A champion of free speech in the cause of democratic values
16 September, 2011
This week, we celebrated International Day of Democracy; an important day for us as promoting democratic values and practise, through example, is Wilton Park’s most important remit.
From its origins, as a centre for post-war reconciliation bringing Germans and Brits together to rebuild their countries, we have promoted free speech and free association. Now, using social media and the web we develop and sustain world-wide networks devoted to solving the most intractable international challenges. Based on the premise that ‘behaviour breeds behaviour’, participants at our meetings engage directly with top policy makers and politicians to quiz and challenge and are pleasantly surprised to see those senior figures not only happy to engage but actually enjoy the debates.
There is no better lesson for countries struggling to establish more open regimes. “We can have conversations here that would be impossible back home” participants say. The importance of the rule of law, rules-based systems, effective institutions and good governance figure prominently in our programmes. There is much evidence to suggest that lecturing people about democracy and human rights doesn’t work but providing an opportunity to listen to others’ views, however divergent, in an atmosphere of trust builds respect for and tolerance of “the other” that is at the root of all democratic principle and practise.
This week, at three separate Wilton Park meetings, participants have used that same methodology put in place 65 years ago to move ahead on issues such as strengthening multilateral humanitarian response to environmental emergencies (conference held in Montreux with the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation); on re-engineering the Transatlantic security and defence relationship (at Wilton Park with NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division) and on curbing production and chemical and biological weapons (at the Clingendael Institute in the Netherlands).