A first-hand report.

‘We wanted to bring the Soviets into the dock of world opinion.’

In august, 1975, representatives of thirty-five nations including the Vatican signed the Helsinki Final Act, a document designed to bring greater security and cooperation to Europe. The Act, though not a binding treaty, has had extraordinary impact upon the signatory states and upon world public opinion. It legitimatized the post-1945 European borders and encouraged scientific and cultural exchange. The Act’s third section (“Basket Three”) contains some striking provisions that have caused observers to wonder why the Soviet Union agreed to such language.

“The participating states recognize and respect the liberty of the individual to profess and practice on his own, or in common with others the religion or creed, acting according to the dictates of his own conscience … will respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion … They will promote and encourage the effective exercise of civil, political, economic, social, cultural, and other rights and freedoms, all of which derive from the inherent dignity of the human person … will deal in a positive and humanitarian spirit with the application of persons who wish to be reunified with members of their family … as expeditiously as possible … facilitate wider travel by their citizens for personal or professional reasons … confirm that religious faiths, institutions, and organizations, practicing within the constitutional framework of the participating states … can have contacts and meetings ...

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