Home Politics The Pirate Party survived the mutiny and scandal. Now you’re trying to rewrite the rules of the Web

The Pirate Party survived the mutiny and scandal. Now you’re trying to rewrite the rules of the Web

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 The Pirate Party survived the mutiny and scandal. Now you're trying to rewrite the rules of the Web

Outside the skatepark In Prague, on an overgrown patch of grass, Bartoš lies back in his chaise lounge while trying to convince me that pirates are not the usual rigid politicians. From the launch of the campaign that unfolded behind us, that’s pretty obvious. Yes, there are long speeches and polite applause. But there are also gangs of shirtless skaters, a blue-haired rapper, rainbow banners showing our solar-powered future, and references to online forums where party members can vote on new policies or demand new leadership.

He disagrees that the Pirates’ broadening of their focus has diluted their identity. “We cannot be a one-issue party,” he insists. Instead, he compares the evolution of the Pirates to that of Europe’s Greens, who began as a grassroots movement built around a single issue: the environment. Now the Greens are applying their original values ​​to everything from housing to energy, while sitting in coalition governments in Germany, Luxembourg, Ireland and Austria. Although the Pirates “don’t preach” like the Greens, he says, “we’re taking the same journey they did a while ago.”

The Czech branch demonstrates the Pirates’ potential – how an Internet-first ideology can be incorporated into national politics – but is also a microcosm of the party’s problems. Like previous Pirates, the Czechs suffer from internal disputes, factionalism and allegations of sexual harassment. Former campaign manager Šárka Václavíková has spoken publicly about her decision to leave the party and her police complaint against a party member for what she describes as harassment and psychological abuse. Over Zoom from her new home in Italy, she says sexual harassment of women was systemic before she left last year, a claim the party strongly denies. “Of course, isolated incidents can occur, just as in society or in any other party. However, if we had any information about such incidents, we would take immediate action,” party spokesperson Lucie Švehlíková told WIRED.

But Václavíková is also disappointed with the leadership of the party as a whole. “There are two factions in the Pirate Party,” she declares. There are the centrists, the people who want to appeal to everyone and in the process are repudiating the party’s Pirate Bay roots. Václavíková says that she identifies with the other faction, whom she calls “the real pirates.” “For us,” she says, “the ideology of transparent politics and privacy, and also human rights, are more important than simply gaining more power for our own benefit.”

So far, Bartoš has prevented these problems from tearing the party apart. Part of why he has lasted so long, surviving a series of leadership challenges (including Gregorová’s), is because he can clearly describe what makes the Pirates’ perspective different. Across Europe, other Pirates are still struggling to define what a better future (with more technology, not less) would really look like. When I sign up for a Zoom call with Tommy Klein, the Pirates’ political adviser in Luxembourg, he is sitting in front of a sign emblazoned with the phrase “Save our Internet.” When I ask him exactly how the Internet needs to be saved, he responds unenthusiastically that the sign is old. “It’s from the 2018 elections,” he says.

However, under Bartoš, the Czech Pirates have found a way to articulate a utopian vision of a technology-infused future that means more than simply reducing the influence of Big Tech on the European Internet. Like the Pirate Office 20 years ago, the Czech Pirates also have a bus (actually more of a caravan) that carries illustrations of their message. There is a sun, with rays that resemble Internet nodes. Wind turbines and solar parks grow on pink hills. Slogans like “Girl Power” and “Tolerance” float over people flashing peace signs and smiling through heart-shaped glasses. In Bartoš, the Pirates’ original vision of an alternative future based on technology still endures. “I believe we can save the planet and society through technology,” he declares from his lounge chair. Whether that optimism still applies 20 years later is up to voters to decide.

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