The first time I travelled through Copenhagen in December 1980 I was en route to Sweden. My caravan has toured different regions of the country many times since then, but I’ve never been to the far north. The Arctic Circle has been out of reach so far in my life!
At the beginning of the 1980s I worked closely with the Swedish members of the youth and peace movement I belonged to. When we lived in Ouagadougou in the mid-1990s we got to know a Swedish-West African family who divided their time between Burkina Faso and the island of Öland in the Baltic. We have visited them several times and have also had enjoyable trips to Stockholm and to the extraordinary archipelago to the east of the capital. Closer to home, we are keen admirers of the beautiful coastline of Skåne where there are wide sandy beaches fringed with pine forests. For those who enjoy the vastness of nature, Sweden is a huge and very attractive destination.
There’s nothing very attractive about the revived national socialist movements that have crept out of the European woodwork over the past ten years or so. In Austria, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Switzerland and elsewhere, assorted varieties of ”illiberal democrats” have become increasingly influential, with their populist slogans emphasising in particular hatred of foreigners. Sadly, in many countries – including Denmark – these xenophobic parties have been able to dominate the political debate. They have been surprisingly successful in forcing politicians from the centre to concede that social and economic progress is only available for those with particular beliefs or ethnic origin. Outsiders are out!
The Sweden Democrats (“Sverige Demokraterna”) belong to the wave of not-particularly democratic populists sweeping across the continent. But the recent election in Sweden has revealed – contrary to expectations whipped up by the mass media and the social media – that there are limits to what ”decent folk” (liberals) are willing to support and to vote for. Thus although the Sweden Democrats increased their share of the vote from around 14 per cent in 2014 to almost 18 per cent, the parties of the centre and left did not collapse in the face of a populist onslaught. In fact it is possible to argue that Swedish “exceptionalism” was confirmed yet again by the result of the election. In Sweden it seems that the Social Democrats, the Greens, the Left and the Moderates do not wish to share the responsibilities of government with members of a party that is rooted in Nazi ideology. Politicians of the centre and the left are willing to make the case for tackling the many problems of integrating immigrants and consolidating an internationalist outlook and have not lost their support as a result.
Maybe my analysis is a bit superficial. I am aware that the multi-cultural, tolerant and open societies that we thought were being built in Europe are perhaps an unrealistic dream. But at least a majority of Swedes appear to be rejecting the ugliness of the extreme right, thereby keeping their country firmly on the map for my caravan’s forthcoming tours!