(And) We take a close look at a piece of broadcasting history as Radio Sweden’s Russian service turns 40.
When the Chernobyl nuclear plant exploded in 1986, Soviet authorities tried to keep its people unaware of the extent of the disaster. Thanks to Radio Sweden’s Russian service, Soviet citizens soon learned what had actually happened. Back then; Radio Sweden was one of the very few western news sources. Today (Monday), the Russian programming celebrates its fortieth birthday. Alexander Hirschfelder looks back at a piece of broadcasting history.
SOUNDFILE FIRST BROADCAST (RUSSIAN)
It was a historic moment when Sweden’s public service radio launched its first ever program in Russian. It was the evening of November 5th, 1967, almost exactly 50 years after the Soviet Union had been founded. Lead by Leonid Brezhnev, the communist super power slowly began to deal with its own dark past, the Stalin era. But it was still a long way to democracy.
Just like its programs in Swedish, English and many other languages, Radio Sweden’s Russian program always came from broadcasting house in Sweden’s capital Stockholm. As the Russian service turns 40 now, Dace Vinklere, managing editor of the group, says this anniversary is both a moment to look back but also a motivation to keep up the sometimes hard work.
From its very first day of broadcast, Radio Sweden’s Russian service always delivered the kind of news no other Soviet media could have produced - balanced, critical and uncensored.
It was in Radio Sweden’s program where Russian-speaking listeners had the opportunity to hear dissidents like Alexander Solchenizin speaking in their native language. But it was also the program that took up Sweden’s domestic problems. And reporters here in Stockholm could always be sure that their Soviet audience was eager to get to know Sweden better. Staffan Skott, a Swedish expert on Russian society and literature, spent many years in the Soviet Union.
The broadcasts from Stockholm enjoyed a thoroughly positive reputation. When Soviet authorities tried to play down the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl, it was Radio Sweden’s Russian service that Soviet listeners could count on, as Dace Vinklere, today’s head of the group, confirms.
But it was definitely not merely political reporting that made Radio Sweden so popular among Soviet listeners. Especially cultural and music programs like ”Café Johansson” drew the attention of countless listeners. The success of Sweden’s legendary pop group ”ABBA” in the Soviet hemisphere was primarily due to Radio Sweden. Since this was the only media in Russian language that actually played ABBA’s songs, Radio Sweden virtually boosted ABBA-mania between Leningrad and Vladivostok, says Dace Vinklere.
Now, after the collapse of the Soviet empire, Radio Sweden’s popularity has not declined. In fact, official ratings show that more and more Russian listeners rely on the programs from Stockholm as Russia and the Baltic States with their huge Russian minorities are closer to Sweden than ever before. Political and cultural ties between Russians and Swedes are growing tighter. But the strongest reason to tune in to Radio Sweden might still be the fact that Russian media consumers still fall short of objective news in their home country, as Staffan Skott, the expert on Russian society, puts it.