High Hopes for the German Pirates on Sunday’s Election
Sunday September 22, 2013 sees the federal elections for the German Pirate Party. Pirate Times sat down with candidate MP Felicitas Steinhoff to discuss these last few days before the election.
“Two thirds of the voters are still undecided, so it depends on how many people we can mobilize till Sunday”, noted Felicitas. Everything is unpredictable until the closure of the polls and the counting of the votes.
Felicitas described to Pirate Times how it felt to face her fellow citizens at the forefront of an election campaign representing one of the biggest Pirate Parties in the world, with 45 Pirate MPs deputies in Regional Parliaments.
Scary scenes like that of the protest at Merkel’s speech in Lower Saxony and the behavior of her people, one of them shouting at Pirates “All of you should be shot!”, will remain in her mind for a long time. But more shocking is how far the trust in parliamentary democracy has eroded, leading people to have a very bad opinion for politicians, considering them corrupted.
Talking with people in the streets, Felicitas understood that Germany is in need of a change in politics. “Pirates are the best choice for the change with their platform of open government and participation through modern technology and transparency. Big challenge for Pirates is to find ways to communicate their positions effectively”, she emphasized.
Whatever the results on Sunday may be, Pirates worldwide will be attending the German elections with big interest and high hopes. A Pirate Party’s entry into the parliament of one the most powerful countries in Europe will undeniably give the pirate movement a big push.
Pirate Times: What did you learn from your election campaign and contact with people? Is Germany in need of a change in government and politics?
Felicitas Steinhoff: It did not come as a shock to me that there is a large amount of people in Germany who do not feel represented by the established parties. Still, it made me sad to realize, how far the trust in our parliamentary democracy has eroded, to the extent that often times people even told us: “Oh, politicians do what they want anyway, and so will you.” So yes, I do think that Germany is in dire need of a change in politics. I also think that the Pirate Party, with its platform of open government and participation through modern technology and transparency would help a big deal. Unfortunately, this is pretty abstract stuff to explain to someone who is living from unemployment cheque to unemployment cheque and is rightfully frustrated and worn down by a lack of perspective and social mobility. To communicate our platform more effectively is still a big challenge.
Pirate Times: Are you optimistic about the outcome of the elections? Will Pirates get into the German Parliament?
Felicitas Steinhoff: I really hope that the German voters give us a chance to prove that we are not like the other parties. A lot of the times, people are pleasantly surprised when I tell them that I was also very disillusioned with German politics, and that this is the case with a lot of Pirates. We are idealists, but despite what many people say, this is our strength and not our weakness, because it gives us the ability to ask the big questions and to question parts of the political system that the other parties take for granted by now.
The NSA scandal was unfortunately not tangible enough for many people here to give us a big surge in the polls. We definitely focused on it, nonetheless, because civil rights, data protection and privacy are at the core of the German Pirate Party. We should get into parliament simply because we are the only party that focuses solely on these issues and has the technical know-how to know what we are talking about. Honestly though, I can’t make any prediction. Two thirds of the voters are still undecided, so it depends on how many people we can mobilize over the next four days.
Pirate Times: Last year PPDE reached 13 % in the polls and so far has lost a lot of its electoral influence. In your opinion, why has this happened?
Felicitas Steinhoff: There were a lot of reasons, that I wrote about in some detail back in July.
Pirate Times: Describe a positive and a negative scene that happened during your election campaign that you will not forget.
Felicitas Steinhoff: My favorite moments, and there were a lot of them, were when older people told me that they will vote for us, because they appreciate that we take charge of our media, even though they do not do much on the internet themselves, or don’t even use it. Often times, these are people from former East Germany, who still remember what it means to be under constant surveillance. My family comes from East Germany as well, and my mother was considered subversive when she was younger. I read the file that the secret police had on her, multiple times. The fact that modern technology has now enabled our governments to reproduce and even surpass this type of surveillance makes me angry and scared. Snowden showed even us paranoid nerds that it is already far worse than we expected. But it gives me hope and motivates me to keep going when other people understand our motivations, even though they are not “typical” pirates.
The most negative scene I experienced happened only two days ago. The chancellor was giving a speech in a small town near Göttingen in Lower Saxony, and we were there with a large banner, to protest. The banner shows Merkel’s body, but her head is a camera. It reads “We never want another surveillance state” So we were just standing there, holding the banner. After the speech was over, the people from Merkel’s party had to pass us to get to the exit. Most of them laughed, some even gave us a thumbs up and started talking to us. One man, however, shouted: “All of you should be shot.” That was scary.
Pirate Times: What is the position that Germany needs to keep about European crisis? Do you think that Germany must change its present position?
Felicitas Steinhoff: The austerity measures are taking a very destructive toll on civil societies in those countries that are affected. Currently, we are seeing a rise in extremist groups in Greece, but also Portugal, Italy and Spain. The worst part is, in my opinion, that the harsh measures rob an entire generation of their future in terms of employment. Personally, I think we should cut the debts and even install a sort of Marshall Plan to further spending power and investment capacities of the people there. The money cannot go into the banking system, as it did last time. Germany has profited so much from the enlargement of the EU-Zone back in 2004, it is high time for us to make a strong commitment to European ideals, instead of just markets.
Pirate Times: What was the most common question you received about the Pirate Party?
Felicitas Steinhoff: Oddly enough, the question still is: “So what is your program?” Like I wrote earlier, we need to communicate more effectively. Then again, if the public debate happens to center on issues that we do not have a consensus for, it would be rather counterproductive if we attempted to say something just for the sake of saying something. We are still a small party, and if push comes to shove, we don’t stand a chance of jostling for media attention with the big parties. However, we are the only party that focuses on digital and civil rights. The discussion about the need to balance security and civil rights is now more urgent than ever. The large parties managed to evade it during this election, but the issue is not going anywhere. And we are here to stay. If it doesn’t work on Sunday, we will be even more prepared, more focused and more tenacious in four years’ time.
Felicitas Steinhoff is a candidate with PPDE in Niedersachsen, Hildesheim. All the candidates for the German Pirate Party are listed here.