Some RFE history in Reagan Library's "Fall of the Wall" exhibit (updated).

Posted: 23 Oct 2009   Print   Send a link
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, 'the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library opened a new exhibit Thurs., Oct. 15 called "Fall of the Wall—The 20th Anniversary." ... One of the more powerful pieces in the exhibit is a green portfolio containing two small notes: a message to Reagan congratulating him on his 1984 election win in hopes of securing his help in getting their freedom and a schedule of hunger strikes. Written in very small writing on tissue-thin paper, the messages are signed by 10 women from Gulag labor camps, put there because of their human rights activism. The notes were smuggled out of the Gulag to Radio Free Europe and later put in a portfolio that was given to Reagan." Carissa Marsh, The Acorn (Agoura Hills, CA), 22 October 2009.
     They may have been in Soviet prison, and in unpleasant conditions, but the GULAG system had been officially disbanded in 1960. From Richard Reeves, President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination (2006): "On the morning of April 1, 1985, James Buckley, a former senator from New York, serving as president of Radio Free Europe, came into the Oval Office. He was holding a couple of tiny pieces of rice paper. 'This is a message to you from a hundred women who are locked in the pokey' -- meaning a Soviet prison camp. Buckley had a magnifying glass. 'This is what they say: "We women political prisoners congratulate you on your reelection to the post of President of the USA. We look with hope to your country which is on the road to freedom and respect for human rights. We wish you success".'" The Reeves book is the only reference to this message that I can find, so far. Perhaps there is something about this in James Buckley's oral history, Gleanings From an Unplanned Life (2006), which I have not yet read.
     Update: A. Ross Johnson, former RFE/RL official and historian of the radios, writes: "Buckley mentions the Soviet letter on p. 212 of his book. (He was, of course, president of RFE/RL, not RFE.) 'The broadcast [Reagan interview with Buckley for RFE/RL] had its genesis in a letter written in a tiny script on tissue paper that had found its way to our Munich headquarters in the spring of 1985. It was addressed to Reagan by a group of women in a Soviet prison who wanted him to know that they were praying for him. As I was planning to visit Washington in a few weeks, I asked the White House whether I might present it to the president in person. Permission was granted. More than that, the White house suggested that I take the occasion to interview the president. So in early June, I found myself in the Oval Office, microphone in hand, prepared to conduct my first (and only) interview on behalf of the Radios.'"
     And on the subject of Radio Free Europe history: "For over 50 years, a Freedom Bell, based on the Liberty Bell, housed in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was the logo or symbol for the Crusade for Freedom and for Radio Free Europe (later to be known as RFE/RL). [The bell was cast and] rang out for the first time in Berlin before a crowd of 400,000 on October 24, 1950. ... Every Sunday at 11:59am, the pealing of the bell is still heard throughout Germany via radio stations of the Deutschlandradio Kultur network... ." Richard Cummings, Historytimes.com, 23 October 2009, with link to audio of the bell.