Diplomatic Delusions

A leading Soviet dissident unmasks the hypocrisy of Helsinki


On the first day of August 1975, government leaders of 35 western nations, including the United States and Canada, signed the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in Helsinki. Two days of oratory by the leaders of these countries preceded the signing of what have come to be known as the Helsinki Accords. Leonid Brezhnev was among those participating in this grandiloquence.

Exulting over this impending and important Soviet diplomatic victory, Brezhnev extolled the terms of the Final Act that was about to be submitted for signing: "The parity of interests of all the participating states was painstakingly considered in the formulation of this Act; the results of the lengthy negotiations are such that there are no victors or vanquished, no winners or losers. All have won!" The difficult road from conception to culmination of an all-European conference was now behind us, he added.

I reflected upon this "difficult road" as the sixth anniversary of the signing of the Final Act passed by unobserved, disregarded, and fruitless. I assure you that the concept for this conference was the brainchild of Soviet diplomacy.

For several years this Soviet-born idea floated about the world until it became a reality in July 1973, in the form of the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. At that time I was a prisoner of the special psychiatric hospital in Chernyakhivsky. Thus, the information reaching me from the outside world was extremely limited. Since I knew that the USSR had no real desire for a peace treaty and therefore no genuine interest in peace negotiations, it was obvious to me that the Kremlin was searching for an expedient ersatz agreement to befuddle and mislead the Western nations. The Helsinki Conference could be a convenient vehicle to attain that goal.


This obvious deception appeared so transparent that I had no doubt that the West agreed to hold the conference only to expose the Machiavellian conduct of the USSR. The dearth of information provided by the media upon my return home in June 1974 did nothing to sway my conviction.

Like a bolt out of the blue, however, this lull of information was broken by news of the July 30, 1975, meeting of governmental leaders of the 35 countries for the signing of the Final Act at Helsinki. That was, indeed, a stunning victory for Soviet diplomacy: in the guise of the Final Act, the USSR was granted the substitute "peace treaty" it wanted. Europe, Canada, and the United States recognized all Soviet territorial conquests from World War II without receiving any concrete quid pro quo.

For me and my friends in the human rights movement in the Soviet Union, it was obvious that the Soviet government would not fulfill its human rights obligations under the agreement, and without this, there could be no assurance of security for Europe. Remaining the closed society that it is, the USSR was given full reign to violate any of the treaty's provisions, while the West, with its serious regard for international treaties, would scrupulously fulfill the provisions of all articles of the Final Act, thereby assuring full security to the Soviets. This was evident: the Final Act is advantageous only to the USSR. For the West it is dangerous, because it creates in the free world an illusion of security and tends to leave the democratic countries defenseless.

As we foresaw, recent experience has revealed that the Helsinki provisions untied the Soviet Union's hands for its adventures in the non-European theater. It also aided in masking the Soviet arms race and provided it with additional weaponry for weakening the defensive capabilities of the West through unilateral pacifist propaganda aimed at the West.

Fortunately, among us there was one individual who understood that these actions were not the only consequences of the signing of the Helsinki Accords. Dr. Yuri Fedorovych Orlov, professor of mathematical physics, realized that the Final Act could become a document of genuine security and cooperation for all the signatories. But to realize this, it was necessary that all governments signing it abide faithfully by its provisions in all domestic and foreign political affairs.

Since only governments are capable of violating international treaties, Orlov reasoned, groups of private citizens should be allowed to monitor and promote the fulfillment of the provisions of the Final Act. He proposed that a group of volunteers initiate such monitoring. As a result, on May 12, 1976, the Moscow Helsinki Group announced the creation of its organization. A heroic struggle in behalf of human rights ensued.

The earliest reports released by the Moscow Helsinki Group revealed shocking violations of human rights in the USSR. These revelations aroused a community of interest in the world and made the group well-known throughout the land. Persons from all parts of the Soviet Union traveled to Moscow conveying information on violations of human rights and seeking advice on how to deal with the problem. Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Georgians, and Armenians came out in support of the Moscow-based enterprise and formed their own "Helsinki" groups.

The Soviet government was perplexed. With its international prestige falling, it could not ignore the problem; something had to be done. A simple and honest solution would have been to fulfill its human rights obligations by honoring the agreement. Instead, it employed covert terrorism as the answer to the problem. To resort openly to terror would no doubt have evoked condemnation within and outside the borders of the Soviet Union. To avoid censure, repression would have to be concealed through the use of democratic and patriotic phrases to counteract the effects of the Helsinki groups—who worked openly and enjoyed wide publicity and whose disclosures could not be disproved.

For a while, the Soviet government hesitated to act, but this abnormal inaction lasted only about nine months. In the meantime, we, the Helsinki groups, went public: we held press conferences with international correspondents, published facts about Soviet violations of human rights in the Samizdat (underground publications), and sent related documents to the governments of the signatory states. During those nine months, the Moscow Group sent 18 such documents. The Ukrainian Group, only three months old at the end of this nine-month period, sent out 7 such memorandums. The Lithuanian Group sent 3 documents, and the Georgian Group sent 1. Because it was organized subsequent to the government's period of indecision, the Armenian Group sent none.

The documents revealed very serious violations of human rights in the Soviet Union: persecution and interference in the area of free communication; persecution of religious believers; arrests and convictions based on false accusations; discrimination and illegal persecution of political prisoners who already had completed their prison sentences; government abuse of psychiatry; denial of the right to emigrate; and a host of other violations. These transgressions and others, which violated the provisions of the Third Basket of the Helsinki Accords, were exposed by all groups. The Ukrainian, Lithuanian, and Georgian groups, however, concentrated their attention on national rights.


In retaliation, the Soviet government discharged group members from employment and terminated their telephone service. Members were interrogated and "rehabilitated" by the secret police and prosecutors issued warnings. Private conversations were bugged, searches were conducted, and all uncensored written and printed works of group members, including private letters and diaries, were confiscated. At times, during these searches, foreign currency, pornographic material, and even firearms were planted. But this was done so crudely and unskillfully that sometimes it became useless as evidence for prosecution. Yet all these methods failed to deter the public monitoring groups from continuing their activities.

The Soviet government then initiated arrests. The first blow fell on the Ukrainian Group. On February 5, 1977, the following were arrested: Oleska Tykhy, a teacher in the Donbas region and a leading member of the group, and Mykola Rudenko, a poet-philosopher from Kiev and the founder of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. A few days later, Aleksandr Ginzburg, an active member of the Moscow Group, was arrested. Still later, Prof. Yuri Orlov, the head of the Moscow Group, and another active member, Anatoly Shcharansky, also were incarcerated.

As for the Helsinki groups, the road to martyrdom had already begun. At first, the authorities acted with restraint because of the approaching Belgrade Conference (June-July 1977) to follow up on the Helsinki meeting. During this pre-Belgrade period, the government limited its arrests to two members of the Ukrainian group—Myroslav Marynovych and Mykola Matusevych—and the leader of the Georgian Group, Zviad Gamsakhurdia.

It was after the Belgrade Conference that the KGB unleashed its onslaught. Meanwhile, the West, to use Alexander Solzhenitsyn's graphic expression, "surrendered its principles to unprincipled ideology by not expounding upon its self-existent positions." Even as a second European conference on compliance with the Helsinki Final Act commenced on November 11, 1980, in Madrid, the Soviets made massive arrests, the most numerous since the beginning of the Helsinki movement. This reckless attitude of the Soviet government attested to its lawlessness.

The Kremlin openly displayed its contempt for the humanitarian articles of the Helsinki Final Act by attempting to convince the West that the arrests and verdicts against the defenders of human rights were an "internal affair of the USSR." When Ambassador Max Kampelman, head of the US delegation, was delivering his well-presented and moving speech at the Madrid Conference, citing the flagrantly lawless arrest of USSR scientist B. Brailovsky, Soviet delegate Leonid Illichov insolently retorted, "Though we are gathered here to discuss important problems, the American delegate chooses to talk about a criminal offender."


Such are the bitter fruits of an immoral yielding of principles by the West. Up to the time of the Belgrade Conference, the Soviet Helsinki groups provided their best efforts to brand the Soviet Union as a vicious violator of human rights. Only the American delegate took full advantage in his presentation of all the material provided by the Helsinki Groups; the majority of the other Western delegations assumed a neutral posture "so as not to spoil their relations with the USSR."

It took three years for the West to realize that, in the defense of human rights, probity and courage are necessary to unmask violations, while unity and firmness are required to put an end to them. These qualities were finally achieved in Madrid. But conditions had changed since Belgrade; and to accomplish what the West desired, in view of the belligerent Soviet attitude, much more perseverance was required of Western diplomats.

At the time of the Belgrade Conference, the Soviet Union continued to accelerate its rearmament program so as to achieve a significant arms superiority over the West. It was also deeply involved in Africa, South America, the Middle East, Indo-China, and the vast ocean areas. In order to mask its aggressive design under these conditions, the Soviet Union had to move very cautiously and therefore could have been forced to make a piecemeal concession. The West, however, failed to take advantage of this possibility and, in effect, surrendered a strategic advantage.

While the Soviet Union is conducting a calculated and brazen diplomacy, the West has chosen quiet and conciliatory diplomatic actions. Becoming increasingly defiant, the Soviet Union has arrived at the point of using its doctrines as obligatory tenets for all peoples. For example, the Soviet Union accuses Western nations of taking advantage of events in Poland in order to discredit the socialist order. The West pleads innocence and replies: "How can you say that? Why, we never thought of performing such an outrage!" I say, "Why not?"

The Soviets intrude into the internal affairs of other countries, commit unpardonable crimes against humanity, and exhibit contempt for the international agreements they have signed, including the human rights provisions of the Final Act. They openly use their agents in the free world to create pressure on other governments and to support international terrorism. Meanwhile, the West maintains silence so as not to compromise the victim-countries of Soviet meddling.

Enough! The West's mistake lies in its failure to exploit Soviet socialism's weaknesses in its diplomacy by not assisting nations to recognize the criminal nature of that system, by not relying on oppositional elements—especially the national movements in the USSR—and by not supporting these movements. Brazen Soviet diplomacy, stumbling upon a firm and stable area of purpose, would find itself in a hopeless situation. A good example was the Madrid Conference. For those familiar with Soviet diplomacy, it was easy to predict how the Soviets would try to deflect the conference from human rights issues. Failing that, they would try to prolong the conference until it became distasteful to all and accomplished nothing.

Taking the above into account, the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, supported by scores of well-known Soviet human rights defenders living abroad, submitted to the Madrid Conference a draft of a declaration of the "rights of all citizens of signatory nations to establish nongovernmental and non-partisan groups to monitor the observance of the Helsinki Accords, with the provisions that criminal and administrative persecution of such activities shall be barred." We proposed to introduce this draft for discussion during the first month of the conference, after the delegates had declared their positions.

The Soviet Union could either accept this declaration or voice its opposition to it. There would be no third alternative so long as the West remained adamant. In the event the Soviets were to accept the declaration, the conference would have achieved its goals, because all countries who signed the Helsinki Accords would then free the imprisoned members of the Helsinki Public Groups, declare a general political amnesty, and pledge to carry on the struggle against human rights violations. Were the Soviets to oppose this declaration, they would proclaim themselves enemies of the Final Act. And if that were to happen, continuation of the Helsinki follow-up conference and of the existence of the Final Act would be senseless. Western society would then free itself of injurious illusions, and the Soviets would lose the fertile ground of the Helsinki Accords for their machinations.

Western diplomacy, however, did not take advantage of this opportunity. We are now witnesses to the second Soviet tactic. Decisive and detailed arguments presented by Western diplomats were countered by Soviet-bloc delegates' mockery and indifference. Without any constructive end in sight, the conference deteriorated from lofty ideals to hollow rhetoric.

It took three years for the West to throw off the diplomacy of silence regarding violations of human rights. How many more years are needed to reach the ultimate goal of uncompromising defense of human rights and support for the forces of opposition in the USSR and countries of the Soviet bloc? How many more years are needed to take on the totalitarian ideology—revealing the weaknesses of Soviet socialism, the deceiving and Pharisaical Soviet diplomacy—and to establish an active counteroffensive through diplomatic means?

Once a major-general in the Soviet Army, Petro Grigorenko is today the Western representative of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. Between 1962 and 1977 his dissident activities within the Soviet Union led to several arrests and confinements in prisons and psychiatric hospitals. He lives now in the United States, where he was visiting for medical treatment in 1977 when the Soviet government revoked his citizenship.