Electoral gains for extreme-Right parties in Sweden and Germany are cause for concern for anti-racists in the UK .
Increasingly, government policy on issues such as asylum, immigration and the rights of ethnic minorities is being shaped at a European level. With xenophobic and Islamophobic electoral parties now a permanent feature in European politics, no victory for the extreme Right, wherever in Europe, should go un-noted in the UK.
Developments in Scandinavia, where the Sweden Democrats (SD) made an unexpected electoral breakthrough in southern Sweden, are particularly alarming. An arc of extremist intolerance now spreads from Denmark and Norway – where the Danish People’s Party (DPP) and the Progress Party are respectively electorally strong – to southern Sweden. The ‘Swedes First’ campaign of the SD proved popular, and it has quadrupled its number of representatives on local councils from fifty in 2002 to approximately 200 today. The increase was particularly strong in the southern regions of Scania and Blekinge, where the SD is represented on all but one of the region’s councils, and is now regarded as the as the ‘kingmaker’ in local politics. The party’s biggest gains came in the port city of Landskrona, where the SD polled over 22 per cent of the vote, increasing its councillors from four to twelve.
The scale of the SD’s success comes as a shock. Once an overtly neo-Nazi party, it sought to transform itself into a Swedish version of the DPP. The comparison with the Islamophobic and xenophobic DPP is not inapt. Scania and Blekinge are geographically close to Denmark, and the SD’s local leader Sten Andersson has stressed the role the DPP have played in teaching the SD how to become a major party without being accused of racism or labelled ‘Nazi’. And the xenophobia of the Danish debate over immigration has struck a chord in Scania – where Malmö and Landskrona rank behind Stockholm as the cities with large immigrant communities. According to Searchlight‘s Graeme Atkinson, southern Sweden ‘is rural, very conservative and rather God-fearing’. Though it has been a popular fishing-ground for anti-immigration politics, the scale of the far Right’s electoral breakthrough was unprecendented.
In comparison, the fact that, in Germany, the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) achieved 7.3 per cent of the vote and now has six seats in the eastern Baltic coastal state (which borders Poland) of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania was not so surprising. Neo-nazis have long been active in the economically depressed and politically marginalised East. As Gideon Botsch, from the Moses Mendelssohn Centre for European-Jewish Studies at the University of Potsdam, put it: ‘We had feared it would happen, so we weren’t surprised.’
Largely because of the decline in manufacturing industry, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania has the highest unemployment rate in the country (nearly twice the national average) and many young people have fled West. This, reports Searchlight, was the second regional breakthrough for a now highly professionalised NPD, which grabbed over 9 per cent and of the vote and twelve seats in the Saxon regional assembly in September 2004. Furthermore, the extreme Right as a whole now has seats in four regional legislatures (the German People’s Union is represented in Brandenburg and Bremen).
The implications of the extreme Right’s gains in Germany need to be considered here in the UK. Educationalists and universities, in particular, should think carefully before organising trips for young people to areas where the NPD have been targeting schools, infiltrating parent’s associations, kindergartens, sports clubs and organising youth activities such as children’s festivals and barbecues. In several Baltic villages, the NPD has become an integral part of civil society, providing social services, running businesses and organising discos.