republicans. As Alan Heil reported in his book, Wick ordered senior and mid-level personnel changes at the Voice of America.
ALAN HEIL: Wick demanded the removal of VOA USSR Division chief Barbara Allen, a foreign service officer. It was one of the last of the purges, designed to placate an ultraconservative congressman from Long Island who considered VOA Russian broadcasts “too soft” and accused VOA of downplaying the views of dissident writer Alexandr Solzhenitsyn.[ref]Alan Heil, p. 209.[/ref]
Of course, the “ultraconservative congressman Long Island” was not the only one who considered VOA Russian broadcasts to be “too soft.” So did Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, other Soviet dissidents, and many journalists working for VOA’s Russian Service. Like their colleagues in various other VOA foreign language services, they welcomed the radical changes in programming policy and reassignments of certain longtime managers who were placing restrictions on original reporting by language services and on topics they would be allowed to cover in the 1970s. It was truly a Reagan revolution at the Voice of America, which also removed the previous reporting and interviewing limitations in VOA broadcasts to Poland and multiplied VOA’s audience to levels never before achieved, not even during the anti-communist protests of 1956, 1968, 1970, and 1975. In September 1982, President Reagan nominated Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, an editor at Reader’s Digest, to be Voice of America director, where he served through August 1984. He was greatly admired by VOA foreign language journalists and just as vehemently despised by some managers, who were removed, and many VOA central newsroom journalists who remained. Tomlinson’s reforms and leadership allowed Solzhenitsyn to be invited to participate in VOA programs to Russia.
Criticism in Congress
The strongest opposition to how the Executive Branch, including the leaders of the Voice of America, mistreated Solzhenitsyn and mismanaged VOA was always in the U.S. Congress. At the time when USIA and VOA officials were still banning Solzhenitsyn during the Nixon and Ford administrations, members of Congress of both parties proposed resolutions granting him honorary U.S. citizenship. They were not, in the end, voted into law but received strong bipartisan support. On February 18-19, 1974, Senator Helms introduced the first of several Senate resolutions granting Solzhenitsyn honorary United States citizenship. Helms greatly admired Solzhenitsyn’s writings, and after Solzhenitsyn’s arrival in the United States, the two men met, exchanged letters and established a long-lasting personal friendship.[ref]Estelle Snyder, “Champions of Freedom: Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Jesse Helms,” North Carolina History Project. Online: http://northcarolinahistory.org/commentary/champions-of-freedom-alexander-solzhenitsyn-and-jesse-helms/.[/ref]
S.J. Resolution 188 of February 19, 1974 had numerous co-sponsors in the U.S. Senate, both Democrats, and Republicans.
Long after the events of the 1970s, Senator Helms introduced the Foreign Affairs and Restructuring Act of 1997. Signed into law by President Clinton on October 21, 1998, the legislation abolished the United States Information Agency and folded most of its operations into the State Department. The Voice of America was put under the Broadcasting Board of Governors. In his memoir, Helms wrote, “At long last, the United States Information Agency and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency were brought under the control of the State Department and the President of the United States.”[ref]”Senator Helms and the State Department,” The Jesse Helms Center, accessed November 6, 2017, https://www.jessehelmscenter.org/archives/from-the-vault/senator-helms-and-the-state-department/.[/ref]
Helms considered this a major victory, but the Broadcasting Board of Governors turned out to be disastrous for U.S. international media outreach, and U.S. public diplomacy languished within the State Department. Russian propaganda under President Putin became more effective and more dangerous than it had been during the Cold War. Whether the censorship of his friend Alexandr Solzhenitsyn contributed to Helms’ antipathy toward the United States Information Agency and VOA, and whether it was a factor in his decision to push for the elimination of USIA, cannot be clearly ascertained, but it also cannot be discounted.
The word of the Voice of America censoring Solzhenitsyn and banning his participation in VOA programs after his expulsion to the West quickly spread in Washington. On March 7, 1974, Senator Harry F. Byrd, Jr. (I-VA), spoke in the Senate and inserted into the Congressional Record a Washington Post op-ed by Rowland Evans and Robert Novak tilted “Voice of America Speechless on Gulag Archipelago.” It was highly critical of USIA director James Keogh and the Voice of America management.[ref]Harry F. Byrd, Jr. “Voice of America Speechless on ‘Gulag Archipelago’,” Congressional Record, Volume 120–Part 5, March 7, 1974, pp. 5833-5834.[/ref]
Evans and Novak wrote that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow “commended VOA’s first handling” of the Solzhenitsyn story. But, according to Evans and Novak, “the diplomatic cable [from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow] also strongly pressed USIA, which runs VOA, to be sure to get into ‘the substance’ of Gulag — that is to beam great gobs of it into the heart of Russia.”
Mr. HARRY F. BYRD, JR. Mr. President, in a column published in the “Washington Post” on March 7, Rowland Evans and Robert Novak point out that the Voice of America has broadcast very little concerning “Gulag Archipelago,” the latest work by exiled Soviet writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
The failure on the part of the Voice of America comes despite a request for fuller coverage from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, according to Evans and Novak.
The columnists indicate that the omission of details about Solzhenitsyn’s work, which is an attack on the policies of the Stalin era, is the result of a conscious effort at the policy level of the U.S. Information Agency not to offend the leadership of the Soviet Union.
The Voice of America has a basic mission to get across the truth behind the Iron Curtain. Failure to communicate the content of “Gulag Archipelago” seems to me to represent an abandonment of this basic mission.
The Voice of America should not be subject to policy dictation based on the theory that all will be well is we are nice to the Kremlin. As Evans and Novak state:
‘Such a with could destroy its credibility and lose its audience.
I ask unanimous consent that the column “Voice of America Speechless on ‘Gulag Archipelago’,” be printed in the Extensions of Remarks.
The Washington Post‘s columnists then reported on and criticized the lack of response from the USIA director to the diplomatic cable, apart from the censorship issue:
ROWLAND EVANS AND ROBERT NOVAK: Keogh, biographer and longtime idolater of Richard M. Nixon, takes the public position that USIA is committed ‘to support, not oppose U.S. foreign policies. Responding last week to his critics, he said: ‘The principal goal of American foreign policy is to affect the foreign policies of other nations toward negotiations and away from confrontation, not to transform the domestic structures of these societies.
That is a shocking admission that VOA is being switched from no-holds-barred news into a policy arm of the U.S. Such a switch could destroy its credibility and lose its audience.
According to Evans and Novak, Senator Henry M. Jackson (D-WA) also expressed his misgivings about USIA’s banning of Solzhenitsyn from VOA broadcasts to Russia and received a response from USIA deputy director Eugene P. Kopp that “the new regime at USIA was trying to ‘reach a wider Soviet audience with more news and information about the United States.’” “In short, spare newsless Russians the harsher facts of Soviet life and give them goodies about America,” Evans and Novak commented with a strong dose of sarcasm. They also pointed out that the Russian Service of the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) and the German overseas radio, Deutsche Welle, have been reading lengthy excerpts from Gulag. Evans and Novak did not mention that Radio Liberty, which operated outside of the USIA but with U.S. government funding, also broadcast large segments from Solzhenitsyn’s book.
On April 3, 1974, Representative John M. Ashbrook (R-OH) spoke in the House of Representatives on Voice of America’s censorship of the Russian Nobel Prize-winning author.
Mr. ASHBROOK. Mr. Speaker, recently I contacted James Keogh, Director of the U.S. Information Agency, to express my concern over the reluctance of the Voice of America to broadcast into the Soviet Union extensive excerpts of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book “Gulag Archipelago.” This work which is strictly prohibited in the Soviet Union deals dramatically and factually with the existence of the concentration camp system in the Soviet Union–an area that the Soviets obviously do not want publicized.
I have received a letter from Mr. Keogh in which he details the coverage given to news about Solzhenitsyn and about his book. Keogh does write:
‘What VOA has not done is use its own polemics to attack the Soviet Union … We considered–but decided against–reading on the air large segments of the book.’
Marita E. White, Assistant Director of Public Information for USIA, in a letter to the New York Times of March 17, 1974, quoted Mr. Keogh further:
“We do not–as the official radio voice of the United States–indulge in polemics aimed at changing the internal structure of the Soviet Union. To read from the book would be far outside the normal style of Voice of America programming and would tend to reinforce the Soviet charges that the United States is utilizing these events as a political weapon …”
In other words, Mr. Keogh seems to be admitting that the broadcasting of extensive excerpts of the “Gulag Archipelago” by the VOA would have a strong impact in the Soviet Union.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn has written on the inability of the West to deal with the reality of Soviet power:
“The timid civilized world has found nothing with which to oppose the onslaught of a sudden revival of barbarity, other than concessions and smiles.”
At this point I include in the RECORD the text of Mr. Keogh’s letter to me as well as an open letter to the Congress of the United States from the ‘Committee for Human Rights in the Soviet Area’ at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mass.:
U.S. INFORMATION AGENCY,
Washington, D.C. March 29, 1974.
The Honorable JOHN M. ASHBROOK,
House of Representatives.
DEAR CONGRESSMAN ASHBROOK: This is in response to your letter of March 18 expressing concern over the Voice of America’s coverage of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book, “Gulag Archipelago.”
Recent news columns have interpreted the fact that VOA is not reading extensive excerpts of this book as a decision to soften VOA coverage of events in the Soviet Union. This is utterly untrue. There has been no change in policy regarding broadcasts to the Soviet Union. Nor has VOA changed its approach to the substance or frequency of news or political programming.
VOA has covered the developing Solzhenitsyn story fully and factually as it has covered other aspects of the dissident movement in the U.S.S.R. Since “Gulag Archipelago” was published on December 28, the book and Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s plight have been reported almost hourly in VOA newscasts in languages of the Soviet Union. In that period of time, these broadcasts carried some 2,500 news stories on the Solzhenitsyn case, adding up to more than 40 hours of broadcast time. In addition, the VOA broadcasts to the Soviet Union in the same period of time carried 95 hours of special reports on the Solzhenitsyn story, including reviews of the book, and comments by public figures and journalists in the U.S. and abroad. This adds up to a total of 135 hours of straightforward broadcasting Between December 28 and March 6.
What VOA has not done is use its own polemics to attack the Soviet Union on this issue. This is consistent with enunciated U.S. foreign policy. We considered–but decided against–reading on air large segments of the book. To do so would have been a sharp departure from the normal VOA programming pattern and would have duplicated the programming of Radio Liberty which is broadcasting the text of the book to the people of the Soviet Union. Thus, I believe, the Voice of America and Radio Liberty fulfill their separate missions.
It is my sincere hope that this information will help establish the record.
JAMES KEOGH, Director.[ref]John M. Ashbrook, “VOA and Solzhenitsyn,” Congressional Record, VOLUME 120–PART 7, pp. 9702-9704.[/ref]
Keogh’s letter represented a typical response from a U.S. government official to charges of censorship. It rejected them as “utterly untrue” but did not address any of them directly. Keogh used program statistics, no doubt obtained from VOA’s senior managers, on the overall coverage of the Solzhenitsyn’s story. But while VOA was reporting news on Solzhenitsyn, including attacks on him by Soviet propaganda, which he was unable to answer promptly, VOA did not broadcast in any great detail the content of his book in English, Russian, or in any other language. The Gulag Archipelago, which generated these Soviet propaganda attacks on the author, was not available for purchase to the audience in the Soviet Union or in any country under Soviet domination. Only the Voice of America, Radio Liberty, Radio Free Europe, and other Western radio stations broadcasting on shortwave and medium wave in Russian and other foreign languages could familiarize the Russians and East and Central European in more detail with what Solzhenitsyn had written. VOA would not be one of them by the decision of its own management, presumably forced upon it by policymakers but not necessarily totally opposed by VOA’s programming leadership.
VOA officials must have also informed the USIA director that reading on the air lengthy segments of the book “would have been a sharp departure from the normal VOA programming pattern.” This was not entirely true since a few more independent VOA foreign language services already had rather lengthy literary programs in which readings from banned authors were included from time to time, although such programs were not viewed with great favor by VOA’s senior management. In the experience of many foreign language journalists at that time, some lower-ranking USIA Foreign Service Officers on rotational assignments at VOA were more likely to approve creative and more independent programs being originated within these services than VOA managers, some of them journalists with prior experience in U.S. commercial media who occupied their positions within the central services.
There was also another angle of the controversy that Keogh’s letter did not address. Alexandr Solzhenitsyn had agreed to be interviewed by VOA and later offered to read the excerpts from The Gulag Archipelago. It would have been a major journalistic coup for any news organization. The letter from the Committee for Human Rights in the Soviet Area, signed by members of the campus community at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, stressed that “to preserve our own security and be able to divert the world’s resources to more productive ends than armaments, we need to make the elimination of the Soviet monopoly on information a priority policy objective.” Solzhenitsyn reading from his book for the VOA audience in the Soviet Union would have helped to diminish the Soviet monopoly on information. He was not allowed to do it through the Voice of America by U.S. officials intimidated by Soviet propaganda. Still, they could not stop Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty from giving extensive airtime to readings of Solzhenitsyn’s books.
On January 28, 1975, Rep. Ashbrook continued his criticism of Voice of America’s censorship of Solzhenitsyn:
Mr. ASHBROOK. Mr. Speaker, the Voice of America has become another victim of détente. In the past the VOA served as a lifeline for those living under communism. Opposition stirring within Communist countries was a major part of program broadcasting.
All this has changed, however, under the leadership of James Keogh, Director of the U.S. Information Agency. According to a recent story in Time magazine, the VOA is now trying to avoid “provocative” stories.
This policy has been evident for some months. In the April 3, 1974 CONGRESSIONAL RECORD, for example, I expressed my concern over the reluctance of the VOA to broadcast into the Soviet Union extensive excerpts of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book “Gulag Archipelago.” Although the VOA program department planned on doing a series of 10-minute excerpts, the project was vetoed by the U.S. Information Agency.
Numerous incidents such as this have led many to charge that political considerations are being allowed to suppress legitimate stories. A Yugoslav writer has said:
“The VOA is jamming itself–apparently out of some misguided spirit of détente.”
This charge has been basically admitted by USIA Director Keogh himself. In the Time interview, Keogh stated:
“Détente has changed what we do in USIA. our program managers must be sensitive to U.S. policy as enunciated by the President and the Secretary of State. That policy is that we do not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. We’re not in the business of trying to provoke revolutions.”
It is extremely unfortunate that the VOA is no longer servings a lifeline for those living under communism. The cause of freedom can only suffer.[ref]John M. Ashbrook, Congressional Record, VOLUME 121-PART 2, January 28, 1975, pp. 1642-1643.[/ref]
Representative Ashbrook inserted into the Congressional Record the text of the article from the December 16, 1974 issue of Time. The news magazine reported that “Some editors and reporters in the radio’s U.S.S.R. division have grumbled about interference from the glavlit–the Russian term for official censor.“
The Time article also described the mood of powerless defiance among VOA Russian Service broadcasters.
TIME: Because the Voice [of America] has always been a lifeline for dissidents in Communist countries, many apparently now feel let down. … Pavel Litvinov, a Soviet intellectual now in exile in the U.S., gave a speech to Voice employees in the U.S.S.R. division in which he said: “The quality of your broadcasts to my country has declined 500% in the last few years.” Astonishingly, the audience burst into applause.[ref]John M. Ashbrook, Congressional Record, VOLUME 121-PART 2, January 28, 1975, pp. 1642-1643.[/ref]
The entire decade of the 1970s was a period of stagnation and great disappointments for VOA foreign language journalists working under severe constraints imposed not only by the various administrations, with the Nixon and Ford administrations being by far worse than the Carter administration, but mostly because of barriers created by their own internal senior management in charge of central programming and most other programming decisions. Time magazine article reported that VOA could not even speak in more detail on the situation of workers behind the Iron Curtain.
TIME: VOA’s Munich bureau suggested a series on young workers in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Washington turned the idea down, according to one VOA official, because “if it had been honest and accurate, it would have been offensive to the governments involved; it would have seemed gratuitous and ideologically polemical.”[ref]John M. Ashbrook, Congressional Record, VOLUME 121-PART 2, January 28, 1975, pp. 1642-1643.[/ref]
The Voice of America management continued to snub Solzhenitsyn on orders of the Nixon and Ford administrations, most likely originating from Secretary of State Henry Kissinger or National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. However, there is no unclassified written document indicating that they had ordered or told USIA director to issue the ban on VOA interviewing the writer.
Aware of Kissinger’s and President Ford’s almost inexplicable hostility toward Solzhenitsyn, a bi-partisan group of Senators, led by Henry “Scoop” Jackson, the Democratic Senator from Washington, hosted a reception for the author in the Russell Office Building on July 15, 1975. Members of the House of Representatives were also present, as well as many private citizens.[ref]Congressional Record, 94th Congress, 15 July, 1975.[/ref]
Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Jesse Helms in Washington, D.C., June 1975. Photo Credit: The Jesse Helms Center.
As described by Estelle Snyder in her article “Champions of Freedom: Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Jesse Helms,” for North Carolina History Project, Ford’s and Kissinger’s treatment of Solzhenitsyn met with a strong rebuke from Republican Senator Jesse Helms.
ESTELLE SNYDER – NORTH CAROLINA HISTORY PROJECT: The following day, the Secretary of State was quoted as saying that “Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s militant views are a threat to peace.” Kissinger went on to say that he had recommended that President Ford not meet with the author. Kissinger charged that Solzhenitsyn advocated an aggressive policy to overthrow the Soviet system and added “I believe that if his views become the national policy of the United States we would be confronted with considerable threat of military conflict … I believe the consequences of his views would not be acceptable to the American people or the world.
Senator Jesse Helms once again took to the Senate floor to challenge Kissinger’s characterization of Solzhenitsyn’s advocacy as favoring aggression. Helms said Kissinger’s words revealed his “complete ignorance” of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s philosophy, adding, “Here is a Nobel Prize winner … a man who literally was willing to lay down his life in defense of freedom, who was oppressed in a concentration camp and our Secretary of State does not know enough about him to even characterize Mr. Solzhenitsyn accurately, fairly or properly.”[ref]Estelle Snyder, “Champions of Freedom: Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Jesse Helms.” Online: http://northcarolinahistory.org/commentary/champions-of-freedom-alexander-solzhenitsyn-and-jesse-helms/.[/ref]
VOA Foreign Broadcasters Against Institutional Censorship
When in 1975, Solzhenitsyn came to Washington and New York to give talks sponsored by the American labor union federation AFL-CIO, Victor Franzusoff approached him again with the hope of securing an interview. He may have thought that Solzhenitsyn’s appearance in Washington could no longer be dismissed by the VOA management as having nothing to do with America. But this time, however, the author had had enough of VOA’s un-journalistic behavior. This is how Victor Franzusoff described his conversation with Solzhenitsyn when they met after the AFL-CIO event in Washington:
VICTOR FRANZUSOFF: “Why should I give you an interview?” he [Solzhenitsyn] asked me. “Twice now I’ve agreed to work with you, and twice you’ve decided I wasn’t worth your time.”
“We weren’t permitted to interview you before,” I tried to explain. “But now that you’re part of American life…”
“You don’t want to hear what I have to say,” Solzhenitsyn said. “And I don’t want to speak to an organization that’s afraid of offending the Kremlin.”
Franzusoff wrote that when reporters covering the event asked him what he and Solzhenitsyn talked about, embarrassed Franzusoff told them, “I’m sorry, but I can’t repeat it.” He added, “It was an exclusive to the Voice of America.”
This was not the first time, the top management of the Voice of America, as well as some of its journalists, engaged in banning or muting a well-known figure who wanted to expose Stalinist crimes. Other VOA journalists resisted this kind of censorship for many years, with some successes and many remarkable failures. Victor Franzusoff was one of the first post-war Voice of America hires who tried to reverse “Love for Stalin” which set the tone for VOA’s first World War II broadcasts. “Love for Stalin” was a term used by a wartime VOA journalist, Julius Epstein, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, one of the few who initially objected to the outright Soviet propaganda present in VOA programs from 1942 until a few years after the war.[ref]Epstein wrote in 1950: “There are still too many of the old OWI [Office of War Information] employees working for the Voice, both in this country and overseas. I mean those writers, translators and broadcasters who so wholeheartedly and enthusiastically tried for many years to create ‘love for Stalin,’ when this was the official policy of our ill-advised wartime Government and of our military government in Germany. There is no doubt that all those employees were at that time deeply convinced of the absolute correctness of that pro-Stalinist propaganda. How can we expect them to do the exact opposite now?” See Dondero, Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the 81st Congress, Second Session, Appendix. Part 17 ed. Vol. 96. August 4, 1950, to September 22, 1950, pp. A5744-A5745.[/ref]
Because of his criticism of pro-Soviet propaganda, Epstein claimed he had lost his job at VOA in 1945. His continued criticism of pro-Soviet censorship in VOA programs in the immediate post-war period brought on personal attacks on him from U.S. officials in charge of VOA. One VOA director, State Department diplomat Foy D. Kohler, referred to Epstein’s immigration status in a 1951 memo: “he is not be [sic] best type of new American citizen” and urged that he be investigated.[ref]Memorandum from Foy D. Kohler (OIB/NY) to All Commission Members, December 18, 1951; RG 0059, Department of State, U.S. International Information Administration/International Broadcasting; Entry# P315: Voice of America (VOA) Historical Files: 1946-1953; Reports Psychological Operations POC THRU Katyn Forest Massacres III; Container #18; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.[/ref] This attack on Epstein was partly caused by his successful efforts to get the U.S. Congress to investigate the Katyń Forest massacre and other mass murders of the Poles in the Soviet Union, later estimated to include more than 20,000 Polish military officers and intellectual leaders. In newspaper articles and letters to members of Congress and officials of the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, Epstein kept presenting the history of VOA’s censorship of the Katyń story. He disclosed that the Voice of America had censored a 1950 interview with Polish World War II military officer Captain Józef Czapski. He had been a prisoner in the Soviet Gulag and led an unsuccessful search in the Soviet Union during the war for his missing fellow officers. The Voice of America would not interview Józef Czapski, who was also a well-known Polish writer and artist, until after the Reagan administration took office in the 1980s. Only then did the VOA’s censorship of the Katyń murder story cease completely and for good.
After the repetition of Soviet lies about the Katyń Forest massacre during the war, partial censorship continued after the war even though VOA, still under the State Department, started to hire journalists who had a more sober view of Communism. Victor Franzusoff was one of them. He emigrated to the United States in 1938, served in the U.S. Army in World War II, and later as an interpreter at the Potsdam Conference. He joined the Voice of America in 1947. Another hire was Alexander Gregory Barmine, a Red Army general and Soviet intelligence agency GRU officer who had defected to the West in 1937. After service in the U.S. Army and the U.S.Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the wartime agency responsible for external intelligence and sabotage against Axis countries, he became the Chief of the Russian Service. He was also one of those who helped to reverse VOA’s earlier pro-Soviet propaganda line. A hardline anti-communist, Barmine was forced to leave the Russian Service in the mid-1960s.
Another post-World War II hire was a VOA Polish Service broadcaster and editor, Zofia Korbońska. During World War II, she was a member of the Polish underground anti-Nazi resistance at the time when the Voice of America was broadcasting propaganda in support of the Soviet and communist takeover of Poland. She also tried to get the Voice of America to speak more forcefully about human rights violations behind the Iron Curtain.[ref]Ted Lipien, “LIPIEN: Remembering a Polish-American patriot,” The Washington Times, September 1, 2010, accessed October 26, 2017, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/sep/1/remembering-a-polish-american-patriot/.[/ref]
The censorship by the VOA management of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, which Victor Franzussof described in his book, happened in the 1970s, a period when VOA broadcasts to Russia were generally supportive of human rights and democracy but increasingly muted in this message because of the policy of détente with the Soviet Union and some of the other communist regimes. Knowing how demoralizing and dangerous communist propaganda was for the victims of totalitarian regimes, Franzusoff was trying not to let the VOA censors have the last word. Still hoping for an interview with Solzhenitsyn, Franzusoff tracked down him and his friend, Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, when both of them and their wives were touring the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. Once again, burned by the previous snub from VOA’s leadership, Solzhenitsyn would not yet agree to give an interview, but he promised to send Franzusoff his future press releases in Russian. This still, however, presented a problem for VOA Russian Service broadcasters, according to Franzusoff. He wrote that Solzhenitsyn told him VOA could broadcast his press releases to the Soviet Union even before the American media received them. Franzusoff was not sure, however, whether the management would allow the Russian Service to use Solzhenitsyn’s press releases if they were not reported on first by other American news organizations. One of the measures of control VOA program directors had over the foreign language services was to make their access to wire services in the central English newsroom as difficult as possible, forcing them to rely on centrally produced English news and radio scripts which then had to be translated into foreign languages. Foreign language VOA broadcasters often did not know immediately about significant news developments until the newsroom decided what was or was not worth reporting.
In describing Solzhenitsyn’s generous offer of providing the Russian Service a first look at his press releases, Franzusoff commented on the difficult situation of VOA foreign language broadcasters.
“I thanked him, but told him nervously, that VOA was only allowed to broadcast news that was in the public domain or had already been aired by the U.S. media,” Franzusoff wrote.
Most of these management-imposed restrictions on VOA’s foreign language services, which were clearly designed to assist in censorship when necessary, were not removed until the Reagan administration took office in 1981. The leadership of the Voice of America, not just the officials of the United States Information Agency and the State Department but also some of the Voice of America’s own longtime managers who enforced or tolerated such censorship for many years even if they partly disagreed in Solzhenitsyn’s case, indeed came to regret it. Some managers who were soft on Russia were moved into less prominent positions during what Alan Heil described as “the dark days of 1981 and 1982” after the Reagan administration took office.[ref]Alan Heil, 219[/ref] Many of VOA’s foreign language broadcasters, however, felt liberated by these changes and their new freedom to report on topics that were previously off-limits or severely restricted. No major programming scandals in broadcasting to the Soviet bloc by VOA foreign language services occurred during the Reagan years, as opposed to numerous embarrassing U.S. media reports on censorship at VOA and rebukes from Congress during the previous period.
For many VOA journalists in the language services, the Reagan years were the best and brightest, when they could finally originate programs and interviews, which the managers who were reassigned would have never allowed in previous years.
In 1982, Hollywood film actor John Houseman, who could be considered the first VOA director in the Office of War Information in charge of radio production, made an appearance at the Voice of America headquarters in Washington for the fortieth-anniversary observances on February 24. Forty years later, he still managed to obscure his role as an implementor of propaganda in VOA’s wartime broadcasts that was so strongly pro-Soviet and in support of communists in Eastern and Western Europe that he was forced to resign by the Roosevelt administration in 1943. It happened after VOA, in one of its broadcasts, insulted the King of Italy whom the U.S. wanted as an ally against Germany, calling him the “moronic little King.”[ref]Holly Cowan Shulman, 101.[/ref] (VOA The State Department refused to issue Houseman a U.S. passport for official VOA travel abroad. He wanted to visit Robert Sherwood in London, where he was in charge of coordinating American and Soviet propaganda in VOA broadcasts. The trip, which after the initial delay would have put Houseman in London shortly after the discovery by the Germans of the Katyń graves of more than 4,000 Polish officers executed by the Soviet NKVD, would have likely focused on how to protect Stalin from being accused of committing this mass murder. Even in his memoirs Houseman referred to wartime VOA as a propaganda and psychological warfare organization. In an ethnic slur in his book, he used the favorite Soviet propaganda label of anti-Semitism for all those who opposed Stalin’s territorial and political demands. But he presented himself to VOA journalists in 1982 as a defender of honest reporting.[ref]John Houseman, Unfinished Business Memoirs: 1902-1988 (New York: Applause Theatre Book Publishers, 1989), pp. 247-249. Houseman wrote: “Psychological warfare could not furnish me with the theatre’s climaxes and consummations; there was no applause for the Voice of America… .”(p. 247) “Why were the Poles, after centuries of partition and suffering, riddled with anti-Semitism and obsessed by mad dreams of a ‘Greater Poland’?”(p. 249)[/ref]
He, of course, did not say in his books or in 1982 that it was under his watch when VOA started to promote the Soviet Katyń lie in April 1943 and established a long tradition of censoring and later minimizing reporting on the Soviet Gulag and communist atrocities. It was under Houseman, Davis, Sherwood, and Cranston that VOA began to ban representatives of democratic government who were part of the anti-Nazi coalition but whom Stalin wanted to replace with communist governments loyal to Moscow — a tradition that would continue and culminate in the banning of Alexander Solzhenitsyn from VOA Russian broadcasts.
With a few exceptions, VOA employees who attended the fortieth-anniversary celebration knew nothing of this history. Alan Heil recalled in his book that Houseman’s speech encouraged all those who saw Reagan administration officials at the Voice of America as a threat to objective and truthful journalism.
ALAN HEIL: He [Houseman] reminded the packed auditorium that honest reporting had been the key to the Voice’s credibility when the tide turned in the direction of an Allied victory the end of World War II. That underlying theme sustained VOA through the difficult winter of 1981/1982.[ref]Alan Heil, p. 208.[/ref]
VOA’s original propagandist for Stalin, who helped to cover up the crimes of the Soviet dictator and participated in the first major collusion between government officials of the United States and Russia to deceive Americans and foreigners alike, managed in 1982 to deceive a new audience, a new generation of VOA journalists, or at least many of them, with the same propaganda claim of honest journalism that was never true. While during World War II, VOA did not broadcast outright lies that could be easily exposed, for example, if it tried to claim victories in battles that ended in defeats for the U.S. military, it did lie about the Katyń massacre. Even the State Department, which was not at all keen on publicizing the Katyń murders, warned VOA not to lie for Stalin. The warning was ignored.[ref]After Joseph Goebbles’ propaganda machine announced the discovery of the Katyn graves on April 13, 1943, a note dated April 22, 1943 addressed to Assistant Secretary of State Adolf A. Berle included a warning for the OWI to exercise caution in reporting on the Katyn story.[/ref]
VOA also lied by omission when it failed to report on other Soviet atrocities, and it lied in presenting Stalin as a democrat.[ref]See Ted Lipien, “The Triumph of Propaganda – Voice of America and Katyń,” BBG Watch, April 13, 2016, accessed October 26, 2017, https://bbgwatch.com/the-triumph-of-propaganda-voice-of-america-and-katyn/.[/ref]
Sherwood, Barnes, and Houseman would have never allowed any reporting on Stalin’s orders to deport entire ethnic groups and on how hundreds of thousands of these deportees died in Siberian gulags or were sentenced to death and killed by the NKVD. Exposed during the 1950-1952 congressional investigation, these facts were quickly hidden by the management from VOA staff and forgotten, which made new censorship and new bans on witnesses of communist crimes easier to implement. Whether during the 1970s Solzhenitsyn ban or today in the case of the shortened VOA Mandarin Service interview with whistleblower Guo Wengui and what seems to be an informal ban on his future participation in VOA broadcasts to China, poor knowledge of VOA’s past mistakes contributes to these scandals. They follow the same pattern.
The Voice of America might do better in the future if it recognized the real heroes of VOA’s early years. These were not Houseman or Sherwood, both propagandists, and censors for Stalin. These would be such journalists as Austrian-Jewish exile Julius Epstein, Polish exile Zofia Korbońska, and Russian-Jewish exile Victor Franzusoff. Epstein, who helped to expose VOA’s censorship of the Katyń story, died in 1975. Korbońska, who fought with VOA management over continuing censorship of the Katyń story, died in 2010. Franzusoff, who opposed the VOA ban on Solzhenitsyn in the 1970s, died in 1996. They were real heroes.
Solzhenitsyn Criticizes VOA and Radio Liberty in 1982
The Reagan administration reforms of U.S. international broadcasting took several years to take hold due to internal bureaucratic opposition. These reforms were partly due to Solzhenitsyn’s earlier public criticism of the Voice of America. Still, while they were beginning to bear fruit, he remained critical of VOA Russian Service broadcasts. In 1982, Solzhenitsyn published an article in National Review, in which he strongly rebuked VOA, as well as Radio Liberty leaders, for their continued timidity in response to totalitarianism. In the article titled “The Soft Voice of America,” Solzhenitsyn’s description of him becoming a target of censorship by the VOA management matches what Victor Franzusoff wrote in his book.
ALEXANDR SOLZHENITSYN: In December 1973, when I was still in the Soviet Union, The Gulag Archipelago was published in the West. VOA—or, rather, one VOA announcer—read an excerpt from Gulag on the air. Immediately, Radio Moscow started screaming that VOA had no right to interfere in the internal affairs of the Soviet Union, that the broadcast had fouled the international atmosphere. And what did VOA do? With the agreement of the State Department, it took the announcer off that assignment and forbade the reading of The Gulag Archipelago to Russia! More, for several years it was forbidden to quote Solzhenitsyn on VOA, so as not to discredit Communist propaganda. My book was written for Russians. Millions of copies were read in the West, but it could not be read to our Motherland![ref]Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, “The Soft Voice of America, National Review (February 24, 2015, first published April 30, 1982), http://www.nationalreview.com/article/414310/soft-voice-america-aleksandr-solzhenitsyn.[/ref]
“Not to know what is happening in and to your own country is crippling. That is why the Voice of America’s self-imposed limits are so misguided,” Solzhenitsyn also observed in his 1982 National Review article.
One of the more frequently quoted sentences from Solzhenitsyn’s article was:
ALEXANDR SOLZHENITSYN: Thus, instead of effectively giving us news, VOA helps to keep us ignorant. In order not to violate State Department policy, it gives us a stone in place of bread.
Solzhenitsyn also wrote that “the broadcasts present Americans as more trivial and less significant than they really are, i.e., they are doing America harm.”
Victor Franzusoff agreed with some of the criticism, but also pointed out that by appealing to younger listeners with lighter programs, including American jazz, VOA was able to expand its audience in the Soviet Union.[ref]Franzusoff, 145.[/ref]
Solzhenitsyn ended his National Review article, however, on a hopeful note:
ALEXANDR SOLZHENITSYN: Still, there is a Latin proverb that goes, “Dum spiro, spero” — where there’s life, there’s hope. Thirty years have gone by, but that does not mean that we should not begin again today. We do not know how much time history will give us, and maybe it is still possible to accomplish much if the Reagan administration actively undertakes to improve U.S. broadcasts. I am not speaking about an increase in the budget, but about a fundamental change in direction. I have said much that needed to be said. The rest is in the hands of your administration.
In his book written many years later, Victor Franzusoff agreed with some of Solzhenitsyn’s criticism of VOA’s Russian Service and disagreed with him on some other points.
VICTOR FRANZUSOFF: Personally, I feel he [Solzhenitsyn] was right in scorning much of the fluff that we were broadcasting to the U.S.S.R., most of which was translated from the central English output that was being broadcast in various languages all over the world. On the other hand, it was hard to deny that we were actually reaching people.[ref]Victor Franzusoff, p. 145.[/ref]
Franzusoff explained that in addition to “the fluff” produced by VOA’s English Service and translated into Russia, the Russian Service also offered its own lighter material and worked with VOA’s talented and popular music contractor and jazz expert Willis Connover.
VICTOR FRANZUSOFF: So although I can understand Solzhenitsyn’s point that sports, fashion, and rock ‘n’ roll were irrelevant and even offensive to those who had fought and risked their lives for human rights, I must defend the value of reaching a vast audience. We were reaching that audience with lighter material–some of which I very much enjoyed, by the way–and that material in its own way spoke for freedom of expression, freedom of thought.
However, the VOA’s management ban on interviewing Solzhenitsyn and on airing large excerpts from The Gulag Archipelago did not speak for freedom of expression. With many hours of daily radio broadcasting to Russia, the Voice of America had plenty of time to air both serious and lighter material, both of good quality and without censorship. One did not exclude the other. On that point, Solzhenitsyn and Franzusoff were in full agreement. There was censorship. Most members of the U.S. Congress and Americans who knew about it strongly disapproved.
A Partial Reconciliation with VOA
Alexandr Solzhenitsyn eventually reconciled with the VOA Russian Service during the later years of the Reagan administration and was allowed to make recordings for radio broadcasts to Russia.
Mary G. F. Bitterman, appointed VOA director during the Carter administration, was viewed by most VOA staffers as an improvement over her most immediate predecessors. Still, the permanent senior managers from previous years remained firmly in charge. She improved employee morale, which led to some limited programming initiatives in the language services. After the 1980 November presidential election, won by Ronald Reagan, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn sent a conciliatory letter to Victor Franzusoff, in which he praised its historical program “Thirty-Five Years Ago.” Ten days earlier, American newspaper columnist Jack Anderson published a column highly critical of the management of the Russian Service. It was titled: “VOA in Russian: Embarrassing Voice.” Mary Bitterman responded to Anderson’s column with a letter to Congressman John Buchanan (R-TN), who inserted it in the Congressional Record on December 5, 1980. Solzhenitsyn’s letter to Victor Franzusoff and VOA Russian Service broadcaster O. V. Volkonsky was also printed in the Congressional Record.
[Translation of letter received by VOA-Russian Service]
To: The Chief of the Russian Section of the Voice of America-V. A. Franzusoff
To: Co-worker of the Russian Section O. V. Volkonsky
GENTLEMEN: I am a constant and grateful listener to your historical broadcasts “Thirty-Five Years Ago”.
I also receive requests from the USSR to thank you for these broadcasts and to continue them in their present form.
I would like to emphasize, although you know this yourselves, that it is almost impossible to imagine correctly the course of basic international events by information given out within the Soviet Union. Such a situation was particularly acute in the immediate post-war years, when listening to Western broadcasts was not yet widespread, and, because they were fiercely jammed. That is why the events of the first post-war years are greatly distorted or not clear in the minds of our population. That is why your broadcasts are of such exceptionally informative worth. And I am writing this letter to ask that you on no account discontinue this series, but continue it further, year after year.
I also appeal to you with the following request: could you supply the All-Russian Memorial Library with all the scripts of these broadcasts? Our Library would preserve them as part of our history for future Russian readers who today are deprived of the possibility of listening to these broadcasts or have missed some of them. I would be extremely grateful to you for such a gift. It would not be necessary to send each script separately, but in large packets, once every three months.
And, if possible, to include all those broadcasts up to the present time–too.
With gratitude and best wishes.
NOVEMBER 28, 1980[ref]Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, “Translation of Letter received by VOA-Russian Service” as placed in the Congressional Record by Rep. John Hall Buchanan Jr., “The Voice of America’s Russian Service,” Congressional Record Volume 126-PART 24, December 5, 1980, pp. 32615-32616.[/ref]
The December 5, 1980 letter from Solzhenitsyn was not an across-the-board endorsement of the Russian Service’s programming. He praised only a single series of programs dealing with the history of the Soviet Union. It was, however, a sign of changing times for VOA. Mary Bitterman, appointed by President Carter, had been in her position for only ten months. As a Carter administration holdover appointee, she would soon be replaced. Major reforms carried out by the Reagan administration appointees finally allowed VOA foreign language services to expand their original programming. Alexandr Solzhenitsyn would be invited to record excerpts from his books.
Mary Bitterman’s letter shows that as late as 1980, there were serious morale and programming issues in the Russian Service, but VOA still managed to attract a large audience in Russia. In introducing Mary Bitterman’s letter, Rep. Buchanan expressed his support for the Voice of America. He was correct that VOA did not have sufficient personnel and funding, which would be increased during the Reagan administration, but the major problem was still the holdover management, the restrictions which it continued to impose on VOA’s foreign language services, and continued poor employee morale. Many of these mid-level permanent managers would be soon reassigned by new Reagan administration appointees.
THE VOICE OF AMERICA’S RUSSIAN SERVICE
(Mr. BUCHANAN asked and was given permission to address the House for 1 minute and to revise and extend his remarks and include, extraneous matter.)
Mr. BUCHANAN. Mr. Speaker, in recent weeks there has been criticism, and I believe unfounded criticism of the Voice of America’s Russian Service.
As a member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. I have listened to witness after witness describe the value of the Voice’s broadcasts into the Soviet Union and the extent to which these individuals have gone just to hear what the Voice has to say.
This is not to say that the Voice’s Russian broadcast service is perfect. I know of no Federal agency, private organization or independent news organization which is. There are major differences among members of the Soviet dissident movement outside the U.S.S.R. and these may, from time to time, be reflected in the Russian service.
But I will say to our colleagues that I believe the Voice is comprised of many very dedicated and able people who are doing a tremendous job despite the constraints, monetary and personnel, which we in the Congress, in response to administration recommendations, have placed upon it and on the International Communication Agency as a whole.
I would like to call to the attention of our colleagues two letters which I believe are relevant to the quality of the the Russian Service. The first is a letter from Alexandre Solzhenitsyn to the chief of the Russian Service commending its programming.
The second is a letter from Voice Director Mary Bitterman in answer to the changes concerning the Voice.
Mr. Speaker, I must admit that I have had some problems with some of the appointments made by the Carter administration within the foreign affairs agencies. These appointments have not always given the type of leadership which I believe to be best for our country.
Mary Bitterman is not among this group. In the 10 months in which she has served as Director of the Voice, she has done an outstanding job not only with the programing, but with the morale of the personnel as well. She has brought a dynamism which has long been lacking but which has been sorely needed at the Voice.
I have also talked with Mrs. Bitterman about her recommendations for the future of the Voice and believe them to be right on target. It is my sincere hope that she will be asked to implement these recommendations.
In a world of expanding communications, we need to enhance our own communications and, hence, understanding. Regrettably, we have not done so.
The Republican Party platform specifically addresses this concern and I believe the Reagan administration will work to expand the capabilities of the Voice and of the other aspects of the International Communication Agency.
During the years in which it has been my privilege to serve as the ranking minority member of the subcommittee which has oversight and funding authority for the ICA and the Voice, I have been at once impressed by the actions of the Agency on the one hand and frustrated by the severe constraints placed upon it on the other.
The fact of the matter is the Voice is not doing all it could do because it does not have what it needs to get the job done. It does not have the resources, personnel or monetary, and this is coupled with the problem of locating individuals proficient in the many languages in which the Voice now broadcasts or in which it would like to broadcast.
Notwithstanding these limitations. I believe the Voice is doing an essential job in telling the story of the great reality of this country and providinq information to the peoples of many lands who thirst for truth.
I would hope that our colleagues would take the time to read these two letters and encourage them to do so.
[Letter from Voice of America Director Mary Bitterman]
INTERNATIONAL COMMUNICATION AGENCY,
Washington, D.C., November 20, 1980.
DEAR JOHN: Knowing of your interest in the Voice of America, I wanted to share with you our reaction to Jack Anderson’s column on the VOA Russian Service. While I appreciate the uniqueness of Mr. Anderson’s investigative reports, I feel compelled to place his assertions in this case into perspective.
Mr. Anderson’s November 18 article “VOA in Russian: Embarrassing Voice” does a disservice to the dedicated employees of the Voice of America and to the readers of his column. It is a collection of a few facts, many half-truths and a number of downright erroneous statements.
The Voice of America Russian Service broadcasts 14 hours per day, seven days a week. It is staffed by Russian-speaking professionals who labor under the same intense deadline pressures that their commercial colleagues do at NBC, ABC and CBS, but with the added factor of having to translate everything into a second language. All the staffers speak Russian, but are of many backgrounds. A few are relatively recent arrivals in this country, but most were either born here or immigrated decades ago. As in any organization, each staffer has his or her professional strengths and weaknesses. All had to pass a qualifying examination in translation and announcing to be hired, just as all had to pass a security background check.
Are there internal problems in VOA’s Russian Service? Yes. But Mr. Anderson has not presented them accurately. Allow me to address the points he raised.
The article cites errors in VOA Russian broadcasts. Without question, under the intense pressures of translation and broadcast deadlines, some errors have occurred. VOA has recognized this and has made major efforts to correct it. In June 1980, for example, the Russian Service instituted an editor-of-the-day system that has tightened up program control greatly, a fact explained in detail to Mr. Anderson’s researcher but not mentioned in the article. I think it is significant that the “bloopers” we could verify from Mr. Anderson’s list were two and three years old.
Mr. Anderson described an instance of an “unfair promotion.” An incident did occur in early 1979 in which a producer reported another employee as having been under the influence of alcohol while in a studio in the evening preparing a broadcast to the Soviet Union. Questioned by his supervisors, the employee denied the charge. He has had an excellent, even exceptional job history at VOA and is a very productive staffer. He was promoted not because of “bureaucratic buddy-buddyism,” but because he was the most qualified person for the job.
The question of the amount and kind of coverage given Soviet dissidents is a perennial issue. Mr. Anderson is correct in the thrust of this portion of his article, but not in his particulars. VOA responsibly covers news of interest to Soviet listeners, including “dissidents” news. I would cite our coverage of Andrei Sakharov’s exile to Gorky, the many international hearings that have been held in his name, all of the public hearings held by the U.S. CSCE Commission and our present detailed coverage of the CSCE Conference in Madrid as prime examples of in-depth, authoritative journalism in this field.
We do insist that all news be verifiable, and to achieve this we normally require two independent sources.
VOA is under regular pressure from many sides to carry more information of specific cases involving Soviet dissidents and refuseniks. That is natural and we sympathize with the motives of the people that urge this on us. But VOA must maintain its standards of verifiability. If VOA reports are “distorted due to the paucity and one-sideness of broadcast information on the internal Soviet scene, it is in large measure due to the same limitations that face all Western media, including the newspapers that carry Mr. Anderson’s column.
The quotation from instructions to a VOA Russian employee to stop collecting examples of mistakes in broadcasts, is accurate, as far as it goes. Seeing a self-appointed inspector search through old scripts for errors in full view of the staff members who had written those scripts was having a devastating effect on staff morale, and it had to be stopped. What Mr. Anderson did not report was even more important. In a separate memorandum and a later meeting with supervisors, the employee was urged to concentrate on current broadcasts and to point out any mistakes she spotted before airtime.
Mr. Anderson’s use of the loaded term “emigre” is demeaning, and carries the connotation of “alien.” VOA Russian Chief Victor Franzusoff, who is described as an “emigre Russian,” came to this country in 1938 and became a U.S. citizen in 1940, while serving in the U.S. Army. He served for two years in the European theatre in World War II. Does Mr. Anderson mean to imply that naturalized Americans are less worthy than born ones?
While making a passing reference questioning the effectiveness of VOA Russian broadcasts, Anderson’s article never really addresses that subject. I would like to set the record straight. Most people who are acquainted with the Soviet Union know that VOA Russian-language shortwave broadcasts are one of the very few channels of outside information open to Soviet citizens. When former Soviet dissident Aleksandr Ginzburg came to Washington shortly after the famous Dissidents-for-Spies swap in 1979, he said “Literally everyone who reads a newspaper in the Soviet Union listens to the Voice of America.” Letters from listeners, interviews with recent emigrants and reports from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow confirm this startling statement. VOA has been cited freely as a source of information in public lectures in Moscow, and it is clear that the Kremlin leadership relies on VOA as a source of information about U.S. policy, particularly in times of international crisis. Estimates done by our friendly competitors, BBC, Deutsche Welle and Radio Liberty, confirm that VOA listenership is far ahead of the other three. An M.I.T. study judged weekly Soviet adult listenership to be 27.5 million.
My career in broadcasting has brought me into contact with industry professionals in our own country and throughout the world.
The Voice of America’s staff, functioning under rather difficult circumstances, is the most dedicated group of broadcasters I have known.
MARY G. F. BITTERMAN,
Director.[ref]As placed in the Congressional Record by Rep. John Hall Buchanan Jr., “The Voice of America’s Russian Service,” Congressional Record Volume 126-PART 24, December 5, 1980, pp. 32615-32616.[/ref]
Solzhenitsyn Records for VOA
Thanks to the efforts of new VOA Russian Branch Chief and USSR Division Director Mark Pomar, Solzhenitsyn finally agreed to read for the VOA Russian broadcasts from August 1914, his newly-written book on the history leading up to the Bolshevik Revolution, part of The Red Wheel cycle of his historical novels. To avoid accusations of favoring any particular Russian émigré writer or any Russian political movement, the Russian Service broadcast a series of programs under the rubric “Russian Voices from the West.” Many of these writers and other well-known Russians were living in exile in the United States. They represented different generations of dissidents with differing ideas of what free Russia should be, but they were invariably attacked by Soviet propaganda as Cold War warmongers. Non-Jews and Jews were liberally attacked as fascists and anti-Semites. Reported without a proper challenge by some of the more liberal U.S. media and repeated by some academics, these propaganda and disinformation messages originated by the KGB had a definite intimidating effect on successive U.S. administrations until the election of Ronald Reagan led to a drastic change of U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union, management reshuffle at USIA and VOA and changes in VOA programs to the Soviet block. But even some officials of the Reagan administration, including Richard Pipes, an American academic with Polish-Jewish background who was President Reagan’s advisor on East European and Soviet Affairs at the National Security Council, seemed to have accepted the idea that Solzhenitsyn was an anti-Semitic Russian nationalist. Among many who were not buying the Soviet propaganda message and came to Solzhenitsyn’s defense was Jewish Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel who wrote: “He is too intelligent, too honest, too courageous, too great a writer.”[ref]DM Thomas, Alexander Solzhenitsyn: A Century in his Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998, p. 491.[/ref]
Solzhenitsyn was definitely a Russian patriot and a spiritual man who was brought up in the Russian Orthodox tradition and who did not have a good understanding of how to navigate between various ideological movements in Western democracies. While he was sharply critical of Western materialism and moral decay, he was not against the West. As he tried to explain many times, he wanted to warn the West about communist totalitarianism and strengthen its resolve to oppose violations of human rights. As someone who saw mass murders under Stalin with his own eyes and powerfully exposed to the Russians and the outside world his own country’s government’s crimes against his own compatriots as well as against other ethnic groups, including Jews, he could hardly be accused of anti-Semitism or intolerant nationalism. His second wife’s mother was Jewish. Solzhenitsyn expressed a number of times his strong support for independence and freedom for non-Russians forcefully annexed into the Soviet empire, which in itself was an unforgivable crime as far as the KGB was concerned. Still, the Soviet KGB correctly guessed that the propaganda charges of nationalism and anti-Semitism it fabricated against him would resonate with at least some American officials, some of the more liberal media figures, and left-leaning intellectuals in the West, specially when paired with anti-Cold War, anti-fascist, and pro-peace propaganda messages.
In May 1982, Victor Franzusoff received from Solzhenitsyn’s wife Natalia Dmitriyevna the Russian translation of his open letter to President Reagan, explaining why he had turned down the President’s invitation to lunch at the White House. Solzhenitsyn was willing to meet with Reagan but did not one to be included in a group of “émigré politicians” and “Soviet dissidents.” “As a literary writer, I belong to neither of these categories. I cannot take a place in the wrong line,” Solzhenitsyn wrote in his open letter to President Reagan. But as reported by Franzusoff, Solzhenitsyn was particularly incensed by some of the KGB-inspired labels attached to him, not only by some of the American media but also by some Reagan administration officials who otherwise contributed to helping bring about the downfall of Communism in the Soviet Union.
ALEXANDR SOLZHENITSYN: Furthermore, the White House has let it be known that a meeting with me would be undesirable because I am a symbol of “extreme Russian nationalism.” This label is an insult to my compatriots, to whose suffering I have devoted my life as a writer.
I am not a nationalist but a patriot. I love my country and therefore understand well that others love theirs. I have often expressed publicly my views that the interests of the Soviet people demand the immediate end of Soviet seizures.[ref]Franzusoff, p. 191.[/ref]
Aware of the controversy surrounding the Russian writer, Mark Pomar cleared the idea of interviewing Solzhenitsyn with VOA deputy director Melvyn Levitsky, a State Department career diplomat who from 1972 to 1975 was a Political Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and from 1982 to 1983 served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. Levitsky was later U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria and Brazil.[ref]Mark Pomar, (Chief, Russian Service, Voice of America, August 1983 to July 1986, in discussion with the author, October 17, 2017.[/ref] After discussing the project with Levitsky, Pomar then traveled to Solzhenitsyn’s home in Vermont with a VOA sound engineer to interview him and to record his readings from his book August 1914. The recordings were brought back to Washington, divided into 36 separate programs about 30 minutes long, and broadcast to the Soviet Union over many weeks.
At the time, the KGB’s secret operation designed to discredit Solzhenitsyn in the West as being anti-Semitic and a supporter of fascist Russian nationalism was still in full swing. The KGB was hoping that mainstream U.S. media would report on these accusations, and they were not disappointed. The Washington Post had an article on February 4, 1985, “Version of Solzhenitsyn Novel, Broadcast by VOA, Causes Flap.” “A new version of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s famous novel August 1914, being broadcast by the Voice of America into the Soviet Union, has the Soviet-watching community in an uproar over charges that parts are subtly anti-Semitic,” was the dramatic lead sentence. The Washington Post dwelt at length on these charges but also quoted Mark Pomar and other experts who dismissed them as a complete distortion of Solzhenitsyn’s real views, if not an actual libel. That the KGB was involved in spreading these rumors about Solzhenitsyn was assumed by Soviet experts in the West, but the full extent of the KGB smear propaganda operation against him was not yet known.
JOANNE OMANG – THE WASHINGTON POST: “Mark Pomar, Chief of VOA’s Russian Service, called allegations that the novel [August 1914] is anti-Semitic ‘absolutely ludicrous.’ He added that Solzhenitsyn would be ‘furious’ at the suggestion.”[ref]Joanne Omang, “Version of Solzhenitsyn Novel, Broadcast by VOA, Causes Flap,” The Washington Post, February 4, 1985, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1985/02/04/version-of-solzhenitsyn-novel-broadcast-by-voa-causes-flap/af632be4-a157-4322-95b1-370b606db787/.[/ref]
KGB, Solzhenitsyn and U.S. Media
Mark Pomar was right. In September 1974, Yuri Andropov, then Chairman of the Committee for State Security (KGB) and later General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, approved a large-scale, multi-faceted plan (no. 5/9-16091) “to discredit and destabilize Solzhenitsyn and his family and cut off his communications with Soviet dissidents.” As described in The Mitrokhiv Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West, a book by British historian Christopher Andrew and former senior officer of the Soviet Foreign Intelligence service Vasili Mitrokhin who defected to the United Kingdon in 1992: “The KGB sponsored a series of hostile books and articles, among them a memoir published under the name of his first wife, Natalia Reshetovskaya.” Solzhenitsyn, whom the KGB gave codename PAUK, was subjected by the KGB to “a constant stream of threats against his children.” The family received “suspicious packages which looked as if they might contain explosives.” While Solzhenitsyn was in Zurich, Switzerland, the KGB even managed to plant within his inner circle three agents of the Czechoslovak intelligence service, one of whom served as the editor of a Czech edition of The Gulag Archipelago until their KGB connection was revealed. The Czechoslovak intelligence officer who temporarily infiltrated Solzhenitsyn’s family was Valentina Holubová who, as reported by Andrew and Mitrokhin, “seems to have arrived on his doorstep on his first day in Zurich, claiming to be from Ryazan (where she had been a schoolteacher) and bearing a bouquet of roses and lilac.”[ref]Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, 414.[/ref]
In July 1975, the French newspaper Le Monde used a distorted quote from one of Solzhenitsyn’s speeches in the United States to smear him as a Nazi sympathizer, even though he fought the Germans during World War II as an artillery officer in the Red Army and was twice decorated. Le Monde wrote, “Alexander Solzhenitsyn regrets the West joined forces with the USSR against Nazi Germany during the last war.” It was a complete distortion of Solzhenitsyn’s views. It was fake news, but there is no proof that it was planted by the KGB.[ref]Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, 612.[/ref] It showed, however, that Western media was susceptible to Soviet propaganda and was already turning against the writer.
After Solzhenitsyn delivered his famous commencement address at Harvard University on June 8, 1978, in which he rather bitterly denounced “a decline in courage” in the West in opposing communist ideology “particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society,” and making them “accomplices” in the suffering of those living under communist rule, the KGB concluded that Western media was not going to respond kindly to such harsh accusations. The Soviet intelligence service decided that no active measures were required to counter the Harvard Address. They were right. Solzhenitsyn’s Harvard speech met with a hostile reception by The New York Times and The Washington Post. As reported by Andrew and Mitrokhin, the Times writer found “Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s world view…far more dangerous than the easy-going spirit he finds so exasperating,” while the Post denounced his “gross misunderstanding of western society.”[ref]Andrew and Mitrokhin, 416–419.[/ref]
The New York Times, the newspaper, which in the 1930s published fake news reports by its Moscow Bureau Chief Walter Duranty, denying the Bolshevik-created famine and millions of deaths in Ukraine, and which submitted his earlier reports for the Pulitzer Prize, received in 1932 and never revoked, proceeded to challenge and lecture the writer in its editorial of June 13, 1978. Insultingly tiled “The Obsession of Solzhenitsyn,” the editorial distorted and made a mockery of his views in a manner eerily similar to the KGB propaganda narrative, although not as crudely as the Soviet propagandists would present it on their own. Calling Solzhenitsyn a “zealot,” the paper’s editorial writers wrote:
THE NEW YORK TIMES: The trouble is, of course, that life in a society run by zealots like Mr. Solzhenitsyn is bound to be uncomfortable for those who do not share his vision or ascribe to his beliefs. Dissent was punished long before there was a gulag. …
Much as we have been instructed and inspired by Mr. Solzhenitsyn, his willingness to set aside all other values in the crusade against Communism bespeaks an obsession that we are happy to forgo in this nation’s leaders. A certain amount self‐doubt is a valuable attribute for people who have charge of nuclear weapons.[ref]Editorial,”The Obsession of Solzhenitsyn,” The New York Times, June 13, 1978, http://www.nytimes.com/1978/06/13/archives/the-obsession-of-solzhenitsyn.html.[/ref]
Considering that The New York Times, The Washington Post, as well as the Voice of America during World War II, also largely ignored the Jewish Holocaust and Stalin’s crimes, their condemnation of Solzhenitsyn, a prisoner of the Gulag for eight years for criticizing Stalin in a letter to a friend, and presenting him as if he himself was a threat to freedom by merely exercising his freedom of speech and daring to criticize the West, including its media, was grossly disingenuous.[ref]“The Voice of America—the United States Government overseas radio broadcasting station founded in 1942—ignored the subject of the Holocaust throughout the Second World War,” American scholar Holly Cowan Shulman wrote in a 1997 article published in Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. She noted that U.S. government officials in charge of VOA were “either Jewish or philo-Semites,” but the radio station during World War II “said very little about the persecution of the Jews of Europe at all.” Holly Cowan Shullman, “The Voice of America, US Propaganda and the Holocaust: ‘I Would Have Remembered’,” Historical Journal of Film, Radio & Television 17, no. 1 (March 1997), pp. 91-103.[/ref]
It was true that Solzhenitsyn did not fully understand Western societies. He appeared too critical, and his comments in the Harvard Address about the rule of law may have been poorly phrased and misinterpreted. Still, his criticism of the Western media did not mean that he favored censorship. Unlike The New York Times and The Washington Post, Harvard Magazine wrote: “Solzhenitsyn’s brilliant, iconoclastic speech ranks among the most thoughtful, articulate, and challenging addresses ever delivered at a Harvard Commencement.” Not every one’s mind in the West had been already poisoned by KGB propaganda. Sholzhenitsyn should have acknowledged his Western admirers and supporters more emphatically, but his bitterness was also not too difficult to understand by those familiar with Russia’s history under Communism and the West’s compromises with Stalin. Attacks on Solzhenitsyn in The New York Times and The Washington Post were no doubt reported on by the Voice of America in reviews of American press. Still, the writer could not answer them directly in his own voice in any VOA program.[ref]Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “The Exhausted West,” Harvard Magazine, July August 1978, https://harvardmagazine.com/2011/04/greatest-hits-solzhenitsyn.[/ref]
Another Solzhenitsyn Reading on VOA
Alexandr Solzhenitsyn reading from March 1917, part of The Red Wheel cycle of novels on the fall of Imperial Russia. Voice of America Russian Branch chief Natalia Clarkson traveled to Solzhenitsyn’s home in Vermont in 1987 for an interview and to record the author reading excerpts from his book. VOA sound engineer Robert “Bob” Louis Cole was in charge of the recordings. Bob Cole passed away in 2017. Courtesy Photo from VOA Russian Service, 2017 video interview with Natalia Clarkson.
Fortunately, after the 1980 presidential election won by Ronald Reagan, who was also portrayed by America’s more left-leaning media as a warmonger of the worst kind ready to start World War III with the Soviet Union at any time, the Voice of America was under new management. After the 1984 series of recordings from August 1914, in 1987, the Russian Service again reached out to the author, and he agreed to record excerpts from his March 1917 book. 1987 marked the 70th anniversary of both the February Revolution and the Bolshevik or October Revolution of 1917. The second Uprising was, in reality, a coup by a small group of communists who lacked any popular support in Russia. Russian Branch chief, Natalie Clarkson, traveled to Solzhenitsyn’s home in Vermont and recorded a large number of readings by the author, which were then broadcast to Russia. She pointed out that the concept behind this series of recordings of Solzhenitsyn reading his book was to show that the Bolshevik coup later in the year (the October Revolution) was preceded by genuinely grassroots protests and revolt in February 1917 O.S. (March N.S.)[ref]Natalie Clarkson, (Chief, Russian Branch, Voice of America, 1980s), in discussion with the author, October 18, 2017.[/ref]
While the senior management prevented the VOA Russian Service from interviewing Alexandr Solzhenitsyn throughout the 1970s, during the same time he gave a lengthy interview to the BBC. In April 1976, Congressman Jack Kemp (R-NY) inserted the text of the BBC interview into the Congressional Record. In his BBC interview, Solzhenitsyn addressed some of the criticism hurled against him by the KGB and all too often repeated in Western media. In response to the statement that he had become an impassioned critic of the West and the question of whether he favored a return to a patriarchal kind of Russia and orthodoxy, Solzhenitsyn criticized Western media for sloppy reporting. This did not win him friends among many liberal-minded journalists in the United States and in Western Europe who saw such criticism as a justification for their continued attacks on the writer. Anyone who criticized the press had to be against the Western concept of a liberal society, a nationalist, and a supporter of government censorship. Solzhenitsyn, of course, was not, but it did not prevent some journalists from repeating these charges.
SOLZHENITSYN: You know, that is one of the consequences of the weak sense of responsibility of the press. The press does not feel responsibility for its judgements; it makes judgements and sticks on labels with the greatest of ease. Mediocre journalists simply make headlines of their conclusions which suddenly become the general opinion throughout the West. You have just enumerated several propositions, and practically all of them are not true. Firstly, I am not a critic of the West. I repeat that for nearly all our lives we worshipped the West. Note the word ‘worshiped.’ We did not admire it; we worshipped it. I am not a critic of the West. I am a critic of the weakness of the West. I am a critic of the fact which we can’t comprehend: how one can lose one’s spiritual strength, one’s willpower, and, possessing freedom, not to value it, not to be willing to make sacrifices for it.
A second label, just as common, was pinned on me: that I wanted to return to a patriarchal way of life. Well, as you see, apart from the half-witted, no normal person could ever propose a return to the past because it’s clear to any normal person that one can only move forward.
I’ll just cite one more example. Take the word ‘nationalist.’ It has become almost meaningless, and it’s used constantly; everyone flings it around. But what is nationalist? If someone suggests that his country should have a large army, should conquer the countries which surround it, should go on expanding its empire, that sort of person is a nationalist. But if, on the contrary, I suggest that my country should free all the peoples it has conquered, should disband the army, should stop all aggressive actions, who am I? A nationalist. If you love England, what are you? A nationalist. And when are you not a nationalist? When you hate England, then you are not a nationalist.[ref]Jack Kemp, “A Rare TV Interview with Solzhenitsyn and When Congress Should Invite him to Address a Joint Session,” Congressional Record, VOLUME 122–PART 9, April 9, 1976, pp. 10260-10261.[/ref]
One of the moderators conducting the BBC interview, British journalist, author and satirist Malcolm Muggeridge, whom Rep. Jack Kemp described as “perhaps one of the most profound social commentators of this century,” remarked about Solzhenitsyn: “if you encased the earth in concrete, there would still be a crack in that concrete, and through that crack something would grow. That’s Solzhenitsyn.” It was an accurate description of who Solzhenitsyn was.
But strong language from Solzhenitsyn was offensive to the ears of many Western liberals, some of whom may have felt guilty about their earlier support for Communism. Malcolm Muggerige was one of them before becoming an anti-communist after working as a journalist in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and observing the Ukraine famine. With many Western journalists resenting being preached to by Solzhenitsyn about Stalin’s crimes and their own shortcomings, the KGB had an easier time of discrediting the dissident writer with the support of parts of Western media. Solzhenitsyn did not say anything that was untrue, anything close to proving that he was an intolerant nationalist, which he absolutely was not, or anything else that conservative intellectuals such as Muggeridge in Britain or William Buckley in the United States were not already saying. But the KGB-designed labels stuck to him for the rest of his life and after his death. Large parts of the left-leaning elites in Western Europe and the United States found the truth in Solzhenitsyn’s life, in his words and in his books, difficult to swallow and felt compelled to lash out at him for sins he did not commit except in the minds of KGB propagandists.
While liberal Western media were the easiest target for KGB propaganda, not everybody in the West fell for it. Solzhenitsyn’s denunciations of weaknesses in Western societies, which he said were motivated by his deep appreciation of the Western culture and concern for its future, were embraced by many conservatives, including Senator Jesse Helms and Ronald Reagan. Solzhenitsyn also had his admirers and defenders among some of the brightest Western writers and thinkers on the liberal side. Perhaps the most eloquent tribute to Solzhenitsyn was written by Canadian American writer Saul Bellow, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature. Bellow’s parents were Jewish immigrants from the Lithuanian part of the Russian Empire before the October Revolution. His Jewish-Lithuanian-Russian immigrant ancestry may have made it easier for Bellow to understand Solzhenitsyn’s views of Russia and the West.
SAUL BELLOW: The word “hero” long in disrepute, has been redeemed by Solzhenitsyn. He has had the courage, the power of mind and the strength of spirit to speak the truth to the entire world. He is a man of perfect intellectual honor and, in his moral strength, he is peculiarly Russian. To the best Russian writers of this hellish century it has been perfectly clear that only the power of truth is equal to the power of the state.[ref]Rep. Philip M. Crane inserted in the Congressional Record the letter from Saul Bellow which appeared in the New York Times of January 15, 1974. The letter sent from Chicago was dated January 7, 1974. Philip M. Crane, “Solzhenitsyn: A Hero for Our Time,” Congressional Record Volume 12-Part 1, January 24, 1974 (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1974), p. 815.[/ref]
In the conclusion of his letter, published in The New York Times on January 15, 1974, Bellow pointed out that scientists, artists and intellectuals have a different role in society than diplomats who pursue the policy of détente with the Soviet government. He did not specifically mention journalists, but he would undoubtedly include them with artists and intellectuals. This point was completely lost on anyone in charge of Voice of America broadcasts who supported the ban on interviewing Solzhenitsyn.
SAUL BELLOW: Persecution of Solzhenitsyn, deportation, confinement in a madhouse or exile will be taken as final evidence of complete moral degeneracy of the Soviet regime.
We cannot expect our diplomats to abandon their policy of détente (whatever that may mean) or our great corporations to break their business contracts with Russia, but physicists and mathematicians, biologists and engineers, artists and intellectuals should make it clear that they stand by Solzhenitsyn. It would be the completest betrayal of principle to fail him. Since America is the Soviet Government’s partner in détente, Americans have a special responsibility in this matter.
What Solzhenitsyn has done in revealing the unchecked brutality of Stalinism, he has done also for us. He has reminded every one of us what we owe to truth.
Solzhenitsyn was difficult to comprehend by a Western mind. He tried but largely failed to explain his views on religion, history, and man to Westerners. The narrative that became dominant in the West, thanks in largely to the KGB, was of Solzhenitsyn as an extreme right-wing nationalist. The man, however, was a profound believer in the dignity of every man and woman. Half-Ukrainian, he was a Russian cultural and religious patriot but, above all, a defender of the defenseless and the forgotten. In his 1975 speech to the AFL-CIO, he tried to counter yet another label being attached to him by poorly informed media in the West. He realized that “anti-communist” became a pejorative term among many Western intellectuals and journalists.
ALEXANDR SOLZHENITSYN: There is a word very commonly used these days: “anti-communism.” It’s a very stupid word, badly put together. It makes it appear as though communism were something original, something basic, something fundamental. Therefore, it is taken as the point of departure, and anti-communism is defined in relation to communism. Here is why I say that this word was poorly selected, that it was put together by people who do not understand etymology: the primary, the eternal concept is humanity. And communism is anti-humanity. Whoever says “anti-communism” is saying, in effect, anti-anti-humanity. A poor construction. So we should say: that which is against communism is for humanity. Not to accept, to reject this inhuman Communist ideology is simply to be a human being. It isn’t being a member of a party. It’s a protest of our souls against those who tell us to forget the concepts of good and evil.
Perhaps the best and most honest portrait of Solzhenitsyn as a person, writer, philosopher, Orthodox Christian, husband and father, can be found in David Remnick article “The Exile Returns” in the February 1994 issue of The New Yorker. It seems to be custom written for Western readers, especially those who were fed earlier the KGB caricature of his life and his beliefs. It exposes the KGB and media lies and shows Solzhenitsyn as he really was.
DAVID REMNICK – NEW YORKER: In terms of the effect he has had on history, Solzhenitsyn is the dominant writer of this century. Who else compares? Orwell? Koestler? And yet when his name comes up now it is more often than not as a freak, a monarchist, an anti-Semite, a crank, a has-been, and not as a hero. One afternoon in Cavendish, I was in the kitchen with Natalia [Solzhenitsyn’s wife] and Stephan [his son], and I asked if Solzhenitsyn planned to make any public appearances, any speeches, before leaving Vermont for Moscow this spring.
“Who would ask him to speak in America?” Natalia said. “Who in America wants to hear him?”
“Face it, Mom,” Stephan said. “It hasn’t worked out here.”[ref]David Remnick, “The Exile Returns,” The New Yorker, February 14, 1995. Online: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1994/02/14/the-exile-returns.[/ref]
It hasn’t worked out in the United States for Solzhenitsyn partly because the relentless Soviet propaganda carried out over many years and KGB active measures helped to turn a great man into a villain in the eyes of many superficial American journalists and some but not all left-leaning intellectuals. Remnick noted that “As recently as 1993, the Boston Globe’s former Moscow correspondent, Alex Beam, published an opinion piece in the paper under the headline ‘SHUT UP, SOLZHENITSYN’.”
Remnick defended Solzhenitsyn.
DAVID REMNICK: “…there is no greater story of human dignity in this century than that of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn…. To mock him is to mock the uncommon, the rare appearance of the superior and necessary man.”[ref]David Remnick, “Reds Scared,” The New Yorker, October 30, 1995, 109, 111 quoted in Edward E. Ericson, Jr., “The Gulag Archipelago: A generation Later,” Modern Age, 155, accessed October 25, 2017, https://isistatic.org/journal-archive/ma/44_02/ericson.pdf.[/ref]
The shabby treatment the great Russian writer had received from the Voice of America management in the 1970s, despite the best efforts of Victor Franzusoff and other VOA journalists to avoid censorship, was repeated at the time of his death in August 2008 when VOA was already under the watch of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. VOA reports on his death and his legacy, all too brief and superficial considering that people like Solzhenitsyn, Vaclav Havel, and Lech Wałęsa were the ones who made VOA during most of the Cold War an important news organization representing the U.S. government and the American people, followed the now usual but highly deceptive practice of fully “balanced” journalism which placed words of praise for the writer on the equal footing with KGB-originated propaganda smears from several decades earlier. They were quoted repeatedly by distinguished Western journalists and scholars. That kind of journalism at the Voice of America practiced now under the Broadcasting Board of Governors, renamed the U.S. Agency for Global Media in 2018, is what made the KGB propaganda so successful against Solzhenitsyn in the 1970s and what makes Putin’s propaganda on RT and SPUTNIK and through their trolls effective today in disrupting American politics. When Western journalists treat propaganda as nothing more than the news that only needs to be “balanced,” they help to legitimize falsehoods as an acceptable point of view and make propaganda successful. Hillary Clinton and her supporters found out the hard way during the 2016 presidential election campaign how the Kremlin’s propaganda works in conjunction with the dirty tricks of the FSB.
There was no mention in the VOA reports at the time of Solzhenitsyn’s death in 2008 of the decades-long KGB disinformation campaign against him. There was also no mention of VOA’s shameful censorship of the great author and his books in the 1970s.
Only the change in U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union and in the management of the Voice of America during the Reagan administration made it possible for the Russian Service to invite Solzhenitsyn to speak to VOA’s audience. These changes helped to hasten the fall of the Communism in Russia, allowing the writer to return to his home country in 1994. Solzhenitsyn died of heart failure in Moscow on August 3, 2008. He was 89.
Several earlier Cold War Radio Museum articles also examined these events and provided a historical perspective and rich documentation from the Congressional Record and from previously classified U.S. government documents on how the censorship of Solzhenitsyn by the Voice of America was part of a larger pattern of Soviet propaganda influence going back to World War II. Hopefully, the whole series on how Voice of America censored Solzhenitsyn will offer some lessons for today’s propaganda wars being waged against the United States by Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, and ISIS.
Photos: (Top) Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and his wife Natalia Dmitriyevna Solzhenitsyn exiting from Alaska Airlines plane upon their arrival on May 27, 1994 in Vladivostok as they returned from exile in the United States. Photo by Ted Lipien.
(Bottom)Local Russian officials and VOA reporter Ted Lipien awaiting the arrival of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn in Vladivostok on May 27, 1994. VOA had no plans for on-the-ground coverage of Solzhenitsyn’s arrival in Russia, but Ted Lipien and VOA Russian Branch Chief Sherwood Demitz who were in Vladivostok on a marketing trip to promote rebroadcasting of VOA programs by local radio stations sent in a report to Washington.
Disclosure: Ted Lipien was VOA acting associate director in charge of central news programs before his retirement in 2006. In the 1970s, he worked as a broadcaster in the VOA Polish Service and was a reporter and service chief in the 1980s during Solidarity’s struggle for democracy in Poland. He is one of the co-founders and supporters of BBG Watch, whose volunteers monitor management and performance of taxpayer-funded Voice of America and other U.S. government-run media operations within the Broadcasting Board of Governors. In 2020-2021, he served several weeks as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) President and CEO.