Suppressing freedom to preserve democracy

The editor of a Finnish weekly is alarmed by the Swedish left’s desire to censor the right-wing Sweden Democrats.

Eero Iloniemi

Topics Politics

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‘The forces of darkness are holding Swedish democracy hostage.’

That was how the Swedish daily Expressen described the ascent of the right-wing, immigration-concerned Sweden Democrats party to parliament in the elections on 19 September. This ‘threat to democracy’ gained just short of six per cent of the vote across Sweden and 20 seats in the 349-seat parliament.

Amazingly enough, this was not the most dramatic example of hyperbole. Words like ‘racists’, ‘fascists’ and ‘loonies’ were freely bandied about in the Swedish press to describe the Sweden Democrats and their supporters.

The press had made its views clear well before the election took place. Practically every major newspaper in Sweden took the unprecedented step of refusing to take advertising from this party that allegedly threatens democracy.

The press thus decided to protect Swedish democracy by suppressing free speech. On cue, all parliamentary parties have stated that they will not cooperate with the Sweden Democrats.

While there is no question that a considerable portion of the people who support the Sweden Democrats party – which was founded in 1988 and which describes itself as a ‘nationalist movement’ – are xenophobic, and some are probably racist, the official views of the party are well within the range of normal democratic debate.

So the party states on its website that Swedish immigration policy should take its cue from Denmark and Finland. These two countries are unlikely examples of neo-fascist wannabes.

So why all the fuss?

The social-democratic paper Västerbottens Folkblad encapsulated the real offence of the Sweden Democrats in a recent editorial, where it stated: ‘What on Earth do the people who voted for them want?’

Sweden has a long and proud history of political participation. More than 80 per cent of the electorate routinely votes in parliamentary elections. The notable exception to this has been the far right, which has been both demonised and marginalised in Swedish society.

Countless TV-news exposés have given the impression of vast neo-Nazi conspiracies intent on taking over the Scandinavian welfare state. That, at best, these far-right groups can organise a rally of 100 to 200 beer-drinking skinheads has never prevented journalists from painting them as an imminent threat to Swedish democracy.

Now that some of these yobs, who are a small minority in the Sweden Democrats party, have cleaned up their act, the same people who deplored their extra-parliamentary activities heap scorn on them for participating in the parliamentary process.

Never mind that their views are now exposed to public, critical debate, or that their party has publicly disassociated itself from racism. It is interesting to note that the same society that will bend over backwards to include extreme views on the other side of the cultural debate – namely militant imams – refuses to talk to the radicalised section of the indigenous population.

In an open democracy, the powers-that-be should welcome the chance to engage extremist views in open debate. Especially when those views do not breach Sweden’s strict hate speech laws. Yet it seems that the Swedish press would prefer that the grievances of the Sweden Democrats be met with batons instead of ballots.

The problem for Swedish democracy appears to be, not that some people are left in the margins, but that they have tried to be included.

Eero Iloniemi is managing editor of the Finnish weekly newspaper, Nykypaiva.

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Topics Politics


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