DOMINIC SANDBROOK: chilling rise of the extreme right in Sweden

The Swedish Right Democrats of Jimmie Akesson obtained almost 18 percent of the votes in the elections

For more than half a century, Sweden has been seen as a political paradise on earth.

Having stayed out of the two world wars, their social democratic rulers built one of the most sophisticated welfare states in the world, with astonishingly generous benefits and free world-class medical attention.

His people always emerged as one of the happiest people in the world. The crime was almost non-existent, the political discontent was unknown. For outsiders, the land of Volvo, Abba and Ikea seemed almost utopian.

When I visited Sweden on vacation this summer, it lived up to its billing. Impressive natural landscapes; friendly people; impeccably clean cities; postcard villages: a true paradise.

But there was cheating. Every time we congratulate our hosts in their country, people used to say that it was not as good as it used to be. Even in the small café of the most charming farm, surrounded by miles of peaceful countryside, people will bring out the growing crime rate.

The Swedish Right Democrats of Jimmie Akesson obtained almost 18 percent of the votes in the elections

The Swedish Right Democrats of Jimmie Akesson obtained almost 18 percent of the votes in the elections


And a word came up again and again, a word you do not expect to hear on vacation. That word was & # 39; immigration & # 39 ;.

So when I woke up yesterday with the news of another European political earthquake, which saw the right-wing Swedish Democrats win almost 18 percent of the votes in Sweden's general election, I was not surprised.

I was also not surprised when, looking at the map, I realized that the area we had driven, the southern province of Skane, that millions of British viewers knew as Kenneth Branagh's battlefield in the BBC series Wallander, It turned out to be The Electoral Center of the Swedish Democrats.

It's a sign of the times that some commentators reacted with relief to yesterday's result and hailed it as a mainstream victory because Sweden's Democrats won "only" 17.6 percent of the vote, instead of 25 percent. One hundred would have predicted early this summer.

That says a lot about the ability of the liberal intelligentsia to deceive itself about the political reality.

Just look at that result again. A far-right party, founded in 1988 with roots of neo-Nazi white supremacy, with members of Waffen-SS among its founders, has just won almost 18 percent in what is supposed to be one of the most liberal countries in the world. .

Imagine if a successor of the British National Party had won almost a fifth of the votes in the last British elections: the proportion that the Nazis won in Germany in 1930. I do not think we see that as a victory of the mainstream, let's do you?

On the left, some commentators have been selling the usual thing about it being a protest vote on jobs, housing, the economy, etc.

I'm afraid this is nonsense. At less than 6 percent, Sweden's unemployment rate is barely at crisis levels, while most Western countries can only envy its annual growth rate of 3 percent.

What underlies the increase of Sweden's Democrats is the issue that dominated their electoral propaganda: immigration.

For decades, liberal Sweden has operated a virtual open-door policy. As a result, one in five Swedish citizens was born abroad. The days when the kindergartens were full of blond Vikings named Bjorn and Ingrid are a distant memory.

The discontent has gradually increased, but the turning point came during the 2015 migration crisis, when Sweden took 163,000 migrants, by far the highest proportion per head in Europe, even more than Germany.

Since then, the Swedish and international press has been embroiled in discussions about whether the wave of migration has contributed to an increase in rape and gun crime, especially in cities such as Malmö and Gothenburg, where most migrants have settled.

And although the reports have been exaggerated, especially by Donald Trump, whose description of a dystopia riddled with crimes is unrelated to the Sweden I visited this summer, it certainly reflects the anxieties of thousands of ordinary Swedes who feel that their country is also Changing. very, very fast

Part of this story, of course, is the regrettable failure of major parties to address people's concerns.

Swedish right-wing Democrats won almost 18 percent of the vote in general elections

Swedish right-wing Democrats won almost 18 percent of the vote in general elections

Swedish right-wing Democrats won almost 18 percent of the vote in general elections

The center-left Social Democrats, who have ruled Sweden for much of the last century, fell to 28.4 percent on Sunday, their worst result since 1908. Right-wing moderates moderated even worse, earning only 19.8 percent .

This, too, is part of a broader European history. Wherever you look, the establishment parties are struggling, especially in the center-left.

The French Socialists collapsed, while the Social Democrats won just 20 percent in the last elections. Even here in Britain, the Labor Party has effectively vanished, its name and identity appropriated Jeremy Corbyn's anti-Semitic cult.

What is very clear, however, is that the far-right populist is here to stay.

In the last year, as political scientist Matthew Goodwin points out, far-right parties have won a record number of seats in Germany, taken power in Italy, held in Hungary and increased in Holland and Sweden. This at a time when the main philosophical adversaries of the right, the French Emmanuel Macron and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have seen their popularity plummet.


And even if the Swedish Democrats did not perform as expected, who can be sure that they will not do better next time? People said that the Nazis had reached their peak in 1930. Less than three years later, Hitler was the Chancellor of Germany.

The only important country where the extreme right remains completely marginal is, of course, Great Britain.

Why? Our electoral system has something to do with that, but so does the fact that conservatives have been much more adept at reflecting voter concerns about immigration than some of their European counterparts.

Surely there is a lesson here. The history of the last two decades shows that if you open your borders to mass migration and close your ears to popular unrest, the inevitable result will be a wave of voters towards the extreme right.

We can wring our hands about it as much as we want. I hate the extreme right as much as anyone. I wish they would disappear from the earth tomorrow. But the liberal politicians of Europe need to look at themselves in the mirror for a long time.

It is their naiveté, their arrogance, their indifference to the concerns of the voters, which has prompted the emergence of parties like the Swedish Democrats.


The leader of the Swedish Democratic Party Jimmie Akesson (C) speaks to members of the media

The leader of the Swedish Democratic Party Jimmie Akesson (C) speaks to members of the media

The leader of the Swedish Democratic Party Jimmie Akesson (C) speaks to members of the media

Whatever the holiday brochures are, no country is a paradise. Each electorate is a mass of anxieties. You can not govern as if your country were a utopia, you were ahead of the public opinion and you criticized the voters as Stone Age racists if they strive to keep up.

The leaders of the EU are at a crossroads. They can change course, secure their borders, abandon the free movement of people, abandon multiculturalism and work more to promote integration. Or they can continue as they are, accepting that the cost will be the permanent existence of a far-right party in almost every European country, with at least a fifth and sometimes up to a third of the votes.

The danger of that, of course, is that the extreme right would be in a perfect position to benefit if something went wrong: a financial collapse, a recession, a terrorist attack.

Do EU leaders really want to seize this opportunity? And are they really willing to risk seeing scenes like last month's violence in eastern Germany, where right-wing protesters waged street battles with rival protesters across the continent?

Unfortunately, I think we all know the answer.

However, it is strange that European politicians never realize that they are playing in the hands of the far right, just as their predecessors did in the 1930s. As anyone who remembers that terrible decade will know, this is a story that never ends well.