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Clandestine Radio Vltava during the Soviet-led Invasion and Occupation of Czechoslovakia, 1968-1969

A clandestine radio station usually sounds like any other broadcasting station. However “legitimate” a clandestine station might sound, however, it is “extralegal” and deceptive in its operation. Here are some key elements that distinguish a clandestine broadcaster from “ordinary” broadcasters:

  • Clandestine broadcasters are deceptive. They often lie about their location, sponsoring government or organization, and their intentions. Programming is essentially propaganda, and may largely be half-truths or outright lies.
  • Clandestine broadcasters aim to bring about political changes or actions in a target country. They may want to incite revolution in another country or simply to influence the populace of the target country to be more sympathetic toward the country or organization operating the clandestine.
  • Clandestine broadcasters are temporary. Since the purpose of a clandestine is political, clandestine stations usually leave the air quickly when political situations change…

(DXing.com)

Fifty years ago this month, the USSR-led military operation using cryptonym “Danube” began at 23:00, August 20, 1968, when hundreds of thousands of soldiers using thousands of tanks, trucks, and other vehicles, plus airplanes, invaded Czechoslovakia putting an end to the short-lived freedoms known as  “Prague Spring.” Almost immediately, the battle for men’s minds using radio began. Below, we will look at the pro-Soviet clandestine radio station “Radio Vltava (Moldau).

Radio Vltava Background

At a meeting in Warsaw July 14-15, 1968, of the leaders of Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Poland, East Germany (DDR) and Hungary, the results included sending a letter to Prague, part of which read, “The situation in Czechoslovakia was unacceptable” and warned, “We cannot approve of foreign influences leading your country off the path of socialism and presenting the danger of Czechoslovakia’s being torn off from the socialist community.” 

Shortly after this meeting, East Germany’s propaganda radio station Radio Berlin International increased its broadcast strength and began broadcasting in Czech and Slovak.

At 05:25, August 21, 1968, the frequency 1430 kHz (medium wave or am band) used by Radio Berlin International (RBI) began broadcasting in Czech and Slovak with the call sign “Radio Vltava” (Radio Moldau). A quick analysis of the speakers’ poor knowledge of the broadcasts languages showed that they were not Czech or Slovak but were Soviets and Germans, who used expressions not in modern Czech. Reportedly, “Ideological expressions often give the impression of having been taken directly from Russian manuals and translated badly.” Moreover, “It has been noticed that Vltava’s announcers pronounce Russian names with a perfect Russian accent instead of using the customary Czech pronunciation of these names.”  

Radio Vltava broadcast 19 hours a day from 05:00 to 24:00. Its programs averaged:

  • 35 percent, Czechoslovakia’s internal developments, 
  • 25 percent, non-Czechoslovak specific themes, 
  • 20 percent, international reports, and 
  • 10 percent, music.

 “Our Country” and “Socialist Voice of Truth” were used in its broadcasts and its music identifying tone was Czech composer Smetana’s tone poem “Vltava” thus attempting to show it was indeed a Czechoslovak radio station.

Five minutes after Radio Vltava first broadcast (05:30), Radio Prague warned its listeners that Vltava had “nothing to do with Czechoslovak Radio.”  A short time later, Radio Prague broadcast, “Do not listen or pay attention to the Vltava station, and do not pass on instructions given by this station.” This was repeated until Radio Prague was forced off the air at 07:28. 

Later a make-shift Radio Prague started broadcasting as “Radio Free Prague.” Jan F. Triska, Political Science Professor, Stanford University, was in Prague at the time of the invasion. He left Prague in a convoy of 150 vehicles and drove to Munich on August 23, 1968, when he told RFE of his observations and experiences, including:

I heard the following broadcasts on the clandestine Radio Free Prague twice: “Tell Czechoslovaks who understand German to listen to Radio Vienna. If you don’t know German, listen to Radio Free Europe…Don’t listen to Radio Vltava. Listen to foreign broadcasts now, but particularly after we can no longer broadcast.”

Radio Vltava did not tell the listeners who was behind the broadcasts or where it was located – thus becoming a clandestine radio station. Its transmitters were later identified as being in Wilsdruff, near Dresden, and Karl-Marx-Stadt (now Chemnitz). By October 1968, the staff consisted of 

  • 21 political specialists
  • 24 translators and speakers
  • 2 monitors
  • 6 secretaries
  • 4 managers
  • 2 drivers

On February 12, 1969, Radio Vltava last broadcast as Vltava; reportedly it stopped broadcasting due to Czech government protests. The next morning at 05:30, Radio Berlin International resumed broadcasting on the same frequency at first in German, with later short broadcasts in Czech and Slovak that had little of nothing to do with Czechoslovakia.

“Workers’ Voice of the Republic” (Delnicky hlas republic) was another short-lived pro-Soviet clandestine radio station that began broadcasting in Czech on short-wave and medium wave (1178 kHz) on or about August 22, 1968. It stopped broadcasting on September 3, 1968, after it announced that that it, “had fulfilled its ‘patriotic and partisan’ task towards the Czech.” RFE monitors made a tentative identification that the broadcasts originated out of Hungary. Another one was “Radio Zare” (Glow), which began broadcasting on August 29, 1968, and was identified as possibly broadcasting from Poland. (coldwarradios.blogspot.com)

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