It’s hard to imagine that anyone in Sweden, a rich and beautiful nation, has a reason to be discontented. Yet, in its election on Sunday, Sweden will likely become the next European nation where a rebel party that defies the left/right divide will gain votes.
In Sweden’s case, the rebel party are the Swedish Democrats. Polls are unreliable things, but the Swedish Democrats look set to take 20 percent of the vote. They won’t form the next government, and other parties will refuse to deal with them. But they might hold the political balance of power.
What is happening in Sweden has happened in Italy. And Germany. And Austria. And France. In each case, the rebel party has gained strength, often at the expense of the center-left parties.
The issue driving voters to the Swedish Democrats is crime. Sweden is not experiencing a full-on crime wave. But car burnings are all too visible, with tens of cars being torched in some cities in a night.
So dramatic are these attacks that they are reported even in American newspapers. But what you might read in The New York Times is that the attacks were the works of “young men,” and that no one has any useful ideas about the motives behind the burnings.
The Swedish Democrats are not so coy. Like many Swedes, they blame immigrants. To be more exact, they blame the fact that, in 2015 alone, Sweden took in 163,000 asylum-seekers from the war-torn Middle East. That is the equivalent of the United States taking 5.2 million refugees in a year.
True to its social democratic heritage, Sweden welcomed the refugees with open arms, providing them with generous benefits. Naturally, the left now blames Sweden for not spending even more money.
Just for reference, in 2016, the Swedish government spent just under half — 49.4 percent — of the nation’s GDP. If Sweden isn’t spending enough and isn’t nice enough to keep refugees from burning cars, there’s no hope for anyone. At some point, the car-burners have to take the rap.
The car burnings are not a reaction to an uncaring society. But Sweden does have an unemployment problem. Despite its reputation in the United States as a socialist folly, Sweden is quite good at getting Swedes into jobs. But highly educated Sweden is not an easy place to find a job if, like the refugees, you are poorly-educated. Young men with idle hands rarely produce social peace.
Of course, it’s not that simple. There are unemployed people everywhere, but not burning cars: the root cause of gang crime is not joblessness. Ultimately, Sweden is also struggling to come to terms with the fact that not everyone around the world is born with Swedish sensibilities.
As long ago as 2011, Patrick Åserud, a teacher in Oslo, wrote that in his school “Girls are bullied if they are blond, and color their hair to fit in. It’s no good to be gay at school, or atheist, and absolutely not Jewish.” Today, more Swedes would likely nod in agreement.
You can mobilize the forces of political correctness to pressure people not to say these things. But you cannot stop people from thinking them. And you cannot stop people from voting on their thoughts.
Sweden is not all that different from the rest of Europe. After 1945, Western Europe liberalized its economies to stabilize its politics. As in the United States, cultural change didn’t arrive in force until the 1960s.
Today, European nations have an economic model that makes it hard for young people to get jobs, and they are imposing cultural change through migration. Instead of following its post-war approach, Europe today is preserving its economics and instead forcing change into its culture — and politics.
The result — in nation after European nation — is not pretty. But those results will keep coming until Europe decides that democratic stability matters more than political correctness and economic stasis.
This piece originally appeared in Newsday on 9/8/13