To hell and back: Swedes can learn from Finns after Sunday's election

Hissen som gick ner i helvete -- "the elevator that descended into hell" -- reads the title of a fa...

Posted: Sep 10, 2018 11:50 PM
Updated: Sep 10, 2018 11:50 PM

Hissen som gick ner i helvete -- "the elevator that descended into hell" -- reads the title of a famous Swedish short story. The outcome of yesterday's general election bore many resemblances with Pär Lagerkvist's (1891-1974) absurdist tale.

After a summer of discontent, close to 18% of Swedish voters opted for the far-right Sweden Democrats. The party finished third behind the incumbent Social Democrats on 28% and the center-right Moderates with 20%. All of the established parties have said they will not work with the far right.

Unlike in the other Nordic countries, the established Swedish parties have completely excluded the Sweden Democrats from influence. In Finland, the far-right Finns Party has served in government.

The same has not been the case in Sweden, where none of the bourgeois parties have been willing to work with Jimmie Åkesson's party. The tactic of exclusion has not worked. The Sweden Democrats increased their vote share by roughly 40%.

Opposition to immigration is the main reason. Sweden took in proportionally more refugees in 2015 than Germany, receiving over 160,000 asylum applications in 2015. And although restrictions were put in place the following year, the issue overshadowed all others during the election campaign.

Those familiar with crime writer Henning Mankell's novel about policeman Kurt Wallander will recognize the dark undercurrent to the seemingly spotless surface.

Despite clinging on to the ideal of the Folkhemmet -- "the people's home" -- Sweden has become a divided society, where more than 15% of the population is foreign-born.

Immigration is an issue that must be discussed openly. Until recently, it was not. The mere questioning of the levels of immigration was taken as a sign of racism. This forced voters to opt for radical parties in order to awaken the slumbering elites. Not because the Swedish voters agree with many of the outlandish policies espoused by the far right, but because voters want to send a message that enough is enough.

Of course, no country can thrive and prosper without immigration. But the question of where to to draw the line is a legitimate one.

The debate needs to become pragmatic and open. This can be done only by listening to the views of the people -- including those who voted for the Sweden Democrats.

Like in the Netherlands -- a country that once shared Sweden's elite-dominated political culture -- the mainstream parties must respond to the concerns about multiculturalism. And, as in Norway and Finland, this could mean allowing the far right into government.

Some might use spurious historical analogies and warn this will lead to a repeat of the history of the 1930s. Such claims are historically naive and border on ignorance. The situation today is very different from that of 80 years ago. The anti-immigrant parties are not associated with organized violent gangs, nor do they aspire to overthrow democracy.

By giving far-right figures the responsibility of governing, they will have to come up with pragmatic solutions. As the example of Finland shows, this is likely to reduce their electoral appeal. The Finns Party won close to 20% in the 2014 elections. They are now below 10% and only managed to win 6.9% in this year's presidential election.

The Swedish political parties should learn the lesson of their eastern neighbors.

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