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Sweden grapples with neo-Nazis in election campaign

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Sweden grapples with neo-Nazis in election campaign
The NMR march in Ludvika on May 1st. Photo: Ulf Palm/TT
17:40 CEST+02:00
Sweden's authorities have long struggled with how to handle marches by the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (NMR). Now the openly racist and anti-Semitic group is campaigning in the general election for the first time.
The Administrative Court in Gothenburg ruled on Thursday that the party could hold election rallies in Kungälv, one of the municipalities it is contesting, on the grounds that "freedom of association is protected under the Swedish constitution". 
 
The local municipality had contested a decision by the local police to allow the party to hold two election rallies during the campaign. 
 
Recent NMR rallies at the Gothenburg Book Fair, the Almedalen political festival, and May 1st celebrations have been met with large counter-demonstrations, and required significant police operations. 
 
But the court, which adjudicates on disputes between private people and the authorities, said in a unanimous ruling:  "With regard to the fact that the Swedish Police Authority has judged that security can be maintained at the meetings, the court has decided that there are no grounds to refuse Nordic Resistance Movement permission," 
 
The openly racist and anti-Semitic party has put forward 24 candidates in the parliamentary election, and is campaigning in three municipalities: Ludvika and Boden as well as Kungälv.
 
Its leader Pär Öberg hopes to win council seats in at least two of these municipalities, and has even suggested it might pass the four percent threshold to get into the Swedish Parliament, although no polls come even close to bearing this out. 
 
He is particularly hopeful for the city of Ludvika, where he sat on the local municipality for four years after being elected as a Sweden Democrat, the far-right party which became the third largest in Sweden in the 2014 election. 
 
Öberg gleefully tweeted that "National Socialism is back for real" when a recent YouGov poll showed parties outside the mainstream garnering a combined total of 4.7 percent, a result also celebrated by the newly formed far-right Alternativ för Sverige (AfD) party. This figure however includes the results of almost 30 parties
 
David Holm, legal advisor at the Swedish Election Authority, said the authority has no power to deny a far-right or neo-Nazi group the right to participate in an election. 
 
"What we do not do is to look at the politics of the party," he said. "All we do is to look into the question as to whether the party denomination can be confused with another one. That's it." 
 
The group's application was accepted shortly after it was submitted on January 29th.
 
Jonathan Leman, researcher for anti-extremist magazine Expo, said the party’s decision to put forward candidates was significant. 
 
"This is the first election where they are participating and they have quite high expectations," he told The Local. 
 
But he said that he was sceptical of their chances, partly with the competition they face for the votes of disaffected Sweden Democrat voters from AfS. 
 
"I think not enough voters are ready to vote for a Nazi party, but also in this right-nationalist environment, they have a lot of competition from AfS," he said. 
 
"They want to position themselves as a radical alternative to the Sweden Democrats, and AfS are doing exactly the same thing." 
 
 
Expo's Leman said he suspected that standing in the election would damage the party, as happened to its predecessor the Party of The Swedes, which disbanded shortly after a disappointing result in 2014. 
 
"It does make them vulnerable," he said. "In their propaganda they can always say that they’re growing so much, but the election now will show clearly the result in black and white. On election night, we get the figures, and that will be difficult to explain away." 
 
He said the party was already preparing followers for disappointment by spreading rumours of unfair treatment from the authorities and the media. 
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