Matěj Bílý - To Drive the Slogan of Human Rights out of the Hands of Opponents of Socialism: Discussions on Human Rights on Warsaw Pact Summits in the Years 1985–1989

This study addresses the as yet only marginally researched topic of the approach to human rights as discussed at the political summits of the Warsaw Pact in the late 1980s after Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Following research in the Czech, Polish and German archives, the paper analyses the course and consequences of this debate and puts them in the context of the last stage of the Cold War. The topic of the approach taken by the Warsaw Pact member states to the upholding of human rights was opened by the new Soviet leader in the very first year of his rule. It was undoubtedly part of his broader plan to improve the tense relations between the East and the West. The discussion that followed and intensified especially from the spring of 1987 played a significant role in the disintegration of the alliance. Although in the late 1980s the Warsaw Pact was functioning at its best in structural terms, the course of the debate shows that the strengthening of the political cooperation of the member states which occurred after Gorbachev came to power did not always have the intended effects. The vision that more regular and more open consultations would lead to the formulation of a more efficient joint foreign policy line was not fulfilled. On the contrary, freer discussion and the end of the Soviet pressure on the uniformity of opinions meant that the leaderships of the member states came to defend their own, often conflicting interests. That made the alliance unable to coordinate its work in many matters, which was especially true in relation to Gorbachov’s reforms, which also included a change in their approach to the protection of human rights. It turns out that the pressure from the West to uphold these rights not only affected the inner situation in the Warsaw Pact countries, but also created a source of friction between them that weakened the cohesion of the organisation as a whole. It therefore also undermined the multilateral relationships in the Eastern Bloc, symbolised by the Warsaw Pact.