The Pirate Party movement has gone global, with official chapters from Bosnia to Bolivia. A product of the Internet era for young people disenchanted with traditional politics, the parties’ positions are not entirely clear but generally demand more direct democracy, a reform of copyright and patent laws, freedom of information, and personal privacy.

In Germany, the Pirate Party is especially successful; members are already represented in two state parliaments. According to recent polls, the Pirates would gain between 10% and 13% in the next German elections — an incredible result, especially when one compares it to the 35% that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party is expected to get.

The Piratenpartei’s most prominent face is Marina Weisband, 25. She was born in Kiev and like tens of thousands of other Russian-speaking Jews, immigrated to Germany in the 1990s. Although Weisband decided this weekend not to run for a second term as political director, she is still the German media’s go-to person for all things Pirate Party.

In recent days, Weisband — who doesn’t keep kosher but goes to synagogue almost every Friday night — was interviewed by countless German media outlets. Excited about a party that promises to shake up the country’s political landscape, they all wanted to hear what she has to say about what observers dubbed the party’s “neo-Nazi problem.” Over the last few weeks, some members have caused several scandals with controversial statements.

Marina Weisband at a press conference in 2011 (photo credit: CC-BY: Tobias M. Eckrich)

Marina Weisband at a press conference in 2011 (photo credit: CC-BY: Tobias M. Eckrich)

Party member Bodo Thiesen, for example, is said to have repeatedly denied the Holocaust and blamed Poland for World War II, and party official Kevin Barth tweeted that he generally finds Jews “unlikable.” There were other similar cases, leading the head of the party’s Berlin chapter, Hartmut Semken, to lament that he can’t bear any more calls for the party to distance itself from such views.

Eloquent and highly photogenic, Weisband has temporarily withdrawn from the public stage to finish her psychology degree. Yet she promised to remain an active party member and said she might consider running for a seat in the Bundestag during the 2013 national elections.

The Times of Israel: How big is the Pirate Party’s neo-Nazi problem?

Marina Weisband: There is none. We have about four or five people with extreme right-wing views, who express their ideas within the party. That’s not a lot among 23,000 members. The bigger problem in my eyes is that some Pirates — it’s just a minority but still — say these ideas are covered by the freedom of opinion, that such people should be allowed to speak their minds freely. That’s the problem we’re having, although the majority of the party is on my side, which is that freedom of opinion is something the state has to guarantee but not every individual party. We need to exclude these people from the party as far as that is legally possible. Wherever it’s not legally possible, we need to isolate them.

Are they really just a handful? The topics dominates press coverage, the papers lists numerous cases of rather dubious statements.

We’re an up-and-coming party and people are trying to look for our weaknesses. One has to know that in our party, every member is allowed to express himself publicly. As soon as one member says something [controversial] it creates a lot of indignation. If enough people are outraged, the press starts taking notice and blows such stories out of proportion. In recent months some people made [negative] headlines, but that’s of course out of all proportion. If the opinion of every single member would get as much attention, the picture would relativize itself automatically.

‘There are also many critics of Israel’s policies, especially regarding the settlements. They say that we need established borders so that both populations can live in peace’

It’s really just a few people. The actual problem is that they aren’t sufficiently excluded, that they are not being fought strongly enough politically. That’s also something that we’re making efforts to advance. It really needs to be said that in the history of German political parties we’re probably the party with the smallest Nazi problem. If you look at the Greens, when they were founded they had an incredible amount of former SS members. We also have our fair share of idiots, and in my opinion we have to oppose them assertively.

What about party official Martin Delius? He likened the Pirates’ quick rise in popularity to Hitler’s National Socialist Party between 1928 and 1933. He didn’t make any comparisons regarding the parties’ platforms but he still drew the ire of many outside observers and party members.

Those who are now taking advantage of this are simply engaging in a power struggle. Of course the comparison was really stupid. But regarding the content it was absolutely harmless. He might as well have said that we’re using pants just like the Nazi party did, or that we have belly buttons just like the Nazis did. While it was foolish I cannot suspect him of having neo-Nazi attitudes. He himself was active in the Antifa [a leftist group fighting neo-Nazism and racism].

Pirate Party members during a demonstration in 2010 (photo credit: CC-BY: Tobias M. Eckrich)

Pirate Party members during a demonstration in 2010 (photo credit: CC-BY: Tobias M. Eckrich)

I know him well. On Holocaust Remembrance Day we were together in Berlin — it was a foolish slip for which he immediately apologized and consequently withdrew his candidacy for the federal board. In my eyes that’s a poised way to deal with a mistake.

Do the Pirates have a foreign policy? How do you see Germany’s relationship with Israel?

We have not yet voted on the foreign policy part of our party platform. That’s scheduled for November. The reason for that is that we started working politically only two years ago and we can only afford one party convention per year. We need a little bit of time for that. Of course there are already discussions about this topic: in general, we’re critical of interventionism. We promote the founding of a Pirate Party in Israel in order to be able to work closely together with them.

The Pirates are an international movement that’s represented in 50 countries by now. It’s always easier to talk about foreign policy when there are local people who understand the situation there and know the needs of the population… Most party members advocate for a policy of peace [in the Middle East]. However, we do not have concrete positions regarding how Germany should act in the Middle East conflict. We are certainly not going to take a stand on one particular side. Rather, we say that we need to try somehow to establish borders and find a common solution. That’s the tenor of the discussion.

Israel’s current policies regarding the expansion of West Bank settlements is criticized by leaders from all major German parties. Also by leading Pirates?

Members of the Pirate Party differ immensely from one another regarding their opinions. One person, whom we needed to throw out of the party, was in favor of nuking Iran. We needed to let him go because we said that’s not a demand that the Pirate Party would support like that. There are also many critics of Israel’s policies, especially regarding the settlements. They say that we need established borders so that both populations can live in peace. But again, I can only present concrete positions regarding this topic in November.

You have yet to formulate clear foreign policy guidelines but are already against an attack on Iran?

Exactly. The Pirate Party conducted a survey to establish an opinion, which was critical of interventions. We do make exceptions [in certain cases] but we view a preemptive strike as not useful. We support any civil means to prevent a build-up of arms.

After your meteoric rise in popularity a few months ago you received anti-Semitic hate mail. Is that still the case?

It did become quieter. I don’t notice them anymore. But I do need to say that I now have an assistant who reads my emails and I don’t know how many he filters out. It was only a few isolated cases. I need to say that even with the open way in which I deal with my faith I’m able to lead a very quiet live in Germany.

Have you ever been to Israel?

Not yet. This spring I finally wanted to visit, but the work I do for the party destroyed my plans. My mother also keeps on raving about Israel and wants to send me there all the time.