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Truthdigger of the Week: Birgitta Jónsdóttir, Iceland’s Pirate Party Founder

Posted on Nov 5, 2016

By Natasha Hakimi

Every week the Truthdig editorial staff selects a Truthdigger of the Week, a group or person worthy of recognition for speaking truth to power, breaking the story or blowing the whistle. It is not a lifetime achievement award. Rather, we’re looking for newsmakers whose actions in a given week are worth celebrating.

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Birgitta Jónsdóttir wears many hats—just watch Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! try to fit all her titles into one breath in the clip above. A poet (she refers to herself as a “poetician”), WikiLeaks activist, web developer, hacker, chairwoman of the International Modern Media Institution, member of the Free Chelsea Manning advisory board and founder of Iceland’s Pirate Party, Birgitta—also called the “Bernie Sanders of Iceland”—got close to adding “prime minister” to her list of appellations last week.

Birgitta published her first book of poetry at age 22, but was launched into politics during the 2008 financial crisis, which hit Iceland particularly hard.

While Iceland has taken a very different approach to the banking crisis than other countries—jailing bankers responsible for the crash, for example—Birgitta wants to ensure that her nation never again falls into such a trap. She has organized movements that call for establishing more transparency among political representatives and also attempt to push forward a new, collectively drafted Constitution to replace the one handed to Iceland by the Danish king more than 70 years ago, when the island nation won its independence.

Elected to Parliament as a member of the Citizens’ Movement party in 2009, she went on to form the Pirate Party in 2012. The party, whose name may raise more than a few eyebrows, runs “on the platform of transparency, accountability, digital rights in cyberspace, on being sort of like Robin Hood when it comes to taking the power from the powerful and giving it to the people,” says Birgitta, adding that Robin Hood himself “might have just been a pirate as well.”

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Internet rights are especially important to Birgitta, a web developer who says she found her way into the internet in 1998 and “hasn’t come out since.” She has been a staunch supporter of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and has urged him to apply for citizenship, rather than asylum, in Iceland so that he can receive more protection from extradition.

She became heavily involved in WikiLeaks after meeting founder Julian Assange in 2009 and helping produce the site’s 2010 “Collateral Murder” video, which featured “secret U.S. military footage showing an American Apache helicopter attack on civilians in Iraq.”

In the runup to Iceland’s national elections Monday, many polls placed the Pirate Party at the top, estimating it would win up to 30 seats in Parliament. The party’s popularity rose significantly after the leaked Panama Papers showed that Prime Minister Sigmundur Davio Gunnlaugsson and his wife held money in offshore tax shelters, which led to Gunnlaugsson’s resignation. Though the Pirates fell short of poll expectations, Birgitta was extremely pleased with the results of an election that saw her party triple its number of seats. She explained the significance of the gains to Goodman after the election:

… [W]e were formed in 2012. We got 5.1 percent in 2013. We tripled our following in three years. We, those of us that are the old-school Pirates, knew that we could never get much more than around 15 percent. Would have been great if we could have gotten 20, but we feel extremely thankful that 15 percent of Icelanders feel confident about being Pirates, being agents of change in society.

So, what sort of happened in the election campaign was that we got the machine against us. We had very little money. We had to be very creative. And we ran our campaign on—just on our issues, instead of attacking our opponents like you see very much in the presidential campaign in your country. We did not want to go on to that level. We criticized their issues, but not the people. And we just got the machine. And the machine of the established parties is very powerful, and they have people everywhere. So, the fact that we still managed to get so much support, despite all the attacks and undermining, was great. …

These are very interesting times, because we have an opportunity to be sort of a kingmaker in these negotiations. We suggested—like, we had our first parliamentary group meeting two days ago, where we decided that we would, in order to facilitate a possibility of a much broader scope of governance, because there [are] seven parties now that were elected—that’s never happened before—and we really feel it’s important that we offer something else than the corrupt parties that were forced to have elections earlier, and it’s obvious that we cannot tackle corruption, which was one of our main agendas before this election, with these parties, and so we offered to support a minority government of three parties, that there would be two parties that would support a minority government.

Also, another thing that I feel very happy about is that before the elections, when it looked like I could be a prime minister, I could actually say—and I’m not it—but if I would ever be in that position of power, that I could take that office, I wanted to take that idea of power and bring it into the Parliament and seek to be the speaker of the House instead of the prime minister, because the parliaments in this world are so weak. They are governed and ruled by the executive branch. And that is a big problem with how we run our societies.

For her devotion to social change and to progressive causes, for championing whistleblower heroes and believing in the collective power to establish justice, and for bringing all these issues into the international limelight with her political work, the many-talented, multifaceted Birgitta Jónsdóttir is our Truthdigger of the Week.


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