January 26, 2010 (REVISED February 16, 2010) "Voices from Afghanistan" Exhibition Marks Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Acquisition

Press Contact: Audrey Fischer, Library of Congress (202) 707-0022 | Ari Goldberg, RFE/RL (202) 494-0388
Contact: View the exhibition online.

The Library of Congress, in cooperation with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, (RFE/RL) will display more than 50 letters and other items from Afghanistan. The exhibit marks the recent gift from RFE/RL to the Library's African and Middle Eastern Division of a collection comprising 15,000 letters from listeners of Radio Azadi (RFE/RL's Afghan Service). The exhibit will be on view Feb. 24 through May 8 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday, on the first floor of the Library's Thomas Jefferson building at 10 First Street, S.E., Washington, D.C. The display is free and open to the public.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. Congress appropriated funds for RFE/RL to begin "surrogate broadcasting services in the Dari and Pashto languages to Afghanistan" (Public Law 107-148). Since that time, the station known locally as Radio Azadi has become the most popular source of news in Afghanistan, offering information, political satire, literary and music programming.

For the past eight years, from every corner of Afghanistan, letters from Radio Azadi's listeners have made their way to RFE/RL's headquarters in Prague. Merchants, clerics, farmers, university students and schoolchildren from cities and rural villages have sent "fan mail" and other correspondence to the station. Letters sent from large cities are placed into regular postal bins while those from remote regions -- including the country's inaccessible tribal areas -- are loaded onto horses and pack animals. Through nearly impassable mountainous terrain, they come to one of RFE/RL's 11 post-office boxes around the country or to a drop box in Peshawar, Pakistan. Radio Azadi journalists collect the letters and drive them to RFE/RL's Kabul bureau, where they are eventually loaded onto planes bound for RFE/RL's headquarters in Prague, Czech Republic.

Letters selected for display at the Library of Congress include those from schoolchildren describing the conditions in their schools, young people writing love poems to their significant others, villagers complaining about corrupt officials, prisoners asking for prison reform, refugees describing their plight and older people discussing life and work in Afghanistan decades ago. Many of the letters are illustrated with floral and animal designs reminiscent of an earlier tradition.

The display will also include items from the Library's Middle Eastern collections, including 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century manuscripts from Afghanistan that mirror the style of recently acquired letters from the region. The tradition of writing on long scrolls is demonstrated in the recent acquisition of a 63-meter-long letter, which will be juxtaposed with an 18th-century scroll from the area. A 19th-century book cover richly illustrated with roses, tulips and chrysanthemums will be placed near a similarly adorned letter recently sent to Radio Azadi.

Photographs of modern day Afghanistan and its people will be on display. Sound booths will allow visitors to listen to Radio Azadi's broadcasts in Dari and Pushto with voiceovers in English and live telephone conversations among family members re-united through Radio Azadi.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is an independent, international news and broadcast organization whose programs -- radio, Internet and television -- reach influential audiences in 20 countries such as Russia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and the republics of Central Asia. RFE/RL is funded by the U.S. Congress through the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). For more information, visit the website at www.rferl.org.

Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation's oldest federal cultural institution. The Library seeks to spark imagination and creativity and to further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its magnificent collections, programs and exhibitions. Many of the Library's rich resources can be accessed through its website at www.loc.gov and via interactive exhibitions on a personalized website at myLOC.gov.

The Library's African and Middle Eastern Division www.loc.gov/rr/amed/ is the center for the study of some 78 countries and regions from Southern Africa to the Maghreb and from the Middle East to Central Asia.


PR 10-018
ISSN 0731-3527