Signed at the Finnish capital of Helsinki on August 1, 1975, the Helsinki Accords were accepted by thirty-five participating nations at the first Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. The conference included all of the nations of Europe (excluding Albania), as well as the Soviet Union, the United States, and Canada. The Helsinki Accords had two noteworthy features. First, Article I formally recognized the post-World War II borders of Europe, which included an unwritten acknowledgement of the Soviet Union's control over the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which the USSR had annexed in 1940. Second, Article VII stated that "the participating States recognize the universal significance of human rights and fundamental freedoms." This passage, in theory, held the Soviet Union responsible for the maintenance and protection of basic human rights within its borders.
Although the Soviet government was never serious about conforming to the human rights parameters defined by the Helsinki Accords, the national leadership under General Secretary Leonid I. Brezhnev believed that its signing of the document would improve the Soviet Union's diplomatic position with the United States and other Western countries. Specifically, the state wished to foster the perception that it was as an equal player in the policy of détente, in which both superpowers sought to relax Cold War tensions. What the regime did not anticipate, however, was that those outside the Soviet Union, as well as many of the USSR's own citizens, would take the Accords seriously. Soon after the Soviet delegation returned from Finland, a number of human rights watchdog groups emerged to monitor the USSR's compliance with the Accords.
Among those organizations that arose after the signing of the accords was Helsinki Watch, founded in 1978 by a collection of Soviet dissidents including the notable physicist Andrei D. Sakharov and other human rights activists living outside the USSR. Helsinki Watch quickly became the best-known and most outspoken critic of Soviet human rights policies. This collection of activists and intellectuals later merged with similar organizations to form an association known as Human Rights Watch. Many members of both Helsinki Watch and Human Rights Watch who were Soviet citizens endured state persecution, including trial, arrest, and internal exile (e.g., Sakharov was exiled to the city of Gorky) from 1977 to 1980. Until the emergence of Mikhail S. Gorbachev as Soviet general secretary in 1985, independent monitoring of Soviet compliance with the accords from within the USSR remained difficult, although the dissidents of Helsinki Watch were never completely silenced. After the introduction of openness (glasnost) and restructuring (perestroika) under Gorbachev in the late 1980s, however, these individuals' efforts received much acclaim at home and abroad. The efforts of Helsinki Watch and its successor organizations served notice in an era of strict social control that the Soviet Union was accountable for its human rights obligations as specified by the Helsinki Accords.
See also: brezhnev, leonid ilich; dÉtente; dissident movement; human rights
Civnet: A Website of Civitas International. (2003). "The Helsinki Accords." <http://www.civnet.org/resources/document/historic/helsinki.htm>
Luxmoore, Jonathan. (1990). Helsinki Agreement: Dialogue or Discussion? New York: State Mutual Book and Periodical Service.
Nogee, Joseph and Donaldson, Robert, eds. (1992) Soviet Foreign Policy since World War II, 4th ed. New York: Macmillan.
Sakharov, Andrei D. (1978). Alarm and Hope. New York: Knopf.
Christopher J. Ward
"Helsinki Accords." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/helsinki-accords
"Helsinki Accords." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Retrieved April 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/helsinki-accords
HELSINKI ACCORDS. As part of the emerging East-West détente, in November 1972 talks opened in Helsinki to prepare for a Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Between 3 July 1973 and 1 August 1975, representatives of thirty-five states, including the United States, Canada, the Soviet Union, the Vatican, and all of the European states except Albania, discussed the future of Europe.
On 1 August 1975 leaders from the participating nations signed the Helsinki Final Act. It included three "baskets." Basket I contained a "Declaration on Principles Guiding Relations between Participating States." It legitimated the present borders within Europe, outlawed the use of force, prohibited intervention in the internal affairs of any state, and required respect for human rights and the self-determination of peoples.
Basket II addressed "Cooperation in the Field of Economics, of Science and Technology, and of the Environment." It sought to encourage increased East-West trade, scientific collaboration, and industrial management, and recognized the interdependence of societies across Europe.
Basket III dealt with "Cooperation in Humanitarian and other Fields." It provided a basis for increased person-to-person contacts between Eastern and Western Europe, encouraged the freer movement of peoples and ideas, and promised to facilitate the reunification of families long separated by Cold War conflict.
Critics were quick to point out that these agreements lacked enforcement mechanisms. Moreover, they gave the communist governments in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe legitimate standing as equals with the democratic regimes in the West. The Helsinki Accords, however, also legitimized human rights in the most repressive parts of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Dissidents, like the founders of "Charter 77" in Czechoslovakia, used the language of the Helsinki Accords to justify their criticisms of communist governments. Many of the dissidents inspired by the Helsinki Accords led the anticommunist revolutions of 1989. In addition, many of the "new thinkers" in the Soviet Union who attained power after 1985—including Mikhail Gorbachev—explained that they hoped to build a more humane European civilization, as outlined in the Helsinki Accords. Seeking stability, Soviet leaders signed the Final Act in 1975; in so doing they unleashed domestic forces they could not control.
English, Robert. Russia and the Idea of the West: Gorbachev, Intellectuals, and the End of the Cold War. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.
Garthoff, Raymond L. Détente and Confrontation: American-Soviet Relations from Nixon to Reagan. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1994.
Maresca, John J. To Helsinki: The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, 1973–1975. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1985.
See alsoCold War .
"Helsinki Accords." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 28, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/helsinki-accords
"Helsinki Accords." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved April 28, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/helsinki-accords