"Dream big – just don’t dream only about material things". Iceland's ex-Pirate Birgitta Jonsdottir reflects on politics


The Pirate Party in Iceland was - and remains - one of the most extraordinary stories in European politics. From 2012 to 2017, a radical, pro-technology, libertarian, beyond-left-and-right party played a part in full national government (see history here). 

Its striking leading figure was the "poetician" Birgitta Jonsdottir, who - this interview with the Reykjavik Grapevine reveals - has been involved in movement politics long before founding the Pirates in 2012.

In the full interview, Birgitta dispenses much wisdom about the nature of the political process, and what she intends to do next. Some excerpts below:

The Pirates said they were beyond left and right - and weren't trusted by other parties

“Which is completely bollocks - it’s a cop-out. We shouldn’t be putting these things in the category of left or right. When you put environmentalism into 'that’s just the lefties that need to think about that', that’s very bad. This is something that impacts all of us. I think the only workable difference of left and right is if you want to privatise everything or not, or if you want to tweak taxes. Very old-fashioned stuff. We were trying to bring in new ways of dealing with stuff.

"We have the most left wing party in power - with the conservatives brought into government. And they gave the conservatives the Finance Ministry. That tells you everything. How can you possibly trust a left wing party that paves the way for some of the most corrupt people in Iceland to be in power?”

Why parliament (even Iceland's) is like a broken car

“A lot of people say that fundamental political change is like a marathon - It’s not. It might be a marathon if you want to establish yourself like another party, and then you go into the system that is already corrupt, and it doesn’t matter what you do to try and fix it. You can’t.

"Imagine you are in a car, and the system is like this car. The car is broken, and the engine won’t start. It doesn’t matter who you put behind the wheel: a Formula 1 driver, a kid, a really honest and decent, a corrupt person—the car still won’t start. It’s not just expensive for the state; it’s expensive for society because we have less and less trust in the democratic institutions.”

And why this is dangerous

“People get very preoccupied with their day to day lives. They’ll be voting on taxes and stuff like that, and have much they’re hoping to get. They’ve forgotten about the financial crisis; that shock was forgotten for the majority of Icelanders. So they won’t be voting for parties promising constitutional change. They don’t really care. They just want to make sure they have enough to run their corporation family.”

"The creaking, plodding machine of Parliamentary politics is what has begun attracting people to authoritarianism. And we’re seeing this everywhere. People are now, more and more, as we saw in the most recent elections in Hungary, leaning towards the strong leader who’s going to fix everything. The promises that speak both to their fears and their desires. Even if they know that they’re not going to deliver, it’s just a good feeling to know you have a Daddy that’s going to take care of you.”

Her vision for a Committee for the Future in Iceland

“There’s no majority in it, it’s one person from each party, and we are acquiring information about various issues that we need to prepare for for the future. And we started to develop this future vision. Because whenever you ask people about how things are going to be in the future, people have no answers. And we are very much frozen in this deep-rooted fear that we’re in the end times. Which means that we lose the ability to be active and mobile because we feel ‘what’s the point?’ Every day is the possibility for the apocalypse.

"Today, we have all this information, and the best thing we can do is think ‘How can we move to fucking Mars?’ I mean, come on. We have paradise. We have this little blue dot and it’s amazing.”

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