Sweden held elections yesterday, September 9. These were parliamentary elections that may renew the government constellation. And the situation has become very uncertain. The stability of a consolidated majority to the left, the socialist block, or to the right, the liberal-conservative block, is long gone. Both blocks appear to have received the same percentage of the vote, and there is a new-comer party, the ‘Swedish democrats’, the typical, xenophobic, nationalist, reactionary party that tends to appear everywhere in Europe these days. This party was supported by approximately 18 % of the electorate (as of September 10). Nobody from the existing parties wants to form a coalition with them but, due to the electoral support they received, they can no longer be ignored.
However, Sweden is neither Poland nor Hungary where these nasty turns to the right have indeed taken place with dramatic consequences. Sweden was well known for several decades as a social model admired worldwide. From the 1960s, Sweden had attained important progress in social equality thanks to historical agreements between workers, the state, and business owners. This made possible successful industrialization and modernization that benefited most of the population. Several other reforms initiated by the Social Democrats improved the situation of the vast majority and women; for example, increasing their educational levels and economic autonomy. All this was possible thanks to the strength of social movements channeled through social democracy and to the fact that Sweden did not take part in any of the world wars that Europe went through during the 20th century. And even though Social Democrats were challenged to the right and to the left, for example during the students’ movements at the end of the 1960s, they managed to keep strong majorities up to the 1980s.
Then things started to change. Social Democrat politicians felt the need to ‘modernize’ in the sense of adapting to the neoliberal waves that spread all over the world. Privatization and several other reforms, like the administration of social services with a view of profit, not of welfare, became ‘fashionable’ and the conservative governments that replaced the Social Democrats only deepened these trends. The result: an increase of social inequality, a deterioration of social services such as schools, healthcare, and police; and increased segregation of migrants. In other words, there was a polarization of Swedish society. One indicator that has been used politically against the present government is the deterioration of the education, the PISA measurement results. However, this deterioration reached its bottom in 2012, under a conservative government, and is related to a conservative reform the created the model of ‘free schools’ administered by private companies but financed by the municipalities. This reform opened the door to the creation of special schools for the elite in rich neighborhoods and religious schools everywhere. As a result, these schools increased both social and migrant segregation and contributed to social polarization--- all because parents had to be given ‘the free choice,’ as to where to send their children. The return of the socialist block to power in the elections of 2014 yielded efforts to stop or slow down some of these trends but their lack of a consolidated majority worked against them and unexpected events like the massive arrival of asylum seekers in 2015 made them fall into contradictory policies regarding migration and migrant integration.
Moreover, criminality and violence are widely thought to have increased and although rightist groups blame migrants, this seems to be a phenomena more associated with social inequality and the failure of integration policies, than to migrant waves. As a result of these ‘criminality myths,’ racism, xenophobia, and nationalism have increased. This can explain part of the support for the Swedish democrats. However, Sweden needs migrants. Swedish industry and healthcare services are actively looking for qualified personnel, the lack of which is affecting economic performance and healthcare services. Moreover, the economic situation of Sweden is rather good. With a yearly economic growth of 2,6%, an unemployment rate of 6,7%, an inequality Gini index of 0,28, and good public finances, Sweden is considered one of the wealthiest, most stable, and most equal countries within Europe and the OECD. Sweden has repeatedly been invited to join the Eurozone but the population, in general, through a referendum, decided that they wanted to keep their own currency. According to the Human Development Index, Sweden is 14th in general human development and 4th in gender equality.
How many countries in the world offer such generous policies for families, regarding children subsidies and long paternal leaves, shared by both sexes? How many countries provide free basic and high education, guaranteed health services, and ground pensions to the whole population whether you work are disabled or unemployed? How many countries offer logistical support and assistance for the elderly if they want to continue living alone and they ask for it in addition to a myriad of other ‘rights’ and ‘services’, and sound and consistent environmental policies? Yes, there is need for reform but not for a dismantling of the system.
Much is at stake in this election. The Social Democratic model’s foundational ideals of equality, welfare, tolerance, and respect for each other is something shared by the majority of the population and even by most of the existing parties to the right and to the left. However, there are the new comers, the Swedish Democrats who challenge this model and we can only hope their influence will not be as strong as their percentages in this elections. Our only hope is that the established parties realize this too.