Spring 2016 Week 7 Seminar: Robert Brier (LSE), ‘Contested Icons: Poland, Chile, and the Global Politics of Human Rights in the mid-1980s’

Brier.M&C.Poster copy

Please note later than ususal start time: 5:15 pm

Abstract: In the course of the ‘human rights revolution’ of the late twentieth century, some cases of repression and resistance became icons of the struggle for individual rights—dissent in the Soviet bloc, opposition to Latin American military dictatorships, the fight against Apartheid. But why did these instances garner such broad international attention? An answer, this presentation argues, had not only to do with the degree of repression in those cases but also with how they resonated with the ideas and values of international supporters and with the latter’s attempts to shape the emergent global language of human rights. The presentation’s focus is on how two such iconic cases—the Polish Solidarity movement and the human rights movement in Chile—featured in different mid-1980s human rights discourses. Reconstructing debates held at the level of the UN, the Nobel Prize Committee or the international labor movement, the presentation will characterize Poland and Chile as “contested icons”—powerful symbols unto which various Western actors tried to project their competing understandings of human rights. But while the presentation shows how Poland and Chile became the subject of a global politics of human rights it will also demonstrate how Polish and Chilean activists skillfully used the moral authority of their movements to strike symbolic alliances and thus keep international attention focused on their countries.

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