Populist Power-Broker in Sweden Has No Use for Bannon or Russia

(Bloomberg) -- The leader of Sweden’s rising nationalist party says he has no plans to meet Stephen Bannon and counts Russia as the archenemy. But he’s got some dire words for the European Union.

Jimmie Akesson, the head of the Sweden Democrats, is poised to become a power-broker after the Nordic country’s election in September, with his party potentially winning close to 20 percent of the vote. He has benefited from a wave of anti-immigration sentiment since first entering parliament in 2010.

Populist Power-Broker in Sweden Has No Use for Bannon or Russia

But the party is still looking on with envy as populists gain power in eastern Europe, something Akesson said is bound to be replicated across the continent. People are starting to realize they have given up their national identities and that will become more apparent once the U.K. successfully leaves the bloc, the 38-year-old said.

“I think that’s very good,” he said. “I also think that this in some way will be the downfall of EU. I’m not at all sure that EU will exist in this form in 10 years.”

As party leader since 2005, Akesson has been the key architect of his group’s rise, making it more palatable to a broader swath of voters by scrubbing it of its neo-Nazi past and expelling some of the more extreme members, a number of whom have moved to Hungary.

Bannon, who helped bring U.S. President Donald Trump to power, said in an interview with Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter that he had been inspired by and studied the Sweden Democrats and was planning to come for a visit ahead of the election.

That is news to Akesson. Trump is widely unpopular in Sweden, with a poll last year showing that 80 percent of Swedes disliked him.

“He’s an interesting person of course, but it’s not anyone that we’ve added to our current schedule,” Akesson said. “I don’t see any possibility of meeting him near-term.”

Unlike Victor Orban in Hungary, known as the godfather of European populism, Akesson is distancing himself from Russia. Akesson said that the bigger neighbor across the Baltic is, and always has been, Sweden’s archenemy. The two countries were frequent combatants more than 200 years ago.

“The fact that we haven’t considered Russia as a military threat these past 20 years is an exception in history,” he said.

And as for Russia seeking to influence the Swedish election?

Many countries are seeking to influence elections, he said.

“I think the debate about fake news has almost gone too far,” he said. “Today, as soon as one says something that the Social Democrats don’t like it’s fake news, and I don’t buy that argument.”

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