Human rights, political dissent, and the transition to systems of liberty in the Communist Bloc

From the Helsinki Accords to the Fall of the Berlin Wall and Beyond: Human rights, political dissent, and the transition to systems of liberty in the Communist Bloc

Washington, June 13-14 2020

Deadline: 30 March 2020


Call for Participation

The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation is pleased to announce the convening of «From the Helsinki Accords to the Fall of the Berlin Wall and Beyond», a conference generously supported by the Polish National Foundation.

At the conclusion of the 1975 Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, representatives from 35 European states, the United States, and Canada signed the Helsinki Accords, a declaration intended to improve relations between the Free World and the Communist Bloc. The inclusion of Basket III provisions provided a new impetus to bolster human rights in international politics, as Western democracies—especially the US—integrated human rights concerns into its relations with Soviet Bloc countries. In fact, from 1977 onward, human rights became a leading element of US foreign policy with President Carter placing the Helsinki Accords at the centre of his new foreign policy, a focus extended and sharpened by President Reagan during his fight with the communist “Evil Empire” in the 1980’s, as his administration worked with domestic and international NGO’s and the US Congress to promote the observance of human rights.

Concurrently, behind the Iron Curtain, a wave of political dissent washed over the Soviet Bloc, as the Western embrace of human rights seemed to create new incentives for increased dissident activity in Central and Eastern Europe. Beginning in 1976, new opposition groups organized and emerged in Poland (the Workers Defence Movement, the Movement for the Defence of Human and Civil Rights, and the Confederation of Independence Poland, among others), Czechoslovakia (Charter 77 group), Hungary (FIDESZ), and East Germany (Initiative for Peace and Human Rights) despite the communist regimes’ fierce efforts to suppress it. Meanwhile, individual dissidents were also present in other communist states. These movements would eventual succeed in bringing about the peaceful collapse of the single party communist dictatorships ruling their countries, and some would evolve into governing parties in the free political and economic systems established in the years to come.

How are we to understand the roles of human rights and Western policy in the development of the dissident movements across the Soviet Bloc during the 1970s and 1980s? In particular, what was the significance of the Basket III provisions of the Helsinki Accords? How important was Western support for dissident efforts behind the Iron Curtain? Furthermore, to what extent was Western support for these movements continued beyond the peaceful collapse of the single party communist dictatorships? Was this support sufficient to take full advantage of the new political and economic opportunities to build systems that would promote self-government and individual freedom? What are the lessons to be learned from the transition period, and to what extent does this period extent into the present?

We welcome paper and panel proposals from students and scholars from a wide range of disciplines (including history, economics, political science, sociology, psychology, and philosophy), for presentations, workshops, panels, interactive round tables, performances, readings, screenings, or installations dealing with (but not limited to):

  • Political dissent under communist regimes in Central and Eastern European countries
  • The role of America in the restoration of independence in Central and Eastern Europe
  • State building and democratic transition in Central and Eastern Europe
  • International human rights law and political dissent under communism
  • The role of soft power in promoting independence in Central and Eastern Europe
  • The role of social movements in the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe
  • The collapse of communism in the public sphere: memory and interpretations in Central and Eastern Europe
  • The road from communism to a new world
  • Lessons learned for political and economic transitions after communism

We especially encourage scholars to incorporate into their presentations a consideration of the commemoration of the above-mentioned issues in public space and historical memory. We are also interested in proposals that deal with the lessons that can be learned from the Central and Eastern Europe democratic transitions and applied in the future transition to democracy in Cuba and China.


Those interested should submit abstracts of no more than 300 words by March 30, 2020. The proposal should be formatted as follows:

  1. 1author(s)
  2. affiliation(s) as you would like it to appear in program
  3.  email address(es)
  4. title of proposal
  5. abstract of no more than 300 words

Submission emails should be addressed to with the subject head “Conference Abstract Submission”.

All papers accepted for and presented at the conference must be in English and will be eligible for publication in an ISBN eBook. Selected papers may be developed and expanded for future publication in a themed, edited hard bound volume.

The deadline for submissions is March 30, 2020.

All proposals accepted for presentation must have at least one presenter registered for the conference no later than May 1 to be guaranteed inclusion on the program. A limited number of conference registration waivers are available for graduate students, teachers, and contingent faculty members.

For more information please contact the director of academic programs, Dr. Murray Bessette, at


Affiche de Human rights, political dissent, and the transition to systems of liberty in the Communist Bloc (Washington, 2020)

Emilia Robin

Chercheuse associée à l'UMR SIRICE. Violons d'Ingres : guerre froide, médiation scientifique, logiciels libres

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