Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, the stations financed by the U.S. government that broadcast to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union for most of the Cold War, are reeling from what has happened to them in the past two years.
First, the Clinton administration sprang the news that it would eliminate the stations' $211 million budget altogether in 1995.Then, after President Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic and other leaders in the new democracies pleaded that the stations be saved because they considered their broadcasts irreplaceable, the administration and Congress agreed to continue financing them, but only if they consolidated with the Voice of America, with a budget ceiling of $75 million in 1996.
Now the stations are preparing to move next June to Prague from Munich, where they have been since the Central Intelligence Agency established them in 1951. Havel offered the former Parliament building just off Wenceslas Square practically rent-free, and Clinton accepted in July.
"If Congress gives the go-ahead, we will start negotiations for a lease and be ready to move in after a minimum of renovation," said Kevin Klose, the president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Inc., the independent corporation that runs the stations.
Klose, 53, a former Moscow correspondent for The Washington Post, became president of the Munich operation this summer after a tumultuous series of executive shifts.
There is plenty of anxiety about job security. Klose estimated that there would be jobs for only about 400 in Prague and that many of those would be hired locally.
Most of the people who prepare the broadcasts in 19 languages - 22 before broadcasts to Hungary and Afghanistan were dropped recently - are emigres who settled in Munich over the years from Russia, Ukraine, and other places from Kyrgyzstan to Poland. Many do not speak German and will find it difficult to get other jobs here.
Under German law, laid-off employees are entitled to compensation unless they can collect pensions. The employees' council began negotiations earlier this year asking for $275 million for payments to people who are laid off or agree to leave.
In mid-August, a German government mediator got the sides to agree to a $38.5 million compromise, which Klose said would be covered by the existing budget, projected to rise briefly to $257 million next year to cover the costs of reducing staff and moving before settling at $75 million in 1996.
"I think we all feel very happy we were able to come together," said John Rue Clegg, the employees' council chairman, "but most people feel that next June will really be the death of RFE/RL. It may have the same name in Prague, but it won't be the same organization that played such a role in bringing down communism in Eastern Europe and is still needed to keep it down."