Monday, February 28, 2011

Olof Palme – the Swedish JFK

Today it's 25 years since the Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was shot to death on a Stockholm street, leaving the country in a shock that we're still not completely over. There are many similarities to his fate and that of John F. Kennedy, as well as the traumatic effect these assassinations had on Swedish and US society.
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.


  1. Så minns du alltså Palme... Mitt minne är ett helt annat. Jaja, där ser man. 25 år har hur som helst gått, så ingen av oss kan säga säkert hur det var. Minnet sovrar.

    Tråkigt att du gav upp ditt svenska bloggande. Törs man hoppas på en... comeback?

  2. I´m not comfort to comment in English, but alright then - since I don´t get it. I don´t understand your sympathy with Palme. To me he represented a very non-taoistic political way. The ideal taoistic leadership is one that you hardly notice; as they us to say about a good referee in football. The Swedish social democrats, though, interfered in almost private aspect of peoples lifes, in a very ideaological way and often with absurdly detailed demand, always knowing what people needed, no matter what they wanted. Well, of course there is a word for it: social engingeering. The worst example may be the forced sterilization of thousands of men and women, many of them fully capable, but from socially vulnerable homes. To me Olof Palme completely represented this kind of very intrusive politics, and I just can´t understand how you, being a taoist scolar, can take him to your heart.

    I also thing he was a very ambigious character. As charmy as he could be, and surely was towards his supporters, as condescending and rude he could be to those quiestioning him. Remember that he, being the prime minister and completely dominating the policital scene, called a single journalist, Peter Bratt, "a rat with long yellow teeths" - he should have been judged for defamation!

    I dare also to question his honesty. Being an ecologist at the time I bare in memory the fake option about the nuclear power - suggesting to phase it out by doubling it! And then we have Bofors in India... Did you still believe in Palme as a dove after that? I surely didn´t.

  3. Mattias, are we better off now?

    Palme was no angel, but he was an interesting and thoughtful politician. Much of what you mention is either social democrat baggage or contextual - politics in past times, whether in the hands of the left or the right.

    Where he deviated from the thoughts of his time, he was often daring and visionary, especially in international politics and the clash between the developed and the underdeveloped countries. Also, he took bold stands against imperialism. Most politicians at his time did not.

  4. Well, Palme indeed represented that kind of politics. He incarnated it. He clearly defended it. You should not reduce him to a victim of his time, I think. A lot of people critized him, he used to answer them - as I remember it - in a very arrogant way.

    It may be true that he played another role on the international scene, but isn´t that escapism? I mean, it is easy to SAY sane things, especially in an insane world... but when it comes to action, and action where you have actual power - as Palme indeed had in Sweden - it´s different. I think action speak clearer than words do...

  5. Palme was not a victim, certainly, but don't underestimate the difficulty of seeing beyond the perspectives of a certain time. Civilization has gone through terrible eras, and is still far from perfect, but there's little point in accusing our predecessors for not seeing things with our eyes.

    We should be thoughtful of how we judge others. We may be judged the same way.

  6. Well... I just objected to what I read as an apotheosis. Which I don´t think is any better, or more trueful, than judging.

    He was a charismatic politician, that is for sure. The rest is... I do not know.

    I am not clear about my opinion even about Gandhi. But I least I think he honestly searched for the truth. I feel quite sure that Palme didn´t. As very few people do.

  7. I have to quote Pilate:
    "What is truth?"

    1. I rectified the Olof Palme horoscope as 5h14m26s -1h.

      Progressive aspects Olof Palme:

      25-Feb-1986 012°,31'38 Aquarius Moon 45 mutual MC

      25-Feb-1986 019°,10'56 Gemini Mars 135 Pars

      25-Feb-1986 007°,33'42 Aries Sun 120 mutual Sat

      28-Feb-1986 019°,10'56 Pisces Asc 135 Pars

      28-Feb-1986 019°,11'14 Gemini Mars 90 mutual Asc

      1-March-1986 005°,25'44 Capricornus Nep 180 Drac transit

      Rectified horoscope Anna Lindh: 22h23m41s -1h.

      Progressive aspect:

      10-Sep-2003 000°,54'21 Gemini Asc 45 Ven

      10-Sep-2003 000°,10'45 Pisces Ura 120 AR04 transit