Iceland’s Pirate Party is one of those exciting things you hear about but know in your heart won’t ever happen—like Liberland or Bernie Sanders. Except this time it’s real. There’s an election tomorrow, and there’s a tiny chance the Pirate Party could win and form a coalition government. At the very least, it will probably earn the second-highest number of seats and become one of Iceland’s major parties.
The latest two polls, published today, show the Pirate Party in second place behind the center-right Independence Party. But earlier polls from this spring had put the Pirate Party ahead by double digits. An astounding accomplishment for a political organization whose logo is a pirate flag.
“We’re called the Pirate party in reference to a global movement of Pirate parties that popped up over the last decade,” parliamentary candidate Smári McCarthy told The Guardian. “Despite our name, we’re taken fairly seriously in Iceland, in particular because of our very aggressive anti-corruption stance, [and] our pro-transparency work.”
The fact is, you can be kind of weird in Iceland and still be taken seriously. For instance, above you’ll see a picture of another party leader, Ottar Proppé. His Bright Future party has six seats in parliament and was formed after joining forces with another group called the Best Party led by a standup comedian named Jón Gnarr. “Originally a joke party, Gnarr was elected mayor of Reykjavik on Nov. 16, 2009,” according to Political Handbook of the World. (“Why do I always have to get myself into trouble?” Gnarr recalled thinking as he saw the results and realized he’d actually have to be the mayor of Iceland’s capital and largest city.)
The Pirate Party isn’t really a joke party, though. They’re an offshoot of the international Pirate Party founded in Sweden in 2006 over a single issue, to fight copyright laws. Argh. Now the party is concerned with other issues, too. In particular in Iceland, they favor direct democracy, unprecedented levels of government transparency and privacy for citizens. They’re fans of Edward Snowden. In 2013, the first bill they sponsored would have granted him citizenship.
“I would say it’s a party that has its roots in civilian rights,” party leader Birgitta Jónsdóttir told The Washington Post. “But we are not like many left parties that want to regulate citizens and create nanny states. We believe that regulation should be on the powerful, not the individuals.”
And Jónsdóttir, 49, isn’t like many politicians, including some of the most leftward ones. With her indigo beads and pigtails, she makes Pablo Iglesias seem mainstream. Small island: Her first boyfriend was that guy, Gnarr, and as teenagers, according to an unattributed quote on Wikipedia, they “took drugs together, read anarchist literature and planned to start an Icelandic branch of Greenpeace.”
She was a published poet before she became a web developer and an activist. Here’s an excerpt from one of her poems to give you an idea:
I always used to believe in the power of the individual
and that each and everyone of us can make a difference.
I think I still believe it,
I think I just need some proof.
Everyday I read more, I see more
that makes me truly mad.
Should I pray for the 1%
or should I kick their ass?
I don’t know.
I wonder what is needed to force open their blinded eyes
to the misery their greed and power hunger is
causing so many people.
Say what you want about her, but at least she’s authentic. The Post branded her as “the Bernie Sanders of Iceland,” but that’s not fair to her. Sanders has activist credentials, but as a major U.S. politician he’s as manufactured as the rest of Washington. Jónsdóttir heads a small party in a small country that doesn’t mind electing pothead comics as mayor, and when she speaks you can tell she’s not reading a script in her head because she’s not always eloquent. And if we’re being honest, her poetry is pretty bad.
But she’s been successful in leading her party because its core policy is the perfect antidote to economic malaise in the aftermath of the Great Recession and to the unpopular sitting government, which was implicated in the Panama Papers scandal.
“People want real changes, and they understand that we have to change the system. We have to modernize how we make laws. We have to make sure whenever you are dealing with big things like global warming, world security, refugees, the E.U. question, access to information, it needs to be done with an awareness that all of these things interconnect,” she told the Post. “Maybe [Iceland] could be sort of a testing ground for solutions because we are few and because we are really a tech-oriented nation.”
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