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Sweden Democrats face wave of silent protest

Published: 17 May 2014 14:20 GMT+02:00

Anti-racist sentiment is strong in Sweden as the European elections approach with the Sweden Democrats (SD) often the target of mass protests - at times silent and at times vocal.
 
"It is possible to see a very strong anti-racist mobilization of civil society. Much of the involvement appears to occur without traditional organization, people have come together in schools, workplaces or in demonstrations to act against what they see as a growing threat," according to Umeå University researcher Jan Jämte. 
 
Umeå in northern Sweden is set to be the latest city to greet the Sweden Democrat's election campaign with a show of defiance on Monday, according to a report in the local Västerbottens Kuriren daily. The newspaper reports that the city's school-children are to feature strongly in a silent protest against SD party leader Jimmie Åkesson.
 
The protests have taken different forms and participants have varied from the general public, to fire-fighters, to university and hospital staff, to church-goers and left wing extremists. Åkesson was forced to call off attempts to hold a speech in Gothenburg last week due to the noise created by demonstrators.
 
The Gothenburg demonstrations however drew criticism from politicians such as Åkesson and Left Party leader Jonas Sjöstedt, as well as influential journalists, such as Dagens Nyheter's (DN) Hanne Köller.
 
"Those who believe that he must be silenced must, it is fair to say, lack confidence in their own counter-arguments and in other people's ability to see through the party's xenophobic and simplistic world view," she said in a leader article on Friday entitled "Stop cultivating SD's martyrdom".
 
Åkesson has meanwhile attempted to blame the disruption on left wing extremist groups and while these are recognized to be present, the scale and breadth of the protests have indicated that the sentiment is far more widely felt among different groups in society.
 
"If you stand and shout and disturb a political meeting and throw things, then you are by definition extremist... then you are against democracy and freedom of expression," Åkesson said after the Gothenburg demonstration.
 
Despite some exceptions, the Sweden Democrats have however managed to carry out most of their planned meetings with protests typically taking the form of massed ranks of locals silently turning their backs on the party's representatives.
 
On Friday some 1,000 people turned out in Gävle in northern Sweden in Friday, with many turning their backs as Jimmie Åkesson rose to speak. The silent protests followed similar actions in cities and towns spread as far and wide as Eskilstuna, Södertälje, Jönköping, Kungälv, Nässjö, Karlstad, Malung, Karlskrona and Arboga. 
 
The demographic and geographic spread of the protests has persuaded some experts that the party stands to suffer at the polls.
 
"Lots of factors influence an election, this is probably one that can weigh down the party," said political science professor Jonas Hinnfors.
 
The picture of SD's election campaign as one met solely by counter-demonstrations is inaccurate however with the party's representatives also attracting groups of enthusiastic supporters at every stop along their nationwide tour.
 

TT/The Local/pvs (news@thelocal.se)

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