Good day for the Pirates

Understandably, the very scary success of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party in Greece's parliamentary eleciton has gotten more attention, but local elections in Germany also showed a growing presence for another once-fringe political movement: 

The young Pirate party appeared to emerge as the biggest winners in Schleswig-Holstein with 8 percent of the vote, according to the exit poll. This would be more than enough votes to usher the young party into its third state regional legislature in as many elections, after wins of 8.9 percent in Berlin and of 7.4 percent in Saarland.

With their emphasis on transparency and Internet issues, the Pirates continued to draw disgruntled voters from all of the traditional parties, the exit polls showed, making Schleswig-Holstein, home to about 2.8 million people, the largest state where they are now represented at the regional level.

Nicolas Kulish looked at the German Pirates' emergence as a political force to be reckoned with in Sunday's New York Times:

A recent survey found that nearly one in three Germans would in principle be willing to vote for the Pirates; they even nosed ahead of the Green Party in several opinion surveys as Germany’s third most popular party. The Greens were once the insurgent activists on the political scene. Now founding members from the ’68 generation have started collecting their pensions. A Green campaign poster with a cursor arrow pointing at a Facebook thumbs-up icon carried a whiff of desperation to keep up with the Pirates. 

Though they were once considered something of an eccentric oddity on the political scene, the anti-Pirate backlash in Germay seems to be growing in instensity.  One member of parliament recently noted that “the rise of the Pirate Party is as fast as that of the N.S.D.A.P.” — the Nazi Party — “between 1928 and 1933.”

The Nazi comparison seems a bit extreme, though a few members have been revealed to have far-right sympathy. But a number of artists and leftists -- seemingly the party's core constituency -- may be turning on them as well, according to Der Spiegel.

Take the 82-year-old poet and former Marxist  Magnus Enzensberger:

"Political? No, politically there's nothing there," Enzensberger growled over the telephone. "And certainly nothing revolutionary. It's actually surprisingly bourgeois. Like our grandparents, who were happy when they could get something for free."

The Pirates have proven they can make a showing in an election. The next test is if they can survive the scrutiny and criticism a semi-mainstream party inevitably receives. 



Does the West still want to free Tibet?

Adam Yauch, who passed away last week at the age of 47, will of course be remembered primarily as MCA from the Beastie Boys. But his role as the music industry's primary advocate for Tibetan independence may be a close second:

In addition to his career with the Beastie Boys, Yauch was heavily involved in the movement to free Tibet. A founder of the Milarepa Fund, Yauch was instrumental in the first Tibetan Freedom Concert in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park 1996, which drew 100,000 people – the largest U.S. benefit concert since 1985's Live Aid.

As Slate's David Weigel recalls, the concerts "became punchlines, eventually, but they started as expressly political events intended to sign up new recruits to a human rights cause that the government (then the glorious Clinton-Gingrich cohabitation) didn't want to touch."

Yauch, a practicing Buddhist whose wife was Tibetan, was uniquely committed to that cause. But with his passing, it's hard not to be struck by the degree to which Tibet has faded in prominence among politically committed Americans. With over 30 self-immolations in Tibet over the past year, it's not as if the controversy has gone away.

Pro-Tibet activists are still there, witness the protests during Xi Jinping's recent visit to Washington, including four activists who were arrested after unfurling a banner on the Arlington Memorial Bridge. But since the last U.S. Tibetan Freedom Concert in 1999, the issue hasn't really commanded the Kony 2012-level interest it once garnered from young Americans.

There are probably several reasons for this. The Dalai Lama, the most visible living symbol of Tibet's national aspirations, has been gradually retreating from his political role. As Weigel notes, many of those involved in the Free Tibet movement, including the Beasties, turned their attention to issues closer to home during the Bush administration. 

Then there's the increasing allure of China for the entertainment industry. The prize of China's $2-billion-a-year film market has made Hollywood studios a lot less likely to back  projects like Kundun or Seven Years in Tibet. That's true of musicians as well: Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones have been on their best behavior during recent tours of China, possibily for fear of getting the Björk treatment.

I would imagine the MCA's of tomorrow might prefer to attach themselves to global movements that don't risk alienating a billion potential customers.