As Chair of Parliament for Asgardia, the space nation, Lembit Öpik is centrally involved in working to fully establish all the elements of its operational digital democracy. In this account, he shares developments from the closing stages of the year, including a Digital Sitting of Parliament that was the subject of dramatic adaptation in the light of global events - and the approval of a new Asgardian Prime Minister.
The year 2020 hasn’t been an easy one for many people - and almost all nations. The spread of the aggressive and sometimes lethal Covid-19 infection has left the global economy battered and bruised. The disease has affected many millions, with over 1.5 million succumbing. I myself contracted Covid-19 and it was so serious that I was nearly admitted to hospital. One member of my family had to be hospitalised and almost died; only the selfless care of Britain’s National Health Service saved her. My family came through it but the trauma of Coronavirus will remain with us for a long time.
Throughout these harrowing challenges, Asgardia - the first dedicated space nation - has managed to continue in its mission to create a sustainable, peaceful and inclusive society in space. The structure of Asgardia’s political system means we’ve been able to do our work by travelling only through the medium of the Internet. In this way, Asgardian Members of Parliament (AMPs) can interface digitally and safely despite national ‘lockdowns’.
However, one key event had to be postponed. The physical sitting of Parliament, the annual opportunity for AMPs and staff to meet in person, became a casualty of lockdowns, as the second wave of the virus hit Europe like a hammer blow. Our intended venue in Cyprus generously said it would still accommodate us and I worked hard to make it happen but, in truth, I now realise I was naively optimistic about the chances of holding any event where people would meet physically during such challenging times.
The current imperative is to kick-start large scale commercial activity
Asgardia’s informed and highly observant Head of Administration, Lena de Winne, offered wise counsel about the severe issues quarantine brought with it. Essentially, she advised me that believing this physical event could happen was a triumph of hope over reality. Lena also correctly cited Asgardia’s duty of care - we have to keep colleagues safe from the virus. Eventually, we amended the Physical Sitting to become a Digital Sitting - the only responsible option.
Head of Nation Dr Igor Ashurbeyli (pictured centre) held a series of meetings this summer in Corfu, Greece, with (from left): Chief Legal Advisor Marcus Gronbach, Head of Administration Lena De Winne, Chair of the Justice Committee Salvos Mouzakitis, and Chairman of Parliament Lembit Öpik.
While the format of our sitting changed, ‘the song remained the same’. The current imperative is basic economics - to kick-start large scale economic activity. Our founder and Head of Nation Dr Igor Ashurbeyli has been immensely generous in supporting Asgardia’s activities. His investment has made the nation happen - and grow. It now needs to advance to a situation where Asgardia is self-funding. In fact, we must operate at a surplus because we need to invest in work that leads to the first human birth in space and the first human space habitation – making space a permanent home, not just a place to visit.
Preliminary debates about all this occurred some weeks earlier at two events called Asgardia Legislative Forums (ALF). These forums enable Parliamentarians to speak about a given subject, in this case the finances. At the first of these Mark Bogen, Chief Executive Officer of the Asgardia Financial Ark, set the scene for business ventures with a compelling emphasis on practical steps. The second ALF concentrated on budgetary matters. All this meant that the Digital Sitting did not have to commence from a standing start. Asgardia’s tenth Digital Sitting, held between 18-20 December (17 Capronicus-19 Capronicus 0004 in the Asgardian calendar), showed that Parliament recognised the commercial realities that pave the pathway for action.
Residents - including Parliamentarians - are encouraged to generate wealth and success
The address by Dr Ashurbeyli clearly laid out the route map to Asgardia’s future achievements, with structural, economic and foreign affairs goals. In short, we need to increase residency, make money and win recognition from terrestrial countries. It’s a clear agenda for the year ahead.
Ben Dell, Deputy Chair of the Asgardian Parliament.
Politics works best when it is consistent and conversations held in successive meetings this year very much converged with the Head of Nation’s hard-hitting clarity on the solid action needed to deliver his inspirational vision. I find it encouraging that the parliamentary dialogue has advanced maturely from one forum to the next with such a sense of common purpose.
In seeking to become self-funding, consideration must now be given to the best way to attract more Asgardian residents. The number is growing, with each paying 100 euros annually. The Resident’s Fee is an important income stream and I believe we’re capable of increasing resident numbers by orders of magnitude, creating income to balance the books and a surplus for research and development relating to our national targets.
With the economy, Parliamentarians are the primary agents of change; they’re very active, closely involved with the nation’s evolution and dedicated to national success. Dr Ashurbeyli regards entrepreneurship as a positive quality to be celebrated.
Residents - including Parliamentarians - are encouraged to generate wealth and success. The aim is actually to make Asgardia the most business friendly nation. All this was extensively debated in the Digital Sitting, with support for the principle and an acceptance that we have to turn that principle into processes.
In approving the record of the budget for 2020, Parliament agreed it as an accurate account. However, it was emphasised that this was the past and that we must shape the financial future. I believe that the Parliamentary Sitting left no one in any doubt about both the opportunity and the responsibility we have in Parliament to make commercial activity happen. That is why I am so involved in kick-starting our economy.
For the first time in our history, we have a full complement of 150 AMPs in our State legislature
In recent months, I’ve been working with Deputy Chairs Ben Dell and Salvos Mouzakitis - and others - to ensure that setting up a company is clear, simple and speedy. All of this ought to attract entrepreneurs and facilitate wealth generation for individuals, and therefore Asgardia, in a marketplace of over a million people.
Another point of note at the formal Sitting was the arrival of our new Parliamentarians. Fifty-five new AMPs successfully gained the votes they needed in the Parliamentary by-election to win a seat. For the first time in our history, we have a full compliment of 150 AMPs in our State legislature.
The AMPs-elect did not vote on proceedings at this Sitting, but after a verification process will have the right to do so at the next one. This time, the new AMPs were invited to introduce themselves on the first day and were free to speak in debates as part of the ‘on-boarding’ process. I noticed that new AMPs brought diverse perspectives to Parliament. Everyone seemed very keen to make sure there was a welcoming atmosphere and I noted that messaging traffic at least tripled during the Sitting, which perhaps indicates that even in a few short years, communication habits have evolved.
As Dr Ashurbeyli’s address made clear, new people bring new ideas and he expects this to be a powerful force in the Parliament. My impression from this Sitting is that it will be.
Adding dozens of fresh minds to an established institution, like Asgardia’s Parliament, can bring with it tensions between new and old; but it also has the capacity to stimulate thinking and the process has to be allowed to develop organically. In terms of group culture, even as Chair of Parliament, I can facilitate the process but I cannot direct exactly where it leads us.
The major news in terms of appointments was the approval of Lena De Winne as Prime Minister. This appointment was proposed by the Supreme Space Council and endorsed by an overwhelming majority of AMPs. She leaves her role in Administration and we will hear more about her aims and objectives for Government in the New Year. It’s hugely motivating to see the Government reforming and I’m really looking forward to turbocharging progress as we make the Parliament/Government relationship define itself by what it does to forge forward with common cause.
Two new Ministers were also approved by Parliament: Mark Bogen for Finance and Floris Wuyts back to his previous position in Science. The alliances between Ministers and Chairs is critically important.
A prime goal of Asgardia is to invest in work that leads to the first human birth in space and the first human space habitation – making space a permanent home, not just a place to visit.
The new AMPs and Ministers arrive at a time where there is so much clarity about what we need to do that I would be amazed if anyone who attended is in any doubt that turning ideas into action is what counts now. The economy and resident numbers are the key performance indicators for Parliament and Government. The alliances between Government Ministers and Committee Chairs are a vital component in delivering results. The other roles in Government will be filled organically, as ideal candidates are found and proposed by the Prime Minister for Parliamentary consideration.
Whatever the troubles that await us here on Earth in the year ahead, living in space is the prize
Almost forgotten in the melee of debates and voting was that Covid-19 has not derailed us. The illness has affected AMPs, some of whom have suffered personal loss due to Coronavirus. And so we see in this loss, and the tales of others, as long as we live on or near Earth, that we’ll continue dealing with such issues. But we have also shown that our nation has the robustness not to be stalled by adversity or external stresses. This was a point explicitly made at the Digital Sitting by a number of contributors.
Looking ahead, I summarise my expectations for 2021 - or 0005 as it is in Asgardia’s calendar – with two points:
- Parliament’s enhanced team of 150 AMPs can and must build businesses that make profits for themselves and revenue for Asgardia.
- We need to promote the real value of being an Asgardian Resident, so that people worldwide join in their thousands.
What I would like to be able to say this time next year is: “Fellow Parliamentarians, Asgardia has returned a surplus, so we can now support ourselves as a civic society and begin investing in our journey to space, for all humankind.”
Head of Nation Dr Ashurbeyli rightly expects results, and I expect to deliver them with our Parliament, and working with our new Prime Minister and Government. Whatever the troubles that await us here on Earth in the year ahead, living in space is the prize. The route map to our goal remains as constant as the North Star.