The refugees dined by soft candlelight, allowing their cold, road-weary bodies to sink into plush velvet couches as they feasted on a spread of olives, dates and cinnamon buns. Omar Hassan took one look at the cozy scene — the product of hours of effort by volunteers hoping to make the new arrivals feel welcome on their first night in Sweden — and knew he was home. “The people of Sweden are very good,” said the grateful 34-year-old, fresh off a 4,000-mile journey from his native Iraq. “I want to make my life here.”
“Knew he was home?” Sounds more like a hotel. But all is not well in the land of soft candlelight:
But behind the warm embrace, a very different reaction to refugees is brewing in Sweden. In this Scandinavian country famous for its progressive politics and unfailingly polite citizenry, a party with roots in the neo-fascist fringe has surged toward the top of recent opinion polls with a defiantly hostile message to refugees: Those on their way to Sweden should stay out. Many of those already here should go home.
The growing popularity of the far-right Sweden Democrats mirrors a backlash being felt across Europe as the continent reckons with a refugee crisis that has broken all modern records and shows no sign of abating. The impact can be seen in country after country, with far-right parties hammering away at authorities deemed too permissive in allowing those fleeing war and persecution to find a home in Europe.
Anger over the refugee influx is increasingly fueling violence, as it appeared to do over the weekend when two Swedish schools that were being converted into shelters for asylum seekers burned down in what police said were suspected arson attacks. In the German city of Cologne, a leading mayoral candidate and ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel was stabbed in the neck by a man who authorities said had “anti-foreigner motives.”
Meanwhile, the backlash is already having an effect at the polls. In Austria, the far-right Freedom Party achieved its highest-ever vote share in municipal elections this month, while in Switzerland on Sunday, the ultraconservative Swiss People’s Party won a clear victory after campaigning against “asylum chaos.” In Poland, a nationalist party whose leader has warned that refugees will bring “parasites” and “cholera” to Europe is expected to triumph over the ruling centrists in a vote coming up on Sunday. Merkel’s approval ratings have dropped as Germany has accepted a historic number of refugees. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has only been strengthened as his government has rolled out mile after mile of barbed wire to keep them out.
“In terms of popularity, the real winners of this crisis are almost exclusively on the right,” the Eurasia political consulting group recently concluded in a research note.
Must be racism. Or facism. Or both. In a world where self-defense is hate, what other explanation could there be?