By Isabelle Savoie
As I sit around reading a book during my summer vacation to Sweden, as the TV drones in the background, I hear a beautiful Swedish folk song coming from the screen. I look up to see idyllic scenes flitting by: children dancing around a maypole and adults clad in traditional dress. Ah, yes, I think to myself. I’m back. Then, following these pastoral scenes comes text: “Keep Sweden Swedish. Vote for the Sweden Democrats.” I head to YouTube and search up previous SD campaign ads. The results are quite shocking, and some of the comments left by the party’s supporters are laced with a bitter hatred for immigrants that I have never before witnessed. I ask myself, how can such a party have gone from being a near non-entity a mere decade ago to occupying airtime on national television in this left wing, social-democratic home of the Ektorp sofa?
This, to me, was wholly absurd—what rationale could possibly lie behind this unsettling shift to the far right?The Sweden Democrats campaign on a platform of “tradition and security” and see themselves as the only party that offers real change on a number of issues. At first glance, their policies seem acceptable, even progressive. They want to protect the environment. They want to build better infrastructure. They want to create better healthcare, childcare, and eldercare systems. It all seems great, until you realize that they only envision these policies in a culturally homogenous Sweden. To quote from their platform as it concerns immigration, “the net effect of mass immigration from far away countries is incredibly negative, both economically and socially” as opposed to “immigration from culturally and geographically similar countries.” SD has vowed to offer financial assistance to any immigrant who feels that he or she wants to return to his or her native land. “Keep Sweden Swedish,” indeed.
David Cameron, a professor of political science at Yale and the head of the university’s European Union (EU) Studies program, explained that “the Sweden Democrats have grown in support primarily because of their strong opposition to Sweden’s generally progressive stance regarding immigration.” Voter dissatisfaction with the center-right Moderaterna party and the general nationalist tide now sweeping Europe have also contributed to SD’s rise.
My mother hails from Skåne, where the Sweden Democrats enjoy the most support, and it upsets her, as it does me, to see support for such a party in the province she calls home. In her opinion, Sweden is sometimes too politically correct, which hinders open, robust conversation about how to take in immigrants and resettle refugees with successful results. In recent years, there has been an influx of migrants from the Middle East. Most seek refugee status and are often without financial means or higher education, making it even harder for them to acclimate to the Swedish lifestyle and culture. Unfortunately, many end up in the same poor suburbs, places where the possibility of integration, in terms of learning Swedish and finding employment, becomes even less likely. Citizens and politicians alike often avoid conversations about such issues for fear of being labeled racist—a tendency that my mother feels has become engrained in the Swedish mindset as of late. She believes that people who are uneasy about current immigration and refugee resettlement policies may turn to SD because it is the only party that is openly vocal on these issues.
Anna Broström, a member of the Feminist Initiative party, comes from the district of Sjöbo, where the Sweden Democrats obtained a staggering 23 percent of the vote in 2014. She echoed my mother’s sentiments, adding that SD is gaining power due to growing inequality in Sweden. She attributes this to the past eight years of conservative fiscal and social policies, which have particularly affected social welfare programs. Broström feels that people are looking for a scapegoat and the immigrant population is a perfect target, especially since Sweden was previously a very culturally homogenous society.
Broström is hopeful, however, that the newly elected social-democratic government will repair some of these inequalities, and that the Sweden Democrats’ voters may realize that the party’s platform is an incendiary response to policy issues that can be fixed through open and non-xenophobic discussion. The left-leaning ruling coalition, headed by the Social Democratic Party of Sweden, wants to pressure the EU to adopt policies so that all member nations equitably share the financial burden associated with refugee intake. They also wish to resettle new refugee arrivals more evenly within Sweden, so that no one district will have to shoulder an unmanageable financial burden. Additionally, they want the Ministry of Immigration to expand its financial commitment to supporting each district’s efforts to improve organized activities associated with refugees’ arrivals.
Serious work must be done over the next few years to maintain Sweden’s incredible historic openness. An unabashed and honest discussion needs to be had between Sweden’s political leaders and its citizens, without the fear that such conversations will be seen as politically incorrect. Otherwise, SD will only continue to gain traction. And quite frankly, perceived political incorrectness that yields results can sometimes be necessary—especially when remaining silent could have devastating consequences not only for the Swedish political climate but also for the country at large.
Isabelle Savoie ’17 is in Davenport College. Contact her at email@example.com.