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PORTSIDE  September 2011, Week 3

PORTSIDE September 2011, Week 3

Subject:

Who are Berlin's Pirates? (two takes)

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Date:

Tue, 20 Sep 2011 20:07:47 -0400

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Who are Berlin's Pirates?

(Two takes)


Children of Marx and Microsoft

By Niklas Hofmann
Suddeutsche Zeitung (Germany) 
September 20, 2011

http://www.presseurop.eu//en/content/article/969281-children-marx-and-microsoft

Munich

    They demand transparency and direct democracy, and almost
    one in ten voters in Berlin gave them their vote. The
    Pirate Party is no longer just a party for Net-nerds in
    hoodies, but represents demands from across society.

Only in two things do the voters of the city of Berlin, which
breaks down so distinctly into several different `milieus',
seem able to agree: no one likes the FDP, which even in the
middle-class western districts pulled in no more than three
percent of the vote - and the Pirates lie well above the
five-percent threshold in all parts of the city. In some
corners they are ahead of the Greens, in others even ahead of
the CDU. The prefabricated blocks of flats of Marzahn-
Hellersdorf and the bourgeois avenues of Berlin-Steglitz,
however, are so far removed from such young digital bohemians
that the voter base of the pirates cannot be reduced to some
form of sworn `net community'. The emphatic concept of
freedom put forward by the Pirate Party appears throughout
all society to be more realisable than the hair-gel-and-tie-
liberalism of the FDP.

The party principles and the electoral programme of the
Berlin Pirate Party, including points such as free public
transport and the right to an unconditional basic income,
were tagged as `radical left' by commentators on election
night. The hoodie-wearing habits of some members might
reinforce such an impression. But the basic values ??of the
Pirates escape classification according to the classic right-
left split.

`Free', `open', and especially `transparent' are the
buzzwords that have been shaping the platform of the Pirate
movement since it first took shape five years ago in Sweden
as a party born out of the struggle against existing
copyright laws. One of the most important founding texts of
the movement was the `Declaration of Independence of
Cyberspace', which the former songwriter for The Grateful
Dead and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation,
John Perry Barlow, published in 1996. Railing against state
efforts to regulate the Internet, he invoked the name of the
great liberals Thomas Jefferson, John Stuart Mill, Alexis de
Tocqueville and Louis Brandeis.

Doctrinal loyalty is not exactly a virtue

"These increasingly hostile and colonial measures place us in
the same position as those previous lovers of freedom and
self-determination who had to reject the authorities of
distant, uninformed powers", the manifesto goes. And: "We are
forming our own Social Contract. Our governance will arise
according to the conditions of our world, not yours. Our
world is different."

The thinking is deeply rooted in America, where it is known
as libertarianism. From a high appreciation for the freedom
of the individual derives an extreme scepticism towards the
state and government, which receives legitimacy only through
direct participation. In Germany, the best it had done till
now was as the hobby horse of a kind of fundamentalist
grouping within the Liberal Party. But libertarianism in the
U.S. is a very broad movement. To it belong both disciples of
Ayn Rand, the prophet of a radical egotistical capitalism,
and libertarian socialists guided by anarchist thought from
the turn of the 20th century.

Such theoretical roots should not be overestimated. Doctrinal
 loyalty is not exactly a virtue among the pirates. Among the
 new Berlin deputies are some who are passionate about Karl
 Marx, and the national chairman of the party was previously
 in the CDU. What's libertarian about the pirates is their
 penchant for the most direct form of democracy possible. The
 delegates will have to represent the explicitly articulated
 will of their voters, which is always in flux and can be
 changed by the tools of public participation. The conviction
 that the resources of the Internet can be used to come up
 with superior solutions for each individual problem is
 rooted firmly in Barlow's cyber- libertarianism.

Take a chance on more democracy

That this is so readily agreed on is also down to the reality
that a whole generation has now been socialised under the
laws of the Internet. If to start up a business in the
Internet a person needs neither a building permit nor
approval from the labour inspectorate, that same person will
not want to see any sense in bureaucratic regulations. Anyone
who has learned that at the click of a mouse he can pursue
the trail of every euro paid out by the government will not
understand that the authorities will force through "official
secrecy" at every opportunity.

Some in the established parties, as was shown after the
 killings on the island in Norway, still perceive the
 Internet as a threat and want it to submit to the laws of
 the offline world. But a significant portion of the
 electorate seems to want to take the opposite approach and
 expand its sphere of freedom beyond the Internet.

`Take a chance on more democracy' is the most famous slogan
from Willy Brandt. The Pirates have made it their own.
Demands for openness and transparency are no longer a few
special concerns of an Internet community. In the platform of
the federal Pirate Party, whistleblower protection stands as
a separate point. And in the post-Wikileaks era, that all
sounds good - especially in a city in which a referendum
forced the Senate to reveal the privatisation of the water
works contracts.

Translated from the German by Anton Baer
______________________________

Letter from Berlin

Who Are the Pirates from Berlin?

 By Charles Hawley 
 Spiegel (Germany) 
 September 20, 2011

http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,787417,00.html#ref=nlint

They are handy with computers and are interested in issues
relating to the Internet. Is that all? Many Berliners have
been scratching their heads about the true identity of
Germany's youngest political party. But the answer is simple:
They're the new Greens.

A protest party. A group of computer nerd misfits. Perhaps
even a joke? Such were the portrayals of the Pirate Party in
Berlin prior to Sunday's city-state election. After all, how
could a single-issue party made up largely of 20-something
men really be serious about politics?

That was then. Now, with 15 Pirates set to enter Berlin's
regional parliament after receiving an astonishing 8.9
percent of the vote, capital city residents are taking a
closer look at one of the most surprising political success
stories Germany has seen in recent years. And what they have
found is a group which has tapped into a political vein that
Germany's more established political parties didn't even know
existed.

"They have very clearly struck a nerve in this city,"
admitted the Green Party's lead candidate Renate Kunast after
the votes were counted.

Lothar Probst, a political scientist at the University of
Bremen, went further. "For many young voters and first-time
voters, this party embodies something fresh and
adventuresome," he told the daily Suddeutsche Zeitung.

More than Open

And, of course, largely unknown. Whereas the party was eager
to open itself as much as possible during the campaign -- to
the point that voters knew which candidates wore Adidas,
which chose Nikes and which preferred New Balance -- there
was a pronounced aversion at a Monday evening party meeting
to making all of its growing pains public. "I am not going to
walk around the next five years with a recorder on," said
newly-minted Berlin parliamentarian Christopher Lauer.

Still, the party has been more than open about its
shortcomings. Its party platform no longer focuses
exclusively on issues associated with Internet freedoms and
digital privacy. The party also campaigned on demands for
free urban transportation, a guaranteed minimum income for
all and a student-teacher ratio in public schools of 15:1.

But lead candidate Andreas Baum was quick to point out that
 there was plenty of work left to be done. "It is clear that
 there are several areas where we have gaps and that we have
 to develop ourselves further," Baum said on Monday. "That's
 hardly a surprise for a party that so far has never had a
 single employee."

So far, the party has most frequently been compared with the
Green Party. Indeed, the Greens have long had the reputation
for being the slightly rebellious newcomers on the German
political scene, even if that reputation was no longer
entirely deserved. Now, that mantle has been passed to the
Pirates. "The Pirates gained support in milieus that had long
belonged to the Greens," said political scientist Probst.

Attractive to New Voters

Voter analysis from Sunday would seem to back up that
assessment. The survey group Infratest established that
17,000 former Green Party supporters switched their votes to
the Pirate Party on Sunday, more than came from any other
party. The SPD lost 14,000 voters to the Pirates and the far-
left Left Party 13,000.

The party's largest coup, however, came from its ability to
 attract fully 23,000 people to the polls who had never voted
 before. More votes came from former East Berlin, where the
 party secured 10.1 percent of the vote, than from former
 West Berlin. Most of the party's supporters are young, well-
 educated men -- as are 14 of the 15 Pirates who will now
 take their seats in the Berlin city-state parliament.

Sunday's vote was not the first time the Pirate Party had
 made its appearance on ballots. Christian Engstrom of Sweden
 won a seat in the European Parliament in 2009 as a Pirate
 Party candidate, though he joined the Green Party soon
 thereafter. And in 2009 general elections in Germany, the
 party managed 2 percent of the votes in Berlin.

The country's established parties, though, have yet to take
the Pirates seriously. The center-left Social Democrats
blasted the party for lacking substance. Chancellor Angela
Merkel of the Christian Democrats said the Pirates' result
was a "classic protest" vote.

'You Are Old!'

It is the Greens, however, which have the most to fear from
the Pirates. Despite the fact that many Green Party leaders
have long since gone gray and many of them are approaching
the age of retirement, the party has still not lost the image
of rebellion it has cloaked itself with ever since Joshka
Fischer took his oath of office in the state of Hesse wearing
ragged, white tennis shoes.

Now, though, the Pirate Party seems poised to take over that
counter-culture image. Even as political analysts say that
the phenomenon of the Pirate Party likely won't travel well
outside Berlin, the success of a party younger and more
rebellious than itself is a bitter pill for the Greens to
swallow.

"They have a young, new feel to them while us Greens have
become established," said Gesine Agena, head of the Green
youth wing.

"Established" is one way of putting it. The Pirates
themselves have another. On Sunday night, when Kunast looked
into the cameras and praised her party's affinity for and
understanding of the Internet, Pirate Party members erupted
in loud laughter at their election night celebration in
Kreuzberg.

Immediately a chant filled the room. "You are old! You are
old!"

After Sunday, it would be difficult to argue.

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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