Sweden baffled - but rise of the right was obvious

Banner in Sweden reads "fight racism"
Image caption The instinct to "fight racism" is still widespread in Sweden

Sweden is a baffled country today. At least seemingly so, at the surface.

Every newspaper seems surprised by the fact that a populist/anti-immigration party - the Sweden Democrats - has made it into parliament. Every politician has, in some way, expressed his or her feelings of shock.

This is despite the fact that everyone saw it coming. The parties have undoubtedly been calculating on the event, even as they refused to answer questions on which coalitions could be formed if the Sweden Democrats were to enter the Riksdag.

And no part of the media came to work on Sunday's election day unprepared. Everyone knew that this result was very likely. The polls have been telling us as much for a long time, and everyone knows that the Sweden Democrats have a habit of coming out stronger than their poll results.

This is also a part of the problem. For decades, the Sweden Democrats have been on the rise in the polls. No-one has taken this threat seriously - the only response has been to "demonise", not only the party, but more importantly the people who consider voting for them.

This has made the job of polling agencies difficult, since the shame factor makes people lie to opinion pollsters. But one also suspects that this demonisation has actually contributed to the SD rise.


There are, of course, similarities between the Sweden Democrats and anti-immigration parties in Denmark and Norway.

The links between the SD and the Danish People's Party are, however, much stronger than those to their Norwegian cousin, the Progress Party, which is a much more liberal relative.

The most important difference between the SD and the others is that, whereas the two Danish and Norwegian parties started out as movements unhappy with everything from crime-fighting to income taxes, the Sweden Democrats have their roots in a racist organisation focused solely on throwing all immigrants and refugees out of the country.

Image caption Sweden's immigrant population has increased with an influx of Iraqi refugees

The SD's rise comes despite its roots. Because the Swedish people are not racist. Recent polls have showed a positive rise in the public's attitude towards immigration.

There has been lots of talk about challenging the Sweden Democrats and their views. But in reality these actions have never taken the form of intelligent debate - just finger-pointing. The SD was handed the underdog position, and has used it to its advantage in every way.

While the established parties on both the government and opposition sides have used the SD to score points against each other, the SD itself has been working the country from below, entering more and more local assemblies, and reaching out to its target audience with internet ventures on motor sports and such.

Being marginalised for decades has worked in its favour, compared to other populist parties, which usually rise and fall again quickly.

End of the model?

Nonetheless, it seems clear that a fair share of the public is unhappy with how governments on both sides have handled the integration and immigration issues through the years.

It does not mean that they necessarily think that the SD is the answer to these questions - but it does mean that politicians have to start addressing these issues, and not just pointing fingers.

The story of the Swedish election is not only one of a populist, anti-immigration party entering parliament.

It is also the decline of the Social Democrats, who ended up with the worst election results since universal suffrage in 1921.

Does the decline of the Social Democrats mean the end of the Swedish welfare model - comprising high taxes and generous state spending - that they built?

No, not at all. Perhaps the modernisation of it, but definitely not the end.

The leading Moderate Party and the centre-right government has won many of voters' hearts not by promising to change everything, but by vowing to protect the good parts.

The fact that the Swedish voters re-elected the sitting government does not mean that they have abandoned the "Swedish model". It only means that they think someone else is a better caretaker.

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