From Iceland — Question Time With Birgitta Jónsdóttir

Question Time With Birgitta Jónsdóttir

Published November 21, 2015

Question Time With Birgitta Jónsdóttir
Photo by
TEDxReykjavík by Roman Gerasymenko

As the Pirate Party’s poll numbers continue to climb, more Icelanders are expressing curiosity about their various stances, beliefs and internal processes grows. We compiled what we consider to be some “common questions”—whether from within Grapevine, those expressed by public figures, or the public themselves—and put them to Pirate Party MP Birgitta Jónsdottir.

On “uncertain principles”. You have a number of core issues, such as copyright law, education and drug policy. However, outside of that, the Pirate intent gets a little unclear: transparency, direct democracy, and fuzzily-worded “make it better” gestures. What are voters voting for? Should we experience an economic crash during your term in office, will you take austerity measures? Will you go to the IMF? Will you bail out banks? Do you have an “end goal”, an ideal you’re chasing, and if so, what is it?

It’s impossible to answer this question honestly, because we won’t have the same type of crisis next time. Would we handle things the same way as the ‘crisis government’ did? Probably not. But in the meantime, we have the crisis report to lean on, and learn from. It’s unfortunate that the current government is not willing to learn from it.

By opening and analysing the systems of our society, we will have a better idea on how it runs best. Currently we are living in the ‘Yes Minister’ “documentary series”. The tug of war between ministries on who gets the most from the budget is not a good system to run a country. A severe lack of oversight is now leading us into a new financial danger zone, with the same old banking structures. There were talks of separating “casino banking” from ordinary banking, but nothing has happened. We have a currency that is so small that it behaves like a tiny boat in stormy weather, with inflation and financial crises accepted as the norm.

Our end goal is to introduce new systems that are open and accessible, and to build bridges between the general public and those they trust to serve them, in such a way that we can learn from the past and make choices for the greater good of next generations—not just for one term of government.

It will be hard work—but at the same time we seek to gain knowledge from the wisdom of the masses. All Iceland’s systems are out of date—we are living in transformative times, and our aim is to understand how we can react to these times in the legislation that says how we run our tiny island. That is a process that needs to be inclusive. We are fully aware that we don’t have all the answers, and that is why we seek to listen to and learn from others.

On direct democracy. Although it sounds good, direct democracy presents its share of problems. Look for example to Switzerland, and their 2009 Minaret Referendum. Or their 2014 referendum that limits the number of immigrants. Or Prop 8. Or Iceland’s constitution referendum, where the majority of voters agreed to keep a national church, despite the majority of Icelanders being in favour of separation of church and state. In what way does your ideas of direct democracy address such problems (given that you consider them problems—and if not, why not)?

People all over the world are calling for more access—to be engaged in shaping their own future. We want to help facilitate that change. One of the things we feel very proud of is the fact that so many young people are now interested and actively engaged in politics, and are now seeking information and collaborating with others. We have managed to spark an interest in co-creation of our communities, and increased citizen engagement.

The Swiss model has pros and cons. We intend to learn from the mistakes they made, and take the best advice—local or international—in relation to how to shape and evolve direct democracy. Advice such as, not to including human rights issues in direct democracy.

I’m sure that sooner then later we will have a separation of state and church. A Constitution is not something that should be written in stone but a fluid social agreement that each and every generation if it chooses should be able to revisit without the parliament stalling it for decades.

On scaleability. So far the Pirate Party has managed to do pretty well with only three MPs and one assistant, but do you have any vision or idea of how you’ll tackle the problems that come with rapid growth. For example, looking at what was also a small party, the Left-Green Movement went from 5 MPs in 2003 to 9 in 2007, and then 14 in 2009 – throughout their four years in government they would often disagreeing with one another as much as the opposition. Is yours a “we’ll figure it out as we go” attitude, and if so, on what basis should voters believe you’re up for the task?

We are NOT a party that intends to figure stuff out as we go. Our grassroots organisation have been working hard in shaping policies in various categories. We are after all THE party that suggested that the parties running for elections in 2017 should cough up who they want to work with, and how they intend to fulfil their elections promises in coalition government. Many parties have agreed to do that before the elections. That would be a new beginning, because in the past, election promises have quickly faded and been broken by governmental parties as they’re butchered by small groups of ministers and leaders, who give the nation the so called “governmental agreement,” with predictable compromises on election promises. If we can change that, then perhaps politicians will become known for keeping promises instead of breaking then the day after elections.

We are interested in shaping our agenda and policies on facts instead of promises we might or might not be able to keep. Our current systems are broken, too many people fall between the cracks and too many people feel that the systems in place no longer serve them. We see that, and we want to do politics differently. That is why we want to apply deep systemic changes first, with a short term, in order to be able to build on something other than sand. It’s critical that we create platforms on which people can be more engaged, and feel the urge to participate in shaping our collective future.

The Pirate Party is not like other parties when it comes to internal structure. We are currently working with the same power/less structure as the Women’s List (Kvennalistinn), meaning we don’t have a “pyramid” power structure with leaders and a pecking order. We see it as a circle of power, where roles and responsibilities rotate. We are not yet sure how this will develop if we get a large group of people in parliament, but it’s under debate, and we are seeking how “horizontal” movements have solved increased responsibilities of similar nature.

This piece is part of our in-depth feature on The Pirate Party, which you can read here.

See also:

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Ever since first the term first entered public discourse in the 1980s, the stereotypical “hacker” has generally been conceived of as a nefarious young male, permanently hunched over his computer in a dank basement, surrounded by heaps of pizza boxes and crumpled cans of Generic Energy Drink™.

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