In the September 11 Swedish parliamentary election, the far-right Sweden Democrats party sent shockwaves through the country and the world by receiving over 20 percent of the votes, becoming the country’s second-biggest party. The historic election resulted in the resignation of the Social Democratic government, ending its eight-year rule, and the appointment of a right-wing government led by the Moderate Party’s Ulf Kristersson as prime minister. This deepens Europe’s rightward slide, and enshrines a radical right-wing politics in a country that has long been admired for its progressive politics and strong social safety net.
The Sweden Democrats have a direct organizational lineage tracing back to World War II–era Nazism. After the war, militant fascists kept organizing on the fringes of Swedish politics in organizations such as the Nordic Realm Party, founded in 1956, and Keep Sweden Swedish, founded in 1979. In 1988 leading figures from these groups came together to form the Sweden Democrats. During the party’s most radical years, in the 1990s, it led by convicted former Nazi activist Anders Klarström and was infamous for skinhead street violence. Just ahead of the recent election, the party published a white paper establishing that one of its founders had been a Waffen-SS volunteer during World War II. This is the context in which the current party leader Jimmie Åkesson, along with much of the party leadership, joined the Sweden Democrats in the mid-1990s. In a very superficial sense, the Sweden Democrats have sought to distance themselves from their Nazi roots, and in this round of elections called themselves simply a socially conservative party with nationalist values. On the surface, then, the party is actually less radical than, for example, Alternative for Germany or the French National Rally. It has even, for now, set aside its Swexit demands, anti-NATO stance, and pro-Russian leanings. Nevertheless, the party’s raison d’être remains intact: to recreate the demographic homogeneity of Sweden by any means necessary.
In the new coalition government, the Sweden Democrats will act as a supporting government party without any minister posts. Nevertheless, they will arguably create the most conservative and right-wing administration Sweden has had in nearly a century, since the old Moderate Party government of 1928–30. Since World War II, the various Swedish right-wing parties have been more or less oriented toward classic liberalism. The 2022 election marks a stark end to that era. The Sweden Democrats have managed to radicalize the Moderate Party and other right-wing parties in a right-wing populist direction. In the recent election campaigns, almost all parties adopted a tough-on-crime rhetoric, echoing populist rallying cries and promising stricter immigration policies.
Right-wing populist and far-right parties have been ascendant across Europe since Austria’s Freedom Party and Italy’s National Alliance electoral successes in 2000 and 2001. Since then, about a dozen European countries have elected right-wing populist and far-right parties to their governments, or as supporting parties, including Norway, Denmark, and Finland. In addition to Sweden, far-right parties now hold governmental power in Hungary, Poland, Switzerland and, most recently, Italy. Mere weeks after the Sweden Democrats’ electoral success, the Brothers of Italy won a landslide victory with 26 percent of the votes, and are expected to form Italy’s most far-right government since World War II. Similar parties have since made strides in Bulgaria and Germany. Commenting on this political development, and referring to the brown paramilitary uniforms of the German Nazis, French EU parliamentarian Stéphane Séjourné has described 2022 as Europe’s brown autumn.
The reasons for this calamitous rise have been widely discussed—if not always well understood—by the media and academics alike. All over Europe, there has been growing dissatisfaction among the white working class and lower middle class caused by deindustrialization, globalization, and the erosion of the welfare state. For these specific demographics, loyalties have shifted massively from leftist and social democratic parties to various right-wing populist and far-right parties.