Video clip from the documentary film Gerald R. Ford: A Test of Character

  • In 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed the Helsinki Accords, a historic agreement between the Soviet Union and the United States and its European allies. The accords covered a range of issues, including military deployments, territorial disputes, economic concerns such as trade and human rights.

    By supporting the Helsinki Accords, Ford helped champion human rights and improve the living standards for people throughout Eastern Europe. In his speech before the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe in 1975, Ford said, “We will spare no effort to ease tensions and to solve problems between us. But it is important that you recognize the deep devotion of the American people and their Government to human rights and fundamental freedoms and thus to the pledges that this Conference has made regarding the freer movement of people, ideas, information.”

    1. What is the significance of the Helsinki Accords?

      The agreement demonstrated the willingness of the United States to work with the Soviet Union on issues such as human rights and the free movement of people. 
    2. What were some of the countries impacted by the Helsinki Accords?

      United States, Soviet Union, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Hungary, Poland, Romania

    3. Why were the Eastern European countries the Soviet Union sought to continue to control geographically significant?

      The Soviet Union wanted to create a buffer zone between Western Europe and Moscow. The Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, for instance, were significant territories annexed during World War II that helped create an "Iron Curtain" between Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe and NATO-dominated Western Europe.
    • Thirty-five countries signed the Helsinki Accords in 1975.
    • The United States of America, Canada, and every country in Europe except Albania signed the Helsinki Accords in 1975. Albania became a signatory 16 years laters in September 1991.
    • The seventh principle of the Helsinki Accords emphasized respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    Cold War Noun

    (1947-1991) conflict between the Soviet Union (and its allies) and the United States (and its allies). The two sides never confronted each other directly.

    communism Noun

    type of economy where all property, including land, factories and companies, is held by the government.

    diplomacy Noun

    art and science of maintaining peaceful relationships between nations, groups, or individuals.

    Encyclopedic Entry: diplomacy
    dissident Noun

    someone who disagrees with public opinion or authority.

    Eastern Bloc Noun

    (1945-1989) states and nations in central and eastern Europe under the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union.

    human rights Noun

    basic freedoms belonging to every individual, including the rights to social and political expression, spirituality, and opportunity.

    Soviet Union Noun

    (1922-1991) large northern Eurasian nation that had a communist government. Also called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the USSR.

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