• Sweden edition
 
REMEMBERING OLOF PALME
Palme's political legacy 'put Sweden on the map'

Palme's political legacy 'put Sweden on the map'

Published: 28 Feb 2011 10:42 GMT+01:00
Updated: 28 Feb 2011 10:42 GMT+01:00

While Sweden's Social Democratic party grapples to select its new chief after a second election defeat, the large shadow of the party’s now iconic leader Olof Palme serves as a reminder of the passion it once inspired.

But even Olof Palme would have a hard time succeeding himself. Arguably, the extraordinary fit between his politics and the issues of the world during Palme’s era unlocked a unique opportunity that lifted him well-beyond Sweden’s national borders.

Or maybe his famed sage-like acumen transcends time and Palme’s approach today would be equally insightful, influential and controversial.

Of course we’ll never know.

The life of 59-year-old Prime Minister Olof Palme was snuffed from behind at close range while walking home from the theatre with his wife Lisbet.

It was 11.23 pm on February 28, 1986 on the central Stockholm street Sveavägen. He was pronounced dead at 12.06 am the following day.

Although his life vanished that night, Palme left behind a legacy that swept the globe.

It’s evident in the more than 70 streets, public facilities and memorials that bear his name in all corners, such as an elementary school in the Western Sahara, a children’s hospital in Vietnam and a city park in Iraq.

An energetic, optimistic and well-read, intelligent politician, Palme maintained an altruistic approach to politics, says Eric Sundström, Chief Editor of left-leaning political website Dagens Arena:

“He was a reformist who believed in academic thinking and research, meaning that he believed that listening to the voice of reason would prompt good political debate which would enable sound political decisions that really could make people’s lives better.”

Having been elected to the Parliament in 1957, Palme served as both Minister of Transport and Communications (1965) and Minister of Education and Cultural Affairs (1967) prior to rising to Sweden’s top position for seven years in 1969 and then again in 1982.

“He became Prime Minister and party leader at a time when the world was changing and he quickly understood the international issues that could and would change the world,” says Sundström.

Palme made his greatest political impact in the way he wielded Sweden’s foreign policy, which according to the Social Democratic Party Secretary Ibrahim Baylan still resonates today.

“Before Olof Palme, the party mostly focused on internal political issues, but since Olof Palme it has become a natural to integrate his focus on international solidarity into the Social Democratic party's policies,” says Baylan.

Palme’s outspoken position on global affairs transformed the international image of Sweden from an undistinguished country on the northerly fringe of European borders and into a defender of the weak and a powerful voice for peace and disarmament.

“Palme is known, more than anyone else, for opening Sweden to the rest of the world, for putting Sweden on the map,” says Klas Eklund, who recently published a short biography on Palme, worked as one of his speechwriters and served as the economic policy adviser to Palme’s successor former Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson.

Both a staunch anti-communist and anti-capitalist, Palme refused to be chained to the narrow mentality of the Cold War and took a vehement stand against it.

“He wanted to create a space, to chisel out a third position for non-aligned, smaller countries that were neither communist nor capitalist but a neutral socio-economic state and progressive brownstone for the Third World,” explains Eklund.

His boisterous and bristly criticism of foreign governments, delivered in the five languages in which he was fluent, won him both admirers and enemies. His targets included the US foreign policy, the Vietnam War, the Franco and Pinochet regimes, the South African apartheid regime and Third World struggles for liberation from colonial rule. His stridency on these issues catapulted him into the role international statesman and a crusader for the afflicted.

Back at home Palme was deemed by many a champion of the general welfare state, with domestic policies that largely shaped Sweden into the nation it is today.

The passionate politician is considered to be one of the “intellectual fathers” of the modern Swedish model and its expansive public sector, according to former Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson.

When Palme left office in 1976 the welfare state was bigger and more all-encompassing than anywhere else in the world, and with correspondingly much higher taxes.

“Even though the public sector has since slimmed and reformed, it still remains as a defining characteristic for Sweden,” adds Eklund.

A trailblazer on gender equality, Palme pushed through a number of radical reforms to improve the lot of women, including separate taxation of husband and wife and the expansion of child care centers.

“He had an amazing ability to read his time and a fantastic sense of understanding – he knew women would soon speak up and their liberation would become a powerful political issue,” says Sundström.

Many of his wide-ranging education reforms have stood the test of time, with the creation of preschool for all children, regional universities and, at the time, the revolutionary student economic system of loans and benefits.

At the same time, Palme is often criticized for over-regulating the labour market and for failing to successfully tend to the nation’s economy, thereby indirectly allowing Sweden to lose its competitive edge.

A fiery speaker, Palme was known for his skillful, sharp mastery of words and is still quoted from today. His collection of oratory is often referred to as the ‘holy grail’ within the Social Democratic party.

“His way with words inspired people to get interested in politics, to engage in international policy, to become active in a way that is missing today,” Carlsson tells The Local.

But his aggressive words, having even called Spain’s Franco a ‘damn murderer,’ were highly controversial and provoked his political adversaries while generating many enemies.

The shock of his assissnation hushed many from discussing Olof Palme and his political ideals for many years.

“It really shook the nation and only now are we becoming more and more aware of what an important politician he was both nationally and internationally,” says Carlsson, who lost a close friend and colleague of 30 years that fateful night.

And while the direct line between Palme’s reality and the political arena of today continues to fade, he is still revered as an influential and invigorating leader.

“Olof Palme became a benchmark in the party – one that no one in our current quest for a leader will ever reach up to,” says Baylan, who attributes his Social Democratic affiliation to Palme.

“I am quite certain that whoever becomes the new leader, he or she may not have had personal experience with Olof Palme, but they will surely have been inspired by him,” says Carlsson.

Karen Holst (kholstmedia@gmail.com)

Your comments about this article

23:37 February 28, 2011 by planethero
good read, thx
05:58 March 3, 2011 by Playmaker
lets not forget he was also a "elected" dictator how long was he the man 18 years strait who knows how much longer if not for the murder. not saying he was bad but come on 18y if thats not a dictator then what. lets not forget saddam was elected and kim jong ill and hitler and well you know what i am getting at right.
12:23 March 3, 2011 by Beavis
Sorry its nonsense.. ask anyone outside Sweden who Olof Palme is and they wont have a clue. the Swedish chef in the muppet show did more to put Sweden on the map... reality check..
05:07 March 4, 2011 by svensk-amerikanska
Trying to make a JFK out of an Olof Palme is really the height of delusion. Mr. Palme in death is not even known outside of Europe. He had qualities that will be remembered but the day of wide eyed socialism is really a thing of the past even in Sweden. The world is broke and sooner or later you do run out of other peoples' money.
14:48 March 4, 2011 by roaringchicken92
@ svensk-amerikanska

Good points. The sad irony of Olof Palme is that, were one to live to the fullest extent the socialistic ideals that he championed, one has to forget he ever held public office.
15:44 March 4, 2011 by Luap Yenned
Well I have heard of Olof Palme and I am aware of what he did for Sweden despite never having been there. The fact that Americans have never heard of him is not surprising as most are blissfully unaware of any other country (except the ones they are bombing at any given time) except their own And no social democracy isn't dead and it is still the best political system that humanity has ever come up with !
17:03 March 4, 2011 by Beavis
You may have heard of him but he can hardly be said to put Sweden on the map. Ask the average person outside the Nordic countries and they will have no clue who he was. In fact Sweden was made known by commecia non socialists like IKEA,Volvo,SAAB,ABBA,Roxette, Ace of Base, Swedish chef on the muppets, the movie trading places,various footballers,icehockey players,actors,Sven Eriksson etc etc. Olof Palme would be down there with the guy who presented eurovision..whatever his name was..
17:16 March 4, 2011 by Luap Yenned
Beavis

You may be right I guess and thats a real shame.
04:32 March 5, 2011 by JoeSwede
Good read. Interesting Person. He lived his life as he preached (although he was probably agnostic....). He kept a humble apartment. His student loan program was a really good idea. I wish the US had a more straight forward loan program and an effective collection methodology.

I wonder if some of his ideas would change as society has matured and the consequences of the changes to society have been seen. Would he have favored more family friendly policies after altering society so that families have a harder time. Or would he just decide to favor immigration and pass a blind eye to the faltering Swedish family.
06:02 March 5, 2011 by Smiling Canuk
Palme was very similiar to Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau. They were both significant men of their time with similiar visions. But the reality is that the world has changed and their views are less much relevant in today's world.
Today's headlines
Swedish rockers dice with death in coach fire
Photo: Deathstars

Swedish rockers dice with death in coach fire

Swedish industrial rock band Deathstars narrowly avoided a serious tragedy in the early hours of Saturday morning when the tour bus in which they were travelling caught fire in the Austrian alps. READ  

Winter
Clocks go back for Swedish winter time
Photo: Charlie Rydell/AP

Clocks go back for Swedish winter time

Sweden switched over to winter time in the early hours of Sunday morning meaning that you just enjoyed an extra hour of sleep. READ  

National
Swedish town 'like Venice' after heavy rains
Photo: TT

Swedish town 'like Venice' after heavy rains

Torrential rains in western Sweden have left some towns submersed as water levels have risen to 1.5 metres above normal for the season with forecasts indicating that is worse to come. READ  

Ebola crisis
Sweden pledges new aid to UN Ebola fund
Photo: TT

Sweden pledges new aid to UN Ebola fund

Sweden has offered a new sizeable contribution to the fund set up by UN chief Ban K-moon to fight the Ebola outbreak. READ  

Society
'Dark forces' target refugee hunting scheme
Photo: Lars-Göran Thuresson/Älgriket

'Dark forces' target refugee hunting scheme

The Swedish hunting association runs a project to encourage young asylum-seekers to learn about hunting, a move which has proved controversial among some far right groups. READ  

Business & Money
American sales squeeze Ericsson profits
Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg presents the third-quarter earnings report at the company's headquarters in Kista. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

American sales squeeze Ericsson profits

Swedish telecoms equipment maker Ericsson reported a decline in net profit in the third quarter despite an increase in sales, boosted by business in emerging markets. READ  

Interview
'Too many concerts feel the same'
Sofar hosts secret gigs in Swedish apartments. Photo: Sofar

'Too many concerts feel the same'

Kattis Bjork founded Stockholm's secret gig scene - Sofar - a year ago. The Local caught up with her as she prepared to celebrate the project's anniversary this weekend and revealed the concept will spread to other Swedish cities in 2015. READ  

Stockholm 'sub hunt'
Sweden calls off suspect submarine search
Ships are returning to shore in Sweden. Photo: TT

Sweden calls off suspect submarine search

The core search for a suspected foreign vessel in Swedish waters has been called off. The armed forces said they remained convinced foreign underwater activity had taken place but had not identified an intruder. READ  

Business & Money
US and Japan fuel surge for Volvo trucks
Ed Carbaugh prepares to install parts on a truck engine on an assembly line at Volvo Trucks' powertrain manufacturing facility in Hagerstown, Maryland, March 2014. Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP

US and Japan fuel surge for Volvo trucks

Sweden's Volvo, the world's second-largest maker of trucks, said Friday it saw a spike in profits in the third quarter, boosted by thriving sales in the US and Japanese markets. READ  

Inspectors attacked at rogue doc’s surgery
Cigarettes and beer photo: Shutterstock

Inspectors attacked at rogue doc’s surgery

Inspectors who were sent to shut down a doctor’s surgery in Gothenburg were physically attacked and fled the premises to get help from the police. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Lifestyle
What's On in Sweden: October 24th - 31st
Gallery
People-watching: October 22nd
Gallery
In Pictures: Prince Carl Philip and Sofia Hellqvist
Lifestyle
Eight things to love about renting a Swedish apartment
National
Vasa ship cannon blasted in Sweden
Blog updates

24 October

Editor’s blog, October 24th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hi readers, Get ready to read our weekly digest of Swedish news in less than 60 seconds. The..." READ »

 

24 October

Is darkness weather? (Blogweiser) »

"I try very hard not to talk about the weather. This has come after a decade..." READ »

 
 
 
National
Sub hunt: Day-by-day
National
Sub hunt: Stockholm islanders share their fears with The Local
Sponsored Article
The best options for oversea transfers
National
Get 20% off unique Swedish homeware
National
Dentist gives free care to Roma beggars
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
Gallery
Property of the week: Malmö
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
Gallery
People-watching: October 19th
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
Lifestyle
What's on in Sweden: October 17th - 24th
Society
The nudity... and nine other things expat men notice in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 15th
Gallery
Your views: Should outdoor smoking be banned in Sweden?
Business & Money
Sweden has 'large hole' in finances
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Finding a job in Stockholm
Society
Monster salmon caught in northern Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Lorensberg
National
Scandinavia's child bride
National
Ebola crisis: How is Sweden preparing?
Business & Money
How Sweden is becoming a cashless society
Gallery
Stockholm Burlesque Festival 2014
National
How a little red horse became a symbol for Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 12th
Business & Money
The hottest start-ups from southern Sweden
National
What's on in Sweden: October 10th - 17th
National
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
Gallery
People-watching: October 8th
National
Five facts to know about Patrick Modiano
Society
My Swedish Career: A French fashionista in Sweden
Society
Swede's anti-bully Facebook tale goes viral
Society
Have you seen Sweden's viral subway cancer campaign?
National
Isis: Swedes linked to Turkish prisoner swap
National
Should Swedes be banned from buying sex abroad?
Gallery
Fredrik Reinfeldt's leaving presents
National
Five Swedish TV shows you shouldn't miss
Gallery
A tool belt, a casserole, and a book. Fredrik Reinfeldt's parliament gifts
TT
Lifestyle
Top five winter festivals in Sweden
TT
National
Sami reindeer herders win mine reprieve
Gallery
Property of the Week: Gamla Enskede
Sponsored Article
How to catch the first lobster of the year
Team SCA
Sponsored Article
All-female SCA team takes off on Volvo Ocean Race
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

976
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN