Strange Czech bedfellows: What about the pirates?

Top officials of parliamentary parties (and hopefuls) talk about freedom of the Internet, cooperating with the Czech Pirate Party

Left to right: Bobošíková, Sobotka, Paroubek, Filip, Bartoš, and Kalousek foto: © Czech Position, Richard CortésČeská pozice

Left to right: Bobošíková, Sobotka, Paroubek, Filip, Bartoš, and Kalousek

Protest happenings, demonstrations, seminars, interviews with journalists, television appearances, debates with politicians – the Czech Pirate Party (ČPS) is experiencing an unprecedented boom. The recent commotion around the controversial international anti-piracy agreement ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement) has ensured the young party has gained the attention of the general public.

The situation in the Czech Republic can be compared to the raid by the Swedish police on the headquarters of the world’s largest torrents database, The Pirate Bay, which started the global pirate phenomenon some years ago. It was then that the pirates first broke the ice and got into the mainstream media. This was followed by success in elections to the European Parliament, which the founder of the movement, Rickard Falkvinge, called the rekindling of the struggle for civil liberty in Europe.

Understandably, the Czech pirates would also like a similar stoking of the fires, so they're sharpening their swords for the elections to the House of Commons.

“We want to be very accountable when we stand for the 2014 elections. For some we may seem an unorthodox party with views that are not entirely established, mapping a new landscape and, in principle, I don’t dispute this. For us it is important that our basis is open debate, together with transparency and direct democracy,” the pirates’ chairman, Ivan Bartoš, told Czech Position.

As regards their possible coalition potential, the pirate captain is skeptical: “Undoubtedly, our closest partners on the Czech political scene are the parties addressing a similar electoral group, for example, the Greens (SZ). Even though we are very critical of some of their steps and don’t share all of their dogmas. With other parties it is more complex. With exceptions, they more or less represent parties without an ideology, built as a political project, or, on the contrary, parties capable of anything which have long ago replaced their ideology with the feeding trough. They are either suspect or completely foreign to us. ‘Undoubtedly, our closest partners on the Czech political scene are the parties addressing a similar electoral group, for example, the Greens (SZ).’

“We can completely rule out cooperation with the DSSS [Workers Party of Social Justice] and, most likely, the now defunct Public Affairs [VV, which is unlikely to return to Parliament]. If we are elected to parliament in the next elections as a potential, smaller coalition partner, we can probably also forget about cooperation with TOP 09, ODS [the Civic Democrats] or ČSSD [Social Democrats]. But we don’t like to limit ourselves; it contradicts respect for a partner and an attempt to have open political debate."

It’s time to get the other parties’ opinions. How do the pirates see their potential future colleagues? So Czech Position decided to contact the leaders of the political parties and ascertain their opinion on the pirates’ prominence. If they can imagine cooperation with them, and how they are preparing to join the debate on Internet freedom, which is becoming a theme that no political party can afford to leave out of its election programme.

ODS

First we tried to contact Prime Minister Petr Nečas, the Civic Democrats (ODS) chairman. He, however, was on vacation last week and when he came back on Thursday, he was so busy that he refused to comment on the pirates. Fortunately, his party colleague, Alexandr Vondra, the defense minister, was more forthcoming. “We will postpone ACTA until the right time. We don’t want to restrict the Internet and as concerns the lobbies promoting intellectual property rights for hundreds of years; we pay no heed to them. I see no reason to advertise the pirates by expecting them to get into parliament. But otherwise, I know we don’t have too much choice in our political partners and after the experience with ODA, the Greens and VV, nothing can surprise me," Vondra said. ‘We will postpone ACTA until the right time. ... I see no reason to advertise the pirates by expecting them to get into parliament.’

Instead of Petr Nečas’ reaction, the spokesman for ODS, Tomáš Bartovský, sent some additional observations from the Chairman of the Parliamentary Club of ODS, Zbyněk Stanjura: “The Civic Democrats are ready to cooperate with any political party with which we can find enough common points in our election programs. In the case of the Czech Pirate Party, however, it is very difficult to foresee cooperation because of its monothematic focus and its radical stance on protecting private property rights.”

However, the ODS allegedly considers the internet to be a symbol of freedom. Thus, their program supports broadening internet access and developing it. According to the Civic Democrats, however, just as in normal life, not even on-line freedom is endless, particularly in the area of disseminating socially unacceptable topics and ideas, such as pedophilia, xenophobia and extremism.

Public Affairs (VV)

Public Affairs’ (VV) first vice chairman, Karolína Peake, didn’t want to talk about the topic, referring to her party colleague Viktor Paggio. He considers the speculation that the pirates could bridge the 5 percent threshold in 2014 to be a grand hypothesis, although, he admits that the party has succeed elsewhere in the world and that a free Internet is a hot topic – especially for young people. Likewise, however he pointed out that many parties have taken up this theme.

“We are working on it, as, coincidentally, are the Greens and other parties. So I think that if the Pirates want to succeed, they must find other topics. It is no advantage being a monothematic party,” Paggio said. On the other hand showing up with the Pirates on a demonstration against the unpopular ACTA agreement may be advantageous. Clearly, that is why Paggio, together with Pirate Party representatives, stood up in front of several hundred protesters on Feb. 2, promising not to support the anti-pirating agreement and to persuade other politicians to do the same.

Left 21

At first the president of the Národní socialisté – levice 21. století (National Socialists - 21st Century Leftwing), Jiří Paroubek, refused to comment. “I’m sorry, but that is a completely marginal topic for me,” he wrote in an SMS. Then he apparently changed his mind and phoned to once again stress that the pirates are on the margins, and he does not intend to speak about them nor can he consider cooperation with them because he doesn’t know their program, and believes that not even they themselves know it.

Nevertheless, his party does want to get involved in the debate over cyberspace. Apparently, he only recently discovered the Internet environment and has just started to make full use of it, and in this respect he is not too adapt. On the question of whether his party has an Internet specialist among its ranks, he gave a clear answer: “My son, for example.” Paroubek’s son, Jiří, studied informatics management and economics, though was later expelled for poor attendance. Though that certainly doesn’t disqualify him from Internet issues.

TOP 09

The TOP 09 first vice chairman, Miroslav Kalousek, was frankly disgusted by Czech Position’s question, at least the tone of his voice indicated so, as did his response: “If you are in any way motivated to promote the Pirates, then please do so without me. This is a topic on which I refuse to speculate. Journalists can speculate; I don’t,” said the finance minister.

It is no wonder. After seven months of disputes, the Pirate Party managed to take Kalousek to court. Last year they brought a lawsuit against him. According to its statement, the party wanted the courts to prevent Kalousek from withholding information about who embezzled the Czech banks in the 1990s. The Prague Municipal Court refused to take up the case due to the absence of an electronic signature. However, the Supreme Administrative Court overturned the decision.

Petr Gazdík, the chairman of the TOP 09 parliamentary club, was a little more courageous in an interview. He did, indeed, admit that the party does not share some of the Pirates’ opinions, nonetheless it is prepared to conduct a dialogue with them. They could, for example, talk about the draft constitutional act on Internet freedom, which the pirates put forward this week. “Freedom is the essence of the Internet. I see any violation of this freedom as a problem that threatens its very existence,” Gazdík told Czech Position.

To the question, why, in June 2011, TOP 09 MP Jan Farský proposed changing the Lottery Act, so that Internet providers would have to block access to lottery sites that have not been authorized by the Ministry of Finance, and to sites providing them with advertising, Gazdík replied that it was an unfortunate proposal and doesn't know who recommended it to Farský.

According to Gazdík, right now TOP 09 needs to address fiscal stability, the sustainability of development in the Czech Republic and to fight against the privatization of public authorities. He does, however, expect that in the party’s next program the Internet will become one of the principal themes. “In this respect, we are trying to be pioneers. For example, we are one of the few parties to have open accounting on our web site, where we regularly disclose our donors. We have a very strong IT Department. This is testified to by the fact that we developed a system for our MPs, which was subsequently bought from us by the House of Commons,”Gazdík revealed.

Greens (SZ)

According to Ondřej Liška, the Chairman of the Green Party, the Greens and the Pirates have a relatively close relationship. “The topics the Pirates cover in their program, we also cover. The difference is that our program reaches out to the wider field of politics and society, than just copyright, transparency and the internet. Before the recent parliamentary election, I even invited the Pirates to collaborate. But they rejected it, they believed that they’d cross the 5 percent threshold on their own. We shall see how cooperation develops in the future,” said Liška adding that, for example, in the European Parliament the Swedish Pirates became part of the Green faction.

However, Liška feels there is still a big question mark as to whether the Pirates are able to abandon the concept of a “single issue party,” thus becoming attractive for a wider array of voters. Apparently, they are facing a similar challenge to that which the green movement has been fighting for the last thirty years. During the phone call with Czech Position, Liška repeatedly emphasized that the Pirates should not be underestimated. “Political leaders who don’t take this debate seriously have no understanding of the times they live in. They fail to understand that copyright, Internet freedom and transparency are the most fundamental questions that will move the globalized world and democracy and it is necessary to resolve them and to do so before the political competition,” Liška said.

Something like that, however, could not happen to the Greens. They have their own informatics section, which has been engaged in copyright, Internet freedom, Internet neutrality, transparency and the digitization of public administration for a long time. For the Greens, cooperation with the Pirates is not pragmatism, rather a natural alliance of two parties that have understood that these are important topics of contemporary democracy in a digital and globalised world.

KDU-ČSL

The chairman of the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL), Pavel Bělobrádek, is convinced that the pirates are moving in the right direction. Apparently, they focus on several major themes. The party would agree with them, for example, on a call for transparency in public administration and the financing of political parties. They also have the same views as regards ACTA, which Christian Democrat Euro MP, Zuzana Roithová (who will run for the Czech presidency), has gone down on record as saying it is a tool for bullying normal citizens.

Bělobrádek cannot say, however, whether there will be future collaboration with the Pirate Party. “In certain matters we can find common ground with every party. I haven’t studied their program, and I’m curious as to their next course of action, whether it will be of a strictly protest nature, addressing only a specific section of society, or whether they will establish themselves as a standard party,” said the KDU-ČSL chairman, adding that so far the Christian Democrats don’t want to devote their program to the Internet.

Bělobrádek also mentioned that he would like to thank the Pirates. Apparently, they managed to expose the machinations at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. At the end of 2011, the Pirates' newspaper reported on a link between Minister Jaromír Drábek and his Deputy Vladimir Šiška with the company iDTAX producing electronic bills for cards for the socially weak. The company has, according to the Pirates, a non-transparent ownership structure with the use of anonymous shares. Drábek had a 24 percent share in the company, Šiška is listed as one of the company’s executives.

“Quite clearly, the pirates have very good information. KDU-ČSL used this as the basis for contacting the state authorities so the case could be investigated,” stated Bělobrádek, adding that he would be happy to cooperate with the Pirates in setting up transparent conditions in state administration. In his opinion billions of crowns of taxpayers’ money go missing in state administration.

ČSSD

The Social Democrats (ČSSD) are surprisingly close to the Pirates. Last week their chairmen, Bohuslav Sobotka even admitted to being the first senior Czech politician to officially meet with the Pirates. The Pirates met with Sobotka and the Chairman of the ČSSD parliamentary club, Jeroným Tejc, at the Social Democrat’s headquarters to resolve the controversial international agreement ACTA.

“It can be said that the political spectrum in the Czech Republic is not closed. We have to reckon with the fact that new political parties will arise in the future, although the sad history of Public Affairs will be a particular handicap for them. People will of course ask whether these projects have a natural origin or source, or whether they are just some marketing maneuvers to get to power. As regards the Pirate Party, it is more a natural initiative, created on the basis of those topics that are currently being debated in today's information society,” were Sobotka’s comments on the meeting.

It also seems that he is the only politician who has really read the current version of the Pirates’ program. In his opinion, it contains several elements linking it to social democracy. Sobotka agrees with the Pirates' negative stance to introducing tuition fees at universities, the need for national referendums and transparent public administration. He does point out that their positions are often more radical than those of the Social Democrats, nonetheless, he believes that they could come to an understanding with the Pirates. “I read the Pirates’ program as it emerged on the Internet and I can clearly see some common points,” Sobotka said.

But the leader of ČSSD does not believe that a new political party, no matter how dynamic it has appeared in recent weeks, will get into parliament: “It may happen that there will only be four political parties in the House, it may happen that there will be a new one or the Christian Democrats or Greens get back in, it is all very open at the moment,” he points out. According to Sobotka, the Social Democrats also have IT experts in their ranks. The party leader would like to see them take a greater role in the preparation of the party’s new program.

Suverenita

In an interview with Czech Position, the president of the Suverenita (Sovereignty ) Party, former MEP Jana Bobošíková, emphasized that her party is ready to talk with anyone. They met with the Pirates in 2010, when Suverenita ran in municipal elections in a coalition with the Pirate Party. How further cooperation between the parties develops depends on the final version of the Pirates’ program and on the overall political and economic situation in 2014.

“We are against any restrictions on the Internet. The Internet should remain a free space. We are against regulation and similar things. We don’t have any Internet specialists in the party and we didn't think it is necessary. The Internet is a normal part of life and should stay the way it is,” explained Bobošíková, adding that Suvernita will not have any special Internet policy in the near future.

Zemanovci

Right at the start of the call with Czech Position, Vratislav Mynář, the president of the Strana Práv Občanů (Party of Civic Rights) - Zemanovci admitted that he wasn't familiar with the Pirates’ program. He can, however, imagine that, rather than any real policy it probably concerns interests that relate to the modern world, new technologies, and access to them. Despite this, he can envisage cooperating with the Pirates. “I saw the representative of the Pirate Party, that congenial young gentleman with the pigtail, about twice on television, and that’s about all I know about it. But in real life he seems pleasant enough,” Mynář said.

The president of the Zemanovci also revealed that the party is preparing its own cyberspace policy: “To our surprise we have lots of young followers, so I gave the lads the task of looking at this issue. We should have the first results at the March presidium. We want to be involved in discussions about the Internet, we don't to be on the margins because we know that this is progress, and we don’t want to be left behind.” Though Mynář did not specify what exactly his young colleagues would do. The task was to modernize the stance on the Internet issue.

KSČM

The president of the Communists (KSČM), Vojtěch Filip, met the Pirates’ chairman, Ivan Bartoš, in a televised debate and said he considers him a very intelligent man and an interesting political leader. He says the Pirates are a normal part of the political spectrum and, if their rhetoric is not too anti-communist, then he could imagine cooperating with them. He doesn’t think that the Pirates are digital Communists, as argued by some of their critics, though he does believe that they can agree on certain topics.

Filip doesn’t consider the Pirate Party program to be complex as concerns the working of the state mechanism, but he’d support the free dissemination of information. Under his leadership the Communists are about to join discussions about the future of cyberspace. “Recently, I even gave an award at the Club of Social Sciences for the translators of the book by two Scottish authors on Cybersocialism,” he said. ‘So far, they’re united around the Internet. But what will happen when they have to agree on the matters that every party must have ready answers for – employment, pensions, economic affairs?’

According to the MEP Miloslav Ransdorf, right now it is essential to start addressing the crisis of copyright. Its current concept is not able to absorb the changes arising from the advent of electronic media and the Internet. “There is a difference between looking after intellectual property and the interests of manufacturers of data carriers. We cannot, however, be the only party engaged in this direction. I think that this is a matter requiring wider discussion, but Im afraid that, in its present form, the Ministry of Justice is not capable of such a task,” Ransdorf said.

The Communist MP Vladimír Koníček brought an interesting aspect to the debate. He predicts dissension in the Pirate Party because it covers a very wide spectrum of opinions. “From the extreme left to the extreme right, they cover everything. So far, they’re united around the Internet. But what will happen when they have to agree on the matters that every party must have ready answers for – employment, pensions, economic affairs?” asks Koníček. Moreover, according to him, the topic of the Internet has the same future as environmental protection. In the end, everybody will deal with it. The question is, what will the Pirates offer then?