Pressing Soviets on human rights. Former dissident urges abrogation of Helsinki pact

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

``For 10 years, the Helsinki Accords have existed beautifully, we continue to have periodical review conferences, and the situation continues to degenerate in the Soviet Union.'' So says Vladimir Bukovsky, a founding member of the Soviet human rights movement in the 1960s. He subsequently spent 12 years in Soviet prisons, labor camps, and psychiatric hospitals before his release to the West in 1976.

The opening of a followup meeting of the Helsinki Accords in Vienna today again throws the spotlight on the plight of dissidents in the Soviet Union, one of the 35 states to sign the accords.

Although the Helsinki process is endorsed by the United States government, which signed the accords, the majority of Soviet ``Helsinki monitors'' exiled to the West are calling for the abrogation of the accords because, they argue, they have not brought progress in human rights.

Recommended: Default

The accords fall into three baskets: one on human rights and security in Europe; one on East-West cooperation in science, technology, trade, and environment; and one on cooperation in humanitarian fields (such as family reunification, freedom of travel, and cultural exchanges). In theory, the baskets are linked: Progress in one depends on progress in the others.

The following is a condensed version of an interview here with Mr. Bukovsky for the Monitor:

Do you think that the Helsinki Accords created a healthier environment for relations between East and West?

The Helsinki Accords have two positive elements which were important, provided somebody uses them. One is linkage, the statement that all three baskets are connected. As long as nobody is going to use this linkage, it does not exist.

The second positive element built into the agreement is that there would be periodical review conferences which would allow performance to be scrutinized and action taken.

These two aspects were a step forward, although the rest of the formula of the Helsinki Accords was a step backward. For example, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights speaks about the right of individuals to emigrate, while the Helsinki Accords underlines the right for families to be united. The heavy emphasis on reunification of families in the Helsinki Accords is a significant step backward compared with the previous agreement.

[The West] agreed to certain concessions before we signed the accords. The concessions were that the formula would be weaker, we would have reunification of families instead of emigration, we would have no violent intrusion of postwar borders, which for the Soviets was very important. Those are all concessions to the Soviets.

The Soviets made the concessions of accepting the linkage and the periodical review conferences. Now if those concessions are not used, then on the balance we are left only with the concessions of the West.

Isn't there value in directly confronting a representative of the Soviet government at the conference table with the names of incarcerated dissidents; and the Soviet negotiator unable to claim that this is interference in internal affairs?

First, there are several forums in the world where this is done. You can present any case to your delight in the United Nations apparatus, let it be the General Assembly or the Human Rights Commission, which is created for that purpose. Second, if you present the cases behind closed doors like at the Helsinki meetings, so what? What's the difference between presenting cases in some kind of a conference behind closed doors or presenting a petition to the Soviet Embassy in Washington?

Defenders of the Helsinki process believe that it serves as a forum of public pressure on the Soviet Union.

A lot of people who wanted the review conferences to be unpleasant for the Soviets are persuading themselves that it really is unpleasant for them. As a matter of fact it is not. The Soviets come very willingly to all these conferences. They will be sitting to their delight, listening to all this blubber, which doesn't go anywhere. These review conferences are conducted behind closed doors. That's one of the essential flaws of the Helsinki Accords.

But the Soviets [keep coming to] these review conferences because of the frontiers issue. If they don't show up at the human rights reviews, they jeopardize the section of Basket I that affirms the postwar borders.

You say that the Soviets do have a value in this document, so why don't you threaten to abrogate and deprive them of that value unless they comply with their parts? Why do you allow them to enjoy certain advantages of this agreement while they don't give you any advantages?

When we called for abrogation, we knew for sure it would not be abrogated. Bureaucratic inertia is strong and you can never cancel it. By presenting this apparently extreme viewpoint about abrogating the Helsinki Accords, we shift the middle ground and force all these nice people who pay lip service to human rights problems in the Soviet Union, to defend the value of the accords. And once we force them into a position of defense, the only argument that they will bring back about its value is that it links human rights, security, and cooperation. We will say, ``Aha! Now go and formulate your policy according to this principle.''

I claim that if the West, immediately after signing the accords, had insisted on linkage among the baskets and had done something useful with these periodical review conferences, the situation would not have deteriorated in the Soviet Union.

Ask anybody who has lived in the Soviet Union and they will tell you that the least effective thing in the Soviet Union is to sit down and talk. If you have any leverage, use it. The Soviets are chess players. If you just sit and talk over the chessboard, how much will it advance your game? What counts are the moves you make.

Some scientists believe that the integrity of the world scientific community and free exchange of ideas is essential to maintain in this nuclear age. Considering the danger, they argue that this principle takes precedence over the loss of human rights of individual Soviet scientists.

That's a beautiful position -- that's the Soviet position. The Helsinki position is the concept that all three baskets are connected and one does not take precedence over the other.

Unless the Soviet Union becomes a more open country, there is very little sense in the so-called arms control process. [Dissident Soviet physicist Andrei] Sakharov made that point repeatedly, but that was never made a policy of the West. If the Soviet Union observes its obligations to the Helsinki process and to civil and political rights, you don't need any arms control. Society itself becomes a controlling organ which prevents governments from becoming too militaristic.

Carol O'Hallaron is a staff member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...