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On December 4, 2020, the University of Helsinki in collaboration with the Center for International Studies, Young Educators – European Association, JEF Finland (EUROOPPANUORET) and the Willy Brandt Foundation, brought together political and economic historians and human rights scholars to discuss three interrelated themes in European and global politics between the Helsinki Final Act in 1975 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989:
The ascent of human rights discourse
Introduced in the East-West dialogue by the Helsinki Accords and supported by the internationally bourgeoning field of NGOs, the idea of universal human rights played a well-known role in undermining the legitimacy of governments in the Soviet sphere and beyond. What were the broader implications of this new attention to human rights, how did it shape foreign policy agendas and how did it relate to other categories of rights?”
New forms of economic exchange across the Cold War divide.
On the one hand, the oil shocks of the 1970s, inflation, economic slowdown and the uneven transition to post-industrial society vastly increased the role of credit and international lending. On the other hand, the conditionality attached to these loans and enforced by international financial institutions significantly constrained the power of national governments. In the context of North-South relations, they played a part in the failure of high-profile political projects (Willy Brandt’s North-South commission) to live up to their promises for the future. With respect to East-West relations, lending across the Iron Curtain increased economic interdependence between the Cold War blocs and diminished the space of manoeuvre for indebted Eastern European governments.
How the resulting constrained space for national politics – globally and under the impact of the new paradigm of law and economy – challenged powerful socialist and social democratic parties, forcing them to reinvent themselves in a post-Keynesian world.
In the light of these developments, then, the period from 1975 to 1989 was framed by the “Crisis of democracy”, which was the title of a 1975 report by the Trilateral Commission focusing on the excess of bureaucracy and democracy, and the “end of history”, which in 1989 referred to the market-friendly, liberal democratic model as the only viable solution.
Due to the long-term impact of these European and global trends at the end of the Cold War, their causes and consequences are currently being re-examined from a variety of disciplinary angles. We consider some of them with a view to highlighting their uneven chronologies in different regions and their legacy for twenty-first century politics.”
The event programme had the speakers:
- Rasmus Søndergaard, Danish Institute for International Studies, with the presentation “Human Rights in East-West relations in the late Cold War: The case of Soviet Jewish emigration”;
- Lars Fredrik Stöcker, University of Vienna, with the presentation “‘Beyond the Kiss of Debt’: New perspectives on socialist globalization”.
- Bo Stråth, Professor Emeritus, with the presentation “The New International Economic Order and the Brandt Commission”.
- Ana Mónica Fonseca, Iscte – University Institute of Lisbon, with the presentation “The Portuguese Socialist Party between democratization and the end of Cold War: national and international challenges”.
The presentations were commented and discussed by:
- Alan Granadino González, University of Tampere;
- Lauri Ikola, JEF Finland;
- Henrik Meinander, University of Helsinki;
- Bernd Rother, Willy Brandt Stiftung;
- Johan Strang, University of Helsinki.
The webinar was moderated by Stefan Nygård, University of Helsinki and Luís Nuno Rodrigues, Iscte – University Institute of Lisbon.