Sweden voted in its four-yearly general election on Sunday. We were able to vote in the local and county elections but not yet the national as our citizenship application has not yet been processed. The big question was how big would the nationalists (Sweden Democrats) share of the vote be? And the answer was bigger than before.
So despite the fact that 83% of the Swedish electorate did NOT vote for them the focus was still on the 17% that do. That would make them the second-biggest party. So what we get are headlines like this: Swedish election: Main blocs neck and neck as nationalists gain
I wasn’t sufficiently invested to be able to tell the real difference between the various parties policies on education, healthcare, pensions, the economy and so on. It seems to me that the differences are not always that substantial but as I’ve said before here on the issues of immigration and integration we have a dividing line and it is dividing. That gave the nationalists a more powerful weapon – an ideology against just tinkering with policy. It gave them a (negative) narrative and the possibility of selling their own vision of the future.
The focal issues (whether anyone liked it or not) were immigration and integration. Focus fell on suburbs like Angered in Gothenberg or Rinkeby (close to where I live) in Stockholm. It fell on cases like that of the Afghan man Elin Ersson defended who turns out was an abusive husband and father. There were plenty of news to stoke fears and division.
Not all that long ago Sweden was famous for its stability and was perhaps seen as a little boring and predictable. But no longer. So how has this happened?
Trevin Wax asks the question ‘why are we so politically poliarized?’ for America but I think his answers are helpful here.
Firstly he points out the growing suspicion towards institutions. In Sweden people still trust the state, they believe in big government, they look to the state to look after their children, their elderly, their housing, their pensions and so on. But that trust is dwindling and I don’t think that has anything particularly to do with immigrants but it means when it comes to voting they don’t trust people who are associated with government. Some instead are turning to those who promise a disruption of the status quo.
Secondly, Wax points out a growing suspicion of neighbour and this is I think the big problem in Sweden. Swedes are not known for being good neighbours. It’s notoriously difficult for many newcomers to make Swedish friends. When the housing area I live was built in the mid seventies it was 95% Swedish born. 40 years later it is probably nearer 5%. The houses are just as fine, the neighbourhood is lovely. But it would appear to be the case that when foreigners moved in, Swedes moved out.
The inability to talk to a stranger means you just see differences from a distance. The languages you don’t understand, the clothing you don’t understand, the gestures, noise, smells, habits all of which you don’t understand. All you see is difference and differences that disrupt your notions of how things should be (rightly or wrongly).
So when society faces the challenges that all Western societies face of ageing demographics, spiralling costs, fragmentation, generational shifts and so on the easiest thing in the world to do is point the finger at the people who look, talk and act different and basically say it’s their fault. Which is exactly what the Sweden Democrats did.
So what government will Sweden have after this election? A weak one probably with lots of coalition members all doing their best to ignore the increasingly fat elephant in the room.