Radio Liberty: The tourist hotspot on Spain’s Costa Brava has a secret past of the Cold War

Radio Liberty: The tourist hotspot on Spain's Costa Brava has a secret past of the Cold War

(CNN) – It is March 23, 1959. Radio waves are crackling and the broadcast begins: “Radio Svoboda is speaking” (Radio Svoboda is speaking – “This is what Radio Sloboda is saying …”)

On the other side of the Iron Curtain, US-funded Radio Liberty radio shows reached deep into the Soviet Union. This was the starting line intended to enter the folklore of the Cold War.

What most of these secret tweaks couldn’t imagine is the unlikely place they broadcast from.

This quiet resort of Platja de Pals, Spain, tangled between the Mediterranean Sea and the greenery of pine groves and rice, forms an amazing front line of the Cold War, but that is precisely the role it has played for almost half a century.

At this point, about 150 kilometers north of Barcelona, ​​the Costa Brava rug of Catalonia opens into a large bay with a long sandy beach, the perfect place for what was supposed to be one of the most powerful radio stations in the world.

Strategic location

In the mid-1950s and after nearly two decades of international isolation by the Spanish dictatorship of Francisco Franco, growing Cold War tensions provided the backdrop for the rapprochement of Spain and the United States.

In this new context of the Cold War, Washington became interested in the strategic location of Spain. General Franco, who is himself a persistent anti-communist, gladly committed himself. In a significant treaty, the United States was given a number of bases on Spanish soil, while Franco’s dictatorship would see relations with the West.

The installation of the Sloboda radio station in Pals was a side effect of this new geostrategic reality.

From 1959 to 2006, this beach was home to 13 massive antennas (the largest of which is 168 meters high, or more than half the size of the Eiffel Tower). This location favored not only because of the availability of space – the antennas were placed in a mile long parallel to the coast – but also because it provided direct, unobstructed access to the sea. A physical phenomenon called tropospheric propagation allows radio waves to travel further above water.

Post on the beach

The Pals station was part of a wider Radio Liberty network based in Munich. The content was also produced in West Germany, translated into various languages ​​of the Soviet Union, and then sent to Palsa for broadcast.

About 120 people worked at the peak, some Americans, but also very few locals. The radio station, though physically cut off from its surroundings, was a mysterious world beyond borders. And yet, at the same time, the highly raised antennas of Radio Liberty, which were brightly lit at night, were always present in the presence of many tourists who flock to the nearby beaches every summer.

For decades, Radio Liberty shows were one of the few ways in which Soviet citizens had to receive uncensored news from abroad. Even Mikhail Gorbachev, the then president of the Soviet Union, stated that Radio Sloboda kept him informed of what happened during the attempted coup in August 1991, when he was briefly imprisoned at his summer residence in Crimea.

From air

However, this historical moment turned out to be Gorbachev’s swan song Radio Liberty. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Pals facility lost its raison d’etre. War was fought through the 1990s, only to finally close in 2001.

This opened a public debate about what to do with the site.

Some have suggested turning it into a museum and preserving at least one of the antennas as a memorial; others wanted to solve it completely.

The last group finally prevailed – but only as far as the antenna is concerned.

On March 22, 2006, five years after the final broadcast, 13 antennas, totaling about 700 tons, were knocked down in a simultaneous controlled demolition.

When the antennas disappeared, the territory where they once stood was turned into a nature conservation area.

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A decade of use

Today, most of the buildings within the perimeter of the radio station remain in place. Unnoticed and exposed to elements, especially the northern noises that haunt the coast in winter, they decay after nearly two decades of use.

The place has acquired a crumbling aspect that is so familiar to those who have visited other abandoned Cold War sites: the feeling of stepping into a time capsule.

That atmosphere inspired Catalan artist Marina Capdevila, who is known for her large murals.

In the summer of 2018, she worked on the roof of the main building of Radio Sloboda for a period of 12 days. The result is an attractive, colorful, wall painting that covers about 2,000 square feet.

“When I discovered this place, I was quickly amazed by its potential, the ability to turn these abandoned, decaying buildings into something beautiful. My partner, who is from this area, brought a small drone with him and this one gave us the idea to make something which could only be seen from a bird’s eye view, ”Capdevila explains. “Mid-summer was hard work; we had to wear a lot of paint all the way to the roof. Luckily, they had other people helping me.”

A year later, the painting is still there, mostly for birds. A final revelation to this forgotten hotbed of the Cold War.

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