The Left under siege in Europe
This article is for Michael (see you can’t blame it all on the financial crisis):
Sweden has re-elected the centre-right coalition to a second term in Sunday’s parliamentary elections. However, the biggest shock and horror result for the Swedish Kumbaya gang was that for the first time, the anti-immigration “far-right” party, the Sweden Democrats’, have been voted into parliament with 5.7 per cent of the vote, and 20 seats in the house, resulting in a hung parliament (don’t you just love it that any party that is anti-immigration is immediately marginalised and labelled “far right”?). Anyway, back to reality. As more and more countries revolt against the creep of Islam and economic refugees into their countries, more and more people are becoming emboldened and are expressing their dissatisfaction. The “tolerant” left usually respond with protests and violence to voice their dissatisfaction. This is democracy at its best – when the liberals get their way then all is good – when people don’t accept their Utopian visions then it’s time to protest and ramp up the hatred. Yeah, true democracy and tolerance at work…What I don’t understand is that these same liberals are all for group-hugs and warm, fuzzy feelings and fiercely protects Islam when that religion is the most intolerant on the planet, what with condoning the stoning of females and the killing of gays and lesbians. I don’t get it….
AN elderly Swedish woman clasps her walking frame and advances unsteadily towards the welfare payments desk.
She glances anxiously to one side as a group of women dressed in burkas and wheeling prams rushes forward to beat her to the desk.
This scene, taken from a party political broadcast, is a signal of dramatic change in Sweden. In elections overnight, the country known until now as a bastion of tolerance is expected, for the first time in its history, to elect members of an openly anti-immigrant party to parliament.
Sweden Democrats, as the party is known, has provoked angry protests with its advertisements and pledges to cut immigration by 90 per cent. Some call its members neo-Nazis: one was attacked in his flat in Malmo on September 10 by two masked men who re-enacted a scene from a recent Hollywood war film by carving a swastika into his forehead.
The party’s leader, Jimmie Akesson, 31, has a mild-looking disposition that belies his forceful message that Muslim migration is too high and costing too much of the famous Swedish welfare state.
In spite of the backlash, the party is expected to gather much more than the 4 per cent of votes necessary to win seats in parliament and may even end up holding the balance of power, a shocking prospect for the land of Ikea and social democracy.
In fact, the collectivist, egalitarian creed for which Sweden is famous has been fading in recent years, reflecting a change across the European Union. From Belgium to Bulgaria, the demise of the Left and rise of the populist Right have turned Europe’s political map into an expanse of blue in which the Iberian peninsula and Greece are among the few remaining islands of red.
One of the reasons for this political tsunami, political analysts say, is the Left’s seeming inability to address voters’ concerns about a sharp rise in immigration into the EU in recent years.
“The Left is really struggling,” says Heather Grabbe, director of the Open Society Institute, a think tank in Brussels.
“They want to be for diversity and openness but they don’t have a policy to suggest or an answer to the emotive language used by the Right [on immigration].”
In France, the Socialist party has refused to modernise since losing power in 2002. Following the defeat of Segolene Royal, its candidate for the presidency in 2007, some of its leading figures have defected to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative government.
“Frankly, the Left, where are the ideas?” asks Maurice Leroy, a former communist turned centrist MP. “Where is the project?”
Sarkozy expects to lose ground at the 2012 election to the right-wing Front National.
Some of the Left’s best thinkers are sounding grimly repentant. Raffaele Simone, an Italian linguistics professor and essayist, talks of the “ideological hypocrisy” involved in socialist politicians’ failure to address immigration.
“Immigration is an issue that people are concerned about but about which the Left doesn’t care,” Simone says.
A book published by him in Paris last week has shaken France’s socialists with its doom-laden prognosis about the death of the Left and rise of what he describes as the “sweet monster”, a consumption-driven and entertainment-obsessed society in which unbridled egotism reigns and compassion for the less fortunate is considered an expensive luxury.
If the West is lurching rightwards, the Left has only itself to blame, Simone argues.
European socialists suffered catastrophically from their association with the discredited communist creed and “miserable, oppressive and criminal regimes” from Cuba to Vietnam.
He is also baffled by the Left’s traditional support of the Palestinian cause. “The values of Islam are, typically, the exact opposite of those that the Left should naturally support: freedom of expression, sexual equality, political and civil rights.”
What has damaged the Left most, though, in recent years has been its silence on immigration, Simone argues. “They’ve shown the same blindness faced with urban violence and insecurity, considering only the causes and not the effects.”
As anxiety about immigration has grown in the wake of the economic crisis, the Left has been unable to compete with firebrand rightists such as Geert Wilders, the Dutch populist who wants to ban the Koran and has emerged as arguably the most influential politician in The Netherlands.
In Hungary, the Jobbik party – which is accused of anti-Semitism as well as being anti-Gypsy – unexpectedly won seats in parliament in the northern spring.
It is the same story in Italy, where the anti-immigrant Northern League has become part of the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
The result is a tough new law allowing authorities to fine and imprison illegal immigrants and to punish people who provide them with shelter.
In Austria, the far Right is on the rise and in Britain the British National Party, although badly beaten in the May general election, has gained a degree of respectability and is drawing support from Labour voters.
However, nowhere is Europe’s new anti-immigrant feeling more evident than in France, where 70 per cent of the public supports Sarkozy’scharcuterie street parties in heavily Muslim districts of Paris.
The Swiss, for their part, have banned the construction of new mosques after an anti-immigrant party’s referendum campaign that featured posters showing women in burkas next to missile-like minarets.
“Tolerance is no longer held dear as a European value, even in countries that used to be proud of being open and liberal,” Grabbe says.
In Germany, the collective memory of the Nazis until recently has limited the influence of far-Right parties. Last week, however, a politician in Berlin launched a local party modelled on Wilders’s group. It aims to ban headscarves, shut mosques and cut welfare payments to Muslims.
Is it the end of the road for the famous Swedish model?
According to some analysts, voters are abandoning the Social Democrats – they are polling 5 per cent below their result in 2006, when they lost power – in favour of the far Right in order to register their frustration with immigration policies.
The ruling centrist coalition’s leaders have said they will not make a deal with Sweden Democrats but Torkild Strandberg, the liberal mayor of Landskrona, a town in the south of Sweden with a sizeable immigrant population, says he is ready to listen to their proposals.
“My big fear is that we will end up with generations of people on welfare,” Strandberg says.
“Many children find it normal that their parents don’t work and that they are paid to watch foreign television channels.”