Premature Celebrations: Swedish Democrats Party members cheer the news that its anti-immigration policies have elevated it to third-largest-party status. Three months after the SDPs election success, however, the centre-left and centre-right parties have come together in defence of Sweden's multicultural dream - thereby excluding the SDP from the mainstream of Swedish political life.
MOST NEW ZEALANDERS are immensely proud of their country’s anti-nuclear policy. So many, in fact, that the National Party, which originally opposed the policy, was eventually required to say “me too”. Indeed, since the late-1980s, such a strong bi-partisan consensus has grown up around New Zealand’s anti-nuclear policy that, today, no sensible politician would seriously contemplate knocking it down.
Viewed in this light, the ban on both nuclear-powered and armed warships and on nuclear power generation stands as one of the signal achievements of “progressive” New Zealand. Along with votes for women, industrial arbitration and the welfare state, this country’s anti-nuclear stance is held up as proof of New Zealanders’ political enlightenment. It represents the last unequivocal contribution to our reputation as the “social laboratory of the world”.
What the anti-nuclear policy is to progressive New Zealanders, Sweden’s incredibly generous immigration laws are to progressive Swedes. Conceived and born in the late-1960s, the hey-day of Swedish social-democracy, Sweden’s commitment to the world’s refugees re-iterated the (long since discarded) promise carved into the base of America’s Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me …
As with our own anti-nuclear policy, there was an “anti-imperialist” (i.e. anti-American) element to Sweden’s immigration policy. While the rest of the West were creating refugees, Sweden, that beacon of freedom, equality and solidarity in a darkening world, was lifting her lamp “above the golden door”.
Sweden’s welcome to “the wretched refuse” of the world’s conflict zones was a source of pride to her progressive citizens. It reinforced everything they believed was special about their country and its internationally acclaimed progressive movement, led by the Swedish Social Democratic Party (SSDP) which had been in office for the best part of forty years.
Not surprisingly, the demands of effective political competition led the SSDP’s centre-right rivals to embrace its commitment to the world’s refugees. Like New Zealand’s anti-nuclear policy, Sweden’s bi-partisan commitment to progressive immigration and refugee resettlement programmes became politically unassailable.
As anyone reading Henning Mankell’s Inspector Wallander novels soon discovers, the SSDP’s progressive ideals have never been universally accepted by Swedes. Prior to World War II the country boasted a vigorous and vociferous national-socialist movement, and even the SSDP, in the 1930s and 40s, pursued eugenic policies barely distinguishable from those of Hitler’s Nazis’.
Indeed, some have argued that the SSDP’s extraordinary electoral success was based not upon socialist internationalism but upon the party’s key concept of the Folkhem (literally, “People’s Home”). Swedish generosity was for the Swedes and only the Swedes. Socialist “charity” began, and ended, where it belonged – at home.
Thus it was that as progressive Sweden opened its golden door to the homeless and the tempest-tossed, that other Sweden, the one that saw itself as a single, albeit vast, extended family, recoiled in dismay, and then in anger, at the sudden (and in many locations overwhelming) influx of foreigners.
Far from the metropolitan haunts of progressive Sweden, sprawling, prefabricated refugee camps proliferated. Once naturalised, the inhabitants of these camps moved into the packed social-housing estates of Sweden’s provincial cities. So ethnically and religiously undifferentiated were these immigrant communities that they became effectively self-governing. There are places in Swedish cities where the Police and other emergency services hesitate to intervene. Very unofficially, the Swedes call them “No-Go Zones”.
The inevitable electoral response came in the form of the Swedish Democrat Party (SDP). In the recent Swedish General Elections it captured 13 percent of the vote – and the balance of power.
The SDP promised to co-operate with the minority SSDP-Green government – but only on condition that Sweden’s immigration and refugee resettlement regime be radically overhauled. The SSDP and their Green allies refused, prompting the SDP to, as promised, reject the new government’s budget. Swedes were poised for their first snap-election since 1958 when the centre-right opposition Alliance Party closed ranks with the centre-left parties to freeze out the anti-immigration movement until at least 2022.
This is a dangerous experiment, undertaken by the Swedish political class in defence of the increasingly contested humanitarian ideals of the 1960s. The SDP, now casting itself as the last, defiant, defender of the Folkhem, are rubbing their hands in glee.
Political nostalgia cuts both ways.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 2 January 2015.