A populist lexicon: freedom fries and the Swedish far-right

The Local's Peter Vinthagen Simpson exposes the orthodoxy and self-serving folksy truisms of far-right PC in a lexicon of populist platitudes.

A populist lexicon: freedom fries and the Swedish far-right
Photo: Claudio Bresciani, Alex Brandell, Jonas Ekströmer, Fredrik Persson

The term “politically correct”, used almost exclusively in a pejorative sense by the political right, or in a self-deprecating sense by the political left, once had an alternative, more positive and less partisan meaning in the Swedish language.

That has all now changed – by the expansion of the global discourse, the interminable advance of the English language, but most of all by the emergence of populist nationalism on a national stage.

The term in Swedish is now bandied about in the same shrill accusatory tone to which Anglophones have long become accustomed.

Matthew Parris, a prominent journalist and author, and former Conservative MP, coined the phrase “politically sound” in an article in the UK journal The Spectator back in February 2000 in which he cast a critical eye to identify “the dead dogma” of his (centre) right-wing political persuasion.

“As we ridicule the po-faced puritans of the Left, we forget how ripe for ridicule are the sniffy certainties of our own creed,” Parris wrote in his “Lexicon of conservative cant”.

If “politically correct” describes this dogma among the left, “politically sound” among the centre-right, a new term is surely needed to distinguish the “sniffy certainties” of the new far-right discourse.

Following Parris’ lead, but without the same political introspection, let us now turn our attention to the burgeoning rhetorical orthodoxy of the Swedish political far-right, and of all those who begin their sentences ”I am not a racist, but…”.

What emerges — and is laid out below — is a lexicon of populist platitudes, or dictionary, if you will, of what exponents might describe as straight-talking, but we’ll call the “politically simple”.

Are YOU politically simple?

A is for assimilation. The politically simple argue that in the 1950s, Sweden practiced assimilation. The politically simple like the 1950s and would rather Sweden had stayed there.

B is for Bevara Sverige Svenskt. Keep Sweden Swedish. The politically simple argue there are many immigrants among their ranks and that all can join the movement, all they have to do is share the movement’s anti-immigrant values.

C is for culture. The politically simple do not like being labelled racist, they argue instead that an individual’s (poor) behaviour is an inevitable result of his culture.

A ‘culture enricher’ (kulturberikare) is a term of derision used ironically in politically simple circles to describe variously immigrants who commit crimes, or merely behave in a foreign manner, and is a play on those who often cite “cultural enrichment” as a positive aspect of diversity.

‘Culture enriched’ (kulturberikad) is the term used for a victim, for example a Swedish woman who has been raped by an immigrant perpetrator.

D is for Denmark. Denmark has arrested the slide into perceived inevitable multicultural chaos by introducing a raft of tough measures on immigration. The politically simple argue that when in Sweden do as the Danes.

E is for establishment. The politically simple deem the establishment to include the media, the courts, the church, the feminist lobby, the left, the right, the green, the research community… but not the King.

F is for the Faroe Islands. With its folk dress clad peoples, isolation, and high degree of ethnic purity, this north Atlantic outpost is the politically simple’s idea of an ideal holiday destination.

G is for Gay Pride. Some of the politically simple’s best friends are gay, but see no reason why they need to be given a whole afternoon to celebrate the fact.

H is for homogeneous. Sweden in the 1950s (although there is some doubt as to the veracity of this claim).

I is for integration. A failed experiment that has led to Swedish society bending over backwards for the newcomers. The politically simple have made up their minds on this and will hear no evidence to the contrary.

J is for Jimmie Åkesson – he can say and do no wrong, tra la la la la.

K is for kebab. I am not an Islamophobe, I eat kebab.

L is for Lagerlöf. Selma Lagerlöf – the politically simple claim the celebrated author as one of their own, although she died before she had any say in the matter.

M is for multiculturalism. A complete and utter failure. The politically simple argue that anyone who does not share their version of a monoculture and means to achieve it, probably belongs to E above.

N is for negerboll. Negro ball. A sweet chocolate delicacy covered with lashings of white coconut flakes that should be called by its proper name. The politically simple argue that calling the spherical sweet a chocolate or coconut ball is proof of ”political correctness gone mad”.

O is for oikophobia. Used to variously describe those who sit down at midsummer, folk musicians who gratuitously play world music, or those who argue that austere furnishing and painting walls white is perhaps not so quintessentially Swedish as we might have thought.

P is for Pia. Mamma Pia. Danish People’s Party leader Pia Kjærsgaard is the beacon whose shining path glows from across the Öresund and living proof that marginal levels of support are no barrier to hijacking the public debate.

Q is for Queen Silvia (Sommerlath). A bastion of Swedish values and guardian of the Swedish historical legacy. The acceptable face of immigration.

R is for Rosengård. Malmö’s multi-ethnic suburb and cited as a glaring example of the utter failure of Swedish multiculturalism. The politically simple do not feel the need to have visited Rosengård, home to some 20,000 people, to know this.

S is for Swedish hatred. See O above.

T is for taboo. The politically simple argue that they say what you are thinking, but are too politically correct to admit and too self-censored to discuss.

U is for union. EU, UN, NATO – all should be treated with the utmost suspicion. A Nordic Union is however a very good idea.

V is for Vellinge. The municipality which greets arrivals with the message: “where freedom is greater”, but whose freedoms have famously been restricted to exclude pretty much anyone who doesn’t already live there. The home county of choice for every self-respecting member of the politically simple. See H above.

W is for witch. “Batik Witch” is a term of disdain used for anyone (well anyone female) who is reluctant to classify all problems as cultural and prefers to consider socio-economic factors. The politically simple point out that while she is passionate about the suburbs, she lives at a nice address, and is thus deserving of ridicule.

X is for (e)xtreme left. When they are not demonstrating in numbers, they can be found hiding under the bed, every bed.

Y is for you. It could be you, it is just a question of time. Despite the Sweden Democrats winning only 5.7 percent of the vote in the general election, the politically simple act as if they won 30, arguing that it is undemocratic for the Alliance government to discuss a cooperation with anyone else first.

Z is for Zlatan (Ibrahimovic). Despite being captain of the national team and never having been anything else, he will never become Swedish – the politically simple like to reserve the right to make the distinction for themselves.

This list should not be interpreted as being dismissive of the concerns of the right – they are real to those who share its mindset. It is instead intended to highlight that rhetorical dogma is not the exclusive reserve of any political shade.

This mindset among followers of the Swedish far-right is one that screams for attention, but recoils when that attention is given. It is one that demands the freedom to speak, but cries foul when others exercise the same right. It is the mindset of a group that claims to speak for the moral majority, but plays the role of the marginalized victim; which demands to be taken seriously, but is quick to ridicule.

It is the mindset, just like any hysterical herd regardless of political sentiment, which has stopped asking the questions and ceased listening for the answers. And as Matthew Parris once observed of the “politically sound”, the “politically simple” adopt the language of the natural bully.

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Far-right Sweden Democrats top opinion poll in historic shift

The Sweden Democrats party has overtaken the ruling Social Democrats to top an opinion poll for the first time in Sweden, which represents a new landmark for the far-right party.

Far-right Sweden Democrats top opinion poll in historic shift
Jimmie Åkesson has over the past 15 years transformed the Sweden Democrats from a fringe neo-Nazi group. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
According to the latest opinion poll by the Swedish polling company Demoskop, the far-right party — which has its roots in 1990s neo-Nazi groups — now has the support of 24 percent of voters. This compares to just 22.2 percent for the ruling Social Democrats.  
“I'm not surprised,” the party's leader Jimmie Åkesson said after the result was published in the Aftonbladet newspaper on Friday.
“I've long argued we would be the biggest party sooner or later. We've been talking constructively over gang criminality, escalating insecurity, and a migration policy that doesn't work for so many years.” 
This is the first time the Sweden Democrats have been the largest party in any of the five polls carried out for Sweden's main newspapers and broadcasters. 
Lena Rådström Baastad, party secretary for the Social Democrats, blamed the recent spate of high profile shootings and explosions in Swedish cities, as well as the difficult compromises the party had had to make in its January Agreement with the Centre and Liberal Parties. 
“It's a damned tough situation right now, so I'm not surprised when you consider what we've got against us, with gang murders, shootings and explosions. It's us, as a the ruling party, who has to pay the price.” 
Åkesson said that the poll cemented his party's position as the true opposition to the Social Democrat party which has dominated Swedish politics since the 1930s.  
“In the old days it was the Moderates and [former PM Fredrik] Reinfeldt who were challenging them, now it's us,” he said. “It's a welcome shift in Swedish politics.” 
Demoskop's head of opinion research Peter Santesson said that the Moderate Party had lost 1.7 percentage points, shedding support both to the Sweden Democrats and to the Christian Democrats. 
Bloc politics is important in Sweden's system of proportional representation, so even if the Sweden Democrats manage to emerge as the largest party in the 2022 general election, they may still not be able to enter government. 
Instead of combining the parties into the former four-party Alliance group of Moderates, Christian Democrats, Centre Party and Liberals, Demoskop has now started measuring the combined vote of an emerging conservative bloc. 
The Moderates, Sweden Democrats and Christian Democrats now have a combined 49.4 percent, putting them well ahead of the left-liberal bloc of Social Democrats, Green Party, Centre Party and Liberal Party, and close to having a majority. 
But the Moderate Party is split over whether to collaborate with the Sweden Democrats, so it is unclear whether its members would support joining the populists in a coalition government. 
If the new conservative bloc wins a majority, however, the Moderates and the Christian Democrats could instead seek to form a coalition government with the support of the Sweden Democrats, as they tried but failed to do after the 2018 election. 
If the three conservative parties fell just short a majority, the Social Democrats could then conceivably remain in power with the tacit support of the former communist Left Party.
Meeting their demands while also retaining the support of the pro-free market Centre and Liberal parties would however involve a challenging balancing act.