Icelandic Pirate adventures

Today we interviewed Amy, who lived in Iceland twice at a host family for quite some time a couple of years ago.

PI: How did you end up 2 times in Iceland?

In my teenage years, I listened to heavy metal music and I have always wanted to go to a Scandinavian country to get in touch with the Viking culture: in Europe, every country has its own culture, but we know each other not so well. I had the unique opportunity to go on exchange (2011-2012) with AFS for a year. Iceland was one of my three choices and that is what was decided. So, I joined a host family, got to know people and made friends.

I wanted to study that thing that made me curious, but could not do it in Belgium: wood or metal processing. But then I had to deal with people of much younger age and who would not know English well yet- and I did not know enough Icelandic. So they let me follow the FabLab course, which was very difficult in the beginning because of language and lagging behind, but I eventually managed to develop my talents. Once back in Belgium, I continued to be interested in the phenomenon of Fablabs and I was given the opportunity to return to Iceland for 6 months to the FabLab in Vestmannaeyjar (Westman islands).

Fablabs are places where high-tech material such as laser cutters and 3D-printers are available to everyone, such that everyone can use them to make their own product. Youth Movements for example are often there to make a souvenir. In product development it is also often used for prototyping.

When I went back in 2013, the pirates, who were non-existent last time, were now in the election campaign and it is then that they won a number of seats in the European Parliament. Iceland was still reeling from the crisis, many people lost their savings, the loans went off the chart and in the middle of that the government decided to provide money for Icelanders to give them the opportunity to work out their own ideas. From there, the Fablab on the Westman islands has grown. It is in that lab that I worked several times as a volunteer – both as a student and an employee – and gave a path to my future.

PI: How different are Icelanders in their mentality and how are they politically?

The Icelanders know a lot more about what is going on in society. The best friends can have tensions at election time, you see 16/17 olds discuss politics, they go on a mountain with candles to form the logo of the party. Everyone is talking about politics and thinks it is important. It is also very easy to reach the political: the mayor not only comes in the street or at a handball match but is also very active on Facebook. People will also raise a problem much faster. The policy is also often very present in their life.

The hunt for whales for example is a controversial issue. The problem is that if there are too many whales there are no ordinary fish because they get eaten by the whales. A discussion on stock therefore has an influence on the economy of the whole island. On the islands, there is also a hospital Westman for the 4000 people who live there, but the Westman islands are 100 km of Reykjavik (at a glance). Politicians thought to close the hospital, but the people formed a human chain around the hospital to prevent this. Someone who would get an accident can now at least be helped appropriately. In Belgium, you also get people on the street, but not as fast and not as a large proportion of the population. With the Panama Papers the square in front of the Parliament was simply full.
(source: In Belgium you can also get a lot of people on the street, but no ‘almost’ 10%.

PI: How did the pirates get into the political landscape?

In 2008 – 2010, there was the banking crisis. The government was dismantled and with the elections, for the first time, a lefter government came into power. She tried to clean up, but then also had to cut costs.  As a result, in 2013 the independence party (Sjalfstaduflokkurin), which was in power before the crisis, returned to power. That is why Icelanders often say about themselves that they have the memory of a goldfish.
At the same time the pirate party achieved a few seats, with 5.1%, from the dissatisfaction with both sides. The people are angry. They do not understand that bankers can simply go back to their old job after 5 years  of imprisonment. And prison is not as in Belgium: it usually means the electronic ankle tag and prisons in Iceland do not even have the walls, only a few guards.(1)

PI: Where did you meet people of the Pirate Party and how come that you did not simply go to the Independence Party in spite of the fact that your Icelandic family was blue?

The Fablab on the Westman islands was set in motion by Smári McCarthy who actually was also an internet activist and later became active within whistle-blowing organizations. He founded the pirates party in Iceland with among others Birgitta Jónsdóttir. She was engaged after the banking crisis to make a proposal for a new constitution using more direct democracy .However this proposal has been hold in the actual parliament.(3)

I want to be clear that the Fablab and the pirate party are independent. It is purely coincidence that I joined the Fablab and through this I got to know people from the pirate party.

I came in the pirate party out of friendship. By going along with Smári to Reykjavik. I learned to know other people and was persuaded to participate in the discussions on café, perhaps because I was interested in politics.

PI: What are the basic ideas that got you interested in the Pirate Party?

Privacy. I myself was always intuitive careful with MSN, Netlog, … and attempted to protect screens where necessary. More direct democracy also. If a voting test agrees to 30% for a large party, what comes out of that other 70%? An ideal system does not exist yet.
Copyright, although especially at European level, there was in fact a giant riot. Iceland wanted all pornography websites blocked. Even the word in the mouth, it was already a shock to make.(4) Also the abolition of absurd laws is something what pirates dealt with. Defamation of God is not prohibited any more in Iceland by the pirates. (5)

PI: Was there at that time also discussion on the basic income?

Basic Income was no issue at the time in the pirate party (was even more just the” internet party”), but there was already some discussions . A year ago (2015)(6) this also has been introduced in the policy and recently someone has said simply without arguments that it is not a good idea. (7)

PI: How are the pirates organised in comparison with here? They are also a lot bigger and we often organise everything as horizontal as possible. How do they work this out?

Everyone there worked with Linux, organized cryptoparties, showed how you can configure pidgin to use encryption, … There is a quite some organization involved. In comparison with Belgium they grant the principle of moderators. Everything is as much as possible based on more direct democracy and the core values., but sometimes you get stuck in a discussion and it will be up to the moderators to take a decision to try to get out of it. It is the same as when you are sick and there are 7 doctors around you. There is only one decision we must tackle tot be able to cure. The topics are discussed online and during meetings. Furthermore, everything rests in favor of the system to be able to vote Only ideas which have a majority go through.

When they draw up a list, for example for the forthcoming elections, anyone can be a candidate. Then Internal there is a vote on who participates and who is not. This election takes a few days. Anyone who is already on the list also has a random place. Who is taking place on the list depends on how many votes you get effectively. Someone who is considered appropriate by the members of the party to be the best suitable to be tractor of the list will automatically get more votes than someone less suitable.
These people must be good to be elected. The Icelandic Pirate Party became big and find members is one thing, but you also need people in the European Parliament who can do something. That is why there is a lot of work being done to train people to learn, debate and to see the people are carefully selected: being fully behind the core values and not risking to take the power in their hands, which is alweaders in the Parliament.

PI: Do you still have contacts over there?

Very definitely. Usually I hear and follow them on Facebook and Twitter, Meanwhile, I have stayed for 3 to 4 years in Belgium. But when I am in Iceland, they are the first to be ready to speak with me and to eat some ice cream.

PI: What do you hope the elections on the 29th of October will achieve? What do you hope for?

I hope that the results are as good as in the polls, that the people were fair. Therefore I prefer no disaster.
We can achieve more direct democracy at local authority level. In the city counsel of Reykjavik we already have pirates, so there are possibilities.
We will be able to listen to the people, not that suddenly 3/4 of the nursing staff offers his dismissal and leaves to Norway.(8)
I hope that they make the banks more transparent, especially since people would like to see change there And the housing market! If you ask to people on the street this really plays in their mind: affordable housing.
I hope that the mentality of the Icelanders remains: openness in order to talk about politics and to be so independent and occasionally have the courage to say fuck you to ‘superpowers’.