Voice of Hope

ANDREI CODRESCU

August 05, 1993|By ANDREI CODRESCU

When I was a child I used to walk in the evening through the cobblestone streets of my old Transylvanian town and see the shadows of people huddled around radios behind carefully shuttered windows.

They were listening to the sounds of the only truth available to them in those dark years of Stalinism: the voices of Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America. As I grew up, it became obvious to me that everyone was listening, even the communists who had banned those stations.

It was said that drastic penalties accrued to anyone caught listening, but in the whispered exchanges between friends and neighbors or in the endless lines for bread and milk, one heard only the news from those faraway posts.

The official newspapers, dull as dishwater, poured forth a mixture of optimistic lies no one believed. Only the sports page had some credibility and even there the mistrust of the generalized lie threw its tortured shadow.

After the so-called ''collapse of Communism'' in Eastern Europe, critics of the expenditures for the two radio stations began claiming that they were no longer necessary. The U.S. government, which had supported Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America, may be about to listen to those critics.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee met to debate the fate of at least one of these stations, the Voice of America. The argument goes that democracy has come to the region and that U.S. propaganda is no longer necessary.

It's a fallacious argument. The appearance of democracy may have come to Romania. There is a free press there that is a sort of perfect post-modern mishmash of crime stories, outlandish opinion and lurid pictures.

The people who control the country, the former communists-turned-nationalists, have no fear of this press.

The rise of nationalism has marched on unimpeded and could lead to dictatorship and civil war -- just like in the former Yugoslavia.

This is no time to close any of the outside channels to that pain-wracked part of our world.

Andrei Codrescu has written and stars in ''Road Scholar,'' a movie opening in theatres around the country.

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