FECL 16 (June 1993):


On May 20-23 the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly (HCA) held a conference in Prague under the title "Civil Society Between the reality of the nation State and the Vision of the United states of Europe". Eugene Sensenig (FG Boltzmann-Insitute/ Steinocher-Fonds, Salzburg) sent us the following report.

With the demise of the iron curtain, many assumed that the walls within Europe were permanently coming down. The HCA's May conference dealt with the causes as well as the effects of the new barriers now going up in eastern central Europe.

Two topics played an unintendedly central role in Prague, i.e. the upcoming "reform" of para 16 of germany's constitution, limiting refugee and immigrant access to that country via land, and the largely unreported suppression of various ethnic minorities in eastern Europe in general and the GUS states in particular. Both areas are linked in that the former was implemented in order to deal with the effects of the latter.

The location of the conference proved to be of great advantage to all participants in that t allowd a larg number of delegates from the European reform states to attend. One major drawback of conferences held in the west is that eastern Europea academics, experts, and activists are often unable to supply the funds necessary to receive a visitor's visa to the west. This matter was also brought up at various times during the Prague conference, illustrating the fact that "Fortress Europe" affects all aspects of civil interaction on the "sub-continent" of Western Europe.

The informational value of the conference per se was, as is all too often the case at such large international get-togethers, limited to a few of the keynote speeches held by such HCA regulars as Sonja Licht (Serbia), Gert Weisskirchen (Germany), and Jose Palau (Spain). Of far greater value was the fact tha the HCA, as mentioned above, was able to bring together representatives of a wide range of academic, political, and cultural institutions and movements all over Europe, and not merel from the western "sub-continent", as it is usually the case. The conference was highlighted by four excursions on the second day, either to the Bela and Doksy refugee centres near Prague, the Ministry of the Interior, The csech UNHCR, or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This author participated in the excursion to the Ministry of the Interior, where he spoke at length with Milos Mrkvica, head of the Migration department. A summary of this discussion is included in this Circular letter.

Finally, various resolutions and letters of protest were passed by the participants of the conference, concerning international refugee policy, migrant workers' civil rights, and the CSCE process, and forwarded to the Council of the European Community, the members of the European Parliament and the July 1993 Session of the CSCE Parliamentary Conference. The resolution on migrant workers' civil rights was submitted by this author representative of the salzburg chapter of "SOS-Mitmensch" and is included in this Circular Letter.

Eugene Sensenig




To the Council of the European Community, Members of the European Parliament, and the Ministers responsible for immigration at their meeting in Copenhagen next month.

We, the participants in the conference of the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly on "Civil Society - Between the Reality of the Nation State and the Vision of the United States of Europe", taking place in Prague, May 20 - 23, 1993, have agreed the following statement.

The division of populations within Europe is now entering a new phase. With the foundation of a Single Market and the European Economic Area (EEA), the overwhelming majority of western Europe's people will be united in one economic unit.

At the moment concrete plans only exist to harmonize the social, cultural, and political rights of the citizens of the EEA countries. Eastern Europeans and the nationals of tricont countries are excluded. The Helsinki Citizens' Assembly calls on the EC to avoid this new division within Europe, and create a situation where citizens of all nations in Europe are equally treated.

This objective depends on the political will of the peoples of Europe and their governments to change the direction of the current European integration process.

One project should and must be implemented immediately. The division of populations within Europe is now leading to a division of labour into four groups:

  1. local nationals;
  2. EEA citizens;
  3. long term third country residents;
  4. new immigrants, asylum seekers, illegal aliens.

This policy must definitely lead to the end of any solidarity now left within the European populations and their labour and social movements. In order to prevent this from happening the EC and EEA should take one simple but far reaching step toward a unification of all of Europe's peoples' rights, that is, the social, cultural, and political rights of all non-nationals now living within the area of the EC and/or EEA should be harmonized, irrespective of their race, gender, sexual preference, physical ability, age, national origin or current citizenship.

The Helsinki Citizens' Assembly and the participants of the conference are not only concerned abaout residents in Europe, but also about the openness of Europe towards the outside. There is a concrete fear that a "Fortress Europe" is being established, whose borders will be somewhere east of the EC. EC member states are - by applying the concept of "safe" third or host countries - sending persons who seek protection from human rights violations, from persecution, discrimination or for other reasons, to neighbouring (especially Eastern European) countries, without any consideration of their need for protection. By doing so, EC countries are releasing their burden onto other - less well-equipped - countries, and forcing them to build up borders and close them, only shortly after the fall of the "Iron Curtain".

This policy would and can only be a beginning. However it would be an important symbol that Western Europeans indeed believe in the unity of all of Europe.

Gert Weisskirchen
(MP of the German Bundestag,
Member of the international HCA's Executive Council),

Martin Palous
(Chairman of the Czech HCA and Czech Helsinki Committee)