By Charlotte Culine
Freshly arrived in Uppsala, my mind filled with the idealized Swedish role model, it is with great surprise that I learn that Sweden is now facing the rise of populism and Euroscepticism. Rumours has been the situation in Sweden was slowly decaying but I had not realized the extent this phenomenon had taken in this country often considered as the peace haven of Europe, until I arrived and witnessed the tensions surrounding the legislative elections. After France and the Front National, the UK and UKIP, Austria and the Freedom party of Austria, Italy and the Five Star Movement, it is now Sweden’s turn to deal with Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats party. Indeed, the Swedish elections that occurred on the September 9 has for the first time seen the everlasting left-wing Social Democrats party’s monopoly on the government endangered by nationalism and anti-immigration ideologies.
The country has gradually seen the rise of populism ever since the beginning of the 2000’s, following the first arrivals of asylum seekers coming from Iraq. From then, the number of asylum seekers has constantly increased up until 2015 when it reached its peak with 162,877 asylum seekers[i] entering the kingdom, before the government changed the immigration procedure, making it tougher. Sweden, almost unharmed by the 2008 economic crisis, remained prosper and did not seem to be the most fertile environment for such a breakthrough from the nationalist factions.
To have a better understanding of the current political landscape and the point of view of a Swede on this situation, I had an interview with our teacher Lars Löfquist, doctor in Theology, director of studies in Uppsala for the Euroculture programme as well as two other programmes concerning Humanitarian Action. Starting from this, I was able to draw some observations that could explain how Sweden got to this point, what is the current situation and what is to expect in the coming weeks.
Malmö’s case, 2013 & the burning cars
According to Lars Löfquist, the Swedes voted for Sweden Democrats for safety reasons. Sweden is famous for being a safe place, a ‘haven’ as stated above. One of the main arguments of SD is that violence would have supposedly started increasing ever since the number of asylum seekers started growing. The situation was already tensed in 2013 when riots broke out in suburbs of the capital city and were the first indicators of inequalities and lack of integration in Sweden. In between, the migrant crisis of 2015 happened, and criminality has been a major subject in Swedish medias.
The case of Malmö testifies well of the current situation. Called the “capital city of rape” by Nigel Farrage, an English populist politician who led the British vote towards Brexit, it seems though that one of the main reasons why sexual offences have increased in the statistics is a progressively stricter legislation from the Swedish authorities[ii]. The actual number of sexual offences are not increasing that much, but more aggressions are considered and punished as such, which would mathematically higher up the numbers[iii]. More recently, in August 2018, many cars were burnt in some suburbs of Gothenburg as well as close to Stockholm[iv]. No specific demands were made but it automatically echoed to what happened in 2013, and the question of safety was again in everybody’s minds just a month before the elections.
Swedish people are afraid to lose their stability. Whether it is related to safety or welfare, the massive immigration wave has shaken the peaceful life of the Nordic kingdom provoking the rebirth of Sweden Democrats.
Identity & Culture
Some intellectuals and journalists might be tempted to rush these results into the debate of European identity. As believed by Lars Löfquist, Swedish identity is not threatened, and except for some minority groups Swedish people do not feel their identity being threatened. There is, though, a conflict between two cultures. On one hand, the culture of Sweden, and on the other, the culture of most of the immigrants. The Swedish population has been atheist for a while now. People are not believers and you would never see a line up in front a church on a Sunday morning. It is thus very difficult for them to accept the idea of an omnipresent religion, that would require calls for prayers and different ways of dressing. The culture of immigrants, which often includes Islam, becomes then much more visible and noticeable, especially when Sweden is the country that welcomed the biggest number of immigrants per capita[v].
This point is significant because it is one of the main reasons why people voted for Sweden Democrats. “Sweden has done its part” is the sentence, pronounced by Lars Löfquist, that translates best the general despondency felt in the country. With approximately 70,000 residence permits granted in 2016, Sweden has proven itself much more united with the migrant cause than most of the other European countries, especially France and Germany, the so-called ‘power couple’ of the EU. The same way than Italy did in March, Sweden is now calling up on the European community to do their part.
The Swedish Exception
Sweden has once again proven itself to be reasonable in troubled waters. As Lars Löfquist puts it, “the left is not dead”. Compared to other European countries where all other parties have fallen in front of populism, like Italy or Austria, or even France, where all the traditional parties have shattered during the last presidential elections, Sweden’s left- and right-wing parties have remained strong and have only conceded the third place to Sweden Democrats. The Centre Party (Centerpartiet) has also reached a historical score, providing them with eight more seats than they had before.
In the end, 82% of the voters have chosen to give their voice to parties that are not for the reinforcement of anti-immigration policies. The results of these elections are not linked to a depoliticization or lack of interest of the population either. With 87.18% of turn out, Sweden does better than most of the European country, and 1.38 point more than for their last parliamentary elections[vi].
Nevertheless, none of the parties managed to secure the majority and they will now have to find a solution altogether to build the new government. Even though all parties have already rejected the idea of working with SD, the Social democrats have already changed their politics on immigration before the elections to face Jimmie Åkesson’s threat of overthrow, reducing the number of refugees that Sweden will take from now on. It seems that even if Sweden Democrats have not reached the expected number of voters (less than 18% against 20 to 25% expected in the polls), they still earned their voice to maintain pressure on the political decisions in the coming era of Swedish policy making.
[i] Sweden and migration, Official website of Sweden, https://sweden.se/migration/#2015
[ii] Reality Check: Is Malmo the ‘rape capital’ of Europe?, BBC news’ website, February 2017, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-39056786
[iii] Crime and statistics report, Brå, https://www.bra.se/bra-in-english/home/crime-and-statistics.html
[iv] Sweden cars: 80 set on fire by gangs in several cities, BBC news’ website, August 2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45181321
[v] Sweden and migration, Official website of Sweden, https://sweden.se/migration/#2015
[vi] Valmyndigheten (Election Authority) https://data.val.se/val/val2018/slutresultat/R/rike/index.html
Featured picture: Stefan Löfven, current Prime Minister of Sweden (Socialdemokraterna, 2015).