Swedish talk show in Åkesson storm

Friday night’s prime time interview with returning Sweden Democrat head Jimmie Åkesson on the Swedish TV talk show Skavlan has resulted in a storm of complaints over the weekend both on home soil and in Norway, where the programme is also broadcast.

Swedish talk show in Åkesson storm

In Sweden, complaints started even before the interview aired with many criticising public broadcaster SVT on social media for giving the controversial far-right leader a forum on Norwegian journalist Fredrik Skavlan’s popular show.

Popular stand-up comedian Jonas Gardell tweeted, "Hold on: so the kids and I are expected to sit in front of the TV with soft drinks, crisps and Jimmie Åkesson? What kind of bloody cosy Friday is that???"

But once the programme had been broadcast, most viewers focussed on how the interview was conducted, arguing that Åkesson had been treated too harshly by Skavlan.

He repeatedly asked Åkesson about controversial, and often racist, statements made in the past by Sweden Democrats. A blogger for Sweden's GP newspaper titled his entry on the interview: “Skavlan was a pitbull”.

The nationalist leader has been on sick leave since October 2014 and is still on antidepressants.

"There's obviously a reason why others don't choose to talk about this. It's because you're scared, as a political leader, to be perceived as weak. 'How are you supposed to return to your party leader job now, you who are taking antidepressants? You, who are so weak, how are you going to manage?'," Åkesson told Skavlan.

"But I think that for the sake of both the voters and myself, I have to be open about this," he added.

By Monday morning SVT said it had received more than 800 complaints, in addition to a backlash on Twitter and Facebook. 

“It Is one of the largest ever numbers for a programme,” Peter Schierbeck, a spokesman for SVT told the TT news agency.

Norwegian public broadcaster NRK was also inundated with viewer protests and reports flew in fast to the Norwegian authority that oversees broadcasting content. A Facebook group “Boycott Skavlan” soon appeared.

“This is certainly among the eight to ten items or programmes that have elicited the most reactions over the past few years,” the authority’s secretary, Erik Berg-Hansen, told Norwegian tabloid Verdens Gang.

Sweden Democrat press spokesman Henrik Vinge wrote in a text message to Verdens Gang: “In Sweden we have long had a positive image of Norwegian media, but yesterday Skavlan acted just like a Swedish journalist.” 

SVT defended its approach, arguing that it had a role to “comment on and question the world”.

“This premise applies to Åkesson just like everyone else,” press spokeswoman Sabina Rasiwala told TT.

Other viewers praised the broadcaster for this approach, arguing that Jimmie Åkesson needed to be grilled for his far-right views.

The Sweden Democrats are the third largest political group in Sweden, scoring a record 12.9 percent of the vote in September's election. During Åkesson's six-month absence, Mattias Karlsson has been the party's acting leader and some had suggested that he could take over the helm of the party permanently.

Åkesson says he will return to work in successive stages from March 31st.


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.