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EXPLAINED: Why the Sweden Democrats are still a far-right party

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EXPLAINED: Why the Sweden Democrats are still a far-right party
Sweden Democrat supporters march in 1991 with a banner saying "No to voting rights for foreigners". Photo: Claudio Bresciani/Scanpix/TT

Ever since Jimmie Åkesson took control of the Sweden Democrats, he has worked to detoxify the party, kicking out people with neo-Nazi links and forbidding overtly racist language. We explain why the party is still very much on the far-right.


What is a far-right party? 

For some "far-right" refers only to overtly fascist or neo-Nazi parties, which are authoritarian, ultra-nationalist, and normally openly racist and/or homophobic. 

More often, though, "far-right" also includes other populist parties to the right of countries' established centre-right party, such as the National Rally in France, UKIP in the UK, Alternativ für Deutschland in Germany, or the Danish People's Party. 

The influential Dutch politics professor, Cas Mudde, argues in his book The Far Right Today that what divides the far-right from the mainstream right is that it is "anti-system", and broadly "hostile to liberal democracy".

He then divides the far-right into the "extreme right", which rejects the essence of democracy such as popular sovereignty and majority rule, and the "radical right", which accepts the democratic system but is opposed to fundamental elements of liberal democracy, such as minority rights, the rule of law and the separation of powers. 

In the first camp, you find the German Nazis and the Italian fascists of 1930s and Second World War, as well as newer movements like the alt-right in the US, or the Identitarian movement in Europe.

In the second camp, you find parties like the Belgian Flemish Bloc party, the Austrian Freedom Party, the Danish People's Party, and probably also the Sweden Democrats too. 


The Sweden Democrats' first chairman Anders Klarström had been briefly active in the neo-Nazi Nordiska rikspartiet ("Nordic Realm Party"). Photo: TT

Have the Sweden Democrats ever been a Nazi or extreme-right party? 

A big feature of this election has been the description of the opposition parties as the "blue-brown bloc", meaning they combine the "blue" of the centre-right with the "brown" of fascism. The Sweden Democrats' leader, Jimmie Åkesson has, in turn, taken to objecting to this, exclaiming, "who are you calling 'brown'?" and "Are you calling me a Nazi?". 

As the Sweden Democrats themselves confirmed in their so-called "white book", the party does have Nazi roots. 

Most of the key people who founded it back in 1988 had backgrounds in extreme right and neo-Nazi movements, with the party's first chairman, Anders Klarström, previously active in the neo-Nazi Nordiska rikspartiet ("Nordic Realm Party"). The party's first auditor, Gustaf Ekström, was a Waffen-SS veteran, and had been member of the national socialist party Svensk Socialistisk Samling in the 1940s. 


The party itself was built on the back of the Sweden Party, which had in 1986 absorbed the openly racist Bevara Sverige Svenskt, "Keep Sweden Swedish" party. 

In its early days, it would campaign with banners saying things like, "No to voting rights for foreigners!". 

When The Local interviewed Åkesson last year, he claimed that by the time he had joined the party in 1995, it had already changed. The new chairman Mikael Jansson was dedicated to cleaning up the party by, for instance, banning skinheads from wearing uniforms to meetings, and tempering racist rhetoric. 

"He was very clear that we would build a new kind of Sweden Democrats, without extremism or racism. And that was important, because I could take part in that project, to clean up the party. And I’m quite proud of that today, because we really did clean up the party," Åkesson said. 

Do they have Nazi elements today? 

Over ten years ago, Åkesson declared a “no-tolerance” policy against racism in the party, and the party's policy is to kick out candidates caught making racist or extremist comments online. But in the run-up to this election, just as in the run-up to elections in 2014 and 2018, several candidates have been found to have extremist links. 

At least five local politicians campaigning for the party in his election have open links to right-wing extremist groups and have spread right-wing extremist and racist propaganda online, an investigation by the Expressen newspaper and Expo magazine found. Nine SD politicians stood down as candidates after the exposé. 

One of the Sweden Democrat candidates wrote, among other things, “isn’t it about time we wipe out those bloody Muslims” on Facebook in 2015. Another candidate encouraged their followers to take part in a demonstration with the neo-nazi Nordic Resistance Movement, sharing conspiracy theories that a number of Jewish families control the world.


A number of those identified have also been members in the right-wing extremist race-ideological organisation Det fria Sverige (Free Sweden).

While the party's policies no longer have Nazi elements and Åkesson portrays himself as an average Swede, who likes Swedish things like korv med bröd (hotdogs), both he and Mattias Karlsson, the party's former ideologue, are part of a modern romantic movement that idealises Nordic culture in a similar way to that which the Nazi and white power movements do. 

Ultima Thule, the Viking Rock band with which Åkesson sometimes plays keyboard, are Swedish patriots who sing about their love for the motherland. 

The Sweden Democrats' election film from this year, "Sweden will be good again", contains a lot of romantic nationalist imagery, with Valborg fires, magical forests, and references to Sweden's golden age of military conquest.  

Is the party at least a radical right party? 

Mudde defines the three main characteristics of the radical right, the democratic wing of the far-right, as being nativism, authoritarianism, and populism. 

When it comes to nativism, he argues the goal of radical right parties is "an ethnocracy", which he describes as "a democracy in which citizenship is based on ethnicity". 

This doesn't mean, however, that all far-right parties insist on racial purity. "It wants to (re)create this monocultural state by closing the borders to immigrants and giving “aliens” a choice between assimilation or repatriation," he argues. "Those who are unwilling to assimilate, that is, become “native,” must be expelled to the country they (or their ancestors) came from." 

This is a pretty good description of the Sweden Democrats' ideology. 

"If you want to be a part of Sweden in the long term, that should be possible," Åkesson said in The Local's 2019 interview.  "But you have to make efforts to be part of Sweden, and that’s up to you. It’s not up to the Swedish society, or our system, to assimilate people. It’s up to every individual to be a part of it. And if you don’t want to be a part of Sweden, well, then you won’t get the benefits, and then you cannot live here." 

The party's "Sweden's future immigration policy", draws out a long list of policies which are designed to reduce immigration to Sweden to the minimum level allowed under EU law, with Åkesson saying he hopes to reduce asylum migration to "close to zero". 

The party has plans to forcibly deport foreigners who have an "anti-social lifestyle", and has a voluntary "reverse migration" policy which will give immigrants who have failed to assimilate in Sweden incentives to return home. 

Controversially, it wants to make it possible for those seeking asylum in Sweden to instead be sent to safe third countries, and it also wants to deny asylum to "those who create the conditions for their own asylum" after leaving their home countries, such as those who come out as homosexual, or convert to Christianity. 

READ ALSO: How could the Sweden Democrats change life for foreigners in Sweden?

While the party bans its members for expressing racist views, the same is not true of radically anti-Islamic ones, with some MPs, notably Richard Jomshof, calling Islam "an abominable religion", which is inherently violent and totalitarian and engaged in a war of survival with Christian and Enlightenment values. 

This thread, by the Scottish journalist and academic Dominic Hinde, gives a flavour of Jomshof's ideology. While Åkesson distances himself from Jomshof, saying he has "a problem with religion", he is allowed to remain active in the party.

As well as being an expression of romantic nationalism, the election film is also a visual expression of "ethnocracy", as it presents a Sweden from whom all immigrants have been removed, with adorable ethnically Swedish toddlers and couples waving at the camera. 

Jens Rydgren, professor of sociology at Stockholm University, and an expert on the far-right, describes the Sweden Democrats as "an ethno-nationalist party". 

"It makes a distinction between membership in the state (citizenship) and membership in the nation (national belonging)," he argues. "Membership in the nation is primarily based on ethnicity. The political goal is to make Sweden as ethnically homogeneous as possible."

"SD is also a culturally conservative party, but unlike mainstream conservatism which traditionally favours a slow and controlled change of society, the conservatism of SD is radical; they want to change society in a fast and radical way in accordance with their political program."

Rydgren argues that the Sweden Democrats also fulfil one of Mudde's other criteria for the radical right, populism. 

"SD is also a populist party, in that it makes a distinction between the (corrupt) political and cultural elite and the common people, by presenting itself as the true voice of the people."


Are the Sweden Democrats authoritarian? 

The final part of Mudde's criteria for a radical right party is authoritarianism, with he describes as "the belief in a strictly ordered society, in which infringements on authority are to be punished severely."

"Authoritarians," he says see almost all 'problems', including drug addiction or perceived sexual deviancy, as essentially law-and-order issues which can only be countered by a tough punitive approach and prevented by reintroducing “moral” or “traditional” education in schools."

The Sweden Democrats certainly have a belief in a tough punitive approach as the solution to Sweden's problem with gang crime, and a strong belief in traditional education in schools. 

The plan floated for "humiliating" community service punishments for 9-year-olds involved in crime, absolutely fits the authoritarian pattern, as do plans for a "zero tolerance" approach to threatening or criminal-like behaviour in schools, with troublesome pupils sent to special schools. 


So are they far-right? 

Yes, the Sweden Democrats absolutely fit the profile of a far-right party.

To be more precise, it is a party of the radical right, with a history on the extreme right, and some remaining extreme right elements.  



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Anonymous 2022/09/09 15:48
Excellent article. Thank you. Contrary to an article published a few days ago written by Richard Orange, where he triad to comfort a Jewish person who was worried about the rise of far right in Sweden, I think the rise of SD is really ominous. Looks like enough lessons have not been learned from WWll. No amount of cute blue flowers in the logo of SD is going to hide their hatred for other fellow human and their dangerous agenda.

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