Olof Palme: Photo: Wikimedia
The Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was killed twenty-five years ago today. Who was he?
Olof Palme was born in a Stockholm upper class family in 1927. He studied law at Stockholm University. Palme became a Social democrat in the late 1940s and when he got involved in politics he advanced quickly. He became Member of Parliament (Riksdagen) in 1958 and became part of the government in 1963. He held several different ministerial posts until he succeeded Tage Erlander as party chairman and Prime Minister in 1969.
In 1976 a three party centre-right coalition won the general election and the Social democrats was forced into opposition for the first time in 44 years. The new government was re-elected three years later. In 1982 (and again in 1985) Palme led his Social democrats to a new period in the government.
Loved and hated
Palme was very controversial. Most Social democrats loved, or even adored him. The present (and resigning) Social democratic chairman Mona Sahlin (born in 1957) has said: “I didn’t join the Social democratic party, I joined Olof Palme”. She has also said that it was the same for many in her generation, and this is most likely true.
Palme was an excellent rhetorician and could enthusiasm his followers. But by the same reason he was also disliked, sometimes hated, by those who were against him politically. You could say that he polarized the political climate. On the other hand side, his era the 60s and 70s, was polarized in general. Palme was very much a child of his time.
Internationally he had a very high profile when fighting against the war in Vietnam. He also condemned Franco’s dictatorship in Spain and the Soviet Union's invasion in Czechoslovakia 1968 with very hard words. But at the same time, he also visited Cuba and appeared in front of a crowd in Havana together with the dictator Fidel Castro shouting words in support for the ‘Cuban revolution’.
Officially neutrality between the super powers was a holy grail for Palme’s but long after his death we now know that in secret there was a far-going cooperation between Sweden and NATO and USA. Palme was certainly an anti-commnsit despite his speech in Havanna and support for FNL.
Domestically the Social democrats were radicalised during Palme's time as chairman. But as I mentioned before, that was also a natural part of that era. A better protection for employees, which can also be described as a less flexible labour market depending on political position, is also an inheritage from Palme. The domestic political climate was very polarised with the climax being reached during the struggle about the so called employee funds (sw: löntagarfonder). The trade unions were to buy stocks in companies in order to increase their power. Due to heavy protests from the centre-right parties, only a modified version of this proposal was realized.
No life guards
Palme had declined protection from his life guards this night. (something that has inspired people who believe in conspiracy theories). The fact that the Prime Minister could walk in the centre of the city at a Friday night with no life guards say something about Sweden at this time, or perhaps about the Swedes own perception of Sweden at the time. The self image was that “something like that” could not happen in Sweden. Seventeen years after Palme was shot, a top politician was again murdered in central Stockholm. Foreign Minister Anna Lindh was also without her life guards when she was stabbed to death at NK department store three days before the Swedish referendum about changing currency to euro.
Read also: 25 years have passed since the murder of Swedish Prime Minister