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OSCE

Calling the President to Issue a Proclamation Recognizing the 25th Anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act

  • Hon. Christopher H. Smith & Hon. Steny H. Hoyer
    US












House of Representative

106th Congress, Second Session

Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from New York (Mr. Gilman) for yielding me time. Mr. Speaker, at the outset, let me give a special thanks to Bob Hand, who is a specialist on the Balkans, especially the former Yugoslavia and Albania, at the Helsinki Commission. As my colleagues know just a few moments ago, we passed H.R. 1064 by voice vote, legislation that I had introduced early last year. We went through many drafts and redrafts, and I would like to just thank Bob for the excellent work he and Dorothy Taft, the Commission’s Chief of Staff, did on that legislation. H.R. 1064 would not have been brought to the floor in a form we know the Senate will pass quickly and then forward for signature, without their tremendous work on this piece of legislation, and their organization of a whole series of hearings that the Helsinki Commission has held on the Balkans. We have had former Bosnian Prime Minister Silajdzic, for example, testify at several hearings. The Congress itself has had so much input into this diplomatic process which we know as the “Helsinki process,” and they have done yeoman’s work on that.

Mr. Speaker, I rise and ask my colleagues to support passage of H.J. Res. 100, recognizing the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act. I am pleased that we have more than 40 cosponsors on this resolution, and that includes all of our colleagues on the Helsinki Commission. The gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Hoyer) is the ranking Democratic Member, and my good friend and colleague.

Mr. Speaker, the Helsinki Final Act was a watershed event in European history, which set in motion what has become known as the Helsinki process. With its language on human rights, this agreement granted human rights the status of a fundamental principle regulating relations between the signatory countries. Yes, there were other provisions that dealt with economic issues as well as security concerns, but this country rightfully chose to focus attention on the human rights issues especially during the Cold War years and the dark days of the Soviet Union. The Helsinki process, I would respectfully submit to my colleagues, was very helpful, in fact instrumental, in relegating the Communist Soviet empire to the dust bin of history. The standards of Helsinki constitute a valuable lever in pressing human rights issues. The West, and especially the United States, used Helsinki to help people in Czechoslovakia, in East Germany and in all the countries that made up the OSCE, which today comprises 54 nations with the breakup of the Soviet Union and other States along with the addition of some new States.

Let me just read to my colleagues a statement that was made by President Gerald Ford, who actually signed the Helsinki Accords in 1975. He stated, and I quote, “the Helsinki Final Act was the final nail in the coffin of Marxism and Communism in many, many countries and helped bring about the change to a more democratic political system and a change to a more market oriented economic system.” The current Secretary General of the OSCE, Jan Kubis, a Slovak, has stated, and I quote him, “As we remember together the signature of the Helsinki Final Act, we commemorate the beginning of our liberation, not by armies, not by methods of force or intervention, but as a result of the impact and inspiration of the norms and values of an open civilized society, enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act and of the encouragement it provided to strive for democratic change and of openings it created to that end.

Mr. Speaker, the Helsinki Final Act is a living document. We regularly hold follow-up conferences and meetings emphasizing various aspects of the accords, pressing for compliance by all signatory states. I urge Members to support this resolution, and I am very proud, as I stated earlier, to be Chairman of the Helsinki Commission.

Mr. Speaker, I include for the Record the Statement made by the U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, David T. Johnson, at the Commemorative meeting on the 25th Anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act Statement at the 25th Anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act (By Ambassador David T. Johnson to the Commemorative Meeting of the Permanent Council of the OSCE) Madame Chairperson, as we look with fresh eyes today at the document our predecessors signed on August 1, 1975, we are struck by the breadth of their vision. They agreed to work together on an amazing range of issues, some of which we are only now beginning to address. The States participating in the meeting affirmed the objective of “ensuring conditions in which their people can live in true and lasting peace free from any threat to or attempt against their security;” they recognized the “indivisibility of security in Europe” and a “common interest in the development of cooperation throughout Europe.” One of the primary strengths of the Helsinki process is its comprehensive nature and membership. Human rights, military security, and trade and economic issues can be pursued in the one political organization that unites all the countries of Europe including the former Soviet republics, the United States and Canada, to face today’s challenges.

Over the past twenty-five years we have added pieces to fit the new realities, just last November in Istanbul we agreed on a new Charter for European Security and an adapted Conventional Forces in Europe treaty. But the most significant provision of the Helsinki Agreement may have been the so-called Basket III on Human Rights. As Henry Kissinger pointed out in a speech three weeks after the Final Act was signed, “At Helsinki, for the first time in the postwar period, human rights and fundamental freedoms became recognized subjects of East-West discourse and negotiations. The conference put forward . . . standards of humane conduct, which have been, and still are, a beacon of hope to millions.”

In resolutions introduced to our Congress this summer, members noted that the standards of Helsinki provided encouragement and sustenance to courageous individuals who dared to challenge repressive regimes. Many paid a high price with the loss of their freedom or even their lives. Today we have heard from you, the representatives of the many who have struggled in the cause of human rights throughout the years since Helsinki. We are in awe of you, of the difficult and dangerous circumstances of your lives, and of what you have and are accomplishing. Many of us here cannot comprehend the conditions of life in a divided Europe. And those who lived under repressive regimes could not have imagined how quickly life changed after 1989. Political analysts both East and West were astounded at the rapidity with which the citizens of the former Iron Curtain countries demanded their basic rights as citizens of democratic societies.

What we have heard time and again is that the Helsinki Final Act did matter. Leaders and ordinary citizens took heart from its assertions. The implementation review meetings kept a focus fixed on its provisions. Even before the Wall came down, a new generation of leaders like Nemeth in Hungary and Gorbachev in the Soviet Union made decisions to move in new directions, away from bloodshed and repression. In the summer of 1989, the Hungarians and Austrian cooperated with the West Germans to allow Romanians and East Germans to migrate to the West. Looking at what was happening in Europe, the young State Department analyst Francis Fukuyama, wrote an article which captured the world’s attention. In “The End of History,” he claimed that what was happening was not just the end of the Cold War but the end of the debate over political systems. A consensus had formed that democracy, coupled with a market economy, was the best system for fostering the most freedom possible. And then in the night of November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall opened unexpectedly. Citizens emerging from repressive regimes knew about democracy and told the world that what they wanted more than anything else was to vote in free and fair elections.

Only a year after the fall of the Wall, a reunited Germany held elections at the state and national level. Poland, Hungary, and the Baltic states carried out amazing transformations beginning with elections which brought in democratic systems. When Albania descended into chaos in 1997, groups across the country shared a common desire for fair elections. We have seen Croatia and the Slovak Republic re-direct their courses in the past several years, not by violence but through the ballot box. Just a few weeks ago, citizens of Montenegro voted in two cities with two different results, in both instances there was no violence and the new governments are moving forward with reforms to benefit their citizens. OSCE has time and again stepped up to assist with elections and give citizens an extra measure of reassurance that the rest of the world supports them in the exercise of their democratic rights.

We are all aware that in the decades since Helsinki, we have seen conflict, torture, and ethnic violence within the OSCE area. Unfortunately, not all areas in the OSCE region made a peaceful transition to the Euro-Atlantic community of democratic prosperity. Some OSCE countries remain one-party states or suffer under regimes which suppress political opposition. Perhaps the most troubled region is the former Yugoslavia. As Laura Silber has written in the text to the BBC series “The Death of Yugoslavia,” “Yugoslavia did not die a natural death. Rather, it was deliberately and systematically killed off by men who had nothing to gain and everything to lose from a peaceful transition from state socialism and one-party rule to free-market democracy.” We need only look at the devastation of Chechnya and the continuing ethnic strife in parts of the former Yugoslavia to realize there is much still to be done in the OSCE region. We must continue our work together to minimize conflict and bring contending sides together, foster economic reforms through enhanced transparency, promote environmental responsibility, and or fight against organized crime and corruption.

Human rights remain very much on our agenda as we seek to eradicate torture, and find new solutions for the integration of immigrants, minorities and vulnerable peoples into our political life. “Without a vision,” wrote the prophet Isaiah so long ago, “the people will perish.” We here today have a vision of collective security for all the citizens of the OSCE region. After twenty-five years, the goals embodied in the Helsinki final act remain a benchmark toward which we must continue to work. The Panelists have reminded us today that the Helsinki Final Act has incalculable symbolic meaning to the citizens of our region; we must continue to take on new challenges as we strive to keep this meaning alive. Mr. Crowley. Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to yield 8 minutes to the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Hoyer), the ranking member of the Helsinki Commission.

 

Mr. Hoyer: Mr. Speaker, I thank the distinguished gentleman from New York (Mr. Crowley) for yielding me the time. I thank the gentleman from New York (Mr. Gilman), the Chairman of the Committee on International Relations, for bringing this resolution to the floor. I am pleased to join my very good friend, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith), with whom I have served on the Helsinki Commission since 1985 and who is now the chairman of our commission and does an extraordinarily good job at raising high the banner of human rights, of freedom, and democracy and so many other vital values to a free people. I am honored to be his colleague on the Helsinki Commission.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of H.J. Res. 100 which commemorates the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act which, was signed on August 1, 1975. It is my firm belief that the political process set in motion by the signing of the Final Act was the groundwork for the forces which consumed the former Soviet empire. In 1975, many of the Final Act signatory states viewed the language of the act dealing with human rights and the obligation that each state had toward its own citizens, as well as those of other states, as essentially meaningless window dressing. Their objective, it was felt that of the Soviets, was to secure a framework in which their international political position and the then existing map of Europe would be adjudged a fait accompli.

Let me say as an aside that as we honor the 25th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act, we ought to honor the courage and the vision of President Gerald Ford. I am not particularly objective. President Ford is a friend of mine for whom I have great affection and great respect, but those who will recall the signing of the Final Act in August of 1975 will recall that it was very controversial, and that many particularly in President’s Ford’s party thought that it was a sellout to the Soviets, thought that it was, in fact, a recognition of the de facto borders that then existed with the 6 Warsaw Pact nations, captive nations, if you will. President Ford, however, had the vision and, as I said, the courage, to sign the Final Act on behalf of the United States along with 34 other heads of state; that act became a living and breathing process, not a treaty, not a part of international law, but whose moral suasion ultimately made a very significant difference.

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