Skip to main content

In October 2021, Israel’s newly appointed ambassador to Sweden, Ziv Nevo Kulman, publicly criticized the Sweden Democrats, a notoriously far-right political party, claiming that Israel would have no ties with the party in the future.

The far-right Sweden Democrats is dubbed populist by some, far right by others. The party is the result of different far-right, nationalist, and neo-Nazi movements coalescing to form a single political entity in 1988, not long after populism had re-entered the political scene in Europe.The Sweden Democrats party was largely ostracized by other political parties for years. However, the large influx of refugees into Europe in 2015 and the subsequent perceived stresses presented the Sweden Democrats with the perfect opportunity to capitalize on the group’s largely anti-immigration and xenophobic narratives, and thus bringing the party more support. And indeed, data shows that their increased popularity coincided with increased immigration flows. Two years prior to the 2018 elections, over a quarter of Swedes had a negative outlook on diversity in the country, and the majority of them believed that the inflow of refugees would increase terrorist attacks in the country.

In such an environment the Sweden Democrats gained 17.5% of the vote in 2018, a result that forced other right-wing parties to become more accommodating. At long last, the efforts that the party put into being seen as legitimate of a political structure as any other paid off. Much like other far-right movements, the Sweden Democrats adapted to survive, having made changes over time to be deemed more acceptable in the political sphere, such as changing the visuals of the party and increasingly distancing themselves from extremism.

The Sweden Democrats party is a prime example of the mainstreamization of the overarching far right. While the umbrella term “far right” is an apt descriptor for the Sweden Democrats, there are more specific ways to describe them. It can be described for instance as right-wing radical due to the party’s efforts at implementing “far-reaching changes in social and political institutions” democratically. This willingness to go through the proper political institutions and refraining from violence is what differentiates it from extremism.

Takis Pappas further classifies the Sweden Democrats as nativist, fitting the trend of most nativist parties in Europe of not yet having won office—but there is potential for the party to become a junior coalition partner, as quite often happens when a nativist party does win. And indeed the Sweden Democrats adopted two aspects common to the liberal nativist and Identitarian Christianism realm: the culturalization of religion and a philosemitic stance. These characteristics are illustrated with the Sweden Democrats’ treatment of Islam as a threat to Sweden’s civilization, equating Muslims with extremists, and their staunch defense of Israel.

A brief scan of the party’s official website and Facebook page makes it evident that the Sweden Democrats are both xenophobic and against multiculturalism.These traits exemplify “white possession” and “the fear of displacement” held by the party. The Sweden Democrats is quickly growing in popularity and its social media presence does not show any sign of slowing down. The party’s posts are all in English, indicating that they are trying to transcend geographical borders and connect with people that are far-right in other countries, also exemplifying the process of the transnationalisation of far-right discourse. The Sweden Democrats is very active online, even creating alternative media sites. The party has a large social media presence and is believed to have a larger following than other Swedish parties, ranked as the fifth largest social media influencer in Sweden, along with its leader, Jimmie Akesson, who is ranked as the eleventh most popular politician on social media.

While there is no certainty that the Sweden Democrats will form part of a coalition government in the near future, the likelihood appears to be increasing and the party is already part of several municipal coalitions.

Madison Rousseau is a graduate from Emory University with a bachelors degree in International Studies, specializing in conflict and security, and a minor in Italian Studies. She is currently pursuing a masters degree at the Elliott School of International Affairs of George Washington University in Security Policy Studies with a focus on transnational security, involving threats posed by terrorists and criminal organizations across countries. 

Photo: “SD-sympatisörer inför EU-valet 2014,” by FrankieF licensed under BY CC 3.0.