Worldwide acceptance of basic human rights standards has loosened the grip of a "KGB mentality" in the Soviet Union and made totalitarian terror unacceptably costly to most world leaders, Deputy Secretary of State John Whitehead said Thursday.
Whitehead, commenting at State Department ceremonies marking the 40th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, said there has been significant human rights progress not only in the Soviet Union but in such Eastern European nations as Poland and Hungary."Thousands have been allowed to emigrate, hundreds of political prisoners have been freed, and we have seen some loosening of controls on religious worship," Whitehead said.
He also said "state security" has become less a subject for official paranoia.
"Open discussion of important issues has become more widespread throughout the Soviet Union," Whitehead said. "I say, let it continue and grow."
But he said there has been no forward movement on human rights in Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria or East Germany and said that in Romania, "we are witnessing a regression."
Whitehead also complained that in the Soviet Union, "millions of Eastern Rite Catholics remain unable to practice their religion officially."
"Much change will have to occur before we can say that the average Soviet citizen no longer fears his government, that the rule of law has been established and that the arbitrary use of power by Soviet officialdom has ended," Whitehead said.
"Still, who would have thought eight years ago that the Soviet Union would be so changed," he said.
"Leadership changes in the Soviet Union brought a loosening of the grip of what I would call the KGB mentality," Whitehead said. "Many of the leaders of the Soviet Union began to take a more practical view of the world."
He said there are a number of reasons for these developments. One is the fact that "the growth of acceptance for universal standards of civil and political rights has today made that old standby, totalitarian terror and oppression, unacceptably costly in the eyes of most leaders."
Whitehead said the United States can't claim credit for the changes taking place inside the Soviet Union, "but we can claim credit for having capitalized on the opening we found, and pushed hard to accelerate the rate of change."