Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War:

A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network

Two of the most pressing questions facing international historians today are how and why the Cold War ended. Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War 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. Sarah B. 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.

Praise for Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War

“Written with skill and meticulously researched, this important book brings new evidence to bear on the issue by precisely charting how the transnational advocacy networks that sprung up in the wake of the Helsinki Final Act changed political discourse in the Soviet Union.”

–Alex J. Bellamy, Journal of American History

“… Sarah Snyder’s well-researched study demonstrates the role played by the Helsinki Final Act in bringing democracy and respect for human rights to Eastern Europe.”

International Affairs

“… innovative conceptually and methodologically and makes an extremely important contribution to the study of international affairs during the 1970s and 1980s, including the ending of the Cold War.”

–Akira Iriye, Harvard University

“…a fascinating account…”

–G. John Ikenberry, Foreign Affairs

“…a compelling account of the emergence and role of the CSCE that helps further our understanding of the end of the Cold War…”

–Alex J. Bellamy, Journal of American History

“An important and engaging contribution to the growing literature on ‘the Helsinki effect’ – how non-binding agreements may in effect punch above their weight by effecting powerful changes to the contours of international politics.”

–Elizabeth Borgwardt, author of A New Deal for the World: America’s Vision for Human Rights, 1941–1946

“…meticulously researched, intelligently organized, and interestingly written book…”

–Andrejs Plakans, The Russian Review


“…convincingly proves the impact and influence of the mushrooming civil society in the CSCE area on the breathtaking developments concerning human rights in the former Soviet bloc and its role in ending the Cold War. This publication is a real achievement and has to be warmly welcomed as a valuable addition to the still growing literature on the topic. The author has conducted very detailed research work, resulting in an impressive and easily readable book.”

–Arie Bloed, Security and Human Rights


of Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War

Click on the journal title to read the full review.

Foreign Affairs

Reviewed by G. John Ikenberry

International Affairs

Reviewed by Richard Schifter

Diplomatic History

Reviewed by Robert Horvath

The American Historical Review

Reviewed by Max Paul Friedman

Journal of American History

Reviewed by Alex J. Bellamy

Security and Human Rights

Reviewed by Arie Bloed

The Russian Review

Reviewed by Andrejs Plakans

American Library Association

Reviewed by D. Prowe

Journal of Transatlantic Studies

Reviewed by Andrew J. Falk

Peace and Change

Reviewed by David S. Meyer

Human Rights Quarterly

Reviewed by Stephen R. Porter


Reviewed by several, with response

Cold War History

Reviewed by Effie G. H. Pedaliu

Slavic Review

Reviewed by Jeffrey Kahn

Rhetoric and Public Affairs

Reviewed by Robert L. Ivie

Journal of American Studies

Reviewed by Carol Anderson

The Journal of Modern History

Reviewed by Mary Nolan

Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas

Reviewed by Ernst Wawra

Historische Zeitschrift

Reviewed by Holger Nehring


Reviewed by Jost Dülffer

Image credits

Praise for HRA background: Eleanor Roosevelt and United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Spanish text. via Wikimedia.

Reviews background: President Gerald R. Ford signs the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe on August 1, 1975. Courtesy Gerald R. Ford Library.