Sweden – the danger is not past

11 09 18

By Daniel Poohl for EXPO in Stockholm

The Swedish election result feels like a relief but the Sweden Democrats are still the party that made the biggest gains. The question now is how the rest of society will deal with the fact that opposition to a multicultural Sweden has grown stronger than ever.

It could have been worse. The nazis of the Nordic Resistance Movement failed and do not appear to have won any seats on municipal councils.

The new far-right party Alternative for Sweden fell flat and did not even come close to entering parliament. According to preliminary results, the Sweden Democrats got 17.7% of the vote, significantly less than what many, not least the party itself, had hoped for.

It’s easy to look at things in this way: that it could have been worse. And that it feels good to bask for a moment in relief that the mushrooming mobilisation of the far-right did not completely overturn the political order. That decency lives. That, after all, the vast majority of people in this country are taken aback by the ideology that the SD represent.

The SD’s most successful election yet

Despite this, however, there is no escaping the fact that the Sweden Democrats have had their greatest-ever electoral success. We are now tallying the results of an election that will further consolidate a new political order that includes a large, vigorous nationalist and conservative bloc, surrounded by populist pundits scrounging for “Likes” with their attacks on “political-correctness”.

Suspicion and rage wrapped in racism and intolerance have been normalised and have advanced their positions. They did not overturn the system but the SD, and above all the party’s base, are here to stay. In the south of Sweden, the party has established itself as the dominant political force.

For the Sweden Democrats, it is two steps forward, one step back.

A decisive question hanging over the coming weeks’ parliamentary negotiations to form a government, and over the parties’ efforts in the next few years, is that of interpreting the electoral result.

What actually happened? How did we get here? There are those who will say that the SD were weakened by the fact that several other parties sharpened their line in the immigration debate.

It is not that simple.

This summer, the SD, judging by the opinion polls, may have been the single biggest party in the country. Their retreat from those high poll numbers is not due to the other parties suddenly starting to talk about immigration. On the contrary.

Once the campaigning got underway, other issues gained prominence. This was unfavourable to the SD.

Of course, there are also other reasons for SD’s decline in the polls like the fact that Jimmie Åkesson, from an objective standpoint, campaigned poorly.

He didn’t have his facts and numbers straight, and he seemed tired and worn out. Media scrutiny of the party may also have made a difference. For those who view the SD as merely a protest vote, revelations about ex-nazis on the party’s list of MP candidates, and examinations of the party’s policies concerning women, have a discouraging effect.

The political focus on migration during the previous parliamentary term has likely helped the SD grow. After the so-called refugee crisis, several parties and pundits have internalised the right-wing populist description of Sweden and immigration has been transformed from a basically good thing into a problem. The Sweden Democrats have been able to ride that wave.

Not just a protest vote, though

There will be those who describe the SD’s gains as no more than a protest vote, that the blame lies with the established parties who have failed to listen to people’s dissatisfaction.

That is, of course, true. The right-wing populist and far-right wave have arisen at a time when democracy is not good enough. With the alleged relocation of power to Brussels, a globalised economy, and a Stockholm-centric political establishment, it is easy for many to feel that the politicians are not there for them.

But the right-wing populist answer is not some neutral, politically blank vote. It is not a cry for attention. It is a demand for change. What drives the Sweden Democratic success is a revolt against an open, progressive and multicultural Sweden.

It will take a while before we have all the electoral data from Sunday’s election. But we already know enough to piece together a picture of what the world looks like from the eyes of most SD voters.

Don’t want immigrants in the family

This summer, the report “Sweden Democrat voters. Who are they, where do they come from and where are they going?”was published.

In it, the social scientists Kirsti Julhä, Jens Rydgren and Pontus Strimling compared the political opinions of voters for the Moderates and the Social Democrats. With the disclaimer that the following, of course, does not apply to every single SD voter, this is what they found:

SD voters, to a greater extent than Moderate or Social Democrat voters, agree with statements such as

  • Feminism has gone too far, and immigration must be decreased
  • Too much consideration is taken of people who are offended by what others say
  • We should not be tolerant and understanding of non-traditional values and perspectives
  • Immigration leads to more crime and is too much of a drain on public resources

They also found that just over half of SD voters believe that “Swedishness” is about where you were born – in other words, an even narrower view than the party’s own line that it is possible to assimilate to “Swedishness” and that four out of ten SD supporters would not want an immigrant in-law in their family.

These are just a few examples of the report’s findings.

They are anybody

Should we really tar the SD voters with this brush, however? Surely, they are not monsters. Surely, they cannot all be racists? Could they not be just like anybody, now that the party has grown so large?

The point is that they have always been just anybody. They might have ended up seeing the world in this way after being disappointed, out of sheer frustration or because they were raised this way.

But many of them actually support the Sweden Democrats precisely because it is a party that revolts against the “social-liberal establishment”. We are so unaccustomed to an unabashed conservatism and nationalism that we mistake their genuine concern for where Sweden is headed for some misguided discontent.

If you are serious about winning back these voters you have to offer something more than just being a poor copy of SD.

It is about offering your own ideas, about breaking the segregation which feeds into racist notions, about revitalising the countryside which is the SD’s heartland and solving the problems that people are facing, without accepting the idea that immigrants or minority Swedes are to blame.

The support has existed for a long time

Resistance to taking in refugees and a conservatism wrapped in racism are very much alive in Swedish society. The electoral support for a party like the SD has existed for a long time. Now it has been politicised and mobilised.

We know the result of the election but we don’t yet know what the government will look like. One thing is certain, however: the idea of Sweden as an open and tolerant country has been dealt a severe blow.

Now we are like most other European countries. We are not exceptional. The winds that are blowing here are the same ones sweeping the continent.

Now the major question is how the other parties, and the vast majority that does not accept the SD’s worldview, will act: adapt, hope it goes away on its own or start taking it seriously.





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