For reasons that have deep roots, the world is fascinated by Pirates (the old classical ones, not the Somali / Indonesia area muslim thug ones). There’s some good reason for it. For one thing, they are the very definition of truly free spirits. Laws need not apply… (Though, in fairness, often some of them had official authority from one Crown against the assets of another Crown… more Privateer than Pirate…)
Yet often forgotten is that the Caribbean Pirates (coining a term to differentiate the Classical Pirates from the broader generic) originated many of the things we think of as “Modern Democratic Society”. Sometimes, the Captain was elected. (It helped if you brought your own ship… but wasn’t required. They were very ‘results oriented’.) There was profit sharing (the ‘cut’ of the loot was defined ahead of time). They invented Workers Compensation (with fixed payments for things like loss of an eye or leg).
From the Wiki:
Pirates had a system of hierarchy on board their ships determining how captured money was distributed. However, pirates were more “egalitarian” than any other area of employment at the time. In fact pirate quartermasters were a counterbalance to the captain and had the power to veto his orders. The majority of plunder was in the form of cargo and ship’s equipment with medicines the most highly prized. A vessel’s doctor’s chest would be worth anywhere from £300 to £400, or around $470,000 in today’s values.
Democracy among Caribbean pirates
Unlike traditional Western societies of the time, many Caribbean pirate crews of European descent operated as limited democracies. Pirate communities were some of the first to instate a system of checks and balances similar to the one used by the present-day United States and many other countries. The first record of such a government aboard a pirate sloop dates to the 17th century.
As recorded by Captain Charles Johnson regarding the articles of Bartholomew Roberts.
Every man shall have an equal vote in affairs of moment. He shall have an equal title to the fresh provisions or strong liquors at any time seized, and shall use them at pleasure unless a scarcity may make it necessary for the common good that a retrenchment may be voted.
Every man shall be called fairly in turn by the list on board of prizes, because over and above their proper share, they are allowed a shift of clothes. But if they defraud the company to the value of even one dollar in plate, jewels or money, they shall be marooned. If any man rob another he shall have his nose and ears slit, and be put ashore where he shall be sure to encounter hardships.
None shall game for money either with dice or cards.
The lights and candles should be put out at eight at night, and if any of the crew desire to drink after that hour they shall sit upon the open deck without lights.
Each man shall keep his piece, cutlass and pistols at all times clean and ready for action.
No boy or woman to be allowed amongst them. If any man shall be found seducing any of the latter sex and carrying her to sea in disguise he shall suffer death.
He that shall desert the ship or his quarters in time of battle shall be punished by death or marooning.
None shall strike another on board the ship, but every man’s quarrel shall be ended on shore by sword or pistol in this manner. At the word of command from the quartermaster, each man being previously placed back to back, shall turn and fire immediately. If any man do not, the quartermaster shall knock the piece out of his hand. If both miss their aim they shall take to their cutlasses, and he that draw the first blood shall be declared the victor.
No man shall talk of breaking up their way of living till each has a share of 1,000. Every man who shall become a cripple or lose a limb in the service shall have 800 pieces of eight from the common stock and for lesser hurts proportionately.
The captain and the quartermaster shall each receive two shares of a prize, the master gunner and boatswain, one and one half shares, all other officers one and one quarter, and private gentlemen of fortune one share each.
The musicians shall have rest on the Sabbath Day only by right. On all other days by favor only.
Now I’m not saying all this just to praise Pirates nor to pine for days long lost… (Even though I’ve got at least 3 generations of sailors in Mum’s side of the family and likely more before that… which implies a few of them might have left HMS Service and gone Pirate… but none that we know of… though some did end up in Australia…) No, I mention this just to point out that Pirate does not mean “evil” in all ways. In many ways, it was far more “just” and “fair” than the national governments of that era (which often depended on impressment, Royal Privilege and all sorts of other horrors.)
Pirates did not care what religion you were, what race or nationality, nor too much what gender. While female pirates were few, they did exist and were treated to the same share as the men. Something about it being a very bad idea to pick a fight with an armed and dangerous woman… as they have lighter build so faster more precise movement of hands, a bit critical in using the pistol and épée. That is not a sexist statement, BTW, but an observation of physics. In Karate class there was a lady brown belt who could ‘point’ on me anytime she wanted. VERY fast. Small birds out maneuver large ones. More mass comes with a large speed impact, and that ‘light sword’ in a woman’s hand moves much faster than a saber in a man’s…
Think of them as the prototype Libertarian Enterprise with Egalitarian Social Structure.
The above discussion of Pirates is partially relevant to Iceland since it was founded by Vikings, and in many ways the whole Viking experience was one of being a Pirate / Merchant. Sometimes setting up trading villages (many cities in Russia started that way) and sometimes just raiding and pillaging. A batch of them founded Iceland (and were reputed to have raided European cities on their way and ‘taken the most beautiful women with them’). Their official history time line is a bit more prim:
~7-8th centuries: Celtic monks sail to Iceland.
~860s: Norsemen discover Iceland.
~871: Ingólfur Arnarsson, a Norse nobleman, settles in Reykjavík.
930: The Althing, a judiciary and law-making body of chieftains, convenes for the first time at Thingvellir. Population in Iceland estimated at 30,000–40,000.
~982: Erik the Red discovers and names Greenland after being banned from Iceland.
999 or 1000: Christianity adopted in Iceland.
1000: Leifur Eiríksson discovers what is now known as North America.
1120s–1230s: Most of the Icelandic Sagas—tales of family feuds and heroics—are written.
1262–1264: Chieftains in Iceland accept the sovereignty of the King of Norway.
1402: The Black Plague infects Iceland. Over 33% of the population is wiped out.
1387: The Kalmar Act of Union unifies Iceland and Norway with Denmark.
1540s–1550s: Reformation in Iceland.
1584: The Bible is translated into Icelandic.
1703: First census is conducted; population 50,358.
1707: Bubonic plague; one third of the population dies.
1783–86: Volcanic activity destroys Icelandic farmland and leads to widespread starvation.
1800: The Danish King orders the closure of the Althing.
1843: The Althing is re-established.
1874: A new constitution is introduced by the Danish King (Christian IX).
1870s–1890s: Mass emigration to North America.
1904: Home rule is granted.
1915: Women receive the vote.
1918: Union Treaty grants Iceland full sovereignty in a royal union with Denmark.
1926: Population reaches 100,000 for the first time.
1940: Iceland is occupied by British troops.
1941: US-Icelandic defence agreement signed; US troops stay in Iceland for duration of WWII.
1944: The Republic of Iceland is formally established.
1949: Iceland becomes a founding member of NATO.
1951: Defence treaty concluded with the US; US troops return to Iceland.
1958–1961: Dispute over fishing limits, first ‘cod war’ with Britain.
1960: The number of Icelanders in Reykjavík and surrounding areas surpasses the number of habitants in the countryside for the first time.
1966: Icelandic state television begins broadcasting.
1968: Population reaches 200,000.
1970s: Two further ‘cod wars’ with Britain (and West Germany).
1980: Vigdís Finnbogadóttir elected president, the first democratically-elected female head of state.
1986: The Reykjavík Summit between US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Secretary-General of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev takes place in Höfði, Reykjavík.
1994: Iceland joins the European Economic Area, an economic arrangement with the EU.
1996: Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson elected president of Iceland
2006: US troops leave Iceland.
2008: Economic crisis, near total collapse of Iceland’s banking system.
2009: Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir becomes the country’s first female prime minister (and the world’s first openly gay prime minister).
2010: Volcanic Eruption at the Eyjafjallajökull. This same year Jón Gnarr, a known actor and comedian in Iceland, became mayor of Reykjavik (2010-2014).
But I do note in passing that my Celtic ancestors and / or relatives were apparently going to Iceland early on and then later my Viking ancestors arrived in Britain… (Mum raised me with the Norse legends, coupled with the red and blond hair in the family, coming from the Viking areas of Britain, and the seafaring heritage as far back as we can find, sort of shouts Vikings…) So we have another Celt / Germanic or Celt / Viking blend country (joining Britain, France, parts of Spain and Portugal, etc. etc…)
The Wiki is a bit more interesting, though still avoiding the old legends of Viking Pillagers looking for a nice escape… I’ve bolded the vague reference… and a bit about where some of my family may have moved back that way long long ago.
The recorded history of Iceland began with the settlement by Viking explorers and their slaves from the east, particularly Norway and the British Isles, in the late ninth century. Iceland was still uninhabited long after the rest of Western Europe had been settled. Recorded settlement has conventionally been dated back to 874, although archaeological evidence indicates Gaelic monks had settled Iceland before that date.
The land was settled quickly, mainly by Norwegians who may have been fleeing conflict or seeking new land to farm. By 930, the chieftains had established a form of governance, the Althing, making it one of the world’s oldest parliaments.
Ingólfr was followed by many more Norse chieftains, their families and slaves who settled all the inhabitable areas of the island in the next decades. These people were primarily of Norwegian, Irish and Scottish origin. Some of the Irish and Scots were slaves and servants of the Norse chiefs according to the sagas of Icelanders and the Landnámabók and other documents. Some settlers coming from the British Isles were “Hiberno-Norse,” with cultural and family connections both to the coastal and island areas of Ireland and/or Scotland and to Norway.
The traditional explanation for the exodus from Norway is that people were fleeing the harsh rule of the Norwegian king Harald Fairhair, whom medieval literary sources credit with the unification of some parts of modern Norway during this period. It is also believed that the western fjords of Norway were simply overcrowded in this period. The settlement of Iceland is thoroughly recorded in the aforementioned Landnámabók, although the book was compiled in the early 12th century when at least 200 years had passed from the age of settlement.
The point simply being that the Icelandic Folk are no strangers to oppressive governments trying to force them to comply, and their answer has generally been more in the Pirate mode than in the compliant serf mode. Hey, it’s that whole Celtic / Viking thing making for a rather independent streak…
So no big surprise that Iceland has formed a Pirate Party.
The party was cofounded on 24 November 2012 by Birgitta Jónsdóttir (previously a member of the Movement), and several prominent Internet activists, including Smári McCarthy. The party successfully applied for the ballot list letter Þ (resembling the party’s logo) in order to run in the 2013. In July 2016 the party requested and was issued the letter P for future elections.
In their first electoral participation, at the 2013 parliamentary election, the Pirate Party won 5.1% of the votes, just above the 5% threshold required to win representation in the Althing. The three members elected, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, Helgi Hrafn Gunnarsson and Jón Þór Ólafsson, were the first pirates elected to any national legislature in the world.
Following the Charlie Hebdo shooting on 7 January 2015, the Pirate Party began a campaign to repeal Iceland’s blasphemy laws. The laws, which had been introduced in 1940, were successfully repealed in early July 2015. The repeal, introduced by the Pirate Party, read: “Freedom of expression is one of the cornerstones of democracy. It is fundamental to a free society that people should be able to express themselves without fear of punishment, whether from the authorities or from other people.” During the vote on the repeal, the three Pirate Party members of the Althing stood and declared “Je suis Charlie”, in solidarity with the French satirical magazine.
For around a year from April 2015 to April 2016, the party consistently topped polling for the next Icelandic parliamentary election in 2016, with support roughly equal to the Independence Party and the Progressive Party combined, who are currently partners in a coalition government.
An MMR opinion poll published in January 2016 put their public support at 37.8%, significantly above that of all other Icelandic political parties.
In April 2016 public protests about the Prime Minister’s role in the Panama Papers brought out a significant percentage of the whole population, and may have been among “the largest demonstrations of any kind, in any country, ever (proportionately speaking)”. In the wake of the Panama Papers scandal, polls in April 2016 showed the Pirate Party at 43% and the Independence Party at 21.6%.
A poll by the Social Science Research Institute of the University of Iceland with data from 14–19 October 2016 put the Pirate Party in first place in the general election on the 29th of October 2016 with 22.6% of the vote.
Now some of those numbers were just folks lodging a protest via the polls. In actual results, this parliamentary election was lighter. Yet the Pirate Party got 14.48% of the vote, 10 out of 63 seats, and is ranked 3rd.
Not surprisingly, the Washington Post feels they must denigrate the rise of the Pirates to Significant Player. Personally, I find a ‘triple’ of seats rather impressive:
By Griff Witte October 30
LONDON — The Pirate Party, a radical movement of anarchists and hackers that didn’t exist this time four years ago, surged to third place in Iceland’s national elections but fell well short of expectations that it could top the vote, according to results released Sunday.
The outcome of the Saturday election more than triples the number of Pirates in the country’s parliament, the world’s oldest, and it ensures that the renegade movement will remain a force in Icelandic politics for years to come.
The Pirates, an offshoot of an international movement launched in Sweden, had campaigned on a platform of direct democracy, transparency and turning Iceland into “a digital safe haven, the Switzerland of bits.” The party’s leader, poet Birgitta Jónsdóttir, had promised Edward Snowden citizenship in a Pirate-led Iceland.
But voters stopped short of putting the Pirates in a position to govern, opting instead to give the pro-business and establishment-oriented Independence Party another shot to lead a country that was turned upside down by the 2008 financial crisis. The Independents had argued that the Pirates were a danger to the country’s economy, which has recently found its footing thanks to a tourism boom.
As expected, no party won a majority, and the Independents will struggle to form a coalition after their partner for the past three years, the pro-farmer Progressives, were punished by voters for the lingering fallout from the crash as well as this year’s disclosures in the Panama Papers. The spring revelation of an offshore firm owned by the prime minister’s wife forced his resignation and led to the calling of Saturday’s vote.
A Pirate victory in tiny, prosperous and peaceful Iceland would have offered a dramatic symbol of the anti-establishment tide sweeping the Western world this year. Polls in the lead-up to the vote had the Pirates running even with the Independents, or even topping them.
Personally, I think it is still a dramatic symbol. The youth of the world are seeing the rampant corruption under the lid of the Progressives (aka Democrats in America) and don’t like it one bit. They are seeing the crony-capitalism / 3rd Way Insider Self Dealing and more from the supposed “conservatives” and don’t like it one bit. This is a global trend, and tiny little Iceland is showing the way.
In some ways, the rise of Trump to lead a revolt in the Republican Party, and Bernie in the Democrat Party, is a similar manifestation. So, IMHO, TPTB in both the Democrat and the Republican parties better catch a clue here. There’s a new Pirate in town. We are quite capable of running our own affairs, and we don’t need you slicing off large slabs of our lives for your own gain. EVERYONE gets a fair share, and EVERYONE does their job for the good of the ship. If you don’t do that, we’ll maroon your ass… It’s the Pirate Code, laddy…
III. If any Man shall steal any Thing in the Company, or game, to the Value of a Piece of Eight, he shall be marooned or shot.
So, it is my considered opinion, that right now the world needs more Pirates. Those attempting to rule us, to take the role of King George or King Harald Fairhair, might just want to ponder what Pirate Justice might mean for them in the future. Thar’s a fair wind a’blowin’ and ’tis time fer settin’ sail on-a’endeavorrr…
Go Iceland Go!