Seminar with Right Livelihood Laureates at the Swedish Parliament in 2017, Stockholm. Photo: Wolfgang Schmidt

The world needs a democratic Sweden, Right Livelihood Laureates appeal

News 25.09.2022

“We know how democracies die. Their death comes silently,” write 32 Right Livelihood Laureates from 27 countries. Read their open letter to Swedish politicians:

As Right Livelihood Laureates from the 1980s to the 2020s, we have been connected to Sweden and its parliament for many years. We have received much support from Sweden for our work for justice, sustainability, equality and peace around the world. We are deeply concerned to hear that some of Sweden’s traditional parties are now considering to share power with the far-right party.

We know how democracies die. We have seen it with our own eyes. Their death comes silently. No insurrection, no coups d’état. Democracies die from within. Again and again, we have witnessed how anti-democratic forces use democratic processes to gain representation and normalise their hateful discourse. And how they win power when democratic parties form alliances with them, for tactical gain and with hopes of reigning them in. But the “reigning in” almost never works. Instead, sharing power with anti-democratic forces further tips the balance in their favour. They will typically use their new-won legitimacy and political influence to consolidate their power and outgrow their former allies. They know what they are doing, and their goal is not the second place.

As far as we know Sweden has never seen any serious assault on its democratic institutions since they emerged in their present form. But that does not mean that it cannot happen. And it does not mean that a party that was democratically elected could not have an anti-democratic agenda.

It is worrying to us that, according to i.a. Reporters without Borders, the far-right Sweden Democrats are already attacking the media; it is worrying to hear that they are openly fraternising with authoritarian leaders in other countries; it is worrying to hear their hateful rhetoric against people of other faith or ethnic background. These are typical first stages in the authoritarian playbook, but we are afraid that it will not stay there, and that Sweden’s democracy may gradually be eroded if the line is crossed now to share power with the far-right party.

We are, however, not writing this out of concern for Sweden alone. We are writing because we are concerned about the world and the support for democracy globally. According to CIVICUS, “institutions and traditions of democracy are under increasing attack”, and the Economist finds that “more than a third of the world’s population live under authoritarian rule while just 6.4 per cent enjoy a full democracy”. According to the Economist, 2021 saw the sharpest drop in democracy worldwide since 2010, and the trend continues downward. This process has gone so far that many of us Right Livelihood Laureates now see our democratic rights severely curtailed – in some cases to the extent that we risk our liberty or even our life for standing up for other’s rights.

For decades, Sweden has been supporting us and other rights activists in our fight for democracy and the rule of law around the world. Since 1993, there is a parliamentary association with members from all parties except the Sweden Democrats, called The Association for the Right Livelihood Award in the Swedish Parliament. The parliamentarians have invited us to the riksdag and travelled on solidarity missions to some of us who were at risk in our home countries.

Swedish Embassies around the world have been supporting us and others standing up for democracy when we were under attack. And most importantly, Sweden has been standing up for democracy in international fora like the EU and the UN. In Brussels, Sweden has critisised authoritarian European governments like the one of Viktor Orbán in Hungary, and at the UN, Sweden is a very important voice at the Human Rights Council, often on the side of human and democratic rights.

At a time when democracy is so strongly under pressure in the world, both inside countries but also through the brutal war that the Russian dictatorship is waging against democratic Ukraine, we need Sweden firmly in the democratic camp. Many of us have witnessed the “soft power” of Swedish universalism and multilateralism, and we would ask Sweden not to underestimate its influence, even as a small nation, when it firmly stands up for human rights and democratic values. A new Swedish government whose parliamentary support would be based on compromising on these very values, could no longer act as a credible international voice for democracy.

From our point of view in 27 countries, we would humbly add that, compared to the situation in many places around the world, the lives that people enjoy in Sweden have many good sides to it. We understand that Sweden also has serious problems and that Swedish voters rightly want their new parliamentarians to work to solve them.

What we cannot understand is why these problems would ever merit weakening Swedish democracy by sharing power with a party founded by Nazi sympathisers. Instead, Sweden could build upon its traditional democratic strength and find compromise across ideological divides as other countries have done when the nation was under pressure from extremist forces.

In conclusion, we would like to encourage the traditional Swedish parties, who together represent a large majority of people not voting for racism and authoritarianism, to form a government that will be a strong voice for democracy. In Sweden – and in the world.

Signed by (year of when they received the Right Livelihood Award in brackets):

Nnimmo Bassey, Nigeria (2010)

András Bíró, Hungary (1995)

Shrikrishna Upadhyay, Nepal (2010)

Ritwick Dutta & Rahul Choudhary, Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment, India (2021)

Tony Rinaudo, Australia (2018)

Marcos Arana, Mexico / Robert Peck, Switzerland, International Baby Food Action Network, IBFAN (1998)

Anwar Fazal, Malaysia (1982)

Marthe Wandou, Cameroon (2021)

Alice Tepper Marlin, USA (1990)

Juan E. Garcés, Spain (1999)

Raul Montenegro, Argentina (2004)

Martín von Hildebrand, Consolidation of the Amazon Region, COAMA, Colombia (1999)

Frances Moore Lappé, USA (1987)

Angie Zelter for Trident Ploughshares, UK (2001)

Helen Mack Chang, Guatemala (1992)

Sulak Sivaraksa, Thailand (1995)

Paul Walker, USA (2013)

Fernando Rendon, International Poetry Festival in Medellín, Colombia (2006)

Sima Samar, Afghanistan (2012)

Mozn Hassan, Egypt (2016)

Alan Rusbridger, UK (2014)

Maude Barlow, Canada (2005)

Vladimir Slivyak, Russia (2021)

Katarina Kruhonja, Croatia (1998)

Basil Fernando, Hong Kong (2014)

Mageswari Sangaralingam, Sahabat Alam, Malaysia (1988)

Michael Succow, Germany (1997)

Lottie Cunningham-Wren, Nicaragua (2020)

Samuel Perlo-Freeman, Campaign Against Arms Trade, UK (2012)

Dipal Barua, Bangladesh (2007)

Chico Whitaker, Brazil (2006)

Juan Pablo Orrego, Chile (1998)

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