Olof Palme (1927-86) was a charismatic Prime Minister who also made a lasting international impression, far beyond what his small country would expect its leader to be able. Especially the third world countries appreciated his engagement in their situation.
In other countries, he was less appreciated at times. For example, the US government was frequently irritated by his critique of the Vietnam war, which he expressed already in the mid-1960's.
A Pensive PM
He was an excellent political thinker and speaker, which was obvious when the famous reporter David Frost interviewed him 1969 in US television. Frost was quite impressed by the balanced and pensive answers he got from his guest. Here's the long interview on YouTube (divided into four videos):
What impressed David Frost the most was Olof Palme's answer to the question what he would like his obituary to say:
“That, I have never thought of. And I hope that I will, up to the very last breath, not think of it. Because I think that the moment people begin to think of their obituaries, they start to be scared, they don't dare to do things, and they lose their vitality. So, I hope you'll help me to keep that thought out of my mind.”
I met Olof Palme a few times in Stockholm, finding him to be a modest and sensitive person, also very observant and curious, with sincere respect for the thoughts of others – even those of my, at the time, youthful mind.
Of course, he was a politician at heart, with that decided direction of his rhetoric, but he never lost his genuine interest in the open dialogue and exchange of views that is the essence of democracy. I was quite fond of him, and proud to have him as our Prime Minister.
The Palme Hatred
There were also lots of people, in Sweden as well as abroad, who nourished a strangely agitated hate towards Olof Palme. They worked with slander, often passing into the absurd. Oddly, such haters were found among both right wingers and left wingers. There was something about him that provoked them.
To a large extent, I believe that his intelligence upset them. We want our politicians transparent, but this complex mind, with all that went on inside it, was impenetrable. So, lots of people became suspicious of him. When they couldn't read his mind, they were sure that it was hiding something, and when they couldn't dismiss his arguments, they thought that he was lying.
This animosity was such an established fact in Swedish society and politics that it was given a frequently used expression, “the Palme hatred.” It's strange that an elected leader of a democratic country should meet with such emotions. Certainly, there are and there have been many leaders more deserving. Even today, 25 years after his assassination, I come across many Palme haters in Sweden. He must have touched a nerve.
The Unsolved Murder
On February 28th in 1986, shortly after 11 PM, as Olof Palme and his wife Lisbeth were walking home from a cinema, he was shot to death by a man who is still to be found.
Swedish society was rather virginal at the time, shocked by the murder, and stumbling for a while after. So was the police, where its Stockholm chief immediately took control of the investigation, although he had no practical police experience. He made a media circus of it all. The investigation is still going on, in a cold case way, but there is less and less hope of catching the assassin.
|Swedish citizens put flowers on the street, where Olof Palme was shot.|
There have been some suspects. One, a middle-aged alcoholic criminal named Christer Pettersson, was even taken to trial, losing the first one but freed on his appeal. He is still a major suspect, but died a few years ago, so there's no chance of a new trial declaring him guilty.
There have been countless speculations about what forces might have been guilty of the murder, including some elaborate conspiracy theories accusing domestic as well as international powers. For several years, there were hundreds of civilians, maybe thousands, spending most of their spare time making their own thorough investigations. It didn't lead to much.
Not Only a Life Lost
It's hard for the whole country to find closure, when the murderer is still unidentified. But more importantly, Swedish politics has not been the same since.
With Olof Palme, a humanist and compassionate ideology was always present as a major driving force in Swedish politics. This has evaporated, to be replaced by pragmatic thinking, as if politics were just another kind of business, completely aimed at maximizing profit.
Also in international politics, Sweden has retreated considerably, its leaders being much less outspoken about the many injusticies remaining and reappearing in the world.
As for the similarities between the case of Olof Palme and that of John F. Kennedy, I guess that they are obvious from the above.