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Iceland’s Pirate party is poised to win big at the country’s election on Friday in a revolution that was just four years in the making.
Back in 2013, the Pirates made it to the Icelandic parliament for the first time. The Alþingi received 5.1 percent of the national vote, winning three seats. This time around, though, the Pirates look set to become a major political player. They’ve been leading the polls for almost a year now and may win between 15 and 20 parliamentary seats.
It’s a dramatic shift in fortune for a movement that has often been dismissed as radical and fringe in other areas of Europe and America, but there is something about the party’s message and philosophy that has catalyzed the young and disillusioned.
Iceland, like most of the world, was rocked by the 2008 financial crash. The country took its banking corruption so seriously that it sentenced some bankers and financiers to prison time. Then, in April of this year, the Icelandic prime minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson was forced to resign over his off-shore banking activities as exposed by the Panama Papers.
Sick of corruption, thousands of people took to the streets in protest. And many joined the Pirate party. Founded in 2012 by Birgitta Jónsdóttir, the Icelandic wing of the party is big on corporate accountability, government transparency, direct democracy, and privacy.
The Daily Dot spoke with Olga Cilia, a Pirate running for Reykjavik South, to find out more.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Daily Dot: Hi Olga. Tell us a little about yourself. What is your background and how did you become a Pirate?
Olga Cilia: I am a 30-year-old law student. I took a break from my MA studies to participate in the campaign for the upcoming election. I’ve worked as a barista, a kindergarten assistant, and a border guard.
I joined the Pirates in February of last year. I was very tired of the political situation in Iceland and was considering moving abroad. Then, I thought, there was no need for me to move abroad. Iceland is very rich in natural resources, but very few people are gaining wealth from the usage of them. I think that if that wealth would be used to build up the infrastructure in Iceland, everybody could get good healthcare, education, and a decent life.
I looked at the other parties but harmonized the most with the Pirates. Iceland is a small society, and it’s difficult to work your way up in the parties unless you’ve been there since your twenties or know someone inside the party. I didn’t know anybody within the Pirates but was welcomed into the group. Everybody gets a chance within the Pirates, no matter where you come from or who you know.
Your party looks set to win this election, and you’re running for Reykjavik South. Why do you believe that Icelanders are turning to the Pirate Party?
I think that Icelanders are longing for a change in the political landscape. The Independence Party has been in charge since it was formed in 1929. That has created an imbalance in who gets what in Iceland. It’s difficult to get a good job unless you know the right people. The wealth is unevenly distributed. People are starting to realize this and are angry.
The Pirates consist of regular people who have no wealth, students, people that have to rely on welfare, people that lost a lot in the financial collapse. The people of the Pirate Party do not want power, but want to distribute power. We are giving the people of Iceland a chance to have something to say about the future of Iceland.
The Pirate Party talks a lot about structural or constitutional change. How would Iceland change under a Pirate Party government? What are your priorities?
Our main priority is to get a new constitution. If we can achieve that our belief is that we can manage our natural resources better and get righteous dividends for the people of the country to build up our welfare system. We also want to tackle corruption.
Explain to me the how Iceland crowdsourced a new constitution.
The new constitution was crowdsourced in 2010 when a nationally elected Constitutional Council met, and four months later a draft constitution was born. On the 20th of October 2012, the people of Iceland voted to tell their parliament to ratify it as its new constitution. The Pirates have committed to use the proposals of the council as a base for a new constitution.
Iceland took a no-nonsense approach to the bankers after the 2008 financial crash and to prime minister Gunnlaugsson’s implication in the Panama Papers. Has there been any institutional reform to the banking sector since? What more would you like seen done?
Not really. We need a law reform that makes it impossible for anonymous investors to have companies. We also need to strengthen [regulation] so that they can keep track of what is going on inside the banking system and make sure that everything that happens there is legal. We need to make individuals responsible for the decisions that affect many people. Lastly, we have to separate investment banks and banks that are supposed to serve [the public].
Your party founder Birgitta Jónsdóttir established the International Modern Media Initiative. What kind of role will media protections play in a Pirate Iceland?
Media protection is very important. Unfortunately, the Icelandic media is too reliant on financial aid from big companies to be able to stay in business. Independent media in Iceland has a hard time maintaining their business, as there is not a lot of money to go around. The Panama Papers would not have been a reality if we didn’t have journalists that dare to take the risks of publishing such information.
It is important [to us] that the public is able to get information that others try very hard to keep from them. Media protection is one of the most important foundations to maintain a free and democratic society.
Will your party grant Icelandic asylum to Edward Snowden?
I hope so.
As an international movement, the Pirate Party is often seen as a radical protest party, mostly associated with young people and the internet. Across the west, we are seeing the rise of reactionary and regressive politics in a world of uncertainty. What can Pirate politics offer people in western democracies that traditional politics seemingly can’t?
In the Pirates, everybody has the right of their own opinion. There is no leader that tells us how to think and what to do. That is a very important cornerstone within our movement and develops our critical thinking. If everybody is told to think alike, nothing happens. People are allowed to make mistakes, and one of the main things I have learned with the Pirates is that it is all right to say that I was mistaken, and learn from that.
We can offer a space for people to express their opinions and get feedback. I think the western democracies have to get used to listening to one leader, but the leader isn’t necessarily the person with all the right answers. The leader is usually very charismatic and a smooth talker… it’s easy and comfortable to believe the leader. I want to believe in myself and the people around me, and with the Pirates I get a chance to do that.
Where else in the world could you see Pirate politics taking hold?
Lastly, if you are elected and the Pirates are successful, how do you plan to celebrate?
Ice cold beer and some rum.
David Gilmour is a reporter who specializes in national politics, internet culture, and technology.