Sweden : The Pirates have landed

Still from "The Vikings" directed by Richard Fleischer ( Bryna productions, USA 1958 ).
Still from "The Vikings" directed by Richard Fleischer ( Bryna productions, USA 1958 ).
10 June 2009 – Fokus (Stockholm)

One of the big surprises of the European election came from Scandinavia. On 7.1% of the vote, the Pirate party is setting sail for Brussels, with the aim to legalise file sharing on the Internet, and presenting itself as a defender of citizens rights.

In Sweden, the question of file sharing had been on the agenda for public debate since 2005. On the Web, a growing number of Internet users wanted politicians to take an interest in the issue. For Rick Falkvinge, it was obvious that file sharing — an activity in which he had been involved for over 20 years — should be legal. At the same time, he was also aware that the politicization of file sharing amounted to a historic opportunity to put Sweden on the cutting edge of political change. But the politicians would not listen. What was needed was a more forceful method of attracting their attention. “You cannot convince politicians of anything if it doesn’t affect them personally. So we had to target their power base directly and threaten their jobs.”

On the evening of 1st January 2006, he hastily threw together a website for a new political party, and left a link in a chat room. The next day, he went to work as usual to his job as a departmental head in a research institute. The Pirate Party had been born.

“The fact that I was the one to launch the Pirate Party was purely random. The time had come. If it hadn’t been me, someone else would have done it.” Falkvinge is still astonished by the events that followed. On day one, the launch of the party caused a sensation in Sweden. On day two, the media picked up the news. On day three, Falkvinge found his picture in a Pakistani newspaper. In the meantime, three million Internet users worldwide had visited the new party’s website.

The Pirate’s programme has changed since Rick Falkvinge scrawled his first manifesto on a napkin in McDonald’s — a development that has alienated some of the original crew. The current proposals were drafted using a transparent and open process on the Internet, but critics have argued that the emerging party suffers from a lack of structures that allows Falkvinge too much control. The new programme no longer demands an end to copyright, but instead proposes a compromise which would limit copyright protection to five years, and guarantee the right to share non-commercial files.

For party members, the core ideology is one of resistance to a “police state.” As Rick Falkvinge says, it is better to allow some people to break the law than to do away with everyone’s privacy. The Pirates are now hoping to weigh on the balance of power in the European Parliament and intend to negotiate with Green or liberal factions in Brussels. The group that best meets their requirements will get the Pirates’ vote or votes — the party currently has one seat and will be awarded a second if and when the Lisbon Treaty is applied — on all issues on which the party has not yet to adopt a position.

Traditional political parties still do not know what to make of Falkvinge’s campaign. The Right has accused Pirate Party of being left wing, while the Left claims the party is clearly on the Right. Falkvinge makes no secret of his background in the Swedish Young Conservatives, but insists that he joined the movement for the parties not the politics. “The Young Conservatives are not capitalist enough for my taste. It is a kind of wishy-washy social-liberals’ platform,” says Falkvinge. “I define myself as an ultra capitalist. That's how I became interested in these issues.”

But at the same time, he maintains that the Pirate Party is not a right-wing movement. You might even say that it is campaigning for a form of “digital communism,” which would require all Internet users to contribute each to his own abilities, and share benefits in accordance with their needs. The party is based on the idea that the Left-Right distinction is no longer meaningful. For the Pirates the protection of citizens’ rights is a much more urgent concern, and the issue remains the party’s main priority. “It is more important than health care, education, social security, nuclear power, defence policy and all the crap that they have fed us over the past 40 years," insists Falkvinge.

And the man believes what he says. For Rasmus Fleischer, historian, blogger and cofounder of the Piratbyrån [the office of pirates, an association of hackers and militants], it’s a conviction that is 100% genuine. “He really sees the Pirate Party as a significant historical development that should be ranked alongside the workers’ movement, environmentalism and the campaign for gay rights. It's not just words, I think he actually believes it.”

One consequence of what has been dubbed the “Pirate effect“ was a sea change in media coverage in the run-up to the European elections in Sweden; the party completely upstaged the far-right Sweden Democrats. It seems that the unwritten law is that there is only room for one protest party. “Personally, I am very pleased about that,” says Falkvinge. “We are the antithesis of a political party that has a grotesque view of humanity. The words 'diversity' and 'openness' are both in the first sentence of our programme. Obviously, that is not the case with the Sweden Democrats.” For Rick Falkvinge, the election was a major step on the road to the ambitious goal of ‘saving Sweden.’ It was also a chance to wreak revenge on politicians that refused to understand.

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