The Interkerkelijk Vredesberaad (IKV) or Interchurch Peace Council is an organization founded in November 1967 by nine Dutch churches. Striving for peace during the Cold War, the organization started by organizing a yearly ‘Vredesweek’ or Week of Peace, as well as distributing a ‘Vredeskrant’ or Newspaper of Peace. While it was initially mainly known among members of the participating churches, the organization gained national and later international attention through its efforts for nuclear disarmament. Starting in the Week of Peace of 1977, the IKV launched a campaign with the following slogan: ‘’Help rid the world of nuclear weapons, beginning with the Netherlands’’. This slogan and campaign found fertile ground in the Netherlands, and thus grew rapidly. Soon, there were over 400 local groups working towards the same goal. While the brunt of the activists were members of the churches which were involved in the organization, soon universities and newspapers joined as well. Through reports on nuclear weapons stored in the Netherlands, the population was educated on what was going on within the country. Slowly, the first steps towards internationalization of the movement were made in the late 1970s. When the NATO announced the fabrication of new cruise missiles with nuclear warheads, some of which were to be stationed in the Netherlands, the movement gained even more popularity. This popularity culminated in two mass protests: the first one was in Amsterdam in 1981, where more than 420.000 people attended. This kickstarted the internationalization of the movement, and the International Peace Communication and Coordination Center (IPCC) was founded with the IKV as leader of this group. Two years later another mass protest, this time in the Hague, attracted 550.000 people. While the IKV’s work was not very successful in the sense that the placement of nuclear warheads in the Netherlands was not prevented by its actions, the organization sparked an international movement for nuclear disarmament. After the end of the Cold War, the IKV focused its efforts on peace on a project basis. Starting with the war in Yugoslavia, the IKV continues to promote peace around the world to this day.

Sources:

Badalassi, N., & Snyder, S. (Eds.). (2019). The CSCE and the End of the Cold War: Diplomacy, Societies and Human Rights, 1972-1990. New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books.

Erich Honecker of the German Democratic Republic and Helmut Schmidt of the Federal Republic of Germany at the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe held in Helsinki in 1975. Bundesarchiv
Source: https://www.osce.org/event/summit_1975

The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) was created in the 1970s, following the Helsinki Agreements. It aimed to improve the relationship between the Soviet bloc and the NATO bloc. The United States, the Soviet Union, Canada, Turkey and all the European countries, excluding Albania and Andorra, met between July 3rd, 1973 and August 1st, 1975, in a set of three sessions, where it was agreed deepening cooperation on security issues. From November 1990, with the Charter of Paris, and after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the CSCE began to have permanent administrative institutions in order to allow the continuity of its work in democracy, peace and human rights, in Europe. Public consultations are also held every two years between the heads of state and government; an annual meeting of a Formal Council made up of Foreign Ministers and a regular meeting of high-level officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, in the form of a Committee. During the Budapest Summit in December 1994, the Conference was extended to an Organization, thus creating the “Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)”, with headquarters and permanent institutions from January 1st, 1995. The OSCE is a regional organization, headquartered in Vienna, Austria, and made up of 57 member states, including the entire European Union, the Russian Federation, Central Asian countries and North America. The purpose of this Organization is to promote democracy and human rights, as well as prevention, conflict resolution and cooperation in terms of security.

References

Badalassi, Nicolas and Snyder, Sarah B, (edts), (2018), The CSCE and the End of the Cold War: Diplomacy, Societies and Human Rights 1972-1990, Berghahn Books.

Hakkarainen, Petri, (2011), “A State of Peace in Europe: West Germany and the CSCE, 1966-1975”, Berghahn Books.

Bilandžić, Vladimir and Kosanović, Milan, (edts.), (2012), “From Helsinki to Belgrade: The First CSCE Follow-up Meeting and the Crisis of Détente”, V&R Unipress.

Makko, Aryo, (2016), “Ambassadors of Realpolitik: Sweden, the CSCE and the Cold War”, Berghahn Books.

One of the first human rights movements in the Soviet Union was the Komitet Obrony Robotników (KOR) or Worker’s Defence Committee in Poland. After the Polish government announced steep price rises, particularly on foodstuffs, protests and riots broke out in various Polish cities in 1976. While the Polish government did recall those price rises, the protests were also very heavily suppressed. Many participating workers lost their jobs, were sent to the hospital with severe injuries or even to prison with sentences of up to 10 years. In September 1976, Antoni Macierewicz and Piotr Naimski started the KOR as a reaction to this injustice. Through the help of friendly lawyers, they tried to gain amnesty for the arrested workers, as well as trying to get fired workers their jobs back. In this process, they also assisted the workers families with money, legal counsel, and mental support. At the same time, the KOR ran a public awareness campaign. While the government newspapers described the protests as hooligan riots, the KOR smuggled printing equipment into the country and started to disseminate its own information, showing the Polish people another side to the story. Just like with the initial protests, the Polish government suppressed the KOR heavily, yet still gave in to its demands. So, while they severely harassed KOR’s members, allegedly even killing a student affiliated with the group, the government did grant mass amnesty to workers in 1977. It was at this point, one year after its original inception, that the groups initial mission of justice for the workers was complete. However, this did not mean they would stop their activism. They changed into the Komitet Samoobrony Społecznej KOR (KSSKOR) or Social Self-Defense Committee KOR. With this name-change, they morphed into a movement comparable to the various Helsinki groups of the time, and indeed worked together with the Helsinki Watch and the Swedish and Norwegian Helsinki groups. In catholic Poland, they battled suppression of human and civil rights such as religious oppression by the atheist Soviet Union administration. The KOR and subsequently the KSSKOR were very influential not only in securing amnesty, but also in showing the Polish people that dissidence was possible and effective. Soon, other groups started forming and KSSKOR was finally absorbed into Solidarnosc in the early 1980s.

Sources:

Snyder, S.H. (2011) Human Rights Activists and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Lipski, Jan Józef (1985). KOR: a history of the Workers’ Defense Committee in Poland, 1976-1981. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press

Charter 77 memorial in Prague

In 1968, the Czechoslovak government intended to implement some reforms to humanize socialism, however, the Soviet Union felt threatened and invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968, putting an end to socialist reforms known as the “Prague Spring”. In January 1977, a group of Czechoslovak intellectuals, feeling unhappy, signed a document known as “Charter 77”, which criticized the government for the failure of socialist reforms, namely the implementation of the human rights clauses in the Czech Constitution, the Final Act of the Helsinki 1975 and the United Nations’ intentions on political, civil, cultural and economic rights. 243 individuals signed the “Charter 77” and, over the next decade, more 1621 people joined the group. This document was signed by artists, writers and intellectuals, who were not satisfied with the state of the country, and defended the decentralization of the economy, the end of restrictions on presses’ freedom and expression. They called themselves a free association, without statutes or permanent bodies and without any political or opposition basis. Vaclav Havel, the former President of Czechoslovakia, was one of the “Charter 77” signatories, and one of its co-authors, as well as its spokesman when the movement was established in January 1977. Some important names in the movement included Jiri Dienstbier, who became Minister of Foreign Affairs, or writers as Ludvik Vaculik and Pavel Kohout. The “Charter 77” movement was one of the oldest human rights movements in Eastern Europe. Its signatories were constantly subject to redundancies, the refusal of access to their children’s education, the withdrawal of driving licenses, the forced exile and the loss of the citizenship. They were also victim of police harassment, arrest and trial.

References

Bolton, Jonathan, (2012), “Worlds of Dissent: Charter 77, The Plastic People of the Universe, and Czech Culture under Communism”, Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

Skilling, H. Gordon, (1981), “Charter 77 and the Human Rights in Czechoslovakia”, Unwin Hyman, London.

Jarvinen, Jouni, (2009), “Normalization and Charter 77: Violence, Commitment and Resistance in Czechoslovakia”, Kikimora Publications.

The ‘’Výbor na obranu nespravedlivě stíhaných’’ (VONS) or the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted was founded in Czechoslovakia in April 1978. Founded by several signatories of the Charter 77, the VONS was modeled after the Polish KOR movement. Like the KOR, it sought to assist persons being persecuted by the government for their beliefs. It provided legal counsel, financial assistance, and other forms of support to these people. Next to the support provided, they also tried to raise awareness for the cases they were looking at. They did this by writing communiqués which were published in the Charter 77 newsletter, and often also broadcast by radio stations based abroad which could reach into Soviet territory. These communiqués were very important as they broke the information monopoly held by the state. Through showing the Czechoslovak people details of individual cases, the broader pattern of lies by the government was uncovered. As one can imagine, the government and secret police were not amused by these efforts, and soon many of the founding members of VONS were in prison. Others were forced to emigrate. However, their fellow dissidents were not discouraged and managed to publish a total of 1.295 communiqués between 1978 and 1989. After the fall of the Iron Curtain and the Velvet Revolution, VONS continued as a movement advocating for certain legal amendments in the criminal code and rehabilitation laws. It was disbanded in 1996.

Sources:

Badalassi, N., & Snyder, S. (Eds.). (2019). The CSCE and the End of the Cold War: Diplomacy, Societies and Human Rights, 1972-1990. New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books.

Snyder, S.H. (2011) Human Rights Activists and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

www.vons.cz/eng

Mural commemorating Radio Solidarność at Grójecka Street in Warsaw Author: Mateusz Opasiński

“Solidarity” is the English word for “Solidarność”, which was the first independent union in a Soviet bloc country. More specifically, on September 22nd, in 1980, Solidarność was formally founded when 36 regional unions joined together. This union came about after a strike led by Lech Walesa, which started in August 1980. This strike brought together workers from the Lenin Shipyards, in Gdansk. Workers demanded salary increase and the readmission of dismissed colleagues. Following this first strike, some others extended across the country, which led the strikers and the government to an agreement that allowed free and independent unions, with freedom of political and religious expression. In early 1981, the union had about 10 million people and represented the majority of Poland’s workforce. Throughout that year, Solidarność became increasingly strong and participative in society, carrying out several strikes that called, mainly, for economic reforms and free elections. During this period, the union’s positions hardened, and the Polish government was subjected to pressure from the Soviet Union to suppress it. The union was even declared illegal and its leaders were arrested. Solidarity was dissolved by Parliament in October 1982 and went underground. In 1988, strikes returned to Poland and the strikers intended the government to once again recognize the Solidarność union, which was again legalized in April of that year, having participated in free elections for Parliament. After winning seats in Parliament, they formed a coalition government with PUWP, under the leadership of Tadeusz Mazowiecki. However, after disagreements between Mazowiecki and Lech Walesa, the latter became President of Poland in 1990. This division between the two leaders prevented the formation of a coalition supported by Solidarity to govern the country and the role of the union became weaker as new political parties emerged in the early 1990s.

References

Goodwyn, Lawrence, (1991), “Breaking the Barrier: The Rise of Solidarity in Poland”, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Goddeeris, Idesbald (Editor), (2010), “Solidarity with Solidarity: Western European Trade Unions and the Polish Crisis, 1980–1982 (The Harvard Cold War Studies Book Series)”, Washington, Lexington Books.

Ost, David, (2006), “The Defeat of Solidarity: Anger and Politics in Postcommunist Europe”, Nova Iorque, Cornell University Press.