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The Helsinki Effect International Norms, Human Rights, and the Demise of Communism by Daniel C. Thomas

The Helsinki Effect International Norms, Human Rights, and the Demise of Communism


The Helsinki Effect International Norms, Human Rights, and the Demise of Communism by Daniel C. Thomas

Human rights norms do matter. Those established by the Helsinki Final Act contributed directly to the demise of communism in the former East bloc, contends Daniel Thomas. This book counters those skeptics who doubt that such international norms substantially affect domestic political change, while explaining why, when, and how they matter most. Thomas argues that the Final Act, signed in 1975, transformed the agenda of East-West relations and provided a common platform around which opposition forces could mobilize. Without downplaying other factors, Thomas shows that the norms established at Helsinki undermined the viability of one-party Communist rule and thereby contributed significantly to the largely peaceful and democratic changes of 1989, as well as the end of the Cold War. Drawing on both governmental and nongovernmental sources, he offers a powerful Constructivist alternative to Realist theory's failure to anticipate or explain these crucial events. This study will fundamentally influence ongoing debates about the politics of international institutions, the socialization of states, the spread of democracy, and, not least, about the balance of factors that felled the Iron Curtain. It casts new light on Solidarity, Charter 77, and other democratic movements in Eastern Europe, the sources of Gorbachev's reforms, the evolution of the European Union, U.S. foreign policy, and East-West relations in the final decades of the Cold War. The Helsinki Effect will be essential reading for scholars and students of international relations, international law, European politics, human rights, and social movements.


This engaging book argues that human rights norms mattered more than geo-political power or economics in ending the Cold War. --Foreign Affairs Thomas's work is valuable for a number of reasons. First, it serves as an excellent analysis of the emergence of the Helsinki process and its interpretation in the west and east. In addition, Thomas reminds us of the ways in which this language became an important part of the dissident movement and the emergence of civil society across the Soviet bloc. Finally, Thomas uses this discussion to challenge traditional thinking on international relations and the role of ideas, seeking to apply these lessons more broadly to the field. --Patrick O'Neil, Slavic Review

About the Author

Daniel C. Thomas is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. During 1998-99, he was Jean Monnet Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. He has coedited three books on international security issues.

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Book Info

Publication date

16th July 2001


Daniel C. Thomas

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Princeton University Press


320 pages


Political science & theory
Human rights
Marxism & Communism



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