The exclusion and tolerance of Scandinavian populists

Sweden's political mainstream has excluded the populist Sverigedemokraterne after they stormed last week's general election. Why didn't their Danish counterpart not suffer the same fate?

Not all Scandinavian populist and anti-immigration parties are created equal. After amassing 13 percent of the vote in Sweden’s general election last week, Sverigedemokraterne (SD) were summarily excluded from the political process by the remaining parties.

But in Denmark, Dansk Folkeparti (DF) has wielded enormous influence, paricularly over the former right-wing government which it supported for a decade in exchange for concessions on tighter immigration regulations.

So which mechanisms explain the different fortunes of two sister parties with similar agendas? The answer, at least in part, is found in their different origins.

Democracy under attack
Following the Swedish election, Danish political pundit David Trads said it was “beautiful” that the Swedish ruling parties had chosen to exclude the xenophobic SD from all political negotiations. But MP for liberal party Venstre, Inger Støjberg, said it was an attack on democracy that one in eight Swedish voters were de facto excluded from the political process.

Sweden’s new left-wing prime minister, Stefan Löfven (Socialisdemokraterne) legitimizes SD’s exclusion, arguing that the government was protecting democracy on behalf of the 87 percent who do not share SD’s radical opinions. There is a paradox in such a statement, but it is a bold signal for Sweden to send to the rest of Europe, that certain views are simply unacceptable.

It is easy to compare SD to DF. Both are patriotically sceptical of the European Union and agree on matters concerning the elderly, education, legal policy and of course, immigration policy.

Cohesion vs political correctness
The big difference between the two parties, however, lies in how they were founded. DF’s roots lie in the long defunct Fremskridtspartiet that was formed in the 1970s as a revolt against the tax system, and which eventually developed xenophobic attitudes. The party disbanded several years after leading members broke away to form DF in 1995.

SD, on the other hand, was born in protest against  immigrants and immigration laws. Several members have been closely linked to neo-Nazi and racist groups. SD leader Jimmie Åkesson is scrambling to distance himself from such associations, but the parties shaping the new government, with Stefan Löfven as their talisman, are not buying into that.

The two parties’ backgrounds is an important key in understanding why DF has found it much easier to establish itself as a political game changer.

Another explantion is that while Danish politics is characterised by compromise and consensus across the aisle (when possible), Swedish politics has far less tolerance for political incorrectness. Occassional borderline racist comment by DF MPs were tolerated by the former Venstre-led government. Criticised, yes – but stopped? No.

In the name of freedom of speech and cohesion, tolerance for DF has been growng steadily over the years, and this summer they were even polled as the country’s largest party.

Could it be that the Swedes looked at Denmark and thought to themselves “That is not going to happen here!”?



By Martin Bjorck

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