The Pirate Party of Sweden built itself on a platform of issues concerning copyright, government and corporate transparency, and the protection of online privacy, long before they would become politically salient in the decade following.
When the Pirate Party was formed by Swedish software developer Rick Falvinge, it faced a world that was only just waking up to the digital revolution that had dawned with the proliferation of high speed internet. In 2006, the world had yet to experience the political upheaval brought by Wikileaks, the Panama Papers, or the online vigilantism of groups such as Anonymous or Lulzsec. Yet, in an apparent act of premonition, the Pirate Party of Sweden built itself on a platform of issues concerning copyright, government and corporate transparency, and the protection of online privacy, long before they would become politically salient in the decade following.
With the increasing importance of these issues throughout the western world, the Pirate Movement has slowly increased its presence not only in terms of activity but in terms of electoral success. Much like the “movement” parties that have come before it, such as the Green Parties of the 1980s, the Pirate Party has been replicated throughout Europe in the past decade with varying degrees of presence and success. Like the early days of the Greens, the Pirate Parties have found their first representational footing in those countries with some form of proportional representation, which allows smaller parties a greater chance of gaining seats.
The party has had moderate accomplishments in its home country of Sweden, gaining its first ever seat in the European Parliament in the 2009 elections, though it has yet to hold a seat in the Riksdag (the Swedish parliament). In Germany, its presence has translated to local success in the Berlin state elections, with pirate contenders taking 15 seats in the Abgeordnetenhaus (state parliament of Berlin), as well as winning a seat in the 2014 European elections.
Yet the Pirate Party’s greatest accomplishment has only come within this past month, with its sweeping success in the Icelandic national elections. Building upon their 2013 election debut, where they secured the movement’s first ever seats at national level, the party went from being the 6th biggest party to the 3rd, with 10 seats in the Althing, Iceland’s 63 seat parliament. In a country long used to the multi-party coalition building and confidence and supply deals that have only recently become a feature of Irish politics, the Icelandic Pirate Party has found itself in a powerful bargaining position as the parties begin the process of government formation.
With the largest party in the election, the Independence Party, having just 30% of the vote, it is unclear as to who will form the next government. Early indications suggest that it could comprise of either the centre-right grouping of the Independence Party and Progressive party, with support of smaller parties, or a broader coalition of the left consisting of the Pirate Party, the Left-Green Movement and Bright Future, with possible support from the Social Democrats.
The ensuing political vacuum introduced an appetite for newer, smaller parties that the Pirate Party subsequently filled, with its ideals of public accountability and transparency appealing to the mood of the Icelandic public.
Iceland has proven a particularly fertile ground for the mantra of the movement for a number of reasons. The country’s economy was one of the earliest and greatest victims of the financial crisis, losing its three largest banks to default in 2008. Iceland’s banking collapse was the largest of its kind, relative to the size of the country. The protests that followed set a tone of distrust over the ruling Independence Party, a centre-right group that had dominated Icelandic politics since the foundation of the state, and now found itself collapsing under the weight of the financial crisis. The ensuing political vacuum introduced an appetite for newer, smaller parties that the Pirate Party subsequently filled, with its ideals of public accountability and transparency appealing to the mood of the Icelandic public.
This appetite was further stoked by the implication of the then Prime Minister, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, in the Panama Papers in April. The papers revealed that Gunnlaugsson had failed to disclose his 50% share in Wintris, an offshore investment fund and creditor to failed Icelandic banks, and had transferred his shares of the company the day before a new law would have declared this ownership a conflict of interest. The publication of the scandal renewed fresh protest on the island nation, and resulted in Gunnlaugsson’s resignation. For the Pirate Party, whose policy includes giving citizenship to NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, the revelations brought by this act of “leaktavism” were a boon to party support.
While the Icelandic Pirate Party is considered a leaderless movement with a rotating chairperson, the influence of outspoken public figures have furthered their efforts at the ballot box. Birgitte Jónsdóttir, a poet, artist and activist who describes herself as a “poetician”, was one of the notable figures of the 2008-2011 protests, and took on an advisory role in the subsequent Icelandic constitutional reform. A founding member of the Pirate Party in Iceland, Jónsdóttir had formerly been a prominent member of Wikileaks. The online leaktavism site had attained strong notoriety among the Icelandic public as a method of bypassing injunctions on Kaupthing Bank, an Icelandic bank that collapsed in 2008.
“Although the Dublin University Pirate Party is not politically affiliated with the official political Pirate Parties around the world, it is glad that their aims are being treated seriously and are gaining attention in other countries such as Iceland” – DU Pirate Party treasurer Robert Antcliff.
In Trinity, the DU Pirate Party, based on the Swedish Pirate movement, has been a fully recognised college society since 2009. Like their international counterparts, they campaign for the expansion of civil liberties and the right to privacy in an increasingly online world, as well as reform of patent and copyright law to reflect the advent of high speed file and information sharing. Commenting on the apparent success of the movement in Iceland, the society’s treasurer, Robert Antcliff, welcomed the increased representation of the Pirate Movement at a national level in Europe: “Although the Dublin University Pirate Party is not politically affiliated with the official political Pirate Parties around the world, it is glad that their aims are being treated seriously and are gaining attention in other countries such as Iceland”. He stressed the importance of privacy following the revelations of the NSA leaks, hoping that the Icelandic success will “show the other Pirate Parties around the world that it is possible for them to have a say in politics” and “preserve fundamental freedoms in the digital age”.
The Icelandic Pirate Party’s counterparts around the globe will likely hope to replicate its success in 2016. This is most likely in countries that have had similar political conditions as Iceland. The country has had unique combination of developments, including some form of election system based on proportional representation, public discontent over the transparency of government institutions and a positive experience of government and corporate data leaks. While all countries in Europe and the west have experienced one or more of these, thus far, Iceland is near unique in its encompassing all three. As the media of the world increasingly relies on leaked data for its investigative endeavours, and revelations continue to surface as to the extent of online personal data collection, it seems that at least for the foreseeable future, possible platforms for the movement’s ideology are mounting.