Sweden’s counter-extremism policies fail the accountability test

Sweden’s counter-extremism policies fail the accountability test


Written by: IRR European News Team

The Swedish model of countering far-right extremism is deeply flawed and should not be followed by other EU countries.

The European Commission has recommended that EU member states set up special programmes for those at risk of radicalisation and the Swedish Ministry of Justice is already working to export its model of countering far-right extremism through the Exit programme across the EU.

In two briefing papers published this week, the IRR reveals the weaknesses in the Swedish approach to countering extremism and provides evidence to show that the government’s systemic failure to deal with institutional racism, particularly within the police, and to protect minority communities from far-right violence, is, in fact resulting in the creation of new popular movements with a focus on anti-racism.

In Exit from White Supremacism: the accountability gap within Europe’s deradicalisation programmes, the IRR examines the history, evolution and methodology of Exit programmes for neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Norway, Sweden (and Germany) and asks why information about such projects is so tightly controlled and failures and controversies over accountability and the lack of transparency have been airbrushed out of official evaluations.

Swedish Exit works on the premise that the impetus for youngsters to join neo-Nazi organisations comes not so much from racist attitudes or attraction to a political ideology as from a social deficit and psychological problems. It is, argues IRR, a deeply flawed approach which reflects Swedish cultural norms. Ultra-tolerance towards young neo-Nazis in the 1990s made Sweden one of the world’s largest providers of race hate merchandise and White Power music.

In the second briefing paper Sweden’s counter-extremism model and the stigmatising of anti-racism, the IRR warns that the far-right terror that scarred Sweden in the 1990s is making a come-back – for which the police and intelligence services are unprepared. The Sweden Democrats, a small neo-Nazi fringe party in the 1990s, has now moved from the margins to the mainstream. Its embrace of the parliamentary road is transforming the political culture of Sweden, as are the violent activities of the Party of Swedes and the Swedish Resistance Movement. Yet it is those who challenge racism and fascism that are being stigmatised as troublemakers and can face criminalisation under deeply flawed anti-extremism programmes.

‘Turning a blind eye to racism and fascism doesn’t wash with a younger generation who have grown up alongside each other in a multicultural society ‘, said Liz Fekete, the author of both reports. ‘These young people see anti-fascism as a positive value and resent being called extremists. Unless the Swedish government changes tack, they will lose the confidence of young people, with dire consequences for a cohesive Sweden.’

Related links

Read Briefing Paper no.9: Sweden’s counter-extremism model and the stigmatising of anti-racism here (pdf file, 344kb)

Read Briefing Paper no.8: Exit from White Supremacism: the accountability gap within Europe’s de-radicalisation programmes here (pdf file, 344kb)

See also Katrina Hirvonen, ‘Sweden: when hate becomes the norm’, Race & Class (Vol. 55, No. 1, 2013), available here

See also Mats Deland, ‘The cultural racism of Sweden’, Race & Class (Vol. 39, No. 1, 1997), available here

Read an IRR News story: We are not extremists. We are Sweden

Read an IRR News story: Anti-extremism or anti-fascism?

An abridged version of the briefing paper no 8 will shortly be published in Swedish in the anti-racist magazine Mana. You can find this on the website tidskriftenmana.se.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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