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LISTEN: How the Sweden Democrats are flirting with the extreme right, Part 2

In this bonus edition of the podcast we hear more from guest Jonathan Leman on how the far-right Sweden Democrats have grown more radical over the past four years.

LISTEN: How the Sweden Democrats are flirting with the extreme right, Part 2

In this special bonus episode of the Sweden in Focus podcast, we hear more from our guest Jonathan Leman, a researcher with the Expo Foundation, which monitors and exposes far-right extremism in Sweden. 

Host Paul O’Mahony is also joined by panelists James Savage, Becky Waterton and Emma Löfgren.

In this episode we continue our chat about the far-right Sweden Democrats’ interactions with the more extreme fringe of the nationalist movement. 

We discuss the Sweden Democrats’ increasing climate scepticism and their interventions to block LGBTQ cultural events. We also talk about the party’s stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and whether their renewed ties to the far-right alternative media ecosystem represents a security threat. 

You can listen to the episode below:

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You can listen to Part 1 here:

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Canada’s ambassador: ‘Exciting to see’ rapid rate of growth in northern Sweden

In the latest of our interviews with ambassadors to Sweden, we catch up with Canada's Jason LaTorre to talk about Canadians in Sweden, the countries' growing trade relationship, indigenous rights, and why he'll likely be wearing green and white on the first Sunday of April.

Canada's ambassador: 'Exciting to see' rapid rate of growth in northern Sweden

Canada’s ambassador to Sweden Jason LaTorre is diplomatic to a fault, but when it comes to football teams in Stockholm he has taken sides: 

“I really enjoy going to the Hammarby games. So I became a Hammarby fan and I’m really excited about the inaugural game on April 2nd.”

It’s clear that Jason LaTorre is enjoying his first ambassadorial role following previous foreign stints as trade commissioner in places as far-flung as Ho Chi Minh City, Washington DC and Singapore. 

Three visits to northern Sweden in particular have made a big impression since he took over as ambassador in September 2021. 

“I was expecting beautiful nature and the vibrant culture of the north, and that’s very much present. But what surprised me a lot is that these cities are really bustling, and growing very, very quickly and that’s exciting to see,” he says of his visits to places including Skellefteå, Kiruna, Umeå and Luleå.

The region’s high-quality universities and business incubators and accelerators are all helping attract “incredibly diverse talent and young people, which is adding to the vibrancy of northern Sweden”, he says. 

A recent find of rare earth minerals has further added to the appeal of an area already leading the green transition through companies like Northvolt, Hybrit and H2 Green Steel.

But while mineral finds and large-scale industrial expansion might be good for jobs and the economy, they can also cause tensions locally, says LaTorre. 

“It’s important that this growth is sustainable and inclusive, and that they take into consideration the interests and needs of the local population, including the Sami community, to ensure that the benefits of this economic growth are spread widely and diversely across the population, so that the economic growth contributes to the cultural diversity in northern Sweden.”

To this end, Canada and Sweden are currently working to enhance collaboration between their respective indigenous populations, he says. In 2021 Sweden launched a Truth Commission to investigate abuses of Sami people and LaTorre says he offered his assistance to the chair of the commission, Kerstin Calissendorff, to give insights into Canada’s own Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 

“She took me up on the offer and we’ve been sharing some information,” says the ambassador. 

“They’ve got really good questions and we’re providing any support they need. We’re happy to share insights and connect them to people in Canada.”

These kinds of community bonds help bolster a diplomatic relationship between Sweden and Canada that celebrates its 80th anniversary this year. 

Alongside 85,000 annual visitors, LaTorre estimates that there are 7,500 Canadians living in Sweden “and they are contributing in so many different ways to Sweden and to bringing our countries closer together”.

Hockey players and other athletes also help forge stronger ties, he says, as do creative Canadians like Michael Cavanagh, artistic director for the Swedish Royal Opera, and Lara Szabo Greisman, co-founder of Nobel Week Lights. 

He also highlights local community builders like Mike Prentice, the president of the Canadian Club in Stockholm, who “organises this incredible Thanksgiving dinner every year as well as a Canada Day picnic here in Stockholm”.

“And then we’ve got someone like Jeff Lewis, for example, who lives in Umeå. And he’s been hosting Canada Day events for eight years in a row and even has Canadian beer on tap.” 

LaTorre also heralds the “active and growing” trade relationship between Canada and Sweden. 

“Over the last five-year period, we’ve actually seen a growth in two-way trade of almost 20 percent, which is great to see.”

He returns often to the countries’ shared values, noting that Canada was the first country to ratify Sweden’s Nato application. 

“We are living through some turbulent and unpredictable times. And I think as trusted, reliable partners with common values, there’s tremendous opportunity for us to do more together to help lead the world’s energy and digital transition, to help reduce dependencies on authoritarian regimes, and to enhance the security and resilience of our supply chains and those of our allies.”

For most of his time in Sweden, LaTorre’s energies will be focused on deepening these ties. But for a few hours on a Sunday in early April he’ll be thinking only of one thing: Hammarby’s opening match of the new season, when the Stockholm side take on Degerfors.  

“I plan to march with the rest of the march. I did it last year too,” he says referring to the Hammarby fans’ high-spirited annual pilgrimage from Södermalm to the Tele2 Arena for the first home game of the new season. 

Then quickly he’s back in diplomat mode.

“But honestly speaking, I think all the Swedish teams in the league are very, very good. I love the passion they play with. And I love the fan support. It’s just super exciting.”