Sweden has long been admired as somewhere “safe from the plagues of the extreme left and extreme right”, says Elisabeth Asbrink in The New York Times. Last week’s election exploded that delusion. The far-right Sweden Democrats (SD) took 20% of the vote – quadruple their share in 2010 – becoming the second-largest party in the Swedish parliament. This is a serious development. The SD emerged in 1988 out of a group of neo-Nazis. Of its 30 founding fathers, 18 had Nazi affiliations – some even served in Hitler’s SS. Their “core ideology” remains unchanged: immigrants must be pushed out, and neither Jews nor Sweden’s indigenous Sami people can be considered “real Swedes”. The party’s current leadership are “equally worrying”. In February, leader Jimmie Akesson refused to choose between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin.
As ever, a large part of this “right-wing success story” is down to the economy. Sweden was once among the most equal countries in the world, but its aggressive privatisation of hospitals, schools and care homes has led to soaring inequality and “a sense of profound loss”. At the same time, public opinion has turned against immigration: the SD’s sharp rise coincides with the admission of 160,000 Syrian refugees. Voters who feel poorer and less anchored in their own society have bought the SD’s vision of a return to “red cottages and apple trees, to law and order, to women being women and men being men”. Swedes are desperate for “solutions to real problems”, and the Sweden Democrats have found great success in promising to provide them.