The New StatesmanThe New Statesman

How Sweden lost the plot

By Malcom Kyeyune

22 Aug 2023 · 8 min read

informed Summary

  1. The rise of the Sweden Democrats in the 2010s marked a significant shift in Swedish politics, breaking the previous consensus and leading to a polarised society. The party's focus on migration as a central issue sparked a moral panic and intense debate, with those questioning the country's capacity to handle the influx of refugees often labelled as "racists" or "fascists".

To understand how Sweden became Europe’s most polarised country, look backwards. In retrospect, the 2010s were the decade when Swedes no longer agreed with each other on basic, foundational assumptions about the world. Going into 2015, Sweden was a tense society and its politics were no longer driven by consensus. Five years earlier, amid controversy, the Sweden Democrats had entered parliament, with slightly more than 5 per cent of the electoral vote. Nationalists were not supposed to prosper in Sweden, however, and the surprising result was not interpreted as a breakdown of the old political order.

Neither was it seen as proof that something fundamental inside Swedish society had stopped working. Many believed that the Sweden Democrats would follow the same path as another upstart, nationalist, populist party, Ny Demokrati, and collapse before the next general election came around.

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