Olof Palme

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Olof Palme
Palme in 1984
Prime Minister of Sweden
In office
8 October 1982 – 28 February 1986
MonarchCarl XVI Gustaf
DeputyIngvar Carlsson
Preceded byThorbjörn Fälldin
Succeeded byIngvar Carlsson
In office
14 October 1969 – 8 October 1976
MonarchsGustaf VI Adolf
Carl XVI Gustaf
Preceded byTage Erlander
Succeeded byThorbjörn Fälldin
Leader of the Social Democratic Party
In office
14 October 1969 – 28 February 1986
Preceded byTage Erlander
Succeeded byIngvar Carlsson
President of the Nordic Council
In office
1 January 1979 – 31 December 1979
Preceded byTrygve Bratteli
Succeeded byMatthías Árni Mathiesen
Positions held in the Erlander cabinets
Minister of Education
In office
1 January 1968 – 14 October 1969
Prime MinisterTage Erlander
Preceded byHimself (as Minister of Education and Ecclesiastical Affairs)
Succeeded byIngvar Carlsson
Minister of Education and Ecclesiastical Affairs
In office
29 September 1967 – 31 December 1967
Prime MinisterTage Erlander
Preceded byRagnar Edenman
Succeeded byHimself (as Minister of Education)
Minister of Communications (Transport)
In office
25 November 1965 – 29 September 1967
Prime MinisterTage Erlander
Preceded byGösta Skoglund
Succeeded bySvante Lundkvist
Personal details
Sven Olof Joachim Palme

(1927-01-30)30 January 1927
Stockholm, Sweden
Died28 February 1986(1986-02-28) (aged 59)
Stockholm, Sweden
Manner of deathAssassination by gunshot
Resting placeAdolf Fredrik Church
Political partySocial Democratic
Jelena Rennerova
(m. 1948; div. 1952)
(m. 1956)
Alma materKenyon College (BA)
Stockholm University (LLM)
WebsiteOlof Palme International Center
Military service
AllegianceSweden Sweden
Branch/service Swedish Army
Years of service1945–1947 (active)
1947–1977 (reserve)
UnitSvea Artillery Regiment

Sven Olof Joachim Palme (/ˈpɑːlmə/; Swedish: [ˈûːlɔf ˈpâlːmɛ] ; 30 January 1927 – 28 February 1986) was a Swedish politician and statesman who served as Prime Minister of Sweden from 1969 to 1976 and 1982 to 1986. Palme led the Swedish Social Democratic Party from 1969 until his assassination in 1986.

A longtime protégé of Prime Minister Tage Erlander, he became Prime Minister of Sweden in 1969, heading a Privy Council Government. He left office after failing to form a government after the 1976 general election, which ended 40 years of unbroken rule by the Social Democratic Party. While Leader of the Opposition, he served as special mediator of the United Nations in the Iran–Iraq War, and was President of the Nordic Council in 1979. He faced a second defeat in 1979, but he returned as prime minister after electoral victories in 1982 and 1985, and served until his death.

Palme was a pivotal and polarizing

Cuban revolutionaries

Frequently a critic of

Treblinka, resulted in a temporary freeze in Sweden–United States relations

Palme's assassination on a Stockholm street on 28 February 1986 was the first murder of a national leader in Sweden since Gustav III in 1792, and had a great impact across Scandinavia.[2] Local convict and addict Christer Pettersson was originally convicted of the murder in Stockholm District Court but was unanimously acquitted by the Svea Court of Appeal. On 10 June 2020, Swedish prosecutors held a press conference to announce that there was "reasonable evidence" that Stig Engström had killed Palme.[3] As Engström had taken his own life in 2000, the authorities announced that the investigation into Palme's death was to be closed.[3] The 2020 conclusion has faced widespread criticism from lawyers, police officers and journalists, decrying the evidence as only circumstantial, and – by the prosecutors' own admission – too weak to ensure a trial had the suspect been alive.[4] The true identity of his assassin remains unknown.

Early life

Sven Olof Joachim Palme

Johan III of Sweden, his father King Gustav Vasa of Sweden and King Frederick I of Denmark and Norway. His mother, Elisabeth von Knieriem (1890–1972),[8] of the Knieriem family who originated from Quedlinburg,[9] descended from Baltic German burghers and clergy and had arrived in Sweden from Russia as a refugee in 1915. Elisabeth's great-great-great grandfather Johann Melchior von Knieriem (1758–1817) had been ennobled by the Emperor Alexander I of Russia in 1814. The von Knieriem family does not count as members of any of the Baltic knighthoods.[citation needed] Palme's father died when he was seven years old.[6] Despite his background, his political orientation came to be influenced by Social Democratic attitudes. His travels in the Third World, as well as the United States, where he saw deep economic inequality and racial segregation
, helped to develop these views.

A sickly child, Olof Palme received his education from private tutors. Even as a child he gained knowledge of two foreign languages — German and English. He studied at Sigtunaskolan Humanistiska Läroverket, one of Sweden's few residential high schools, and passed the university entrance examination with high marks at the age of 17. He was called up into the Army in January 1945 and did his compulsory military service at Svea Artillery Regiment between 1945 and 1947, becoming in 1956 a reserve officer with the rank of Captain in the Artillery. After he was discharged from military service in March 1947, he enrolled at Stockholm University.[10][unreliable source?]

Palme as a student in 1944

On a scholarship, he studied at Kenyon College, a small liberal arts school in central Ohio from 1947 to 1948, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree.[11] Inspired by radical debate in the student community, he wrote a critical essay on Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom. Palme wrote his senior honour thesis on the United Auto Workers union, led at the time by Walter Reuther. After graduation, he traveled throughout the country and eventually ended up in Detroit, where his hero Reuther agreed to an interview which lasted several hours. In later years, Palme regularly remarked during his many subsequent American visits, that the United States had made him a socialist, a remark that often has caused confusion. Within the context of his American experience, it was not that Palme was repelled by what he found in America, but rather that he was inspired by it.[12]

After hitchhiking through the U.S. and Mexico, he returned to Sweden to study law at Stockholm University. In 1949 he became a member of the Swedish Social Democratic Party. During his time at university, Palme became involved in student politics, working with the Swedish National Union of Students. In 1951, he became a member of the social democratic student association in Stockholm, although it is asserted he did not attend their political meetings at the time. The following year he was elected President of the Swedish National Union of Students. As a student politician he concentrated on international affairs and travelled across Europe.[10][unreliable source?]

Palme and his wife Lisbeth on their honeymoon in 1956

Palme attributed his becoming a social democrat to three major influences:

In 1956, Palme married children's psychologist Lisbeth Beck-Friis, and together they had three sons: Joakim, Mårten, and Mattias Palme.[13]

Palme was an atheist.[14]

Early political career

Palme in 1957

In 1953, Palme was recruited by social democratic prime minister Tage Erlander to work as his personal secretary,[15] becoming the first of Erlander's large personal staff, a group of young aides such as Ingvar Carlsson and Bengt K. Å. Johansson,[16] a group that became known as "the boys".[17] From 1955 he was a board member of the Swedish Social Democratic Youth League and lectured at the Youth League College Bommersvik. He also was a member of the Worker's Educational Association.[citation needed]

In 1957 he was elected as a member of parliament (Swedish: riksdagsledamot)

its Ambassador from Sweden and Palme was fiercely criticised by the opposition for his participation in the protest.[22][23]

Palme in 1968

When party leader Tage Erlander stepped down in 1969, Palme was elected as the new leader by the Social Democratic party congress and asked by king Gustaf VI Adolf to form a government and succeed Erlander as Prime Minister.[24] Prior to the selection of Palme, President of Finland Urho Kekkonen asked Erlander who his successor would be, and Erlander gave evasive answers. Kekkonen then asked if it would be Palme, to which Erlander responded, "Never, he is far too intelligent for a Prime Minister".[25] Palme was later asked when Erlander first hinted to him that he wanted him to succeed him. Palme stated, "It never happened."[26]

Palme was very popular among the left, but harshly detested by liberals and conservatives.[27] This was due in part to his international activities, especially those directed against the US foreign policy, and in part to his aggressive and outspoken debating style.[28][29]

Premierships (1969–76, 1982–86)

Domestic policy

As leader of a new generation of Swedish Social Democrats, Palme was often described as a "revolutionary reformist" and self-identified as a progressive.[30][31] Domestically, his leftist views, especially the drive to expand labour union influence over business ownership, engendered a great deal of hostility from the organized business community.[citation needed][32]

During the tenure of Palme, several major reforms in the

United States) with a new one officially establishing parliamentary democracy rather than de jure monarchic autocracy, abolishing the Cabinet meetings chaired by the King and stripping the monarchy of all formal political powers.[citation needed

His reforms on labour market included establishing a law which increased job security. In the Swedish 1973 general election, the Socialist-Communist and the Liberal-Conservative blocs got 175 places each in the Riksdag. The Palme cabinet continued to govern the country but several times they had to draw lots to decide on some issues, although most important issues were decided through concessional agreement.[33][self-published source] Tax rates also rose from being fairly low even by Western European standards to the highest levels in the Western world.[34]

Under Palme's premiership tenure, matters concerned with

public ownership, and the influence of the state had grown massively. [41] Access to pensions for older workers in poor health was liberalised in 1970, and a disability pension was introduced for older unemployed workers in 1972.[42]

The Palme cabinet was also active in the field of education, introducing such reforms as a system of loans and benefits for students, regional universities, and preschool for all children.[40] Under a law of 1970, in the upper secondary school system "gymnasium," “fackskola" and vocational "yrkesskola" were integrated to form one school with 3 sectors (arts and social science, technical and natural sciences, economic and commercial). In 1975, a law was passed that established free admission to universities.[39] A number of reforms were also carried out to enhance workers' rights. An employment protection Act of 1974 introduced rules regarding consultation with unions, notice periods, and grounds for dismissal, together with priority rules for dismissals and re-employment in case of redundancies.[43] That same year, work-environment improvement grants were introduced and made available to modernising firms "conditional upon the presence of union-appointed 'safety stewards' to review the introduction of new technology with regard to the health and safety of workers".[44] In 1976, an Act on co-determination at work was introduced that allowed unions to be consulted at various levels within companies before major changes were enforced that would affect employees, while management had to negotiate with labour for joint rights in all matters concerning organisation of work, hiring and firing, and key decisions affecting the workplace.[45]

Palme in Mora, 1 August 1985

Palme's last government, elected during a time when Sweden's economy was in difficult shape, sought to pursue a "third way," designed to stimulate investment, production, and employment, having ruled out classical Keynesian policies as a result of the growing burden of foreign debt, together with the big balance of payments and budget deficits. This involved "equality of sacrifice," whereby wage restraint would be accompanied by increases in welfare provision and more progressive taxation. For instance, taxes on wealth, gifts, and inheritance were increased, while tax benefits to shareholders were either reduced or eliminated. In addition, various welfare cuts carried out before Olof's return to office were rescinded. The previous system of indexing pensions and other benefits was restored, the grant-in-aid scheme for municipal child care facilities was re-established, unemployment insurance was restored in full, and the so-called "no benefit days" for those drawing sickness benefits were cancelled. Increases were also made to both food subsidies and child allowances, while the employee investment funds (which represented a radical form of profit-sharing) were introduced.[36][page needed]

In 1968, Palme was a driving force behind the release of the documentary

Dom kallar oss mods ("They Call Us Misfits"). The controversial film, depicting two social outcasts, was scheduled to be released in an edited form but Palme thought the material was too socially important to be cut.[46]

An outspoken supporter of gender equality, Palme sparked interest for women's rights issues by attending a World Women's Conference in Mexico. He also made a feminist speech called "The Emancipation of Man" at a meeting of the Woman's National Democratic Club on 8 June 1970; this speech was later published in 1972.[47][48]

As a forerunner in green politics, Palme was a firm believer in nuclear power as a necessary form of energy, at least for a transitional period to curb the influence of fossil fuel.[49] His intervention in Sweden's 1980 referendum on the future of nuclear power is often pinpointed by opponents of nuclear power as saving it. As of 2011, nuclear power remains one of the most important sources of clean energy in Sweden, much attributed to Palme's actions.[citation needed] Palme advocated for nuclear energy to move away from fossil fuels in his speech during the Stockholm Conference in 1972 [50]

Foreign policy

Soviet–Swedish bilateral relations were tested during Palme's second span of time as prime minister in the 1980s, in particular, owing to reports of incursions by Soviet submarines into Swedish territorial waters.[51][52]

Olof Palme marching against the Vietnam War with the North Vietnamese ambassador Nguyễn Thọ Chân in Stockholm, 1968

On the international scene, Palme was a widely recognised political figure because of his:

All of this ensured that Palme had many opponents as well as many friends abroad.[53]

In June 1972 at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment he described the environmental damage caused by the Vietnam War (including use of Agent Orange and other rainbow herbicides to deforst whole areas of the country) as ecocide and called for it to become an international crime.[54][55][56]

On 23 December 1972, Palme (then Prime Minister) made a speech on Swedish national radio where he compared the ongoing U.S. bombings of Hanoi to historical atrocities, namely the bombing of Guernica, the massacres of Oradour-sur-Glane, Babi Yar, Katyn, Lidice and Sharpeville, and the extermination of Jews and other groups at Treblinka. The US government called the comparison a "gross insult" and once again decided to freeze its diplomatic relations with Sweden (this time the freeze lasted for over a year).[22]


Mourners at the assassination site
Crossing of Sveavägen and Tunnelgatan where Olof Palme was assassinated.
Commemorative plaque on the place Olof Palme was assassinated

Political violence was little-known in Sweden at the time, and Olof Palme often went about without a bodyguard. Close to midnight on 28 February 1986, he was walking home from a cinema with his wife Lisbeth Palme in the central Stockholm street Sveavägen when he was shot in the back at close range. A second shot grazed Lisbeth's back. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the

Sabbatsberg Hospital at 00:06 CET. Lisbeth survived without serious injuries.[57]

Deputy Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson immediately assumed the duties of Prime Minister, a post he retained until 1991 (and then again in 1994–1996). He also took over the leadership of the Social Democratic Party, which he held until 1996.[58]

Two years later, Christer Pettersson (d. 2004), a murderer, small-time criminal and drug addict, was convicted of Palme's murder, but his conviction was overturned.[59] Another suspect, Victor Gunnarsson, emigrated to the United States, where he was the victim of an unrelated murder in 1993.[60] The assassination remained unsolved.[59]

A third and fourth suspect popularly referred to as "The Skandia Man" and GH, after their working place at the Skandia building next to the crime scene, and police investigation number ("H" representing the eighth letter, i.e. "Suspect Profile No. 8"), took their own lives in 2000 and 2008 respectively. Both fitted the suspect profile vaguely, and owned firearms.[61][62][63] GH was a long-time suspect partly because he had self-described financial motives, and owned the only registered .357 Magnum in the Stockholm vicinity not tested and ruled out by authorities, which as yet has not been recovered.

On 18 March 2020, Swedish investigators met in Pretoria with members of South African intelligence agencies to discuss the case. The South Africans handed over their file from 1986 to their Swedish colleagues. Göran Björkdahl, a Swedish diplomat, had done independent research on Palme's assassination. Major General Chris Thirion, who headed the military intelligence of South Africa during the final years of apartheid rule, had told Björkdahl in 2015 that he believed South Africa was behind Palme's murder. Swedish investigators announced that they would reveal new information and close the case on 10 June 2020.[64] Earlier remarks by lead investigator Krister Petersson that "there might not be a prosecution" have led commentators to believe that the suspect is dead.[65]

On 10 June 2020, Swedish prosecutors stated publicly that they knew who had killed Palme and named Stig Engström, also known as "Skandia Man", as the assassin. Engström was one of about twenty people who had claimed to witness the assassination and was later identified as a potential suspect by Swedish writers Lars Larsson and Thomas Pettersson.[66] Given that Engström had committed suicide in 2000, the authorities also announced that the investigation into Palme's death was to be closed.[67]

Some politicians and journalists in Turkey relate the assassination of Palme to PKK since he was the first in Europe to designate PKK as terrorist organisation.[68]

See also

Palme's grave in Stockholm's Adolf Fredrik cemetery


  1. ^ "Sweden's chance to heal 'open wound' of former PM's murder". 4 May 2020.
  2. ^ Nordstrom, Byron (2000). Scandinavia Since 1500. University of Minnesota Press, p. 347. "The February 1986 murder of Sweden's Prime Minister Olof Palme near Sergelstorget in the middle of Stockholm's downtown shocked the nation and region. Political assassinations were virtually unheard-of in Scandinavia."
  3. ^ a b "Olof Palme murder: Sweden believes it knows who killed PM in 1986". BBC News. 10 June 2020.
  4. ^ Sallinen, Jani Pirttisalo (12 June 2020). "Bevisen hade fått svårt – på punkt efter punkt". Svenska Dagbladet.
  5. ^ Vivekanandan 2016, p. 14
  6. ^ a b Qureshi 2023, p. 1
  7. ^ Ollikainen, Milla (29 May 2016). "Antisemitisti ja tahtonainen: Hanna von Born oli Olof Palmen suomalainen isoäiti". Seura (in Finnish). Retrieved 22 September 2021.
  8. ^ Olof Ruin: Olof Palme. In: David Wilsford: Political Leaders of Contemporary Western Europe: A Biographical Dictionary. Greenwood Press, Westport, CT 1995
  9. ^ "von Knieriem genealogy". gedbas.genealogy.net/.
  10. ^ a b c "Olof Palme". Uno Stamps. Archived from the original on 20 October 2017. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
  11. ^ Bill Mayr: Remembering Olof Palme. In: Kenyon College Alumni Bulletin Vol. 34, No. 2, Winter 2012.
  12. ^ Hendrik Hertzberg, "Death of a Patriot", in: Idem: Politics. Observations and Arguments, 1966–2004 (New York: The Penguin Press, 2004) pp. 263–266, there 264
  13. ^ "Lisbeth Palme, Witness to an Assassination, Dies at 87". The New York Times. 19 October 2018. Retrieved 27 August 2023.
  14. ^ "He was an atheist and saw war as the greatest threat to mankind. The popularity of the Swedish model society probably peaked in the early seventies, but Olof Palme tirelessly continued his development toward a society as he saw it." Jens Moe, My America: The Culture of Giving, page 155.
  15. ^ Ruin 1989, p. 53
  16. ^ Ruin 1989, p. 131
  17. ^ Ruin 1989, p. 134
  18. ^ "Olof Palmes Minnesfond". Palme Fonden. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
  19. ^ Ruin 1989, p. 133
  20. ^ a b "Olof Palme, Aristocrat Turned Socialist, Dominated The Politics Of Sweden". The New York Times. 1 March 1986. Retrieved 26 August 2023.
  21. ^ Olof Palme – En levande vilja: Tal och intervjuer
  22. ^ a b Andersson, Stellan. "Olof Palme och Vietnamfrågan 1965–1983" (in Swedish). OlofPalme.org. Retrieved 27 February 2008.
  23. ^ Vivekanandan 2016, p. 83
  24. ^ Olof Palme
  25. ^ Vivekanandan 2016, pp. 91–92
  26. ^ Ruin 1989, p. 61
  27. "Olof Palme was perhaps the most 'presidential' Scandinavian leader in recent decades, a fact that may have made him vulnerable to political violence."
  28. ^ "Han gödslade jorden så att Palmehatet kunde växa", Dagens Nyheter, 25 February 2006
  29. ^ Olof Palme: the controversy lives on Archived 6 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine, The Local, 27 February 2006
  30. ^ Dagens Nyheter 23 January 2007
  31. ^ "Detta borde vara vårt arv Archived 10 March 2006 at the Wayback Machine" Åsa Linderborg, Aftonbladet 28 February 2006
  32. ^ Tawat, Mahama (1 June 2019). "The Birth of Sweden's multicultural policy. The impact of Olof Palme and his ideas". International Journal of Cultural Policy: 478–481.
  33. ^ Kari Sable. "Olof Palme Unsolved Case". Kari Sable website. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
  34. ^ "Swedish Prime Ministers in history". Comhem. Archived from the original on 2 November 2014. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
  35. ^ Castro Archived 20 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  36. ^
    OCLC 468658478
  37. ISBN 9780781811149. Retrieved 3 February 2015.[page needed
  38. ^ ]
  39. ^ ]
  40. ^ a b "Palme's political legacy 'put Sweden on the map'". The Local. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
  41. ^ "The Dramatic Rise of Public Ownership in Midcentury Sweden". 8 October 2018.
  42. . Retrieved 3 February 2015.
  43. . Retrieved 3 February 2015.
  44. ^ via Google Books
  45. . Retrieved 3 February 2015.
  46. ]
  47. ^ "Olof Palme on the Emancipation of Man". 22 February 2016.
  48. .
  49. YouTube
  50. ^ "Palme Stockholm Conference 1972". YouTube. 5 August 2012.
  51. ^ Feder, Barnaby J. (31 March 1984). "Swedes' Seabed Spy Hunt: No Stone is Unturned". The New York Times. Vol. 133, no. 46000.
  52. ^ "Palme Meets Russian As Sub Hunt Continues". The New York Times. Vol. 132, no. 45670. 6 May 1983.
  53. ^ Holst, Karen. "Palme's political legacy 'put Sweden on the map'". The Local. Retrieved 23 March 2011.
  54. ISSN 0261-3077
    . Retrieved 22 June 2023.
  55. ^ "Lawyers Are Working to Put 'Ecocide' on Par with War Crimes. Could an International Law Hold Major Polluters to Account?". Time. 19 February 2021. Retrieved 22 June 2023.
  56. ^ "Ecocide: a crime against the planet". Law Society of Scotland. Retrieved 22 June 2023.
  57. ^ The investigation committee report (1999:88), p. 159 Archived 2 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine (PDF) (in Swedish)
  58. ^ "Ingvar Carlsson". Nationalencyklopedin (in Swedish). Retrieved 28 January 2010.
  59. ^
    S2CID 143889005
  60. ^ Dagens Nyheter, 2 February 1994.
  61. ^ "Skandiamannen talade om Palmemordet under sitt sista samtal". Expressen (in Swedish). 23 May 2018. Retrieved 8 June 2020.
  62. ^ "PALMEMORDSPODDEN [gamla feeden] (PMP-31-tv-sp-ren-hasse-aro )".
  63. ^ "Var han Palmes mördare?". 6 June 2012.
  64. ^ Borger, Julian (9 June 2020). "Sweden to present findings on Olof Palme assassination". The Guardian. Washington D.C. Retrieved 9 June 2020.
  65. ^ Johnson, Simon (9 June 2020). "Who killed Swedish PM Olof Palme in 1986? Swedes hope to find out". Reuters. Stockholm. Retrieved 9 June 2020.
  66. OCLC 943384360
  67. ^ "Olof Palme murder: Sweden identifies man who killed PM in 1986". BBC. 10 June 2020. Retrieved 10 June 2020.
  68. ^ "Palme'nin katili PKK'ya âşık İsveç'in Stockholm Sendromu (2)". 25 May 2022.


Further reading

In Swedish

External links

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