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Politics in Sweden: Why Sweden's far-right leader is showing his radical side

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
Politics in Sweden: Why Sweden's far-right leader is showing his radical side
Sweden Democrat leader before making his speech on Saturday. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Jimmie Åkesson's call for mosques in Sweden to be demolished was part of a speech that flirted with extreme right ideas of "the great replacement". Rather than becoming more moderate, the Sweden Democrats are getting more radical.

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As Sweden's most long-standing party leader, Åkesson has a deep understanding of how the media and the other political parties function.

So when he called in a speech on Saturday for mosques in the country to be demolished, he knew exactly how much commotion he was going to generate.

The party even pulled out the 27 seconds of the speech when Åkesson calls for mosques to be taken over or demolished and published it on their You Tube channel. It was the only excerpt it published from the 40-minute speech. 

This was not a misjudged phrase taken out of context from a conference speech. This was the main message.    

"The Sweden Democrats party needs to radicalise its political message in order to maintain their role as a clear and visible alternative to the Moderates and the Christian Democrats," Jens Rydgren, a professor at Stockholm University, told The Local.

"As other parties have shifted their positions, and increasingly accommodated the Sweden Democrats' politics on immigration and related areas, the Sweden Democrats need to shift position as well," he said.

The much harsher rhetoric on Islam, or at least Islamism, has certainly created distance. 

Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, from the Moderate Party, attacked Åkesson's statements as "disrespectful" and "polarising", while Liberal Party leader Johan Perhson wrote on X that "talk about confiscating and demolishing mosques is downright un-Swedish". Only Ebba Busch, leader of the Christian Democrats, was silent. 

Peter Wennblad, the chief leader writer of the right-wing Svenska Dagbladet newspaper, wrote scathingly that Åkesson had "chosen to damage our country". 

Magnus Ranstorp, the associate professor at the Swedish Defence University who is Sweden's most high-profile anti-terrorism expert, told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper that Åkesson's statement was a threat to Sweden's national security.

"This can contribute to worsening the security threat against Sweden and strengthens Sweden's image as anti-Islamic. We also haven't yet joined Nato yet and Erdogan may well take this up."

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What did Åkesson say in his speech? 

The call for a moratorium on the building of new mosques and for mosques to be demolished if they spread "anti-democratic, anti-Swedish, homophobic or anti-Semitic propaganda" came in the middle of a textbook far-right narrative of replacement and betrayal.

Åkesson started off by setting up "Islamists" as an internal enemy: "The Islamists are not longer a handful of crazies spread out in a few deprived areas around our big cities," he said. "There are here in big numbers. They are everywhere." 

Was he referring to Muslims in general, or to Islamists?  

He then claimed that Islamists in Sweden were allied in some way with Sweden's left-wing opposition.

"They have strong mutual loyalty with the Social Democrats and the Left in general," he argued. "The Islamists in Hamas and other anti-Semitic, Islamist and antidemocratic movements are openly supported by representatives of Sweden's biggest party, the Social Democrats."

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He then made statements that had echoes of the Great Replacement theory, which argues that a left-wing elite has encouraged immigration from countries in the Islamic world and beyond to replace the indigenous population so that they can win elections. 

Rather than combatting Islamists, he argues, the Social Democrats were "an active part of the Islamist movement in Sweden".

"Is this because they are easily deceived or naive or because they sympathise with the Islamists? I don't know. It's up to each of us to come to their own judgement," he said. "But what I do know is that Magdalena Andersson is never going to get to be prime minister again without Islamist votes and support."

Again, is he talking about Islamists or Muslims in general? Because the votes of Sweden's few thousand hardcore Islamic militants aren't going to make too much difference in an election.  

Finally, he promises to hold the elites to account for their betrayal of the people, saying the catastrophe which Sweden was undergoing was "no accident, no mistake", but instead the result of "naive and blind politicians' dangerous, ill-thought-out and, to put it accurately, Sweden-hostile policies". 

Now the Sweden Democrats finally have some power, he said, it is time "to hold people responsible". 

"We do not intend to forget, we do not intend to forgive." 

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Why did Åkesson choose to be so radical now?

The question is whether the weekend's harsh rhetoric on Islam reflects what Åkesson actually believes.

Åkesson has tended to leave more extreme Islamophobic rhetoric to the chairman of the parliament's Justice Committee, Richard Jomshof, who in July referred to the Prophet Mohammed as a "warlord, mass-murderer, slave trader and bandit". 

Stockholm University's Jens Rydgren told The Local that the ideas expressed in the speech were "very much in line with the ideology of the Sweden Democrats". 

"For the past 10 years or so, the party has decided, for strategic reasons, to tone down the most explicit statements in order to win enough acceptance among the mainstream right to be counted as a potential cooperation partner," he said. 

"Now, with the Tidö agreement, they have accomplished this. Since there seems to be few red lines for the Moderates, Christian Democrats and Liberals, in the sense of breaking the Tidö agreement in response to radical statements from Sweden Democrat representatives, the Sweden Democrats party no longer needs to tone down their ideology for fear of political isolation.”

This was also a speech to a party congress, Ann-Cathrine Jungar, associate professor at Stockholm's Södertörn University, added, meaning Åkesson's main purpose had been to rally the party faithful.  

"We know that parties talk differently in different arenas and now it was important to them to signal that even though they are a support party, they haven't changed and they won't compromise," she said. "I think that was the populist appeal – that they will hold the Social Democrats and the other parties accountable, because now they are harvesting the rotten fruits of what they have been missing for decades." 

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What impact will the speech have? 

It certainly won't help relations between the Sweden Democrats and the three government parties, and it may make it slightly less likely that they will be willing to bring the Sweden Democrats into government after the next election. 

According to Södertörn University's Jungar, though, it is hard to see what, if anything, the three government parties can do. 

"Since the Sweden Democrats party is larger in the opinion polls than the government, they really speak from a position of power and if the minority government were to terminate the cooperation, they would have to strike some deal with the Social Democrats and that is almost unthinkable. So this is also about power," she said.

This article was amended on December 1st, to correct the name of the researcher Jens Rydgren, who was wrongly referred to as Jens Rydberg. 

Politics in Sweden is a weekly column looking at the big talking points and issues in Swedish politics. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive an email alert when the column is published. Just click on this “newsletters" option or visit the menu bar.

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Bree 2023/11/27 18:06
Sweden Democrats: No, really, we're not Nazis anymore. Jimmie: Demolish mosques tho

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