From the September-October 2018 issue of News & Letters
Europe is at a dangerous crossroads with the rise of Far Right parties rooted in racism and hatred of immigrants. They are becoming mainstream and, in many cases, gaining state power. In Sweden’s Sept. 9 elections to the Riksdag (national legislature), the Sweden Democrats, a party rooted in neo-Nazism, received 17.6% of the vote.
The ruling Social Democrats, by contrast, received their lowest vote totals in over a century: 28.4%. No party or coalition received a majority, with Left and Right coalitions each holding about 40% of seats. Both have refused to work with the Sweden Democrats, yet both have adopted some of their anti-immigrant rhetoric.
EUROPEAN PATTERN REPEATS
How long will it be until the Right is tempted to ally with the Sweden Democrats? Other Far Right parties have established a pattern of entering government, including in Norway (Progress Party), Denmark (Danish People’s Party), Finland (Finns Party), and Austria (Freedom Party).
Nor is such toxicity limited to the Right. As one supporter said of the Sweden Democrats, “They take their policies on immigration from the right and their policies on defending the welfare state from the left.”
Accordingly, it is most important to look at the turmoil in German politics. Anti-immigrant hatred, as seen in the Chemnitz riots in August with neo-Nazi symbols and violence, has fed the growth of Alternative for Germany (AfD) and Pegida. AfD is now Germany’s third largest party.
Unfortunately the Right’s success has also inspired the creation of a Left populism that adopts anti-immigrant positions, as represented by Die Linke figure Sahra Wagenknecht. She couples anti-immigrant and “law and order” sentiment in statements like: “In addition to the uncontrolled border opening, there’s a police force that has been downsized to the point of inefficiency.”
This draws praise from AfD leaders, as well as from those sections of the Left that supported the Bosnian genocide.
The notion of “welfare chauvinism” would restrict social benefits to those who “belong,” and deny them to the “others.” This includes not only immigrants but the unemployed, academics, prisoners, and oppressed minority groups.
The term was coined to describe the policies of Far Right parties in Norway and Denmark that had taken over and twisted ideas of the Left. It is a formula helping to mainstream fascism, and to corrupt the Left, in much of Europe today.
The late Swedish author Stieg Larsson wrote: “To achieve political success, the Sweden Democrats need to acquire support from voters who were dissatisfied with the political establishment, but did not consider themselves to be Nazis or ‘nationalists.’” As Larsson knew, sunlight is the best disinfectant.