Pirates in Brussels

Thursday, 7. May 2009     0 comment(s)
Aaretti Siitonen
Trust the Swedes to surprise. In the aftermath of the Stockholm trials where four founding members of the file-sharing site thepiratebay.org were given stiff sentences, a new political party has gained explosively in popularity.

According to a poll by Dagens Nyheter, the Pirate Party candidate Christian Engström is now set to win a seat from Sweden in the upcoming European elections. The Pirate Party, with an agenda of digital freedom and anti-establishment sentiment, is now the second-most popular party among 18- to 29-year-olds. Yet even in the 30-44 years age bracket it comes fourth, with 5,1 % support nationwide. It remains to be seen which political group the prospective political swashbucklers, if elected, will attempt to join, if any. More important are the reasons behind the party’s popularity.

Finland's Pirate Party movement is not contesting the European elections, but there is a considerable amount of tech-savvy voters. The digitally aware segment of the population is being monopolized by a candidate for the Green League, Jyrki J. Kasvi. Kasvi, currently a member of parliament, has previously reaped international headlines by offering his homepage not only in the three common languages of Finland, but in Klingon, as well. He is, however, also a respected legislator and considered a genuine authority on information society issues within the Finnish parliament.

It may be unfair to compare an established parliamentarian with thepiratebay.org’s real-world avatar, but there are common elements. A significant part of the population considers itself underrepresented through the traditional political parties. This is affected in part by the age structure of the electorate. Younger politicians in Finland, such as the chairpersons of the Social Democrats and the National Coalition party, are forced to assume a style not typical of their generation. This is dictated in part by demographics, as the older generations dominate in numbers. Still, it may leave many of their peers estranged.

Online privacy, the conflict between freedom of speech and intellectual property, as well as the challenges of bridging the digital divide remain rather abstract issues for the majority. Although its usefulness is recognized, the Internet is not yet viewed as a central tool of holistic empowerment. For the Pirates, though, that is exactly what it is. Rather than merely dismissing them as an expression of frustration with politics in general, it is more useful to see this new phenomenon as something positive. If previously existing but under-articulated opinions find expression through parliamentary channels, this can only be considered a victory for democracy.

Perhaps the dust is coming off politics.

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