The outcry over the disclosures in the Panama Papers brings us, yet again, to Pirates!
You might think that’s about stateless treasure buried in Panama and elsewhere around the Caribbean. But the connection I’m thinking of is farther north in the colder climes of Iceland.
Iceland (source: map by KTG)
Iceland has been front and center in the developing Panama Papers scandals.
Iceland has a population of 325,000, which puts it a little above the city of Corpus Christi in Texas, and just below Santa Ana, California. Still, it is an independent state, which carries certain advantages. It also makes it newsworthy when the prime minister is found with his hand in the off-shore cookie jar.
Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson resigned after the news broke that his wife had helped him skirt Iceland’s political transparency laws by shielding his beneficial interest in an offshore account. Icelanders have a strong allergy to bank manipulations and off-shore shenanigans following the grief they endured from their own short-lived experiment as a haven for off-shore banking. In the 2008 meltdown, Iceland’s banks and its bubble stock market completely collapsed over the course of just three days.
Interestingly, Iceland has largely recovered from that catastrophe, but that is a story for another time. Today’s story is about pirates, political pirates: Iceland’s up-and-coming Pirate Party (that’s the real name, I’m not making this up!).
The Icelandic Pirate Party is an offshoot of an international movement started in Sweden that took its name from its opposition to the international copyright regime. In addition to its desire to free information, it has a set of core values that revolve around ideals for participatory democracy, privacy, and civil rights. There are about sixty Pirate Parties around the world, including in the U.S. In Iceland, the Pirate Party has emerged as a serious political force and has received a huge boost from the latest scandal. Icelandic support for the Pirate Party now stands at forty percent, and they are expected to become the governing party after elections coming up this autumn!
source: Image from Icelandic Pirate Party Website
(I don’t know if this is copyrighted, but this is the anti-copyright party so…)
The sudden rise of the Icelandic Pirate Party comes along at a time when anti-establishment parties and candidates from both the left and the right are making significant inroads around the globe. It would be an interesting research question to try to measure whether this is a new thing or comes in predictable waves. But, regardless, this trend points to two big interesting and important questions. First, how important is political experience? And second, particularly for international relations, can politics be radically different?
We’ll take a look at those two questions in the next couple of posts. Stay tuned…