It’s a country known for its generous welfare system, its cleanliness, and liberal ideas. Former President Barack Obama praised it as a model society before his 2016 state visit.
By – Annika Hernroth-Rothstein
For decades, Sweden has been synonymous with openness, fairness, and equality. But in recent years, the small Nordic country has undergone a dramatic shift.
After being ruled by the Social Democrat party for seven, almost uninterrupted, decades, Sweden is now facing far-right rule as it nears its national election on Sept. 9.
Sweden’s far-right party, the Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna), has doubled in size over the last four elections, and with a showing of 22.6 percent in the latest polls they are predicted to be either the largest or second largest party in the country in this election, making way for a dramatic change in Swedish public policy.
As shocked and bewildered as many politicians and pundits are at the latest polls, this did not happen overnight. Between 2004 and 2013, Sweden welcomed 465,000 asylum seekers and familial immigrants and another 165,000 asylum seekers arrived in 2015 alone.
Even though the 2015 immigration crisis resulted in reinstated border controls and at least a temporary halt in the open border policy, over 600,000 asylum seekers and immigrants have arrived to the relatively small Nordic nation, and the consequences of this generous immigration policy are beginning to rear their heads.
A significant rise in unemployment and crime, rampant segregation and disastrous school results are only eclipsed by the worrying long-term economic consequences of Sweden’s unmatched generosity. According to a conservative estimate from the Swedish Central Bureau of Statistics, the direct cost of immigration between 2014 and 2018 has been $22 billion, an amount that will be impossible to offset through tax hikes, given that Sweden’s already high taxes are being paid by an ever-shrinking percentage of the population.
It is not merely this downward spiral that has driven voters toward a party running on drastically limiting immigration and restoring Swedish nationalism, but also the deafening silence from media and establishment politicians on these issues that is clearly changing the face of a previously isolated and homogeneous country.
The societal changes and the intellectual and political establishment’s lack of reaction to them have opened up a deep divide between those leaders and the everyday voter, making way for extremist forces from Left to Right to fill the vacuum of action and ideas. It is a development not unlike the one we have witnessed in the U.S., where the powers that be are seemingly blindsided by the underdog, and people turn their legitimate frustration and anger into ballots on Election Day.
But there are also important differences between the two change elections.
The Sweden Democrats are rooted in the Swedish Nazi movement, although it should be noted that the party leadership has long since distanced itself from those roots, and they are running on a nationalist socialist platform that includes outlawing religious freedoms such as circumcision, the import of Kosher meat, and limiting children’s ability to receive religious education.
The Sweden Democrats are often characterized as conservative in international media, but while they may be socially conservative their fiscal platform is socialist, and their views on social and religious liberties are far to the Left of any American Democrat.
For these reasons, it is unfortunate their political rivals have chosen to rely solely on the “racist” epithet as a strategy to combat them, and ignored the fact that a restrictive immigration policy merely stops the financial bleeding but fails to heal the wounds caused by generations of fiscal irresponsibility.
This may seem like uninteresting inside baseball to an American reader, but there are lessons in the looming Swedish catastrophe that the U.S. would be wise to learn. We got here by allowing the extremes to corner the market on immigration, by ignoring the facts and substituting them for feelings.
If, just a year or two ago, any of the established political parties had dared address the immigration crisis with sense and sanity, Sweden would not be facing far–right rule, nor would one of the world’s richest countries be heading toward a catastrophic structural deficit. At some point, looking good became more important than actually doing good and opinions and optics far surpassed realism and responsibility on our national list of priorities.
For almost a decade, Sweden has built its entire national identity on virtue-signaling, and as we tally up the results and head to the polls, we are left with neither virtues nor a penny to our name. Open borders and open hearts were beautiful slogans but they came with willful ignorance and eyes wide shut.
As a result, we have never been further from the openness we initially pursued. All those public displays of virtue seemed cheap enough at the time, but come September, the piper will have to be paid.
As America faces its own battle over immigration, I wish that Sweden once again could be used as a model, and as tangible proof of where the pathway of good intentions ultimately leads.
Read more: From 2018/08/21