Forget the Swedes; blame the Russians

There’s a guy I know who heads out to Sweden once in a while to study immigration policy there. The Swedes have made a real hash of things, he tells me. Above all, they’ve done a very bad job integrating immigrants into society. This has led to something of anti-immigrant backlash. Given this, you might imagine that if you were to undertake an examination of anti-immigrant political groups in Sweden, you would start with a detailed discussion of Swedish immigration policy and what’s gone wrong with it. Then you could understand why Swedes are receptive to anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Of course, you might do that, but then you’re not The New York Times. On Sunday, that most venerable of American newspapers devoted no fewer than two full pages to an analysis of the recent success of the Swedish far right party, the Sweden Democrats. The alleged cause of this success is evident from the article’s title – ‘The Global Machine Behind the Rise of Far-Right Nationalism’. If xenophobia is on the rise in Sweden, it implies, it’s got nothing to do with the Swedes. External forces are to blame.

This framing of the issue reflects the peculiar obsessions of The New York Times. First and foremost amongst these is Donald Trump. You’d think by now that Times readers would be getting bored of being told that Trump is the root of all evil. ‘We’ve got the point’, you’d expect them to tell the editor, ‘Tell us something we don’t already know.’ But it seems that there’s always something new that you can blame Trump for. And so it is that the Times begins and ends its article on the Swedish far-right with references to the American president. All was quiet in the the Swedish town of Rinkeby, we’re told, until Trump made reference to a story on Fox News about the town’s problems with immigrants. No sooner had Trump spoken than, wham!, ‘several dozen masked men attacked police officers’. Having started the article with Trump, the Times then finishes it with him, referencing the visit of the Sweden Democrat’s leader to a conference in the United States, which served as ‘a measure of how nationalism and conservatism have merged in Mr. Trump’s Washington.’

So there you have it – Swedish xenophobia is Trump’s fault. Or at least partly. For in fact the article doesn’t speak about the president very much. Instead it focuses most of its attention on another of The New York Times’s obsessions, and you don’t have to have prophetic vision to guess what that is – yes, you’re right, the Russians!!

How are the Russians to blame for the rise of the Swedish far right, you might ask? According to the Times, the answer is that ‘foreign state and nonstate actors have helped to give viral momentum to a clutch of Swedish far-right websites.’ For the most part, ‘foreign’ in this context means ‘Russian’. As the article notes,

To dig beneath the surface of what is happening in Sweden, though, is to uncover the workings of an international disinformation machine, devoted to the cultivation, provocation and amplification of far-right, anti-immigrant passions and political forces. Indeed, that machine, most influentially rooted in Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia and the American far right, underscores a fundamental irony of this political moment: the globalization of nationalism.

What is the evidence for this claim? The article struggles to provide much. As it admits, in the last Swedish general election,

there was no hacking and dumping of internal campaign documents, as in the United States. Nor was there an overt effort to swing the election to the Sweden Democrats, perhaps because the party, in keeping with Swedish popular opinion, has become more critical of the Kremlin than some of its far-right European counterparts.

That’s a bit of a blow to the overall thesis. But the Times is not to be deterred. For apparently, ‘At least six Swedish sites have received financial backing through advertising revenue from a Russian- and Ukrainian-owned auto-parts business based in Berlin.’ Six websites no less! That obviously explains why the Sweden Democrats won 18% of the vote in the last election. But there’s more. For, ‘There were other sites, too, all injecting anti-immigrant and Islamophobic messaging into the Swedish political bloodstream.’ The problem for The New York Times is that, as it admits, ‘Russia’s hand in all of this is largely hidden from view.’ But that doesn’t matter, because ‘fingerprints abound.’

Ah! Fingerprints! And what might these be? Well, one website ‘swaps material with the Russian propaganda outlet Sputnik’. Another ‘publishes work by Alexander Dugin, an ultranationalist Russian philosopher who has been called “Putin’s Rasputin”.’ (At this point, any even moderately well informed Russia-watcher should be screaming in dismay at the repetition of this misleading trope.) Yet another website has published a far-right German commentator who has appeared on RT. And finally, the founder of another website ‘readily admits to having contributed to an RT subsidiary’ and has a Russian girlfriend. Enough said.

As you can see, it doesn’t really add up to much. (After all this website has cited Sputnik and published an interview with Dugin, and I’ve appeared on RT, but that doesn’t make this blog part of a far right ‘international disinformation machine’ – perhaps I should get a Russian girlfriend!) The worst that the article can come up with is an allegation that a crew from the Russian TV station NTV paid some youths in Rinkeby to pretend to riot so that it could film them. I can believe it, but all it really shows is that some Russian journalists have a really poor sense of professional ethics. Overall, a dodgy broadcast on NTV, some reposting of Alexander Dugin, RT, and Sputnik on far-right websites, and the rather peculiar advertising strategy of a German auto-parts company don’t go very far in explaining the spread of anti-immigrant sentiment. Perhaps they’ve made a very minor difference on the margins, but returning to my friend’s analysis above, one suspects that internal Swedish causes are far, far more significant.

The first step towards fixing any problem is working out what caused it. So, if you consider the rise of ‘populist’ forces a problem, what you have to do is work out why people are discontented with the alternative. And that means that those responsible for the policy agenda of the past must do some serious self-examination in order to determine where they’ve gone wrong. If this New York Times article is anything to go by, they’re not ready to do so. They’d rather blame external actors, maintaining the myth that everything is hunky dory, and that they haven’t made any mistakes; it’s just that there’s some demagogues and foreign powers stirring up trouble. But obviously everything isn’t all hunky dory, or people wouldn’t choose to listen to the demagogues. I understand why people like to blame it all on Trump and the Russians: they thereby absolve themselves from any responsibility for society’s ills. But it’s still a bad idea – for it detracts from a proper understanding of our troubles. And in doing so, it detracts from finding a solution.

17 thoughts on “Forget the Swedes; blame the Russians”

    1. Also as is clear from watching who funds outfits like Breitbart and who writes the cheques to people like Dominic Cummings – there is a lot more American and Australian money than any Russian money behind the Far Right.

      I guess though the Gods want to destroy all of us too as we are watching the same thing repeat over and over again – all to drive us crazy.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. “an allegation that a crew from the Russian TV station NTV paid some youths”

    https://www.thelocal.se/20170306/rinkeby-teens-say-russian-tv-crew-tried-to-bribe-them

    What is alleged here is that that some people, who “introduced themselves as Russian journalists and spoke what sounded like Russian to each other“, offered to pay to two unidentified yutes “to see some action”. And when the police came (why did they come?) the journos said that indeed the yutes offered “to show some action” for money (which actually sounds more credible).

    So, if you believe the yutes, the police were there, and it would seem odd if they didn’t check the ids of all involved. Nevertheless, the police refused to comment.

    And that’s the ‘allegation’ part. All the rest – the Russians, the NTV – seems like a pure fabrication.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the link to the Swedish article. This bit I found somewhat bizarre:

      ‘During a series of riots in the Husby suburb in 2013, Swedish tabloids were also controversially accused of paying youths to send in footage of car burnings. But security policy commentator Patrik Oksanen told The Local that the latest allegations could be looked at in the context of Russian coverage of Sweden lately.

      “The big difference between the accusation that Swedish media paid for images and this are two things: partly that this is paying to create an event and not paying to film an event, and partly the perspective that the story fits all too well with the Russian information war,” said Oksanen, the political editor of newspaper Hudiksvalls Tidning and an experienced commentator on security and military politics and Russia.’

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yeah. He’s saying that Swedish journos paid for videos, not for staging riots. And he makes his comments under the (unmentioned) assumption that rioters weren’t burning cars just to make videos and sell them.

        Like

      2. By the way, he is surely not alone. French TV (I live in France) had a news feature in December about the crazy Swedes who believed that the Russians would invade them any day, told with a lot of examples. They called it a Poltava syndrome and were rather facetious about it.

        Whatever it is, it is certainly traditional. Swedish military before the WW1 believed in an imminent invasion, and they didn’t change their mind although the documents released after the revolution revealed that the Russians had no ideas of the kind. During the 80s there were big sensations almost every year about Russians submariens “almost” caught near the Baltic coast, but none was ever seen. And any critic today of Swedish submissiveness to American wishes is attacked as a Russian agent in most of the press.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. “Forget the Swedes; blame the Russians”

    South Park’s “Blame Canada” plays in a distance.

    “On Sunday, that most venerable of American newspapers devoted no fewer than two full pages to an analysis of the recent success of the Swedish far right party, the Sweden Democrats.”

    >venerable
    >NYT

    “New York Times”. Reminder – that NYT:

    “On June 15, the Times reported that the US government is escalating its cyber attacks on Russia’s power grid. According to the article, “the Trump administration is using new authorities to deploy cybertools more aggressively,” as part of a larger “digital Cold War between Washington and Moscow.”

    In response to the report, Donald Trump attacked the Times on Twitter, calling the article “a virtual act of Treason.”

    The New York Times PR office replied to Trump from its official Twitter account, defending the story and noting that it had, in fact, been cleared with the US government before being printed.

    “Accusing the press of treason is dangerous,” the Times communications team said. “We described the article to the government before publication.””

    Right, I see you playing “Russkis made Sweden Racist” card, Professor. I respond by playing “Russians murdered Epstein” and “Russians caused sex-trafficking with Nabokov’s “Lolita””.

    Well, can you beat THAT? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “Russians caused sex-trafficking with Nabokov’s “Lolita””

    In the late eighties and/or early nineties a friend told me about a friend who translated “female penny literature”. Her argument apparently was, not much to reflect on.

    Why not, I asked myself. Thus instead of my favorite: crime fiction, and tired of my jobs, I applied for the task. I didn’t have the least knowledge about the genre, all I knew was that my grandma was reported to read the stuff. I wasn’t admittedly prepared for the passages I was sent as translation text. In the center it contained this really, really hot sex scene. The text was American. Time: A couple of years before the Lewinsky affair.

    I was highly irritated, when I got the feedback. The sex scene was the center of the attention. I really, really couldn’t possibly translate that passage as written for the German market, I was told. It should have been damped down, reduced it to more allusionary erotic language.

    Mind you, no Lolita involved in that case. But obviously a more grown up figure of identification for the female reader. Strictly since then I wonder, how this fact could be related to the censureship I experienced in the US. The famous beeps or, admittedly used nakedness over here around the same time in film, theatre … Puritan America, the W.A.S.P’s. But then this? How comes?

    *****
    may have been around the time a writer friend of mine, Edward Albee, got into publishing and staging troubles.

    Nabakov’s Lolita, interesting topic in time and space. Definitively.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The topic of this blog post relates to the suggestion that the Russian government is promotiong further racial tensions in the US.

    If anything, there’s arguably more evidence that the US government has desired such for Russia.

    Like

    1. The topic of this blog post relates to the suggestion that the Russian government is promotiong further racial tensions in the US.

      is it?

      Yes, that may be its partly its theme. No doubt Jo doesn’t show the least interest in the larger phenomen’s genesis, and/or reflection on the NYT help over the decades to push it to a more urgent stage. …

      A lot of hearsay in the NYT article that starts curiously enough with a “neighborhood watchman”, Johnny Castillo from Peru.

      Paul: ‘Tell us something we don’t already know.’ But it seems that there’s always something new that you can blame Trump for. And so it is that the Times begins and ends its article on the Swedish far-right with references to the American president.

      Full discovery, I more acidentially met Nazi admirers in GB personally in the early seventies. I am vaguely aware of the old boys network behind our German Neue Rechte, more specifically its media mouthpiece. Sweden over the last four or five decades occasionally surfaced as publication heaven for our own neo right. There is no doubt there has been for much longer now a right wing dissenting global network.

      And yes, from my own limited mental frame, there cannot be any doubt about the fact that if Trump twitters the world listens. What better V.i.P. could you possibly want to create?

      Like

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