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Economic downturn and fears over immigration fuel racism in Sweden

Aakesson - accepting neo Nazi support

As with many other countries throughout Europe the trend of resurgent right wing extremism in the form of new fringe parties infecting the mainstream body politic, as in France, continues to reaffirm the historical fact that during times of economic decline Europe’s minorities suffer and racism rises.

has already spent five years at the helm of the far-right Sweden Democrats, (SD) taking the party from an obscure movement with a neo-Nazi politic and virtually no real electoral support to a real and destructive force in Swedish politics.

With 20 seats in the new parliament, SD can potentially determine the political make-up of Sweden’s government after neither of the mainstream parties secured a majority.

The SD emerged from the ultra-nationalist “Keep Sweden Swedish” movement, and Mr. Aakesson acknowledged it has counted neo-Nazis among its supporters. Speaking to the National Post he said:

“That’s the old Sweden Democrats. Today we are different and voters see that,”

After such an inconspicuous start this racist party that once was nothing more than a bunch of skinheads has catapulted into the headlines enjoying a 20-seat windfall in weekend elections. The rapid rise of the SD has literally plunged the country into political chaos.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt appealed for calm yesterday after being re-elected at the head of a minority government.

But Mr. Reinfeldt said he would not for now collaborate with the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats.

Many blame Reinfeldt for seeking to pander to racist sentiment during the election in an attempt to win over some of the electorate who were virulently anti immigrant. Just as in the UK when the Labour Party adopted a similar tactic this needless concession to racism actually produced the opposite outcome and bolstered the legitimacy of racism that then translated into votes for the SD and plunged the country into chaos.

“There is no need to use words like chaos,

“Mr. Reinfeldt told reporters. Despite losing his parliamentary majority, Mr. Reinfeldt’s coalition pulled off a historic victory this week as the first right-leaning government to be re-elected in Sweden in nearly a century.

In response Swedes in their thousands gathered in a central Stockholm square last night to protest, waving banners stating “Yes to togetherness, No to racism.”

Other demonstrations were organised in Sweden’s second largest city, Gothenburg.

When Mr. Aakesson joined the Sweden Democrats in 1995 at the age of 15, “there were still members who showed up at meetings dressed in Nazi uniforms,” political scientist Sofia Nerbrand said recently.

Mr. Aakesson, with his slight build, dark hair and glasses, has helped radically change Swedes’ perception of the party.

He took over as leader in 2005 when the party had little popular support and the following year took nearly 3% in the general elections. Four years on, that support has nearly doubled, crucially passing the 4% threshold for parliamentary representation.

It handed out leaflets that read “Give Sweden back to us!” and ran an election video in which burka-clad women pushing prams in a race to collect welfare cheques overtake an elderly pensioner.

“Not all immigrants are criminals, of course, but there’s a connection,” he said. “We have a conservative point of view. Immigration and criminality policies are the most important and on that we differ from others.”

Reuter’s news agency reports responses from non-white Swedes:

“This election is a catastrophe,” said Mohammed Farah, who has made Sweden his home for more than two decades after fleeing war in Somalia. “It’s deplorable, and worrying.”

“It’s hard to see how people can vote for this kind of party,” said Mohammed Hersi, who came to pray at the Islamic Cultural Center in a northern Stockholm suburb.

“Of course, I am disappointed. Sweden feels like home to me. This feels like some kind of sign that people don’t want immigrants here anymore”.

A party more radical than the Sweden Democrats, the Swedes’ Party, which wants only what it calls genetically Western people to be Swedish citizens, won one seat on a town council in west-central Sweden.

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