Germany’s political establishment doesn’t know how to react to the Pirate Party, which now has seats in two state parliaments and owns the debate on Internet issues. But although the party’s radical experiments in transparency and participation may have caught its rivals off guard, its no-holds-barred debating culture can also backfire.
When German political parties invite their leaders to retreats, they like to use proven formulas. On the evening before the event, the top officials arrive in their dark limousines at a luxury hotel in the countryside, where they attend a festive dinner followed by fireside chats in small groups.
The next morning, they meet for discussions behind closed doors. The view of the beautiful rural surroundings is meant to take the politicians’ minds off their hectic lives in Berlin and allow them to focus on the important things. After the retreat, the leadership announces its new strategy to the party base.
But it can also be done differently. A couple of weeks ago, the national and state executive committees of the Pirate Party, which campaigns on a platform of political transparency and Internet freedom, met at a youth hostel in the central German city of Kassel. The officials slept in four-bed rooms with bunk beds, which makes sense, given that the party advocates a culture of sharing, at least when it comes to data. Their debates were broadcast via the Internet using webcams, so that party members would not feel left out when their leaders discussed upcoming election campaigns.
Aleks Lessmann, the managing director of the Bavarian wing of the Pirate Party, was happy to explain some terminology — while sitting outside on a table tennis table in the sun. Phrases like “executive meeting” are taboo for his people, because they make them think of hierarchies and backroom meetings. Continuing with the pirate metaphor, “captains’ meeting” isn’t bad, Lessmann said, but perhaps it would be even better to use a term like “small harbor.” In the end, the group agreed to name their weekends at the youth hostel the “Marina Kassel” (“Kassel marina”).