On May 9th, 1945 there were celebrations across Europe as the Third Reich capitulated and the second world war finally ended. Last week, some 200 Nazis from the Party of the Swedes demonstrated in Jönköping. They protested against the EU and brandished the slogan "Sweden for the Swedes". Through the duration of the demonstration, church bells rang out across the southern Swedish town.
It was the first time since 1939 that the churches rang their bells to warn of danger.
School students across our country have this spring been met by Nazi hate propaganda. Some dismiss the scrawled swastiskas and hateful words as pranks. But we feel the frost in the air.
In Hungary, the Jobbik party agitates against Roma and Jews. In Greece, the Nazi party Golden Dawn attacks refugees. In the latest report from the Swedish anti-racism foundation Expo, researchers warned that Swedish racists have become more and more organized, reaching record levels of activity. These movements exist across Europe and their primary goal is to crush democracy.
A Swedish court recently sentenced three members of the Nazi Swedish Resistance Movement (Svenska motståndsrörelsen – SMR) to prison for their part in the violence during the anti-racism demonstration in Stockholm neighbourhood Kärrtorp. SMR wants to overthrow our democratic society and install a dictatorship. Their ideology is built on a hodgepodge of racial biology and conspiracy theories.
The emergence of violent right-wing extremism is a threat to our security which EU member states must take seriously in the utmost.
The European Commission three years ago set up a programme called the Radicalization Awareness Network, which brings together local activists working against violent extremism. The network is on the ground in all EU member states. There are plans to found a European knowledge bank next year to collate all the information.
At the same time, Sweden has taken the lead in a two-year project, financed by the commission, against right-wing extremism. Sweden is taking part alongside eight other EU countries plus Norway. A lessons-learnt conference will be held in Stockholm on June 25th-26th, and both of us will be in attendance.
The findings from the project, which have been written by European researchers, warn us that right-wing extremists now have greater access to weapons. The findings also warn us that they are forging alliances using online fora – which means that the threat is veiled. There is a clear difference between the extremists' view of who the "enemy" is when we look at right-wing milieu in western and eastern Europe. In the "east" the enemies are Roma, Jews, and homo, bi and transsexuals. In the "west", the target is more often than not Islam.
The project reports have also found that the right-wing extremists do not shirk from cross-border cooperation. A clear example was SMR's demonstration in support for Golden Dawn last year, which coincided with the anniversary of Kristallnacht , which set events in motion that would end in the Holocaust.
Watch the counter-demonstrators as SVP march to the Greek embasssy in Stockholm
The reports have also found indications that key actors among right-wing extremist movement do not have access to a lot of information. That is why we'd like all EU members to put in place national action plans with preventative measures, and that they set up support plans for people who want to leave extremism behind them.
In Sweden, the Party of the Swedes have candidates running for municipal office in 35 locations across the country. In the upcoming European parliament elections, parties such as Golden Dawn and Jobbik could end up with strong representation in the parliament. The German neo-Nazi NDP and similar parties in Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria are also running for elected offices.
Sixty-nine years after the end of the second world war, Hitler's ideological heirs could march into our elected legislative assemblies.
It's high time that more Europeans in positions of power wake up. They have to realize that Nazism is again mobilizing and it is growing among us. We hope that our conference in June in Stockholm will be a wake-up call and that we together can identify a powerful strategy to combat these dangerous developments.
Cecilia Malmström, Sweden's EU Commissioner and Birgitta Ohlsson, Swedish Minister for EU and Democracy
This op-ed was also published in Swedish in the national daily Svenska Dagbladet.