Veronika Kyrylenko: 'Open-Door' Immigration Policy Backfires - Conservatism Is Growing in Europe


The European “red wave” trend that indicates a growing popularity of the right-wing parties across the continent has once again confirmed itself in Sweden, one of the most liberal hubs in Europe, during the general election on Sept. 9.

The voters reduced the power of the centrist parties while boosting that of the right-wing Sweden Democrats party which describes itself as socially conservative with a nationalist foundation.

Sweden Democrats rallied on the anti-immigration platform, and blasted Islamization, globalization and the “Brussels superstate” as the main threats to Sweden.

Compared to the previous elections, they advanced by almost 5 percent, while the two biggest mainstream parties lost more than 6 percent between themselves. For the Sweden conservatives, it is their highest score ever.

The elections have received tremendous international attention due to Sweden’s exceptional role in the European and world economy. With a population of only 10 million, Sweden has the world’s 22nd largest economy and the 15th freest one. It also ranks the first on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Index which stipulates four areas of sustainable development: economic development, social inclusion, environmental sustainability and governance. Swedish krona is more stable than the dollar and the euro. Swedish economic growth is high, unemployment is low, and the country is consistently ranked among the most competitive and innovative in the world.

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Sweden is a neutral country, but has close and established ties with NATO and has one of the largest military-industrial complexes. For the EU, Sweden acts as one of the main “donor” countries that financially supports its Southern and Eastern European members. Additionally, during the last couple of years, the Kingdom has become a most welcoming resort for the refugees from the Middle East and Africa, and opened its doors for more than 200,000 people, which was the highest acceptance rate in Europe.

And that is where the problems began.

“Sanctuary Country”

Historically, Sweden has always been a safe harbor for the migrants. When World War II brutally ravaged the whole of Europe, Sweden stayed neutral, its economy remained intact and continued to develop. It needed the working hands, and therefore its immigration policy was very liberal. The country welcomed Norwegians, Danish and Baltic refugees who were not only high-skilled workers but also had the same cultural values and business ethics.

Do you think open-door immigration will be the downfall of Europe?

Then, Sweden welcomed refugees from Iran who wanted to escape the persecutions of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iran’s last Shah. Then there were Chileans escaping General Pinochet. They were followed by the Eritreans, Somalians and Kurds. Their numbers, however, were insignificant, and despite the cultural differences, most of them embraced the capitalism, culture and language of their new motherland, and became a productive part of the working force. The few who did not were lucky enough to experience the world’s most generous welfare provisions. Rich Sweden could afford it.

By the beginning of the 1990s, Sweden had been accepting 40,000 refugees annually. In 1992, however, it had to introduce more strict regulations due to the Yugoslavian war, but still accepted those who strove to survive.

The Swedes were right to be proud of their hospitality and the flexible government policy that allowed them to incorporate newcomers into the canvas of the social and economic life.

A Failure of the “Open Doors”

But the situation changed dramatically during the 2015 migration crisis in Europe when 1 million refugees from the war-torn Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq overflowed Europe. Most of them headed — what a surprise — toward the prosperous and migrant-friendly Germany and Sweden.

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Annually, Sweden’s expenses on migrants’ support and accommodation is a lavish $4 billion.

To the bitter disappointment of the local population, the attitude of the newcomers was far from grateful and constituted a stark contrast to previous waves of migrants. The new migrants refused to assimilate and tended to group together in the suburbs of the large cities. In some places, their concentration reached 80 percent of the general population.

As Sweden turned to high-tech capitalism, it demanded high-skilled specialists, which migrants were not. These difficulties combined with a lack of desire to learn the Swedish language are major obstacles that have kept many migrants out of the workforce.

Although Sweden provided retraining programs for the migrants, only 30 percent of those who completed a program could find a job. These circumstances caused Sweden to experience an unprecedented surge of the crime rates, from misdemeanors to sexual assaults and murders. There were also a couple of ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks and attempted attacks carried out by refugees.

In a reaction to the hostility of the newcomers, far-right groups were activated and attacked far-left businesses and refugee centers. Thus, the racial tensions in once tolerant and peaceful Sweden have risen.

In 2016, the Swedish government once again had to toughen immigration regulations, but the problem of the assimilation of the Islamic migrants was still unresolved.

Despite the newly introduced immigration restrictions, nearly 40 percent of Swedes believe the country accepts too many migrants. At the same time, an open public discussion on these issues is practically impossible since the media and politicians who raise them are being called “xenophobes” and “racists.”

Naturally, the Sweden Democrats who took third place in the elections were largely stigmatized as “neo-Nazi” and so on. These accusations made mainstream parties rule out working with the Swedish Democrats, which now seems to be a barrier for the forming of the new government.

It looks like the Sweden centrist parties will have to swallow a bitter pill and cooperate with the party that in just eight years has more than tripled its backing from the Swedish population. After all, this is how a democracy is supposed to work.

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