The Failure of the Socialist Declaration of Human Rights

Ideology, Legitimacy, and Elite Defection at the End of State Socialism

In: East Central Europe

In the mid-1980s, the Eastern Bloc faced increased pressure on the issue of human rights from western governments, ngos, and indigenous dissident. Although the Socialist Bloc had claimed to represent the ideals of human rights throughout the Cold War, by 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev called on the leaders of the Eastern Bloc to work together on a coordinated response to this threat and in response East Germany proposed the creation of an international declaration based on the principles of socialist—rather than bourgeois—human rights. Within a few years, however, the project collapsed in ignominious failure as it provided a vehicle for reformers to challenge the status quo in the name of human rights by demanding greater democratization. Although the project was originally devised to refute the human rights claims of the West, it instead acted to spur on the intellectual collapse of the Eastern Bloc’s ideological unity at its time of greatest crisis.

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