In Romania the separation of church and state is not a highly developed idea. The government not only controls the activity of the recognized religions; it also controls the purse, down to the salaries of the clergy. But is it really necessary for the government agency in charge to be called the Department of Cults?

You'll find that little outrage, and others less little, in what is perhaps this summer's grimmest reading, "Ten Years Later," the report of U.S. Helsinki Watch on the fate of the Helsinki Accords, signed 10 years ago this week. It is 308 pages of relentlessly documented Soviet Bloc (and, for balance, 22 pages of Turkish) human rights abuses. The Department of Cults is the least of the story.

In the Soviet Union, for example, emigration has been stopped, Sakharov banished, more than 50 Soviet Helsinki monitors jailed or exiled. One stunning line will spare you more details: "In the Soviet Union . . . repression appears to be more effective than it has been since the death of Joseph Stalin." This under that natty dresser, the garrulous Gorbachev.

Still, if this is yet another indictment of the Soviet Union, it hardly seems necessary. The real question is: is this an indictment of the Helsinki Accords?

The deal at Helsinki went something like this: the Soviets agreed to sign the human rights provisions and the West accepted the legitimacy of the current European borders. For 30 years the Soviets had sought Western recognition of their postwar acquisitions. Helsinki gave it to them. The complaint against Helsinki -- a complaint usually coupled with calls for abrogation -- is that the Soviets got something for nothing.

A more accurate accounting shows that the Soviets got nothing for nothing. What, after all, does recognition mean? Helsinki declared that the current borders are not to be changed by force, but by peaceful means -- not exactly an innovative approach to the postwar partition of Europe. The Soviets do not need Helsinki to ratify their borders. The Red Army does that. For the West to pledge not to dislodge it hardly qualifies as a concession.

And for their paper gain, the Soviets produced a paper loss: the human rights provisions. These are the focus of much of the Helsinki "process," the periodic review conferences at which we bring up Soviet human rights abuses and they deny them. Not surprisingly, this process has had no discernible effect on Soviet behavior. The Soviets bear rather well the inconvenience of having to send the occasional propagandist to make a tortured defense of, say, the treatment of Anatoly Scharansky. And they manage better if they are able to restrict Western press coverage by closing much of a conference to the public. (They managed that at a review meeting in Ottawa last May.) Then even the propaganda losses are minimal.

Soviet human rights violations are so routine and systematic that even U.S. Helsinki Watch, which supports the "process," concedes that it "may sometimes seem like a pointless charade." Which leads the critics to ask: why continue the charade? Why not abrogate Helsinki and be done with a process demonstrably incapable of doing what it exists to do, i.e., improve human rights in the Soviet Bloc?

Because, in fact, it exists to do something else. It is often said that the real purpose of the periodic review conferences is to focus world attention on Soviet abuses. That is not quite right. "World" is too inclusive a word. The United States does not need Helsinki: even without it, Americans are ideologically (for some, inordinately) fixed on Soviet transgressions. The Third World is not terribly interested in Helsinki: in international forums from Nairobi to New York its fix is on imperialism, neocolonialism and, of course, Zionism. And the East Bloc has been sealed off from Helsinki: ruthless internal repression has seen to that.

Thus the only "world" left for Helsinki to address is Western Europe. Which suggests a sorry truth. The only real effect of Helsinki is to force the West Europeans to concentrate their minds on the nastiness to the east, something that in their current state of decay they don't like to do. They prefer to be left to tend their vineyards unmolested. Helsinki interrupts their peace.

In the end, Helsinki is an internal alliance document. Most ironic of all, it is valuable for precisely that reason -- for its effect not on the Kremlin, which is immune to shame, but on Europe, which, as of this writing, is not. The value of Helsinki, 10 years later, is that it forces the West Europeans periodically to acknowledge the central reality of the East-West conflict, that it is a contest between worlds of freedom and unfreedom.

Abrogating Helsinki is a bad idea not because it lets the Soviets off the hook but because it lets off the Europeans. Abrogation will not disturb the busy clerks at the Department of Cults. But it will make it easier for the West to stop thinking about them.