Sweden: Populism Reaches the Socialist Utopia

Promoted from the diaries by streiff. Promotion does not imply endorsement.

Sweden is a country that prides itself on its humanitarian streak.  Over the past ten years, they have been the most refugee-friendly country possibly in the world and definitely in Europe.  In the past five years, they have accepted more refugees on a per capita basis than any other European country, including France and Germany.  Since 2012, Sweden has admitted over 400,000 immigrants, mainly from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. That is now 4% of their population.

Yet, beneath that veneer, things have not been all that rosy in this European-style socialist Utopia that some American politicians hold up as the pinnacle of what could be here.  Burning cars are not a rare sight these days. Certain crimes are on the rise as well as gang-related and gun crime which is especially prevalent in immigrant communities. Sexual assault has soared.  Despite claims to the contrary, some immigrant areas are now “no go” zones for police, firemen.  Ambulances have been attacked. In Gothenburg, a masked gang set 80 cars ablaze. One person said, “They treat us like animals so we will behave like animals.”

Enter an upstart political party- the Sweden Democrats (SD).  There is no denying that they have their roots in Sweden’s neo-Nazi movement although they have disavowed all such notions now and cleaned up that image.  For a decade, the media and the government avoided any mention of the growing animus towards the growing immigrant population and they were caught with their pants down when SD suddenly rose in the polls.

In their most recent parliamentary elections, the SD captured 17.6% of the vote.  It was a small victory for the other Swedish parties who were expecting them to capture 25% of the vote.  It does not vault them to second place, but they have increased their influence and makes forming a new government more difficult without their backing.

Before the rise of the SD, the government overhauled their immigration policy.  They have established border checks, restricted family reunification, instituted new restrictive volume limits, and denied asylum to many.  It may be too little too late.

The center-left Social Democrats have controlled Swedish politics for years.  Four years ago in parliamentary elections, the Social Democrats and the Green Party dominated the elections.  Thus, that 17.6% of the vote that went to SD ate into that dominance. The SD state that those elections and the policies that followed were a mistake.  Being jettisoned were traditional Swedish culture.

Although ethno-nationalist, the SD is also socialist.  They are appealing to a past in which Sweden was, to the Swedes, the richest and best country in the world.  This message- an appeal to the past without the immigrants- has taken root among some Swedes.

For years, Sweden existed as if there was no racism in their country.  Parties like the SD have been powerful in Denmark and Norway. However, there is a substantial and diverse anti-immigrant sentiment in Sweden and neo-Nazi parties are popular in some rural areas.  There is no sense that any of the parties, including the SD, have any true solution to the immigrant problems. A recent poll showed that about 50% of Swedes have no faith in the future at all.

The current leadership of the Social Democrats has been inefficient.  Their postal system and rail systems are the poster boys for inefficiency.  There have been protests against their social medicine system.

What is happening in Sweden is what is happening throughout Europe.  Voters are becoming disenchanted with the traditional parties. Hoping to change the direction of Sweden, the center-right Moderates and Christian Democrats are now contemplating forming a government with SD backing.  Considering that the Social Democrats- the predominant leftist party in Sweden- had their worst results since World War I, the center-right now sees weakness. Generally backed by the country’s strong labor unions, about 20% of the union vote now went to SD.  Additionally, they (the Social Democrats) got only 40% of the youth vote making the future for them look bleak.

SD took 17.6% of the vote to the Moderates 20% making them the second most popular right-of-center party in Sweden.  How did they achieve this? They married a pro-welfare state platform with an anti-immigrant platform. Hence, they attracted voters from across the political spectrum.  It also attracted lower-income, less educated, and first time voters.

By placing the blame for the failures of the welfare state on immigrants, they attracted the very voters who rely on Sweden’s welfare state which protects them from rising unemployment and other economic risks.  And immigration has drastically altered Sweden. A generation ago, it was a homogeneous country. Today, it has a higher percentage of foreign-born citizens than the United States.

The anxieties of the Swedes regarding immigration is largely pragmatic. Greater than 75% believe integration of the immigrant community has gone poorly.  They worry about the impact on the welfare state they have come dependent upon. The rise of the SD is not attributable to racism or xenophobia; it is out of fear of the collapse of the welfare state.

The mainstream parties have not offered an alternative vision of the dystopian one of the SD.   Until Sweden learns, like other European countries, to reconcile their immigration policies with their desire to maintain their welfare states, there will always be populist parties rising to fill the voids.




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