Russia’s invasion of Ukraine not only shocked Swedes; it precipitated an until-then-unthinkable sea change in Swedish foreign relations: the abandonment of the country’s long-held policy of neutrality. Now with NATO membership pending, it remains unclear how the new political climate will affect Sweden’s previous commitments to nuclear disarmament, human rights, non-intervention, and peacebuilding.
As momentous as the Russian invasion has been for Sweden, a profound domestic change stands to have an even greater effect on the country: the growing influence of right-wing politics. Sweden is not alone in this regard, of course. Over the past ten to fifteen years, far-right movements have gained a significant foothold throughout much of Europe and in the United States. But Sweden and other Nordic countries are particularly instructive examples because they were long held up as model societies due to their well-educated populations, strong economies, robust welfare systems, and low levels of income inequality. Inspired by Tony Blair, Sweden came to embrace neoliberal dogmas that favored the primacy of the market over the primacy of politics. The shift left low-income workers, hit with economic dislocation and insecurity, feeling deserted. It also gave right-wing parties the opportunity to champion classic labor-party issues such as unemployment benefits and economic policy in addition to the cultural chum that has always been their bread and butter. For all the ticklishness of drawing historical parallels, it’s worth remembering that prewar fascist movements came to power on precisely that dual political platform.
Carl Tham was party secretary, MP, and minister for the Swedish Liberal Party from 1966 to 1982. In the 1980s, he switched to the Social Democratic Party, where he later served as Minister of Higher Education and Research (1994–1998). He has also been Director General of the Swedish Energy Agency and SIDA (Sweden’s government agency for development cooperation) and the Swedish ambassador to Germany (2002–2006).