Captain of a pirate ship
Finnish Pirate Party’s sights set on spring 2011 Parliamentary elections. But do not expect comprehensive analysis on society from party chairman Pasi Palmulehto
By Tanja Vasama
The road leads through idyllic pastoral scenery. After the cultivated landscape of the village of Hollola, a sharp turn to a small lane leading over a hill takes one to the nerve-centre of a Finnish political party - one that specialises in various information society questions.
In a building across the yard from an old farmhouse that could do with some fixing up is situated the headquarters of the year-old Pirate Party (Piraattipuolue in Finnish).
The main building is inhabited by the pirate captain himself, the party chairman Pasi Palmulehto, and his family.
Palmulehto looks exhausted. The previous night, until well into the small hours, was spent in front of the computer screen - once again.
This time Palmulehto has been working on a statement of opinion for the Ministry of Justice with regard to electronic votes among the members, and the holding of remote tele-meetings.
The pint-sized party’s operations primarily focus on the online world, so these are significant issues.
Last Monday the Pirate Party filed its party registry application with the Ministry of Justice.
The party has the required 5,000 supporter cards in the pot.
The PP's sights have been set on the 2011 Parliamentary elections.
According to Palmulehto, the aim is to secure one or two seats in the Finnish legislative body. The man dressed in black does not find it difficult to imagine even himself as an MP.
The Pirate Party is primarily known for is central aim: to free Internet downloads for private use. At present the practice is illegal albeit widely-spread: nearly one out of three Finnish ninth-graders downloads stuff daily.
“Our aim is to help to provide an understanding of something that is happening anyway, why it is happening, and what actions should be taken”, says the system specialist, who has steered the Pirate Party for four months.
Palmulehto calls for the reform of money distribution practices in the music business. In his view artists currently receive such a minute portion of the record sales revenue that freeing the copying of tracks would in practice hardly result in any substantial financial loss to them.
A good many music professionals would take issue on that point, however.
But Palmulehto emphasises that the Pirate Party is not just a one-trick pony.
Other pivotal aims include the shortening of the copyright protection time to 5-10 years, the freeing of software and medicine patents, and the guaranteeing of privacy protection and freedom of speech.
It is actually rather surprising that the young Internet nerds who are calling for the legalisation of a criminal activity should want to enter into the traditional world of politics and make it to Parliament.
“These are legislative issues. Political influence is the only way to exert an effect on matters pertaining to the freedom of speech and protection of privacy”, counters Palmulehto.
Sunday June 7th is an exciting day in the pirate camp.
In Sweden, the opinion polls predict two seats in the European Parliament for representatives of the world’s first pirate party - Piratpartiet.*
In terms of membership it is already the third-largest political party in Sweden.
Piratpartiet grew in popularity especially after the Stockholm District Court awarded the four men behind the Pirate Bay Internet service custodial sentences and ordered them to pay massive damages for accessory and conspiracy to break copyright laws.
The ruling benefited even Finland’s pirates.
But the Pirate Party is still only a minor player.
The party’s board is very young - the 28-year-old Palmulehto is one of the oldest of the bunch - and also very male-dominated.
Nevertheless, Palmulehto believes that the party will have an even wider appeal to the Finnish people.
In his view the incumbent government’s politics only increase the pirates’ popularity.
“We’ve had issues such as Lex Karpela [relating to law of copyright], Lex Nokia [the so-called “snooping law” that will allow employers to investigate the log data of employees’ e-mails], the fingerprint registry for passports, and the preventive censorship of the Internet to deal with. The general monitoring of citizens is viewed as a considerable threat. Presumably we only have to continue in the same direction with our policies and we will take great strides forwards."
At least the Pirate Party will add momentum to the competition over young voters - a prize catch, but difficult for the mainstream parties to land.
But with a limited agenda one does not get far in Parliament.
Parliamentary behaviour is clearly a difficult subject for Palmulehto.
“Under no circumstances are we only interested in participating when the topic at hand happens to suit us. For the time being there is consensus within the party that whoever makes it to Parliament may vote according to his conscience with regard to matters outside the Pirate Party’s core concerns.”
The chairman is careful to take a stand on questions that are outside the Party’s agenda.
With regard to their econo-political views, the party’s supporters constitute anything but a homogeneous group.
Palmulehto refuses to be placed anywhere on the traditional left-right scale.
To shed at least some light on his broader social outlook, Palmulehto defines himself as an eco-minded individual. But he refuses to disclose his view on nuclear energy. He only agrees to note that energy consumption should be decreased dramatically.
“I do not see need for continuous growth. Every once in a while it is good to stand still and even take a couple of steps back.”
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 7.6.2009
*Note: Piratpartiet gained 7.1% of the vote in the Swedish European Parliament elections, enough to give them one MEP, and if and when the Lisbon Treaty is ratified, they could get a second representative in Strasbourg. In Germany, too, the party was on the ballot, but could only collect around 1% of the votes and no MEPs.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Finnish Pirate Party files for party registration (2.6.2009)
Pirate Party (Wikipedia)
Piraattipuolue in English
TANJA VASAMA / Helsingin Sanomat