When Tobias Hübinette started an early incarnation of Expo magazine in 1995, neither he nor his early backer, Swedish journalist and activist Stieg Larsson, could have imagined yesterday's general election outcome in Sweden.
Early results last night indicated the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD) will be the country’s third-largest party with 10.5 per cent of the vote. That record result almost doubles its last showing from 2010 and could hand it the balance of power between Sweden’s left and right in the new Riksdag parliament.
Larsson, best known as author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first of the Millennium trilogy, sounded precisely this alarm shortly before his sudden death in November 2004, aged just 50.
A decade on, over coffee in Stockholm, Hübinette (43) shows no sense of satisfaction that his friend's warning has come true.
“This would have been our nightmare back in the 1990s,” says Hübinette, now an academic and a researcher at Stockholm’s Immigration Centre.
“The SD has gone through an amazing development and it’s wrong to say it’s a fascist party now, it’s much more than that.”
Founded in 1988, the Sweden Democrats polled just 1.2 per cent in the 2002 election and, after large-scale defections, the mainstream media suggested its days were numbered.
Larsson argued the opposite, saying the departure of the skinheads would allow the SD to rebrand itself.
In the August 2004 edition Expo magazine, fictionalised as Millennium in his thrillers, Larsson wrote: "To achieve political success, the Sweden Democrats need to acquire support from voters who were dissatisfied with the political establishment, but did not consider themselves to be Nazis or 'nationalists'."
Their growing support comes after repositioning themselves as the self-appointed guardian of the old Swedish social model, Nordic social market capitalism combining a strong welfare state and official nationalism.
The model shaped the post- war Swedish identity but is in flux for many Swedes with three factors – Sweden’s 1990s financial crisis and its after- shocks, globalisation and economic-lead immigration – transforming a once homogeneous and isolated country beyond recognition.
Simpler, whiter Sweden The SD has co-opted strands of socialism, nationalism and even feminism to promise a return to a simpler, whiter Sweden. Its hope: a promise to revive the social model of old will eventually make the party as popular with voters as the model once was itself.
“With a stronger voice, it is highly likely the other parties will be unable to ignore the SD to the same level they have to do date,” Hübinette says.
He set up an early version of Expo almost two decades ago, then just a photocopied newsletter, to document Sweden's neo- Nazi scene and their campaign of threats. Larsson, who had been observing extremism in Sweden since the 1970s, encouraged him with his work.
“He felt it would flourish into a magazine. Slowly others joined, he joined as well and it became a real magazine,” s Hübinette recalls.
Today, several incarnations later, Expo is more than just a campaigning anti-racist magazine, it operates a foundation that offers information, lectures and training in all topics surrounding political extremism.
The organisation faced many existential threats over the years. During Hübinette’s 2½ years at Expo, neo-Nazi groups it had exposed issued death threats against staff. When their printing plant was vandalised, Swedish newspapers published 800,000 copies in solidarity.
During those early years, Hübinette spent hours in Larsson’s extensive private archive on the far-right, listening to the older journalist pass on the information he had collected.
Lingering over coffee near Stockholm’s state library, where he is about to deliver a lecture on the far right, Hübinette suggests Larsson saw in him a successor, with the same skill at gathering information about the neo-Nazi scene.
This dogged trait, he adds, fed into the lead character of Lisbeth Salander in Larsson’s trilogy.
“Some people say the lead character is based partly on me,” he says. “I am not claiming that she is just me, I can see a lot of other people in the character too, but I smiled a lot when I read the book.”
With an amenable personality – and no discernible tattoos or piercings – Hübinette seems a long way from Larsson’s borderline Asperger’s cyberpunk. Hübinette’s colourful past though would impress even the world-weary Salander.
Irish at Uppsala South Korean-born but adopted to Sweden, he studied Irish at Uppsala University. As a student anarchist, he was involved in the Antifascist Action (AFA) group and an Irish republican support group in Sweden.
Today he is a controversial and divisive figure in Swedish debates – not unlike the fictional Lisbeth Salander.
The thrillers were coloured by the Cold War and its aftermath and the sense something new was coming, suggests Hübinette, but the author died too soon to learn what was coming.
So what is coming for Sweden? Hübinette says the country remains some way behind Denmark and Norway, where far-right parties and their populism are both cornerstones of the political landscape and public debate. However, the struggle by Sweden to retool its identity for the 21st century leaves it vulnerable to a similar fate, he suggests.
“The Nazi ideology is not history in Europe,” he adds. “There are still strains of it in our present.”