Breaking the taboo

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The Article

In the Swedish Riksdag election this week, 20 seats were won by the “racist, anti-immigrant, far right” Sweden Democrat Party. Only 329 were not.

The opposition to the “SD” is split: 173 seats to the centre-right Alliance, and 156 to the Red-Green coalition. Having fallen just short of an absolute majority in final results declared yesterday, the Alliance leader, Frederik Reinfeldt, seems uncertain of his position. Can he form an effective opposition to the SD?

Very well, I am being silly. That is merely how the election sounded, given morbid international fascination with the SD.

The Alliance did, in fact, win the election, just two seats—and apparently only 16 actual votes, under Sweden’s proportional hocus-pocus—short of a majority. The prime minister’s extremely moderate Moderate party received its highest vote ever, and the chief opposition party its lowest so, if were it not for that little matter of the “far right” breakthrough, we would be talking about the historical recession of the Social Democrats.

That was the party that governed Sweden for most of the last century, and which built the archetypical Nordic welfare state, with a peculiarly Swedish combination of very high taxes, and very aggressive capitalists to pay them. Bankruptcy was avoided for the last eight decades on this knife-edge balance, that depended in turn on the remarkable homogeneity and conformity of Swedish society. So long as almost everyone agreed that that is what they wanted, that is what they got.

Other Nordic countries copied this model, less successfully. It helped that the Swedes maintained a trade-with-anybody neutrality that saw them through hot and cold wars, without such inconveniences as the Nazi and Soviet invasions that distracted their neighbours. Sweden, as Switzerland, was able to build an institutional fabric that required not only tight balances, but non-interruption over a long time. From such roots, I think, grew the remarkable Swedish social consensus: “This is what we talk about, and that is what we don’t talk about.” It lasted until last Sunday.

For some reason, it never occurred to anyone that an open-door immigration policy would bring all this to an end. That, with breathtakingly generous medical, educational, housing, and other benefits, extended alike to citizens and foreigners, peoples of unSwedish disposition might move right in. In retrospect, how did it take so long?

Like Europe’s other generous welfare states, Sweden suddenly found itself with a large and quickly growing immigrant population—not only “guest workers” but their extended families—and attendant culture clashes. Like Holland, Denmark, and Norway before it, Sweden now has a party in its Parliament that is unambiguously committed to “halting this tide.”

The Sweden Democrats are not really “anti-immigrant,” incidentally. They are explicitly anti-Islamic. And their unhappiness with the spread of Muslim settlement in Sweden extends beyond measures to discourage immigration, to “law-and-order” tactics aimed at the Muslim “no go” areas, in cities like Malmo and Stockholm, where visiting fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars are sometimes met with showers of rocks.

The epithet “racist” is also a bit misleading. Muslims, like Christians, come in all colours, shapes, and sizes. What the “mainstream” parties and media mean by this term is rather that they find the sort of people who support the SD, beyond their social pale. The very fact that they are “Swedish-looking” makes them so embarrassing, that they become eligible for the charge. Immigrant youth who throw rocks at Swedish-looking “intruders” would never be called racist.

From what I can see, this new “far right” party is the least pleasant of all Europe’s rising anti-Islamic factions, but that is partly a function of its novelty. The SD’s Danish equivalent, for instance, has been near power and dictating Danish immigration policy so long, that they’re now almost smooth. And if experience elsewhere is any guide, the SD that is ostracized with 5.7 percent of the electorate, will soon pass 20 per cent. At which point they become impossible to ignore.

“Swedish exceptionalism” has been a point of national pride: Swedes would never stoop to the unprogressive things that Dutch, Danes, and Norwegians were doing. All seven mainstream parties declared they would never deal with the SD, and are already contriving to exclude them from Parliamentary committees. For election night TV, their politicians would not even share a make-up room with Jimmie Aakesson, the SD leader. Which was good news for the rather boorish Aakesson, whose strength comes partly from being treated like that.

The future is never predictable, but the present often is. Across Europe, politicians as mainstream as Angela Merkel of Germany and Nicolas Sarkozy of France have started speaking openly about radicalism, violence, and other problems of assimilation among Muslim immigrants, as if they hadn’t noticed them before. Parties like the SD have thus already accomplished something: breaking that taboo.

David Warren
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