They're now up to over 20 percent or maybe even 25 percent. The Sweden Democrats might be a "one-issue party" and there may be numerous people who agree that there are more important issues in Sweden, but evidently there are enough Swedes who think that the immigration debate should be the subject for discussion among all of the political parties. It is completely legitimate for Swedes to want to talk about immigration as a phenomenon, how it impacts society, whether it has gotten out of hand, and what levels are reasonable.
With the undemocratic "December agreement" between the center-right opposition parties (the "Alliance") and the left-wing governing parties, all of the established parties said that they weren't even prepared to discuss the issue of immigration publically, but that they (at any rate the center-right opposition parties) are prepared to effectively vote against their own budget proposals just to avoid a public discussion with a party they feel hasn't been "housebroken." (The December agreement basically said that the established opposition parties would agree not to vote against the governing parties' budget proposals, even if they could get a majority, something which had previously occurred when the Sweden Democrats joined the Alliance in voting down the left-wing government's budget). This arrogant position, which can easily appear to be a form of institutional bullying, perhaps has its roots in certain politicians' views that Sweden is, to use Ann-Sofie Dahl's expression, "the moral superpower." A little more humility and insight would probably serve the country better in this case.
"But we can't let the Sweden Democrats set the agenda," is something we have heard from many of the established parties in an effort to justify their joint decision to freeze the Sweden Democrats out of the discussion. In this case, a little democracy would go a long way. You don't have to like the Sweden Democrats' history, representatives or politics, but you can start a discussion with elected representatives who apparently represent a fifth of the population. Because if the established parties continue to assert their moral superiority, they soon might have to accept that the Sweden Democrats represent not only a fifth of the Swedish population, but maybe a third of it or more.
And if the Sweden Democrats are really a "one-issue party," then the Sweden Democrats' influence should peter out if a reasonable solution can be found for that issue, a solution which not only party leaders can accept, but also the Swedish people. Who knows? Maybe just by bringing up the issue for a public policy discussion, the Sweden Democrat representatives might soften their positions a little, positions which have become more and more polarized since the other parties have given them the frozen shoulder.
And however naïve it may sound, shouldn't we at least put the very Swedish Bamse-attitude to the test? Bamse is a Swedish cartoon character, a little teddy bear, who is also the world's strongest bear and one of whose favorite sayings is: "the best way to get rid of your enemies is to turn them into your friends."
I have no idea if this would work with the Swedish Democrats, but I do know one thing: compromise is an integral part of democracy. And to be able to compromise, you have to start by actually speaking with each other.
We also see a weakness here with the Swedish party system. In Sweden the parties put the candidates' names on the ballot, along with the order in which candidates can get elected. You want a lower number and a better chance to get elected, you had better do a good job of toeing your party's line, because the electorate votes for a party rather than an individual (the voters also do have a chance to check an individual's name, which could help better a candidate's chances of getting elected). The relationship with one's elected officials is not the same as in the U.S. where an elected official is directly responsible to her electorate. In Sweden politicians are somehow forced to be more loyal to the party bosses than to their own constituents, and this applies, of course, to the Sweden Democrats, as well. We should seriously think about how we might change this so that elected officials do a better job of actually representing the voters, and it's not just the party bosses who call the shots. If this were the case in Sweden right now, I'm completely convinced that there would never have been any "December agreement," that the Swedish Parliament would have dared to deal with immigration a long time ago, and that we would have found a practical and sustainable solution - probably a compromise - which takes into consideration the voters themselves.
Even if the roots of the Sweden Democrats were as a neo-Nazi party, it's not relevant in the current discussion. What is relevant is that a significant part of the Swedish population thinks that immigration has gotten out of hand and the Sweden Democrats are the only ones who seem to be prepared to listen to this point of view. This is why their growth is just a natural development. Additionally, the other parties may have caused a backlash by labelling people who don't agree with the current and past government's immigration policies as "racists."
I understand that the Sweden Democrats have, to say the least, extremely questionable roots, but I still think that we need to consider the possibility that the party can evolve in a positive direction. I believe that it is a very Swedish value to believe that people can change, that people can become better versions of themselves if they want to. Maybe a little dialogue can promote mutual understanding which can lead to an improvement here, as well. Even though it took some time, Bamse actually did become buddies with the bad guy, Wolf, in the classic Swedish comic.
Regardless of Wolf and regardless of whether this idea is unrealistic and regardless of whether the Sweden Democrats are just opportunists who are trying to take advantage of the situation, the demand to publically discuss the immigration issue is completely legitimate. You don't have to like the Sweden Democrats. But when making policy, everything should be about the political issues themselves and you have to be able to talk. Hold your nose if you have to, but talk for crying out loud. By refusing to enter into a discussion on this subject, the other parties have actually allowed the Sweden Democrats to own it.
Now it's time for these parties to admit that they haven't been listening to the Swedish people the way they should have, even if they rightly can be concerned that if something actually is done about immigration and integration, the Sweden Democrats would take credit for it. Well, to heck with that. As Harry S Truman supposedly said, "It's amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit." So do something to finally take immigration to a reasonable level and to promote integration. And if the Sweden Democrats take credit, so what? If the problem can actually be solved, then the Sweden Democrats will disappear on their own if they really are a one issue party.
It's finally time to let go of the megalomania that Sweden has to save the world on its own. It's more than enough if we can implement a sensible, humane immigration policy in Sweden which is based on reasonable, sustainable levels, as well as integration goals which actually have a chance of being met and which aim to preserve and enhance that which makes Sweden so unique - in the best sense of the word and in an inclusive fashion. That way Sweden could set an example in Europe without having to pretend to be "the moral superpower."
The original, slightly abridged version of this article appeared on the Swedish news website Nyheter24 and can be found here.