The meeting here marking the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki accords ended tonight without a final communique, but with a general feeling that it at least had helped to improve the atmosphere for the November summit meeting between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
The slight relaxation of tensions noted at the gathering of foreign ministers from 33 Western and Eastern European nations, the United States and Canada came at the expense of substantive discussions on any of the issues that divide the signatories of the Helsinki Agreement on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Most notable of these issues for western signatories are violations by the Soviet Union and its allies of the human rights provisions of the 1975 accords.
The question took on the appearance of a disembodied cause here as all western delegations, except that of the United States, dealt with it mostly in general terms and without mentioning any specific cases or citing more than "certain countries" as violators.
The lack of any desire to debate the divisive human rights issue seemed to be reinforced by the almost total absence of any demonstrations during the three-day meeting. Finland clearly had acted firmly to discourage them.
Virtually every delegation acted as if more than human rights was at stake here. There was a feeling that the fate of the much abused Helsinki accords, embodiment of the fading era of East-West detente, now hangs on the outcome of the November summit.
"What can be achieved in the CSCE [Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe] process to a large extent depends on the United States and Soviet Union," said Norway's foreign minister, Svenn Stray. "Therefore we very much welcome the agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union to hold a summit meeting in Geneva in November this year."
The European desire not to increase tensions between East and West, in hopes of breathing new life into the accords, was reflected as well in Finland's early decision to forgo pressing for a final communique.
The Finns circulated the draft of a bland statement before the meeting. But when the United States and a few others objected to the omission of the problem of human rights violations, the Finns dropped the idea of having one.
The Finns consoled themselves with the fact that the meeting had seen more than 200 bilateral, or multilateral, meetings among the delegations, according to Finnish Foreign Minister Paavo Vayrynen.
There was a surprising degree of consensus here among European nations both over their deep disappointment in the failure of the Helsinki accords to consolidate the promised new era of detente and the need to continue nonetheless to try to implement the "code of conduct" they spelled out.
Despite repeated setbacks, the accords have opened the door to a wide range of contacts and forms of cooperation between Eastern and Western European nations that both sides endorse.
In addition, they refer to the Helsinki accords as the underlying basis for their long-range security in one way or another.
For small, neutral countries such as Switzerland, Austria and Finland, the accords are seen as a legal guarantee of their continued neutrality, which to them is more important than the human rights issue.
"It would be a mistake to think," said Swiss Foreign Minister Pierre Aubert, that the Helsinki accords "have lost their value because no concrete follow-up has taken place in the field of human rights. One does not abolish a criminal code because some crimes remain unpunished."
Other West European members of NATO took the same view that deepening East-West differences and past failures in trying to implement the accords were not sufficient reason for abandoning them.
The accords, a number of delegates noted, had brought the Europeans actively into the deadlocked debate between the United States and Soviet Union over a whole range of issues, from disarmament to the reunification of separated families.
"Europe cannot leave the monopoly of discussion over its security to the two superpowers, no matter how powerful and how desirable meetings between them may be," said French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas.
A separate conference on security-building measures and disarmament, under way in Stockholm since January 1984, effectively has brought all of Europe into the arms control and disarmament debate.
The Europeans stress that the Helsinki accords have made possible a number of minor gains in reaching East-West agreements on environmental protection, terrorism and cultural cooperation, and have facilitated the reunification of divided families.
There is widespread agreement, shared by the United States, that the accords have been a major factor in making possible the departure of many East Europeans to join their families in the West.
Dumas made a proposal here, immediately backed by a number of western delegations, that a meeting of the Helsinki group next April in Bern, Switzerland, on East-West contacts should concentrate on ways to accelerate the reunification of divided families.
For the East European countries, the accords are viewed as just as important, albeit for different reasons. East German Foreign Minister Oskar Fischer noted in his speech that they had not only ensured "the politico-territorial realities" that emerged from World War II but opened "a new chapter of cooperation" between the states of Europe despite their ideological differences.
For his part, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher also was positive about the accords despite their failures.
"No one has asked here for an end to the Helsinki process," he noted at a news conference today. "Most delegations, on the contrary, have called for its continuation."
A few human rights protesters did show up, however, and one incident yesterday illustrated the general indifference to their causes.
Peter Hildebrandt, 32, and Jutta Gallss-Schmidt, 38, two Soviet emigres living in West Germany, handcuffed themselves to an iron bar at a trolley stop in front of Finlandia Hall. The two were seeking to publicize the plight of relatives left behind in the Soviet Union and refused exit permits.
The two emigres had planned to stay there all day, but within an hour Finnish police clipped their chains and took them away in a van. Hardly a delegate or camera crew paid any attention to them.