Moscow's spotty human-rights record. Anniversary of Helsinki accords highlights alleged Soviet violations
``When the Soviet Union signs an agreement, we live up to it.'' -- Soviet government official. ``We're going to have to convince them that when they sign an agreement, we expect them to live up to it.'' -- United States government official.
For the past decade, the name has been synonymous with a comprehensive document that sought to clarify the postwar order in Europe, to exact certain standards of conduct from governments, and to promote peace on the Continent.
Diplomats from the 35 states that signed the Helsinki Final Act will meet in the Finnish capital to mark the 10th anniversary of the accord, signed on Aug. 1, 1975.
They are likely to find that the agreement is basically sound. But they will also be forced to note the bitter disagreements the Helsinki agreement has sparked -- and the repeated charges that it is being violated.
Not unexpectedly, the chief disputants are the United States and the Soviet Union. Each accuses the other of undermining the document. And the most heated disputes are over human rights.
The discord is not wholly unexpected. The Helsinki Final Act was, after all, a compromise document, the result of two years of wrangling at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. The 35 signatories included the US, Canada, and every European nation except Albania.
For the Soviet Union and its East-bloc allies, the agreement recognized communist control over Eastern Europe. It acknowledged the ``sovereign equality'' of every signatory, and held that their borders ``are inviolable.''
The West, in turn, exacted a pledge that all signatories would ``respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion, or belief. . . .''
The participants also renounced the use of force as a means of settling disputes, agreed to give advance notice of major military maneuvers, and promised to promote trade, tourism, and cultural exchanges.
In addition, they pledged to reunite families, promote the free flow of ideas and information, and expand business, scientific, and technical contacts.
US President Gerald Ford and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev exchanged congratulations on the documents, with Mr. Brezhnev expansively proclaiming the accords ``a gain for all who cherish peace and security on our planet.''
But Mr. Ford sounded a cautionary note, observing that history will judge the effort ``not by the promises we make, but by the promises we keep.''
The issue of human rights has become so politicized since the accords -- and the debate so heated -- that strong emotions are raised on both sides.
There is, of course, no firm scale on which to measure human rights. The judgment must be made from what is seen in Soviet society -- and, perhaps more important, what is not seen.
And what is not seen here is dissent. One journalist, returning here after a 10-year absence, set out to meet some of the activists he remembered from the mid-1970s, the heyday of dissent. He found every one of them had emigrated, been imprisoned, or was now in exile.
Of the 20 dissidents who originally banded together to form an unofficial group to monitor Soviet compliance with the Helsinki Final Act, for example, only two are still at liberty in this country.
Viktor Chebrikov, head of the KGB, the Soviet secret police, has promised to pursue the few remaining dissidents in this country, arguing that they did not represent anyone and were acting for unnamed foreign powers. Few analysts doubt that he will make good on that pledge.
According to one well-informed analyst, the Soviet Union maintains four labor camps, 12 psychiatric hospitals, and one prison primarily for political prisoners.
The exact number of political and religious prisoners is unknown. Dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov, himself now in exile in Gorky, has estimated the number could be as high as 10,000.
In its 1983 annual report, Amnesty International, a London-based human-rights organization, placed the number of ``prisoners of conscience'' at 450, but in another publication it said the true number could be much higher.
Keston College, which monitors Christian religions in communist societies, has published a list of 307 Christian ``prisoners of conscience'' imprisoned at the end of 1983.
Amnesty International says ``hunger, . . . physical suffering, and degradation'' are commonplace in the institutions where these people are held. But Soviet authorities refuse to allow any outsiders -- including the International Committee of the Red Cross -- to visit them. Thus, it is impossible to verify or refute these claims.
Using various Soviet laws, the government has been able to silence virtually all of the leading dissenters in this country.
Anatoly Shcharansky, a Jewish activist and a member of the unoffical Helsinki monitoring group, was convicted of treason and sentenced to 13 years' imprisonment in 1978. Yuri Orlov, the founder of the Helsinki monitoring group, was convicted the same year of ``anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda.'' And Dr. Sakharov's exile in Gorky continues, although he has never been convicted of any crime and no legal authority has ever been cited for exiling him. All three men are believed to be ill.
Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Lomeiko says that Sakharov, a nuclear physicist, possesses knowledge that is vital to Soviet security, and that restrictions on him are perfectly understandable and necessary. The Sakharov case, he says, has ``nothing'' to do with human rights.
With the more prominent dissenters out of action, Soviet authorities apparently have a freer hand to deal with other, lesser-known figures.
``The Soviets have crushed dissent in this country -- and they have done it to such an extent that they can pick up people with impunity, because the people are unknown,'' says a Western diplomat. ``And now,'' he adds, ``they've turned to religion.''
The Roman Catholic Church in Lithuania, for example, faces a host of restrictions, and some of its priests have been prosecuted for failing to adhere to Soviet law.
In the Far Eastern community of Chuguyevka, approximately 80 members of a community of unregistered Pentecostalists have faced particularly severe problems. Ten leaders have been arrested and convicted of various offenses over the past six months. Catholics in the Ukraine, Baptists in Armenia, and Lutherans in Latvia have also recently faced problems with authorities.
But the brunt of official discrimination seems to be borne by Jews, who are classified as a separate nationality here. Discrimination, according to many Jews, is pervasive and systematic, operating in educational institutions, workplaces, and throughout the government bureaucracy.
``Our situation,'' says a Jewish activist, ``is very, very bad.''
The number of Jews who have applied to emigrate is estimated to be as high as 30,000. Yet the number allowed to leave has dropped to historic lows. In June, the last full month for which statistics are available, only 36 Jews were allowed to leave. (By contrast, in October 1979, at the height of Jewish emigration, 4,746 Jews left the Soviet Union.)
Jews who apply to emigrate are often caught in a vise. Upon application, they lose their jobs. Then, they are prosecuted for ``parasitism'' -- failing to have a job.
Typical is Iosif Begun, an outspoken Jewish activist who taught Hebrew lessons without government permission. Having previously served a term for parasitism, he was convicted of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda in 1983 and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment. His family has endured months without word on his whereabouts or health, although they received a letter recently. His son, Boris, says, ``I am very discouraged.''
To avoid similar prosecution, many Jewish ``refuseniks'' -- as those who have been denied permission to emigrate are known -- have taken menial jobs.
In a recent appeal, a group of Jewish intellectuals noted that ``if things continue as now, scientists, poets, artists, and musicians will be transformed into janitors and elevator boys -- if they escape labor camps.''
Soviet authorities deny that there is any discrimination against Jews. Such discrimination, they note, is barred by the Soviet Constitution.
The Helsinki accords also provide for the signatories to ``examine favorably and on the basis of humanitarian considerations'' requests for exit permits for persons who have married citizens from other signatory states. The accords hold that married couples should be allowed to live together in ``a state in which either one is normally resident.''
Yet there are at least 170 so-called ``divided families'' in the Soviet Union who have spouses, parents, or siblings in the US but are not allowed to leave.
Yuri Balovlenkov has been married to a Baltimore nurse for six years. He has seen his wife only during her brief visits here and has never seen his three-year-old daughter. Mr. Balovlenkov recently ended his third hunger strike protesting his not being allowed to emigrate.
Nevertheless, Lev Tolkunov, head of the official Soviet Committee for European Security and Cooperation, says his country has been ``strictly observing the letter and spirit of the Final Act.''
``Alleged violations of human rights'' are ``slurs'' and ``imperialist propaganda,'' he wrote in a recent edition of Pravda, the Communist Party daily.
In fact, he continued, ``elementary civil rights in the capitalist states, and the USA above all, are being trampled underfoot.''
Soviet officials argue that race and sex discrimination, homelessness, unemployment, and lack of free education and medical care in the West are human-rights violations.
The Soviet view of human rights is the only one most of the 273 million people in this country will get, despite the fact that the Helsinki Final Act provides for circulation of foreign newspapers and journals in all the signatory countries.
A young Muscovite, asking a foreign journalist for a US or English newspaper, complained, ``We can only get the Communist Party papers -- the Daily Worker and the Morning Star -- here.''
And even these publications are sold in limited numbers, usually in hotels frequented by foreigners.
``I have a friend who works in a hotel. She tries to get me the newspapers when they come in, but it is very difficult,'' he says. Then he adds, ``I think we get a strange picture of things here.''
``I doubt that the Soviet Union will ever behave entirely in the way we want them to,'' says one Western diplomat.
But several Kremlin-watchers say there are measures that can bring Soviet behavior closer to Western expectations. The key one is consistency.
Several diplomats say that Westerners -- be they in government, the press, or public-interest groups -- show little consistency in addressing human rights. Today's major concern or banner headline becomes tomorrow's footnote, they argue.
Human-rights concerns must constantly be raised, say many diplomats, even if the Soviet response is predictable and unsatisfying.
But diplomats differ on how to raise them. And some fault the US for publicly excoriating the Soviet Union while privately negotiating agreements in other fields.
``We raise human-rights concerns consistently,'' says one western European diplomat, ``but we do it quietly, privately, bringing up specific cases. And we think that produces better results.''
However, another diplomat predicts that despite setbacks and even in the face of Soviet resistance, human rights will continue to be ``one of the major areas of concern in the East-West relationship.''
Iosif Begun Electronics engineer. Jewish activist. Since 1971 has sought to emigrate to Israel. Convicted in October 1983 of producing and distributing anti-Soviet literature; sentenced to a maximum of seven years in jail and five years of internal exile. (Had been in internal exile twice before.) The Soviet news agency Tass said he had slandered the Soviet state ``on instructions from foreign subversive anti-Communist centers.'' Imprisoned in town of Perm. Yuri Orlov Theoretical physicist specializing in the acceleration of subatomic particles. A founder of unofficial committee set up in May 1976 to monitor Soviet compliance with Helsinki accords. Arrested February 1977. Convicted of anti-Soviet agitation in May 1978 and sentenced to seven years in jail, to be served doing hard labor in Perm camp, and five years of internal exile. Sent into exile in Kobyay, Siberia, in February 1984. Andrei Sakharov Physicist who developed the Soviet hydrogen bomb. Won Nobel Peace Prize in 1975. Helped launch Soviet human-rights movement. Author of four books published in the West that stress human rights and call for democracy in the Soviet Union. Never formally charged with a crime, but since January 1980 has been in internal exile in Gorky, a city 250 miles east of Moscow that is closed to foreigners. Present condition and location unknown. Anatoly Shcharansky Computer specialist. Jewish activist. Applied to emigrate to Israel in 1973. Arrested in March 1977. Managed fund to aid families of political prisoners. Member of Helsinki monitoring group. Sentenced in July 1978 to three years in prison, 10 years in labor camp for treason, espionage, and anti-Soviet agitation. Given second three-year prison term ``for failing to work at rehabilitation and continuing to consider himself innocent.'' Now at Perm.