Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Pirates are Coming!

The evolution of a one issue party into a political player

Allie Lane

Even NPR cares about them!

Germany is being invaded by pirates! Well, invaded is a little strong and the pirates aren’t what they sound like. The Piraten Partei Deutschland or German Pirate Party is a young political party that’s gaining ground in German state and local governments. As of 2012 they hold seats in the state parliaments of 4 German states, Saarland, Westphalia, Schleswig-Holstein and, perhaps most importantly, Berlin, the capital and arguably the most powerful province in all of Germany. What is truly amazing about the Pirates, though, is not their newness or the fact that they are taken seriously despite their name, but their evolution and how they cultivated such a diverse voter base in such a powerful country. 

The Pirates started out as one of a small group of international “pirate parties” that are fighting for public access to relevant economic, political and cultural data through information technology. They first gained notoriety in Germany through their fight to preserve internet freedoms, stressing deregulation and criticizing a lack of government transparency. Their anti-establishment rhetoric began to catch on, at first with mostly younger people, but soon it began to resonate with frustrated Germans of all ages and walks of life. In 2009 a member of German parliament left the SPD (Germany’s long standing socialist party) and joined the Pirates. Herbert Rusche, one of the founding members of the German Green Party (which has a significant number of seats in Germany’s national parliament) also declared himself a Pirate. Preaching internet freedom and government transparency, however, was not enough to make a dent in the established German parties, so the Pirates had to either evolve or fizzle out on the fringes of the political sphere. They chose the former. 

They are now a full-fledged national party with a leadership structure and platforms, both national and state specific. While the idea of government transparency remains their signature rallying cry, the Pirates have taken a stance on many other diverse issues. They support the reform of education, copyright and drug policies as well as same sex marriage (as of now only something analogous to civil unions is on the books in Germany). They also propose a more direct democracy through the idea of e-democracy, using the web and social media to increase the public’s knowledge and interaction in the government. The Pirates are even talking about some issues no one else is addressing such as the privatization of religion. In many German states religious instruction is still mandatory in schools (and by religious I mean Christian) and 1% of every German’s taxes go to the Christian church, unless they fill out a special form to opt out. The Pirates are the only ones with posters speaking out against this particular part of the German status quo. (The Catholic Church is angry – in general.)

The Pirates also have a certain drama and excitement to them. Party spokesmen and leaders have made speeches wearing blue overalls, the symbol of the German working man. Party representatives have even worn these outfits into state parliaments. This wardrobe statement harkens back to a period of German politics in the not so distant past. When the Green Party took control of the national parliament in the 80s their leader made headlines by showing up to take his oath of office in sneakers.  Nowadays, though, the Greens are an established part of the German government and have sobered and settled down, not unlike the generation that first elected them. 

Since the success of the Green Party in the 80s no other political party has been talked about as much as the Pirates. While the German government system is friendly to smaller parties (any party with more than 5% of the vote gets proportional representation) it is relatively consistent and regimented. For example, in the national parliament parties are seated from left to right based on how liberal or conservative they are; their beliefs and their liberality seems to be set in stone. The Pirates, however, refuse this sort of classification, which they see as outdated. Although they align with the more leftist parties on most issues, they claim to exist outside of the system of classification that the German government (and our own in the US) has used for decades. This stance seems to be working as they are attracting support from all walks of life.

The party is not without its critics. Some have said that their constituency lacks ethnic diversity and it is often pointed out that the top levels of their organization are practically devoid of women. While these criticisms are legitimate and the party is still a minority in all the states in represents, I can’t help but admire the Pirates. They have brought something truly different to the world of German politics and are forcing the established parties to take notice. They are not simply saying they are different and scuttling under the umbrella of a larger, party for protection. They are something different. And they are making more progress than a small party has ever been able to make in the United States. Perhaps our system is too restrictive, too much of a one on one for such a thing to even be possible. Perhaps our establishment is so strong that those who oppose it don’t have the chance to organize and develop as sophisticated a system as the Pirates. Perhaps we Americans have written ourselves a government in which a breath of fresh air is not possible. 

Perhaps it’s time we had some Pirates.

Allie Lane is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire with degrees in English and German. She hopes to obtain an advanced degree in creative writing and teach others the power of the written word.

1 comment:

  1. Great article!

    Unfortunately for the US, the problem is our first-past-the-post electoral system. Guarantees a two party system in the end.

    Good explanatory fideo. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7tWHJfhiyo&feature=share&list=EC87DB3F7E8107A4AE