Max M. Kampelman at Freedom House

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written by
Leonard R. Sussman
Former Executive Director

Photo Caption: Leonard Sussman and Ambassador Max Kampelman at Freedom House's 70th anniversary gala.

Max M. Kampelman was many men to many people.

He was well known to presidents who appointed him to vital national missions. As a public servant, he displayed personal courage in advancing controversial causes in national and international affairs.

I knew him as a friend and colleague at Freedom House, where I had a close-up view of his relentless efforts to advance political rights and human freedom. He was chairman from 1983 to 1993, and generously recalled in the foreword to Democracy’s Advocate: The Story of Freedom House (2002) that I had introduced him to the organization.

That was one of the best acts in my 21-year tenure as executive director. For Max brought to our distinguished board his unique experience, deep humane convictions, and balanced counsel on complex issues of the moment.

He wove our particular concerns for political rights, civil liberties, and press freedom into his varied assignments and extensive communicating, at home and abroad.

After 30 years, one such sequence remains prominent in my memory.

In 1980, President Carter (and, later, President Reagan as well) appointed Max as the U.S. ambassador to the formal review session of the 35-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). The CSCE was created in 1975 to consider military, economic, and human rights problems in the member states, which spanned the West and the Soviet bloc. The United States took all the topical “baskets” seriously, including human rights. The Soviet Union, however, regarded the military issues (especially border issues) as most important; the economic, less so; and human rights simply as a troublesome adjunct to the other two objectives.

Max, however, saw the CSCE as a historic opportunity to force into the public arena the horrendous human rights abuses in the Soviet Union and its satellite states. He began in 1980 what became known as “naming names”—citing from the floor of the international conference specific cases of human rights abuses in the Soviet bloc countries.

Three years later, Max was still “naming names” at that protracted CSCE review in Madrid.

At the outset, he invited me to bring to Madrid some 20 Soviet-bloc victims of human rights abuses. I arranged Freedom House’s week-long public demonstration. Some of the world’s best-known dissidents participated. The three-year meeting repeatedly forced the Soviet Union to mount an unsuccessful yet revealing public defense of its atrocities.

When Max returned home, I edited his CSCE speeches into a book, Three Years at the East-West Divide (Freedom House, 1983). Indicating their regard for Max, Presidents Carter and Reagan wrote glowing introductions for the book.

That year, Freedom House elected Max M. Kampelman as its chairman, which he remained for the next decade. He was the perfect choice for that time and its crucial events. Max was the poster liberal with a hard-nosed conviction that geopolitics require a strong, adaptable America. He was a conscientious objector in World War II, yet volunteered for the military’s life-threatening tests on hunger. He was an anticommunist liberal who staunchly supported Hubert Humphrey for the Senate and the presidency. He not only negotiated with the Soviets, reducing nuclear arms, but spent the last few years of his life campaigning to prevent nuclear warfare.

He was, indeed, an ardent advocate of Freedom House until his death.

* Leonard R. Sussman was Freedom House’s executive director from 1967 to 1988, and thereafter a senior scholar in international communication.

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