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Pirate Party On Track For A Record Victory In Iceland

Pirate Party On Track For A Record Victory In Iceland

This is a guest post by Mattias Bjärnemalm, vice-president of Pirate Party Sweden and currently in Iceland for the elections.


This coming Saturday there will be an election in Iceland, after the Panama scandal forced the Prime Minister to resign and the government to call new elections this summer. It’s impossible, at this point, to say whether the Icelandic Pirate Party will be the largest or second largest party after the election. However, it’s entirely clear that compared to their result of 5.1% in the previous election, this will be an enormous success for them. This will be a large step forward for not just the Icelandic pirates – at the moment of writing, more than thirty pirates from other countries have said that they will travell to Iceland to be there at the election. In that group we can find the leaders for the Swedish, German, Dutch and Slovenian pirate parties, as well as our MEP Julia Reda.

What is it that has made the Icelandic Pirate Party successful? My analysis is that they have succeeded in building upon their previous successes very well. To go from 5% to 20% is an incredible change, but that’s actually not as impressive as the feat of 5.1% in the first election that a party stands in. To understand the Pirates’ success, you have to first understand the circumstances of their election in 2013, half a year after the party’s founding.

This is how ‘The Iceland Blog’ described the situation in 2012:
“Birgitta Jónsdóttir has been elected leader of Píratapartýið. In the Icelandic Pirate’s first policy program there is among other things a call for more transparency in society and increased civil rights. The goal is to get into the Alþingi in the spring elections. The Pirate Party will, above all, be trying to recruit young members who are active on the net. On Saturday the Pirate Party was formally founded at a meeting in Reykjavík. Birgitta Jónsdóttir, who is today an MP for ‘The Movement’, was elected leader of the executive committee. On the committee is also Björn Þór Jóhannesson, Halldóra Mogensen, Jason Scott and Stefán Vignir Skarphéðinsson, as well as Herbert Snorrason and Einar Valur Ingimundarson who were elected by lottery. The goal is to breach the 5% barrier to the Alþingi in April and gain representation in parliament. The Icelandic Pirate Party is aimed mostly towards young and internet-active voters.“

This can be seen as a relatively representative overview of the new party, where the focus was very much on Birgitta. The same blog described their policies in the following way before the election in 2013:
“The Icelandic pirates push classic pirate topics: transparency, freedom of information, direct democracy, public participation and – not necessarily as classic – decriminalization of narcotics. The use of narcotics should, according to the Pirate Party, be handled as a medical and not a legal and judicial problem. They attract mostly young voters from the left. Seen as a bit tougher and not as ‘squeaky clean’ as the Left-Green Movement. The most well-known name in the party is Birgitta Jónsdóttir, who has already had one term in parliament, first as part of ‘Citizen’s Movement’ and then ‘Movement’.“

In short, it’s the fact that they already had an MP from a grassroots movement that is emphasized and that gives the pirates the space they need to succeed at taking themselves over the 5% barrier. With Birgitta’s help they were able to be elected with three MP’s.

The Pirate’s next challenge was to prove that they weren’t just some blip and that they could win elections without celebrity power, which they had a chance to do in the council elections in 2014. There they succeeded, with Halldór Auðar Svansson at the top of the list who was elected into Reykjavík City Council with 5.9%. Through participating in the new municipal government they showed that they were willing to take responsibility in future elections.

Today, the situation is different. The pirates have more candidates with parliamentary experience, and their prime ministerial candidate is Smari McCarthy. He isn’t currently an MP, but Smari was one of the founders of the party and tops one of the lists for a constituency outside Reykjavik (something he also did in the last election when the pirates didn’t reach 5% there). Birgitta remains a central figure in the party and currently proposed as a future speaker of the house for the next parliament. In general, more faces have been brought forward and the pirates are seen as a broad movement in Iceland. After one year of leading the opinion polls, the people of Iceland, and the pirates themselves, have gotten used to the idea that they will probably play a part in the next government.

I don’t think I can emphasize enough how important it would be for the pirate movement globally to have a government with pirate ministers. So it is with great hope that I have packed my bags and booked my journey to Iceland. I flew there for a bit in September to get an idea of who they are and how they work, and I look forward to seeing them again in the coming days. And, of course, there will be a new post here after the election.


Mattias Bjärnemalm
Vice-president and Net Political spokesperson for Pirate Party Sweden.

CC-BY, Stefan Rouden

Mattias Bjärnemalm works as an expert in Net Politics in the European Parliament and was previously Head of Cabinet for Amelia Andersdotter’s (ex-MEP) office in Brussels. He is born and raised in Skǻne (southern Sweden) but has also lived and studied in Uppsala, Sweden before moving to Brussels. During his time in Uppsala he founded the Young Pirates Sweden where he was the association Secretary 2006-2009. He was also active in the Pirate Students in Uppsala and sat as a member of the Uppsala University Board 2009-2010.

During his time in Brussels he has worked with several areas within Net Politics such as copyright, net neutrality, data protection, ACTA, IoT and the IANA transition. He is also a frequent visitor to the Internet Governance Forum and EuroDIG.

Mattias was also central in the creation of Young Pirates of Europe and also the European Pirates (where he is currently a board member).

Featured image: CC-BY, Day Donaldson

 Birgitta Jónsdóttir  Guest Opinion  Election  Herbert Snorrason  Stefán Vignir Skarphéðinsson  Smari McCarthy  PPIS  Halldóra Mogensen  Halldór Auðar Svansson  Jason Scott  Einar Valur Ingimundarson  Björn Þór Jóhannesson
Pirate Party of Austria – The First Ten Years

Pirate Party of Austria – The First Ten Years

This is a guest post by Sylvester Heller
Austrian pirates were not the first to establish their political party, of course, but they were one of the first to follow Rick Falkvinge’s example. Today, Austrian pirates celebrate their tenth anniversary – a welcome opportunity for looking back over the past decade.

On July 31st 2006, the Pirate Party of Austria (PPAT) was registered in Vienna, the country’s capital. The founder, Florian Hufsky, then a teenager barely old enough to vote, had deep roots in the city’s milieu of anti-surveillance-activists, media artists and computer tinkerers.

Florian Hufsky — founding father, “Piratenpartei Österreichs”

A new party for a new century
In the old days, all people were not poseurs. Activism and attention were the currency of the realm. The Vienna of the naughties was home to a permanent avantgarde carneval of denizens who had become aware of each other on their beloved internet: tribes of passionate privacy advocates, open source professionals, rogue roboticists, toker liberation fighters, subversive ham radio operators, pioneering web missionaries, universal dada inheritors, grass-roots engineers, as well as students from various art schools and undercover informants sent by government entities.

Hufsky’s new Pirate Party did not get much attention at first. In the beginning, the Pirate Party of Austria became a magnet for strange, albeit gifted, individuals from the aforementioned carneval who took the format “political party” quite seriously. By 2009, the organization (or atleast its most lively members) were more criminal than the Bronx:
  • they grew hemp in a pirate commune
  • they cut stencils with lasers and sprayed graffiti
  • they were interrogated by police after Anonymous Austria incidents
  • they assembled legions of illegal raves
(Florian Hufsky was not responsible for any of that. The original Austrian pirates were founded on the premise that people bring their own crank into politics. And they did.)

A bid for the Viennese communal elections in 2010 failed, but who needs voters when there is propaganda by the deed? Happy days never last long enough. To the merry crew of party guerrillas, the bell tolled in early 2012, when the press and Austrian state television (!) discovered the “PPAT”. It was an accident, not a sell-out.

Halcyon days
When the German Pirates kept scoring at communal elections in 2011, the curiosity of Europe’s public was keenly aroused. In Austria, the whole country sat up and listened when Amelia Andersdotter (Pirate Party Sweden) moved into the European parliament in the winter of the same year. All of a sudden, hordes of people loved the Pirate Party of Austria. In April 2012, as many as 30 new members enrolled — in a day.

For established politicians, the sight must have been frightening. The country was looking forward to a big national election in 2013, and the electorate had become extremely uppity and unpredictable already. “The Man”, in his evil plotting, commanded the press to reverse the trend and bash the pirates into oblivion. This was very easy, because with popularity and the proposition of being elected into high offices came envy and intra-partisan strife among the new members who did not know the first thing about computers, privacy, cyber-weapons, hash or art. Public bar brawls and drunken fits suit actual pirates well, but not pirate politicians. The yellow press in particular had a field day. At the same time, passionate bureaucrats erected a complicated federal system with hierarchies of study groups and spokespersons, as well as an elaborate server landscape with a myriad of channels.

By that time many of the first adopters and tinkerers jumped ship and took most talent, political will and layouting capabilities with them. Nerds, even political and artsy nerds, suck at ceremony and cabal (which is what had become the new focus of the organization).

Philip Pacanda — a respected pirate councillor in the city of Graz

Despite obstacles and tarnished reputation, the Styrian chapter made waves in 2012 by establishing a pirate beachhead in the city council of Graz. The pirates in the county of Tyrol managed to install another councillor, but shortly before the success a schism resulted in a separated Tyrolean Pirate Party, which in turn ejected the soon-to-be-figurehead. (Simplified narrative. Records were lost in the fog of war.)

Hufsky did not live to see the most interesting twists in the story of the organization he had founded. It is tragic that Hufsky committed suicide in 2009.

At the time of the Austrian national elections in the fall of 2013, the operational capabilities for running a campaign had shrunk significantly. Instead of a Swedish or German surprise, the Austrian pirates had to content themselves with 0.79% of the votes. The member count stood at more than a thousand, but started to decline immediately after the modest election result became public.

In the years since then, the Pirate Party of Austria did the pragmatic thing and joined forces with various other small parties, sometimes successfully. In 2014, a cooperation headed by the Austrian Communist Party set new standards for campaigning on a shoe-string budget and scored unprecedented exposure on the street and in the media. The goal, moving into the European Parliament, could not be met, but the experience of actually having an effect on the political scene managed to revitalize the party for another year or so.

Not everybody liked the Communists, of course, thus the new pirate spirit was bought with more blood-letting, in terms of member count and volunteer talent. Members parted over popular issues like gender equality, importance of standing up to fascism vs. traditional pirate topics like surveillance and net neutrality.

Last year, the spirit of rocking the boat made a brief comeback with a political porno operation that was reported around the globe. The party bought advertising space on Youporn and had the portrait of Austrian minister for internal affairs, Ms. Johanna Mikl-Leitner, flicker over the screens of horny voters. The slogan was to the effect of “Johanna likes to watch” — an allusion to a proposed internet-sniffing bill. This did not sit well with the males in the audience who complained about flaccidity issues upon confrontation with Mikl-Leitner’s homely likeness. A scandal ensued. The porn buccaneers had to discontinue the ads in the name of lust without impediment. Mikl-Leitner’s lawyers also asked the party to stop the frolicking immediately.

An interesting (but contested) feature of Austrian pirates is their reliance on the German voting software Liquid Feedback. The PPAT uses a modified version for most binding decisions and most of the details in their humongous party programme. The pirates in Graz even gave the local electorate access to a public Liquid server for influencing communal politics. Both applications have their problems, but there are most certainly lessons to learn and stories to tell from this worthy ongoing experiment.

Today, the most lasting effect of the Austrian Pirate Party can probably be found outside the organization. For many people who had joined during the gold-rush of 2012, the pirates with their low barrier to entry and attractive issues were their first contact with civil society and politics in general.

More than a handful of those pirate alumni have joined more specialized (often much older) organizations. They are not marooned — many help with protests, file petitions, give talks, collect signatures and keep in contact with each other. Some of the folks have even founded their own NGOs and advances pirate causes like hemp liberation. In this sense, immersion in the Pirate Party of Austria was a life-changing and awakening experience for many persons, who would never have dreamed of joining a conventional political party.

As for the modern Pirate Party of Austria, over 80 die-hards remain. With no elections before 2017, the pirates don’t have much to worry about in terms of campaigning. Current operations include periodical public meetings for recruiting new members and collecting signatures for reform for more direct democracy and easier participation in Austrian politics. Pamphlets have become more polished, the daily beat on Facebook runs well and attracts a growing audience. As in the early days, all bets are off what will happen next.
Links and further reading
Virtually all of the Austrian pirates’s texts are in German. The English-language items and video are indicated.
Image/photo Sylvester “Hellboy” Heller served as the Austrian Pirate Party’s press officer and as federal board member from 2011 through 2012.

Featured image: Screenshot from PPAT website.
Other images:
-Florian Hufsky, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Kewagi
-Philip Pacanda, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Philip Pacanda
-Sylvester Heller, CC-BY-SA 3.0 Sylvester Heller

 ppat  Johanna Mikl-Leitner  Florian Hufsky  Austria  Amelia Andersdotter  Guest Opinion
Moving to Iceland for the Pirate Party

Moving to Iceland for the Pirate Party

This is a guest post by Hugi Ásgeirsson, Pirate Party Sweden/Iceland
On August 11th, I’m moving back home to Reykjavík to do my part for the Icelandic Pirate Party. I feel that Iceland is poised for real change. I love my life, my job, my friends and my community in Stockholm, so this has not been an easy decision. But this opportunity is unique. People in Iceland are pushing for a new kind of politics and a better society. And we really need a new kind of politics, not only in Iceland, but also in Europe and the world. I feel that a lot of people in Iceland are moving past anger, and onto hope for progress.

Perhaps this is happening there first because we were the first to suffer the recession and because we’ve were the first to start cleaning up the mess. Perhaps my coming and going, observing Iceland from afar, has made me see this change in a particularly stark light. I saw it in the recent presidential election, where measured reflection won over pomp and arrogance. I saw it in the Icelandic football fans, who charmed Europe with positive energy, love and sportsmanship. And I’ve seen it in the Icelandic Pirate Party, that has radiated honesty and trust in the people.

I will be helping the Pirate Party in any way I can, and time will tell how I can best serve the cause. Primary elections for the list of candidates for parliament have just started, and I’ve humbly put my name in the running, which is decided democratically in an online vote by party members. If called upon, I will stand for election. If not, I will do all that I possibly can to campaign, to build the organisation and help define our political agenda. I will do my best to learn from those around me, use my network and bring people and ideas together to strengthen the foundation of our platform.

As many of you know, this is not the first time I join a Pirate Party. I was seventeen years old when the Swedish Pirate Party was founded in 2006, and I joined on day one. Politicians didn’t understand the internet or how society was about to change, and I’m afraid they still don’t, event though that change is looking them straight in the eye. When we first started collecting signatures to help form the Swedish Pirate Party, we knew that a great paradigm shift was taking place. This was before WikiLeaks or Bitcoin. Before Android and iPhone. Before Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. Teachers and scholars mocked Wikipedia. We, the online young, were frustrated that society wouldn’t listen. This force could be harnessed for good, to educate, to empower, to liberate. Instead, the establishment saw it as a threat to be contained, regulated and limited. In 2007, I became the first chairman of the youth wing “Young Pirates”. With our unconventional style, we started getting noticed, but life took me in a different direction, and in 2008 I moved to Reykjavík to study at the University of Iceland. Later, I moved to China for two years, and it wasn’t until 2016 that I returned to the Pirates, this time in Iceland.

I believe that Icelandic Pirate politics have taken the original idea to its next logical conclusion. As the power to connect, publish and share was moved into our hands, our view of authority has changed. It is as if power has become liquid and shifts faster than before. Some people have become uneasy, looking to strong old-school leaders with simple solutions to force their world back into a solid shape. Pirates believe that this is a futile effort. What we need is a new paradigm for leadership to navigate an unpredictable ocean. Pirates ask questions, are curious and dare to change their minds in light of new evidence. Leaders should be nodes who empower the ones around them that need to be heard and who listen for valuable perspectives. We need to see the wisdom of our communities as our greatest asset. At the same time, we need to hone our moral courage and take action for what we believe is just. I have seen this quality in the Icelandic Pirates, and that is our most important asset.

We have a lot of exciting work ahead of us. A new constitution for Iceland. Important work to protect and secure the environment. Visions for a better society that reach far beyond short sighted term-by-term politics. But perhaps most importantly, if anything else is to succeed, we need to rebuild trust in politics and democracy. I’m putting my trust with the Pirates.
Image/photoHugi Ásgeirsson is a serial community builder and organizer. He is involved in building creative communities, participatory festivals and open social spaces in Stockholm and has also worked as a magazine editor, an english teacher and most recently as a web developer. He loves literature, philosophy, art, science and hiking.

Featured image: cropped from copyright with permission Hugi Ásgeirsson

 Guest Opinion  Hugi Ásgeirsson  Iceland  PPIS  PPSE