The far-right Sweden Democrats are topping the polls, and no wonderby Tatty Good / February 5, 2016 / Leave a comment
Sweden’s response to the European migrant crisis is facing a serious backlash. The Sweden Democrats, an openly anti-immigrant party, is now polling at 28.8 per cent—seven points ahead of the Social Democrat party, led by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven.
Immigration is the most hotly debated and divisive issue in Sweden at the moment, and the Sweden Democrats have benefitted. So emotive is the immigration question that elements in the conservative-leaning Moderate Party are beginning to contemplate cooperation. Although the majority of Sweden Democrats’ voters have defected from the Moderate Party, it doesn’t describe itself as either right or left wing and while its nationalist and socially conservative ideology are right-wing, their support for the welfare state is closer to the policies of the left-wing Social Democrats.
The Sweden Democrat party was officially founded in 1988, but first reached the four per cent necessary for parliamentary representation in the general election in 2010. In the last general election in September 2014 it polled 12.9 per cent, becoming Sweden’s third largest party. So far it has not managed to secure the parliamentary cooperation of other parties, which has checked its influence.
But increased levels of immigration into the EU and Sweden have changed the party’s fortunes and its message is gaining traction. Since taking over in 2005, the current party leader, Jimmie Åkesson, has been quick to distance himself from the party’s historical links to fascist and white supremacist parties and to cut out the party’s openly racist elements. Now, the party’s website is a cheery blue and yellow celebration of a pastoral, blue-eyed Sweden.
A month after declaring a policy of zero tolerance towards racism in the party in 2012, however, video footage came to light of prominent Sweden Democrat MPs arguing with Swedish comedian of Kurdish descent. The footage shows the comedian being told that Sweden is “not his country” and that he “acts like a wog.”
Reports of other SD politicians making sexist, racist and homophobic statements are frequently in the news and a recent Guardian report which went behind the scenes at the 2015 SDU (Sweden Democratic youth organisation) conference showed young SD supporters referring to themselves as “the elite” and talking about “filthy Rumanians.” The main party has since split with the youth wing.
Yet despite the scandals and racist undertones, the party forges ahead. The growing popularity of SD does not necessarily mean that a third of Swedish voters are xenophobic, more that the other parties have failed to address popular dissatisfaction with the country’s open immigration policy. Sweden has long prided itself on its humanitarianism, tolerance and openness and last year the country took the highest number of refugees, relative to its population, of any European nation.
The past year has seen numerous anti-immigrant incidents, including arson attacks on asylum centres, a racially motivated school killing in Trollhättan and, last month, masked vigilantes on the prowl in Stockholm looking for north African street children to “punish.” There is violence and crime perpetrated by immigrants, too, often accompanied by a counter-productive reluctance to report such incidents.
In a case similar to the New Year Cologne sex attacks, large numbers of young immigrant men—refugees primarily from Afghanistan, according to internal police reports—sexually harassed girls at a music festival in Stockholm both last summer and in 2014. Peter Ågren, police chief in central Stockholm, stated: “Sometimes we do not dare to say how things really are because we believe it will play into the hands of the Sweden Democrats.”
In recent months, the government has been taking a firmer stance on immigration, introducing border controls and preparing to expel some 80,000 asylum seekers over the course of the year. But it may be too late. A very Swedish reluctance to discuss difficult, controversial concerns openly for fear of being seen as racist or intolerant has already pushed voters towards the Sweden Democrats, and its vision of a “safe, traditional Sweden.”