This blog is supposed to deal with issues related to governance across borders. So why devote so much space to the results of a regional election in Germany? The answer is twofold.
First, as mentioned already in yesterdays FAQ (see “Boarding Berlin“), the Pirate Party’s election win in Berlin would not have been possible without its relations to a much broader and transnational movement. For one, these are fellow pirate parties in over 40 different countries, most of which are members of the meta-organization (Ahrne and Brunsson 2008) Pirate Parties International. For another, the pirate party movement is itself only one of several related and partly overlapping social movements inspired by the new technological possibilities of Internet and digital technologies.
Most these movements address regulation that is considered incompatible or even harmful to new technology-related freedoms, often related to surveillance and intellectual property regulation. And all of these movements are transnational in both perspective and activism. Wikipedia, for example, lists five “movements” in the field of “Intellectual property reform activism”, namely the Access to Knowledge Movement, Anti-Copyright, Cultural Environmentalism, the Free Culture Movement, and the Free Software Movement. Prominent transnational organizations within these movements include, as pioneers, the Free Software Foundation and the Electronic Frontier Foundation as well as more recent examples such as Creative Commons or the Wikimedia Foundation. In a way, the pirate party movement can be considered the political arm of these movements – even though not all of the movement members feel comfortable being associated with “Pirates” (see, for example, “Lessig on Abolitionism, Copyright Zealots & the Cultural Flatrate“). The similarity to the origins of the Green Party, which also emerged out of several interrelated envirnomentalist movements are in any case striking, not to forget that Jamie Boyle called for an “environmentalism for the net” already in 1997.
Second, the symbolic power of entering the state parliament of a large country’s Capital with close to 10 percent of the votes is substantial and definitely border-crossing. Even the New York Times felt the need to weigh in on the issue, quoting fellow German research blogger Christoph Bieber:
“They are absolutely not a joke party,” said Christoph Bieber, a professor of political science at the University of Duisburg-Essen. While there was certainly an element of protest in the unexpectedly large share of the votes the Pirates won, they were filling a real need for voters outside the political mainstream who felt unrepresented. “In the Internet, they have really found an underexploited theme that the other political parties are not dealing with,” Mr. Bieber said.
Another entertaining illustration for the transnational visibility of the Pirate Party win in Berlin is provided by the video embedded below.
The Pirate Parties can be considered another instance of “revolting across borders“, where successes by one actor in one country quickly inspire similar initiatives in other countries, which then might retroact to its source. Hoping for such retroactive re-ignition of momentum might have been the reason why the founder of the first Pirate Party, Rick Falkvinge from the Swedish “Piratpartiet”, had joined Pirates in Berlin at their election party; in Sweden, Pirates had received only 0.65 percent of the votes in the last federal election.