Broadcasting the Cold War. The Documental Legacy of Eastern and Central European Émigrés in Spain

The project that we present here has been in progress at the Department of Modern and Contemporary History of the Complutense University of Madrid for about three years. It attempts to catalog the existing materials in Spain concerning Central and Eastern European exiles in Spain, with a focus on the postwar period of the 1940s, although with a general scope until 1991. We also intend to catalog archival materials about cultural and scientific exchanges beyond the boundaries of the respective ideological blocs. With the help of a postdoctoral research grant from the regional government of Madrid, Fernando Jiménez Herrera carried out the initial cataloging of many of these funds, which Professor Sarah Lemmen and Professor José M. Faraldo are coordinating.

During the Second World War an undetermined number of people –some sources estimate around 80,000, but there were probably many more– crossed Spain in their flight from Nazi occupation. Most of them went to Lisbon where they hoped to get a visa for America. Polish, Czech, and other former soldiers of occupied nationalities travelled via Spain to Great Britain to continue fighting Germany together with the allies. 5,000 refugees of all nationalities were captured in Spain.

A special case were the Polish citizens who had escaped the Nazis. Although Spain did not accept the dissolution of the Polish state, the relationship with Hitler was of greater importance to Franco than the international legality and the supposed links to the Catholic Poles. Under German pressure, Franco broke diplomatic relations with the Polish Government in exile and ordered the Polish legation closed at the beginning of 1942. Nevertheless, the order to close was never executed and Spain did not expel the personnel of the embassy, which carried on its work unofficially. After the war, although Franco did not officially recognize the Polish Government in London, he did permit the designated ambassador, Count Potocki, to act as a sort of speaker of the Polish exile government. Indeed, some other “unofficial” ambassadors stayed in Spain, such as the Hungarian Ferenc Marossi, the Slovak Jozef Cieker and the Bulgarian I. Boyadjieff, names that would continue to play an important role in the emigré circles. Franco did not recognize them officially, but they continued to be a connection between wider exile circles and the Spanish regime.

The total number of Eastern European émigrés between 1945 and 1969 – when the first direct contacts with the Eastern bloc begun – can be estimated as not more than 2,000. The role of these émigrés in Spain changed over time. In the early years after the war, former Nazis, fascists and collaborators who escaped to Spain after the fall of the Axis powers became a problem for Franco’s regime, because they reinforced world public opinion that Spain was a fascist country too. The position of the regime towards fascist refugees was ambiguous. Usually, the refugees were supported in their crossing of Spain in order to then disappear to South America, although some of the Nazi émigrés went into hiding in Spain with the consent of the (Western) allies.

However, the importance of the émigrés of East-Central Europe in Spain grew with the onset of the Cold War, which allowed Franco to show his anticommunist credentials and to proclaim Spain as the first country that had fought communism (and defeated it) on the battlefields. As part of the politics of ‘containment’, the American government began to support the exiles. In the confrontation between the Soviet bloc and the USA, Franco saw a chance for developing his anticommunist politics and for gaining more tolerance for his regime by the Western powers.

This political opening triggered a – short-lived – change in the generally rigid and peculiar political asylum system of Francoist Spain. Until then, the regime had only been interested in figures of status like Otto von Habsburg, Nicholas of Romania and Simeon of Bulgaria. Not many “normal” refugees came to the poor and dictatorial country. Only for a brief period, at the beginning of the Cold War, when Franco wanted to whitewash the regime’s reputation and find support for avoiding international sanctions, did Spain open the doors to political exiles from Eastern Europe, while Spanish diplomats tried actively, with the help of Vatican diplomacy, to help some anti-communist emigrants. The presence of these political emigrants served as proof of Franco’s commitment to help the ‘enslaved Europe’. He used them as a means of propaganda for his regime, and, for their part, the émigrés allowed him to use them because his policy opened up the possibility of doing something against communism. Their unofficial embassies and their virtual liberation committees flourished. They received some money and found themselves added to the commonplaces of the dictator’s speeches.

Documentation on the Central and Eastern European exile is scattered over many archives in Spain, but the most important corpus of documents for this research is that of the General Archive of the Administration (AGA) in Alcalá de Henares. A central focus of the project is the documentation that belonged to Radio Nacional de España (Spanish National Broadcast), more specifically, to the Foreign Countries section. In this section, a documentary collection was made of all the material related to the radio production broadcast from Spain to the countries of the Eastern Bloc in the 1940s and 1950s. Radio propaganda in different languages ​​directed at the ‘enemy’ had been common during the Second World War, the BBC broadcasts being probably the most important of all. The increasing ideological conflict of the Cold War led to the establishment of radio programs in countries with émigré communities. The most important example was the CIA-financed Radio Free Europe, but in Spain, after the experience of broadcasting in English, French, German and even Russian during the Second World War, transmission in a number of languages was launched by the Spanish State Radio.

The Eastern European broadcasts of Radio Nacional de España began in 1949, although some languages were not added until later. Although not as important as the BBC or Radio Free Europe (RFE), the Spanish transmissions were of a certain significance, mainly at the beginning. Especially in Poland, thanks to the powerful voice and dramatic talent of Józef Łobodowski, “Radio Madryt” (as it was called in Poland) enjoyed real popularity. Even Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, afterwards RFE’s Polish Service director, used the example of the Madrid broadcasts to find a sponsor in the BBC for a wider Polish section.

Józef Łobodowski

Although most of the funding was provided by the Spanish state, there were other sources as well. Possibly, the Polish exile government provided some funding for the Polish broadcasts, for example. The Romanian National Committee in the USA (Comitet Naţional Român) helped the Romanian broadcasting in some ways too.

The radio transmissions were important for the émigré community in Spain since they legitimized its presence and status in its land of adoption. Members of the community could be seen not only as exiles but as fighters against Communism and as supporters of their fatherland from their refuge in Spain. Furthermore, in a material sense, the broadcasts could help exiles to keep their heads above water. Sources suggest they were paid 1000 pesetas a month and that they received 200 pesetas for every article. One thousand pesetas were quite good in the 1950s, but a rather small amount in the 1970s.

Many of the most important émigrés worked at the broadcasts. We have mentioned the writer Józef Łobodowski, but there were many others such as the Croat encyclopeadist Pavao Tijan, his wife Nedjeljka Luetich, the Romanian philosopher George Uscatescu or the already mentioned Slovak diplomat and writer Jozef Cieker, all of them important participants in transnational exile activities. The broadcasts continued until 1975; the changes in Spain after Franco’s death probably brought about their end although perhaps the economic crisis of the time played a part too. By that time, they were only a relic of the Cold War.

With this project, we aim to contribute a mostly overlooked aspect to the history of exile and emigration during the Cold War. While the existing literature overwhelmingly focuses on emigré communities in democratic countries in the West and their quest to reach back to their homeland (through clandestine tamizdat journals and literature or through larger operations such as Radio broadcasting), the rather specific case of Eastern European exiles in Spain during Francoism raises very different questions regarding the relationship between state politics and the protection and support of emigrés, the ideological conflicts of the second half of the twentieth century and their influence especially on the broadcasting programs directed to the East, or the emigrés’ role in their new host countries.

José M. Faraldo and Sarah Lemmen (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)

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LC Admin (2021, 8 mars). Broadcasting the Cold War. The Documental Legacy of Eastern and Central European Émigrés in Spain. La contemporaine. Bibliothèque, Archives, Musée des mondes contemporains. Consulté le 4 mars 2024, à l’adresse

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