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close this bookThe Impact of Technology on Human Rights: Global Case-studies (UNU, 1993, 322 pages)
close this folder4. Human rights and technological development: Eastern Europe and Poland
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentPreface: objective and methodology of the project
View the documentGeneral evaluation of Eastern Europe as a political region
View the documentThe special nature of the polish empirical approach to human rights
View the documentInteraction between human rights and technological development in Poland
View the documentInterrelationship between the basic character of human rights and development of traditional technologies
View the documentInterrelationship between human rights and advanced technologies
View the documentConclusions
View the documentNotes
View the documentBibliography

General evaluation of Eastern Europe as a political region

The theoretical concept of human rights in the socialist countries of Eastern Europe was, throughout the first 40 years of their existence, determined by the philosophical doctrine of Karl Marx. Its essence, so far as it is relevant to the present study, lies in two propositions: first, the necessity to subordinate the particular interests of the individual to the collective interests of society as a whole, and, second, the necessity to concentrate on basic citizens' rights.1

According to Marx, human needs are formed by two groups of factors. On the one hand "man is an implicitly natural being. As a natural being he is endowed with natural forces, with vital forces, and is an active natural being. These forces exists as his dispositions and abilities, as his impulses." At the same time, as a "natural, corporal, sensual and objective being, he is a passive, experiencing, conditioned and limited being." 2 In other words, man is, according to Marx, an absolutely flexible creature that changes together with changing social relations.3 This means that although man at his birth already has some specific dispositions and abilities which provide a framework for his individual development, the character, content, and scope of this development are determined by historically changing social conditions, which create a socially situated, concrete human individual.4 According to Marx, every man has the right to utilize his abilities, the whole richness of his personality.

In Marx's view capitalism, through alienation and the treatment of human beings as objects, creates social relations which make it impossible to satisfy even the most basic human needs. The selfish needs of the owners of capital are simply incompatible with the ideal of the equal right of every human being to self-realization. In capitalism "every man thinks of how to awake a new need in another man, which leads to a new dependence." 5 In this sense capitalism creates many false needs that make the self-realization of a man impossible.

In contrast to capitalism, as Marx put it, socialism creates genuine needs which result from man's striving to achieve to realization of his abilities. They can be satisfied only on the basis of the prevalence of social property and socialist relations in production. Thus, in socialism the satisfaction of the needs of an individual acquires a collective character. This happens to be so because the opportunities for individual (intellectual, emotional, and biological) development strictly depend on the availability of opportunities for development to the whole of society, and are opportunities which are equal for all groups in society. It is here that the "just" character of socialism lies. Obviously, taking advantage of equal opportunities by particular individuals depends on their individual abilities.

The above Marxian interpretation of human rights and their division into "genuine" and "false" exerted considerable influence on the empirical approach to human rights in the practising socialist countries of Eastern Europe. (For this reason the concept of "Eastern Europe" relates to a political, rather than a geographic, region.)6

In these countries special stress was laid, first, on the so-called rights and freedoms of citizens and, second, on the subordination of individual human rights to collective rights.

The main cause of the subordination of the latter was the social revolution which took place in the countries of Eastern Europe. In the Soviet Union (1917) and Yugoslavia (1945) the social revolution was carried out by their own internal forces. In the rest of the East European countries the revolution was brought about by the Soviet army, which freed these countries from Nazi occupation. Nevertheless, irrespective of its sources, the revolution resulted in the substantial redistribution of national income for the benefit of the lowest income groups and at the expense of the minority who enjoyed fairly good or good living standards. Because of the resistance of the latter, the revolution could not be carried out in conditions of liberal democracy and drastic state interference was resorted to.

The egalitarian and collectivist system which emerged as an outcome of these changes in the countries of Eastern Europe7 had many features typical of social revolutions that have taken place in economically underdeveloped countries. This was so whether the revolutions were spearheaded by leftist-Marxist movements (as in Russia or China) or by nationalist movements (as in Indonesia or Burma). Everywhere they Ied to the establishment of etatistic and populist dictorships, as the most pressing needs of the societies of these countries were stable employment and improvement of the living standards of young people, who were mostly of peasant parentage. Industrialization become a major priority.

Therefore, until the mid-1980s, in the East European countries human rights were interpreted in a selective way, with special stress being placed on equal opportunities for all members of society in their access to basic goods, such as food, clothing, and housing, and to social services such as health protection, education, or science. The above services were regarded as basic components of citizens' rights. In this sense, the rising degree of satisfaction of the fundamental needs of society was identified with an increasing degree of realization of human rights.

This interpretation determined, to a considerable degree, the approach to economic development adopted in the socialist countries of Eastern Europe and, consequently, was bound to determine the role of technology in economic development. Special attention was focused on the right to work. Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 27 A(III) of 10 December 1948, states:

1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. This is an idea which has been regarded as a basic aim of socialism. Equal importance attached to the right to an existential minimum:

1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, or other lack of livelihood on circumstances beyond his control (Article 25 of Universal Declaration).

2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection, the right to education (Article 26 of Universal Declaration).

3. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit, and the right to participate in scientific advancement and its benefits (Article 27 of Universal Declaration).

The attitude of the East European countries towards international commitments on human rights, codified principally in three UN documents - the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948; the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, 1966; and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 - had for many years been ambiguous. These documents were ratified by the East European countries with considerable reluctance. From a formal point of view, legislation in these countries remained in some respects in conflict with commitments on human rights. The relevant legislation provided for obligatory work, the prosecution of those evading work, much scope for compulsory labour, strong anti-emigration restrictions, limitations on the choice of places of residence, etc. These restrictions were incompatible with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Moreover, the provisions of law that prohibited the founding of political parties and trade unions, infringements of the concept of equality before the law, and the principle of the leading role of the party were incompatible with the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The actual state of affairs was even worse than the formal and legal situation, especially in so far as protection of the so-called right to privacy was concerned. There was mass control of correspondence, illegal interception of telephone calls, and a large degree of abuse of power by the police. The law, for its part, hampered the protection of individual rights. Solicitors had only limited access to investigations and the independence of the courts of law was only formal.

Despite the fact that the countries of Eastern Europe violated, particularly in practice, a number of individual human rights, the governments of these countries for a long time enjoyed the support or consent of a major part of their population, especially those whose social and material status improved. However, the support was not identical in all the countries of the region. Uniform development patterns were reflected in full employment, egalitarianism in the distribution of the means of consumption, common education, and rapid urbanization coupled with large-scale housing projects. Industrialization, especially the concentration of resources for development on heavy and engineering industry, however, brought about differentiation of development opportunities in particular East European countries. At the time of the introduction of the socialist system, i.e. in the late 1940s and early 1950s, most of these countries were economically underdeveloped. This was reflected in the low level of industrialization and urbanization, huge overpopulation, low per capita income and vast areas of poverty, especially in Bulgaria and Romania, as well as in Poland, and partly also in Hungary. The situation was different in Czechoslovakia (with the exception of Slovakia) and the GDR, which inherited a relatively high level of development from the pre-socialist period. Thus, whereas in the countries with the lowest level of development the adopted model guaranteed noticeable and quite rapid socio-economic advancement, in the countries with the highest level of development the model limited development opportunities in comparison with other countries of the world that had similar conditions.

Technological progress in this system performed functions that were subservient to the achievement of the fundamental goals presented above, especially full employment, securing an existential minimum, etc. Particularly in the period devoted to the implementation of socialist principles, technological progress in the East European countries was slower than in the economically advanced countries. There were several reasons for this. First, owing to the traditional technological underdevelopment of most of the countries in the region, and their lack of advanced industry and backwardness in education and science, these countries were not in proximity to centres stimulating technological progress. Secondly, imports of modern technology to the countries of the region were low as a result of the embargo imposed on such imports during the so-called "Cold War" period, as well as of the limited capital resources of these countries. Thirdly, the application of over-sophisticated technology was deliberately avoided where there was a traditionally low level of technical culture (especially in Romania and Bulgaria, but also in Poland and Hungary) and low professional qualifications among employees, most of whom were recruited from agriculture to industry.

Therefore, the consequences of adopting the pattern of technological development described above in Eastern Europe were different in the different countries. This was due to the different cultural values and socio-economic levels of these countries, which were introduced to identical patterns of development in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

In the traditionally underdeveloped countries this led ultimately to their living standards and economic development being brought up to a higher level. However, the benefits gained by the countries which represented the highest level of development were relatively smaller. Labour-intensive technologies introduced by these countries resulted in labour shortages and their low level of technological advancement started to exert an adverse effect on their overall development. These countries soon began to suffer from indirect consequences affecting the everyday life of their population, as well as from environmental pollution, unreliable equipment, etc.

The economic benefits of this model, which had been diminishing since the mid-1960s, contributed to the fact that the fascination with the solutions adapted by the East European countries after the Second World War started to subside. Even those social and economic rights which were observed, both de jure and de facto, particularly the right to work, the right to equal pay for equal work, the right to an existential minimum, the right to rest and leisure, the right to education, the right to health protection, etc., were fulfilled at a low level likely to cause discontent.

Social discontent, even if it assumed greater dimensions later, was at first directed towards the inconsistent fulfilment of those collective human rights that were identified as the main objectives of socialism, especially egalitarianism in income and access to consumer goods, social services, national rights, etc. The broader individual human rights were given less attention and environmental protection was not even mentioned.

Awareness of the need to introduce changes in this traditional model of socialism started to grow quickly in the countries of Eastern Europe. This occurred as soon as social groups interested not only in social but also in political democracy began to perform a more significant role. Over the years social movements and rebellions gain momentum and their character becomes more and more complex. Popular demands and pressure for more egalitarianism continue to be strong but the demands for more democracy, far-reaching economic reforms, and changes in the socio-economic system become more and more apparent, especially in the most influential circles. The demands put forward by environmentalists are at last voiced as a result of increased environmental damage in many regions and general world trends. An analysis of demands expressed by social movements in Eastern Europe confirms the evolution outlined above (Poland and Czechoslovakia 1968, Poland 1970, Poland 1980, USSR 1986, Poland, GDR, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Romania 1989).

The pressure for change did not occur at the same time and with the same intensity in all East European countries. In the countries where there was a real social base for the revolution and where it was carried out without external interference, as in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, authoritarianism was stronger and more repressive, involving a more negative approach to human rights than in the countries on which the system had, to a considerable degree, been imposed, as, for example, in Poland, Hungary, the GDR, and Czechoslovakia. Differences between the countries that belonged to the victorious anti-Nazi coalition and those that were defeated in the Second World War were also of some importance. In the former the resistance against the new order introduced by the Soviet Union was stronger, e.g. Poland and Yugoslavia, whereas the countries defeated in the war turned out to be more submissive for two generations. Examples of these were the GDR, Romania, and Bulgaria. Social behaviour was also influenced by differences arising from the cultural standard and level of economic advancement of the countries concerned. The strength of movements for democratization and reform was most noticeable in Poland,

Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, and less so in Romania and Bulgaria. At the same time the theoretical approach to human rights had been under-going changes in the East European countries. Over the years the stress had been shifted from collective to individual rights and the number of basic rights had been extended. This, to a large extent, reflected changes taking place both in theory and practice in Western countries.

Preference for individual human rights seemed to mark a return to the liberal conception of those rights, on the one hand granting a superior status to the interests of the individual as opposed to the interests of the community and, on the other, presenting the individual as a creature separate from the society, an abstract and formally equal citizen lacking any characteristic features resulting from his position in the social structure.8 This approach involves thinking only in terms of individuals when considering the issue of human rights. Each case of violation of those rights is considered from the point of view of the situation and interests of a given human being. Institutional guarantees are also directed towards solving issues in their individual expression.

This preference for a liberal conception of human rights, which occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the theoretical considerations of some East European countries, is at variance with the rising world tendency for simultaneous consideration of both individual and collective (group) human rights. This situation should be seen as a natural reaction to a doctrine subordinating individual rights to collective rights which had been binding in Eastern Europe for more than 40 years. Therefore, it can be expected that the present-day fascination with the liberal conception of human rights will have a temporary character in Eastern Europe. Although the view that all economic and social rights are exclusively collective human rights is an oversimplification, it is also wrong to claim that the reverse is the case, i. e. that these rights are of an exclusively individual character. Fulfilment of many rights is by its very nature of a collective character, since it involves cooperation within the framework of a given human community. Besides, self-determination and sovereignty over natural resources, socio-economic development, peace, environmental protection, and other rights that require international cooperation have a collective character, and human communities represented by appropriate state agencies are natural subjects of this cooperation. This is why the so-called "third-generation" human rights, e. g. the right to develop, are entirely of a collective character.9 They extend the mechanisms for human rights protection to issues that directly determine the chances of fulfilment of individual rights and require close international cooperation.

Changes in the approach of theoreticians in the East European countries to basic human rights are reflected, first of all, in the stress laid on the right to a natural environment, on providing a balance between man and his ecosystem, on the right to personal security, and on the right to participation in a political system of a society.

The first of these, the right to a sound natural environment, is based on the conviction that disturbing the balance of the natural environment, whether by industrial destruction of the natural environment or by wasteful exploitation of natural resources, has a crucial impact on the ability to satisfy basic, existential human needs.

The right to personal security is one of the rights especially emphasized by theoreticians in the East European countries and this is due first of all to violations of these rights in the past. The right to personal security can be divided into several categories, namely the right to protection of human life, the right to protection against violence, the right to protection against inhuman treatment, the right to protection of human dignity and others. The first of them is especially important in the light of rapid technological progress. One of the main issues here is what act marks the beginning of the legally protected human life, birth or conception. Equally important also are deviations from the principle of the right to life. In the case of the right to protection against violence, its scope involves not only direct physical violence but also psychological violence, which, although it does not cause direct physical damage, psychologically damages the individual and in extreme cases causes the destruction of human personality. It is also in this context that technological progress is of relevance. The implementation of the right to protection against inhuman treatment includes preventing administrative callousness and obliging social institutions to treat a human individual as a living being, possessed of specific needs and feelings, and not as a statistical number. This right acquires considerable importance in the context of the development of computer systems and other automated systems of public service. Finally, the observance of the right to protection of human dignity should mean a prohibition of all actions which could degrade a human individual. This can assume the form of discriminatory practices which may deprive an individual of his sense of self-esteem and his equality in relation to other people. A human being cannot become a physically and morally incapacitated object. This is also of particular significance in the conditions of development of modern technology, which is utilized by a narrow group of people who are owners or users of that technology. This refers primarily to contemporary data-processing systems, systems of economic management, and so on.

The right of an individual to participate in a political system is, at present, included among basic human rights in literature on the subject in the East European countries. It can be summarized in a number of principles.10 First is the principle of general access to all information important for the formulation of political decisions. The main issue here is the elimination of private control over information resources and the prevention of manipulation of information through a monopoly of information which makes it impossible for individuals to take an active part in political life. Limitations on the free availability of information should be of an exceptional nature, e. g. where state defence is involved, and not be designed to prevent individuals from taking an active part in political life. The criteria for applying limitations to the free dissemination of information should be known to the public and their practical application should be controlled by democratic institutions.

Second, the right of an individual to participation in a political system should be reflected in the principle of freedom of expression in all its forms in regard to political attitudes, views, and interests. This should not be limited only to a formal or theoretical freedom but should also include actual facilities for expression, i.e. access to the material means which make it possible to voice specific views and attitudes.

Third is the principle of freedom of assembly and creation of political organizations, contributing to the effective exertion of influence by citizens on the political system and consequently to the more efficient functioning of that system. Without this an individual who is not a decision maker is deprived of the ability to make an impact on the political system.

Fourth is the principle of political power being of a representative character, opening up an opportunity for efficient control of the socio-economic policies of the state, information policy, etc. The observance of this principle is reflected in the norms defining the rules for creating and changing political power.

On the threshold of the 1990s the necessity of observing the human rights outlined above was declared by all socialist states of Eastern Europe. The first to do so were Poland, Hungary, and the Soviet Union, followed by Bulgaria, the GDR, Czechoslovakia, and Romania. Collective human rights such as the rights to employment, existential minimum, education, etc., which had been binding in these countries for more than 40 years, lost their importance to the benefit of individual human rights.

As a result of these changes, the countries of Eastern Europe faced the dilemma of whether to maintain the principles of their political system that had prevailed hitherto or to replace them with rights similar to those existing in the Western democracies. This dilemma became especially acute in Poland.