In 2017, the Czech Pirate Party got nearly 11% of votes during the elections to the Chamber of Deputies, thus becoming the third strongest party in the country. As a result of these elections, the Czech Pirate Party became one of the most successful pirate parties in Europe. Now, a few months before the next parliamentary elections, their poll numbers are even better. According to the relevant poll surveys, the announced coalition of the Pirates and the Mayors and Independents is the strongest actor in the Czech party system.
However, who are the (Czech or other) Pirates? Although pirate parties have been part of European party systems for almost fifteen years, their research is still underdeveloped and a deeper analysis of their rhetoric and political communication is still missing. Pirate parties draw from sources of support (i.e. distrust and disappointment) that are similar to those of populist parties and movements. Pirates and populists are connected by a strong anti-corruption and anti-establishment rhetoric, which was also apparent in the Czech case. In any case, there are different views on whether pirate parties can be considered populist (for example, see here, here and here). However, the existing work addresses the issue only marginally and without clear theoretical specification, rigorous methodological approach, or empirical robustness.
In my recent article in Politics, I analysed the communication of the Czech Pirate Party on the social media and compared it to the communication of other Czech parties which are commonly understood as populist ones (i.e. right-wing populist Freedom and Direct Democracy and centrist/technocratic populist ANO led by contemporary prime minister and one of the richest entrepreneurs in the country Andrej Babiš), which showed a negligible level of the Pirates’ populism. Since it can be agreed that most politicians make occasional statements that can be classified as populist, the Pirates do not drift from the mainstream in this regard.
Pirates’ communication transformed significantly after the 2017 elections, when they became a parliamentary party. They seemed to at least rhetorically accommodate to the system of the parties that they had labelled as corrupt before the elections. The pre-election communication of the Pirates was predominantly anti-establishment, but even that does not allow us to classify their communication as populist. The anti-establishment appeal is a necessary but not a sufficient feature of populism. Not every anti-establishment party needs to show a high level of populist communication and not every vote for an anti-establishment party, which enters the system of traditional parties criticized as corrupt, is a vote for populist actors.
If we cannot classify the Czech Pirates as a populist party, what does this finding tell us about other pirate parties? Taking the shared characteristics into account, we can consider them as a party family. A similar conclusion can therefore be (with certain limits) expected for the pirate parties as such.
The result of my analysis better defines the boundary between pirate and populist parties. Although both categories have much in common, the differences appear to prevail. The pirates lack, among other things, the stylization into the role of the speaker of all people viewed as a homogeneous group. They also refrain from attacking other types of elites than political parties (for example, journalists as representatives of the cultural elite). The following research could focus on clarifying this boundary.