The formal opening takes place in Belgrade next week of the follow-up conference of those states which signed the Helsinki in the summer of 1975. The agreement, officially titled “The Final Act of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe”, was designed to represent the west’s formal recognition of the ideological division of Europe following the defeat of Nazism.
Instead it became a rod for the back of the Soviet Union which continued to violate the human rights clauses in the agreement. Helsinki became the dissidents’ “Magna Carta”, quoted widely in Eastern Europe wherever the abuses occurred.
The importance of the agreement persuaded Soviet Jews in May 1976 to form an unofficial watchdog committees to document Soviet violations of the human rights clauses.
Since President Carter’s election and his outspoken policy on human rights, leading members of these committees in Moscow, Kiev and Georgia have been arrested. Foremost amongst them is Anatoly Shcharansky.
Since these arrests, there has been a deliberate policy of delay in dealing with Shcharansky and his friends. The KGB, for example, is extremely reticent about specifying the article in the Russian Criminal Code under which Shcharansky has been charged. His mother had been informed in a letter in May that her son being investigated under Article 64a — treason to the motherland —which carries a maximum penalty of death.
But in July, Ernst A Moscow psychiatrist, was told by his interrogator that Shcharansky’s crime was “co-operation with foreign states which proved harmful to the USSR”. Since then, a cities as far apart as Chernovits and Kaliningrad have been interrogated in connection with the Shcharansky case.
The Shcharansky investigation has been abnormally long — it is now over six months since he arrested — and the KGB has ignored numerous opportunities to try him. The Belgrade conference next week where the human rights issue is certain to be debated, may provide an opportunity to show a degree of humanity and release Shcharansky.
Jewish Observer October 1977