- The Washington Times - Friday, January 25, 2002

Osama bin Laden may have just scored a significant victory against the civilized world. The Czech government of Prime Minister Milos Zeman, fearful of a possible terrorist attack, has reportedly decided as a matter of caution to evict the long-established American broadcasting services Radio Free Europe (RFE) and Radio Liberty (RL) from their broadcast center in the heart of Prague.
Why? A favorite weapon of terrorists is to first scare their adversaries into taking actions that serve the terrorists' goals. "Give me your wallet or else … "
No such threat has actually been made against the Czech government, but according to Mr. Zeman, they prefer to be on the safe side. "The decision (to evict the American broadcasters) has been unequivocally made," he said last week.
Such an action by the Czech government, a NATO partner, would be a public slap in the face to President Bush and the U.S. government. Mr. Zeman's statement was broadcast only a few days after the president signed the defense appropriations bill providing funds for numerous anti-terrorism measures, including $19.2 million for a new broadcasting service to the people of Afghanistan.
Radio Free Afghanistan, broadcasting in the local languages of Pashto and Dari, would reach the entire population of that country via transmitters in Kuwait and in Afghanistan itself. Modeled on the semi-autonomous pattern that made RFE and RL so effective in the Cold War, the new service would carry the views and voices of Afghanistan's own pro-Western leaders rather than merely the voice of America. It would thus have the credibility and the potential to become a very powerful instrument in the war against terrorism.
For technical reasons, current plans are for the broadcasts to originate at the superbly equipped and highly secure RFE/RL studios in Prague. But Mr. Zeman and his allies say they fear that if free Afghan broadcasts emanate from Prague, the city might become a terrorist target. They therefore propose to evict the whole American operation, which broadcasts news and information in multiple languages to a number of critical regions, including the former Soviet Union, Serbia, Iran and Iraq.
But if terrorists decide to strike in Prague, the RFE/RL broadcast center is not the only likely target. The U.S. embassy and other American assets could also be attacked. Should they all be moved out in order to prevent possible damage to the Czech capital?
The fact is that stringent security measures and protective installations are already in place around the broadcast center. It would surely be better to further strengthen this protection than to create the dangerous precedent of yielding to terrorism and terrorists in advance of any actual threat.
How soon people forget. For years, RFE provided the Czech people with the same kind of news and views from the free world that is now proposed for Afghanistan. As Czech President Vaclav Havel has noted on many occasions, RFE was the only communication link between the handful of dissidents and the wider Czech population. It was through RFE that the virus of Solidarity and its success in Poland became infectious and spread across borders into Czechoslovakia and other captive nations.
As a gesture of appreciation for RFE's important role in these developments, in 1995 Mr. Havel invited the station to move its broadcast operations to Prague and offered them the building they now occupy a dramatic symbol of freedom in the center of this proud and beautiful city. He cannot be happy with his prime minister's proposal to move these voices of freedom, including the new voice of a free Afghanistan, out of the Czech capital for fear of possible future terrorist attacks. He knows all too well that capitulating to threats, real or imaginary, is not the way to preserve freedom.
Indeed, if Mr. Zeman's government has its way and they evict Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty and Radio Free Afghanistan from Prague, it would invite too many memories of past occasions when Czech governments have seemed to prefer to surrender to external threats rather than stand up to them. This unfortunate stereotype was dissipated to a large extent by the courageous "Prague Spring" of 1968, and by the heroism of Mr. Havel and other dissidents in 1989 and 1990, who won international respect and finally restored democracy to their country. That old stereotype should not now be revived by caving in to "possible" terrorist threats.

Jan Nowak was the former director of the Polish service for Radio Free Europe.

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