SHARE
COPY LINK

OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Sweden has let the immigration issue hijack the political agenda’

OPINION: The Local's contributor Paul Connolly asks how and why a far-right party managed to become a serious political contender in Sweden's general election.

'Sweden has let the immigration issue hijack the political agenda'
Supporters listen in to Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson’s campaign speech in Helsingborg in southern Sweden. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Here's a scenario: This European country's economy is in overdrive. The unemployment rate is 6.8 percent, level with the EU average, and still falling. Youth unemployment is at a 15-year low.

Child benefit has been increased, and money has been poured into the health, police and education systems.

Successive surpluses have cut public debt to the lowest levels since the late 1970s.

The economy is booming and the state continues to provide a strong welfare safety net, a net that serves to encourage a well-developed entrepreneurial impulse among many of its citizens.

These are surely glorious times. Salad days.

Of course, there are also problems. It's taking too long to integrate immigrants, with the unemployment rate another 10 percentage points higher than for natives. Hospital waiting times are another issue, although when you do finally reach the front of the queue, medical care is still regarded as world-class.

Surely a political party leading the government in charge of a country in such fine fettle would comfortably win any general election with a vastly increased share of the vote. Wouldn't it?

Not in Sweden. Not in 2018.

READ ALSO:

Instead the Social Democrats, the party that leads the government coalition that has overseen this period of growth, are likely to record their lowest share of the vote ever, at lower than 25 percent.

And the Sweden Democrats, a political party with its roots in the neo-Nazi movement, is on course to pick up a whopping 20 percent or more of the popular vote in a country which has always prided itself on being at the vanguard of the global progressive movement.

How on earth has this happened? Why will the mostly shrewd stewardship of Prime Minister Stefan Löfven be punished like this?

And how have the Sweden Democrats, the polite(ish) faces of a barbaric far-right movement, edged so close to power they might be kingmakers in the next parliament?

The answer is nuanced.

It's partially the fault of the Swedish establishment. They've allowed the entire political agenda to be hijacked by the immigration issue. 

The media, and the mainstream political parties, have always refused to countenance that there is a diverse, but substantial, anti-immigrant sentiment at work in Sweden. Sweden is not hugely racist but there have always been anti-immigrant elements.

They continued to refuse to engage with immigration as a political issue, even when, in 2015 more than 100,000 refugees poured in and it was clear that this was an extraordinary influx of newcomers that would affect some people's lives.

The inability to accept this strain of right-wing Swedish social thought has long been problematic.

The Sweden Democrats, propelled by Jimmie Åkesson's clever, deceptive leadership, exploited this gap by closely following the far-right “playbook” to appear to be a true alternative to the established parties.

By filling this vacuum in political debate, the SD provoked the media into engaging with them. And then the media, nudged out of its comfort zone, decided it would deal with immigration. As it should have done 20 years ago.

But the media, possibly overcompensating for its previous disregard for the subject, didn't apply a critical filter to SD's views. The result? The pollution of the political discourse by half-truths, barefaced lies and bigotry.

Generally positive aspects of Swedish civic life (non-confrontation, consensus, inclusiveness) suddenly became a handicap to robust political debate. In the interest of political correctness, the media too rarely challenged SD's warped interpretation of the truth.

It legitimized the monsters. The unthinkable became mainstream.

By becoming such a clear apparent alternative the SD made all the others look exactly the same – a bunch of ineffectual political insiders who pander only to the elite.

This is nonsense of course, but to poorly-educated people who tend to rely on how they feel rather than on facts (as the unemployment figures show, immigrants are not taking Swedish native jobs), this dashing disregard for truth and civility is really attractive.

In the north, where I live, it's an even more remarkable state of affairs. Our region, Skellefteå, is growing, rich and very economically robust. It's also relatively racially homogenous.

Yet support for SD is thought to be around 22 percent.

Other than the Swedish media, there is another major culprit in this farrago: The Social Democrats themselves.

The Social Democrats' failure to consolidate their power might be blamed on another innately Swedish trait – The Law of Jante, the cultural compass that celebrates “everyman”, discourages individual success and sets average as the goal.

The Social Democrats haven't just failed to trumpet their successes – they've barely admitted to them.

READ ALSO: The Local's coverage of the Swedish election

And there have only been token attempts to turn back the tide of far-right misinformation on social media, where more than 30 percent of pre-election stories have been found to be false and from far-right sources.

The Social Democrats' reticence and complacency have allowed the narrative to be driven by the SD.

This election could presage a real crisis of confidence in the media and the country as a whole. Sweden is often seen to be doing the right thing – if it can't educate and inform its populace efficiently, how can it ever be Europe's conscience again? How can it still be seen as in the vanguard of liberalism if 20-25 percent of its people remain so resistant to fact?

This may sound rather apocalyptic. But this is Sweden after all. Other Nordic countries such as Finland and Norway have long had sizable right-wing populist parties in parliament. But they remain open, welfare states with strong economies. This is a testing time for Swedish society, for sure. It might even redraw the political landscape. But Sweden is still too robust and mature to self-combust. Sense will – eventually – prevail.

Do you agree or disagree with Paul Connolly? Sign up or log in to comment below.

Member comments

  1. “This is nonsense of course, but to poorly-educated people who tend to rely on how they feel rather than on facts (as the unemployment figures show, immigrants are not taking Swedish native jobs), this dashing disregard for truth and civility is really attractive.”

    As usual the poorly-educated are blamed for the rise of the right. More falsehoods from the left and liberal elite, who are almost solely to blame for the rise of the right in Sweden in their refusal to discuss anything that is uncomfortable. This is simply not an argument or a proven fact. Few people in Sweden are poorly educated. The “people” referred to might be blue-collar workers, pensioners, or small business owners, but poorly educated? With Sweden’s educational system? Statistically unlikely.

    “And there have only been token attempts to turn back the tide of far-right misinformation on social media, where more than 30 per cent of pre-election stories have been found to be false and from far-right sources.”

    So only 70% of SD’s stories are correct? Then they have nothing to say, do they? No validity, no reason to voice concerns for 13% of the public (soon to be a lot more no doubt). That’s fine then.

    “The media, and the mainstream political parties have always refused to countenance that there is a diverse, but substantial, anti-immigrant sentiment at work in Sweden. Sweden is not hugely racist but there have always been anti-immigrant elements.”

    Large numbers of SD voters are not anti-immigration. They are anti-illegal immigration. There is a big difference. A huge difference. The mudslinging continues.

    “This election could presage a real crisis of confidence in the media and the country as a whole. Sweden is often seen to be doing the right thing – if it can’t educate and inform its populace efficiently, how can it ever be Europe’s conscience again? How can it still be seen as in the vanguard of liberalism if 20-25 per cent of its people remain so resistant to fact?”

    There should be a crisis of confidence in the Swedish media. It is heavily left and liberal bias and offers little in the way of truly balanced reporting.

    Sweden needs some balance itself. Not just the media. Get ALL the political parties at the table and discuss EVERYTHING with EVERY party. Don’t just cherry pick subjects because they are nice and fluffy and knock the right because it wins votes.

    Discuss the housing crisis throughout all the major cities steered by the current government and exacerbated by the extraordinarily poorly administered influx of illegal immigrants.

    Discuss the haemorrhaging of medical staff and the inability to recruit new qualified teachers to work in Swedish schools.

    Face up to the queues for medical and dental treatment.

    Talk about the excessive taxing of pensioners and the low paid (yes, the uneducated ones – I know).

    Talk about how drug dealers are expanding and become increasingly lawless under the current regime.

    Alternatively, keep quiet, pretend the Nazis SD are evil incarnate and all will be happy happy in cloud liberal cuckooland as the arrogance of the left and liberal elite push the Swedish people further and further towards parties of the right.

  2. Sweden is a beautiful country with a long monogynous history, but you are encouraging the Middle East and Africa empty their rubbish bin on the country. This election is about whether Sweden stays Swedish or gets swamped by free loaders. The Local is obviously on the side of the free loaders.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Chemical crayfish’: Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

It's time for this year's "kräftskivor", Swedish crayfish-eating parties! A cause for celebration? Not if the Swedish media has its way.

'Chemical crayfish': Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

Sweden’s main newswire this week ran a story warning that an analysis of the eight brands of Swedish crayfish available in the country’s supermarkets contained elevated levels of PFAS, a persistent pollutant which can damage your liver and kidneys, disrupt your hormones, and even cause cancer. 

But don’t worry. If you weigh 70kg or more, you can still safely eat as many as six of the outsized prawn-like crustaceans a week without being in the risk zone. 

While I’m sure the news story, which was covered by pretty much every paper, is accurate, it is also part of a grand Swedish media tradition: running miserable, killjoy news stories whenever there’s a sign that people might be planning to have a bit of festive fun. 

The two public service broadcasters, Swedish Radio (SR) and Swedish Television (SVT) are by far the worst offenders, their reporters unusually skilled at finding a downbeat, depressing angle for every public celebration. 

To give readers a sense of the genre, we’ve spent half an hour or so searching through the archives. 

‘This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is’ (and other yuletide cheer)

Source: Screenshot/SR

Christmas is a time for good food, drinking a little too much, and cheery decorations to ward away the winter darkness. But have you considered the risks?

SR has.

In “This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is”, a local reporter in Kronoberg looked into the possibility that your tree might have been sprayed with pesticide, or if not, might be covered in pests you will then bring into your house. 

By far the most common recurring Christmas story reflects Sweden’s guilt-loaded relationship with alcohol. 

You might enjoy a few drinks at Christmas, but what about the trauma you are inflicting on your children?

In this typically festive report from SVT in Uppsala, a doctor asks, ‘why wait for the New Year to give up alcohol? Why not start before Christmas?’, while the reporter notes that according to the children’s rights charity BRIS, one in five children in Sweden has a parent with an alcohol problem, with many finding drunk adults both “alarming and unpleasant”. 

God Jul! 

The Swedish media finds ways to make you feel guilty about the food you eat at Christmas too. You might enjoy a slap-up Christmas dinner, but what about those who suffer from an eating disorder? SVT asked in this important, but less than cheery, story published in the run-up to the big day. “This is the worst time of the year,” Johanna Ahlsten, who suffered from an eating disorder for ten years, told the reporter. 

Don’t you just love a cosy Christmas fire? Well, perhaps you shouldn’t. A seasonal favourite in Sweden’s media is to run warnings from the local fire services on the risk of Christmas house fires. Here’s some advice from SVT in Blekinge on how to avoid burning your house down. 
 
Those Christmas lights. So mysigt. But have you ever added up how much those decorations might be adding to your electricity bill? SVT has. Read about it all here
 
Finally, isn’t it wonderful that people in Sweden get the chance to go and visit their relatives and loved ones over Christmas.
 
Well, it’s wonderful if you’re a burglar! Here’s SVT Jämtland on the risk of house break-ins over the Christmas period. 
 
Eat cheese to protect your teeth! and other Easter advice 
 
 
“Eat cheese after soda”. Good advice from Swedish Radio. Photo: Screenshot/Richard Orange
 
For the Swedish media, Easter is a fantastic opportunity to roll out all the same stories about the risks of open fires and alcohol abuse, and that they do. But the Easter celebration has an additional thing to be worried about: excess consumption of chocolate and sweets. 
 
Here’s Swedish Radio, with a helpful piece of advice to protect your teeth from all that sugary ‘påskmust’, Sweden’s Easter soft drink. “Eat cheese!”. 
 
Yes, you and your children might enjoy eating all those pick-and-mix sweets packed into a decorated cardboard egg, but have you thought who else has had their grubby hands on them? SVT has. In this less than joyous Easter article  a reporter gives viewers the lowdown on “how hygienic are pick-and-mix sweets?” (According to the doctor they interview, sugar acts as an antibacterial agent, so they are in fact less dangerous than the newsroom probably hoped). 
 
Perhaps though, it’s better to avoid those unhealthy sweets altogether, and instead cram your mouth with healthy raw food alternatives, as SVT advises in this Easter report
 
Aren’t daffodils lovely? Well they’re not if you’re a dog. They’re deadly, according to this Easter report from Swedish Radio on all the “dangers lurking for pets over Easter“.
 
Glad Påsk!
 
Midsommar drowning  
 
Midsommar, again, has all the same possibilities for worried articles about excess drinking etc, but in the summer there’s the added risk of drowning. 
 
From Midsummer until the start of August, the temp reporters who take over Sweden’s newsrooms as everyone else goes on their summer holidays churn out a steady stream of drowning stories, all of them with a slightly censorious tone. After all, most of these accidents are really about excess drinking.
 
Here’s SVT Västmanland tallying up the Midsummer weekend’s death toll in a typical story of Midsommar misery. 
 
So, what is the reason for the Swedish media’s taste for removing as much mirth from festivities as possible?
 
It’s partly because Sweden’s media, unlike that of many other countries, sees its public information role as at least as important as entertaining or interesting readers, so an editor is likely to choose a potentially useful story over a heart-warming one. 
 
This is the aspect of the Swedish media beautifully captured by the singer Lou Reed when talking about how he’s more scared in Sweden than in New York in the film Blue in the Face
 
“You turn on the TV, there’s an ear operation. These things scare me. New York, no.” 
 
But it is also reflects the puritanical streak that runs straight through Swedish society, leading to a powerful temperance movement, which meant that by 1908, a staggering 85 percent of Socialist parliamentarians in Sweden were teetotallers.
Sweden is now a liberal country where you can get good food and drink, and enjoy a decent nightlife, but sometimes that old puritanism bubbles up.
SHOW COMMENTS