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APRIL 19, 2012 1:42PM

Germany's Pirates enter Nazi-infested waters

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Die Gedanken sind frei 
"Thoughts are free," the Pirates say, echoing
the old German freedom song. But they are finding that
it's not quite as simple as that


FOR A POLITICAL PARTY claiming to embody the spirit of a new, hip generation, Germany’s Pirates just can't seem to steer out of the wake of their egregiously unhip and downright criminal great-grandparents. It was bad enough when party manager Marina Weisband left her post last January after receiving a flood of 1920s-style anti-Semitic hate mail. What's more, the young Jewish politician’s departure “for health reasons” only highlighted the dearth of women in Germany’s nerd party, which has opened the group up to charges of systemic sexism, just as the established parties are starting to make good on the idea of female quotas in their leadership.


Who are these latter-day buccaneers with their distinctly pre-modern ballast? The Pirates (whom I have written about frequently on my blog) form part of the international Pirate Party movement, which is focused on the deregulation of the Internet, government transparency, an end to surveillance, the abolition of copyright laws, free education, free public transport, and the decriminalization of drugs. The youthful and aggressively unconventional party has won seats in numerous German municipalities and fields deputies in the state parliaments of Berlin and the Saarland. The latest opinion polls have the Pirates at 13% on the national level, putting them far ahead of the Free Democrats and the Left Party and on a more or less equal footing with the Greens.


Marina Weisband 
Ex-Pirate leader Marina Weisband.
The sudden departure of the party's only Jewish
leader also highlighted the dearth of women members.


But you’d be smart not to raise the white flag just yet, because the Pirates are running aground on the most shallow of German political sandbanks – the Third Reich itself. It all started back in May of 2008, when Pirate member Bodo Thiesen wrote on an Internet newsletter that


until a few months ago I thought that those who “deny Auschwitz” were merely adolescent loonies. But back then I hadn’t yet read [notorious Holocaust denier] Germar Rudolf. Sorry, but the book makes an impression – at least when you approach it objectively. 


By mentioning Rudolf, Thiesen had raised a whopping big red flag above his jolly roger, because the right-wing chemist had fled Germany in 1995 after being sentenced to fourteen months in jail for publicly denying that any Jews were gassed at Auschwitz. ("Holocause denial" is a major criminal offense in Germany.)


In the same message, Thiesen claimed that Germany was justified in attacking Poland in September of 1939 since the Poles mobilized first, which Hitler interpreted as a declaration of war.


These statements shocked many party members, who have been fearing an influx of politically homeless neo-Nazis into this amorphous group, now that the sinister National Democrats are facing a possible nationwide ban, and they generated terrible publicity for the upwardly mobile Pirates as a whole. The party leadership issued a warning to Thiesen (who publicly denies entertaining any right-wing or fascist sentiments) and in July 2009 it formally filed a request to have him excluded. Earlier this week, the party’s own arbitration panel turned down the request on formal grounds, although it did opine that Thiesen’s statements were protected by his constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech. This position clearly collides with the popular consensus in Germany that free speech ends where any threat to the democratic constitutional order begins.


Now you might think the party had taken on enough water already, but this week the party’s chairman for the state of Berlin, Hartmut Semken, decided to keep on scuttling. On the Internet – the web-savvy party’s preferred communication medium – Semken stated that in his view the party’s problem wasn’t “the Bodos” (i.e. individual members with rightist tendencies) but rather those people who want to persecute members holding a different opinion. The last party who had “a giant success” with this policy, he said, was the Nazi Party, who “had a scapegoat for everything.”


Hartmut Semken 
Soon to walk the plank?

Berlin Pirate chief Hartmut Semken


The outcry was swift and devastating. Was the man really claiming that right-wing Pirates are victims of Nazi-like oppression - i.e. that they're “the new Jews,” as a banker recently complained about the way the Occupy movement is talking about the financial sector? “You are totally out of your depth,” a member wrote on one of the party's blogs. Semken is now writing online that “I honor those who fight against neo-Nazism in our ranks,” but that has been too little, too late: Now the Berlin organization wants to keel-haul him. This time, they may get their wish.


The Pirates’ regrettable and seemingly counterintuitive “Auschwitzgate” (as I’m calling it for the purposes of this article) may actually have been inevitable. After all, the affair shows what happens when a party demanding absolute transparency and unrestricted freedom of expression slams into a wall of carefully polished political correctness, after sideswiping a vast forest of “things you can’t say.” This fundamental incompatibility doesn’t only apply to Nazi-related issues, but also to other web-based taboos, such as child pornography – one of the party’s charter members was the pedophile politician Jörg Tauss,

who finally walked the plank in 2010.


As if this weren't trouble enough, the Pirates received more bad news just yesterday, when the Playmobil company formally objected to the party's use of its toy pirate figures for advertising purposes. This a minor setback, to be sure, but it does deny the troubled party its cleverest mascot.


"Not a political toy"?
The Playmobil pirate set, modified
for campaigning purposes


We’ll just have to wait and see how the Pirates navigate the mine-infested waters of twenty-first century European politics. “Freedom is always freedom for those who think differently,” communist party founder Rosa Luxemburg once wrote. Perhaps, but I suspect there are more than a few Pirates sailing the web with a little less canvas than usual tonight, erasing their cookies as they go.




Photo credits: www.piraten.de, wiki



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I'd heard of the Pirate Party Alan but knew little of this background. Thanks for the reporting.
Thanks, Abrawang. I've always liked the idea of the Pirates, and they never cease to surprise me - first for getting so far politically, and now for their current difficulties. I just heard on the radio that they are planning a conference in May to help them sort out their position on the past. This is a strange detour for a party that claims to live in the future!
The second sentence of the lead-in on the front page of Open Salon does not make sense:

"The nerd party is supposed to represent the new generation. Why is getting caught up in the nation's horrific past?"
Agreed, but I didn't write it and have no way of changing it.

Very true, but that's how politics works over here. And their fears aren't entirely unfounded, since the far right is itching for political participation now that the NPD is under extreme pressure following revelations about its connections with the so-called National Socialist Underground terror group, and with the Breivik trial opening in Norway (Breivik got a lot of his ideas over the Internet, after all). At the same time, of course, claims of "Nazi" sentiment in a party's ranks are the best club to beat it over the head with. The popular Pirates have the other parties running scared.
Extremely interesting. I had not head of the Pirates Party. A fascinating read. Learning today. Thank you.
As I read this post I couldn't get Mel Brooks' The Producers" out of my mind:
When asked how he could write a song like "Springtime for Hitler," Brooks replied that when you're faced with something as horrible and stupid as the history of anti-Semitic Nazi Germany you've got a choice: you can get angry and aggrandize that history with self righteous indignation or you can get even by exposing how ridiculous it is. My chosen weapon against anti-Semites has always been ridicule.
Agreed, and I assume that's the idea behind "Iron Sky." Can't wait to go see it!
Thank you for this informative post...even though I wish I hadn't heard about all this. The Pirate Party always seemed so whimsical - and yet, in many ways, so right about certain issues - to me. Now I know to be wary in my praise. A bit the way we have to think about real pirates, come to think of it....
Maybe they could use that tag line from the song (slightly revised) :

Don't be a stupid, be a smartie,
Come and join the Pirate Party!

When you can't legally say what you're thinking or believing, no matter how Frei Zu Gedanken may be, you are still living in an Orwellian World where:
Freedom is Slavery
Truth is Lies; and
War is Peace.

Nothing like a little Neuer Sprache to make the day go effortlessly by.

Plus Good, double plus good.
I learned this song in grade 4,and I have always liked it.History of it goes back to the middle age(Walther von der Vogelweide,1170-1230)
Here is the English version.
Thoughts are free, who can guess them?
They flee by like nocturnal shadows.
No man can know them, no hunter can shoot them
with powder and lead: Thoughts are free!

I think what I want, and what delights me,
still always reticent, and as it is suitable.
My wish and desire, no one can deny me
and so it will always be: Thoughts are free!

And if I am thrown into the darkest dungeon,
all this would be futile work,
because my thoughts tear all gates
and walls apart: Thoughts are free!

So I will renounce my sorrows forever,
and never again will torture myself with whimsies.
In one's heart, one can always laugh and joke
and think at the same time: Thoughts are free!

I love wine, and my girl even more,
Only her I like best of all.
I'm not alone with my glass of wine,
my girl is with me: Thoughts are free


As for the Pirates:We have to wait and see.I do not believe that they have much of a chance if they drift up into the far right corner.
Yes, it's a beautiful song, from the dark pre-unification days of the 19th century, when people were struggling for even the most basic of freedoms. I used to sing it with my kids.
did you sing the song in German?It has such lovely tune to it.
One remark to pirates,(play mobile):Children a certain age keep asking about thieves,and there is never a satisfying answer .Not long ago,I pasted a link to Ande's post.Tomy Ungerer"Die drei Räuber".T.U.did a great job helping kids overcome the fear of robbery.
The Piraten-Party is considered to be exotic.So has been the Green.(Joshka Fischer)
Berlin has become quite criminal,I have heard people say who live there.
Since this party has it's place in that area,I wonder how many of the hard core right wing will join it under false premisses.
I wish you a nice weekend,with and without April weather conditions.
Oh yes, we sang it in German, all right:

Die Gedanken sind frei,
Wer kann sie erraten?
Sie fliegen vorbei
Wie nächtliche Schatten...

My ancestors were "48ers," i.e. (economic) refugees from the 1848 crisis and revolution, so the song means a lot to me.

It's interesting what you have to say about Tommi Ungerer; I'm only vaguely aware of that book. I guess it's too late to read it to my kids now, seeing that they've just turned 24...
Very interesting post and comment thread. I have learned a lot. Thanks for this.
Tomi Ungerer 's book is art work.


The song is also very important for me,too.
T.U.is a very interesting person.There is material that can be ordered like a cd with a discussion on his 80th birthday.

www.jokers.de/.../ein-aufsaessiger-charakter-elke-heidenreich-trifft-t...Im Cache
Sie geben hierfür öffentlich +1. Rückgängig machen
4,99 € - Auf Lager

Ein aufsässiger Charakter - Elke Heidenreich trifft Tomi Ungerer, 1 Audio-CD von Tomi Ungerer, Elke Heidenreich. Mit 25 Jahren wanderte Ungerer in die USA ...
Tomi Ungerer is an artist.
For study purposes,it is good to look at a book like this because T.U.solved the problem in a clever way.
There is ,apart from his art work,material on the market like a cd in honour of him on his 80th birthday.

"Ein aufsässiger Charakter - Elke Heidenreich trifft Tomi Ungerer, 1 Audio-CD von Tomi Ungerer, Elke Heidenreich. Mit 25 Jahren wanderte Ungerer in die USA ..."

The song is for me also very important.I sing it whenever it gets too tight at some places.