Sweden Democrats or Swedish Democrats (Swedish: Sverigedemokraterna, SD) is a social conservative and right-wing populist political party in Sweden, founded in 1988. The party describes itself as social conservative with a nationalist foundation. The party has been described by others as far-right, national-conservative, and anti-immigration. Jimmie Åkesson has been party leader since 2005.
The party has its roots in Swedish fascism and was primarily a white nationalist movement through the early-1990s, when it first began distancing itself from its past. Today, the Sweden Democrats officially reject both fascism and Nazism.
The Sweden Democrats crossed the 4% threshold necessary for parliamentary representation for the first time in the 2010 general election, polling 5.7% and gaining 20 seats in the Riksdag. This increase in popularity has been compared by international media to other similar anti-immigration movements in Europe. The party received increased support in the 2018 Swedish general election, when it polled 17.5% and secured 62 seats in parliament, becoming the third largest party in Sweden. The Sweden Democrats have remained isolated in the Riksdag because the other parties staunchly maintain a policy of refusing cooperation with them. The Sweden Democrats are a member of European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament.
|Party chairman||Jimmie Åkesson|
|Party secretary||Richard Jomshof|
|Parliamentary group leader||Mattias Karlsson|
|Founded||6 February 1988|
|Political position||Right-wing to far-right|
|European affiliation||Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe|
|European Parliament group||European Conservatives and Reformists|
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The Sweden Democrats party was founded in 1988 as a direct successor to the Sweden Party, which in turn had been formed in 1986 by the merger of Bevara Sverige Svenskt (BSS, in English: "Keep Sweden Swedish") and a faction of the Swedish Progress Party. SD claims 6 February 1988 as the date of its foundation, although observers tend to see the party's foundation as part of a complex decade-long series of events, with some even calling into question whether a meeting took place on 6 February. The party has its roots in Swedish fascism and was primarily a white nationalist movement through the early-1990s, when it first began distancing itself from its past. The SD's logo from the 1990s until 2006 was a version of the torch used by the UK National Front.
While opinions on the early SD vary, it is generally agreed (also by the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism and by Expo) that SD has never been a Nazi party, although various connections have existed through some of its former members. The party sponsored music of the nationalist Viking rock band Ultima Thule, and various party officials today acknowledge that being fans of Ultima Thule's music factored prominently in their decision to become politically engaged. Among the founding officials of the party were several people that formerly had expressed strong support for the ideology of Nazi Germany. The party's first auditor, Gustaf Ekström, was a Waffen-SS veteran and had been a member of the national socialist party Svensk Socialistisk Samling in the 1940s. In 1989, Ekström was a member of the Sweden Democrats' national board. SD's first chairman Anders Klarström had been active in the neo-Nazi Nordiska rikspartiet ("Nordic Realm Party"). Early on, the party recommended international connections to its members such as the National Democratic Party of Germany, the American National Association for the Advancement of White People (founded by David Duke) and publications like the Nazi Nation Europa and Nouvelle École, a newspaper that advocates racial biology.
From 1995 onwards the party's new leader, Mikael Jansson (a former member of the Centre Party), strove to make the party more respectable and, after photographs surfaced of some members posing in Nazi uniforms at party meetings, the wearing of any kind of uniform was formally banned in 1996. During the 1990s, the party became more influenced by the French National Front, as well as the Freedom Party of Austria, the Danish People's Party, German The Republicans and Italian National Alliance. SD received economic support for the 1998 election from the French National Front, and was active in Le Pen's Euronat from the same time. SD, however, in 1999 left its membership in Euronat to its youth organisation. In 2001 the most extreme faction was expelled from the party, leading to the formation of the more radical National Democrats.
During the 2000s the so-called "Scania gang", or "Gang of Four" – Jimmie Åkesson (party leader since 2005), Björn Söder, Mattias Karlsson and Richard Jomshof – continued and expanded the moderation policy, which included ousting openly extremist members. Before the 2002 election, former Moderate Party MP Sten Christer Andersson defected to SD, citing that the party had gotten rid of its extreme-right elements. In 2003 the party declared the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be a cornerstone of its policies. In 2006 the party changed its logo from the torch to one featuring an Anemone hepatica, reminiscent of the party's very first, but short-lived, logo (a stylized Myosotis scorpioides).
Sweden Democrat MP William Petzäll was persuaded to leave the party on 26 September 2011 while still retaining his parliamentary seat. This was done because of Petzäll's substance abuse and the problems this might cause for SD's public image. Petzäll later died of an overdose and his seat was turned over to Stellan Bojerud in September 2012.
In November 2012, videos from August 2010 were released, in segments, over the course of three days by Swedish newspaper Expressen (a year earlier, Expressen had released the same videos without making much noise). This came to be known as the Iron pipe scandal, although the same videos had already been released on YouTube by Erik Almqvist in 2010. The videos, recorded by MP Kent Ekeroth, featured him along with fellow Sweden Democrats MP Erik Almqvist and Christian Westling. The videos show Almqvist arguing with comedian Soran Ismail: Almqvist is referring to Sweden as "my country, not your country", as an insult to Ismail. They are also shown arguing with a drunken man. A woman can also be seen approaching Kent Ekeroth while filming; he calls her a whore and pushes her out of the way. A few minutes later they are seen picking up iron bars. Coming only a month after party leader Åkesson had instated a zero-tolerance policy towards racism in the party, the release of the video caused Almqvist to leave his position as the party's economic policy spokesperson and his place in the executive committee on 14 November. He excused himself as having been under a lot of pressure and threats of violence at the time. As more segments of the video were released, revealing the other two men's involvement, the party announced on 15 November that Ekeroth would take a break from his position as the party's justice policy spokesman. Almqvist and Ekeroth both took time off from their parliament seats. Sweden Democratic Youth president Gustav Kasselstrand and vice president William Hahne criticized the decision to remove Almqvist and Ekeroth in an op-ed in Dagens Nyheter, arguing that the party should not give in to media pressure.
Only two weeks after Almqvist and Ekeroth were forced to step down, fellow MP Lars Isovaara reported being robbed of his backpack and pushed out of his wheelchair by "two unknown men of an immigrant background". When trying to get into the Riksdag, Isovaara was himself reported by the police for racial abuse against safety guards. The Sweden Democrats initially defended Isovaara, but backed down when Expressen revealed that Isovaara had actually forgotten his backpack at a restaurant, and that the two men had helped him when he fell out of his wheelchair. He left his seat in the Riksdag on 29 November, and was replaced by Markus Wiechel.
In the European election of 2014 SD received 9.67% of votes, winning two seats in the European Parliament and becoming the fifth party of the country. The party later joined the Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe and the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group.
In the 2014 election the Sweden Democrats received 12.9% of the votes, doubling their support and becoming the third-largest party. The party remained big in Scania and Blekinge; for example in Malmö the party received 14% of the votes, in Landskrona it received 19% of the votes and in Sjöbo a total of 30% rendering the party was the largest in that municipality. Other parties, however, remained firm in their decision to isolate them from exerting influence. Out of 29 constituencies electing parliamentarians, the party was the second largest in "Scania North & East" while being the third largest party in 25. Although relying heavily on rural areas and the deep south, the party also made strong inroads and results above 15% in some medium-sized central Sweden cities such as Norrköping, Eskilstuna and Gävle, indicating a widening of its voter base in all areas.
On Monday, 23 March 2015, it was announced that Åkesson would return from his leave of absence to resume his duties as party leader following an interview to be broadcast on the Friday, 27 March instalment of the Skavlan program on SVT, and a subsequent press conference with the Swedish media.
Amid media coverage regarding the high immigration figures and the European migrant crisis, the Sweden Democrats soared in all opinion polls during the summer of 2015, even topping web-based polls from YouGov and Sentio in late summer, with a little over a quarter of the vote. The party also saw rising support in phone-based polls, although the swing was lower.
In the 2018 general election, the SD increased its support to 17.6% of the vote, though it did not grow as much as most polls had predicted. According to Emily Schultheis of Foreign Policy, the SD won an ideological victory, as it "effectively set the terms for debate" and forced its rivals to adopt immigration policies similar to its own, and other reporters made similar observations. The SD performed particularly well in Skåne County, having the highest number of voters in 21 out of the county's 33 municipalities. An SVT analysis of the results found that at least 22 seats in 17 city councils would be empty as the Sweden Democrats won more seats than the number of candidates it had. The party also received its first mayor, in Hörby Municipality.
The Sweden Democrats' party programme is based on nationalism and social conservatism. Its ideological basis is described in the party's manifesto, first published on 4 May 2003 during the Jansson leadership and then revised on 8 May 2005 (one day after Åkesson became the new chairman). Nordic Studies scholar Benjamin R. Teitelbaum has called them radical nationalist. The party has been described by sociologist Jens Rydgren and others as xenophobic, racist and right-wing populist. In 2013 a Sveriges Radio journalist called the party xenophobic, which resulted in a complaint lodged to the broadcasting regulator. The Swedish Broadcasting Commission determined that this description was acceptable to use. The party itself rejects the far-right label while placing itself in the political centre. The party officially reject both Fascism and Nazism.
The Sweden Democrats believe that the current Swedish immigration and integration policies have been a failure. They oppose integration because they believe that integration involves "meeting in the middle" and do not think that the Swedish people should have to bear the burden of what they claim is a reckless immigration policy. SD feels that the current situation, with a large number of immigrants living in cultural enclaves, is not beneficial for the country. They argue that the immigrants themselves are rootless, that there have been rising antagonistic tensions between various population groups (socially, ethnically, religiously and culturally), and the immigration in itself, SD says, has caused social and economic strains on the country.
As the party considers Sweden to have had too much immigration in recent years, which it claims has seriously threatened national identity and societal cohesion, SD wants to reinstate a common Swedish national identity, which in turn would mean a stronger inner solidarity. SD rejects the policy of multiculturalism. SD wishes to strongly restrict immigration, and give generous support for immigrants who instead of wanting to assimilate in Sweden voluntarily prefer to emigrate back to their country of origin. As more state funds are made free from funding mass immigration, SD believes that Sweden will be better able to help refugees in their own nearby locations.
SD has referred to the recommendations from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which state that the return of refugees should be the solution to refugee problems. Torbjörn Kastell (former party secretary from 2003 to 2004) said in 2002 that the party wanted "a multicultural world, not a multicultural society". In a 2008 survey, a significant minority of 39% of all Swedes thought that there were "too many foreigners in the country", and in 2007 a survey showed that 49% of all Swedes wanted to restrict the number of asylum-seekers. In recent years SD has tried to approach the immigration policy of the Danish People's Party, which from 2001 to 2011 provided parliamentary support for the former Danish liberal/conservative government in return for a tightening of Danish immigration policies and stricter naturalization laws.
According to Aftonbladet, 14% of SD members are of immigrant origin, which matches the share of foreign-born inhabitants of Sweden. For the 2010 election in the municipality of Södertälje (Stockholm County), SD was the only party with a majority of immigrants on its electoral list, mostly Assyrians from the Middle East. Polling 7.31% (3,447 votes), SD's municipal list in Södertälje got 5 of the 65 municipal seats. Nader Helawi and four other Swedes of immigrant origin will sit as municipal councilors.
SD wishes to lower the tax rate for the elderly, as well as increase subsidized housing for the elderly. SD also wishes to allocate additional resources to municipalities in order to provide seniors with greater food assistance and, in general, improve their quality of life. SD has also emphasized a desire to crack down on abuses and crimes of which the elderly are particular targets.
The Sweden Democrats are critical of the special rights given to the indigenous Sami people of northern Sweden. In 2008 the party accepted a motion against the rights to reindeer husbandry. They have argued that those "who do not involve themselves with reindeer husbandry are treated as second class citizens" and that the privileges the herders have are "undemocratic". They want to restructure the councils and funds that are used to benefit the Sami population, so that they are used "regardless of ethnic identity and business operations". They also want to abolish the Sami Parliament, which claims special privileges for an "ethnic minority while the society claims equal rights for others".
In an interview for Dagens Nyheter, Second Deputy Speaker of the Riksdag and then-party secretary Björn Söder elaborated on the SD party programme with respect to its views on national identity by saying that he personally did not think people with dual national identities in Sweden would necessarily identify themselves as Swedish. Although an immigrant of any ethnic background in theory can become a Swedish citizen, they would have to adapt and be assimilated in order to be considered Swedish in the cultural sense. Björn Söder stated that the officially recognized Swedish minority peoples (e.g. Sami, Tornedalians and Jews) in many cases have dual cultural identities and that they probably would be proud of both heritages. It was widely interpreted that Söder had stated in the interview that Jews cannot be Swedish unless they abandon their Jewish identity. Söder's comments were understood to be anti-semitic and caused Swedish parliamentary groups and party leaders to call for Björn Söder's resignation. The Simon Wiesenthal Center listed the statement as number six on their list of the top ten most anti-semitic events of 2014. Söder responded in the Jerusalem Post, denying the charges of anti-semitism and claiming Dagens Nyheter had taken his statements out of context.
SD wishes to instate the possibility of life without parole for the worst crimes and to repatriate foreign citizens found guilty of serious crime. SD also wants to establish a public register of convicted pedophiles.
In its foreign policy, the Sweden Democrats reject joining the Economic and Monetary Union of the European Union and are opposed to the accession of Turkey to the European Union. The party supports renegotiating the Schengen Agreement and holding a referendum on Sweden's European Union membership.
The Sweden Democrats advocates a cultural policy that would strip funding for multicultural initiatives and strengthen support for traditional Swedish culture. This agenda has often manifest as opposition to state funding of immigrant cultural organizations and festivals, and support for traditional Swedish craft, folk music, and folk dance groups. The party also tends to oppose state support for cultural initiatives deemed provocative or elitist. A 2014 letter signed by 52 Swedish anthropologists, including Ronald Stade, criticized the Sweden Democrats' use of the terms "culture" (kultur) and "anthropology" (antropologi), claiming their views on culture were "essentialist and obsolete", clarifying that culture is "dynamic" and "in constant change". The Sweden Democrats criticize modern art and want the citizens to be able to vote about public art. "The important thing is that what is expressed in the public environment is anchored to the citizens and especially the local residents who are most often in the environment so that they feel an identification" says the party's cultural spokesperson Aron Emilsson.
The Sweden Democrats also want a ban on burqa in public places.
The Sweden Democrats considers children raised in a traditional nuclear family as the preferred option for the child's development. Those not raised by their biological parents should have the right to associate with or at least find out who they were. SD opposes government sanctioned adoption to single people, same-sex couples and polyamorous relationships unless the adopting party are close relatives or already have a close relationship with the child. Insemination for same-sex couples and polyamorous groups is also discouraged, though weddings should be decided by each religious institution.
Although SD strongly criticizes what it calls a "Homosex Lobby", the party claims that it is not hostile to homosexuals. Furthermore, party leader Jimmie Åkesson expressed concern that what he describes as Islamization of Sweden will eventually lead to the rights of sexual minorities being violated.
Published by SD Party secretary Björn Söder on 1 August 2007, a blog article titled Botten måste snart vara nådd (Soon enough we'll hit rock bottom) led to intense debate and criticism.
The party argues that other countries should reduce their emissions instead of Sweden which they believe is already doing enough on that front. The party advocates keeping nuclear power plants as a prominent energy source in Sweden.
During the 1990s many outspoken far-right advocates were involved with the party. The party had flyers printed by the French National Front in the 1998 general election, and was financially backed for the 2004 European election by Belgian Bernard Mengal.
The Sweden Democrats have complained about difficulties buying advertising space due to the media banning the party from advertisement, which has been criticised by free speech organisations. On 16 June 2006, Dagens Nyheter and Svenska Dagbladet decided to stop their boycott. Expressen, however, still retains a ban on Sweden Democrat advertising.
After the Danish daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten published twelve cartoons depicting Muhammad and ignited a controversy during the 2005 autumn and winter, the Sweden Democrats gave their unreserved support to the publication with reference to the freedom of speech. SD stated that it saw no reason why a Danish newspaper should be forced to abide by Muslim rules and prohibitions regarding expression. When the boycott of Danish products was launched in the Middle East, SD launched a "Buy Danish" campaign in support of Danish workers. In 2006 SD entered the Muhammad cartoon debate by publishing a cartoon depicting Muhammad on its youth league (SDU) and SD-Kuriren websites. The cartoon showed Muhammad from behind holding a mirror in front of his face. However, instead of any facial features, the mirror showed only a blank head. The cartoon was captioned "Muhammad's Face" (Swedish: Muhammeds ansikte).
The publication attracted the attention of the Swedish government, which informed internet service provider Levonline about the SD's publications. Subsequently, Levonline shut down SD's web page. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Laila Freivalds, denied any direct interference. However, at the same time, Laila Freivalds condemned the publication as a provocation. Freivalds then resigned from the Persson Cabinet after being accused of interference with press freedom and lying about such actions.
This event spurred debate on government censorship in Sweden. The Sweden Democrats also had a hate speech charge filed against them due to the posted caricature. Similar hate speech charges were filed against other Swedish publishers who had depicted Muhammad. However, these charges were immediately deemed to be unfounded by the Swedish Chancellor of Justice (Justitiekanslern).
The Sweden Democrats originally planned to publish a set of cartoons in their newspaper SD-Kuriren. However, after the controversy erupted, Jimmie Åkesson issued a statement on SD's website on 9 February 2006, stating that they would refrain from further publications online and in print, due to concerns that publishing might spur hostile actions against Swedes and Swedish interests.
The shutdown of the Sweden Democrats' websites was reported to the Committee on the Constitution by the Liberal People's Party leader Lars Leijonborg. SD filed charges against the Security Service (Säpo) and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs with the Justitiekansler and Justitieombudsmannen, alleging that the government's interference was unconstitutional. The spokesperson of the Green Party, Peter Eriksson, also expressed concern over possible government involvement in the event.
The Sweden Democrats have, among all Swedish parliamentary parties, had the largest share of elected municipal representatives resign since the 2010 elections (27.8%). Many of these resignations were brought on by racist statements or actions by these representatives.
In November 2012, party spokesperson Erik Almqvist resigned after he had been caught on tape making racist and sexist statements. Another video later surfaced, showing how Almqvist, in addition to party spokesperson Kent Ekeroth and party official Christian Westling were arming themselves with aluminium pipes before they sought out a confrontation with Soran Ismail, a Swedish comedian of Kurdish descent.
In November 2012, parliamentarian Lars Isovaara resigned after accusing two people of foreign origin of stealing his bag (which Isovaara had left at a restaurant) and then proceeding to verbally abuse a security guard of a foreign background. Isovaara's replacement in parliament, Markus Wiechel, was found in April 2013 to have referred to a group of black people as "monkeys".
In November 2013, parliamentarian and then vice party leader Jonas Åkerlund gained attention for having called immigrants "parasites" during a broadcast on SD's own radio station in 2002, after the recording was publicly rediscovered. In his defence, Åkerlund stated that he only said it to provoke people.
In September 2014, a few weeks before the general election, the party chairman of the local Stockholm branch, Christoffer Dulny, resigned from his position. He had been posting mocking comments about immigrants, calling them "shameless liars" on alternative media sites. He also resigned from his newly won position in the parliament on the same day he was elected, 29 September 2014.
In October 2016, a video of the parliamentarian and economic policy spokesperson Oscar Sjöstedt making antisemitic jokes was released. Whilst at a party, believed to have taken place in 2011, he laughingly told a story about former co-workers with Nazi sympathies mocking Jews and comparing them to sheep.
During the same month, the parliamentarian and second vice party leader Carina Herrstedt was confronted with having sent an allegedly racist, antisemitic, homophobic and anti-romanyist email to her then spouse in 2011. The email, which had been leaked from the party's internal servers, for instance contained phrases that named black football players from the team Landskrona BoIS as "niggers" whilst also picturing Romani people as thieves.
Between 2015 and 2016 various members of the party were expelled from the SD for expressing extremist or racist views, or because of disagreement with the party's shift towards moderation and social conservatism. In April 2015, the Sweden Democratic Youth leaders were also expelled for these reasons, and the organization was dissolved shortly after. In December 2016, the parliamentarian Anna Hagwall was thrown out of the party after using arguments associated with antisemitism to argue for a bill that she introduced in parliament intended to reduce concentration of media ownership in Sweden.
In September 2017, a report from Dagens ETC found that 14 former municipal representatives of the party had infiltrated the SD in order to financially support the Nordic Resistance Movement, a neo-Nazi organization, through financial transactions, memberships, or purchases of antisemitic and racist literature or souvenirs. In August 2018, 2 members were kicked out due to purchases of Nazi memorabilia online; following the expulsions, Michael Erlandsson, one of the SD spokesmen, publicly stated that people who "have these types of views and share these types of materials" have no place in the party. 14 candidates were expelled from the party as well after being exposed as former members of neo-Nazi organizations. Referring to the latest expulsions, SD leader Jimmie Åkesson declared that the party "works extremely hard to keep clean".
Ashley Fox, leader of the British Conservative MEPs, praised the Sweden Democrats regarding the party's policy decisions on the expulsion of extremist and racist members: "Over the past decade the Sweden Democrats have made progress in reforming themselves, expelling any members displaying unacceptable views or behaviour and diversifying their party base."
The Sweden Democrats came under fire in 2015 for changing their position on profits made by private welfare companies. Before the election in 2014 they favored having restrictions on the amount of profit that welfare companies could take and use for their own gain. After the election they have favored the approach of the Alliance parties, that is higher and more restrictive quality standards. This has been suspected to be because of extensive lobbying done by the organisation Svenskt Näringsliv among others. The story was discovered by the Swedish newspaper Dagens Industri on 14 September 2015. SD has denied all accusations of corruption.
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|Election year||# of overall votes||% of overall vote||# of overall seats won||+/-||Notes|
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According to the Statistiska Centralbyrån (SCB) 2017 party preference survey the Sweden Democrats (SD) have a stronger support among men than among women. There is no noticeable difference in support for the party among different age groups. The support for SD is greater among native born than among foreign born. Since 2014 the SD has substantially increased its support among both foreign-born and foreign-background voters, becoming the third largest party in Sweden also among this demographic by 2017. Sympathies are greater for the party among persons with primary and secondary education than among those with a higher education. The 2018 party preference survey of the SCB show that SD has twice as much support among men than among women.
|Preference for SD||2014||2017||2018|
|Preference for SD and education||2014||2017||2018|
|Post-secondary education less than three years||2.5%||10.4%||7.8%|
|Post-secondary education three years or more||1.7%||4.8%||6.0%|
|Preference for SD and income||2014||2017||2018|
|Preference for SD and socioeconomic group||2014||2017||2018|
|Unskilled blue-collar workers||8.9 %||16.3%||20.6%|
|Skilled blue-collar workers||9.5%||22.6%||22.1%|
|Lower level white-collar worker||6.3%||12.2%||12.1%|
|Middle level white-collar workers||2.9%||8.7%||10.7%|
|Higher level white-collar workers||2.3%||7.2%||7.7%|
|Self-employed (including farmers)||6.2%||16.3%||17.7%|
|Other businessmen (including farmers)||12.2%||21.8%||16.7%|