Amelia sits back on a chair with her legs spread, like boys in the hood. She stares down at the floor, bites her lips, hides her hands inside the sleeves of her black hoodie and catches both between her knees. Then she dives into the future.
Not so long from now, 15-year old kids will connect via wireless to your car and cut the brakes. Your children will have their personality dictated by Google algorithms, which already record everything you do on the Internet and deliver what ‘they’ think is good. Your brain will be a mosaic of trademarks.
Your freedom is in danger — not that old-school freedom that some idiot rants about on TV. Life is becoming tangled with the Internet, and the freedom of the Internet is being decided as we speak. What the 1960s were to Civil Rights, these years will be to digital rights. Down with copyright.. long live anonymity!
Amelia is talking about all of this in such clear, well-spoken English that I always have the feeling she’s pulling her sentences out of a water well. There’s a strange echo in here as well. We’re in a large, empty apartment at Unirii Square in Bucharest. In one room there’s a table with laptops clustered all over. Around it, hackers are drinking beer from plastic bottles, trying to crack open a server while discussing the fate of the world.
These guys are programmers for 5 days a week and hackers for the other 2. They have a couchsurfing pal in the Regie neighborhood. A couple of weeks ago, a Swedish girl who wanted to learn Romanian stumbled into his college dorm room. Surfing the web, she had come across the Science-Fiction Tales collection, a Romanian magazine dating back to the ’60s, and she wanted to read it. She found no translations, so she traveled to Bucharest.
The girl is Amelia Andersdotter, a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) representing the Pirate Party in Sweden. She’s the youngest Member of the European Parliament, in fact. When she found out that she had been elected, she was 22. Until not so long ago, she was sporting a punk haircut straight out of Mad Max, coupled with the typical “Fuck You” sort of look. In an interview for The Telegraph, she was making faces at the interviewer, sticking her tongue out, and even told the Brit to his face that he was asking really dumb questions (which he was). Then she hit him below the belt with very strong arguments in favor of digital piracy. She’s not exactly your typical MEP.
There are many colorful characters in the European Parliament, and Romania has its fair share of the contribution – we sent a bimbo, a shepherd turned businessman, and a filthy corrupt hack, among others. But Amelia isn’t there through some anomaly of representative democracy — she is precisely the proof that this kind of democracy can function.
The clash between politics and the digital generation has fascinated me for a while, so the night I ended up hanging out with an MEP in a lair of hackers, I asked all kinds of dumb questions and heard about her story aboard the ship of European pirates.
“I’m not making illusions. I’m here because of a torrent tracker.”
Amelia was born in Enköping, a small town in the south of Sweden. Growing up, she wanted to become a mathematician. She always had a computer in her home, but never used it at first for things other than games: until she found some Internet forums about programs for mathematical formulas. She promptly knocked on the door of a computer nerd friend of hers, who taught her how to use Linux and other open source software (such as a text editor that will make crepes for you if you know how to program it).
This was her gateway to the ideology of open source software. Needless to say, during her first year of college, when a friend of hers called and told her that the Pirate Party had been founded, she didn’t think twice.
“I asked, ‘how much is it?’ They told me it was something like 50 cents. I signed up via text message. Then I went to one of their meetings and realized they’re cool people. So I ended up working with them for… 6 years now!”
Three years later, during the Euro Parliament elections, she was the second name on the party ballot, just below a 51-year old programmer. She was given a 1,000 Euro campaign budget, and with that, she traveled throughout the country. She took the train and couchsurfed.
“I had always wanted to go to Northern Sweden, really far up. So I wrote to the pirates there and told them ‘I’d like to visit Luleå. Can you find an excuse for me to be there? – Sure!’ So I went there, and it was really awesome, one of the most beautiful places on earth. It’s super quiet!”
It was all beautiful madness — the Pirate Party was enlisting thousands of members, but functioned more like a massive fiesta rather than like “serious politics.” Except that right before the 2009 elections, the verdict in the Pirate Bay trial was made public. The site administrators were sentenced to a year in prison each, and forced to pay around 3 million euros in damages for breaking copyright laws. Protests erupted in the days following the decision — the Pirate Party saw its ranks swell by more than 25,000 people and the organization surged in the polls by about 5%.
The Pirate Party ultimately managed to gather 225,000 votes, 7,1%, just enough to send one MEP. After the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon, Sweden was granted another seat, and Amelia was the first on the list. Going through the paperwork lasted for about two years, so it’s only in January that she will officially begin her work in Bruxelles.
To make matters interesting, small and strange though they may be, the pirates have already exerted a great deal of influence over laws in the European Parliament. The European Green Party adopted their ideology vis-a-vis open source software, and many politicians from other parties sympathize with the pirate cause. There didn’t used to be MEPs who understand how the web works. This meant that laws were largely being made by lobbyists, which turned the Internet into a private playground for corporations.
“How did the Pirate Party change your life?” I asked her. She paused, recounted all the adventures of the past 6 years and said to me: “In fact, it hasn’t really changed my life. It was all about a group of friends finding a way to change the world in the most fun possible way. That was our goal, our spare time side project, and we worked really hard to achieve it.”
This attitude seemed strange to me. Amelia nonchalantly says things like “France needs to strengthen its position relative to Germany.” But she doesn’t say it like an idle observer would: she says it in an involved way, as if it’s her own personal duty to lend a hand to shifting France a few meters further.
I’m more used to young Romanian people, who either show a great deal of admiration riddled with humility for a mammoth like the European Parliament, or they show relentless hate and a desire to just burn it down to the ground. In many cases, they show both simultaneously. Much love and much hate, as the song goes. After a week spent in Bucharest, the young Swedish pirate says the following about this Romanian paradox:
“All Romanians busy themselves with how to change Romania, but the same people say that nobody does anything. I’ve never encountered anyone in Romania who doesn’t have some idea on how to better the country. Romania is not politically lost, on the contrary. It’s all changing.
Changes don’t always come in the form of a revolution. It doesn’t say anywhere that change in Romania must come from the president. You can change things from the bottom up. And I think Romania is choosing this second option.”
To accomplish great things, even a pirate needs some peace of mind. But maybe it’s best if you listen to Amelia directly.
Translation by Angela Radulescu.