Rise of national-populists in Sweden raises complex questions for Europe

By Sumantra Maitra
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, September 12, 2018
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Party Secretary of the Sweden Democrats Mattias Karlsson speaks to members and supporters of the far-right Sweden Democrats at the party election center on September 9, 2018 in Stockholm, Sweden. [Photo/VCG]

Sweden, as predicted, lurched rightwards in its recent parliamentary election, which promises to push Europe even more to the brink as a divided continent gripped by soul-searching. 

With almost all ballots counted, the nationalist-populist Sweden Democrats won about 19 percent of the vote, compared to 12 percent at the last election. This is a country which, since it renounced its Nazi era post World War II, has been dominated by center-left politics. 

The ruling Red-Green coalition remained the overall winner, with 144 seats, with the center-right moderates possibly gaining 143 seats under the system of proportional representation. Under this system the nationalist right should have 62 seats, creating a role as kingmakers in the next parliament. 

Sweden, therefore, is likely to enter a long period of political uncertainty as the long-prevailing system of block politics is probably over. 

However, numbers don't tell the whole story. The reality is complex. A lot is being made of the fact that the nationalists failed to achieve their ambition to become the second largest individual political party. However, for all practical purposes, that doesn't really matter. 

The appeal of the nationalists was hinged on three things: rising crime levels, immigration and problems with social services. Considering the shift in the rhetoric among the main political parties, it's irrelevant if Sweden Democrats win or even hold seats. The entire mood of the country, its politics and what it means for a broader Europe suggests a difficult process of realignment. 

What were the causes? There are several. Since 2015, Sweden has taken in the highest number of migrants per capita among European countries. In that year alone, more than 150,000 migrants entered Sweden; that's equivalent to the population of a mid-sized Western city. For a country with a total population of only a few million, these demographic changes are extraordinary. 

However, migration isn't the only cause for the rise of the far right. Contrary to popular opinion, most of these migrants are not from war zones like Syria, nor are they vulnerable women and children. Most are men from countries like Afghanistan, looking for jobs in Europe. 

The Swedish government under the feminists and Greens had essentially given up on law and order. The police in Scandinavian countries don't follow the principles of deterrence and punitive justice, but follow a very EU-mandated rehabilitation-based system. 

That was good in a highly-trusting society; however, mass migration changed everything. There was, for example, instant pressure on social welfare, and Swedes used to living in a high welfare society, were uncomfortable with the welfare problems with people alien to their culture, language and not easily assimilated into the work force. 

In fact, the migrants who were in Sweden looking for jobs, didn't get any. Nor were they able to assimilate in the Swedish cities and towns, and a lot of them got drawn into criminal activities. Murder and rape, and even gang violence, uncommon in Swedish society heretofore became a prominent issue, as the police lost control of the streets and the balance of power shifted from the State to the lawless individuals and groups. 

The apex of that came a few days before the election, when gangs in several Swedish cities rioted and set fire to around 80 cars and properties, with hapless police failing to control the crowd, and handicapped by the government guidance not to use punitive force. 

Where do we go from here? The question is tricky. Sweden votes, added to German protests and the rise of the far right in Eastern Europe is all part of a single trend. Here is a bunch of people who are unhappy with the direction their country is taking. 

The social elite don't care about the working class, people are more interested in gender studies and feminism and other pursuits and the resultant migration, job losses and siege mentality mean there's a vacuum, which is being exploited by far-right elements in society. That, added to the return of nationalist sentiments means Europe is bleakly heading for further social turmoil. 

Sumantra Maitra is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:


Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors only, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.

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