thumbnail of People under communism; Through the Iron Curtain
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
This is people under communism a series of documentaries interviews and talks based upon documented evidence and expert knowledge about the power and intentions of the Soviet Union. People under communism as presented by the National Association of educational broadcasters and this is the final broadcast in our series. It's a documentary through the Iron Curtain especially prepared and recorded by the British Broadcasting Corporation in London. We present through the iron curtain a documentary program about broadcasts by Western countries to the Soviets in Europe. The Iron Curtain is a very real fact though it may be invisible. And in any case if it cannot be seen it can certainly be heard. Just listen for a moment.
In this program we should like to tell you something about the battle in the ether where the cold war is being fought on the radio waves and why it is that the Russians are trying to blot out western broadcasts by an iron curtain of the ether broadcasting for a foreign audience is ironically enough. A Russian invention. Soviet Russia was the first country to radio programmes in other languages than its own. Then the second world war made international broadcasting a recognised force in international relations and also a weapon to undermine the morale of the other side in the post-war world. The function of broadcasting clearly should have been in the spirit of friendship between the nations. But as communism began to cut off the countries under its rule from the outside world broadcasting again assumed a different role that of bringing the voice of the West to the oppressed populations of the East. And so
radio became a weapon in the Cold War. The list of languages in which the West is broadcasting to the countries beyond the Iron Curtain is an impressive one. The Voice of America is today broadcasting in Albanian Calgarian Czech and Slovak gallium Polish Rumanian and Russian and also in a number of languages spoken in parts of the Soviet Union. Armenian and Azerbaijani Estonian Georgian Latvian Lithuanian tartar and Ukrainian. The BBC broadcasts an Albanian Bulgarian Czech and Slovak Polish Hungary in Romanian and Russian. It also has a special program in German for the eastern part of Germany. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has programs in Czech and Slovak Russian and Ukrainian and this is only the effort of the three main Anglo-Saxon nations France Spain Yugoslavia also have broadcasts in the languages of Eastern Europe and besides there are private
organizations such as Radio Free Europe in Munich which is maintained by private citizens of the United States. What effects do these broadcasts have. Are they her top. These are the questions which this program will try to answer on the basis of the BBC is experience first then how many people listen. This is where the BBC European listener research department comes in. It's a question which can be answered with the same accuracy same as it could be for Britain or even for the countries of Western Europe. While we can learn by public opinion polls and other methods. But in France roughly a million people a day listen to the BBC French service. We've no means of conducting any research of this kind behind the Iron Curtain. But there's enough evidence to indicate that the number of listeners is very large and that they include people from all walks of life workers
peasants soldiers and intellectuals in one of two cases. Information is available over the time just before the final coming down of the UN cut just six months before the communist coup in Czechoslovakia the TRC ministry of information organized a poll to find out the population's listening habits to the question which foreign station gave them the best reception at that time 20 percent of the sample. Or the equivalent of one and a half million people replied that it was the BBC that was before the communist assumed complete control. Now through a lucky coincidence we've also been able to obtain evidence of what listener figures to the BBC were like after the communist coup d'etat a member of the United States Social Science Research Council Dr David Rudnik happened to be in Czechoslovakia at the time he left the country. Only at the end of 1948 and before leaving he conducted a poll of thousands of Czechs and Slovaks of all classes.
He estimated that after the armed cut had come down listening to the BBC was considerably greater than before. And Dr. Rudnick concluded his report with the words the BBC is audience in Czechoslovakia is far greater than that of the Czechoslovakia and broadcasting system. A letter from Prague received by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation says Rest assured our people are listening to foreign broadcasts. There's a joke about it. It says that the radio license fee will be increased to two hundred fifty one crowned fifty crowns for the Voice of America 50 for the BBC 50 for the CBC 50 for Radio Free Europe 54 radio Paris and 1 crown for radio prog. Some of the most valuable evidence of this kind comes from the communist press itself. On the twenty ninth of the event by 1951 two days before the jamming of the BBC's Polish service started the Warsaw paper is that you have published an
article by one of its correspondents who visited country districts in order to report on the Presence fulfilment of their production quotas. In the course of his investigations in one village he had the following experience. We quote from the article in question. I went to find out whether there had been a mistake with Kay's assessment when we had entered a dark room. I thought at first there must be some meeting in bride dress there. The room was crowded. About eight men stood there clustered and nobody paid any attention to us. Then we heard the speaker's voice announcing this is London Calling it as the people had gathered in this room simply to listen to London. Now what about Russia itself. We know from some sources as well as from the letters the BBC has received that listening was widespread before the introduction of Jamey. This is shown by the great number of attacks on the Russian radio such as this broadcast by Moscow on the 7th of May 952.
Although the heads of the BBC call it the voice of Britain it resembles the Voice of America very much. There are differences between the two voices the Voice of America sounds uncouth and insolent. The BBC prefers to speak and I love to stray. The BBC is propaganda is propped better camouflaged but the aim is the same as the Voice of America. Material for transmissions of post is protests in Wall Street. It's one of the axioms of totalitarian propaganda never to advertise your opponent by openly referring to him even disparaging that such open attempts at discrediting the BBC are an almost daily feature in the press and radio of all communist countries. Truth is clearly that the number of listeners is so great that it is no longer worth trying to conceal the existence of its broadcasts. And that leads us to the next question. What do the listeners think about them.
There are two types of reaction. The reaction of people to whom the western way of life and the Western attitudes are completely unknown. That is most of the people of Soviet Russia and the younger generation in the satellite countries. And then there are those who have known and still know what the West stands for. The first group is bewildered and puzzled by what the West is trying to tell them. The others depend on broadcasts from abroad to keep their mental balance. Let's start with the reaction of people in Soviet Russia. At first it was very difficult to be sure that the BBC's broadcasts were under store that all the confusion of terms and concepts had reached such a degree that even in Russian the message of the West might have been difficult to follow as one of the key words meant different things in the East and in the West. There's the story of a Russian soldier who had fled to the west and who listen to the BBC is Russian service for the first time. He shook his head and said I don't understand
this. They're constantly talking about democracy. They're praising democracy but it's because we had democracy in Russia that I decided to leave. I couldn't stand it anymore. The BBC's Russian Service started on the 24th of March one thousand forty six. There will be no broadcast of Russia during the war. At first the operatives in Soviet Russia did not discourage listening or at least not openly. At that time a good many letters from Soviet Russia were received by the BBC. They don't launch us with English lessons which formed part of the programme and they came from places as far apart as breast in Belorussia and Graeme Cavell in the Far East from Archangel in the north to our Marta and Samarkand in the south. Here's one of these letters dear comrades. I live in the capital of the Georgian Socialist Soviet republic to France where a large family my father mother myself one brother and one sister.
Every evening we listened to our broadcast from London. We were very glad about the English by radio lessons and since then I've never missed a single broadcast. But there were also a few less favorable opinions. The director of the BBC today in the BBC broadcast to the Soviet Union you gave a biographical sketch of the scientist Fleming who allegedly discovered penicillin. I feel obliged to send you the enclosed newspaper cuttings from which you can learn some of the facts which are present unknown to you. A cutting was headed penicillin a Russian discovery. On the whole there was little political comment in these letters and the reasons for it seem obvious enough. Throughout that period the BBC is broadcast to Russia did not enter into polemics atoll. They mainly concentrated on giving us a clearer picture of British life as possible. Yet it was difficult for many of the listeners to believe what they were told as a good deal of evidence that accounts of
British housing conditions for instance must have created a stir on the 10th of December 1048 the humorous Journal Krokodil published a skit called an English lesson. It's a parody of a script in the BBC English by radio series in which some of the programmes give an account of the daily life of a family in Britain. Here's an extract from this parody. We are beginning the transmission for listeners in the Soviet Union. The subject of today's broadcast is unemployment in England. We do not like to laugh. We do not want to hide the faults of our social system. Today therefore we are describing without concealing anything. However London's unemployed live microphone is installed in the home of the family of Mr Clarke an unemployed Potter. Before you go is the pretentious flat of an employee brought in.
11 no excuse me. In all ten routings walked is to be done. Mr Clark and his family have to be confined in such a small flat with rooms. OK yes Aidan employment and so on. This kit is is of considerable interest because it not only shows how widespread listening must have been there's no point in parodying and unknown type of broadcast but also the impression that the quite sober account of the life of the Clarke family must have produced on the Russian listener an impression of almost incredible luxury. A member of the BBC European service who visited a camp for Russian soldiers who had fled to the West gives an account of an interview he had with a young man there a young Russian wireless operator who escaped to Austria early in 1951 told me that he used to listen to the BBC's
broadcast regularly while on duty. I asked him whether he could remember any particular talk or sentence from our broadcasts. He said yes there was one sentence. When I heard it it was as if a puppy had licked my heart. It was while the state is swelling the people are getting thin. If the reaction of the Soviet peoples to broadcast from the outside world is on the home one of bewildered incredulity it's quite different in the satellite states. In some of these Poland and Czechoslovakia above all the BBC s voice was the voice of a trusted ally during the war and even in those countries which were in the other camp like Hungary Romania and Bulgaria. Many people look to the west and listen to the west. For these people there was no need for the BBC to establish its credentials as a reliable source of news
or to convince them that the West was not run by a bloodthirsty gang of warmongers. Countless letters received in the years between the liberation of these countries and their conquest by communism testified of the confidence with which people relied on the BBC's news service. Here's one for example. In Romania before the war that is before Romania into the war in 1941 you are broadcasting Rumanian who are listened to by only a small circle mainly by intellectuals. After the beginning of hostilities the number increased gradually until by the end of the war almost every set was doing dual broadcasts oppression or jamming has not stopped listening. All the spreading of news friends arrange among themselves to listen on different wavelengths in order to make sure they will get a full report. The spreading of news is just as promptly and faithfully undertaken as during the war as all are willing to help. Even the members of the Communist Party
by word of mouth by bulletins type written privately on behalf of a group. Stock up on walls in factories and even on the wall newspapers of the Communist Party. The news given by the West reaches the great masses. May I quote a personal example. I was in the back of the prison contest during the Berlin airlift. One day the communist God discreetly brought me a sheet of paper telling me to read it and to translate it for the benefit of the Englishman next to me and afterwards to return it so that it could be circulated to other cells. This sheet of paper typewritten was a summary of the new was broadcast by the BBC. This letter from Romania summarizes a very large number of similar letters from Hungary Czechoslovakia about Albania Poland and Eastern Germany from which the same picture emerges. Many people in these countries are apt to feel that they're living under a foreign oppressor from whom
only war can liberate them. These people must be told that war is no solution and that they must be patient and yet they must know they're not forgotten and not abandoned by the west again and again in letters received by the BBC. One finds this appeal we quote from one letter from Czechoslovakia. Do not leave us in our most tragic times. You are our only encouragement and hope. A letter from eastern Germany said if your transmission contains some news item which leads us to assume that the eastern zone of Germany is not yet written off a feeling of relief can almost be sensed going through our town. The majority of letters from the satellite states tell of the drabness and the monotony of a life of constant suspicion and fear. Heres one for instance from a youth of 99 who wrote to the BBC from a town in Romania. I waited and hesitated for a long time before writing this letter but the
temptation was stronger than any thought of prudence. To tell the truth I don't know why I'm writing to you. Probably because I know of no other place where I can seek advice or find out if what I do and think is right or at least understandable. I have grown up in a country and at a time in which man as such does not exist anymore. Going outside I realize not in his mind but in his soul can he feel in his whole being. Beyond ending terrifying pressure the freezing of all initiative of all ideas and feeling produced by the consciousness of being just one atom of a mass one identical with hundreds of thousands who matter to society less than a piece of metal in a factory. You're not allowed to think but to be like a machine that is allotted its task and if you resist you have to expect the measures that are taken against a machine which is ceased to
work properly. So deep is the J that no one who has not gone through it can understand or even imagine it. We could go on quoting letters like this one though few perhaps so moving for a long time but they would add little new to what you've already heard. The Communist all thought it is both in Soviet Russia and of the satellite countries have done everything in their power to discourage people from listening and to blacken the reputation of the foreign radio stations. Though that may not be a direct ban on listening in some countries listening is an indication of political unreliability and would have the same consequences. And yet no persuasion or terror was sufficient to keep people from listening. Most new radio receivers have no shortwave bands Rediffusion by while being introduced on a wide scale particularly in Soviet Russia and listeners are thus
deprived of the possibility of choosing which programs they want to hear. But this has not had the desired effect. More drastic measures have had to be adopted. Jamming. Jamming is an open breach of international agreements. It's expressly forbidden by the agreement concluded in October 1997 by the International Telecommunications conference at Atlantic City. And this agreement was signed by the Soviet Union less than a year after the Russian delegates put their signature under this agreement. The first signs of the present jamming effort began to appear. The BBC's overseas engineering department reports there had been signs of Russian jamming before even before the war. But the present major effort began when American broadcast to the far eastern part of the Soviet
Union were first interfered with. In March 1948 the BBC's Russian Service was jammed for the first time in April 1949. Polish broadcasts were first jammed in December 1951 and since then almost all BBC transmissions to Eastern Europe have been jammed one by one. Now how does jamming work and how is it organized. There are various methods. It would be too difficult to explain them in that technical detail but in general terms we can distinguish between two kinds of jamming jamming at long range by powerful stations which may be operating far away from the target area which explains for example how broadcaster Finland can be jammed from Russia and these long range dramas are frequently supplemented by local jamming stations whose range is small but which may be equally effective in that area. Generally speaking jamming consists of a strong noise broadcast on the same wavelength as the transmission which is to be jammed. We've observed no less than 12 different types of jamming noise used by the
Russians. Here are a few samples of it. We've given these noises names here for example is the one we've called. This one is known as the rotary. And there's one which we just call noise. Those are a few examples. There's also the method of just putting several actual programs on top of each other. But it all comes to the same thing. It's intended to blot out the transmission which is to be kept from the listeners. But this intention is not always achieved. Here is a record of a transmission from the BBC as a listener behind the curtain might have heard it though it's clearly intelligible.
I am sure that. The effort the Russians are putting into this is considerable. If it's to be effective it must be undertaken on a grand scale. The resources involved in an operation of this kind both in personnel and material must be very large indeed. Hundreds of transmitters and many thousands of technicians are required to keep such an organization functioning. And this in turn means that a very considerable proportion of Russian radio manufacturing resources and technical personnel of both of which is very short diverted to Germany. All this put up negative and which doesn't by any means achieve its purpose because we've been able to take countermeasures for one thing the BBC and The Voice of America now closely coordinate their transmissions to the countries concerned. That stretches the jamming organization considerably so much so that some wavelengths may remain jammed. Then each of
the broadcasting organizations concerned has assigned additional transmitters to the broadcast. I'm going to other counter-measures as well which for obvious reasons cannot be revealed at the moment. It has become more difficult to listen to Western broadcasts in the countries concerned but they're still getting through. And even if none of our broadcasts were getting through the mere fact that they are being jammed must impress on the people of the Soviet sphere but their rulers are afraid of what the outside world might have to say. On the 4th of May 949 less than a fortnight after the BBC's broadcaster Russia with us Jack. The following letter was left at the offices of the British ally the paper. At that time still being published by the British Embassy in Moscow. Yes you probably know that from the 25th of April. Moscow radio station has been jamming the broadcasts of the BBC and of the Voice of America many thousands of Soviet people who have followed your broadcasts and those of the Voice of America.
Day after day with great attention we'll be extremely grateful to you if through your intervention the responsible diplomatic organizations take steps to get to these instructions cancelled. Needless to say the strongest diplomatic protests were made but without success. Other countermeasures have undoubtedly been more successful. A Polish refugee who crossed the frontier into western Germany after jamming started reported at first when the jamming started. The POWs were very distressed because it was thought that Poland was entirely cut off from the BBC. But when the BBC contacted the people rejoiced the communique about the changes of time was heard by many that their reception was quite good and the news was quickly spread. Reception in the first days after these changes was very good. The fact that Soviet Russia has taken to jamming Western broadcasts
must be regarded as a confession of weakness apparent to every individual within the Soviet sphere. And such a measure must necessarily defeat itself provided in a jet to counter measures are taken. It's human nature to be attracted by what's a bit. In Poland for example we already know the people are taking turns of listening. It's probably the same in other countries. People who know other languages will listen to broadcasts which are not jammed and that gives a new importance to broadcast in English German and French which are widely understood throughout Eastern Europe. A big effort is needed to counter Russian jamming and this effort is being made. For the broadcasts which the West radiates to the countries behind the Iron Curtain have a significance which extends beyond the mere given. Take the daily polemic of international politics. Of course they serve the purpose of correcting misrepresentations about the West and explaining the various currents of
public opinion and the way of life of the West. They also may be of considerable importance in restraining the Soviet rulers from justifying their policies by fictitious reasons. But in the last resort. These broadcasts will fill an even more important function. For if the East were to succeed in sealing itself off from the west completely. Then in the course of time to Hobbes of humanity it would grow up which would be utterly incapable of understanding each other a division of mankind would be complete. But as long as even the most tenuous link remains between them as long as even a few people on the other side can remain in touch with the West that division will not be complete and will not be beyond repair. Through the on curtain was written by Martin ESPLIN and produced by Anthony Brown in the London studios of the BBC.
People under communism
Through the Iron Curtain
Producing Organization
National Association of Educational Broadcasters
British Broadcasting Corporation
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-8s4jr21x).
A documentary by the British Broadcasting Corporation about life in communist countries. It is the final program in the "People Under Communism" series.
A series of documentaries, interviews and talks based upon documented evidence and expert knowledge about the power and intentions of the Soviet Union.
Politics and Government
Communist countries--Social conditions.
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Host: Wheatley, Parker, 1906-1999
Producing Organization: National Association of Educational Broadcasters
Producing Organization: British Broadcasting Corporation
Writer: Tangley, Ralph
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 52-38-21 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:50
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “People under communism; Through the Iron Curtain,” 1953-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 21, 2021,
MLA: “People under communism; Through the Iron Curtain.” 1953-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 21, 2021. <>.
APA: People under communism; Through the Iron Curtain. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from