Sweden's far right courts immigrant voters in bid to make historic gains
The Observer Sweden Swedenâs far right courts immigrant voters in bid to make historic gains
The party from the neo-Nazi fringe once railed against âthe foreign threatâ. Now, just weeks from polling day, the Sweden Democrats think they can win their support
At the Malmedalen political festival in RosengÃ¥rd, the Sweden Democrats tent was far and away the busiest. Inside, JÃ¶rgen Grubb was taking his message of restrictive immigration, draconian law and order, and Swedish cultural nationalism to a part of MalmÃ¶ where close to 90% of people have a foreign background. And it was going surprisingly well.
When a woman in a hijab raised Grubbâs partyâs plans to ban full face veils, he clarified quickly that âwhat you have on you there, thatâs absolutely OKâ.
âItâs this,â said Grubb, waving two fingers in front of his eyes to indicate the face-veil, or niqab. âI think itâs uncomfortable for people.â The woman nodded in agreement. âYou do have to adapt to western society,â she said. âAnd you canât work as a nursery school teacher if the children canât see your face.â
Grubb, the fast-talking MalmÃ¶ chair of the surging populist Sweden Democrats party, drew crowds of local youths looking to test their wits against him and his colleague, Iranian-born councillor Nima Gholam Ali Pour. But the tent also attracted those who were gen uinely curious about the party before next monthâs election, at which the far-right force is expected to record its strongest performance to date.
A party whose first leader came from the neo-Nazi Nordic Realm party, whose co-founders included a veteran of the Waffen SS and which, as recently as 2006, was a fringe far-right group sharing its torch logo with the UKâs National Front, has, in little more than a decade, brought itself to the verge of becoming Swedenâs biggest party.
Mattias Karlsson, the partyâs parliamentary head and chief ideologue, says that immigrants are one of two groups his party is working hardest to attract. âOur two main target groups are immigrants and women,â he told the Observer. âWe feel we still have a great potential to grow in those groups.â
The most recent opinion survey from the government agency Statistics Sweden suggests that the strategy could be paying off: astonishing for a party whose leader, Jimmie Ã kesson, once described the growing number of Muslims in Sweden as âour greatest foreign threat since the second world warâ.
In May 2014, in the run-up to the last general election, the Sweden Democrats had the support of 2% of foreign-born citizens. In May this year, it was 12%. âA lot of the crime is happening in the suburbs where a lot of foreign-born people live,â Karlsson said. âItâs their cars that are being burned. Itâs their kidsâ schools that are descending into chaos.â
This portrayal is d eemed excessively negative by many Swedes, including those who live in RosengÃ¥rd, where smiling families and well maintained parks and playgrounds tell a very different story.
But the partyâs message is hitting home and, almost whatever happens in the remaining two weeks of the campaign, the Sweden Democrats will be seen as the winner.
A recent poll by the Sifo research company had the party leapfrogging the centre-right Moderates to become Swedenâs second-biggest party with 19.5% of the vote. Even if the figure falls several points short of this, the partyâs seats will make it near impossible to form a government in Sweden without at least its passive support, or some sort of deal between the centre-left and centre-right parties. And it could do better still. A YouGov poll in June had the party ahead of the Social Democrats as well, on 25.7%.
Much of this is due to the leader, Ã kesson, who, with his neatly parted hair and preppy uniform of jacket and c hinos, has perfected the art of framing his message in a wry, reasoning tone that appeals to Swedes.
But it is also because of Karlssonâs doctrine of cultural nationalism, according to which foreigners who learn Swedenâs language and accept its culture are welcome, and to the partyâs âzero-toleranceâ policy against members who make openly racist or antisemitic statements.
When, last week, a municipal election candidate was found to have posted a white nationalist song online with the refrain âSwedes are white and our country is oursâ, Karlsson told the press that the candidate would probably be expelled. The Hungarian-born Sweden Democrat MP Anna Hagwall was sacked two years ago for a perceived antisemitic attack against the Bonnier family, newspaper owners with a Jewish background.
âWe are really firm and non-compromising about these issues,â Karlsson said. âAny sign of xenophobia and racism, we immediately expel those representatives.â
But Jonathan Leman, a researcher at the anti-extremism magazine Expo, warns that the partyâs disavowal of xenophobia does not go too deep. The party is campaigning on policies that include a ban on the niqab, restriction of political asylum to Danes, Finns and Norwegians, and no work permits for all but the most essential foreign workers. âThatâs the official line,â he said. âHowever the people who are active in the Sweden Democrats have a mindset where immigrants and minorities are at the centre of everything thatâs wrong in society. Thatâs why we keep on seeing these scandals in the news about SD politicians saying things like âSweden is a place where whites belong and non-whites donât.ââ
At the partyâs election tent in the university town of Lund, it is hard to see any remnants of the partyâs far-right past. A silver crucifix over her floral blouse, Julia Kronlid, the partyâs national vice chair, said that she had worked hard to appeal to female voters, raising issues such as the rising incidence of rape, âhonourâ culture, low pay for nurses, and foreign aid. âWe actually want to raise the amount that we send abroad in overseas aid so that people can see that we are not evil people who donât care about people in a difficult situation,â she said.
Again, it is having an impact. Ac cording to Statistics Sweden, the party has doubled its support among women from 5% at the last election to nearly 10% in May.
Kronlid claimed that she had never felt it difficult to be a woman in the party, a sentiment echoed by Bo Broman, the partyâs first openly gay parliamentary candidate. âIâve never heard anything homophobic in the party,â said Broman, who has been working as its finance chief.
But, as much as the party has succeeded in partially detoxifying its image, the mask sometimes slips. Back at the Malmedalen festival, Grubb was taunted by a local man about whether he counted as âSwedishâ under the partyâs ideology of cultural nationalism, even if he did not unconditionally love or respect the country.
âListen,â Grubb said. âYou can define yourself. First you must respect the country and its values and work to do your best in society. Then, if you are a Swedish citizen, you can be Swedish. Full stop.â
As the young manâ s friends massed around Grubb, jeering, he snapped: âItâs not Swedish culture to crowd someone in like this. In Sweden we are calmer. That is not Swedish culture.âTopics
- The Observer
- The far right
- Share on Facebook
- Share on Twitter
- Share via Email
- Share on LinkedIn
- Share on Pinterest
- Share on Google+
- Share on WhatsApp
- Share on Messenger
- Reuse this content