“And the next speaker is . . . ,” the chairman pauses as she runs her eyes down a long handwritten list, “the Anti-Defamation League for Yoga and Spiritual Movements followed by ‘Istiqbolli Avlod’ Youth Information-Enlightening Center, Tashkent Branch.”  Sitting around a vast table, representatives of 57 states listen to a lady with bottle-blonde hair talk about how yoga teachers are persecuted in Italy.  After 90 seconds her time is up, and the next speaker reads out a text in heavily accented and unintelligible Russian.  It goes on all afternoon.

We sit listening to how the Plymouth Brethren cannot get registered with the Charity Commission in the United Kingdom; to Greeks from Turkey about how horrible the Turks are, and to Turks from Greece about how horrible the Greeks are; and to Scientologists about how everyone is horrible to them everywhere.  We hear a group called Atheist Ireland complaining about the control exercised by the “chameleon-like” Catholic Church over schools in the Republic; from Jehovah’s Witnesses and other sects about how they are harassed in France and Russia.  We hear several times about the fate of a Protestant pastor somewhere in central Asia.

You might think, from this description, that this is some marginal congress of nutters.  You would be right.  Welcome to the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which, like the various Supplementary Meetings held in Vienna throughout the year, is attended by hundreds of sectarian and eccentric groups from all over Europe who come to air their complaints in front of the representatives of the OSCE’s member states.  The junior diplomats who represent those states read out robotic prepared statements and then, at the end of each session, deny outright the various charges made against them.  That is what counts as debate.

These meetings are festivals of the absurd.  Among the groups registered at the meeting I attended in September were the following: Balkan Sunflowers (from Kosovo); the International Network Against CyberHate (Netherlands); the International Federation for Therapeutic Choice (USA); the Bible Center of Gospel Faith Christians “New Life” Almaty City (Kazakhstan); the Transsexual Identity Movement (Italy); the national forum “Ossetia Accuses” (South Ossetia); the public association “Women’s Beam” (Kazakhstan); the public foundation Nota Bene (Tajikistan); Teskedsorden (The Order of the Teaspoon, Sweden); the Western Thrace Minority University Graduates Association (Greece); the Polish Rationalist Association; the Youth Centre Piligrim-Demo (sic) from Gagauzia (Moldova); and the Centre Association to Suffered of Destructive Religions Organisations (sic passim, Kazakhstan again).

The OSCE is a pan-European and transatlantic body born in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War.  Its origins, however, lie at the height of it.  The Helsinki Accords signed in 1975 between the Soviet Union and the West provided the legal basis for the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, which was beefed up and renamed in Paris in November 1990—at the very conference Margaret Thatcher was attending when she was challenged as leader of the Conservative Party.  Within a few days she had resigned, her political death a symbolic first victory for the new body imbued with the same postnational ideology she had tried to defeat in Brussels.

The OSCE’s main body, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR, appropriately pronounced “Oh, dear”), immediately set about laying down standards for human rights on the questionable basis that these were essential for security from Vancouver to Vladivostok.  The states of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union were its exclusive targets.  ODIHR thus became one of the principal instruments for driving the nostrums of the politically correct, postmodern West into former communist states.  Soon gay-pride marches and crocodile tears over the plight of gypsies became the litmus tests by which these often conservative countries were judged worthy to join “Euro-Atlantic structures” (NATO and the European Union).

Always a sinister organization, the OSCE has now become ridiculous.  This is because, since its inception, ODIHR has implemented its postnational project principally through the concept of “civil society.”  Originally formulated by Hegel, the idea is that concerned groups of citizens do a better job of protecting democracy and the rule of law than the state itself does.  NGOs in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union—even if 100-percent financed by Western governments—were elevated, in the eyes of the OSCE, to the level of political sainthood, the ideological equivalent of the soviets in the early Bolshevik period.  All power to the NGOs! seemed to be the OSCE’s battle cry.  These organizations have indeed wielded considerable influence during the last two decades, especially over elections: Often their pronunciamentos, and those of the OSCE itself, have carried more weight than those of the authorities of the state concerned.

Now, however, ODIHR has been hoist with its own petard.  The loonies of “civil society” have taken over the asylum.  Many of the NGOs film themselves addressing the assembly and then put the videos online to bolster their own apparent importance: Millions must be spent on the whole masquerade.  The silly ding-dong, much of which is directed against former Soviet states, means that the great human-rights issues sail by undiscussed—the death penalty in America or her gigantic prison population, statelessness in Europe (which affects hundreds of thousands of Russians), abortion, and many others.  Even practical matters like visa-free travel are effectively off the agenda.

Stalin once quipped that what matters is not who votes but who counts the votes.  In the OSCE’s human-rights meetings, what matters is who writes the reports.  To my surprise, many of the speakers in Warsaw expressed harshly critical views of Islam.  Such statements jarred considerably with the deadly political correctness of the OSCE itself.  Maybe they are the true voice of European civil society, but you would never know it from reading the OSCE’s reports of its own event.  According to these, the speakers were unanimous in declaring that human rights are universal, that “gender” discrimination must be eliminated, and that Roma rights must be protected—in other words, that the OSCE and ODIHR must continue employing thousands of people, at a cost of €200 million per year, in order to churn out soporific, Western-inspired platitudes about human rights.

The Cold War has been over for nearly a generation; if ever there was a case for “closure,” the OSCE surely merits it itself.  The taxpayer, at least, deserves nothing less.