Germany's Pirate Party - a future political force?

Hank Pellissier's picture

The Pirate Party of Berlin, Germany, garnered a shocking 8.9% of the votes in the city-state’s election two weeks ago, to place 15 representatives in Berlin's parliament. In a story on the result, the New York Times described Pirate Party leaders as "disarmingly honest... in their 20's and 30's... with no lack of confidence."

Typifying these qualities is Marina Weisband—24 years old, born in Kiev, an artist and a psychology student living in Münster. Easily accessible via email, Marina answered all my questions patiently, even though it was 3:45 AM in her time zone.

Hank Pellissier: Thanks for letting me interview you, Marina. What is your official title as a member of the Pirate Party?

Marina Weisband: I guess my title translates to “political director” or “federal director.” I really had trouble to look it up. My position is equivalent to Klaus Schüler (CDU) and Astrid Klug (SPD).

HP: I’ve read that the Pirate Party is going to work harder to bring more women into its membership and to bring more minorities in—can you comment on this?

MW: The German media tried to find something to make us look bad, so they brought up the gender topic. We don’t have as many women as men in the party, like most political parties. We see ourselves as post-gender, so we don’t even ask for gender in the member application. It is true that we try to be more attractive for women because we are afraid that socialization as a female obstructs political interest (which is why there are more men in politics). We are working on a campaign. While it may seem that the Pirate Party is mostly young white German males, I can say from my own experience that it is very easy—even a bit too easy—to get to the top being a Ukrainian Jewish girl.

HP: What do you think the Pirate victory indicates about the German voters’ mood?

MW: I think that the German voters are tired of the political style of the established parties. Only 6% of Germans are fond of our democracy. People don’t feel connected to politicians and don’t find themselves represented anymore. We try to change that. We act transparently, listen to the people, and are not afraid to try new ideas. We have been doing it for quite a while already, but our victory in Berlin drew the media’s attention. Since then, we’ve experienced a massive increase in members and positive feedback. That is why we expect continued success. Until this year, we reached mostly ‘digital natives’. Now, many other people from different areas and social backgrounds look at us with hope. Since we are easier to reach and to influence than other parties, people address us with their wishes. We evaluate these wishes through our own democratic process and see if we make them part of our party program.

HP: Briefly describe your primary issue—is it copyright laws?

MW: I personally don’t believe that copyright laws is our one primary issue by now. We found that our wish for free intellectual property is part of a whole philosophy about human freedom through free information. Because of that, we have several additional important points like transparency, democracy, and education, copyright still being one of our major topics. The German Pirate Party struggles for a new definition of intellectual property in which creators are encouraged to share ideas, music, art, and software with the public. We try to join the goals of freedom of intellectual property on one hand and the creator’s reward on the other hand. We have reviewed several models on how to do that. One thing we agreed upon is the shortening of copyright terms. We demand abandonment of copy protection and regulation in consuming cultural goods. A flat rate system was suggested to pay the creators, but was discarded, since it would mean even more monitoring of the private use by the state. Right now we are still in the process of evaluating the best solution.

HP: I’ve read that you want to provide free transportation to the public. I commend you on that excellent stance. Do you have other stances such as that, to support egalitarianism?

MW: We define ourselves as a ‘socially liberal’ party. The only one in Germany, at that. As such, we try to provide even the poorest people with means to live a free life. Public transportation will help create mobility for less fortune people, save the environment and decongest the roads. But we go further than that. Last year we added a ‘right on social participation’ to our program. It states that all people should have means to participate in mobility, education, politics and so on, regardless of their fortune. On the federal level, we haven’t yet decided what exactly is our financial demand for that purpose. The Pirate Party of Berlin has agreed on a basic income guarantee. Every citizen would get a certain minimum amount on money to live on, no matter what.

HP: What is the foreign policy of the Pirate Party? Do you have a stance on the debt crisis with Greece?

MW: It’s a widely discussed topic, yet we don’t have a position on that. Truth is, we lack financial experts that could give good reasons for demands. Many pirates don’t believe in the European Union, but that is just individual opinions that have not been evaluated in a democratic process. Maybe we will come to it on our assembly this December. As for foreign policy in general, we try to work with all the international Pirate Parties to change political styles in the whole world. Our demand for free information exchange will help to achieve world peace. As children of the internet, we don’t see borders.

HP: What advice do you have for Pirates in the United States? If you were elected Pirate politicians in the USA, what would your primary issues be?

MW: Think big. Reformation of copyright law is just part of a new philosophy that comes with this generation and that finds expression in events like the Arab Spring, the Spanish protesters, the growth of the German Pirate Party and #occupywallstreet. Surely the USA have other needs for change than Germany. A terrifying shift I see in the USA lately is the new extreme conservatism. For some reason, in the moment of their greatest need, people look for the simplest (and worst) solutions. Like the belief that a free market alone would help all poor people. Or that concealment of sexuality could solve problems of youth pregnancy. Or that bills should not extend more than three pages. These people somehow manage to be pro-death penalty, pro-war, and still call themselves pro-life. The conservative movement in the USA is the antithesis of everything the Pirate Party stands for. On the other hand, I hear that people have trouble to vote because they don’t trust the liberals either. So this situation is actually quite similar to Germany. In these times, people look for something new. The first thing that new movement must have is honesty. In a world where information is free and fast, truth has a tendency to become public, as WikiLeaks demonstrated. The new politician has to be honest and transparent. My advice for the US Pirates is to be these politicians.

HP: Ideally, what are the ultimate, utopian goals of the Pirate Party? If you could reform all governments on Earth, what would you do?

MW: First of all, we would put a lot more money into education. Education is the base of all freedom and responsible democracy. We can save that money by using the new technology to slim down administration. We would grant every human the right of social participation. People would have the same rights, whether they’re white, black, rich, poor, Christian, Muslim, male, female, heterosexual, or homosexual. They would share cultural goods that can be copied. Information and knowledge would be important values to the society. Everyone could be free, as long as they don’t violate the freedom of others.

HP: Thank you, Marina!

Buoyed by their Berlin success, the Pirate Party is sailing full speed towards the next German national election, scheduled in two years. A poll by the Forsa Institute indicates that 7% of the population aims to vote for the upstart new movement. Founded just five years ago in Sweden, the Pirates have quickly become a global force with chapters in more than forty nations.