Sweden's Populist Surge

Daniel Pipes
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Posted: Aug 31, 2015 12:01 AM
Sweden's Populist Surge

According to the most recent poll, the innocuously-named but ferociously anti-establishment Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna or SD) has the largest support of any political party in Sweden. This news has potentially momentous implications not just for Sweden but for all Europe.

Sweden is a special place. One of the richest and most peaceful countries in the world (it has not been engaged in armed conflict for two centuries), until recently it was a remarkably homogenous society where socialism, with its optimistic assumption that people are born good and circumstances make them bad, worked and the government enjoyed great prestige. Swedish pride in the country's accomplishments translates into an ethical superiority symbolized by the oft-heard claim to be a "moral superpower."

This heritage has also inspired an intolerance of dissent, however; "Be quiet, follow the consensus, let the bureaucrats carry it out." The country has become so notorious for its stifling faux-unanimity that I actually heard a Dane recently ask at a public forum, "Why has Sweden turned into the North Korea of Scandinavia?"

Also, Sweden's history creates a no-crisis mentality that militates against the hard-headed, flexible responses needed to cope with current problems the country now faces, especially those connected to waves of mainly Muslim immigrants. As one interlocutor put it to me in Stockholm earlier this month, "Past success has led to current failure." For example, security in Sweden is well below what might find in a country like Bolivia, with few inclinations to make improvements, rendering Islamist violence all but inevitable.

In this stultification, the SD stands out because it offers the only political alternative. Proof of this came in December 2014, when the SD appeared to have the swing vote in a crucial budget vote between the left and right blocs in the country's unicameral legislature, the Riksdag – until all the other seven parties joined together in a grand coalition to deny it any influence.

As this act of desperation suggests, the Sweden Democrats offer a populist – and not, as usually described, a "far right" – brew of policies anathema to all the legacy parties: Foremost, it calls for assimilating legal immigrants, expelling the illegals, and reducing future immigration by at least 90 percent. It also forwards a number of other policies (concerning crime, defense, the European Union, and Israel) far outside the Swedish consensus and utterly obnoxious to the other parties.

With good reason, the establishment hates and fears the SD, pedantically finding any possible fault with the party, starting with its alleged neo-fascist past (though fascist connections are not unique to SD) and going on to the tiniest foibles of its leadership.

Supporting the SD remains taboo. The national police commissioner once tweeted about "vomiting" on seeing the SD's leader; naturally, his staff dare not acknowledge their supporting for the party. But one officer estimated for me that 50 percent of the police vote SD.

Despite being ostracized, the SD increasingly connects with Swedes (including some immigrants), giving it substantial electoral gains, roughly doubling its parliamentary vote every four years: from 0.4 percent in 1998 to 1.3 percent in 2002, 2.9 percent in 2006, 5.7 percent in 2010, and 12.9 percent in September 2014. And now, less than a year later, a YouGov poll shows it having nearly doubled again, to 25.2 percent, meaning that it leads the governing Social Democrats (who have only 23.4 percent support) and the major (nominally) right-wing party, the Moderates (with 21 percent).

No less important, I learned in Stockholm, the intellectual and political climate has shifted. Journalists, policy specialists, and politicians all noted that ideas outside the mainstream just a year ago now receive a hearing. For example, four major newspapers have questioned the consensus in favor of high immigration. Beside the surging SD vote, this shift results from several factors: the shocking rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has altered the debate; continued upset at the December compact that excluded the SD from having its due parliamentary influence; and the receding memory of Anders Behring Breivik's 2011 murderous rampage in Norway.

In all, it appears that denial and censorship can only continue for so long before the instinct of self-preservation kicks in. The Western country most prone to national suicide is possibly waking up from its stupor. If this change can take place in Sweden, the "North Korea of Scandinavia," it can, and likely will, occur elsewhere in Europe.