Sweden Democrats Raise Unsettling Questions About the Past: Are the Progressives Regressing?

The Sweden Democrats (SD) have become the latest far right party to make significant gains in a European election, scoring 18% in the recent vote that has seen the country’s two main coalitions fall short of a majority.

SD leader Jimmie Akesson on election night

‘Either we stay with a decent democracy or we choose another path’ said Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lovren, as the anti-immigrant SD preyed on the electorate’s fears of a rapidly changing society.

From one of the most homogeneous nations, Sweden’s generous immigration policies, high acceptance of asylum seekers, and low indigenous birth rate have changed the ethnic and religious make-up of the country.

The SD has tapped into frustrations over immigration

Since the late 1970s, in particular, refugee immigration from war zones and impoverished states abroad has rocketed. This once fit in nicely with Sweden’s political image, often held-up as the epitome of Social Democracy operating at its finest.

Yet the reality now is that about 15% of Sweden’s population was born overseas and another 10% have foreign born parents. Understandably, this radical demographic change has unsettled some of the natives.

The Swedish population has become increasingly diverse in recent decades

But whilst the SD has to an extent capitalised on these fears, its prospects for altering the political landscape appear slim. For a start, neither coalition – one centre-right and the other centre-left – is willing to include the SD in government. Then there is the small matter of Sweden’s history.

Whilst the SD has its roots in fascism and white supremacism, it is not a neo-Nazi movement and Sweden has typically been free of extremist political groups. At least, none have caused much of a political tremor.

More disturbing, and perhaps something that remains ingrained in the minds of some Swedes, is the government’s tacit support of the Nazis during World War Two (WWII).

Technically neutral during the conflict, it is not an overstatement to say that the Swedes were a substantial contributor to the German war effort. Hitler’s regime was reliant on Sweden for a huge proportion of its iron ore, which arrived at German ports in Swedish ships. Swedish miners were even exempted from the draft so that production for the Nazis would face minimal disruption (Judt, 2005, p.84). Simultaneously, Wehrmacht troops were given free transit through Sweden during their forays into Norway.

Nazi riflemen transiting through Sweden in 1940

The Swiss have received considerable scorn for their role in playing financiers to the Nazis, their unscrupulous banking system siphoning the ill-gotten gains from persecuted Jews and re-directing them to Hitler’s ministries. For the Swedes, criticism has been rather muted.

Of course, the alternative for the Stockholm government was hardly appealing. Risk war with the Nazis? Cosy up to the Soviets after their invasion of Finland? Acquiescence is understandable, although a certain complicity is undeniable.

Perhaps a collective guilt has prevented its people from dabbling in right-wing politics in the past? Is this now changing through a younger generation with no memories of the war in their immediate families?

Tough questions and even tougher decisions undoubtedly lie ahead for the Swedes, as they do for the rest of Europe. With continental economies still not fully recovered from the Great Recession, and rapid demographic change proving an insurmountable challenge for some governments, citizens are necessarily concerned.

It often needs a rising tide of populism to prompt decisive action. How will Sweden’s politicians – oft lauded for their progressive and fair social and economic agendas – decide to respond?

Lovren’s Social Democrats are no longer the undisputed power in the land

Embrace the legitimate concerns of the SD voters? Or band together and carry on as before in the hope that the far right quickly fades away?

Needless to say, the ‘good old days’ will take some recapturing.

Historical Source

Judt, T. Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (2005)

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Corbyn Draws Unwanted Parallel with Hardie: Labour’s Anti-Semitism Crisis

Wherever there is trouble in Europe, wherever rumours of war circulate and men’s minds are distraught with fear of change and calamity, you may be sure that a hooked-nosed Rothschild is at his games somewhere near the region of the disturbances.

No this isn’t Jeremy Corbyn, nor is it one of the Labour Party’s unsubtle Jewish detractors. Rather, it is Keir Hardie, Labour’s first Member of Parliament (MP), writing in his Labour Leader paper of 1891.

James Keir Hardie (1856-1915)

Over a century later, one would think that Labour’s current leader has revived such uncouth sentiment, with Mr Corbyn’s handling of the current anti-semitism debate threatening to tear apart the British Left.

Indeed, the fact that the party’s National Executive Committee has been forced to convene to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s full definition of what anti-semitism actually means, demonstrates the mess Corbyn has made of the situation.

Labour’s National Executive Committee meeting attracted both pro and anti-Corbyn demonstrators

If he had acted more vehemently in response to Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone’s foolish comments, it is unlikely this melodrama would have occurred, and the Conservative Party would not be enjoying a surprise respite amidst its own Brexit troubles.

Much of the early Labour Party antipathy towards the Jews was a result of its members socialist, anti-capitalist worldview. With Jewish people seemingly occupying a disproportionately high number of prominent positions within global political and financial institutions at the end of the 19th century, they were readily associated with the degradation of the proletariat.

“Jew moneylenders now control every Foreign Office in Europe” sniped the Social Democratic Federation’s (SDF) Justice paper in 1884. Labour leaders even saw the Boer War as a conspiracy of the Jews to grab the gold fields of South Africa.

Of course, some of this vitriol was consistent with views prevailing more broadly across society at the time. This does not excuse them, it is simply a reality. Today, with the history of Jewish persecution in the 20th century impossible to escape, one must tread much more carefully.

Corbyn has been clear over who he supports in the Middle East

Anti-semitism undoubtedly still exists among many segments of society, although to what extent is hard to gauge. With Israel linking almost every conceivable issue to religion and race – burnished by a right-wing government intent on destroying the two-state solution – it is easy to gain an impression that anti-semitic fervour is on the rise.

Corbyn has not helped himself with careless past comments in support of militant Palestinian groups – not to mention others around the world – and his unwillingness to draw a line under the anti-semitism row sooner makes any move or remark on his part now seem disingenuous.

At least this latest episode in his checkered political career will allow him to draw a parallel with Hardie, the darling of Labour socialism, however much he may want it to disappear.

Keir Hardie was a formidable champion of workers’ rights