Political Pirates take German capital by storm
German politics got a radical update this week, as the Pirate Party sailed to victory with liberal policies of internet freedom. Will their radical ideas have an impact on mainstream politics?
Thanks to the online craze, Talk Like a Pirate Day, September 19th has always been known for the occasional 'shiver-me-timbers'. This year, however, buccaneers have ambushed the world of politics, with the success of Germany's Pirate Party – a fringe group which has unexpectedly bagged 8.9% of the vote, and 15 seats, in Berlin's state election.
These Pirates have little to do with plundering the ocean waves for treasure. Piracy here refers to internet file sharing – a criminal act which the party wants to see made legal. For the Pirates, the principle that the virtual world should be open, accessible and free is the basis of a serious political movement, founded in 1996.
This agenda seems bizarrely narrow to older generations. But in the lives of young people, say the Pirates, the digital world is as important as the natural environment: it's where communication, information, and self-expression come together in a shared community. And here, business interests and public policy decisions intersect with our daily lives.
Today, the buzz of global networks has reached a level that's impossible to ignore, blurring the line between the virtual and the real. Because of the guerilla publisher Wikileaks, the most distant and powerful institutions in international politics now have their documents exposed to the public eye.
The stealthy operation of hackers like the Anonymous group prove that a few online outlaws can hold huge corporations to ransom. Meanwhile, online interactivity makes it easier for ordinary people to have their voices heard in debates that shape political decisions.
The internet also means the Pirate Party manifesto has spread globally. Pirate policies include voting rights for 14-year-olds, free subway transport, and legalising drugs. Their home-made posters tell the electorate 'we have the questions, you have the answers': Now, with a real voice within the political system, it's time to put their radicalism to the test.
The Pirates say that in a world now directed by online forces, the old ways of doing politics must make way for young, radical movements adapted to the new realities. They hail new opportunities for participation and creativity.
Is this really the start of something big, or just a fad? As a brand new party, the Pirates have barely sniffed political power, and their idealistic policies could justifiably be perceived as naïve. The internet has changed the world in many ways, but many fundamentals, such as how the law works, and the economy, remain the same. By trying to disrupt the system, could the Pirates end up doing more harm than good?
- Is internet freedom an important political issue?
- If internet content is freely available, who will benefit and who will lose out? Consider all the people whose efforts and work go into creating what is currently available only at a price. For instance, journalists and musicians and their publishers.
- Design a short, one page manifesto for your own political party. Consider what your most important priorities are. How will they work in practice? What kind of voter are you appealing to?
- Choose one policy of the Pirate Party which could be brought in for your own country. Stage a debate for and against that policy being introduced in law.
Some People Say...
“Technology is now the world we live in.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- If the Pirates have made big gains, who has lost out?
- The Free Democratic Party gained an embarrassing 1.5% of the Berlin vote. They're a liberal, pro-business party, and are in a coalition with ChancellorAngela Merkel's Christian Democrats.
- How did such a small party get so many votes?
- German elections work on proportional representation – the make-up of parliament reflects the proportion of votes actually cast for each party. This means it's less likely a vote for afringe party will be wasted.
- So these weren't national elections?
- No, just for the Berlin area. But because the Pirates got more than 5% of votes, they'll be eligible to be represented in Germany's national parliament.
- Fringe Party
- A political party with only a small slice of electoral support, or which campaigns on minor, specific issues.
- Angela Merkel
- The German Chancellor, or leader of the government, she is the leader of Germany's largest party, the Christian Democrats (CDU).
- Wikileaks publishes 'leaked' cables, documents and files from diplomats, politicians, corporations and other important figures. Highly controversial because governments say some of the publication, especially on military matters, endangers lives and security.
- A leaderless hacking organisation which has used its hacking expertise to attack targets including Sony, Israel and the American city of Orlando.