Swedish Radical Right Populists: Crypto-Racists in the Swedish Parliament

In an earlier weblog I argued that 2010 and respectively 2011 are going to be very lively years, at least politically, in the northern part of the EU; Sweden held parliamentary and local elections in September 2010, and Finland scheduled its parliamentary elections for in the first half of 2011, most likely in April. What distinguishes these elections from the previous ones is, without doubt, the ever greater presence of Radical Right Populist (RRP) parties.

How does the situation look like in the rest of Scandinavia? Well, the RRP parties are very strong in both Denmark (where the Danish People’s Party/ DFP, Dansk Folkeparti is the third largest party with some 13.9% of the electoral support; it is a member of the governing centre-right coalition), and in Norway (the Progress Party/ FrP, Fremskrittspartiet pooled no less than 22.9% of the votes in the last elections). As noted earlier, in Finland the trend is pointing in the same direction: not only that the anti-immigration, outright xenophobic and radical parties are proliferating, but the now established RRP representative, the True Finns Party (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna) pooled 12.5% of the voters’ preferences in the latest survey (in Finnish, tässä; in Swedish, här). In other words, PS may be the fourth largest political party in Finland.

Returning to Sweden, the Sweden Democrats (SD/ Sverigedemokraterna) succeeded in what very few people would have thought it was possible. As a result of the September 19th elections, the SD will send its representatives to the Swedish Parliament (Riksdagen).

In terms of distribution of the electoral support for the smaller parliamentary parties, the Left Party (V/ Vänsterpartiet) and the Swedish Christian Democrats (KD/ Kristdemokraterna) pooled 5.6% of the votes each (KD seems to have lost as much as a whole 1.00% of its voters’ support compared to the previous elections). Even more surprising was the SD’s jump of more than two percent, eventually totalling 5.7% of the voters’ support (diagram in Swedish, här; and detailed results, här). The results of the election translate into 156 mandates for the Red-Green centre-left alliance (gathering V; the Greens/ MP, Miljöpartiet; and the Social Democrats/ S, Socialdemokraterna); 173 mandates for the centre-right bourgeois alliance which appears to continue to rule the country with a minority government (this is the alliance between KD; the agrarian Centre Party/ C, Centerpartiet; the Liberal Party/ FP, Folkpartiet; and the conservative-liberal Moderate Party/ M, Moderaterna). At the same time, a total of 20 mandates are going to SD which virtually positions them as kingmakers.

Nevertheless, the Red-Greens have excluded immediately any cooperation with SD and denounced it for its radical right populist political agenda, and warned that a future government that bows to the SD’s pressure will worsen the social climate in the country. In reaction to that, the re-elected Prime Minister Reinfeld of the conservative-liberal M has dismissed any cooperation with the SD for the coming mandate. Perhaps unsurprisingly, having in mind that the SD’s party members are overwhelmingly men, out of the 20 SD future parliamentary representatives only 3 are women. This marks a serious setback for the whole gender proportionality in the Swedish Parliament.

At a closer look, the SD and its political agenda mark a clear example of a crypto-racist party that attempts to disguise its troubled past under the clothes of ‘normalcy’. To explain the above statement, the SD has in the past years vociferously made reference to giving back to the Swedish peoples the folkhem (literally translated to the house of people, thus making reference to a common national construct). The folkhem as a concept has been intimately connected to Swedish social democracy and the blooming of the welfare state at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, in the SD’s more recent interpretation, the restitution and restoration of the folkhem involves two equally important aspects.

On the one hand, there is a strong welfare chauvinist attitude connected to the use of the term. More clearly, the focus is on a restoration of the welfare totality (including pensions, unemployment benefits and healthcare), and its restitution to society’s allegedly most exposed members – those generally considered the losers of the globalizing processes. True, this comes at a moment of extreme precariousness of the working conditions (privatizations and/or externalization of the welfare services, relocation of jobs, change of work patterns). However, the disappearance of the folkhem and the inherent costs of such a restoration are blamed on those who, for one reason or another are not fulfilling the criteria for being part of the SD’s redefined folkhem. And here becomes apparent the second important aspect of their political agenda, their crypto-racism disguised in conservative ‘normalized’ clothes. The new national community, the folkhem they envisage is one based on assimilation to the point of complete homogeneity, and repudiation of ‘abnormality’ and ‘libertinism’. The assimilation project they promote stipulates the absorption of newcomers (be them immigrants or refugees, commonly seen as an external threatening Other) to an ideal Swedish homogeneity. A case in point is the SD’s undisguised opposition to immigrant people of Islamic faith, who fail to become Swedes precisely for not being Christians. From singling out a religion to alleging that a certain group of people have a gene that predisposes them to violence is but a step, and the SD party members are making it with unproblematic ease (in Swedish, här). But the guarding of purity excludes also other groups, such as the Sámi of Sweden, or the Swedish Romas. Not only that, it also defines what is to be considered morally sound and typically Swedish, in a staunchly heteropatriarchal sense, and portrays a whole panoply of groups that embody the internal evil Other to their construct. More clearly, the SD dismisses the gender equality efforts as ‘leftist propaganda’ and portrays the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community as ‘deviants’. And the solution to all these is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a toughening of the law and order policy, which is meant to fix all ills and pave the way for a rebirth of the folkhem. The SD claims to be ready to take the responsibility for this. But they are quick to add the perfect excuse for not achieving it and the endless postponing of their project: their isolation on the political scene.

One cannot help but to wonder how was it possible for the SD to convince people to cast their vote in their favour, when their welfare chauvinistic appeals (to reinstate the folkhem, or better said their very particular interpretation of the aforesaid concept) are so tightly bounded to crypto-racist stances, thinly disguised under appeals for a tougher law and order stance and a more selective and assimilative immigration policy? How closely resembles such a political option to the national-socialist promises of the early 1930s? And taking it to the wider European context, does this swiping wave of radicalism across the continent that accompanies one of the most severe financial and economic crises in modern history mark the ‘moral bankruptcy’ of late capitalism? Are the spontaneous demonstrations across Sweden that gathered people who wanted to signal their support of multiculturalism and tolerance, and the impressive support for the campaign ‘Vi gillar olika’ (a rough translation would be ‘We support diversity’) a sign of grassroots democratic rejuvenation that has the potential to flourish across Europe and counter radical right populism?

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Tuesday, September 28th, 2010 Research No Comments

Radical Right Populism and Peripheries in Times of Crisis: Glimpses from Finland and Sweden

In times of economic insecurity, or simply of general uncertainty, the parties that manage to make the most of it are the radical right populist parties (RRP). With a rhetoric lambasting at the too liberal immigration policies, too expensive services provided to minorities or language communities, they manage to paint a picture of economic distress. Things need to be put in order, rationalized, according to some efficiency logic that usually is aimed to disadvantage those groups perceived to have “exploited”  the system for their own gain, and restore the state, and implicitly its expenses to the common people.

For instance in Finland, the last meeting of the youth arm of the True Finns (PS-n/Perussuomalaiset-nuoret/Sannfinländarnas ungdomsorganisation ) witnessed the return to the bellicose rhetoric against the Swedish-speaking Finns and Swedish language(which has equal standing together with Finnish as one of the official languages of the country). According to them, the Swedish-speaking Finns are demanding too much proportionally to their population’s size (approximately 5.4% of the whole population of Finland), and that if it is about the state providing services in Swedish, then the Swedish-speaking community itself should provide them. Why? Well, it was ascertained it costs too much, though it was not really clear how economic streamlining could so evidently deprive a serious percentage of the population of services they are entitled to by law and guaranteed by the Finnish constitution. And if this was not a statement persuasive enough, then the argument put forward was a bit more simple: to provide services in another language than Finnish, is actually un-Finnish. Why, again? The discussion about the status of Swedish as a national language was strangely connect to betrayal of Finland. More clearly, having Swedish as the second national language may at anytime give the opportunity to the increasing Russian minority to demand the same status for Russian. This could lead to the hypothetical situation of Finland being transformed into a country with three official languages.

However, looking a bit closer at the official numbers provided by Statistics Finland (Tilastokeskus/ Statistikcentralen), one may notice that of the whole Finnish population, 4,844,047 of them are Finnish-speaking Finns, followed by 289,951 persons being Swedish-speaking Finns. How many Russian speakers are in Finland? They are some 48,740 strong, or in other words some 1% of the Finnish-speaking population, and even less of the overall population of Finland. How can the Russian community be used as a threat to the Finnish majority? Does PS-n attempt to portray a future for the Finnish-speakers as a “threatened majority”, that needs to be suspicious of its own, homegrown Other- the Swedish-speakers-, but also keep an eye on the ever increasing outside Other- the Russian-speakers? Even more interesting it was one of the participant’s comment that the Swedish-speaking Finns are planning to “join forces” with the un-Finns. Does it sound like the classical reasoning of the inner Other plotting with the outside Other to demise the righteous and the True? Will this suffice for ensuring PS‘s success in the next elections, considering that the readily identified solution is turning Swedish into a minority language, and watching its exile to the peripheries of Finnish society together with the Sami language, and the Romani language?

On the other side of Gulf of Bothnia, in Sweden, the Sweden Democrats (SD/Sverigedemokraterna) held their party convention in Ljungbyhed in Klippans commune in Scania province. The province is the main voting reservoir for SD, and in the aforementioned commune, SD received some 7.5% of the votes for the local council. During the convention, Jimmy Åkesson was confirmed his leadership position. Statistically, SD cannot pride itself with too impressive numbers: in the most recent elections for the representative in the Swedish Lutheran Church the party pooled 2.84% and increased from 4 to 7 mandates, which was duly dismissed as a setback by mainstream commentators.

For most of SD‘s existence as a political force in Sweden, it has been at best ignored, if not purposefully isolated by  other political and social actors. The media boycott of even the main yellow press paper in Swede (Aftonbladet), left room to the isolation of SD council representatives in communes across Sweden. It was later revealed that the party representatives’ isolation is not waterproof, and that little by little they come to be tolerated, if not accepted by representatives of other parties. However, this prolonged and consistent isolation allowed SD to play the role of the martyr. This may have serious implication for the shape of the political scene in Sweden, with parliamentary elections being scheduled for 2010. Some have even ventured to argue that SD may become the kingmakers of the coming Swedish Cabinet. SD‘s central topic for the coming elections appears to be a call to a stop of the immigration, so that to ensure the protection of the Swedish workers from outer competitors, and a return of the welfare state before the turn of the century.

Interestingly, Aftonbladet decided to publish an opinion piece authored by Åkesson this week, a first in the mainstream media. The piece, which is basically a critique of the present immigration policy in Sweden, with rather grave accusations against the Muslim community in Sweden, identified as the main Evil Other in the RRP tradition (this has already a history in countries like Denmark, Austria, and The Netherlands, to name just a random few), was met with uproar. The article is a Swedish adaptation of the widely popular RRP theory of Eurabia,i.e. the danger posited to European culture and national specificity by an ever growing and menacing Muslim minority.

Even before being more closely discussed, SD, in general, and Åkesson’s peice in particular were hastily labeled as “racist”.  More worrisome, it was revealed that Aftonbladet, not Åkesson, chose the fiery title that read:  “The Muslims are our greatest enemy”. One can only wonder who benefits from over-using “racism”, and the concept entering the banality of daily life? Should not the main political attempt to engage in a punctual debate with SD? Is it be too painful to admit that not even Sweden remained untouched by the RRP waves that sweep Europe?

On a more general level, the most pressing questions are how the mainstream parties, in particular with regard to the electoral competition and the post-electoral parliamentary alliance building processes, and the societies, in general, will react to the constant ascension of the aforementioned parties? Ignoring them and exiling them to the peripheries is no longer actual, not even in Sweden. On the other hand, the increased visibility of such parties may be accompanied by the sudden rise to prominence on the agenda of mainstream parties of precisely this kind of issues.

Swedish language is an integral part of Finland, but it needs the decided commitment of all Finnish political parties (former president Ahtisaari’s plea for Swedish language in Finland is an excellent example of that). Healthy debates about such topics as language policies, regional development according to the interests of all language groups, and the opportunity of accommodating to an increasing immigrant population in Finland, need to be discussed openly, and it is necessary to argue against PS ‘s overt simplifications and menacing portrayal of the Other.  At the same time, the topic of meaningful integration of immigrants, and the benefits of immigration for the whole society are highly actual in Sweden. These issues require at times engaging in a dialogue with such parties as PS and SD, not simply dismissing them for being RRP.

What is more important, however, is to be able to look for explanations behind manufactured statistics, and vitriolic rhetoric, and provide well balanced and honest insights into these subjects. But is not this one of the biggest challenges: to be able to explain that there is no Evil Other even in times of economic uncertainty, and that curiosity not fear should be the driving force of societies?

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Saturday, October 24th, 2009 Research No Comments

The 2009 European Parliamentary Elections: The Populist Dilemma?

The coming EU elections have very interesting effects on the radical right populists across the Union. From the corner that interests me the most I can definitely say that these elections would be some very interesting events.

For instance in Finland, the leader of the populist True Finns (PS/ Perussuomalaiset/ Sannfinländarna), Timo Soini suddenly decided to take upon himself the task of getting the party into the European Parliament (EP). However odd this may sound, but he declared he had changed his mind, in the sense that he turned from a staunchly anti-EU party leader of previous EU elections into the main candidate of the PS alliance with the Finnish Christian Democrats (KD/ Kristillisdemokraatit/ Kristdemokraterna). This came to calm down suspicions that the two parties will support the candidacy of a controversial independent politician that was elected into the capital’s city council with the support of PS. He was later on accused of racism and discriminatory remarks.

So now party leader Soini has to convince his faithful that his party has any clear agenda once sent to Brussels. But what he is allegedly convinced of is that he would manage to bring to life an EU alliance of like-minded parties.  One may actually start wondering how successful would he be, having in mind that the last such enterprise, the now defunct Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty (ITS) EP political alliance, did not manage to live more than a year, a result of the inherent clashed between parties with an agenda defined by their strong suspicion of the Other. How would Soini manage to convince all those populist EMPs and their national leaders that in fact they are not each other’s Evil Other, but in fact more than circumstantial allies? Le Pen was recently bared from symbolically opening the coming EP session, so an educated guess is that any such suggestions may go well. But how persuasive can be a Finnish MP, future EMP, with no experience of the European dealings? Does the announced cooperation with the future to be trans-European EU-skeptical Libertas alliance (there is a lot of irony in being an anti-EU, and yet pan- European grouping, isn’t it?) hold any chances for successful political leverage at EU level?

Or will he attempt to join the European People’s Party and European Democrats (EPP-ED), the biggest alliance of parties within the EP, based on his electoral alliance with the aforesaid KD? But how effective will this be, having in mind PS’s record as a party at least suspicious, if not outright against anything that may be even hinted at as not being Finnish? Soini has always appeared to tone down the sometimes radical affirmations of his subordinates, so this may play in his advantage, but how much can one do to improve PS’s reputation as an isolationist, and even racist party? Well, these are just a few of the question that come to mind once reading about Soini’s EU turn.

Looking at Romanian politics, it is going to be a very unusual election period. The Greater Romania Party (PRM/ Partidul Romania Mare) has decided, or more rightfully said, its leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor decided that the party’s EU election list will be opened by him and another controversial political figure, George Becali. Becali was for a while leader of another populist party, the New Generation Party (PNG) but this seems to have become a thing of the past.

As such, the two former rivals, Tudor  and Becali appeared on the party’s electoral posters reading: “Two Christians and patriots will purge the country from crooks” (“Doi crestini si patrioti vor scapa tara de hoti!”). What the two apparently have in common is their dedication for the church. This is intended to heal the rift between the two after several years of public confrontations that ended up in personal remarks not at all elegant, to put it mildly. It is to be seen how well the two temperamental leaders will put aside their past conflicts and march towards a EMP position.

So, what could such a churchly dedication of the two do in the EP is not as obvious as the party leaders may think. PRM has already a certain tradition of allying itself with the French populists led by Le Pen (they were actually instrumental in the constitution of the aforesaid Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty (ITS) political group). But they are also those responsible, at least partly of its demise. To complicate matters further, PRM did not manage to convince Romanian voters of its ability to represent them at European level last time. It is to be seen if two religious figures, or at least declaratory religious, would manage to get the party the desired seats in the EP.

On a closer look, it is not very clear what PRM has to offer this time around either. Romania has recently been criticized by the ineffectiveness of the judicial system and there are rumors that the country may have a similar fate as neighboring Bulgaria and see its EU funds frozen. How could the two populist leaders demise these dangers from their possible EMP seats? There is no easily distinguishable answer to these questions. The only sure thing is a discourse focused on, at least symbolically, punishing the corrupted elites. But here is a serious problem PRM faces, how to balance a discourse that promises impartial and harsh justice with a presence in the EP that is the epitome of compromise and long negotiations. What is almost certain, however, is that if they manage to get in, they will not be alone as the anti- sentiments across EU are on the rise. And for that is enough to look at another neighbor, Hungary, and the recent backlash against the Roma this country witnessed.

Swinging back to the north of EU, what is happening in Sweden? Well, not much really. The main parties appear to be more preoccupied with rowing over internal politics, even when it comes to televised public debates about the future of EU. Having in mind that the country will be undertaking the presidency of the EU council the coming July this does not look too promising. But even Sweden may appear EU-friendly when compared witht the Czech performance so far.

Returning to populists, the Sweden Democrats (SD/Sverigedemokraterna) do not fare much better than in previous opinion pools. SD has been ostracized to the peripheries of Swedish politics from early on, so the party still struggles to gain national representation; it is however quite strongly represented in the southern parts of Sweden. Even if they could have tried to ride the same populist, panic driven agenda as elsewhere, there is another forseable winner in the confrontation. SD was hoovering around the parliamentary threshold for a while but it is unlikely it will surpass the popularity of the Pirate Party (Piratpartiet).

Theirs is a different type of populism, concerned, mainly, with the issues of copyright and patents and privacy writ large. And if it is to take into account the party membership numbers (which exceed to date those of the second largest governing party, the Center Party/ C/ Centerpartiet), and their strong support among the young voters, the Pirate Party seems to be on its way to register its first electoral success. But then again, labeling the Pirate Party as populist does not do much justice for its cause. It is more a single cause party, and it is to be seen, if it will enlarge its political agenda with other issues as well. Of crucial importance, in case of a victory is if the party will manage to survive its own political success and how much of the initial agenda will be preserved in the daily compromise politics at EP level.

Three countries, three different populist trajectories. All competing for votes for a suddenly much wanted EMP position. Here rests the populist dilema, how much of the anti- attitude can a party preserve once joining the place where everything is ground to small, almost imperceptible nuances of language in official communiques?

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Tuesday, May 19th, 2009 Research No Comments

What Happens When a Swede or a Finn Meets an Elephant?

The anecdote is rather funny. Unfortunately I do not have it in English. Bellow are the two versions of it in Finnish, respectively in Swedish. The ‘encountering the stranger metaphor’, if one may call it so, evidences how the two countries relate to accommodating ‘the unknown (possibly Evil) Other’. This cannot be taken as more than a stereotyped portrayal of the two countries, but it is nevertheless striking. Evidently, this is just a small excerpt from a more detailed report produced by the Cultural Fund for Sweden and Finland/ Suomalais-ruotsalainen kulttuurirahasto/ Kulturfonden för Sverige och Finland. The report came out with the occasion of commemorating the separation of Finland from Sweden in 1809.

(FIN) Mitä tapahtuu, kun ruotsalainen ja suomalainen kohtaavat suuren elefantin.

Ruotsalainen haluaa ennen kaikkea auttaa elefanttia, mieluiten kaikkia maailman elefantteja. Tätä varten hän asettaa monia komiteoita ja työryhmiä, ja elefantille tarjotaan mahdollisuus tulla ruotsalaiseksi. Elefantti saa lisäksi ikioman asiamiehen, joka määrittelee linjaukset elefanttien monien ongelmien ja vaikeuksien ratkaisemiseksi.

Suomalainen taas hermostuu kohdatessaan elefantin katseen, ja häntä huolestuttaa se, että elefantti itse asiassa suhtautuu häneen alentuvasti. Hän sanoo hiljaa itselleen, että elefantin ei ollenkaan tarvitse luulla olevansa muita parempi vain sen vuoksi, että se on suurempi. Mutta tappelemisen sijaan suomalainen tyytyy puristamaan kätensä nyrkkiin housuntaskussaan, ja hän poistuu ääneti paikalta yhtä nöyryyttävää kokemusta rikkaampana.

(SVE) Vad som sker när en svensk och en finne möter en stor elefant.

Svensken vill framförallt hjälpa elefanten, och helst alla elefanter i hela världen. För att göra det tillsätter han en hel rad kommittéer och arbetsgrupper, och elefanten erbjuds också att bli svensk. Elefanten får dessutom en alldeles egen ombudsman som skall ge riktlinjer för hur man skall lösa elefanternas många problem och svårigheter.

Finnen å sin sida blir ängslig när han möter elefantens blick och han oroas av att elefanten i själva verket ser ned på honom. Finnen blir då arg och beredd att slåss mot elefanten. Han säger tyst till sig själv att elefanten minsann inte skall tro sig vara bättre än andra bara för att den är större. Men i stället för att slåss med elefanten nöjer sig finnen med att knyta näven i byxfickan, och han går tyst därifrån en förnedrande erfarenhet rikare.

This funny narrative makes me wonder about how a Romanian, to keep the stereotypical register, would react to meeting an elephant?

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Friday, February 6th, 2009 Miscellaneous 1 Comment