I just completed a three-city tour of Stockholm, Malmö and Copenhagen to connect with other citizen journalist projects. It should have some good outcomes over the next few months for Bella as we try to build links to other movements and writers across Europe for content and syndication.
Like most folks who’ve been inspired by everything from Morten Harket to Nordic Horizons, Borgen, the Ystad Studios, or the Alternative over the last few years, I’ve been a cheerleader for all things Scandic. It was an eye-opener in terms of the complexity and dark and downside to the model – and we’ll be reviewing Dominic Hinde’s A Utopia Like No Other next week to explore this further.
A recurring issue over and over was the rise of the far-right in the form of the Swedish Democrats and the political failure to respond to the massive refugee crisis and offset a toxic nationalism. It was a debate sharpened by the local museum in Malmö celebrating the White Buses that saved thousands of people from the concentration camps and brought them to safety in the very museum building. As one Swedish blog writes:
“How do you save people from concentration camps when there’s a war raging across Europe and beyond? It’s a big question, but the answer sounds scarily simple: in the case of Scandinavia, you get permission from Himmler himself, then commandeer some buses, ambulances and trucks, collectively called the White Buses. You use a volunteer network to drive them from Theresienstadt, Dachau and Ravensbrück through war-torn Europe to the safety of Malmö’s medieval castle.”
Yet the irony was striking that only a few short months ago the Greens’ deputy prime minister, Åsa Romson, broke down in tears as she announced the measures to close the borders for further refugees (‘Sweden slams shut its open-door policy towards refugees’). It was said many, the final collapse of Green Party principle among many.
As the Greens founder under the crushing weight of compromise, discussions in Sweden turned to the state of European politics, perhaps accelerated by the Panama Papers. According to the perceptive writer and thinker Dougald Hine, now working with Sweden’s National Theatre, a new map of European parties can be drawn with four distinct groups emerging: the new right; the new left; the traditional and the non-aligned.
We can put Vlaams Belang, the Golden Dawn, National Front, Pagida, Swedish Democrats and some elements of UKIP and the Conservatives in the New Right. Labour, Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives and the SNP form the traditional parties still wedded (to various degrees) to the same old economic models in the Traditional. The New Left comprises of Podemos, Syriza, RISE and others. The Non-Aligned consists of the Pirate Party, the Alternative and Five Star in Italy.
While the new right is characterised by an anti-immigrant, neo-fascist orthodoxy, a retreat into islamophobia and a reactionary response to the EU, the new left has emerged emboldened by the new brutalism of austerity Europe and has been boosted by a new generation of people attracted to radical politics who have witnessed the institutions they grew up with collapsing around them.
The new political map is emerging because nobody knows what to do any more.
The days of auto-deference to bank manager, politician or policeman have been swept away in a tsunami of sleaze, failure and corruption, and a double-decade of banksterism of which Panama is only the latest exposure. The manifest failure of the traditional political parties to come to grips with the depth of the multi-crisis, instead mouthing bland platitudes into the autocue, convinces steadily fewer of us. With Drumpf the mouthpiece for the global redneck, a large but empty force of reactionary zealots can be inspired, but they are more ‘system failure’ than future pilots. Nobody actually expects Farage or his Eurotrash equivalent of the new right to solve anything other than their deep-seated psychological discomfort.
While the rise of the Pirates (Iceland), Five Star (Italy) and the Alternative (Denmark) offer up a fresh thinking, straight-talking alternative to the populist anti-politics of the far-right, they also have distinct issues of libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism to be resolved if they are not to be jettisoned (not released) from community, society and collective values. A Pirate victory in Iceland would be a victory for all, especially in light of Theresa May’s snoopers charter, but at some point the libertarianism of left and right meet in the middle.
A party and movement that can combine the innovation and language of today of the Non-Aligned with the values and solidarity of the New Left will make massive impact. The far-right are a sideshow of Anger Management, while the traditional parties are like the Jim Jones of contemporary Euro politics, supping on the economic Kool-Aid. Part of the problem about Scottish politics is it endlessly assumes exceptionalism and lacks wider context. It is useful to put our own debates in terms of the rest of Europe, particularly as we spiral towards Brexit against our will.