Sweden takes pride in its murdered PM

Ten years after he was shot, the sometimes prickly Olof Palme is appreciated more than ever, writes Annika Savill

The torchlit march through Stockholm tonight commemorating the 10th anniversary of Olof Palme's assassination will be marked by a certain sense of pride. It is a pride that has evolved slowly through the past decade in the very qualities that made the murdered prime minister difficult for many to stomach in life.

In the run-up to the anniversary, many have recalled another march involving the Social Democratic firebrand nearly 30 years earlier: how in 1968 he walked side-by-side with the North Vietnamese ambassador through the streets of Stockholm, provoking dangerous tension in Sweden's relationship with the United States and dismay among more moderate voices at home.

A drum-roll used to resound through the words of Olof Palme, the most uncharacteristically dramatic and controversial champion of the Swedish Social Democratic movement. More than anyone, he epitomised the image of Sweden as the world's self-appointed conscience. As one life-long Social Democratic supporter put it: "Nobody speaks that way any more. He was never dull, never predictable. We didn't always agree with him but he made you think."

On the night of 28 February, 1986, Olof Palme was shot at point-blank range by a lone gunman in a street in central Stockholm while walking home from the cinema with his wife. A botched operation by the Swedish police - unused as they were to political assassinations on the capital's streets - failed to seal off the escape routes in time. The killer has never been found.

It was because of his intense global involvement - his last international mission was as UN envoy in the Iran-Iraq war - that theories of a foreign plot to kill him took hold within hours of the murder. Early suspicions fell on a Kurdish group whose meeting place lay along the gunman's escape route. The lead eventually proved inconclusive. After 10 years of inquiries, commissions, independent working groups and conspiracy theories, few now expect the assassin will ever be found. A recent opinion poll showed a majority of Swedes felt it was time the police investigation was closed for good.

Most seem to favour the theory of a disturbed person acting on his own without a serious political agenda; many still want to believe it was the work of Christer Pettersson, a sometime alcoholic with no particular motive who was charged, tried and acquitted more than five years ago.

One columnist, expressing desperation shared by many at the lack of a culprit, suggested recently: "I propose the government makes a deal with Christer Pettersson: promise him a good pension in return for his confession to the murder."

As for his political legacy, most insiders now agree that one image in particular haunted Palme in the last years of his life: the fact that he saw his successor and political heir not among the comrades in his own party, but in a young conservative politician of the day, one Carl Bildt.

Both came from upper-class, establishment families, though they moved to opposite ends of the political spectrum. While Palme was marching with the envoy from Hanoi, young Mr Bildt was plotting with his Young Conservatives what would one day become the first conservative-led government reforms in Sweden.

With Mr Bildt, after his stint as prime minister 1991-94, now embarked on a full-time international mission in the former Yugoslavia, the parallels are still there. It is by no means clear, however, whether he will come back to lead his party in the next election, due in 1998, to rival Palme's 11 years in power.

The Social Democrats, for their part, have other wounds to heal now. Just over two weeks after tonight's vigil, they will hold a party congress to elect a successor to Ingvar Carlsson, who inherited the party leadership from Mr Palme. The original heir-apparent, Mona Sahlin, withdrew in October after a scandal involving a mild but most un-Social Democratic offence: technical misuse of a government credit card.

Ms Sahlin, seen as the reformer of Sweden's creaking and overstretched welfare system, had been groomed to drag Swedish Social Democracy into the 20th century. The election instead as party leader of Goran Persson, the heavyweight Finance Minister, will in effect be a formality.

He has already had to appease the old-guard custodians of the welfare state and the trade-union movement, by proposing the raising of sickness benefits, which the reformists had fought to cut down.

Palme's inner circle recently disclosed that months before his death, he had grown increasingly distracted on the job; he had been struggling to find a way to step down from the premiership and pursue a full-time international career. Having been deemed too controversial to be UN Secretary- General, he was to have spent the summer of 1986 exploring more realistic challenges. As one ally said: "The problem was, he didn't know how to leave."

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing

Other places that have held independence referendums
Life and Style

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's most starring part
London's New Year's Eve fireworks event is going to be ticketed this year for the first time at £10 a head

Revellers will have to pay to see New Year's Eve fireworks in London


Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line

...and the perfect time to visit them

We are phenomenally good at recognising faces; the study showed that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognisable

Human faces unique 'because we don't recognise each other by smell'

Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Experienced Cover Supervisors Needed

£55 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education have cover s...

**** Calling All NQT's ****

£90 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Are you a Newly Qualified Teac...

Cover Supervising Roles Longridge

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Preston: A mainstream secondary school i...

Cover Supervisor Preston

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Cover Supervisor Jobs in Presto...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week