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After reaching between 10 and 13 percent in German national polls in mid-2012 (see “Around the German Pirate Party Convention 2012“), the actual election results of 2.2 percent for the Pirate Party – only 0.2 percent more than in 2009 – smashed all hopes of entering the German Bundestag. The plenty of explanations for the party’s demise, which was as quickly as its rise, include the following:

Election poster of the German Pirate Party 2013: "

Election poster of the German Pirate Party 2013; translation: “Sorry, we had also thought it would be easier – but this does not mean that we give up”

  • Public internal conflicts: as is often the case in new parties, initial success attracts a lot of different constituencies, all bringing in their own and often conflicting ideas and opinions. In finalizing positions, this diversity naturally leads to conflicts with some of the members leaving the party again. However, in the case of the Pirate Party, the self-imposed radical transparency put all of these conflicts out in the public for anyone to see – in all its nastiness.
  • Change in media narratives: in the beginning, the media framed awkward statements or lack of political positions as “interesting”, “fresh” or “authentic” (see, for example, an article in the quality daily Sueddeutsche in November 2011). As some prominent members such as Marina Weisband stepped down and the party began to drop in the polls, this narrative turned 180 degrees. Authentic and honest admittance of nescience suddenly became incompetent ignorance. As was the case in overly positive reporting before, narrative and change in polls fed on each other.
  • New protest party Alternative for Germany (AfD): part of the explantion of the Pirate Party’s success was their ability to collect protest votes (see also “German Pirates’ Winning Streak: More than Protest“). In this regard, the newly founded and Euro-critical AfD did a much better job this Sunday and nearly reached the five percent election threshold.
  • Failure to deliver on promise of ‘liquid democracy‘: in addition to calls for copyright reform and government transparency, one of the core promises of the Pirate Party in Germany was to improve democratic participation with the help of new technological means. However, the party could not agree to implement a “permanent general assembly” with the help of its voting and discussion tool “liquid feedback“, thereby substantially undermining the credibility of calls for implementing similar tools elsewhere.
  • Missed opportunity of the NSA scandal: even though the leaks by Edward Snowden directly addressed core issues of the Pirate Party movement such as privacy and anti-surveillance, the German Pirates were not able to capitalize on it. Different to the anti-ACTA protests (see “ACTA as a Case of Strategic Ambiguity“), where a clear goal (‘Stop ratification of ACTA!’) and a clear addressee (the European Parliament) helped to mobilize, the Pirate Party did not manage to identify an enemy or suggest measures.

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At the heart of culture lies creative recursion: re-applying creative practices to artifacts resulting from previous creative practices. Remix culture could then be defined as processes of creative recursion that make this recursion as such recognizably visible. This is what makes a remix reflexive, as is explained by Eduardo Navas over at remixtheory.net:

[remix] allegorizes and extends the aesthetic of sampling, where the remixed version challenges the aura of the original and claims autonomy even when it carries the name of the original; material is added or deleted, but the original tracks are largely left intact to be recognizable.

As a result, works of remix communicate always and simultaneously on at least two levels: the asthetics of the remix as a new work and its status as a remix, referencing the remixed works. A nice example of the communicative power of remixing as recognizable creative recursion is provided by the most recent election campaign of the Pirate Party of Lower Saxony in Germany. To communicate ‘piracy’ as a brand, the pirate party creatively ‘pirated’ prominent brands.  Find below several of the respective campaign posters, all of which can be found on the campaign portal ideenkopierer.de (“idea copiers”; some of the translations are taken from Torrentfreak):

The tenderest temptation since parties were invented.

We may not have Alps in Lower Saxony, but we want to ensure that students continue to know that cows are not purple. Read the rest of this entry »

Sigrid Quack and Leonhard Dobusch comment on the recent developments in the German “Piratenpartei” around the Pirate Party Convention 2012.

With the German Pirate Party continuously rising in national polls – currently ranging between 10 and 13 percent (see Figure below) – media attention on the party’s convention last weekend had reached a new height.

German Election polls

Source: Economist

And this media coverage is increasingly becoming transnational. Germany’s largest weekly Der Spiegel devoted an extensive feature article in English to the phenomenon, trying to explain questions such as “Why the Pirates Are Successful”:

“This is precisely the Pirates’ biggest attraction: transparency and participation, as well as a healthy dose of freshness and otherness. This sometimes makes the Pirates seem childishly naïve and chaotic, and yet they seek to make do without back-room backslapping and conventional political smoothness.”

But also criticsm is voiced in the recent coverage. The Economist, for example, calls Pirates in its recent printed edition  “slightly barmy” and the Sueddeutsche Zeitung published a series of articles on unfortunate comparisons of the Pirate Party’s rise with that of the NSDAP by the secretary of the Berlin Pirate caucus (German article) and some right wingnuts in the party who among other statements denied the Holocaust (German article). Read the rest of this entry »

This post is provided by our guest blogger Moritz Heumer.

The winning streak of the German Pirate Party is continuing with the latest success of entering the Saarland parliament. Recent polls for the national election suggest that the pirates might reach 11 percent of votes. The continued success of the pirates raises doubts about claims of their gains being entirely based on protest voters. What are the supporters of the Pirate Party then voting for? In this blog I will argue that the Pirates are addressing highly topical issues that are not dealt with by other parties. By doing so they appeal to primarily young voters, especially the digital natives. Based on an analysis of the German Pirate Party’s wikis, I was able to trace its links to other actors which are part of a social movement with transnational scope. This social movement is aiming for policy changes in different fields that are connected with issues arising from the digital revolution. The formation of parties is one element of the mobilization repertoire of this movement. The rise and diffusion of Pirate Parties, itself a transnational phenomenon, therefore cannot be  understood without connecting to the frame of reference that was created by other actors who previously dealt with similar issues.

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This is the third and final part of a small series of blog posts presenting the empirical findings of a study about the Pirate Party movement, which Leonhard and I carried out in January 2012. In particular, we aimed at exploring the transnational context of the German pirate party.  Previous posts dealt with the State of the Pirate Party Movement and Issues and Campaigning. This time we are dealing with local organizational ties of Pirate Parties.

Local embeddedness of Pirate Parties is not only important in terms of issues and campaigning but also with respect to (inter-)organizational relations. In our brief survey, almost every registered Pirate Party (13 of 14) reported ties to partner organizations at the local or regional level. Together with lower barriers to entry in local representative bodies, this localization strategy also tends to result in better election results at lower political levels (see Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1: Average election result in % of registered Pirate Parties by level (2006 – 2011)

Sources: http://www.kommunalpiraten.de/ ; http://wiki.pp-international.net/Main_Page [retrieved Feb. 10, 2012]

Figure 2: Number of elected officials by level (2006 – 2011)

Sources: http://www.kommunalpiraten.de/ ; http://wiki.pp-international.net/Main_Page [retrieved Feb. 10, 2012]

In addition to the development of local branches, the sampled parties mostly operate within a local network of organizational supporters and partners. The majority of registered parties named local branches of active NGOs, including organizations operating transnationally such as Wikimedia and the Electronic Frontier Foundation as well as local activist groups as well as think tanks (see Figure 3). Read the rest of this entry »

Last week we started a small series of blog posts presenting our empirical findings of a study about the Pirate Party movement which Leonhard and I carried out in January 2012 (see “Transnational Pirates #1“). In particular we aimed at exploring the transnational context of the German pirate party. We understand transnationality as the combination of practices of actors who are simultaneously engaged in a global context and local network.

We operationalized the local context of Pirate Parties in three dimensions: the local roots of issues, the (inter-)organizational embeddedness in the local, and related to the latter the participation in elections (we will come back to that in Part 3 of the series). We intended to reveal how the parties build on various local opportunity structures and adapt to different local conditions. The following analysis focuses on our sample of 14 officially registered Pirate Parties.

The integration into both a global and a specific local network can be shown in terms of themes and issues pursued by the respective Pirate Parties. Asking for the rationale for establishing a national Pirate Party in the first place paints a rather consistent picture. While this was an open question, all 14 registered parties only refered to four main objectives:

  1. Pursuit of themes of the global Pirate Party movement in their respective countries (8)
  2. Transformation of political structures, towards more transparency and participation (8)
  3. To live up to earlier success and attention of Pirate Parties (7)
  4. To tie on concrete political issues in their respective countries (6)

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As Leonhard has written on this blog some days ago, the recent success of the Pirate Party in the Saarland state election in Germany is remarkable. The Pirates received 7,4 percent of the votes right from the start. Just days after the election, the party has even raised its acceptance on the federal level. Current opinion polls count them at 12 percent among German voters.

In addtion to its success in regional elections, the German Pirate Party also consciously operates within a transnational context. The transnational perspective of the German pirates can be illustrated with a recent statement of Bernd Schlömer, vice chair of Pirate Party Germany, who points out that his party is part of a global movement. This movement, Schlömer added, might help to develop international positions, for example, on Foreign Affairs and Security Policies issues, which then could be brought back into national politics.

This recent example illustrates the two perspectives of the transnational context of the Pirate Party movement, which Leonhard and I aimed to further examine in a study pursued in January 2012, which will appear as a book chapter in the German edited volume “Unter Piraten“.

We would like to present our empirical findings in three short posts, starting with a general description of the project, the data collection and first results concerning the state of the global Pirate Party movement. We will then move on to post #2 on Issues and Campaigning and post #3 on Global Movement and Local Networks. Read the rest of this entry »

While the big win of the German Pirate Party in Berlin was big news, reported even by the New York Times (see also “Boarding Berlin“), yesterday’s win in the state of Saarland had already been expected and thus received less international attention. However, the success is remarkable. With 7,4 percent of the votes, the Pirate Party will receive twice as many seats in Saarland’s state parliament than the Greens. Even more importantly, the Saarland results refute two common explanations of the Berlin victory. First, the success in Berlin was no one shot wonder. Second, Pirates can also win in more rural areas outside of city states .

As a result, media commentators turned to another narrative, attributing the Pirate Party’s success mainly to collecting protest votes. I think this is wrong. While protest does play a role, several indicators suggest that this is not the dominant one.

Strong membership base: Fueled by local election successes, the German Pirate Party reports growing membership numbers all over the country (see Figure below). However, becoming a member can be interpreted as a sign of identification with an organization and differs from mere protest that is directed against the so-called “established parties”.

Membership trend of the German Pirate Party (Source: http://wiki.piratenpartei.de/Mitglieder)

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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.

Logo of the Pirate Parties International meta-organization

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 MovementAnti-CopyrightCultural 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. Read the rest of this entry »

Wehende Piratenpartei-Flagge Returning to Berlin from the Creative Commons Global Summit 2011 in Warsaw (see live-blogposts on the event), the political landscape of the city has been shaken by a Pirate Party election success. Two years ago, the German Pirate Party won 2 percent in the German federal election (see “Pirate Parties: Transnational mobilization and German elections“). Today, they boarded Berlin’s state parliament with 8.9 percent of the votes and 15 seats (see English Wikipedia). This is the first time the German Pirate Party was able to enter a state parliament, proving that the 2009 election results were not just a flash in the pan.

The dimension of the win was completely unexepected even for the Pirate Party, which is best illustrated by the following fun fact: the Berlin Pirate Party had only nominated 15 candidates for the state-wide election, all of which are now members of the parliament; had the Pirate Party won only one more seat it would not have been able to fill it.

The following Q&A is meant to give some background information to a non-German-speaking audience.

Is the success of the pirate party in Berlin only a regional exception?

Yes and No. Yes, because at least so far the German Pirate Party has only succeeded in urban areas and not at all on the state level –  even in city-states such as Hamburg it had not gotten more than 2.1 percent (see graph below). For now, the dimension of the election success of the Pirate Party in Berlin is a regional peculiarity.

No, because the German Pirate Party is part of a transnational movement critical of the prevalent regime of strong intellectual property rights protection (see, again, “Pirate Parties: Transnational mobilization and German elections“), which manifests in currently 22 official registered and about 25 still unregistered national pirate parties. Read the rest of this entry »

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
August 2017
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