Friday, August 1, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Helsinki Final Act at 39 – Soviet Diplomacy’s ‘Fatal Triumph’

Paul Goble


            Staunton, August 1 – Thirty-nine years ago today, the leaders of 35 governments signed the Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, an event that Soviet officials viewed as a triumph but one that in fact put in motion forces that triggered the end of communism and the disintegration of the Soviet bloc and then the USSR itself.


            In a commentary on this anniversary, Aleksandr Golovkov says that agreement not only had that effect but also transformed the world into one in which the invocation of human rights is rapidly becoming a threat for the Russian Federation’s sovereignty, all of Moscow’s nuclear weapons not withstanding (


            The Helsinki Accords were the culmination of détente, he argues, and included ten points, the most important of which were a commitment to recognize the existing borders and systems of Europe as permanent -- Golovkov doesn’t say but the US took an exception on the case of the Soviet occupation of the Baltic countries – and to observe human rights.


            The Soviet side saw the former as a triumph that would end any Western campaign to “roll back” communism and did not view the latter as a threat that could not be easily parried. But in fact, the Helsinki Accord’s call for respecting human rights and basic freedoms was to prove the death knell for the Soviet bloc and the Soviet Union.


            Soviet-style socialism which was “ideally adapted for solving the tasks of national survival in the extreme conditions of the pre-war, war and post-war period,” he argues, “could not compete with democratic capitalism during the period of the comparatively peaceful co-existence of the two systems.”


            The Helsinki Final Act triggered or at least emboldened human rights activists in the socialist block, Golovkov says, and “dissident activity” spread “from Berlin to Magadan,” involving an entire country, Poland, only five years after the Accords were signed in the Finnish capital.


            Indeed, he continues, the final act made the Polish rising possible because by recognizing the borders of Poland as permanent, Helsinki eliminated any need for Poles to rely on the Soviet Union to maintain the borders of Poland that Stalin had imposed on them after World War II. Poles could then protest without fear of losing their country.


            The events in Poland threatened to spread into a series of “bloody revolutions and counter-revolutions” across Eastern Europe and to draw in Soviet forces. But happily for the East Europeans, the Soviet system after 1985 changed fundamentally, and the communist leaders in Eastern Europe quickly surrendered their positions. Ultimately, Moscow did the same.


            According to the Moscow commentator, the West today “shamelessly” invokes what he says are the “hopelessly outdated” human rights provisions of Helsinki to weaken its geopolitical opponents, as when the International Court in the Hague decalred that “the self-proclaimed independence of Kosovo does not contradict the norms of international law.”


             Further, Golovkov insists, “there is no place for the Helsinki equality of sovereignty in the community of developed and developing countries subordinate to the United States.” State sovereignty is recognized only according to the place of any particular state in “a hierarchy defined by its own resources of influence and closeness to the Washington super-sovereign.”


             There can be “not talk about the equality of nations. Those who are stronger, above all the former allies of the US feel themselves confident. The weak, including all the onetime parts of the socialist camp in pursuit of comfort and security use every means possible” to win support from the US.


            “Interference in the internal affairs of those who do not have the strength to oppose it is becoming common practice,” he says, and the most frequently invoked basis for that interference is the need to protect human rights, the very principle that was declared by the Helsinki Final Act in 1975.

            The consequences of this development, Golovkov says, are already in evidence in the Balkans and Eastern Europe more generally, but many Russians assume that it won’t have an impact on their country because of “its rockets, oil dollars and the great power status inherited from the USSR and the Russian Empire.”


            “But everything in the world is interconnected,” the commentator says in what must be the most disturbing recollection on this anniversary of the impact of the Helsinki final Act . And if the bell is tolling for someone in Europe, he concludes, it will soon be tolling for Russia as well.

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