The Sweden Democrats, a 20-plus-year-old, right-wing political party steeped in racism and Islamophobia, won 20 seats in Sweden’s Parliament in the country’s mid-September election.
How the Tea Party movement’s full-scale engagement in this year’s midterm elections finally ends up is still anybody’s guess. In Sweden, however, the hard right has landed, smack dab in the middle of Parliament no less. The Christian Science Monitor (CSM) recently reported that, in Sweden’s mid-September parliamentary elections, “the far-right Sweden Democrats [SD], a party with a neo-Nazi history, won 20 seats [out of 349] … enough support to leave the leading center-right coalition without a governing majority.” CSM correspondent Ritt Goldstein pointed out, “While the SD, which campaigned that it would cut immigration rates by 90 percent, is widely castigated as ‘racist’ and ‘Islamophobic,’ it nonetheless struck a deep chord among some in this country …”
Running a campaign based on fear of immigrants – including advertisements showing burka-clad Muslim women shoving aside white Swedish pensioners in order to take away their benefits – the Sweden Democrats exceeded the four percent requirement, receiving 5.70 percent (more than 339,000 votes), allowing it parliamentary representation for the first time.
“In Holland, the [right-wing] Party of Freedom of Geert Wilders has held the balance of power since an election in June, while in Hungary the Jobbik party – alleged to be both anti-Roma and anti-Semitic by its opponents – won parliamentary seats last spring,” Haaretz’s Danna Harman reported. “Austria, France and Britain have also seen varying degrees of increased popularity for their far-right anti-immigrant national parties.”
We know a lot less about Sweden then we probably should. Consider this: The country is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy of government that has one of the most highly developed welfare states in the world. It consistently garners good grades in various international reports measuring the standard of living in countries around the world; it recently ranked first in the world in The Economist’s Democracy Index and seventh in the United Nations’ Human Development Index. Despite economic difficulties being experienced by many other European countries, Sweden’s economy has been reasonably stable.
From its annual prestigious Nobel Prizes, to the late Dag Hammarskjöld, former secretary general of the United Nations, and Hans Blix, former International Atomic Energy Agency Iraq inspector, Sweden has for years been in the forefront of efforts to peacefully resolve conflicts around the world. The music of ABBA, the tennis prowess of Bjorn Borg, the filmmaking of Ingmar Bergman and the star power of Ingrid Bergman and Greta Garbo have all drawn international attention.
While the recent election results surprised many and drew some media coverage to the third-largest country in the European Union by area, probably nothing in recent years has drawn more international attention to Sweden than the late Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy of novels, which have sold more than 20 million copies worldwide.
Larsson’s Sweden, informed by his years as a photographer, graphic designer, journalist and political activist struggling against racism and right-wing extremism, as depicted in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played with Fire,” “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” is stocked with Nazi sympathizers, neo-Nazis, sexual predators, corporate marauders and secret police operations, all of which tear at the fabric of Swedish democracy.
Thankfully, Larsson’s landscape also contains Lisbeth Salander, a slammingly vital computer hacker nonpareil, and Kalle Blomkvist, a high-minded, highly-motivated, tenacious investigative reporter/journalist.
The Sweden Democrats
The Sweden Democrats were founded in 1988 and are currently led by Jimmie Åkesson, who joined in 1995, “a period when Nazi uniforms were still seen at its meetings,” the CSM’s Goldstein reported. A politically savvy Åkesson set out to refashion the party’s image. In May 2006, as part of its image softening, the party adopted an anemone hepatica flower as its current symbol.
“With a determination to enter parliament, the party distanced itself from the Nazi imagery and adopted a public profile that appears considerably closer to the Swedish mainstream, adamantly claiming that it is a ‘normal party.'”
The new “normal” for the Sweden Democrats, Goldstein pointed out, is evidenced on its web site where “the party rejects ‘multiculturalism,’ attributes increased crime to immigration, calls for an end to ‘public support for immigrant organizations,’ adding that ‘all other activities aimed at promoting foreign cultures and identities in Sweden should be canceled.’
“It also wants to outlaw ‘religious buildings, with a non-Swedish building style, strange architecture’ and forbid public workers from wearing ‘conspicuous religious or political symbols, such as a headscarf or turban.’… [I]t [also] calls for the government to support immigrants who want to return to their homelands,” Goldstein added.
“In 2001, they suddenly got rid of all the uniforms, the swastikas, the symbolism that scared so many voters,” Mikael Lundström, a political scientist with Lund University in Sweden, told Goldstein. They have cultivated an image that adds “respectability to an issue [surrounding multiculturalism], but they still want to kick people out and they want to close the borders … in that they align themselves very much with the hard right.”
“This is a neo-Nazi party … articulate, and talented … but very dangerous,” Lena Posner, president of the Official Council of Jewish communities in Sweden, an umbrella organization of Jewish groups in the country, told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. “We know where these people are coming from. They are Nazi sympathizers who, under their jackets, are still wearing their brown shirts.”
On September 20, a pro-Sweden Democrats piece by Rafael Koski titled “The Sweden Democrats – Alone Against Establishment Extremists,” appeared on the US web site of VDARE, an organization that has been designated as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and labeled as “white nationalist” by several other watchdog organizations. Koski described a kinder, gentler Sweden Democrats – a party that has roundly rejected its neo-Nazi trappings – and argued that since “Sweden has had perhaps the world’s most open and non-discriminatory immigration policy in the last 20 years, which increased the number of immigrants from outside Europe to one million or 10 % of a historically homogenous population, it would be more accurate to describe the rest of Swedish parties as racial-replacement extremists- and the Sweden Democrats as the moderates.”
Koski, who is described by VDARE as a Ph.D. student living in Northern Europe, urged center-right Alliance Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, of the conservative Moderate Party, “to co-operate with the Sweden Democrats, who are the closest ideologically.” The prime minister didn’t heed that advice when, in early October, he chose to form a minority government, hoping that he would be able to “negotiate with the Green Party, but also with the Social Democrats if the conditions are right.”
According to Koski, the Sweden Democrats have changed over the past 20 years, having “had internal coups and purges of its right wing.” Its electoral success, Koski wrote, is due to its “very moderate patriotism that defends the ideal of folkhemmet, a national welfare state. Its key election theme has been securing Swedish pensions and care for the elderly against the onslaught of immigrant welfare recipients.”
Portrait of a Sweden Democrats Activist
One Sweden Democrats activist that basically hasn’t changed his politics in more than 30-plus-years is Tommy Hansson. In a recent article posted at the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church’s Family Federation for World Peace and Unification web site titled “Unificationist Pioneers a Political Path in Sweden,” Hansson, a longtime member of the Unification Church and currently a key operative in the Sweden Democrats, described his political journey from being motivated by anti-communism to join the Unification Church in 1974, to being a Sweden Democrats official.
The introduction to Hansson’s piece pointed out that he “has been fighting the war of ideas against Communism for decades…. [and] In September he enjoyed some long-overdue rewards as his political party, the Sweden Democrats, won their place in the Swedish Parliament on Sept. 19, 2010.”
Hansson wrote that he “joined the church mainly out of political interest, since I was an activist in the anti-communist and youthful organization of Democratic Alliance.” Although he claimed to have “never tried to hide the fact that [he] was a Unificationist,” he “did not parade that fact.” In 1980, Hansson worked as an intern in New York at the News World, founded by Unification Church members, and he later became a stringer in Sweden for the News World’s successor publication, the New York City Tribune.
While in New York, Hansson decided that he “could never become a good full-time missionary for the church,” so he “decided to focus on … writing and politics.” In the 1980s, he became chairman of the Swedish Angola Groups and wrote a “number of op-eds and articles for different publications in Sweden and abroad,” in support of “the anti-communist guerrilla movement UNITA in Angola, led by Dr. Jonas Savimbi.”
With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the “Cold War,” Hansson faced a dilemma over “what to do next.” He was asked by a local representative of a party called New Democracy “to be a candidate in the coming communal elections in Sodertalje,” and he accepted; “I was familiar with Rev. Moon’s concept of Hometown Messiahs, and I thought I could become a kind of political Messiah in my hometown.”
While his “membership in the Unification Church … became an issue early in my political engagement in Sodertalje, creating headlines in the local paper, but was hardly seen as worse than my anti-communist past in general. People who knew me realized that I was quite a normal guy with limited fanatical tendencies.” As part of his “limited fanatical tendencies,” Hansson wrote that he “made headlines by, for example, protesting against public money given to socialist theatre groups and taking a stand against gay partnership and immoral art exhibitions.”
Hansson joined the Sweden Democrats in 2008, and was “elected to local and regional boards in the Stockholm area.” He maintained that the Sweden Democrats “are generally misunderstood as a ‘xenophobic’ or ‘racist’ party because, due to its view that immigration, especially from the Muslim world, should be heavily restricted.” He stated that “Swedish immigration policy” has led “to alarming consequences such as a growing mob-style criminality, widespread unemployment in ‘problem areas’ in large cities such as Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmoe, and a general sense of alienation.”
He attributed his party’s success in the September elections “to the party’s willingness to address controversial issues such as immigration and Islamization and the shrinking of Swedish national defence.”
“It should be noted that SD’s international guiding-star is the Danish People’s Party,” Hansson wrote, “which began as a small party under the leadership of Pia Kjaersgaard but is now quite influential in Danish governmental policy. Many liberals and leftists now fear the same thing will happen in Sweden.”
David Landes, editor of the daily English language Stockholm online paper The Local, told Haaretz that he does “not equate this reformed Nazi party … with anti-Semitism per se. It’s that Swedish brand of Nazism which is more about preserving the traditions and strength of the white Nordic race than about wanting to crack the skulls of Jews.”
But for his sudden and untimely death of a heart attack in November 2004, it would not be unreasonable to suspect that Larsson would be hard at work investigating and writing about the rise of the far-right Sweden Democrats.