[History Lessons] The Helsinki Accords
- Any lessons here for Barack Obama re Iran? . . .
From: bruce@...(Bruce Kauffmann)
The Helsinki Accords
The conference that produced the famous "Helsinki agreement" convened
this week (July 30) in 1975, and I can just hear many of you muttering,
"The what agreement?"
The Helsinki agreement -- formally known as the Helsinki Accords --
began the process that destroyed the Soviet Union and ended the Cold
And the irony is, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe
that produced this agreement was the Soviets' idea. Soviet leader Leonid
Brezhnev's goal in proposing the conference (held in Helsinki, Finland)
was two-fold: First, to reaffirm détente, the arrangement by which the
U.S. and the U.S.S.R. acknowledged each other's sphere of influence;
and, second, to get the world to publicly recognize that Soviet control
of Eastern Europe was unalterable.
But to get that "carrot" the Soviets had to swallow a "stick." Language
in the Helsinki agreement also required all signatories to recognize
"the universal significance of human rights and fundamental freedoms" as
spelled out in the Charter of the United Nations.
Given the Soviet Union's human rights record, its leaders were
understandably nervous about that language, but they finally decided the
trade-off was worth it, especially since Soviet leaders would be the
ones determining how such "rights and freedoms" would be defined.
Or so they thought. But when the Helsinki agreement was published in the
Soviet's official newspaper, Pravda, including the language on human
rights and freedoms, it sent shock waves through the dissident community
in both the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Slowly, but with increasing
regularity, what became known as "Helsinki Groups" began sprouting up,
asserting their rights to criticize the state and resist its attempts to
control their lives. What had begun as a few courageous loners such as
Andrei Sakharov and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn mushroomed into tens of
thousands of protestors, emboldened not only by the language in the
Helsinki agreement, but also by the support of a growing number of
international humans rights groups -- with names such as the Public
Group to Promote the Observance of the Helsinki Accords -- that
themselves were using Helsinki to monitor Soviet behavior.
Soviet leaders found themselves caught between a rock and a hard place.
The emboldened behavior of the protestors was becoming increasingly
intolerable, but no longer could the Soviets quietly detain and
incarcerate troublemakers. There were just too many of them and there
were too many people watching.
The inevitable result, of course, was Lech Walesa and Solidarity in
Poland, Vaclav Havel and the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, and
other dissident movements in Eastern Europe and throughout the republics
that made up the U.S.S.R. After that came the end of the Berlin Wall,
the end of the Soviet empire and the end of the Soviet Union.
"Oh, that agreement!"
© Kauffmann 2009
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