Naum Meiman still keeps a copy of the 1975 Helsinki accords in the drawer of his big wooden desk. In the same drawer he has letters dating back 10 years, appealing to many levels of the Soviet bureaucracy for permission to join his daughter in emigration.
Meiman, now 74, can trace with his own life the impact of the Helsinki Final Act on human rights policies in the Soviet Union. In the 10 years since the pact was signed, Meiman says he has watched as Soviet authorities crush the agreement's promise of change.
Meiman, a mathematician and a Jew, is a survivor of the Moscow Helsinki Watch group, formed in 1976 to monitor Soviet compliance with so-called "basket three" provisions of the Helsinki act.
Only one other member of the original group is still in Moscow; the rest are either abroad, in prison, in labor camps, or in internal exile, according to Meiman and Helsinki Watch information.
Now, in the apartment on the banks of the Moscow River, where he once hosted news conferences to document Soviet violations of the Helsinki agreement, Maiman is left to write ever more urgent personal letters asking for consideration of his wife Inna's acute cancer, which he says can only be effectively treated in the West.
As the human rights picture darkened during the late 1970s, so did prospects for Jews like Maiman to leave the Soviet Union. Despite the pledges in Helsinki for the facilitation of family reunifications, that door, too, gradually has been closing. Jewish emigration has dropped from a high of 51,000 in 1979 to 896 in 1984; other emigrating groups -- such as Germans -- have encountered a similar slowdown.
In these and other key areas of human rights, the legacy of the Helsinki accords in the Soviet Union is, on the whole, a dismal one.
Other countries in the Eastern Bloc have had a slightly better record: for instance, the recent emigration surge from East Germany to West Germany has been pointed to by some as an example of compliance with the Helsinki Final Act.
In a report marking the agreement's 10th anniversary, the U.S. Helsinki Watch committee concluded that while the situation remains grim in Eastern Europe, "the ferment in many of the countries in question has never been greater."
The continuing efforts on behalf of human rights, against great odds, is a testament to Helsinki, the group reported.
In the Soviet Union, officials, increasingly ready to take the offensive on their human rights record, cite a number of areas where Soviet society has opened up since 1975. They list, for instance, the increasing number of western publications available, a rise in tourism, trade and foreign television programs, the easing of fees and procedures for visa applications and more contacts between Soviet and foreign religious groups.
Between 1976 and 1982, the Moscow Helsinki group gathered documents for 195 cases, carefully detailing evidence of what they found to be Helsinki violations. The quality of the research and the group's determination made its work the basis of many human rights campaigns in the West.
The Moscow group was not alone. Others sprang up in the republics of the Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and Lithuania. In addition to these committees, other groups aided the Helsinki monitoring effort, focusing their attention on specific issues such as abuse of psychiatry and religious rights.
The regional groups met the same fate as the one in Moscow. At present, Helsinki Watch lists 51 Helsinki monitors and associates as imprisoned or exiled in the Soviet Union; 20 others have served sentences and have been released, and three have died in labor camps. The figures pertain to more than 100 persons who openly became members of watch groups or affiliates.
In the face of such harassment, the Moscow group and its counterparts had no choice but to fold. "There were too few of us left, and we couldn't take young members because we knew in a short time they too would be arrested," said watch group member Meiman.
"We could not fulfill our responsibilities," he said. "The gathering of the documents was no longer possible. It demanded a great deal of trouble, and the people who helped us were also being arrested."
The treatment of the Helsinki monitors became the focus of charges in the West of Soviet violations of the Helsinki agreements. According to U.S. Helsinki Watch, the arrests of the monitoring group also left a critical void in the reporting of human rights abuses from the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, there has been open evidence of renewed crackdowns during the past few years -- against an unofficial peace group, against unregistered religious groups and against Jewish cultural activists.
In a recent case, publicized in the West, a young Hebrew teacher turned state's evidence during a trial on charges of slandering the Soviet state. Dan Shapiro received a suspended sentence and denounced former friends among the circles of Jews trying to emigrate, as well as western diplomats and journalists.
Shapiro's televised denunciation was a bitter blow for many of his fellow "refusedniks." Some feared his accusations would lead to a new round of arrests, more denunciations and a widening of the shadows of mistrust and suspicion. "It was," said one Jewish activist here, "another victory for the KGB."