While right-wing movements have been around for a long time in Sweden, the Christian Science Monitor (CSM) reported that in Sweden's mid-September parliamentary elections, "the far-right Sweden Democrats [SD], a party with a neo-Nazi history, won 20 seats [out of 349]…enough support to leave the leading center-right coalition without a governing majority." CSM correspondent Ritt Goldstein pointed out, "While the SD, which campaigned that it would cut immigration rates by 90 percent, is widely castigated as 'racist' and 'Islamophobic,' it nonetheless struck a deep chord among some in this country."
Running a campaign based on fear of immigrants—including ads showing burka-clad Muslim women shoving aside white Swedish pensioners in order to take away their benefits—the SD exceeded the 4 percent requirement (receiving 5.7 percent—more than 339,000 votes), which gave it parliamentary representation for the first time.
"In Holland, the [right-wing] Party of Freedom of Geert Wilders has held the balance of power since an election in June, while in Hungary the Jobbik party—alleged to be both anti-Roma and anti-Semitic by its opponents—won parliamentary seats last spring," Haaretz's Danna Harman reported. "Austria, France, and Britain have also seen varying degrees of increased popularity for their far-right anti-immigrant national parties."
For those who don't know much about Sweden's political structure, it has a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy and is one of the most highly developed welfare states in the world. It consistently garners good grades on standard of living measures. It recently ranked first in the world in the Economist's Democracy Index and seventh in the United Nations' Human Development Index. Despite the economic difficulties being experienced by many other European countries, Sweden's economy has been reasonably stable.
The Sweden Democrats were founded in 1988 and are currently led by Jimmie Åkesson, who joined in 1995, "a period when Nazi uniforms were still seen at its meetings," CSM's Goldstein reported. Politically savvy Åkesson set out to refashion the party's image. "With a determination to enter parliament, the party distanced itself from the Nazi imagery and adopted a public profile that appears considerably closer to the Swedish mainstream, adamantly claiming that it is a 'normal party.'"
The new "normal" for the Sweden Democrats, Goldstein pointed out, is evidenced on its website where "the party rejects 'multiculturalism,' attributes increased crime to immigration, calls for an end to 'public support for immigrant organizations,' adding that 'all other activities aimed at promoting foreign cultures and identities in Sweden should be canceled'…. It also wants to outlaw 'religious buildings, with a non-Swedish building style, strange architecture' and forbid public workers from wearing 'conspicuous religious or political symbols, such as a headscarf or turban'…. [I]t [also] calls for the government to support immigrants who want to return to their homelands," Goldstein added.
"In 2001, they suddenly got rid of all the uniforms, the swastikas, the symbolism that scared so many voters," Mikael Lundström, a political scientist with Lund University in Sweden, told Goldstein. They have cultivated an image that adds "respectability to an issue, but they still want to kick people out and they want to close the borders…in that they align themselves very much with the hard right."
On September 20, a pro-Sweden Democrats piece by Rafael Koski titled "The Sweden Democrats—Alone Against Establishment Extremists" appeared on the U.S. website of VDARE, an organization designated a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center and labeled as "white nationalist" by several other watchdog organizations.
Koski described a kinder, gentler Sweden Democrats and argued that since "Sweden has had perhaps the world's most open and non-discriminatory immigration policy in the last 20 years, which increased the number of immigrants from outside Europe to one million or 10 percent of a historically homogenous population, it would be more accurate to describe the rest of Swedish parties as racial-replacement extremists and the Sweden Democrats as the moderates."
Koski, who is described by VDARE as a PhD student living in Northern Europe, urged center-right Alliance Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt of the conservative Moderate Party, "to cooperate with the Sweden Democrats, who are the closest ideologically." The prime minister didn't heed that advice when, in early October, he chose to form a minority government, hoping that he would be able to "negotiate with the Green Party, but also with the Social Democrats if the conditions are right."
According to Koski, the Sweden Democrats have changed over the past 20 years. Its electoral success, Koski wrote, is due to its "very moderate patriotism that defends the ideal of folkhemmet, a national welfare state. Its key election theme has been securing Swedish pensions and care for the elderly against the onslaught of immigrant welfare recipients."
One SD activist who hasn't changed his politics in more than 30-plus years is Tommy Hansson. In a recent article titled "Unificationist Pioneers a Political Path in Sweden," posted at the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's (Unification Church) Family Federation for World Peace and Unification website, Hansson described his political journey, pointing out that he "has been fighting the war of ideas against communism for decades…. In September he enjoyed some long-overdue rewards as his political party, the Sweden Democrats, won their place in the Swedish Parliament."
Hansson joined SD in 2008 and was "elected to local and regional boards in the Stockholm area." He maintained that the Sweden Democrats "are generally misunderstood as a 'xenophobic' or 'racist' party due to its view that immigration, especially from the Muslim world, should be heavily restricted." He stated that "Swedish immigration policy" has led "to alarming consequences such as a growing mob-style criminality, widespread unemployment in 'problem areas' in large cities such as Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmoe, and a general sense of alienation."
David Landes, editor of the daily English language online paper the Local, told Haaretz that he does "not equate this reformed Nazi party…with anti-Semitism per se. It's that Swedish brand of Nazism which is more about preserving the traditions and strength of the white Nordic race than about wanting to crack the skulls of Jews."
Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative movements.