A view from Sweden courtesy of the Times.
Sweden is full. It cannot take any more refugees. Those who are already here should pledge their loyalty to secular Swedish values or lose their benefits. Multiculturalism has failed. It is time to enforce a single “majority culture” instead. These are an unlikely set of views for a man who was born in Iran and granted asylum by Sweden at the age of five. But Nima Gholam Ali Pour is one of tens of thousands of migrants, and more than a million Swedes, who have turned to a radical right-wing party that is poised to shatter the country’s cosy political consensus.
Nima Gholam Ali Pour is one of thousands of migrants backing the Sweden Democrats. Tomorrow Sweden faces the most tumultuous election in its modern history. Polls indicate that one in five voters will back the Sweden Democrats, a party shunned by the establishment for its white supremacist origins and its ambition to close the borders to all asylum seekers. After years of being dismissed as cranks and xenophobes, the party will wield the balance of power in one of Europe’s richest nations. Like many Swedes, Mr Gholam Ali Pour’s journey from centre-left to the populist right was born of frustration at mainstream politicians’ squeamishness about migration. The 36-year-old former teacher used to belong to the Social Democrats, who have been the country’s largest party for more than a century. In 2013, when he says his local branch in Malmo appointed an Islamist to its governing board, he quit in disgust. He cast around for a party that would talk frankly about Sweden’s race problems. He found the Sweden Democrats. Within five years he had become their political secretary in Malmo, a city of 340,000 people. Mr Gholam Ali Pour argues that his party has come a long way since its dark days in the early Nineties. Two successive leaders — the incumbent is Jimmie Akesson, a hipsterish former web designer — have purged the party and tried to fashion it into a respectable electoral force.
“Sure, a lot of people who have racist ideas come into the party,” Mr Gholam Ali Pour said. “But we throw them out. It’s a pain in the arse, them coming in. It’s a lot of work.” Sweden Democrats no longer talk about ensuring the survival of the white race, at least in public. The blanket condemnation of Islam has disappeared. In its place are centrist, crowd-pleasing pledges such as a boost to health spending.
What is really for sale, though, is nationalism. Even before a record 134,000 asylum seekers came to Sweden in 2015, the country had struggled to digest its immigrants, many of whom are clustered in poor suburbs that have effectively become ghettos. The most infamous of these is Rosengard, where Mr Gholam Ali Pour spent his first years in Sweden. Only one in 20 children in Rosengard’s primary schools has Swedish parents. Fewer than two out of five adults have jobs. Gang crime and violence are rife. In January two men bombed the police station. A 16-year-old Iraqi boy was shot dead at a bus stop last year. These troubles are not unique to Rosengard. The murder rate for Malmo as a whole is three times as high as London’s. “Last night there was a person who got killed right outside my front door — shot,” said Noria Manouchi, 27, a Swedish-Tunisian city councillor and parliamentary candidate for the centre-right Moderate party who lives in Hermodsdal, a mile to the south of Rosengard.
“That’s a part of everyday life where I live, and has been all my life,” she said. “Politicians have made the wrong priorities for so long that the city is cut in half. It’s very segregated.” The Sweden Democrats’ clean-up has come at the right time for them to take advantage of these divisions. Why, it argues, should refugees get full social benefits and an easy five-year path to citizenship if they cannot speak Swedish or respect basic norms such as shaking hands with women? Some, however, are unpersuaded. Arwin Sohrabi, 24, who is campaigning for the Social Democrats, said: “I think a lot of it is on the surface. They realised you can get a lot further in politics if you put on a fancy suit.”He points out that the number of Malmo residents who depend on social benefits has fallen for three years. School results are improving and unemployment declining. Five minutes later an Arab woman with a limp and a Syrian flag on her baseball cap approaches the bins behind the Social Democrat cabin. She picks up a discarded Burger King bag, sniffs its contents and stashes it in her jacket.
So long as this other Sweden lurks behind the façade of a prosperous and happy nation, the Sweden Democrats will be here to stay.