Moscow beams 'Voice of Freedom' to anti-Communists in Vietnam

August 05, 1992|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- In one of those subversive turnabouts of history, a new radio station has taken to the air here. Its message is one of democratic reform and anti-Communism. Its target is Vietnam.

Moscow, once the staunchest ally of Vietnam, is back in the business of exporting revolution.

"It's important for the Vietnamese people to learn the truth about what's going on in Russia, because it will surely help them shatter the Communist myths," said Irina Zisman, program manager of the station that calls itself the Voice of Freedom.

Ms. Zisman, who also does most of the announcing, speaks fluent Vietnamese, as well she might. For 16 years she was a broadcaster -- a propagandist, that is -- for Radio Moscow's Vietnamese service.

The Voice of Freedom brings disparate people together. Besides Ms. Zisman, there are Vietnamese exiles now living in the United States who are contributing money and material. One board member is a Czech journalist who was a member of the Charter 77 human rights group in Prague. Another is from Estonia.

But central to the station's operation is the Vietnamese underground that has formed in Moscow.

There are about 10,000 Vietnamese in Moscow, 2,000 of them university students. They came from good Communist families. They came here to learn at the center, the heart of Soviet thought and action.

Instead they witnessed the sudden collapse of the Communist Party. They met Russian democrats who believed in free speech and exercised that belief. They watched as tanks turned away from Boris N. Yeltsin's White House, their guns silent.

The Vietnamese dissidents here live in fear of their own embassy,which tries to watch their every move and can order them back home at any time. So, having been trained as Communists, they have organized themselves into small, self-contained secret groups, which publish samizdat literature and forge links with Russian democrats and overseas Vietnamese.

"We saw Communism was a big lie," one Vietnamese dissident said in a late-night interview in a remote section of Moscow. The dissident, a soft-spoken, nervous young man who agreed to speak on condition that his name not be used, said that, like most students, he came from the northern part of Vietnam. He said he had been here for six years.

"Vietnam is reforming slowly, but it's not enough and it's only because of pressure from the outside world," he said. "The Vietnamese people have suffered so much. The Voice of Freedom gives us a chance to send our message back to Vietnam. It's very important to us."

The Voice of Freedom grew out of last summer's failed putsch. The swirl of events brought together Ms. Zisman, who had grown increasingly jaundiced about Vietnam after her first visit there in 1987, Vietnamese students living in Moscow and a few naturalized Americans who fled South Vietnam in 1975.

The radio station is incorporated in Virginia, according to Dan Kaszeta, an American who joined the staff this year. He said it has raised about $25,000, all from private donations, most of it from people like Tran Quoc Bao, an immigrant who lives in Los Angeles and helps run a group called Vietnamese Overseas.

Moscow was an ideal place for the station for two reasons, he and Mr. Kaszeta said. First, of course, is its prominence as the home of the failure of Communism. Second is its excellent broadcast facilities and its low rates.

The program, which is on the air for an hour a day with news and commentary about both Vietnam and Russia, is produced in a studio rented from Radio Moscow. About 20 Russians work in technical jobs for the station. The signal is broadcast from a tower in Irkutsk, about 2,400 miles east of here..

Ms. Zisman, who quit her job at Radio Moscow just before the July 20 debut of the new station, said 2 million rubles (about $13,000) should keep the station going through the end of the year.

One of the station's board members is Jachym Topol, who over the last several years has become an advocate for the Vietnamese community in Prague. As in Russia, he said, thousands of Vietnamese were brought to Czechoslovakia as cheap laborers and as students -- watched by the police and resented by the locals. They have lived in these formerly allied nations with little pay and no rights.

"There's a reason for my being here," he said in Moscow yesterday. "During the war, American soldiers were killed with Czech semtex [an explosive]. It was first used there. And every week in school we all donated a few crowns -- and all the Russian children gave a few rubles -- and it was supposed to go for food, but everybody knew it went for weapons. So you see, I think Czechoslovakia and Russia have some responsibility there."

He laughed. "But what's bizarre for me is the name: the Voice of Freedom from Moscow."

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