In the 10 years since the signing of the Helsinki Final Act, the Soviet Union has enshrined the document as a blessing of the reality of Europe's postwar borders.
The view of Helsinki as a continuum of the 1945 conferences at Yalta and Potsdam, where postwar spheres of influence in Europe were first laid out, blends into its other role as linchpin of detente, another reason for its hallowed treatment here. In Soviet thinking, the wartime alliance accepted the division of Europe achieved by the Red Army; the peacetime conference 30 years later legitimized it.
With that historical investment, the Soviets, in the week approaching the 10th anniversary of the Helsinki accords, have been offering them up as the benchmark with which to judge what has since gone wrong with East-West relations.
"The Final Act was from the first to the last word based on detente," one Soviet spokesman said recently, "Some of the signatories soon after invented reasons to bury it."
The Soviet view omits reference to human rights, the focus of western interpretations of the meaning and failings of Helsinki.
From the different vantage points, both East and West are returning to Helsinki for an anniversary celebration, prepared for different reasons to fault the other for an unfulfilled process.
In a series of public statements here recently, Soviet spokesmen have berated the United States for threatening the "Helsinki process" with the pursuit of the arms race, policies of sanctions and embargoes and hostility toward detente.
"Unfortunately the course followed [by Washington] during the '70s has not been pursued in the '80s," Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Lomeiko said at a briefing last week. "It is not a question of blaming each other. It is a question of finding out who changed their policy and who remained consistent."
An assessment of the decade since Helsinki, by the Soviet Committee for European Security and Cooperation, blamed the failure to fulfill all the goals on those in the West who reject coexistence.
In some cases, the authors said, the act has been misinterpreted; in others, it has been used as "an instrument of ideological and political struggle against socialism."
The result, the committee said, has been a "complicated and contradictory" decade.
The Soviet view of Helsinki has increasingly glossed over what in western minds has become the accords' main promise, and the source of its main failing -- the pledge by the 35 signatories to guarantee certain human rights, to open up the flow of information and to improve contacts across borders.
Not long after the act was signed, it became clear that the loosening of controls in Eastern Europe sought by western governments was not going to happen. In the Soviet Union, authorities clamped down on the slightest evidence of dissent. By the end of the decade, emigration had plummeted.
Human rights increasingly became the battleground of the Helsinki dialogue. At follow-up conferences in Belgrade and Madrid, the Soviets tried to limit debate on compliance with the act, to avoid a subject that became increasingly distasteful.
After the invasion of Afghanistan, the imposition of martial law in Poland and the shooting down of a South Korean airliner by the Soviets, Washington toughened its stand.
To protest, Washington imposed sanctions, embargoes and punitive measures that, in the Soviet view, were themselves violations of the Helsinki spirit of free exchanges.
The inclusion of human rights in the Helsinki act also gave western governments a wedge with which to pursue the subject on a bilateral level.
As Malcolm Rifkind, a ranking official in the British Foreign Office told reporters in Moscow last week, Helsinki has given western visitors the right to cry "Sakharov" or "Scharansky" at virtually every meeting with Soviets. Andrei Sakharov and Anatoly Scharansky are two of the Soviet Union's best known dissidents -- one in internal exile, the other in a labor camp.
But for all the times Sakharov's case has been brought up with Soviet officials, there has never been any indication that the pressure has affected his life.
Typically, the Soviet reponse to questions about human rights has been to invoke another section of the Helsinki accord, prohibiting the interference by one state in the internal affairs of another.