The human rights activism of Amnesty International originated in the midst of the Cold War and was initiated with the explicit intention to transcend the ideological conflict. For this purpose, the organization developed a ‘politics of impartiality’ based on the balancing of criticism between the different political blocs and distance between activists and the prisoners they rallied for. The politicized and fluctuating ideological landscape in which Amnesty operated and the emergence of human rights activism in Eastern Europe challenged this policy, especially in the 1970s. Eastern European human rights activists provided much needed information on a crucial region in Amnesty’s politics of ‘balance’. But the closer the cooperation became, the more Amnesty’s rules came under pressure; in particular its principle of distance. When activists first in the Soviet Union and later in Poland tried to establish Amnesty structures in their respective countries, the gap between the organization’s nominally universal rules and its practice in Eastern Europe became visible.
The research for this book and the publication itself were enabled by support by the Study Group Human Rights, funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation.
Not a Movement of Dissidents will be available from May 2019 on and is published by Wallstein Verlag.
For more academic publications see the About me section of this website.
This research in the media
Donau (July 2019)
Moscow Times (February 2021)
H-Soz-Kult (Kacper Szulecki) (January 2020)
“Miedema works from the bottom up, meticulously gathering evidence based on an impressive archival query, as well as memoirs, secondary sources and interviews. The result is an empirically rich and detailed analysis, which provides a fresh perspective on what we think we know – and the author politely proves us wrong along the way. There are several instances where Miedema’s findings are truly surprising, counterintuitive or shed light on periods and events, which remained visibly under-researched.”
Central European History Journal (Jean H. Quataert) (March 2020)
“Amnesty International, in Miedema’s compelling interpretation, modeled itself on one of the first global NGOs, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) (…). In the final analysis, and bringing the argument full circle, Miedema concludes that the organization functioned more as a humanitarian group saving victims of persecution than a human rights community working to uncover and root out abuses and injustices by trans-forming society. It is an intriguing thesis that should find considerable interest among human rights students, scholars, and lay readers far beyond the geographical and temporal boundaries of this study.”
MenschenRechtsMagazin (Viktor Mauer) (July 2020)
“Im Mittelpunkt der gut strukturierten, flüssig geschriebenen und ebenso differenziert wie engagiert argumentierende Studie steht die Frage, wie Amnesty International vor dem Hintergrind des selbst definierten Prinzips der Unparteilichkeit mit dem Herausforderungen des Kalten Krieges, den die Organisation zu überwinden trachtete, und dem Aufkommen von Amnesty-Gruppen und -Sektionen in Osteuropa umging.”
Zeitschrift für Ostmitteleuropa-Forschung (Bartłomiej Kapica) (Autumn 2020)
“M.’s book should be viewed as a successful approach to the history of Amnesty International, and also as an interesting attempt at constructing a trans-border narrative. It shows with clarity that even concepts which we would imagine to be universal, such as human rights, have their local variations and specificities that cause their practical application to bring about differing and oft-times not wholly expected outcomes.”