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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Remembering Dresden: 70 Years Since the Allied Blitz

Between the 13th and 15th February 1945, the Allied forces unleashed one of the most ferocious bombing raids in the history of aerial warfare when they attacked the east German city of Dresden. Commemorating the 70th anniversary of the brutal event today, it is hard to believe the utter ruin that was inflicted upon the city and its inhabitants.

Memorials are laid in Dresden's Church of our Lady - rebuilt after the bombing  (Source: AFP)
Memorials are laid in Dresden’s Church of our Lady – rebuilt after the bombing
(Source: AFP)

Dresden had, up until that point, survived the war fairly intact with only a couple of daylight raids of note. A cultural centre of no great industrial importance, its residents believed that their luck might be in. Rumours abounded that Churchill had an aunt living in Dresden; that he wanted it to serve as a future capital of Allied-occupied Germany; that because of its many hospitals it would be inhumane to bomb it.

Similar sentiments had been made about the Luftwaffe’s decision not to bomb Oxford. Hitler, apparently, saw it as the ideal capital after the success of Operation Sea Lion.

Dresden was not lucky. Some 800 bombers of the Royal Air Force (RAF) and United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) dropped thousands of high explosive bombs across the city, their target illuminated by the flares dropped earlier from the nifty De Haviland Mosquitoes.

Bombs rein down on Dresden (Source: National Archives and Records Administration)
Bombs rein down on Dresden
(Source: National Archives and Records Administration)

People often talk of a Blitz spirit amongst the population of London. The same could be said of the Germans in Dresden. In the short interlude between the night raids, people reported for work, cleared rubble, tended to the wounded and buried the dead. Bake houses remained open to feed the survivors.

Debate still rages today over whether the Allies were justified in their use of carpet bombing against civilian targets. Was it necessary or morally justified? Could moral principles be considered when tackling a foe as formidable and unscrupulousness as Nazism?

Ultimately these questions are irrelevant. The bombing occurred, Dresden crumbled and its people were left to reflect on how they became dragged into such a destructive war by their maniacal leader.

Today Dresden has been rebuilt and is prospering but the legacy of February 1945 lives on. Unexploded Bombs remain a constant hazard; live ordnance was still being regularly recovered from the city’s old cemetery as recently as the 1990s. Countless other bombs are likely to remain hidden beneath buildings, roadways and parks.

Dresden was totally reconstructed post-WWII (Source: Independent)
Dresden was totally reconstructed post-WWII
(Source: Independent)

Dresden’s suffering will be remembered with poignancy both in Germany and in Britain and America. It is right to point out that Allied airmen were only following orders; how many of them really enjoyed seeing the results of their bombers’ payload?

War, by its nature, entails significant collateral damage. The more monstrous the enemy, the more severe that damage is likely to be.