Swedes will go to the polls on Sep. 9 to elect a new parliament in a historic contest characterized by the rise in popularity of the Sweden Democrats, a nationalistic anti-immigrant party. The election is occurring as the European refugee crisis has fueled the salience of right-wing nationalists.
Mabel Berezin is a professor of sociology at Cornell University and an expert on the history and development of populism and fascism in Europe. She is the author of “Illiberal Politics in Neoliberal Times: Cultures, Security, and Populism in a New Europe?” and says that long held nationalism in Sweden explains the rise of the far-right Sweden Democrats.
“Viewed as an anti-immigrant nationalist party with roots in Sweden’s Nazi party, the Sweden Democrats are likely to come in second or third on Sunday with between 15 and 20 percent of the vote. Since its founding in 1988, the Sweden Democrats regularly garnered from one to three percent of the vote – this began to change in 2010 when the its share of the vote jumped to six percent and in 2014, when the political establishment began to take the Sweden Democrats seriously after they won 13 percent of the vote.
“Swedes have seemed the most welcoming to refugees in contrast to other European countries. However, a 2016 Pew poll suggested that about 88 percent of Swedes are unhappy with the European Union’s handling of the refugee crisis – only citizens of Greece are unhappier. The perception of trans-European inefficiency has helped the Sweden Democrats, as well as latent xenophobia.
“On the morning of September 10, the international media will no doubt focus on how the Sweden Democrats could do so well, but they will be missing a key point. Nationalism runs deep in Swedish culture—as it does in all of the Nordic countries—and the infrastructure of Sweden’s Social Democratic past was built on a mono-ethnic society. Sweden has never been an exception, and this is what accounts for the rise of the Sweden Democrats.”