Honorable John F. Kerry
Honorable Richard G. Lugar
U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-6225
Honorable Harry Reid
Senate Majority Leader
Honorable Mitch McConnel
Senate Minority Leader
February 10, 2010
Actions of Radio Free Europe Damage Czech Republic and the United States
Dear American colleague:
As the Senator of Czech Republic, deputy chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Defense and Security, and a member of the Senate Commission on International Support for Democracy, I kindly ask for your personal attention and intervention in the matter of mutual importance to my country and the United States.
On February 4th, the second time already in recent several months, Czech parliament discussed the issue of national discrimination by American Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) of its foreign employees.Because of discriminative labor policies practiced on Czech territory by RFE/RL management, Czech Republic as a party to European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, is charged with human rights violations in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. The next day, February 5th, Czech print and electronic media reported on parliamentary hearings. Just as it had reported the previous time – negatively to American RFE/RL and to theCzech Republic as RFE/RL host country.
As you undoubtedly know, in 1995, RFE/RL, an institution subordinate to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) in Washington, had moved to Praguefrom Munich, Germany. Presently, RFE/RL broadcasts from Prague in 28 languages to over 20 countries. It is a powerful tool of American public diplomacy financed by U.S. Congress. The President of the United States with consent of the Senate assigns all eight members of RFE/RL Board of Directors, being simultaneously members of BBG. The ninth member is the Secretary of State ex officio. American flag is hoisted on RFE/RL façade in Prague. RFE/RL is the showcase of the United States in the Czech Republic. Or, at least, it should be.
Except American and Czech citizens, RFE/RL employs in Prague hundreds of foreign nationals from the countries of the former Soviet Union, formerYugoslavia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. It is by their voices, in their words, and with their professional talents that American RFE/RL carries to their less than democratic countries its publicly declared Mission: “To promote democratic values and institutions, strengthen civil societies by projecting democratic values, provide a model for local media”.
Regrettably, RFE/RL deeds in its host country are less noble than its Mission Statement. Respectable Czech newspaper Lidove noviny summed up that peculiar situation in its editorial Equality with Precondition. Practice of Free EuropeContradicts Its Ideals:
Prague headquarters of RFE/RL, which pretends to be a messenger of freedom, democracy and the rule of law, behaves as an employer in such a way as if the principles it heralds, are relevant “just” for the whole planet but not for what is going on inside that estimable organization itself. Employees are divided in three castes. The first includes American citizens who enjoy the protections provided by the Federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. Czech citizens are protected by Czech Labor Code. Unfortunately, the employees from third countries “enjoy” zero protection. Despite their employment agreements are composed with the reference to American laws, they have no place to complain. That situation, as it seems, is brutally abused by the management of the radio station. With foreign employees from the third caste, the propagators of democracy deal as colonial power with rightless aborigines… However, as far as we know, neither Czech nor American laws mention second rate employees.
Indeed, RFE/RL hires its foreign employees on labor contracts, which explicitly deny them protections and guarantees automatically granted to any employee in this country by Czech labor laws. At the same time, as you are definitely aware, American laws, including Civil Rights Act of 1964, 1991 and District of Columbia Human Rights Act of 1977, are not applicable to foreigners working for American employers outside the United States – even if RFE/RL preprinted uniform contracts “are composed with the reference to American laws”. It is deceptive reference.
In fact, foreigners employed by RFE/RL are covered only by RFE/RL internal policies evidently formulated by BBG, which, as one could read on BBG website, “makes all major policy determinations governing the operations of RFE/RL”. The Office of Human Resources within BBG “provides worldwide personnel management policies, programs, and services”. By RFE/RL employment policies, its foreign personnel in Prague may be fired at any time, for any reason or without any stated reason whatsoever, without prior warning, without any preliminary disciplinary measures if deserved; and even without contractual severance pay for the years of service unless one signs the letter of consent with such employment termination and, also in writing, gives up the inalienable (at least, in Czech Republic) human and civil right to seek protection in the courts of law.
By such a mode, RFE/RL had disposed of quite a number of its foreign employees in Prague. In the same fashion, RFE/RL management terminated employment of Croatian citizen Snjezana Pelivan and Armenian citizen Anna Karapetian, mother of three minors. However, they refused to accept the “shut up” money and took RFE/RL to courts. Thus, for the first time, were publicly exposed nationally discriminative labor policies and actions practiced by American RFE/RL in theCzech Republic – in a democratic member country of the European Union and Council of Europe; and, shall I add here, an American ally in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Accusing Czech Republic as the RFE/RL host country, of violating the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Snjezana Pelivan requests the European Court in Strasbourg to invite to the proceedings the country of her citizenship – friendly to Czech Republic (and the United States) Croatia. Incidentally, in Croatia, hundreds of thousands of my fellow countrymen traditionally spend their summer vacations.
Lawsuits brought against RFE/RL by Anna Karapetian and against Czech Republic by Snjezana Pelivan enjoy broad coverage in international mass media – in English, Czech, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Armenian, Slovak, and other languages. That ongoing publicity is detrimental to international reputation of theCzech Republic. It compromises RFE/RL public mission. And, due to the spread of Internet, it undermines the trustworthiness of American public diplomacy in all RFE/RL target areas, including such priority countries as Iran, Iraq, andAfghanistan.
RFE/RL (mis)deeds accompanied by resounding international media echo caused already two critical hearings in Czech parliament. At the same time, CzechRepublic was and remains a very hospitable country to American RFE/RL. After moving to Prague in 1995, RFE/RL paid 1 crown a month as a symbolic rent for using the building of former Federal Assembly of the defunct communistCzechoslovakia. In 2006, Czech government granted to BBG 27 million crowns ($1.18 mln) cofinansing RFE/RL relocation to its own new building (commenced in 2009). All American citizens employed by RFE/RL are relieved of Czech income taxes as performing duties of governmental nature. This generous hospitality is well deserved by the unique role RFE/RL broadcasts from Munich played in unmasking communist lies that strangled Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia. Just to note: In Munich, all RFE/RL personnel was equally protected by the strict German labor laws; still, it did not hinder RFE/RL from being truly instrumental to American victory in the Cold War against “evil empire”.
However, the Czech Republic definitely does not deserve the price it is now paying for its hospitality to RFE/RL. And, I am sure, the American taxpayers, for the billions of public dollars already spent on BBG and RFE/RL, also don’t deserve such a self-defeating brand of “public diplomacy” as the one practiced on Czech territory by RFE/RL and BBG bureaucracies. Practiced for the sake of their bureaucratic convenience only. Any other beneficiaries are not in sight.
Legal gimmicks and court tricks aside, it is patiently indecent, unfair, cynical and hypocritical to exploit for bureaucratic ends the sad fact that many highly qualified foreign professionals working for RFE/RL are stateless persons, dissidents, political refugees who, being cut off from their native countries, are existentially dependent on their employment with RFE/RL. Placed by RFE/RL in legal vacuum in the Czech Republic, they simply don’t risk protesting their rightless status. At RFE/RL, noted Slovak magazine DS, everybody knows that any protest will end in termination.
Practical consequences of RFE/RL self-destructive “public diplomacy” are evident. Published in several languages, influential Armenian newspaper AZG (People) in extensive article, Cases of Karapetian and Pelivan as Morality Check for Obama Administration. Radio Free Europe to Face European Court of Human Rights, wrote:
The most devious anti-American mind would not be able to design an international media campaign so devastating to RFE/RL and, by natural extension, to American image and trustworthiness abroad, as the American RFE/RL managed to cause on its own.
In November 2009, President Obama nominated new candidates to the bipartisan BBG. Discussion of presidential nominees in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and their subsequent consideration by the Senate shall follow. I am deeply convinced that the issue of public diplomacy, which is crucial to forming international image of your country, is important to you to the same extent as to me is important international image and reputation of my country. BBG is an instrument of American public diplomacy. As is RFE/RL hosted by Czech Republic.
Then, may I please suggest that you, in the course of forthcoming nomination hearings, advise future BBG members on how counterproductive to the goals of American public diplomacy is present situation of moral hypocrisy created by the BBG-designed employment policies and their practical application in the Czech Republic by RFE/RL administration. This situation, aggravated by the ongoing and virtually endless court battles followed attentively by international media, shall and may be changed ASAP – in the best interests of RFE/RL, United States, andCzech Republic.
Perhaps, political, human, and moral damage already inflicted cannot be undone completely. But damage limitation shall be undertaken by new BBG without any delay. There are two simple steps dictated by common sense and by presumption of moral and political sensitivity:
Step 1. Harmful lawsuits should be stopped. RFE/RL should be instructed to make a peaceful offer to the plaintiffs, Snjezana Pelivan and Anna Karapetian, commensurate with human and professional injustice suffered by them already;
Step 2. Abandon RFE/RL discriminative employment policies.
Dear American colleague! At the date of this letter, BBG nomination hearings were not scheduled yet. I cannot see, however, what may prevent you to act within your sphere of political and public influence even now, with the present BBG at hand, provided, you share my concerns.
Thank you very much for understanding the good-will motives and friendly intentions of my writing to you.
The Senate of Parliament of the Czech Republic