This weekend five hundred members of the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement take to the streets of Gothenburg. Perhaps liberal politicians unsure of how to crush the group without destroying freedom of speech should seek the answer on the other side of the divide: the parliamentary far-right.
The scenes of neo-Nazi scuffles with counter-protesters and police this week came not from Charlottesville but Gothenburg. On Saturday the ultra-far-right Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) faced battles with the police after some of its members protesting in the city deviated from an agreed route, leading to the arrests of both NRM demonstrators (including their leader, Simon Lindberg) and counter-protestors. Unlike Trump, the Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, was quick to criticise the Fascist march, saying that “democracy has a right to defend itself”, and the arrest of their leader led the NRM’s spokesperson, Pär Öberg, to say that it was likely “the last time” the group will seek police permission to demonstrate.
This of course does not mean that the NRM will never again take to the streets. Far from it. They will return and, without police protection, their uncontrolled presence will be of increased danger to the general public: physically and ideologically.
“The NRM will return and, without police protection, their uncontrolled presence will be of increased danger to the general public: physically and ideologically.”
This organisation is not new. The NRM has long-since posed a threat to Nordic democracy. Founded in December 1997 by former White Aryan Resistance member Klaus Lund as the ‘Swedish Neo-Nazi Grouping’, the group soon grew to become a pan-Nordic movement (although the Danish wing has since been disbanded), distributing leaflets that praised Adolf Hitler and Corneliu Codreanu and even establishing undercover training camps in Swedish forests for its new recruits. In 2016, just as the group was legalised for the first time, it was rumoured that the NRM had become a terrorist organisation. Multiple bombings at a refugee centre in Gothenburg left one person with life-threatening injuries and three men with ties to the NRM in prison. They even hold a seat in the Swedish parliament.
Naturally, as UKIP dismiss the ultra-far-right English Democrats or BNP, Sweden’s mainstream populist party, the Sweden Democrats, were swift to deny all links to the NRM once more. But with their own roots in the post-war Swedish Fascist Party, and currently fending off allegations of sex crimes among their members, one wonders just how long they can justifiably hold the moral high ground. The Sweden Democrats (with 49 seats in the Riksdag (parliament) do not go nearly far enough distancing themselves from other hard-line, and, thankfully, smaller groups like the NRM. Indeed, voters are unlikely to distinguish between the NRM’s Fascism and the anti-immigration, Eurosceptic policies of the Sweden Democrats.
“Voters are unlikely to distinguish between the NRM’s Fascism and the anti-immigration, Eurosceptic policies of the Sweden Democrats.”
As the growth of established parliamentary populist parties rises across Europe, so does awareness of hard-line groups such as the NRM. It is for this reason that the group was legalised in 2016, as this coincided with a populist breakthrough in national governments, and why, after the horrific attacks of Anders Breivik in 2011, many began to view Breivik’s views as synonymous with those of the far-right Norwegian Progress Party’s.
Now, as this weekend showed, alongside numerous marches across Scandinavia this summer, it is the time for mainstream far-right parties to change their tune. And fast. While I have no sympathy with the politics the Sweden Democrats, it is clear that now they hold at least some of the political strings and are, however disturbingly, seen as sisters of the NRM, it is they who can finally calm their obscene demonstrations. While many of their views may be shockingly xenophobic, they, like me, I’m sure have no sympathy for the NRM. It is clear that the severely uneducated and deeply polarised members of ultra-far-right groups will never listen to different, Liberal viewpoints; and blame their attempts for reason as a crushing of freedom of speech. But perhaps they will listen to those with similar, if more mellowed, opinions.