Sweden had its national election a few days ago. The Sweden Democrats were expected to do historically well, and did. But pre-election polling suggested they might claim as much as 30% of the vote, not the almost 18% they ultimately won. Reports centered on the lack of established measures to prevent voter fraud have raised speculation that something untoward may have occurred.
Regardless, it was a good result for the Sweden Democrats, and damaged the position of the more establishment parties that now have to figure out how to maintain their agreed-upon firewall against political expression of ethnic nationalism.
Did you know that the “Far-Right” is setting the agenda in Sweden? Guess you haven’t been paying attention.
The country’s left-wing Social Democrats just saw their worst election result in generations.
09/10/2018 10:46 AM ET
Sweden’s Social Democrats are one of the most successful political parties in modern history, winning the highest share of the vote in every national election for the past 100 years.
What have they accomplished besides winning elections? Normally political parties are supposed to achieve things once they gain power.
But on Sunday, the once-dominant party scored its worst election result in generations. Its decline is a symptom of when liberal parties let radical-right populists dictate the political agenda.
What you need to understand is that conditions in Sweden arose from an agenda set by radical-right populists.
The Social Democrats won a little over 28 percent of the vote, the most of any party but far short of giving their center-left bloc a majority. Meanwhile, the far-right Sweden Democrats won 17.6 percent of the vote in its best ever result. An exit poll showed that almost a fifth of the far-right voters cast their ballots for the Social Democrats the last election.
The result gives no party a clear route to forming a government, leaves the country politically fragmented and means that the ruling Social Democrats could potentially lose power.
The liberal party’s losses are at least partly self-inflicted. Faced with growing support for the Sweden Democrats, the Social Democrats focused much of their campaign on issues such as immigration and crime, where the far-right controls the narrative. And rather than countering the Sweden Democrats’ anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric with a vision of their own, the liberals shifted to the right with proposals that included sending the army into neighborhoods with high crime rates.
In defense of the Social Democrats, constructing a winning rhetorical argument out of what’s happening in Sweden is a challenge. For example, state broadcaster SVT reported last month that, over a recent data collection period (it looks like it was 2016, but my Swedish is shaky), 58% of all convicted rapists, 74.5% of all convicted gang rapists and 85% of all convicted rapists who carried out a violent assault in the course of their crime were born outside of Europe.
Because I don’t want to be accused of exaggeration, let’s step back and remind ourselves that, obviously, the Swedish Left’s vision isn’t their country’s blond, blue-eyed women being raped by brown foreigners. We should devote some attention to what the Swedish Left’s vision actually is. Helpfully translated from Swedish alt-media outlet Fria Tider by Voice of Europe:
The Swedish government wants to allocate 5 million Swedish crowns (around half a million euros) in migrant sex courses, news outlet Fria Tider reports. A portion of the money will be spent on the government’s sex information website “Youmo”, which provides translation in Arabic, Somali and Dari.
The goal of the website is to teach migrants “health, sexuality and gender equality”. On the website, sex information is illustrated, among other things, with several pictures of foreign men with blonde, Swedish women.
Okay, maybe the Swedish Left’s vision does seem a little rape-y.
Back to Mr. Robins-Early.
“They adopted the [Sweden Democrats’] agenda because they were afraid of losing voters,” said Ulf Bjereld, a professor at Gothenburg University and an active member of the Social Democrats.
“It was a political mistake.”
The Sweden Democrats, which have origins in the neo-Nazi movement …
This is 1933 all over again!
We’re always hearing that the Right is driven by a single-minded desire to revive Nazism, but that might be the Left’s self-projection.
… have spent years telling Swedes that their country is in crisis. The party blames hordes of migrants for breaking the country’s beloved welfare state,
I hope Mr. Robins-Early means that in good faith, and isn’t demeaning Swedes for looking favorably upon their well-organized social support system, for which they and other Scandinavian countries are rightly admired.
bringing in crime and threatening Swedish identity.
Things that definitely aren’t happening, folks!
That message has resonated with a growing number of people in recent years, as concerns rose over high-profile incidents of gang violence, an influx of refugees and regional economic inequality. Even some of their radical proposals and views found their way into the public debate. In June, a lawmaker’s comments that Jews and indigenous people don’t count as true Swedes received widespread attention.
Robins-Early is referring to remarks by Sweden Democrat parliamentarian Björn Söder, to the effect that Jews and other minority groups in Sweden enjoy recognized minority status precisely because and to the extent that they are not ethnic Swedes.
Similarly, the party’s proposal to only take in asylum-seekers from Nordic nations is a de facto ban on refugees that goes against Sweden’s history as one of the world’s most humanitarian nations.
But that might be sort of congruent with Sweden’s history as the world’s most Swedish of nations.
The far-right party further benefited from establishment parties’ lack of attention to its rhetoric. That silence, experts say, created an information vacuum that the Sweden Democrats filled with anti-migrant, ethnonationalist views[.]
It seems like the Sweden Democrats do get some critical attention. Söder’s comments certainly triggered a media firestorm this year, just like they did when he made effectively the same remarks in 2014. Back then the Simon Wiesenthal Center listed Söder’s interview as the sixth-worst anti-Semitic/anti-Israel incident incident of the year.
“If nobody is talking about stuff that people see as problems, the only answers and understanding that they’re going to have are the ones offered by the populist parties. That’s what you basically had in Sweden,” said Sheri Berman, a professor of politics at Barnard College.
The far-right’s claims, experts say, often did not match reality. Although Sweden has real struggles with regional inequality, social change and increasing violence, overall crime rates have dropped, the country is witnessing the highest economic growth in decades and income has increased across the board. The number of killings has risen in recent years, but there were still only 113 murders last year out of a population of nearly 10 million people, and there have been similar peaks since the government began reporting those statistics in 2002. As for Sweden Democrats’ warning of the “Islamization” of Sweden, the average Swede vastly overestimates the percentage of the population that is Muslim.
Maybe overall crime rates have dropped, or maybe there is reason not to fully trust reported crime statistics. Maybe data reflecting economic growth is missing something about the economic reality, or maybe Swedish society rewarded its people materially but failed them in other ways. Regardless, if the murder rate spiked in your municipality, or if your neighborhood was lucky enough to be blessed with hundreds or thousands of new refugees from the Middle East and Africa, you might be forgiven if your impression of crime or immigration that doesn’t exactly reflect the dead-on average for Sweden as a whole.
Robins-Early doesn’t seem very sympathetic, though–he comes across as a little irritated with Swedish voters he finds to be dumb and uninformed. Don’t they get it? All of this stuff about crime and mass immigration is made up! The Social Democrats built this amazing economy! The Sweden Democrats have done nothing!
When the Social Democrats finally did address public concerns over immigration and crime during the campaign earlier this year, the party mimicked many of the talking points and policies of the far-right. The government’s finance minister suggested refugees seek another country in which to claim asylum, while Prime Minister Stefan Löfven announced that the country would crack down on criminals, and the party declared that emergency border security laws from the height of the refugee crisis would be kept in place indefinitely.
But embracing more conservative policies backfired ― support for the Social Democrats dropped even further, and one member of the Swedish parliament resigned from the party in protest.
“A strategy that was tried to win back voters from the Sweden Democrats meant that the Social Democrats fell even more,” said Bjereld.
“The parties who have been true to their ideological grounds ― they are the only parties who have raised in support.”
Makes sense as far as it goes. What parties like the Social Democrats supposed to do, though? Double-down on policies against which voters are reacting?
That same scenario has played out similarly in countries across Europe, where traditional left and right parties have employed similar strategies to regain voters from populist parties, largely without success.
“What happens is that xenophobia, racism, anti-immigration ideas become more recognized and legitimate … because the big parties, the power-holding parties are jumping on them,” said Emilia Palonen, an expert on populism at the University of Helsinki.
“These mainstream parties should be bringing in new issues, new excitement into politics, and instead they’re following.”
Rather than copying the far-right’s emotional appeals toward identity and its criticism of the state, mainstream parties should offer voters fresh alternatives, Berman said.
“[If] center-left parties can’t come up with a better narrative, a better set of policies, a way of making this work, then they are screwed.”
Nick Robins-Early doesn’t suggest what those fresh alternatives or superior policies might be, though.