THE effectiveness of Western attempts to breach the Iron Curtain can be quickly assessed by the violence of the Communists' reaction. No Western cultural and educational organisation has caused our enemies on both sides of the Curtain to froth at the mouth more furiously than Radio Free Europe, a privately-owned American broadcasting station set up in 1950 with headquarters in Munich and beamed to Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Rumania.
To judge by the occasional references it gets in our fellow-travellers' press, it should be a cross between Goebbels's propaganda machine and a protracted, bloodthirsty clarion call to civil war launched by irresponsible Pentagon/Wall Street warmongers. It is, of course, nothing of the sort. It serves the Eastern Europeans with facts, much as the BBC served German-occupied Europe by presenting facts. And one of the most important groups to which it is directed is the intellectuals. With the publication of this excellent book, it is not hard to see the real reason why it makes the Reds see red.
Talking to Eastern Europe is a collection of nineteen essays, broadcast, some in several parts, over the past three years. The subjects are politics in the highest sense (there is no day-to- day political propaganda), philosophy (a brilliant essay by Maurice Cranston on Sartre and Marxism deserves much wider circulation), his- tory, with the emphasis naturally on the history of Communism, literature and morals. The tone is cool throughout.
The basic assumption is that the listener is highly intelligent, dislikes living in the Russian Empire and is as well-informed as he can be under a Communist censorship. No attempt is made to beat the Free World drum or to belabour Communist tyranny : an intellectually hungry man over there does not appreciate being told what fine dinners we can eat here, and Eastern European audiences do not need to be reminded how they are being starved, or by whom. What is offered, and what is surely highly acceptable, are some very fine dishes from our table, given in a spirit of equality and respect. Indeed, so good is the fare provided that these essays compare more than favourably with most of what is published even in the best of our large-circulation highbrow magazines.
Which is hardly surprising when one looks at the names of the contributors: John. Strachey, Leonard Schapiro, Margarete Buber-Neumann, Arthur Koestler, G. R. Urban, Michael Oake- shott, to name but a few. Not all the essays are of equal interest, either to us or, one may assume, to their audiences. But if I were a Pole in Poland, 1 should be enormously grateful for an outsider's view of Gomulka : if I were a Hungarian, I should hurry home to hear what a Western expert has to say about Kadar's `liberalism': were I a Bulgarian, I should be ex- tremely interested in Dimitrov seen plain. What is here written, and has been spoken, is of in- terest in its own right, here. Behind the Curtain it must, surely, be fascinating stuff. One of our basic human desires is to know who is skulking behind the arras of public secrecy, and what he is doing there. These essays answer that question in a number of ways. No wonder the Com- munists are annoyed.
When the millions of Eastern Europeans are at last allowed to rejoin us—and it is a safe bet that this will not be long hence—they will suffer many disillusions. For their intellectuals, one of the sadder will be the discovery that we are seldom as sensitive, as understanding or as intelligent as they may have been led to believe by listening to the best programmes of Radio Pree Europe.
On the other hand, if enough people here read books such as this one, we in the West will achieve a better comprehension of what the problems of Eastern Europe are and will be.