With UKIP all but wiped out last Thursday, few are worried about the rise of a British Far Right. But, as Alexander Brett explains, Scandinavians still have much cause for concern
The UK’s snap General Election last Thursday saw the Far Right UKIP all but wiped out, with no seats in Parliament and a decline of around 10.8% in the popular vote. Their leader, Paul Nuttall, promptly resigned. Elsewhere in Europe, Populist leader Geert Wilders failed to enter mainstream politics in the Netherlands in April and France’s Marine Le Pen gained less than 35% in the second round of their presidential election last month.
But while from this it may appear that Europe’s Far Right could be on a rapid decline, take a look at Scandinavia and you will be greeted with quite the opposite. From Norway’s Fremskrittspartiet to Denmark’s Dansk Folkeparti and from Sweden’s Sverigedemokraterna to Finland’s Perussuomalaiset, Nordic Populism has never posed more of a threat to traditional politics.
But while the shock victory of Donald Trump can be blamed on inherent American inequality, what theory can be given to explain the ever-increasing appeal of these anti-immigrant and anti- modernist parties in a region statistically proven to contain some of the happiest and most egalitarian nations on Earth?
Attempting to explain this is no easy task, but that is nevertheless what I intend to try and do, focusing in particular on perhaps Scandinavia’s most threatening Nationalist party: Sweden’s Sverigedemokaterna (the Sweden Democrats).
The Sweden Democrats were founded in 1988 from the Sweden Party, which had its roots in Swedish Fascism and white supremacy. Far from reinventing itself, the new party continued to use the Sweden Party’s slogan “Bevara Sverige Svenskt” (“Keep Sweden Swedish”) and adopted the torch of Britain’s Fascist party, the National Front, as its logo. This Extreme Right image continued virtually unhindered until 2006, a year after its current leader, Jimmie Åkesson, and his relatively moderate “gang of four” took up the reins, continuing the party leader during the 1990s, Mikael Jansson’s movement. Jansson had attempted to disperse the extreme views of its Fascist founders, banning the wearing of Nazi costumes after numerous photographs had emerged of his members in the attire, accepted economic assistance from the Front National’s Jean-Marie Le Pen during the 1998 election campaign and expelled the more radical members of the party in 2001 to form the National Democrats.
But however hard the Sweden Democrats try to distance themselves from their Nazi heritage, Stefan Jonsson, a former journalist for liberal Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter says that their founders’ links to the Svensk Socialistisk Samling (the Swedish Nazi Party) have never been forgotten. Jonsson says that the Sweden Democrats are “fundamentally opposed to a democratic society” and this is what separates them from other Scandinavian Far Rightists, such as the Danish People’s Party. “This [their Nazi past] is why the Danish People’s Party were able to enter government in 2001 as the third largest party, while support for the Sweden Democrats lingered at around 10%. Until the last election in 2010 the Sweden Democrats were even denied advertisements in newspapers and refused interviews on public television they were so extreme”.
But even so, 10% support in one of the world’s most liberal nations, and one that has been ruled almost exclusively by one party, the Socialdemocratiska (the Social Democrats), since the Second World War is surely remarkable in itself?
Or is Sweden not so liberal after all?
In 1990 the European Values Study canvassed 16,000 people in sixteen countries with the choice of “agree or disagree” to the statement: “I don’t like to be with people who are different from me in terms of their opinions, values, and so on”. 43% of the Swedes asked replied with “agree”, an astonishing response when compared to the 10% that agreed in the other Nordic countries. In fact the designers were so sure that there had been some statistical error that they repeated the experiment, but again 41% of people agreed.
For me there is one simple explanation for this- it happened in 1990 after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and it is happening again now- the mass immigration of refugees.
In 2015 alone Sweden accepted over 160,000 asylum seekers to a population of just under ten million (before 2015 the average had been stable at around 100,000 a year). The contempt for which Swedes hold these immigrants is clear: as of March 2017, 23.9% of people would vote for the Sweden Democrats- doubling their results from the 2014 election and making them Sweden’s second largest party.
The Swedish response to mass immigration is perhaps most clearly reflected in the country’s literature; Henning Mankell’s first Wallander novel for example, Faceless Killers, was written shortly after the Berlin Wall fell and is based around the problems caused by refugees.
Of course, unless you are an extreme Nationalist, you are aware that crimes in Sweden are not always conducted by foreigners (there was the infamous case of a member of the Sweden Democrats, Lars Isovaraa, spitting at a Muslim security guard and claiming he had been robbed by immigrants when actually he had left his belongings in a restaurant) but Andrew Brown in his book Fishing in Utopia points out that statistically immigrants in Sweden are four times as likely to commit rape.
Even some Liberals are beginning to see that there is a problem. But what is their response?
Perhaps the most famous example of this is the Rosengård area of Malmö. In 2008 around 85% of Rosengård’s inhabitants had foreign ancestry, and December of that year saw some of the worst violence Sweden has ever experienced, ending only with the eviction of the local mosque and the arrival of special police forces from Gothenburg and Stockholm.
But Malmö’s former Social Democratic mayor for almost a century, Ilmar Reepalu, insists that there is nothing special about the area. He reminds us that the last riots were around six years ago and says that “if Rosengård was a suburb of Stockholm it would be one of the safest areas of the city”. Instead, he blames the problems on a surplus of space: “during the 1970s the population fell but under the “Million Homes” programme the government continued to build more homes until, eventually, in the 1990s, these were filled with former Soviet immigrants and now by Middle Eastern refugees”.
Now the flats are full and the building has stopped. The head of the local mosque, Bejzat Becirov (a former Yugoslavian) explains that currently the biggest problem is overcrowding and some homes can contain up to ten people, with some even resorting to living in the hallways.
Malmö’s Rosengård district
Bejzat goes on to say that just across from Rosengård the same situation is playing out, but with white, working class Swedes. Here, where unemployment often reaches 90%, support for the Sweden Democrats is the highest in the country as a result of tensions with their equally poor foreign neighbours. While things have calmed down now, at one time these disputes were often bloody and rarely saw police intervention.
But Rosengård is used not only as an example of the “Muslim Scandinavia to come” by the Sweden Democrats, but also by their counterparts in the Danish People’s Party across the Øresund Bridge.
The DPP was founded in 1995 by Pia Kjærsgaard who led the party until 2012 when she passed the baton to its current leader, Kristian Thulesen Dahl. Unlike the Sweden Democrats, who received virtually no attention for around twenty five years, the DPP entered the political scene only seven years after being founded, lending support to the Liberal-Conservative coalition that formed after the 2001 election and lasted all the way to 2011 in what became known as the “VKO Government”.
Like the Sweden Democrats, the DPP is fundamentally anti-Islamist. Back in the election that saw them rise to unofficial power Kjæsgaard was known to spout such phrases as “there’s only one civilisation and it’s ours” and “Muslims cheat, lie and deceive”. Her talk of “de mørke” (“the dark people”), as Michael Booth says in his book The Almost Nearly Perfect People, made Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech “look like a nursery rhyme”.
And, like their Swedish neighbours, the DPP have also seen an incredible rise in their popularity over the last five years particularly, increasing from around 12% in 2011 to becoming Denmark’s second largest party amid plurality for the Centre Right in the 2015 election, where they grossed almost 21% of the vote.
For many Denmark may be far from synonymous with a lack of racism, due largely to the international shock-waves caused by one of the most controversial episodes of its modern history: the printing by Jyllands-Posten of twelve images showing the Prophet Muhammed as a terrorist. The incident would go on to prompt the prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, to describe it as “Denmark’s worst foreign relations crisis since the Second World War” as Danish goods were boycotted and protests erupted across the globe.
But while much of the world reeled at the clearly inflammatory nature of this act, many in Denmark defended their right for freedom of the press, and the subsequent chaos was prime material for Nationalists to show how Denmark was allowing Islam to run its democratic institutions.
The DPP’s former leader Pia Kjæsgaard
I hadn’t intended to discuss Finland’s main Populist party, Perussuomalaiset (the True Finns), but seeing as they made headlines yesterday, I thought I may as well. More moderate members of the party split this week to form what will be called the “New Alternative” after its new leader, Jussi Halla-aho, promised tougher immigration policies and Eurosceptism.
Of all the Scandinavian nations, the popularity of the True Finns (with 17.7% of the vote in 2015) is the least surprising: Finland this year celebrates one hundred years of independence from Russia and Sweden before it, and the Eastern threat now feels omnipresent once more.
But what may prove difficult to understand for an outsider is that the True Finns combine a belief in maintaining the welfare state and Centre Left economic principles, whilst also pushing for Nationalism. This situation may prove unknown for southern European Far Right parties, but it is entirely normal in Scandinavia, social security being the very essence of their pride (the True Finns’ former leader, Timo Soini, once described his party as being “the largest workers’ party without being Left Wing”). It pushes for a sort of authoritarian, hard line homogeneity.
But it’s not just Finland where the Nationalists are already in official power propping up the government.
The Fremskrittspartiet (Freedom Party) entered government in in Norway after the 2013 election. Social anthropologist Thomas Hylland Erikson says that before 2011 the Freedom Party’s rhetoric was disgusting: “the previous leader claimed that all Muslims were terrorists on a path to “Islamophy the world” and their representatives handed out leaflets showing a picture of a man with a gun and the slogan “the perpetrator is a foreigner”. But, after it was revealed in 2011 that the mass murderer Anders Breivik was a member of the party, they were required to significantly tone down their rhetoric, earning election success thereafter in 2013”.
The Freedom Party has since been described by academics not as Extreme Right, but Neoliberal, and members of the Freedom Party, Centrist parties and even the Centre Right prime minister, Erna Solberg, have been quick to disperse any claims that it is in league with foreign anti-immigrant parties.
But Breivik’s sickening actions on 22nd July 2011 brought a dark web of hard-line racism irreversibly to the surface.
This mentally ill Oslo man doubled his country’s annual homicide rate in one day, killing eight people in a car bomb attack near the prime minister’s office in Oslo and shooting a further sixty nine at a youth event on the island of Utøya.
While after the attack Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg called for unity and openness, when many others in his position may have called for all-out war on the individual’s followers, the fabric of Norwegian society is still recovering from the exposure of Breivik’s 1,500 page manifesto and the terrifying number of its followers. One Norwegian, responding to an article in The Guardian newspaper about a Danish theatre’s production on the theme of Breivik’s massacre says that “while most Norwegians are not racist, some hold deeply troubling views. Norway needs to ask itself some very serious questions about why the world’s worst single-man gun atrocity happened here, in this apparently peaceful and harmonious country”.
Islamophobia was uncovered after the attack from Facebook to blogs to members the “Eurasian” school of thought, who believe that their government was part of a conspiracy to allow Muslims to take over Europe in order to appease the OPEC nations. One of the worst anti-Islamic websites, SIAN (Stopp Islamiseringen av Norge (Stop Islamisation in Norway)), claims to have 10,000 Facebook followers, and even Breivik himself claimed to have 35% of the Norwegian population supporting his agenda.
Of course Breivik’s statement is completely exaggerated, as are the 10,000 SIAN followers (around thirty turn up when they call meetings). However, Sindre Bangstad, a specialist in the lives of Muslims in Norway, says that the fact that these figures are delusional doesn’t mean that Norwegian racism should be underestimated. He questions whether the dormant underworld exposed by Breivik’s atrocities was something new, or whether it had in fact been around since Norway’s Nazi occupation in the 1940s. Perhaps it really was the case that, as Michael Booth says, “the black shirts of Fascism had merely been hidden at the back of the cupboard”. Perhaps the earthquake caused in Norway by these revelations was only the result of sleeping Fascism, hidden by Norway’s brave Resistance movement in the war.
What other reason can there be to explain Norway’s extreme racism? It accepts the fewest numbers of refugees of every Scandinavian country and there have been no attacks perpetrated by Muslims, unlike the thankfully small scale ones experienced by Sweden and Denmark.
Perhaps it is the fact that 10% of jobs are carried out by foreigners (never mind the fact they are jobs Norwegians would run a mile from), or perhaps it is Norway’s involvement in foreign wars as international mediators (Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan to name a few)?
I believe it’s the same reason as in every other Scandinavian country: turning to the Far Right is a response to the threat mass waves of immigration bring to the welfare state.
While UKIP is Conservative in their economic and social outlook, Norway’s Freedom Party, the Danish People’s Party, the True Finns and the Sweden Democrats all share a strong belief in maintaining the welfare state and cutting austerity. These parties want to take Scandinavia back to the time of the homogeneous society; one that could support itself in a small community, free from the threat of unknown foreigners and their unknown principles.
The sad reality is that Scandinavia either has to adapt to a state that can support new arrivals, or turn to Nationalism and kick the foreigners out in order to keep their famous security system.
A tricky situation indeed.