Did the WikiLeaks incidents create more or less democracy in the world?

Article published on Feb. 9, 2011
community published
Article published on Feb. 9, 2011
Source: europarl.europa.eu Since 2006 the WikiLeaks website has leaked more than 1 million sensitive diplomatic cables and has become a synonym of transparency for some and a significant menace for others. But has WikiLeaks strengthened democracy and will the disclosure of hundreds of thousands of secret documents change the way modern diplomats interact?
We asked two MEPs with very different views: Christian Engström (Greens/EFA) from the Swedish Pirate Party and former Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan (EPP).

pict_20110127PHT12602.jpg Mr. Engström, the Pirate Party decided last year to host servers free of charge for the WikiLeaks website. You don't seem to consider WikiLeaks dangerous. Why not?

CE: We do indeed consider it a dangerous website, especially for corrupt regimes that have something to hide. That’s exactly what we like about it. We think transparency is a very important part of an open democratic government. It's important to remember that the tendency to cover up things exists everywhere. Even a democratically-elected government like the US government wants to hide things from the public. Things that are highly relevant. So yes, WikiLeaks is dangerous to anyone in power who has something to hide.

Mr. Kukan, according to European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, WikiLeaks does not always serve the public interest. He thinks that certain information should not be disclosed. What is your position on this?

EK: I am in favour of freedom of information as a cornerstone of modern democratic systems. However WikiLeaks' activities have had a damaging impact. And I don’t think that the intention of WikiLeaks was to disclose positive and constructive things to the public. I don't believe that the intention was noble and respectful.

I spent a very long time within diplomacy and certain issues shouldn’t be published or available to everybody. On certain issues you need to create trust between partners, you need to believe in each other. Not because the public has no right to be informed but because things need to be kept discreet. When diplomats are negotiating arrangements it can destroy the whole process if documents are published. It can destroy the good things which could come up as a result of the negotiations.

Some people argue that more transparency strengthens democracy. Do you believe that WikiLeaks has contributed to democracy in the World?

CE: Yes, very much so, since transparency is one of the fundamental points of a democracy. What is the point of allowing people to vote, if they are not given any information about what the government or opposition is doing? The goal in a democracy must be to have informed citizens making informed choices.

The larger goal of WikiLeaks is to make it obvious to all governments: Don't believe that you'll get away with hiding or lying about things. The indirect effect of WikiLeaks is that governments will start to become more transparent and more honest.

EK: Well, I would like to give you a straight answer so that you don't accuse me of diplomatic pirouettes, but sometimes there is no such answer. I can to a certain extent admit that the WikiLeaks' publications may have certain positive aspects. In those countries where there is a dictatorial regime, the positive things are more evident and more intense. So I am not condemning everything that was published. But there should be a line between what can be published to expand the freedom of access to information for everybody and what should not be published in order not to damage discreet personal relationships.

But who should decide which information can be disclosed? Should it for instance be up to the leadership of WikiLeaks or should such decisions be left to top level diplomats and politicians?

CE: No it shouldn't. The leadership of WikiLeaks, would be the first ones to say the same thing. What they want, and what I want, is many more sites where it's possible to leak safely. If there was only one leak site then they would be the powerful ones and we would need to watch them. However, if there are many different sites then this problem goes away.

EK: The people from WikiLeaks should have the sense to understand what can go to public and what should be kept secret. But the criteria should be very precisely defined by a political leadership. I don't think this is a good subject for a referendum. Political leaders sometimes come up with ideas which are totally rejected because people don’t understand them but afterwards the history shows that those politicians were right.

Will WikiLeaks affect the future structure of international relations and the ways diplomats interact with each other?

CE: Reality has changed. Governments and embassies and everybody in power have to take into consideration the fact that if you try to keep secrets you are now much more likely to fail. I think that's a good thing, especially when it comes to relationships between countries. What we want is openness. Openness breathes confidence and reduces the risks. When the big players are not entirely sure what the other side is planning they tend to be more suspicious. This was the logic during the Cold War.

So generally speaking, openness will in the long run help to reduce international tensions and we will therefore see a better and more stable world.

EK: I think that it's going to affect the future process of diplomatic negotiations negatively. Those who were mentioned by name will have it in the back of their minds and they will be more cautious and less open! All those mentioned will be much more cautious. So I agree with those who say that diplomatic or political life will no longer be the same after the WikiLeaks publications.