Even Sweden is not safe from the far right
The far right is creeping up to power in Europe. Whether it is in Italy in which the far right Giorgia Meloni just became the new PM, or in France, where Marine Le Pen was a real threat to the current government of Macron. No country is safe from the far right. This was especially proven in the latest elections in Sweden. In the September elections, the far right Sweden Democrats (SD) became the second-largest party in Sweden as they secured 20 percent of the vote. This result comes as a shock to many who know Sweden as a very much idyllic and liberal country. However, the same discontent that is leading voters to the far right in other European states, has been serving as the building blocks for the SD over the past decade.
The SD was founded in 1988, with members coming from various backgrounds, including fascists and people connected to neo-Nazi movements. This connection was denounced by the new party leader in the mid-90s. It is questioned, however, whether this neo-Nazi ideology ever really left their agenda, even if they do not openly support it. When Jimmie Akesson became the new party leader in 2005, the SD really started getting more attention from voters and the media. He took on more populist rhetoric, portraying the party as advocating for ordinary people against a corrupt elite. The party entered the Riksdag (the Swedish parliament) in 2010, with 6 percent of the vote. In 2011, the party introduced a ‘zero tolerance for racism’ policy, supposedly expelling party members if they were expressing opinions that were too racist. That being said, Akesson claimed in 2009 that Muslims and Islam were a public enemy and the biggest foreign threat since WWII, and he did not let go of that sentiment after 2011. The SD struggled to come to the political forefront until the migration crisis of 2015. Since then, the party has maintained a steady increase in votes.
Sweden was always the exception among European states in terms of their immigration policies, taking in more refugees than the EU-minimum standard. The influx of Muslim refugees seeking asylum has impacted politics and society. Sweden has been welcoming to people coming from
active war zones, taking in an unprecedented number (160 000) in 2015. Being this open
towards refugees was always a point of pride for Sweden, but after taking in that unprecedented amount in 2015, the pot started to boil over. Even the Social Democrats had to change their position and openly admit that the pace at which asylum-seeking refugees were coming in was unsustainable. The Sweden Democrats, however, were already on top of this issue. Anna Wieslander, chairwoman of Sweden’s Institute for Security and Development, mentioned that because the governments in Europe have been so reluctant in dealing with the migration issue, it is not surprising that the far right is on the rise. Citizens that felt threatened by all the newcomers, found themselves drawn to the populist rhetoric of the SD, who have been capitalizing on their concerns. The SD links the Muslim immigrants to an increase in violent crimes and as threatening to the Swedish welfare system. They call for asylum immigration to be halted.
This being said, there are more reasons for the unrest. Many Swedish citizens were also not content with how the government of Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson was dealing with the energy crisis. They felt like Sweden was just blindly following the US, while not gaining anything. Furthermore, the country is facing a very serious gun violence problem, rating the highest on the continent. In fear of losing more voters, the Social Democrats introduced tougher policies on crime, saying that too much migration and too weak integration have led to parallel societies where criminal gangs have been able to grow and gain a foothold. The right-wing parties are still unsatisfied. The increase in gun violence provides the SD with another argument for their anti-immigration agenda. It is unfortunate to see the Social Democrats almost crumbling under pressure. Their decision to introduce tougher crime policies in the middle of the campaign has left a lot of victims of crimes frustrated. They feel like it was merely a strategic decision and not at all intended to actually tackle the issue. Next to that, the residents of the poorer neighborhoods feel marginalized, especially since Sweden was full of promises like equal treatment. The pressing gun violence issue is definitely in need of solutions, however, just higher sentences on the related crimes are not enough, it needs to be tackled from the root.
Whilst people feel like the traditional parties are incapable of solving these pressing issues facing society in Europe and Sweden, they turn right wing. The rhetoric and simple solutions proposed by the far right are very appealing to voters. The left and center of the Swedish political arena have been isolating the SD for a long time, and now see them being settled as the second biggest party. Even when they are not in government, the agenda of the far right has found its way into policy. For example, the center-left government in Denmark adopted the anti-immigration policies of their rivals, trying to appease that side of the political landscape.
A similar thing has already been happening in Sweden, and will probably continue under the new government. The Party leader for the Moderate party, Mr. Kirstersson, is anticipated to become prime minister. It is unclear as of now, whether the Moderate Party will engage in a coalition or formal cooperation with the SD. The Moderate Party is different from the current Social Democrats, in that Mr. Kirstersson seems more likely to work with the SD. Nonetheless, the Moderate Party will need the support of the Sweden Democrats in Parliament. Mr. Akesson has already stated that his support will not come at a low cost. Sweden has to prepare itself for a clear change in the political landscape. Hopefully, Sweden will not lose any more of its points of pride.