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Pirate Party

July 18, 2009

While Germany's larger parties are stepping up their campaigns, there is a host of less established parties joining the race. The Pirate Party is one of them.

logo of the Pirate Party, a black flag on flag pole
"The Pirate Party politely hopes to burn the opposition's ships"

Fabio Reinhardt, 28, has just graduated from Braunschweig in history and political science. As the Pirate Party's new media liaison officer, he has decided to devote the next two months to getting the pirates into parliament.

"For me it started two years ago when I was looking for ways to bring civil rights more into German politics," he said.

The Pirate Party was founded in 2006 by 50 technically savvy 20-somethings who champion the Internet as a foundation of freedom of expression and democracy. Perceived as something of a single-issue party fighting for freedom from lobbyists, the right to legally download music for free and total freedom from government web censorship, it is the German government's recently enacted legislation against online child pornography that has truly put the wind into the party's sails.


The new law, drafted by the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs was officially legislated to contain child pornography on the Internet. Disparaged by experts as being almost totally ineffective, the law – which gives the Federal Criminal Police Office the right to block certain websites - generated a storm on the Internet with over 150,000 people signing an Internet petition against Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen's censorship legislation.

"It is a hoax; it doesn't deal with the problem of child porn being distributed. It makes it possible for the German police force to ban Internet sites. And this is the beginning of censorship. It is a problem with the balance of power in Germany and this is a very severe problem," Reinhardt said.

Tauss standing at podium
Tauss denies child pornography accusationsImage: picture-alliance / dpa

Child pornography has become something of a party issue after former Social Democrat Joerg Tauss, the Pirates' only member with mainstream political experience, was accused of downloading child pornography. Tauss has denied the accusations and so far the Pirate Party is standing behind him.

Reinhardt says Tauss was in fact researching how child pornography is distributed, claiming that as most trade happens by telephone or by mail, an Internet censorship law is irrelevant. While Reinhardt agrees that Tauss may have overstepped his authority, he is clear that no one in the party believes he was a user of child pornography.

Reinhardt says child pornography is one of the points that forces a necessary discussion on the remit of the state in protecting its citizens.

"On the one side you have to have a state that is limiting the rights of its citizens for their own good. But we think that the state right now is crossing the line and is breaching civil rights in a very harmful way. So right now we are trying to restore the balance because we think that we have lost this balance in Europe," he said.

Claims pertaining to an attempt to readjust the balance in power in Europe would, not so long ago, have sounded absurd. But since the party's largest convention in Hamburg two weeks ago business is booming. Membership has shot up from 750 to 4,000 in under a month and Reinhardt claims as many as 100 new members are joining every day.

In June, the Pirate Party's Swedish counterparts took an astonishing seven percent of the national vote in the European parliamentary elections. And with a surge in media interest and a general political malaise among 20- to 30-somethings, the German party, under the chairmanship of Jens Seipenbusch, is now a presence on the scene.

Another small glitch for the pirates comes in the form of party member Bodo Thiesen, who allegedly made comments denying the Holocaust and other dubious right-wing extremist comments.

"Nobody in our party believes that he is actually denying the Holocaust," Reinhardt said. "But Thiesen is a very strong proponent of freedom of opinion in every sense. We are struggling with how to deal with Thiesen's opinions. We as a very young party have still to find a way to deal with this," Reinhardt said.

Thiesen has since apologized for generating trouble for the party and explicitly denied any comments about holocaust denial.

A further critique, and one that is some ways tied in with media stereotyping of the party, is the lack of female members. A party of young male computer nerds – that is the perception.

At a recruitment night in Berlin, of the 50 participants there were, at least, seven women.

Twenty-four year-old Lena Simon feels comfortable as one of the few women in the party but does want the topic raised.

pirate party convention. orange pirate banner hanging over table
Hamburg greeted the largest number of pirates yet at the annual party conventionImage: DPA

"I think a lot of the men here would like to see more women in the party. We need more women. Computers are becoming more important every day and women should not stay in the background. Women should take part in this," she said.

Pirates are more than just a single-issue party

With the media content to put some emphasis onto the party's inexperience and the pale, slightly spotty, young man emerging from behind his Mac to take on the world, the party 'cadres' say they don't really care as long as their message gets across.

Martin Hecker is on the Berlin Pirates Committee.

"This is really about the rights of people in the internet age. And there are people who get it and people who don't. I think, go for it and see what happens. Europe is very intransparent and so laws are passed and we need to act on that. The best that could happen is that we get a lot of media interest and that people start to see what we are doing and that there is a lot of interest and people start to copy what we are doing. Because we are about copying the good stuff I just want this stupid legislation not to pass," he said.

The idea of copying, or 'piracy' is a strong theme of the party's ideology. Reinhardt vehemently denies that they are a single-issue party. Education is a big theme as well as how to use the net to further co-operative democracy. The party has no central planning committee, rather they gather ideas – sent in online by members – which are then distributed and put into policy suggestions.

As with the concept of 'piracy' Reinhardt and Hecker are clear that they have no problem with other parties taking their ideas. It is not about power, or personally sitting in parliament they say. It is about getting policies through – and if that means the Greens adopting a pirate idea, then why not.

Despite some good humored language and piracy tomfoolery – Reinhardt even manages a straight face as he says the Pirates are ready to board the opposition's ships and sail into the open sea of politics – the party does not want to be seen as a joke.

Aron Koenig, at 45, the biblical father of the group and committee representative says the party is not a one-hit wonder.

"The name 'Pirate Party' is unconventional and it might make people think that we are a joke but we are definitely not. We have a funny name but we are serious. Civil rights and freedom are not a joke issue. We are the fastest growing party in German democracy and I think we can do a lot with that vote. We will stay. It is not a one hit wonder, we are here to stay," says Koenig.

Author: Tanya Wood
Editor: Andreas Illmer