“#Sweden used to be a completely peaceful country - and safe. Now it’s become one of the most unsafe places in Europe [because of its gang shootings and the high number of incidents of rape]. So that’s brought an end to the political correctness”!.
In Europe, political analysts are pointing to Sweden and Italy as possible harbingers of a political mood shift across the continent driven by a growing wariness of immigrants as well as anger over rising crime rates.
The startlingly strong performance of the far-right Sweden Democrats in this month’s Swedish parliamentary elections and polls showing that the nationalist Brothers of Italy (Fratelli dItalia) party is poised for victory in this weekend’s contests in that country have both been spurred by those two issues, analysts told Yahoo News.
“Gang violence in Sweden was the issue in the election,” said Gunilla Herolf, a researcher at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs who specializes in European integration. It’s a problem, she added, that is weighing on every Swede. “Some are furious. Some are just terribly upset.”
At a glance, the two countries share relatively few commonalities. Sweden is a wealthy, cohesive welfare state, which over the past 90 years has typically been led by leftist coalition governments. By comparison, Italy’s economy, which is burdened by massive debt, is reeling. Costs of living are soaring, and over the past decade, its government has changed nearly every 18 months. But in both places, rising crime and misgivings about immigrants are prompting a political realignment.
The Sweden Democrats, originally formed as a neo-Nazi party in 1988, were one of four right-leaning parties that won a combined 176 of 349 seats in Sweden’s Parliament in last week’s election, besting the center-left coalition by six seats. Now, details of which parties will partake in the new coalition government, and how much influence the Sweden Democrats will actually have, are being hammered out. Despite being ostracized by mainstream Swedes, the party won 20.5% of the vote, elevating it from the fringes to Sweden’s second-most popular party. Its campaign in Sweden — where 20% of the population is now foreign-born, and the country has become known as “the gun violence capital of Europe” — was built on promises to control crime perpetrated by young migrants and to deport some foreign-born Swedes.
Jimmie Akesson, the new leader of the Sweden Democrats, insists his party has shed its fascist leanings, though the party remains staunchly anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim and keeps pounding home its messaging linking foreign-born Swedes and crime. The party points to recent crime trends showing that drug-peddling armed gangs have emerged in some migrant communities during the past five years. In 2021, Sweden experienced some 360 gang-related shootings and 47 deaths; by September of this year, 47 had already died in shootings.
“Sweden used to be a completely peaceful country — and safe,” Brussels-based Roland Freudenstein, vice president of the independent think tank GLOBSEC, told Yahoo News. “Now it’s become one of the most unsafe places in Europe” — not only because of its gang shootings but also because of high number of incidents of rape. “So that’s brought an end to the political correctness,” he said. “Even the [liberal] Social Democrats are talking about immigration, law and order, and getting tough on crime.”
The rate of armed violence is growing faster than anywhere else on the continent, according to a 2021 report by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention. “The increase in gun homicide in Sweden is closely linked to criminal milieux in socially disadvantaged areas,” according to the report.
“Thats why the Sweden Democrats are gaining in popularity,” said Eric Adamson, a Stockholm-based project manager at the Atlantic Council’s Northern Europe office. “They were the only ones talking about this” in recent years. Both socially and politically, he said, the topic had previously been off limits for Swedes to discuss.
In Italy, a Sept. 25 snap election necessitated by the July collapse of the government of Prime Minister Mario Draghi seems likely to result in the most conservative leadership there since Benito Mussolini seized power in 1922. The likely new prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, has also run on an anti-immigrant platform, vowing to mobilize the Italian navy to prevent African refugees from reaching her country.
Like Sweden, Italy has also been dealing with rising violent crime, though much of it doesn’t involve the immigrants who have sought safe haven there in recent years. Youth gangs of Italians, which some 6% of Italian teens are believed to belong to, are becoming a nightmare for the country, especially around Naples and the south, though some African migrants appear to be starting to form them as well.
This June, however, an estimated 1,500 African youths went on a rampage in the northern town of Peschiera, breaking windows, roughing up tourists and allegedly sexually assaulting young women on a train. Matteo Salvini of the League, a right-wing political alliance he formed with Brothers of Italy and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia for the upcoming election, lambasted the attack. Meloni, the Brothers of Italy leader, who has promised to protect Italy from “Islamization,” seized on the uproar, posting a video on her Twitter account of an African man allegedly raping a woman in broad daylight.
The bigger issue for Meloni, however, may be the changing face and complexion of Italian citizens. The woman who promotes “God, homeland and family” frequently laments Italy’s low birth rate and fears the extinction of Italians and their replacement by immigrants from Africa, a conspiracy she has accused the government of the European Union of orchestrating. “The EU is complicit in uncontrolled immigration, the invasion of Europe and the project of ethnic replacement of European citizens,” she wrote on her website in February.