Ásta G. Helgadóttir
Former occupation: Student, and then working for the Democratic Society and The Tactical Tech Collective
Favourite band of the moment: “I don’t listen to music.”
Favourite book: Currently, ‘The Book Thief’. Otherwise I’m a boring Harry Potter fan.
Political “hero”: “The Suffragettes, Sylvia Pankhurst and others. They were basically punks that made a statement about women’s suffrage rights.”
Favourite Reykjavík swimming pool: Vesturbæjarlaug
Top 3 problems that we most urgently need to solve in Iceland:
- Figure out what to do with the fact that we now own two banks, instead of just one, and what we’re going to do with it.
- We also need to have a broad discussion about the future of the Icelandic króna and its sustainability as a currency if we’re going to move away from capital controls.
- Fix the constitution.
“I started in Icelandic politics in 2013,” says Ásta, sitting in the Pirate Party office on the nearby Austurstræti. “I’d been following what happened after the crash in 2008. A lot of kids were pretty disengaged, I don’t think they realised the seriousness of it—at least amongst my peers, I was the only one who was following it. But in 2013 the Pirate Party came along. The freedom of information aspect attracted me—I’m very much against censorship.”
One idea being mooted at the time was the blocking of porn sites in Iceland, which set alarm bells ringing for Ásta. “According to Icelandic law, pornography is illegal,” she says. “It’s a law from the 19th century, and it hasn’t been enforced for fifteen years now. Then the idea of building a ‘pornography shield’ around Iceland came up. And I thought, ‘No, you can’t do that! It’s censorship!’ And they were like, ‘No, it’s not censorship, we’re thinking about the children!’”
“The Pirate Party is trying to infiltrate the system and change these ‘heritage laws,’” she continues, “because when you read a law, you have to understand the root of that law—when was it written, what was the context, and the culture. And now we’re in the 21st century, with the internet, which changes everything.”
Ásta is a keen study of Icelandic political history, talking in broad strokes about the country’s traditional social conservatism and market liberalism, the historical legacy of the powerful farming and fishing lobbies, and ongoing debates in everything from censorship to industrial reform.
“Iceland is an unusual place, politically speaking,” she says. “There’s a void in Icelandic politics when it comes to liberal parties. In Denmark and Sweden, there are many liberal parties, so there is less space for a Pirate Party. They have parties that are consistently liberal, and have been since the ‘60s. There’s a reason Denmark was the first country to legalise porn in 1969. In Iceland there’s a lot of social conservatism, even though people want to be libertarians as far as the market, etcetera. What the Pirates are trying to do is more of social liberalism.”
She pauses, stressing her next point word by word. “We don’t want to micro-manage the market, but my way of thinking is: first we want to protect the individual; then the society; and then the market. If a policy protects the market, but is not good for the society or the individual, then in my view it’s a bad policy.”
And this is one area where the touchstone Pirate issue of transparency comes to the fore. “As a party, our platform has been evolving, and is still evolving,” says Ásta. “Our core policies are moral and ethical guidelines about how we want to function as a party. Explaining for example, what transparency is—it’s something we can apply to governments or institutions. Individuals are not transparent—me for example, you cannot apply transparency to me. But you can apply it to my work as a legislator. Public figures are also individuals, and therefore have a right to privacy.”
We know where you live
In practice, protecting individual rights is a thornier, more difficult task than it might seem. The joins between Iceland’s traditional, sometimes antique civil infrastructure
Hacking Politics: An In-Depth Look At Iceland’s Pirate Party
Published November 19, 2015