Sweden Democrats (SD). For a long time it was thought that progressive, sensible, successful Sweden was immune to the appeal of right-wing populist parties. In reality this view was over-egged. Sweden never developed a right-wing populist party because the correct personnel did not exist. Anti-immigration movements elsewhere emerged from politically legitimate traditions, such as the anti-tax movement in Norway and Denmark, or the agrarian movement in Finland, but in Sweden such parties have tended to emerge from illegitimate tradition of the far-right.
The Sweden Democrats were founded in 1988 from a merger between the small xenophobic Progress Party and the openly racist ‘Keep Sweden Swedish’ organisation. The party was initially connected with right-wing extremism; its chairman was formerly active in a neo-Nazi party, though the party itself was never truly Nazi per se.
Beginning in the late 1990s, the SD began a long process of modernisation, ejecting its most nationalist wing. Since 2005, its leader has been Jimmie Akesson, a former member of the Moderate Party. Akesson is a charismatic sort.
The party is highly nationalist, and socially conservative. It claims to be the representative of a forgotten social democratic tradition, and appeals directly to workers, and the elderly. The Swedish Broadcasting Commission has ruled that it is acceptable to refer to the party as xenophobic, and academics have called it racist.
The wishes to strongly restrict immigration and wishes to promote the voluntary expatriation of immigrants using generous state support.
Like most right-wing populist parties it primarily appeals to the ‘left behind’, the elderly, low education, working class voters who feel that they have lost out in recent decades. The party has been a particular headache for the Social Democrats.
The SD shocked observers by entering the Swedish parliament in 2010, winning 5.7% of the vote, enough to hold the balance of power in parliament. In reality it has largely been sidelined by coordinated work between the government and opposition. Despite a few scandals, the party has polled well until recently. The party has recently become victim to so-called ‘silent protests’ where members of the Swedish public simply ignore Akesson on his many state visits around the country. Akesson has had to cancel hospital visits, for instance, as no one would speak to him at the hospital. Recently, Akesson was greeted by around 1,000 people in Gavle. As he rose to speak, many of the crowd simply turned their backs on him in a show of defiance.
What is particularly damaging about these protests is that despite Akesson’s insistence that it is the work of ‘left-wing extremists’, most people involved are actually in the working class demographics that he claims to represent.
The SD was polling very strongly, but has seen its support fall as the silent protests have worn on. Nonetheless it should still win a seat.
The party is, inevitably, highly Eurosceptic.
It is not a member of any European political party. It appears to be a candidate for Marine Le Pen’s widely mooted European Alliance for Freedom grouping.