Xinhua Headlines: Europe faces worrying trend as far-right parties grow

September 14, 2018

 


Far-right protesters attend a demonstration in Chemnitz, eastern Germany, on Sept. 1, 2018. (Xinhua/Kevin Voigt)

 

By Fu Yiming, Tian Ying

 

STOCKHOLM (Xinhua) – The results of the Swedish general elections earlier this week eventually brought relief to the many who were closely following the political news in the Nordic country: the far-right Sweden Democrats did not win as many seats in the Riksdag as anticipated.

Nevertheless, the party still gained ground, in a worrying trend previously seen in Germany, yet another country once welcoming refugees. It is a potential kingmaker in the negotiations to form the next government.

The party won 18.2 percent of the votes in this year’s elections, while neither the center-left nor the center-right major parties won an absolute majority, according to official preliminary results on Thursday.

The votes clinched by the Sweden Democrats represent a substantial increase from the 12.9 percent it won in 2014 and 5.7 percent in 2010, respectively.

Mikael Sundstrom, a political scientist at Lund University, told Swedish Television after the elections that he believed the Sweden Democrats rode on back of bad news about immigration and that the party had increased its strength and has the potential to gain more support in southern Sweden.

“(They) tend to blame foreigners, no matter (if) it’s true or not,” he said. “It’s populist mentality.”

IMMIGRATION BACKLASH

When voters headed to the polls on Sunday to pick their new legislature and, with it, a prime minister, some people worried that the elections may produce an “unpredictable result,” largely because of the Sweden Democrats.

Formed in the late 1980s by individuals with links to the neo-Nazi movement, the Sweden Democrats was affiliated with the Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe, a European organization of right-wing populist parties including the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the UK Independence Party. The Sweden Democrats had been running on a platform of Euroskepticism and overhauling the immigration system.

Sweden registered a record-breaking 163,000 asylum seekers in 2015 while Germany recorded 745,545 asylum applications in 2016.

The far-right political forces have exploited the social challenges resulting from the immigration inflow to gather support. Stories, pictures and videos widely circulated on social media played a role, too.

The far-right political parties grew at an astonishing rate.

Today, far-right protesters can still be spotted chasing down foreigners in German cities, while far-right groups held “strike back” banner-demonstrations in the streets of Stockholm, the Swedish capital.

In the riots in Stockholm in May 2013, hundreds of immigrant youths violently clashed with police, torching cars while leaving several injured.

In 2017, Uzbek jihadist Rakhmat Akilov, who was denied asylum and went underground, pleaded guilty to the truck ramming incident which killed five people in Stockholm. He had claimed allegiance to the Islamic State prior to the attack.

This year, just before the elections, several locations in West Sweden saw immigrant youth riots. More than 100 cars were set ablaze.

This is in addition to gang-related gun murders and other crimes committed by male immigrants. The police had identified 23 “especially vulnerable areas” plagued by such social issues and crime.

“We can’t blame immigrants in our society simply because the integration (programs) didn’t work. The solution is to create employment, provide opportunities and integration, making them useful assets to society,” Niklas Swanstrom, director of the Institute for Security and Development in Sweden, said in an interview with Xinhua.

“In the meantime, the immigrants should accept Swedish values of democracy, openness, and liberty, and actively integrate,” he said.

POTENTIAL KINGMAKER

Preliminary results show the Sweden Democrats remain as the country’s third largest party, after the Social Democratic Party and the Moderate Party.

Despite winning with a less-than-expected support, the Sweden Democrats gained at the cost of the other two and are now in a powerful position. National elections in Sweden on Sunday ended in a near deadlock between the left and right political blocs, making the Sweden Democrats a potential kingmaker.

The two blocs have vowed not to collaborate with the Sweden Democrats, but neither of them have a majority on their own, as they each only won slightly over 40 percent of the votes in the general elections.

A minority government, like the incumbent Social Democrats and Greens alliance formed four years ago, will be in a weak position.

“Even if the Sweden Democrats weren’t able to participate in the formation of the the new government, given its public support, the party will certainly have a bigger say in parliament and push for stricter immigration rules,” said Tommy Moller, professor at the Department of Political Science of Stockholm University.

Jimmie Akesson, the Sweden Democrats leader, said the party wants to have a greater influence in politics. The party advocates a halt to all asylum seekers in Sweden and wants to send more immigrants back to where they came from.

“We increased our mandate in the Parliament. We will have an immense influence over what happens in Sweden in the next few weeks, the next few months, in the next few years. Nobody can take it away,” he said.

DANGEROUS TREND

Over the weekend, up to 500 right-wing extremists marched through the small town of Koethen in eastern Germany, following a fatal incident in which the locals clashed with the asylum seekers.

There has been speculation that a 22-year-old German was killed in a fight with two Afghan asylum seekers in Koethen on Saturday, but the authorities of Saxony-Anhalt confirmed on Monday that there was no evidence of injuries causing his death and that he had mostly likely succumbed to a heart attack.

Anne-Marie Keding, the regional justice minister of Saxony-Anhalt, urged Germans not to believe in wild speculations on the internet.

Despite that, a spontaneous “march of sorrow” was joined by around 2,500 protesters, including many supporters of the far-right AfD, which has become now the largest opposition party.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has recently accused the AfD of using another regretful death of a man to incite hatred against foreigners.

Last month, in the eastern German city of Chemnitz, right-wing extremists exploited a bloody act to incite citizens to protest. Footage circulating on social media supposedly showed the chase of suspected migrants after news circulated that a German man was stabbed to death that Sunday, allegedly by an Iraqi and a Syrian.

The German government condemned such behavior, saying that “such mobs, the hounding of people who look different or have a different background or the attempt to spread hate on the streets are things we do not accept.”

Strongly condemning the far-right and xenophobic abuses, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that “the shock of this act of violence was abused to carry alien hatred and violence on the streets of the city.”

Hajo Funke, an expert on right-wing extremism, who taught at the Institute for Political Science of Free University of Berlin until 2010, told local media that this was a “dangerous” situation for Germany.

“The danger is that people resentful of certain ethnic groups fueled by Pegida will band together with neo-Nazi scenes of violence,” said Funke.

Pegida stands for “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident” in German. The group was founded in 2014 and regularly organizes large rallies to protest what it views as a threat posed by Islam and multiculturalism more generally to Western society.

Hans Pfeifer, an expert on right-wing extremism, said that racist sentiment does have a history in modern Germany going back to the 1970s, but what makes the situation more concerning today is the ability of the common people to easily accept right-wing activists.

“There are quite a lot of normal citizens from the neighborhood, and they do not feel it much trouble to march against refugees, against the government, side by side with people saluting Hitler,” Pfeifer said. “I think this is … becoming more and more dangerous.”

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