Centre-right parties split over nationalists racism debate

One of Sweden's opposition leaders has caused a stir after she said that she did not think far right nationalist party Sweden Democrats were racist.

Centre-right parties split over nationalists racism debate
Christian Democrats leader Ebba Busch Thor. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

In an interview with Christian newspaper Dagen published in the early hours of Thursday, Christian Democrats leader Ebba Busch Thor was asked if she considers the Sweden Democrats to be a racist party.

“No, I don’t if we’re talking about their official policy today, but the party has a history which came from racist origins,” she replied.

Busch Thor’s opinion contrasted the one previously expressed by Moderate leader and fellow Alliance boss Anna Kinberg Batra only four days earlier.

When asked in an interview with public service broadcaster SVT last Sunday whether SD were a racist party, Kinberg Batra replied “they blame all problems on immigration, that’s racist”.

The opposing answers suggested a difference in opinion towards SD within the centre-right Alliance parties, an expert said.

“Anna Kinberg Batra put her foot down quickly and said that SD are a racist party, but Ebba Busch Thor is giving a bit to both groups within her Christian Democrats,” University of Gothenburg political science professor Jonas Hinnfors told news agency TT

“She said that SD is not a racist party, but also underlined the party’s history and that there are people in the party who are racist. That may be a way for her to balance a complicated internal situation,” he added.

A third Alliance leader, Centre Party chief Annie Lööf, has also expressed her opinion on the matter.

“SD is a party with racist roots and with a view of humanity that is far away from mine and the Centre Party’s,” she wrote on Twitter.

When asked later on Thursday about her original comments later, Busch Thor appeared to backtrack.

“I meant that if you look strictly at their programme you can’t say that it is a racist party. But I think it is clear that they are still unable to come to terms with a widespread racism in the party which both characterizes their history as well as characterizes their party as a whole today, and many of their representatives,” she told DN.

It hasn’t been an easy month for Busch Thor. An August 2016 opinion poll conducted by Inizio suggested that only 3.8 percent of Swedes would vote for the Christian Democrats if a general election was held today – one percentage point down compared to the previous edition of the survey from June. 

A Novus poll published on Thursday meanwhile projected that an even lower percentage of voters (3.2) would vote for the party. 

For members


Sweden Elects: I’ve got election pork coming out my ears this week

The Local's editor Emma Löfgren rounds up this week's key talking points of the Swedish election campaign.

Sweden Elects: I've got election pork coming out my ears this week

There’s an old Swedish Word of the Day in The Local’s archives: valfläsk (literally “election pork”, or pork barrel politics).

This week, there’s been enough of it to feed a Swedish town large enough for both a Biltema and a Dressmann store and still have half the pig left!

You could say it started the week before last, when the Social Democrats’ Immigration Minister Anders Ygeman floated a test balloon loaded with a 50-percent cap on non-Nordic residents in troubled neighbourhoods (it went down among the other parties like it was made out of lead).

Then last week, the Liberals threw their hat in the ring by proposing mandatory language assessments for two-year-olds who don’t attend preschool, and then make preschool mandatory for the toddlers whose Swedish isn’t deemed good enough. This, they said, was meant to help integration in areas where bilingual children don’t speak Swedish at home.

“Studies show that early preschool benefits children whose mothers are low-educated and whose parents are born abroad,” their manifesto read.

Liberal leader Johan Pehrson’s statement that in the most extreme cases – where parents clearly refuse to let their children learn Swedish – led to a social media storm that conjured up images of crying toddlers being taken into care for failing to distinguish between en and ett when quizzed.

For any parents of multilingual children (who know better than most how language works in early childhood – I’m raising a multilingual baby myself, but I’ve only just started so if you have any tips, do let me know!), I should stress that the proposal is less extreme than how it was first presented.

This is typical for valfläsk, by the way. Take something that’s perfectly obvious and hard to argue against (of course mixed neighbourhoods and children being encouraged to learn languages are generally good things) but dial it up a notch, insert something immigration-related, promise to get tough on whatever it is you want to get tough on, and propose either something that already exists or would be near-impossible to implement.

Then the Stockholm branch of the conservative Moderates proposed that entire school classes in vulnerable areas should be screened for ADHD through optional rapid tests, in order to increase the comparably lower rate of medication among foreign-born children and prevent them from falling into a life of crime.

“Detached from reality,” said their Social Democrat rival and pointed out that the partly Moderate-run region was planning to cut the number of psychiatric care clinics for young people.

The Christian Democrats, never ones to be outdone, wanted to chemically castrate sex offenders, give police access to healthcare biobanks, and let police take DNA samples from people stopped in internal border checks.

But while many of the election pledges that get tossed around this close to the election (less than a month to go, now!) tend to range from the radical to the ridiculous and are unlikely to ever be implemented, they’re still worth paying attention to. They give us an indication of the direction the parties want to take, and could well reappear in a more watered-down format later on during the governmental cycle.

They may also become part of post-election negotiations, where even small parties hold key cards as the larger parties fight to cobble together viable government coalitions.

They also say something about Sweden and the direction of the political sphere as a whole, where the parties are currently racing to outdo each other on who can be toughest on immigration and law and order.

The Local’s reporter Becky Waterton has gone through all the parties’ election pledges to see how they specifically would affect foreign residents in Sweden – in case you’ve missed her article, click here to read it.

Also in the world of Swedish politics, a new poll by SVT and Novus has the Moderates and the Sweden Democrats neck and neck, Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson promised lower taxes in his summer speech and Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson tougher sentences on gang criminals in hers, and Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson suggested changing the name of the Swedish Prison and Probation Service (Kriminalvården) to the Penal Office (Straffverket).

Sweden Elects is a new weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in the Swedish election race. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column plus several extra features as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.