Exploring the Dynamics of Xenophobia in the Nordic Countries

  • Olga Iakimova Ural Federal University, Yekaterinburg, Russia


In the last few decades xenophobic and extreme right-wing political movements have become increasingly strong electoral forces in many European countries. The Nordic countries have long been viewed as among the most tolerant countries in the world, with exemplary protection of minorities. Nevertheless in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland, xenophobic parties also moved into first place during the past decade. Both national and international laws require governments to protect people against discriminatory treatment, but developing effective policies to cope with discrimination requires a clear understanding of the factors that trigger xenophobia. Despite a substantial body of cross-national research on the subject, the causes continue to be debated. The article reviews the relevant evidence in an effort to move closer to a clear understanding of causes of xenophobia, particularly in reference to the Nordic countries. Social identity theories, group threat theories, theories of nationalism and value theories all provide us with potentially useful cognitive explanations of xenophobia. To explain the perceived increase of xenophobic sentiments requires a dynamic theory of value change. The article draws on all these approaches, concluding that relatively secure people tend to be more tolerant than less secure once. Summing them up, I conclude that existential security/insecurity is the major cause of non-xenophobic/xenophobic attitudes. To test this hypothesis I utilize the data of the World Value Survey project, which covers all the Nordic countries over fifteen years. First, I compare the results of elections to the National Parliaments with the dynamics of xenophobic and non-xenophobic (tolerant) attitudes in these countries. Second, I perform a correlation between a society’s GDP per capita at various times in the past and attitudes toward ethnic immigrants in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland. Based on the resulting findings, the article concludes that the massive surge of votes for xenophobic parties in the Nordic countries might seem to imply that it reflected an equally massive surge of xenophobic attitudes but this was not the case. Xenophobic attitudes showed the opposite trend. Xenophobic attitudes are more heavily shaped by the levels of insecurity one experience during one’s formative years, which occurred several decades before the survey.

Author Biography

Olga Iakimova, Ural Federal University, Yekaterinburg, Russia

Olga Iakimova is Associate Professor of Sociology of the Ural Institute of Humanities at Ural Federal University and Associate Researcher at the Laboratory for Comparative Social Research (Higher School of Economics, Moscow/St. Petersburg, Russia). Her principle research interests are tolerance, xenophobia, new migrations, cross-cultural communication, media discourse.


How to Cite
Iakimova, O. (2018). Exploring the Dynamics of Xenophobia in the Nordic Countries. Changing Societies & Personalities, 2(1), 17-31. doi:10.15826/csp.2018.2.1.028