Canadians Act To Promote Helsinki Process

By Metta Spencer | 1991-09-01 12:00:00

Only during the past six months, especially during the early phases of the conflict in Yugoslavia, have many Canadians become familiar with the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). Most Eastern Europeans and Soviets probably regard the CSCE as a more promising body than the European Community (EC) to manage European affairs. For one thing, they already belong to the CSCE-as also do Americans and Canadians. For another thing, the CSCE won the appreciation of the former dissidents who now are in power in Eastern Europe by legitimating claims for human rights. The CSCE, also known as "the Helsinki Process," was the source of the crucial 1975 Helsinki Accords, which 35 nations adopted by consensus. Since then, the group has held other successful meetings dealing with issues that are in three "baskets":

Now the CSCE, which is still a conference of government officials, is acquiring a headquarters for the first time-in Prague. Moreover, last October an organization, the Helsinki Citizens Assembly (HCA), was founded in Prague by which citizens of all CSCE nations will discuss issues in a variety of public forums and commissions, and represent grassroots views to the CSCE. All nations affiliated to the
HCA were asked to form national committees, to hold their own conferences, and to name delegates to HCA meetings. (The next HCA conference is planned for March, 1992, in Prague.) Accordingly, several Canadian organizations have formed a coordinating committee to organize the Canadian national committee of HCA, to be called "Canadian Citizens Assembly for the Helsinki Process"-CCAHP (or, for short, CCA).

Coming: Public CCA Meetings

This new network will hold its first wider meeting at 10:45 a.m. Saturday, September 14, at a workshop in the International Peace Bureau meeting in Toronto. A second meeting will take place on Sunday afternoon. There is no intention for this network to become an organization that might compete with its member organizations for resources and attention. It is expected that both individuals and groups will join, and a wider array of concerns will be addressed than just the peace movement: environmentalists, for example, and religious and cultural groups, human rights, minorities, Third World development groups, and feminists. PEACE Magazine has agreed to serve the CCA by reserving at least one page in each issue to publicize its activities and to publish some of the papers it generates. In addition, a conference will be set up on Web, a computer network.

The CCA will mirror the HCA in holding six standing commissions that will facilitate discussion of particular topics. Those interested in working with the CCA can best do so by working through one of these commissions, which are as follows:

Everyone is invited to join CCA, and to suggest affiliation on the part of organizations to which they belong. Individual membership in Canadian Citizens Assembly for the Helsinki Process is $25 ($15 for those with limited income). To join, or for further information, contact Fergus Watt at World Federalists, 207-145 Spruce St. Ottawa K1R 6P1. Phone: 613/232-0647, Fax: 613/563-0017.

HCA News

CANADIAN CHURCHES will have monitors at the Moscow Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE, Sept. 10-Oct. 4. The Canadians will be part of the official monitoring team of the Churches' Human Rights Program for Implementation of the Helsinki Final Act. For information contact Bonnie Greene, Director, Office of Church in Society, United Church of Canada, 85 St. Clair Ave. East, Toronto M4T 1M8. Phone 416/ 925-5931.

HCA PUBLISHED its first news bulletin this summer, listing an impressive variety of projects that are already going on. It included:

Conflicts Abound

HCA obviously has begun to serve an important function, but in the face of enormous difficulties. The founding members from East and West had worked together compatibly for several years before the events of 1989. Since then, however, the social and economic policies of the new regimes in Eastern Europe have turned far to the right in an understandable reaction against communism. Although the HCA participants from Eastern Europe are not as conservative as the average members of their new right-wing governments, even they shock the Western HCA members, who are mostly Greens or Social Democrats. Young Czech democrats admire Margaret Thatcher more than anyone else.

The HCA divided over the Gulf War. Mary Kaldor wrote, "Some national committees, e.g. in Italy and Germany, opposed the war. Others, e.g. the Czech Republic, supported the war, drawing a parallel with Munich in 1938. Yet others, e.g. France, Britain, Hungary, or the Soviet Union, were divided in their opinions about the war."

Nationalism is another divisive issue. Liberal, democratic politics accords little respect to nationalism-particularly to separatism-in view of Europe's ghastly history of ethnic chauvinism and racism. However, a number of separatists appeared at the founding meeting in the confident expectation that anyone who favored democracy would support their independence movements and accredit their separate delegations for membership. Decisions have not been reached about such nationalistic accreditation, but HCA has supported the call for referenda in such states as the Baltics.

Finally, the most disturbing source of discord in Eastern Europe is the lingering mistrust and breakdown of community that was created by communism. For example, the Romanian delegates did not all know each other when they arrived in Prague for the October meeting. Each stranger immediately suspected the other of being Securitate, the dreaded secret police of the Ceaucescu period, who still have considerable power. There were good grounds for anxiety; the head of the Securitate in fact showed up at the convention for a few hours of people-watching. However, the mutual fears of the participants were baseless, and yet they prevented the formation of an effective national committee for Romania.

The Hunt for Collaborators

Such mistrust is pervasive throughout the formerly-communist countries. The best example of the corrosive effects can be seen in the plight of Jan Kavan, formerly a co-chair of HCA. Jan was a member of the Czech and Slovak Parliament who had been a tireless publicist for the dissident organization Charter 77 throughout his long exile in Britain, where he had been a social democrat-a political orientation which alienated him from most other anti-communist Czechs who rose to power with the Civic Forum coalition. Civic Forum broke up after a few months in office and a witch-hunt is underway. Early this year, Kavan was summoned before a secret session of a parliamentary committee that was reviewing the files of the secret police. To his astonishment, he was accused of having been an informant for the communist regime twenty years before and was given a choice of resigning or being exposed publicly. According to a report by Amnesty International, the investigation violated norms of due process. The files had been sifted by the police during the revolution and evidence may have been planted as well. Even the man who had, twenty years before, reported numerous attempts to recruit Jan, did not say that he had succeeded in doing so. Nor did the files show that Jan knew that the man was a police agent.

Kavan refused to resign from parliament and continues in his work, but his reputation has been gravely and unjustly sullied. Several members of HCA, especially Joanne Landy of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy, urge our readers to write, calling for a rectification of the process, to Alexander Dubcek, Chairman of the Federal Assembly, Vinohradska 1, 110 00 Prague, Czech and Slovak Federal Republic.

Peace Magazine Sep-Oct 1991

Peace Magazine Sep-Oct 1991, page 22. Some rights reserved.

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