Long before the Sweden Democrats became the country’s second-strongest party in the most recent elections, right-wing populism was already on the rise: the Social Democrats, who were still in power at the time, had announced that they had succeeded in reducing the number of asylum seekers. The Conservatives had also called for fewer immigrants, while the Sweden Democrats had demanded the abolition of the right of permanent residence. A competition erupted between the three major parties over who could call the loudest for more police and tougher penalties for street and gang crime: 53 people have been shot dead on Swedish streets so far this year, most of them young men from immigrant communities who were murdered by young men from immigrant neighborhoods. A large part of an election campaign was devoted to that problem.
There is no evidence that gang crime can be prevented by harsher penalties. It could even be the other way around: that the hero cult practiced there is promoted by harsher punishments. But for people who dream of an ethnically homogeneous population, such distinctions are not important: with a focus on criminals, especially those of foreign origin, they think that they are confronted with their inner enemy. Until a few years ago, it was primarily the concern of the Sweden Democrats to conjure up this enemy. The other parties saw the Sweden Democrats as runaway Nazis who were to be excluded from political affairs. A few years ago this separation started to become porous.
In the election campaign, the separation was abolished: to the same extent that the old parties adopted the election program of the Sweden Democrats, they became a halfway respectable party. The centre-right coalition that has been in power since last month is dependent on the active support of the Sweden Democrats. In order to keep them out of government, the now ruling parties accepted a program largely dictated by the Sweden Democrats. There was no longer a left that would have defended itself with arguments. Instead, especially at the universities, it exhausted itself in the well-known debates about sexual identity, anti-racism and anti-colonialism.
In the radicalization of popular nationalism, Sweden is following its neighbor across the Oresund in Denmark. The example is mentioned several times in the coalition agreement. Driven by the “Folkeparti”, a radically xenophobic policy had begun there more than 20 years ago. Never part of an incumbent coalition, the right-wing populists in Denmark became a force without its support no government could soon exist. The old parties outdid each other in calling for tougher anti-immigration measures, often on the very fringes of international law, sometimes beyond.
For example, social assistance for immigrants is well below the poverty line, with the result that in some areas of the larger cities there is misery of a kind not seen in Western European countries since the Second World War. And so anyone who has ever committed a crime, even for a trifle, has forfeited the right to become a Danish citizen. Violations of the law have fewer consequences for right-wing populist politicians: Inger Støjberg, former Minister for “Foreigners and Immigration”, was imprisoned for racially motivated official offenses, founded a new party and has every chance of being back in the Danish parliament.
The escalation to the point of open illegality is not a Danish or Swedish specialty, but has a European principle, recently the election campaign in France was also dominated by the issues that right-wing agitators had specified: in the eyes of the “true” representatives of the people, democracy and rule of law is an expression of weakness. Disregard for institutions shows determination to fight the enemy. Because this fury has to be demonstrated again and again, escalations are always included. And so the new Swedish government is coming up with a program that is designed from the outset to challenge international law: an immoral way of life (“bristande vandel”) should be enough for deportation. Special “zones” are to be set up in which people can be subjected to a body search even if there is no concrete suspicion. The age of criminal responsibility (currently 15 years) is to be lowered. Anonymous witnesses should be allowed in court. In the case of dual citizenship, only the other, foreign nationality should apply in the event of a criminal offence.
Sweden was considered a neutral state for more than two hundred years. Ruled by social democrats, undamaged in World War II and equipped with an industry that was able to procure itself with raw materials from its own stocks, Sweden became the heartland of a moral international whose validity extended far beyond the actual economic possibilities. Swedes were represented in large numbers in the official international organizations, in the United Nations, in Unesco, in important non-governmental organizations, everywhere: as supporters of human rights, tireless fighters against corruption and pragmatists in diplomacy. In Sweden, this validity was reflected not only in a domestic cosmopolitanism, in which the connections to New York or Sydney always seemed to be shorter than the routes to Lübeck or Gdansk, but also in a liberal immigration policy.
The importance of the Nobel Prizes, especially the Nobel Prize for Literature, was based on the fact that on the northern periphery of Europe there is a formally neutral, liberal and economically independent country in which reading, educated people live. The new government is now declaring that it only wants to comply with the minimum legal requirements associated with membership of the European Union. Denmark acts on the same principle. However, no Nobel Prizes are awarded in Copenhagen, Lego never became a global revival movement, as is the case with Ikea. The satisfaction of many Danes regarding the temporary end of Swedish internationalism cannot be ignored these days.
The government program comprises sixty pages and seven bullet points. The section “Migration and Immigration” alone takes up twenty pages, the section “Crime”, ten pages long, deals with essentially the same subject, and under the heading “School” not only calls for a return to reading literary classics in class, but also a “Swedish cultural canon”. A similar, large-scale project failed miserably in Denmark 15 years ago. However, it is foreseeable that the mere demand for a canon will change the Swedish education system: from university down to kindergarten, it is currently characterized by a radical demand for equality that goes by the name of “norm criticism”. A norm can be anything, a skin colour, a gender, an origin. To “question” such things and thus to override them by naming them, for the sake of a pure, undisguised humanity: That’s what a norm critique that can be applied to any object is about, but a canon is the opposite of “norm criticism”. A canon establishes differences, it creates gradations, and for that reason it does not even have to be justified.
The coalition of the three parties that now form the government in Stockholm with the support of the Sweden Democrats is a fragile affair. This is mainly due to the liberals, who struggle with national fundamentalism. But if the government stays in office for years to come, Sweden will be a different country than it has been for the past 70 years: small, foreign and unfriendly.
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