Swedish elections: a view from Russia and Ukraine

IN MY VOICE: While the Swedish media report on how the Social Democrats will form a new government, NFGL member Diana Imamgaiazova looks at how media in Russia and Ukraine reported on the Swedish elections - and whether or not the results are truly "surprising".

Swedish elections: a view from Russia and Ukraine

The results of the Swedish elections are still shaky as the Social Democrats struggle to form a government. But Russia and Ukraine also had their eyes on the elections, and had interesting views. While many Swedes seemed shocked by the results, media to the east seemed to expect the outcome. 

Does Russia celebrate the success of the Sweden Democrats?

The Russian state-owned, pro-Kremlin newspaper "Rossiyskaya Gazeta" (RG) has responded with the headline "Nationalists strengthened their position in the Swedish Riksdag".

"Conservative government led by Fredrik Reinfeldt has ceased to deal with the situation in the country", the paper reported.

According to RG, Swedes seek changes on migration policy, social security and defense and that allowed what they call "Swedish nationalists" (the Sweden Democrats) to strengthen their position.

"All opinion polls and all the forecasts predicted such an outcome, so we are not surprised", reported Newsbalt, the Russian news portal focusing on the Baltic region coverage.

"RIA Novosti" (RIAN), the major news agency in Russia owned by federal government, generalized the the same conclusions reached by other news outlets: "The election of a right-wing party in the Swedish parliament confirms a pan-European trend", said political analyst Lyudmila Babynina in an interview with RIAN.

Babynina is the chair of the Center for the EU political integration at the IERAS (Institute of Europe at Russian Academy of Sciences). The expert emphasized that right-wing forces "entered the parliament in almost every European country including the Scandinavian region". According to Babynina, Sweden has been experiencing the rise of anti-immigration rhetoric ever since the country accepted a large number of immigrants said not to be ready to adopt the Swedish culture.

Vladimir Schweitzer, Babynina’s colleague at IERAS, makes predictions for RIAN concerning the relationships between the next Swedish government and Russia.

"Sweden Democrats have a calmer attitude towards the situation in Crimea and Ukraine. They believe that the protection of the national rights, the rights of the Russian-speaking people is not entirely bad, so we may expect some indirect support from them being ‘a third force’ in Swedish government", said Schweitzer.

Both IERAS analysts agreed that the leading red-green coalition is unlikely to cooperate with Sweden Democrats, so their participation will not be very significant.

Should Ukraine be concerned?

Russian business newspaper "Kommersant", belonging to the media holding of oligarch Alisher Usmanov, gave more restrained comments.

"The formation of the government is not finished yet, and we cannot predict who will become the new head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs", writes Kommersant, referring Lena Jonson, an expert from the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.

However, interviewee of "Kommersant" Tamara Salycheva from the Russian-Swedish educational and scientific center at RGGU (Russian State Humanitarian University) believes that the new Swedish foreign minister will not take such an extreme position as Carl Bildt.

"We expect that the new Swedish government can reduce the enhanced cooperation with NATO and soften the rhetoric against Russia. Although the general critical attitude is likely to remain", the analyst said.

The weekly newspaper "Zerkalo Nedeli" (ZN), which is published in Kiev in Russian and Ukrainian languages, regrets that "one of brightest and most active supporters of Ukraine, Carl Bildt" will no longer hold a position in the Swedish government.

Nevertheless Vladimir Kravchenko, ZN’s reporter, believes that Ukraine still has many supporters in Sweden.

"Almost all Swedish parties, except the Sweden Democrats, have been hanging Ukrainian flags during the election campaign to show their solidarity with Kiev", reported Kravchenko for ZN.

The Ukrainian columnist also points out that the main parliamentary parties in Sweden believe that there is a need to increase defense spending and to continue cooperation with NATO.

The local outlook

While Russia is "not surprised" by the results of the elections, Swedish society seems to stand in astonishment. What do locals say about surprised Sweden?

Anna Biverus, insurance manager from Stockholm:

"My family moved from Russia more than 20 years ago, so I’m not really reading the Russian papers. Anyway, in this case I would say – yes, someone had to say it out loud! It was a predictable result! The majority of Swedes did not even take the right-wing seriously. During the vote count I received many calls from friends asking: 'Oh my God, what's going on?!' As for myself I gave my voice against all parties because I did not find a political platform which I could support. I think the lack of competitive proposals on migration is the main reason why voters supported the Sweden Democrats."

Alexa Robertson, media scholar, professor in Stockholm University:

"The Sweden Democrats have highlighted the migration problem while the other parties were continuing talks about ‘open borders’. Therefore, they might seem to be the only party that takes people’s concerns seriously. At the same time, media demonized the right-wing party to make it look vicious and ridiculous. I think the voters even began to feel sorry for the blamed and shamed underdog, and it could provide the additional votes for the right-wing. The final astonishment of the public was also caused by considerable inaccuracy of the pre-election polls. Perhaps, some voters did not admit their intention to vote for Sweden Democrats."

Diana Imamgaiazova, first-year NFGL student (the author of this article):

I came to Sweden from Russia just a couple of weeks ago to study Media and Communication at Stockholm University. Like most people I know in Sweden, I was rather confused by the election outcome. For me, Sweden seemed to be one of the most cosmopolitan countries in Europe treating the nationalistic party as rather marginal group. So I was surprised when a kind of "marginalized" party could successfully compete with the leading political forces of Sweden. Working on this review I was disappointed that some of Russian analysts have suggested the success of the right-wing party as something inevitable for Sweden. I believe that the “anti-immigrant” views are not widespread in Sweden as it was shown in some of pro-Kremlin reports. The success of Sweden Democrats can be explained by the lack of proposals on migration regulations from the other parties which are likely to appear now.

By Diana Imamgaiazova

This article is the first in the SI News Service's In My Voice series, which allows NFGL students to share their opinions, reflections, and reactions to life in Sweden and to viewing the world's events from a Swedish perspective. Contact us at SI News Service if you are interested in contributing. 

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