Tensions Simmer After Swedish Town Elects Far-Right Mayor

HORBY, SWEDEN - The town of Hörby seems a peaceful slice of the Swedish idyll: a market square, an ornate church, a few stores and restaurants, and beyond the suburbs, farms and fields stretching to the horizon.
Below the surface, however, are simmering tensions. Hörby is the only Swedish town to have elected a mayor from the far-right Sweden Democrats party, which wants severe restrictions on immigration and dramatic cuts in government spending on migrant support programs – with the money redirected toward repatriating migrants.
Niclas Nilsson is the Sweden Democrats' group leader on the nearby Kristianstad city council. Both Kristianstad and Hörby are part of the local Skäne region and Nilsson says the area has taken in a large number of migrants due to its location in the south of Sweden.
"People are concerned about the cost, the social stability, crime, and segregation," he says.
While the center-left Social Democrats retained the top spot in May's EU parliamentary elections, the Sweden Democrats party came third, campaigning on a platform of harsh anti-immigrant policies. Such a result would have once been unthinkable for a party with its roots in the neo-Nazi movement.
In Hörby's newly renovated market square, Sweden Democrat supporter Tobias Lindblad says the party is simply telling the truth.
"Today there are immigrants wherever you look. There are many of them who are great, but there are many who are doing stuff like drugs, assaults, vandalism," Lindblad says.
Enes Mehmedagic moved to Hörby as a young boy, his parents escaping the Balkan wars of the 1990s in his home country of Croatia. He has a very different perspective.
"Immigration and immigrants are a scapegoat. Today in Sweden, there's always been lots of immigration, but especially in a place like Hörby, it's more visible than in a city. They don't think of me as Swedish, despite the fact that I have lived in Sweden from many years ago, I pay taxes, and I didn't commit any crime," Mehmedagic says.
From her newsstand overlooking the main route through the town, storekeeper Caroline Johansson has witnessed the changes in the town. She says the immigration debate is overplayed – and believes support for the far-right is rooted in local issues.
"For example, we did not want a new town square. Now it is finished and looks good, but we would rather have other things."
The political divide goes far beyond Hörby. The Sweden Democrats once campaigned strongly to leave the European Union. The party reversed its policy in January this year – due to Brexit, says group leader Nilsson.
"All the negative media about Brexit and the problems with Brexit, I think that has had a role. But also now the fact that parties like our own is growing in size in Europe and that means that we can change the EU from within."
The rolling hillsides outside town are dotted with silos and barns. Arable and cattle farming are big business in Skäne. The EU subsidizes agriculture across Europe and leaving the bloc would have big implications for farmers like Patrick Hanson, who runs a beef farm a few kilometers outside Hörby.
"The profit is the funding from the EU for me. So I don't want to lose that money. But it would be better to be outside the funding, it would be better that the consumers pay me for my work," Hanson says.
Tensions over migration, democracy and the role of the EU are being played out in Hörby and across Europe, as the continent wrestles with its identity and its future.
Source: https://www.voanews.com/europe/tensions-simmer-after-swedish-town-elects-far-right-mayor


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