Table Topics “New Political Agendas: Human Rights, Gender and Environment”
The table on New Political Agendas: Human Rights, Gender and Environment will be hosted by Karena Kalmbach (Freie Universität Berlin) and Ned Richardson-Little (University of Exeter), issues that by their nature did not respect the ideological borders and diplomatic stances of the Cold War.
Karena Kalmbach argues that environmental pollution did not stop at the iron curtain. What may seem as an obvious truth had important implications for policy makers and environmental activists during the Cold War. There needed to be cooperation. Not only on issues that resulted directly from the confrontations between the Eastern and the Western Block, like the nuclear weapons fallout, which was met with the Test Ban Treaty. Also other global environmental problems could only be addressed through international cooperation, like the ozone depletion, which was met with the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer. Emergencies, too, like the nuclear accident in Chernobyl, which was evaluated by joint teams of Western and Easter scientists, forced political opponents to sit together at the same table. Thus, when we look at the environmental history of the second half of the 20th century, does the year 1989 still hold as a caesura?
Ned Richardson-Little, who we already interviewed here, states that while human rights activism is usually portrayed as a Western phenomenon, the politics of human rights during the Cold War was a truly global affair. Although Eastern Bloc nations did not support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations in 1948, socialist elites quickly embraced this new rhetoric as a convenient tool to denounce imperialism and racial segregation in the West. Intellectuals in socialist world developed new conceptions of human rights to legitimize communism and undermine the appeal of liberal democracy and capitalism. In doing so, they borrowed heavily from Third World movements that sought emancipation from colonialism in the name of self-determination. The opposition movements that arose across the socialist world in the 1970s contested this state socialist conception of human rights, but did not necessarily fully embrace Western alternatives. Dissident ideas about human rights were influenced by Western activists and the Helsinki Accords of 1975, but also Christian theology from the global south and movements to reform communism from within. The history of human rights in the Cold War was not simply a flow of ideas from West to East, but a complex transnational exchange of ideas and discourses.