The influence of right-wing populists on Sweden’s government policy

In 2017, politicians all over Western Europe were afraid of a ghost: the ghost of right-wing populism. It was not a new phenomenon in the world of politics but ever since the early 2010s, it has gotten more and more real. Parties such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD) in Germany, the Front National (FN) in France, the Party for Freedom (PVV) in the Netherlands, or the Sweden Democrats (SD) in Sweden have gained more and more power and become serious competitors in national politics. Liberal voters and politicians struggled with this challenge and, as a consequence, right-wing populists performed well in recent elections in Europe. Fortunately, none of the right-wing populist parties mentioned managed to get elected into government, but some of them are haunting the executive and creating a strong opposition.

In Sweden, the right-wing populist Sverigedemokraterna (= Sweden Democrats) gained the third most seats in the parliamentary election in 2018 while the Social Democrats obtained their worst result since 1908. Due to their refusal to form a coalition with the populists, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven from the Social Democrats had no other choice but to form a minority government with the conservative party Moderata samlingspartiets. 

Policy-changes in migration and welfare-expenditures

Almost two years later the effect of right-wing populists is already noticeable. Sweden used to be a country with liberal and human policies. In 2015, it welcomed more than 160’000 refugees, which was, compared to its small population, the highest number of immigrants in Western-Europe. However, after the horrific events in the Moria refugee camp in September 2020, Sweden refused to take on any of the many refugees, while Germany rescued at least 1’500. The official statement from the government was that migration waves from recent years have led to rising crime and that the integration of the many immigrants has largely failed. While this might be one reason for a more conservative migration policy, this drastic shift is already heavily influenced by the Sweden Democrats who are pressuring the powerless minority government out of a dominant opposition. 

Another example of how right-wing populists can influence a country’s policies are the governments welfare expenditures in Sweden. Scandinavian countries usually spend more money on welfare than Anglo-Saxon nations like Great Britain or the United States. In Sweden, the welfare-expenditures steadily increased since 2014 at a high level. But in 2019, only one year after the election and the same year the new minority government was formed with the Sweden Democrats, the expenditures decreased by five percent. And during the Covid-19 pandemic, the country that was originally known as exemplary and reliable went into a questionable direction by not implementing early and strong measures to safeguard its population.

While the right-wing populists of the AfD in Germany never managed to deliver any policies at all, in Sweden they have succeeded in changing the country’s formerly liberal position into more isolated and conservative policies. The ghost of populism is haunting Swedish democracy and one question remains: Who’s gonna call the ghostbusters?

Pride vs. Prejudice: The struggle for LGBTQ+ equality in Poland

A mosaic of rainbow flags glittering on a grey and grim day, stunning dancers and meticulously designed, colourful costumes: That’s how the 2020 Pride March in Slubice, Poland, on September 5th, will be remembered. But not even the most incredible artistic ability could conceal the gloomy reality behind the glitzy façade …

Polish president Andrzej Duda, whose conservative-nationalist agenda saw him storm to victory in the 2015 and 2020 Polish presidential election, has incited worldwide outrage in light of his stance on LGBTQ+ rights. During his 2020 presidential election campaign, he repeatedly made use of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric to bolster his chances of re-election by wooing conservative voters.

A cultural conflict that has been simmering for years, has resurfaced

Since dismissing the LGBTQ+ community as nothing more than an „ideology“ that is „even more destructive“ than communism, Duda’s inflammatory rhetoric has deepened divisions between religious conservative and more liberal-minded Poles.

This kind of rhetoric was not only uttered by the President, but was voiced in Polish churches and on the streets of Poland: Last year, for example, the Catholic archbishop of Krakow warned Poland of a “rainbow plague”, and tensions boiled over on the streets of Poland when far-right demonstrators interrupted a peaceful Pride Parade in Bialystok.

Now, one year later, several Polish towns have declared themselves as LGBTQ-free, with almost 100 local governments voting to protect solely heterosexual rights. Even though these zones don’t have any legal power and are mostly symbolic, they have become a flashpoint in Poland as they are a jolting reminder that blatant homophobia is not a relic of the past, but is still partly woven into the fabric of Polish society.

Across the country, anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment has had a clear impact on the LGBTQ+community. A study conducted by the University of Warsaw found that more than 67% of people identifying as LGBTQ+ in Poland had endured some type of violence, while 70% of LGBTQ+ teenagers had experienced suicidal thoughts due to enormous societal pressure.

A glimmer of hope

Some Poles have now taken it upon themselves to try and replace anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment with tolerance: Polish activist Bart Staszewski, for example, has produced a documentary film („Article 18“) which tackles the struggle for LGBTQ+ equality in Poland.

Moreover, the European Commission has described LGBTQ-free zones as a breach of basic human rights and withholds EU funding from them.

But still: According to Staszewski, Poland itself is far away from quelling its systemic problem with homophobia: As long as there isn‘t a sharp shift in government policy and a fundamental change of beliefs in the whole of Poland‘s society, anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment will most likely continue to loom over Poland for quite some time. 


Why federalism hinders effective policies against Covid-19

Our world is facing the same problem, but different governments have reacted with different measures and strategies – and with different levels of success. Hong Kong and South Korea seem to have been the most successful countries in the fight against Covid-19. Both reacted quickly and implemented strict measures such as surveilling the movement of their citizens, quarantine, and consequent social-distancing measures. Additionally, mask-wearing is not new for citizens of Asian countries, mainly due to polluted air.

In Europe, Italy was the first country that was faced with the virus and reacted strictly with a first nationwide lockdown on the 11th of March. Germany and France followed with similar reactions, while Great Britain apparently needed its Prime Minister to experience the virus himself before taking it seriously. Sweden followed a unique strategy and the president of the United States is still highly incapable of dealing with any demanding situation at all.

Less political resistance in centralized systems

The Covid-19 pandemic did not only reveal which leaders are capable of managing a global health crisis. More than nine months since the outbreak and its spread over the whole world, it also showed which political system is the most effective and practical when dealing with a global pandemic:

The more centralized a system, the easier it is to implement (drastic) measures. It was not challenging for the Communist Party in Beijing to control 1.393 billion people in China and regulate their behavior. However, if the autocratic Chinese government were more transparent and liberal, the virus would have been contained much earlier. South Korea, a unitary presidential republic, successfully controlled the coronavirus by surveilling the movements of its citizens and implementing a national mandatory obligation to wear a mask.  Additionally, the government in Seoul supported the economy with grants from the very beginning.

The federal state of Switzerland, on the other hand, was still arguing in mid-October whether customers in a store should wear a mask or not. Of course, there are many more Covid-19 cases in urban Geneva than in rural Appenzell, but a virus does not stop at a border – and especially not within a country. After strict and centralized measures at the beginning of the pandemic, the Swiss government has lost control over the handling because the different cantons felt disempowered in the proud federal country. In Germany, a federal nation as well, the federal lands are pursuing different strategies that have caused uncertainty and political chaos in facing a second wave. In Germany’s neighbor-state, however, the French president Emmanuel Macron decided in October to reimplement a strict curfew and acted single-handedly without any form of political resistance.

Federalism – an imperfect system

While federalism is a fair system for heterogeneous countries in general, it hinders effective policies and force in times of crisis – such as the handling of a global pandemic. Centralized or even autocratic nations can implement a national strategy much faster and much more effectively than federal states due to fewer players and, therefore, less political resistance in the decision-making process. Whether this is democratic or not must be put on hold. Democracy means the government of the people, by the people, for the people, as Abraham Lincoln famously stated in 1858. This must be accepted, and policymakers must be trusted. Most importantly, in times of crisis!