5th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network

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Webcast Recap

Two of the most pressing questions facing international historians today are how and why the Cold War ended. In Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War, Sarah B. Snyder explores how, in the aftermath of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act in 1975, a transnational network of activists committed to human rights in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe made the topic a central element in East-West diplomacy. As a result, human rights eventually became an important element of Cold War diplomacy and a central component of détente. Snyder demonstrates how this network influenced both Western and Eastern governments to pursue policies that fostered the rise of organized dissent in Eastern Europe, freedom of movement for East Germans and improved human rights practices in the Soviet Union – all factors in the end of the Cold War.

Joining Snyder on the panel is Svetlana Savranskaya, research fellow at The George Washington University's National Security Archive and Ambassador Richard Schifter, United States lawyer and former assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs.

Samuel Wells, Wilson Center senior scholar will chair this event.


  • Sarah B. Snyder

    Assistant Professor, School of International Service, American University
  • Svetlana Savranskaya

    Senior Fellow, National Security Archive, The George Washington University
  • Richard Schifter

    Chairman of the Board of the American Jewish International Relations Institute