Sweden’s general election in 2014, held on 14 September, saw the centre-left Social Democratic party gain the majority of the vote. They will form a weak minority government; the centre-left coalition thus far only has a potential 43% of the vote. However, a more disturbing trend emerged from this year’s election in Sweden: the far-right party, Sweden Democrats, gained 13% of the vote, more than doubling their share from the previous election. The party, which has its roots in neo-Nazi movements but is now reportedly ‘not racist’ is highly anti-Muslim. Jimmie Aakesson, leading the anti-immigration party, has made anti-Muslim and Islamophobic statements in the past and has praised Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France.
We might consider the Sweden Democrats to be part of a ‘new’ European far-right, one that has been careful to ‘sanitise’ its message, leaving behind Nazism, racism and anti-Semitism. In its place, a more complex xenophobia is visible, focusing on immigration and the threat of ‘Islamisation.’ For example, Aakesson says of Islamism that it is the ‘Nazism and communism of our time.’ In fact, much of the party’s rhetoric is deeply anti-Muslim, but disguises it through language about ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘immigration’. The notion that Muslims are welfare scroungers—something we frequently encounter in the British media as well—features in a political advert that the Sweden Democrats released where an old woman, presumably a pensioner, is forced out of a queue for welfare benefits by women in burqas.
Part of Sweden Democrats’ success is drawing young voters, for whom unemployment has oscillated between 20 and 25 percent. Much like Ukip, the party’s rhetoric and politics has moved away from racism, focusing on the failings of the political elite. Recently, the Sweden Democrats published a report on rape in Sweden, using a dodgy sample to argue that 48% of rapes are caused by foreign-born men who have retrograde views of women and are ‘culturally different’. The reliance of Sweden Democrats on issues of ‘cultural difference’ masks their anti-Muslim agenda with disturbing similarities to Marine Le Pen’s far-right wing movement in France.
While we should be encouraged by the fact that Sweden’s mainstream political parties have refused to work with the Sweden Democrats, it is crucial to continue to watch how the tensions about cultural difference sweeping Europe are playing out and generating support for the far-right. In the UK, 24 seats in the European Parliamentary elections went to Ukip, a party which also stresses similar anxieties about immigration. Most disturbing is that surveys found that Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, would gain 30% of the vote, well ahead of current President Francois Hollande. The far-right’s gains across Europe are not only a threat to tolerance and intercultural interaction, but also threaten mainstream political parties and must be taken seriously.