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  • Lottie James

Sweden: The latest casualty of Europe's nationalist tidal wave


The leader of the Sweden Democrats, Jimmie Akesson, reacts to his party's strong performance in a general election earlier this month

2021 marked a historic year for Sweden and its centre-left Social Democrat party who have ruled since 2014. With the victorious Magdalena Anderson named Prime Minister, Sweden had elected its first female leader – a win for European feminists – and in doing so had seemingly cemented its reputation as a consistently left-leaning democracy.

Just a year later, however, and Anderson is reluctantly saying goodbye to Stockholm’s Parliament House. Her departure is the aftershock of a nationalist earthquake that has shook Sweden to its core; culminating in the 11th September general election that saw the Moderates, Sweden Democrats, Christian Democrats and Liberals secure a hefty 173 seats in the 379-seat parliament.

Taking the reins from Anderson will be the leader of the Moderate Party, Ulf Kristensen, who promises to preside over a “government for all of Sweden and all citizens”; a pledge that seems implausible given the influential role secured by the far-right Sweden Democrats.

Coming in as the second-largest party with 20% of the vote, Sweden Democrats will undoubtedly have a major say in government policy. Yet, such a role will likely be undertaken from ‘outside’ government in a bid by the Moderates to distance themselves from the party’s controversial legacy.

Founded in 1988 by “ultranationalist extremists and neo-Nazis”, the Sweden Democrats are a party rooted in white supremacy; a sentiment that sits antithetical to the ideals of liberty, progress and equality that Swedes have for-so-long claimed proudly. Just last month Acta Publica, a Swedish research group, shone a light on the alarming extent to which xenophobia underpins the party, with 214 SD members identified as having expressed racist or neo-Nazi views.

What, then, are the fault lines upon which Sweden’s politics have erupted? With 1 in 5 Swedes having voted for the Sweden Democrats – a monumental increase from the 5% of votes secured by the Party just a few elections ago – it is clear that something major has shifted.

A surface level answer points to the political opportunism of the Sweden Democrats in the face of Sweden’s rising crime levels, the results of which have seen the country claim “the highest rate of gang-led gun deaths in Europe at the moment”. An undoubtedly worrying trend, Sweden Democrats have taken control of the narrative by drawing xenophobic-fulled correlations between those figures and Sweden’s decade-long high immigration levels.

A deeper analysis of the victory, however, unveils the SD’s rise to power as symptomatic of a greater regional trend – one which has seen a stark increase in the number of previously liberal democratic governments falling victim to nationalist takeovers. April saw the return to power of Victor Orbán; Hungary’s illiberal leader who has publicly denounced “mixed race” nations. Orbán remains a close ally of Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice party, who in turn favour strong relations with France’s infamously right-wing Marine Le Pen (it is thus unsurprising that Le Pen has publicly celebrated the SD’s victory). Earlier this year Spain also joined the nationalist European ranks when, to the shock of many, its far-right Vox party entered a regional government for the first time. Alarmingly, the tidal wave of European nationalism seems only to be accelerating, with ‘The Brothers of Italy’ – a party rooted in neofascism – currently leading in the polls in the run up to Italy’s election due this week. Clearly, then, Sweden is not to be labelled an outlier, but instead as a somewhat late conformer to the regional nationalist fragmentation; the presence of which forms the perfect stage upon which Putin can disrupt a united Western response to his invasion of Ukraine.

The Swedish general election must therefore not be viewed through a singular domestic lens. Instead, it must be treated as a warning sign. Europeans are fed up. They face rising living costs, sky-rocketing gas prices, inflation, overburdened health services and climate concerns. Consequently, they are turning inwards, and opportunist nationalistic parties are utilising immigration as a scapegoat for ineffective governments. Contrary to Fukuyama’s predictions some 30 years ago, Sweden’s recent election shows how liberalism is in fact on the decline.

Image: Flickr / Epjt Tours



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