The Surprising Rise of the Far Right in Sweden | World

As Europe awaits the results of the fiercely contested Swedish elections, some are wondering: how did this happen? A nationalist and anti-immigrant party, the Swedish Democrats, is about to join a right-wing coalition to govern the country, until now considered a bastion of tolerance.

A look at the party’s origins and trajectory provides some answers.

On Sunday, Sweden held parliamentary elections. With more than 95% of the votes counted, an official winner has yet to be declared. Exit polls on Sunday night initially indicated a victory for the center-left coalition led by the Social Democrats, which has been in power since 2014.

  • Sweden’s Prime Minister Admits Defeat Before Final Election Results

But as the tally progresses, a victory for the right-wing bloc – made up of the Moderate Party, the Christian Democrats (KD), the Liberals and the right-wing populist Swedish Democrats – appears to be looming, with nearly 49.7% of the vote. .

Although the final results are not expected until this Wednesday (14/09), the Social Democrats have so far received the highest percentage of votes, 30.5%.

But currently, the Swedish Democrats are the second strongest party, winning 20.6% of the vote, in the best electoral performance in its history. That makes them the biggest party on the right, ahead of the Moderate Party, which came in third with 19.1%.

What is the origin of the Swedish Democrats?

Founded in 1988, the Swedish Democrats party unified various elements of Sweden’s far-right scene, including fascists and militants in the white supremacist movement. “Some of them also had links to overtly neo-Nazi movements,” says Johan Martinsson, a professor of political science at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

By the mid-1990s, however, the party’s new leadership publicly denounced Nazism. “Gradually, the party began to normalize and ban absolute racism,” explains Martinsson, who has written an extensive article about the party. Openly extremist members were expelled, and the legend’s platform was reshaped.

But according to Bulent Kenes, a former editor of a persecuted Turkish newspaper who has been living in Sweden seeking asylum since 2016, “they have a hidden agenda.” He believes the party just put a compassionate face on its neo-Nazi ideology, to make it more socially acceptable.

A new face in the party leadership

In 2005, the current leader of the party, Jimmie Akesson, became the leader of the party. Aged just 26 at the time, the former Moderate Party member shifted the image of the Sweden Democrats away from their far-right roots, taking it in a more populist direction.

Alongside other right-wing populist movements, the party sought to project itself as a “defender of the ‘ordinary people’ against a corrupt elite at the height of a global recession”, as academic Danielle Lee Tomson wrote in an article on the rise of the Swedish Democrats. .

As part of its effort to project a softer image, the party’s logo was also changed: from the Swedish flag represented as a flaming torch, to a flower in the Swedish flag’s colors, yellow and blue.

The party debuted in 2010 in the Riksdag, the Swedish parliament, when it won almost 6% of the vote. But he struggled to gain traction and was considered an outcast in coalition building.

That changed after the 2015 migration crisis, which set the stage for Sweden’s Democrats to be more accepted as potential partners by the country’s traditional parties.

Largely due to the civil war in Syria, Europe faced a wave of mostly Muslim refugees in 2015. Over the course of a year, 1.3 million people fled to Europe. Sweden took in around 163,000 asylum seekers (Germany took in around 1 million). That year, Sweden had the second highest number of asylum applications per capita in Europe, after Hungary.

Political scientist Martinsson sees this as an important factor for the party to gain traction. “The main reason for the party’s success over the past decade has been the exceptionally high number of asylum seekers in Sweden and the rapidly changing demographics in terms of ethnicity and the proportion of foreign-born citizens,” he told DW.

With immigration as the main issue in the 2014 and 2018 Swedish elections, the Swedish Democrats capitalized on this concern.

Turkish journalist Kenes, who has written a broad profile of the party, says the acronym’s defense of the “Swedish soul” has paid off. “Especially less educated people feel threatened by the cheap labor of immigrants,” he says. “They think the Social Democrats [do governo] are no longer representing your interests.”

Increasingly visible criminal violence and gang activity are also playing a role in the rise of the Swedish Democrats. The party more than doubled its vote in the 2014 elections, winning around 13% of the vote.

In 2018, this share rose to 18%. When the center-right Moderate Party agreed to cooperate with the Swedish Democrats in 2019, it paved the way for the party’s eventual participation in government.

“It is surprising to me to see them as the second largest party in these elections,” acknowledges Kenes, considering that the Swedish Democrats have lost ground during the pandemic, as voters have turned more towards established parties.

He explains that, in addition to the issue of immigration, the economic effects of covid-19 and the invasion of Ukraine by Russia contributed to increase the party’s popularity, especially among the working class. But the expert does not believe that all Sweden Democrat voters share the party’s nationalist ideology, but rather are “reacting to inflation and economic deterioration.”

What do the Swedish Democrats stand for?

As for political scientist Martinsson, he defines the Swedish Democrats as “primarily an anti-immigration party with a nationalist ideology”, but avoids describing it as far-right or radical. “In economic terms, the party is more centrist and pragmatic, with a mixture of left and right proposals”, explains Martinsson.

Journalist Kenes, however, remains convinced that the party is a threat to democracy. He points to a recent survey indicating that 214 Swedish Democrat candidates who ran in the last election may be linked to right-wing extremism.

The Swedish Democrats aim to bring the number of asylum seekers to zero, as well as advocating longer prison sentences and wider use of deportation. The party also has a Eurosceptic stance.

“Sweden has been a great country, a safe country, a successful country – and it can be all of that again,” Akesson said during a rally in Helsingborg earlier this month, according to Politico. “It’s time to give us the chance to make Sweden great again,” he added.

About Abhishek Pratap

Food maven. Unapologetic travel fanatic. MCU's fan. Infuriatingly humble creator. Award-winning pop culture ninja.

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