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Sweden: Living with the far-right

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Sweden: The growing nightmare of living with the far-right
By Ritt Goldstein
Copyright August 2011

Dateline Falun, Sweden    On August 11th, UPI headlined "Swastika turns up in child meal", the locale in question being a simple budget restaurant in a city somewhat north of me.  The article noted that the eight-year-old boy's parents "were shocked to find a swastika tattoo in the fast-food meal they purchased for their son".  I regret that I cannot say I am equally surprised.   

It's important to recall that much of Europe's ongoing hardship was effectively blamed on societal outgroups in recent years -- particularly immigrants and muslims -- Europe's rising far-right targeting them for the economic suffering so many now feel.  Of course, in the 1930s populist far-right groups rose with similar scapegoating, and such tactics are far easier again today than addressing the difficult structural problems which failures in policy and leadership have brought.

Scandinavia has a history of its lands providing societies that have been a model globally, fostering a deep-felt faith in the region's governments and its society.  And given this, perhaps it's understandable that many Scandinavians see their own recent societal problems as originating through externally introduced factors, immigrants bearing the brunt of such blame.

Just days ago I read that the "Nordic far-right is now so entrenched in the political establishment that experts say the 'extreme' label is no longer suitable" (AFP/The Local, 28 July), and just months ago a gunman was randomly shooting immigrants in the South Sweden city of Malmà .  One of Sweden's english-language media outlets (The Local) headlined "Malmà shooter targeting immigrants: police".  And then there was the tragedy brought by Norway's Anders Behring Breivik.  

While far-right gunmen aren't everyday events, this journalist can personally speak to less obvious assaults that defy belief, events that suggest a newly-felt legitimacy for the exercise of a 'quieter violence', the exercise of an ugly bias that we term xenophobia.

Merriam-Webster defines xenophobia as "fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign", and in April 2010 Sweden's Amnesty Press published an article titled "Frà mlingsfientlig retorik i politik och media" (Xenophobic rhetoric in politics and media).  'Frà mlingsfientlig' is an interesting word however, for while it is usually translated as 'xenophobic', it might be literally translated as 'enemy of strangers', the Amnesty article addressing some of the most readily seen symptoms of this problem's rise in Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden.

More than rhetoric though, this journalist believes he has witnessed in Sweden what are the worst kinds of failures, failures by both local authorities and the legal system.  When it's said that the Nordic far-right is "entrenched in the political establishment", is this now part of what that means? To my eyes, it appears a foreigner, an immigrant, a so-called 'stranger', can today often be met with a virtually insurmountable bias. 

Notably, during Fall 2010 I interviewed Swedish legal scholar Eric Bylander.  Professor Bylander observed that political changes here might mean Swedish courts could be used as "a political arena in a way that hasn't been common in Sweden".   Bylander also spoke of the potentially chilling effect that might have on those of foreign origins.

What has often come to my mind lately is Hollywood's depiction of 'troubled' towns in the 1960's US Deep South, places with casual malice and brutality, and the assorted other unpleasant issues such films can portray.  This is not to imply that every town in Sweden and every Swede suggests such a place, as that isn't what's occurring.  But, particularly 'troubled areas' do seem to exist, as well as an increasing acceptance of so-called 'frà mlingsfientlig' ideas and practices.

While actual membership in xenophobic political parties is limited, the actual votes these groups have been receiving indeed exceeds their membership, with sympathies for aspects of their xenophobic agenda felt by even more still. 

The Amnesty article noted that all four of the Nordic countries cited have 'frà mlingsfientlig' parties.  Today, those parties now hold seats in their nations' parliaments; though, only Sweden 's frà mlingsfientlig party, the Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna or SD), has neo-nazi roots.  As to what such a political climate can mean, the Swedish daily Expressen headlined 29 July "The terrorist Breivik lived in Sweden" ("Terroristen Breivik bodde i Sverige"), reporting that it's thought he formed a large part of his political opinions here.   

In a November 2010 article, "Rise of far right an ominous echo', I addressed the SD's election to parliament, quoting political scientist Cristian Norocel - of Finland's University of Helsinki - as observing that some of the SD's positions paralleled a number of aspects of "very early National Socialism (Nazism) in Europe."  And the very fact of the SD's successes does provide comment upon the changing nature of Sweden's attitudes and society.

As I reported in November, it was a quietly determined Norocel that observed "the thing that is worrisome is that the SD party platform appears to be very successful". 

A notorious SD television commercial showed black burqa-clad mothers with baby carriages racing a pensioner for what government money was to be had.  And again, it is easier to blame immigrants than address issues such as the damage massive tax-cuts and corporate welfare have meant for social programs.

In many ways though, it sadly appears today that the SD is the least of Swedish society's issues, for those that declare themselves members become openly seen as tied to the Party's beliefs.  What I consider far more disturbing are the 'societal currents' which have allowed the SD's rise, and its increasing degree of societal acceptance...an effective statement on the perceived 'legitimacy' of being 'frà mlingsfientlig', an 'enemy of strangers'. 

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I am an American investigative political journalist living in Sweden, and have lived in Sweden since July 1997. My work has appeared fairly widely, including in America's Christian Science Monitor, Spain's El Mundo, Sweden's Aftonbladet, Austria's (more...)
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