A small group of demonstrators showed up outside a run-of-the-mill fire station in Stockholm's Botkyrka last week. Why? To protest the work-place visit by Jimmie Åkesson. Then 250 staff at Lund University Hospital in Malmö told Åkesson in a public letter that they did not want him to visit. Death threats ensued. The incidents were just the latest in a string of controversies trailing Åkesson's ambitious tour.
"The Sweden Democrats are a running provocation to many people on the left of the spectrum, which in Sweden includes a lot of people, that these work place visits have been like a red rag to a bull," Södertörn University political scientist Nick Aylott told The Local.
Åkesson, who plans to visit more than 50 work places across the country, began his tour in February. The party has said that it is focusing on municipalities run by Social Democrats, and the list revealed a focus on public sector work places.
It began quite mildly. In Örebro, Aftonbladet columnist Oisin Cantwell noted, reporters were mostly interested in asking questions about immigrants' role in staffing the welfare services of the future. Åkesson's tour kick-off was also overshadowed by allegations that he had lied about his youth in a recent television programme.
Since then, however, tough questions have morphed into tough receptions not only by reporters but by the very people with whom Åkesson has hoped to speak.
"I would think the Sweden Democrats are absolutely delighted every time they face a protest," Aylott said. "It's grist to the mill of the Sweden Democrat self-image as martyrs."
Some of the protests have been rather messy.
In Umeå last month, a doctor stood in Åkesson's way when he tried to visit a geriatric care ward. Another staff member yelled "racist" at him. Two days later, fifteen healthcare staff told the county administrators in an op-ed that they were "ashamed" of them for letting Åkesson visit. They further claimed that both Åkesson's security police agents and the county security chief had threatened them when they held up anti-Sweden Democrat placards in reception.
While images seeping through the TT picture agency's news feed has mostly showed a glum- or at least straight-faced Åkesson on tour, the protests may be playing to his advantage, Aylott noted.
"They present themselves as the only group that stands up against the elite consensus, against the progressives who run the country who conspire to suppress debate on the Sweden Democrats' favourite topics," he explained.
Story continues below…
The Umeå chief medical officer, Professor Yngve Gustafsson, has defended the staff's protest against Åkesson's visit. He told Sveriges Television that the Sweden Democrat position against subsidized healthcare to immigrants, who live in Sweden without the legal right to do so, contradicted the Hippocratic Oath.
"The Sweden Democrats think we should report (the immigrants) to the police," Gustafson told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper. "That's making a difference between one patient to the next and breaches not only the healthcare law, but also doctor's ethical rules, and the county's equality principle."
The Sweden Democrats, however, have continuously defended their stance.
"Somewhere along the road, it becomes absurd to reward people who are in Sweden illegally by giving them lower healthcare costs than that offered to taxpayers, low income pensioners, and everyone who respects the law," the party's healthcare spokesperson Per Ramhorn wrote in an op-ed in the local Gefle Dagblad newspaper last year.