Despite their silly name and a platform originally focused on Internet issues, The Pirate Party won an unexpected 8,9% in the Berlin elections this September. Shaking things up much like The Best Party did in Reykjavík, The Pirate Party ousted the Free Democrats and became the first new party to come to power in Berlin since the 1980s. While some of these newly elected Pirates were in Iceland to meet with representatives from The Best Party and the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, we met up with them to learn more…
First, briefly what is The Pirate Party?
Christopher Lauer: So it’s too simplistic to say we’re just an Internet party. It started that way, but then the platform broadened with the party’s membership explosion in 2009.
The Pirate Party is a left liberal, social party. The neoliberal policymaking of economy that we’ve seen in the last ten to twenty years is just inhumane. Of course we are for free economy, but within borders of law. So we are social, but not socialist. We are for society, not society for economy.
The liberal part of our agenda is about people’s rights—all the rights that protect you against the State, which has the monopoly on using force. Especially since 9/11, policy has been driven by fear—by the idea that society is a danger to the State. But if you think about it, we are the State. So we believe in a free and open culture. I think what the Prime Minister of Norway said after Utoya was the only right thing to say: “We have to be a more friendly society.”
So basically we have a silly name and we are not typical politicians, but we have a very pragmatic view on politics—a sane view about what is right and wrong.
Silly? It must be pretty cool to be called a pirate…
Alexander Morlanger: Yeah, if we lower the voting age, we would do very well because all the six year olds would vote for pirates.
Yeah, and I’ve read that you want to lower the voting age. What’s that about?
CL: Basically our idea is that anybody should be able to go into the city office and ask to vote. My 84-year-old grandmother is completely demented and she can vote. I met some children during the campaign that knew more about the party platforms than the average Berlin voter.
It’s the same thing with drugs. If you treat people like normal, sane, educated people, they behave that way. If you encourage young people to get involved with politics by giving them the opportunity to vote, you get a less indifferent political culture.
PEOPLE WANT FRESH POLITICS
Why do you think you were so successful in this latest election? Have Internet issues become so important? Are people just fed up with the traditional party politics?
CL: There were different factors. First of all, people want fresh wind in the political system. They are fed up, but not so fed up that they are ready to start a revolution—to march on parliament. Germans are not that kind of people. We ask, ‘where do we have to announce the revolution. Who can give us the form to make everything proper to make the revolution? Can I make it on a Sunday or do I have to come back on a Monday.’
Yeah, that is so stereotypical German…
CL: But it is that way. The reason that The Pirate Party has done well in Berlin and not in France is because if we start something, like a club and party, we take it very seriously. So The Party is very progressive and liberal and breaks rules, but in other respects is very formal.
AM: Some guy blogged that The Pirate Party is like a massive multiplayer offline role-playing game…
CL: …World of Warcraft in real life… We organise ourselves with liquid democracy, which was developed by Berlin chapter of The Pirate Party two years ago. It mixes direct and representative democracy. It’s like a social network; everyone in the party has an account, and they can make suggestions and provide constructive feedback.
We are showing it to the Better Reykjavík people and also to The Best Party. In our view, Iceland could be a showcase for a country using a programme like that.
AM: …the first country that upgrades its democracy to the next generation.
A SERENDIPITOUS BEST PARTY CONNECTION
So people wanted fresh wind in the political system. What was it specifically about The Pirate Party that appealed?
Actually, there are a lot of chance parallel developments between The Best Party and The Pirate Party. It’s funny, the day I called Heiða, Jón was talking about our good result and he said, yeah, we have to get in contact with them… I think both The Best Party and The Pirate Party see the need for change in politics—not only in policies, but also in the way politics are done.
What do you mean by ‘the way politics are done’?
The style—not the clothing; the way you do it. The question is, do you want to play their game or define your own rules, and I think the answer is somewhere in-between. I thought when we talked to Jón and the other guys that there seemed to be similar developments both here and in Germany and in other countries, like Poland, where a very progressive party also gained 10% in an election.
Voters knew we weren’t pros; they knew we were amateurs. If we made one thing clear during our campaign it was that we have big gaps in a lot of political issues. Our number one candidate, Andreas Baum was asked how large the city debt was, and first he said he didn’t know, and then he said many, many millions. Everyone laughed because in fact, Berlin’s debt is 65 billion Euros and rises by 87 Euros every second. See we have now done our numbers. We made an iPhone app, and you can see very dynamically that the city of Berlin will never ever pay back its debt [shows app with debt growing by the second].
If we don’t know something we just Google it. In our culture, not knowing something is not bad if you know where to find it. We say, yeah, if you elect us, we’ll try to learn, and if we don’t figure it out after five years, don’t vote for us again.
AM: If there’s one thing we have in common with your mayor it’s the ability to say ‘we don’t know.’
So did you come primarily to meet The Best Party?
CL: Yeah, and we also came for IMMI. When we met with Birgitta Jónsdóttir today we were surprised that IMMI wasn’t further along because in Germany you get that impression. We actually came to discuss the terms of placing our servers in their data centres, and we found out that we can’t do it. We have to find a way to support her…
DOWNLOADING .MP3 TORRENTS
There’s one topic we haven’t talked about. I’m sure you get a lot of flack for your stance on copyright. How do you explain your view to musicians who want to make a living from what they create?
CL: Well, I’m not very satisfied with our agenda on copyright issues as it is right now. We say, for instance, that after ten years you lose your rights, and it goes to the public domain. That makes sense if you are talking about Lady Gaga, for example, but a playwright needs ten years to make gains. He publishes the play, sells it and sells it and sells it, and then after ten years, the play makes it and has to live off of that.
AM: Right now the guy who buys it gets ripped off, the guy who creates it gets ripped off, and the guy in the middle makes a fortune. This can’t be right. We need to change this so that consumers and creators get more.
So you are not suggesting that people steal?
CL: No, no, no. Everybody should have a share, but it has to be fair. The music industry was based on monopoly. The Internet destroys gatekeepers and monopolies. What we have are old elites who are scared, and use their money to uphold the system for as long as they can. Lawyers are sending notices to people who download stuff telling them that they will be prosecuted unless they pay 1000 Euros; it’s like modern blackmailing. We agree as a party that the consumer should not be criminalized. Too much money is being spent on upholding the system.
Do you have an idea of how to solve this problem? …The million-dollar question.
CL: Yeah if I knew I wouldn’t be sitting here, a politician. I would be rich…
AM: There was a lot of money involved when ships were built to transport ice from the north to Europe so that people could cool things in the summer. It was a big business, employing many people. Then some idiot invented the refrigerator, and in five years the whole business went bankrupt. Should they have forbid refrigerators to protect these workers? Maybe they’ll concentrate on something else, like organising concerts.
Jón Gnarr recently said in an interview with The Grapevine that he doesn’t have very much power to change things, and that he is more responsible for making sure that bad things don’t happen. Do you think you will be able to change things up?
Well, no. People don’t understand politics…we are trying to make this more transparent like Jón has done with his Diary of a Mayor. But basically we just want people to take responsibility for their lives. If people don’t want to, then okay, I’ve learned something, but for now I have faith in the people and a positive view of society.