Sputnik: Sweden’s Social Democrats have previously dominated Swedish politics; however, recent polls have indicated that the party has been losing electoral support. In your view, why is this happening now?
Patrik Öhberg: The Social Democrats have been on the decline for more than ten years. In 2006, I think, the Social Democratic party leader resigned on election night because they only received 35 percent, and now they are hovering around 25 percent. So this crisis for the Social Democratic party has been well established. In Sweden we say that back in the day, the Social Democrats were like the sun and all the parties circled around it. That’s no longer the case. We have more or less become accustomed to the fact that the Social Democratic party is no longer the biggest party, or the most important party.
Sputnik: Now Sweden’s right-wing party has been gaining popularity and is expected to do well in the upcoming elections. In your view, what is its increase linked to – is it totally immigration or are there other factors? How close is this right-wing party to actually gaining traction to become the leading force in Sweden?
Patrik Öhberg: Well, if you ask the voters, people who vote for Sweden Democrats: everything is about immigration. It’s immigration, immigration, immigration. For such a long time, Swedes have been reluctant to have more refugees in Sweden, but we still have a quite generous refugee system. But that hasn’t been on the agenda, that hasn’t been an important question. But over the years, with the influx of immigrants, that has risen on the agenda and then the Sweden Democrats gained traction.
The established parties, they even made the policies more generous. So the Sweden Democrats have the whole playing field for themselves. And then we had the crisis in 2015, with the established parties talking about “We are going to have a collapse if we don’t change our policies,” and then the Sweden Democrats could say “We told you so, we told you so.” Now immigration is very high on the agenda, so the Sweden Democrats have some credibility on this issue. And it’s harder for the established parties to come back, to have some credibility. It’s a home run for them.
Sputnik: Give us a bit of insight, from your point of view, from a professor there on the ground in Gothenburg. You know what it’s like with media coverage. We have been seeing very nasty scenes of cars being lit by immigrants and a lot of theft, crime, rape, some politicians being attacked and struck in the face, etc. It’s probably worse than it would appear. What’s a sort of realistic position with regard to this unsavory behavior from immigrants? Is it prevalent, or is it something that is being highlighted to be an anti-immigrant scene in Sweden at the moment? What is the realistic viewpoint, from your point of view?
Patrik Öhberg: That’s a very complicated question. Overall, most of this is not related to immigration per se, it’s more related to gangs and criminality and drugs. Most of those burnt cars are related to attacking the police; they wanted to sell the drugs alone. Most of the cars that have been burnt up are actually cars of immigrants. Most of the time, it’s immigrants that are being punished by these criminal gangs. So it’s not really immigrants towards native Swedes, but more like immigrants attacking immigrants.
Sputnik: Sweden was previously regarded as a socialist utopia by many politicians. Is that the case now? Is it the case moving forward, or is it going to be a change?
Patrik Öhberg: I would say that it is a misconception that I hear both from the left and right when I’m abroad. If you look at Sweden from the outside, you’ll see high taxes and a big welfare state. But realistically, we are a capitalist welfare state. When you look inside our welfare state, there are a lot of entrepreneurs and even venture capitalists. You can start a school, a healthcare center and hospitals in Sweden as an entrepreneur and you will have the same amount of money as the public schools or the public healthcare. So, you can actually come in and start a company in Sweden – it’s a business idea in Sweden to have a school or a hospital — and the profit you’ll make of it, you’ll keep it.
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