Category Archives: Mandela

Olof Palme murdered on this day 30 years ago

In the early 1980’s, on a holiday trip to Crete in the Mediterranean Sea, I happened to visit a remote village where I passed a small shop selling Greek sandals. The shop-keeper asked if I were a Swedish tourist. When I admitted to that he became exhilarated and urged me to enter his shop. There he pointed joyfully at an enlarged photo in a frame on the wall.

The picture showed him and his wife, together with the former (and later upcoming) Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme and his wife Lisbeth outside his shop. My first thought was that the man was lucky I wasn’t from Swedish upper classes or reactionary circles, in which case he had run the risk of getting a bucket of cold water poured over him. The second thought was: how many foreign politicians would have been recognized at all in a small Cretan village by an ordinary Greek?

Today 30 years have passed since Olof Palme was shot point-blank on a street a late evening in a winter-cold Stockholm, when he was walking home with his wife after watching a movie (and giving his bodyguards the evening off). Nobody has been found guilty of the murder.

On the occasion of this commemoration our print media, which is predominantly corporate owned, have dutifully and critically evaluated Palme’s person and politics. Parts of his many important contributions, which they almost mandatory omits, are the ones on the international arena. It’s easy to understand this omission since he in that context appears as the compassionate politician and moral role model he indeed was.

A reader of ordinary Swedish papers must in fact have difficulties understanding how Palme at all reached his international fame; what made cities around the world name streets after him and a low-educated Greek take a selfie with him. Our well behaved journalists have not been keen to report how Palme reached this status by actively standing on the side of the poor, of the oppressed, of people fighting for their freedom and independence, of people suffering under communist dictatorship; in short by being a true progressive in word and deed.

Olof Palme’s harsh opposition to the U.S. wars in Indochina is both admired and infamous and lead to a unique breaking of diplomatic relations between our countries. Sweden opened its borders to young Americans who hated those wars and couldn’t dream of participating in them. We protected those men in blatant conflict with the superpower (something we nowadays cannot promise a freedom-of- speech-hero such as Julian Assange).

Palme also made sure that his government took a clear stand against the fascist generals in Chile after the violent coup in 1973. Progressive Chileans who were threatened to be cut to pieces or thrown off a helicopter had to flee, and many of them were sheltered in Palme’s country. (Some years ago when I had an assignment as consultant at the Volvo plant in Goteborg I met a blue-collar worker who presented himself with the surname “Jara”. I curiously asked him, and it turned out that he was a nephew of the famous musician and singer Victor Jara who was mutilated and murdered by the Chilean fascists.)

Another major human rights achievement in Palme’s time (also annoying the super power) was the strong support for the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Quite large amounts of money were sent to ANC in comprehensive undercover operations monitored by a special female agent at the Swedish Embassy. The support was substantial, and Nelson Mandela chose Sweden as the first country to visit after he was elected president. (On the other hand Mandela was on the U.S. terrorist list until a few years before his death.)

Sweden had since the 1960s supported liberation movements also in Namibia, Rhodesia, Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau, continuing under Palme, who also strongly acted against the dictatorships in Spain and Greece. Worth to mention is his deep criticism of Soviet atrocities, for example those in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

There is a lot more to say about Palme’s contributions, such as his struggle for a world free of nuclear weapons, his support for Palestine, his participation in peace negotiations and on and on. He was industrious and energetic, also on the domestic field. I’ll spare the reader details on that front, other than to say that fundamental and vastly important building blocks in the Swedish welfare construction, still very much in place, were realized on his watch.

Then, what do we learn from our mainstream media in connection with this day of sadness, when we commemorate the death of a political giant and a profoundly compassionate individual? Well, our main paper – Dagens Nyheter – had a lead article by the editorial board last Friday, supposedly issuing its principled view on Olof Palme. And what did we read there?

First of all, not a word on Palme’s real achievements, only about his “unreasonably aggressive” style in debates, his “poisonous rhetoric remarks”, his ability to “arouse strong feelings”, to “inspire people – or drive them insane”, and other profound editorial insights of the same sort. This was perhaps to be swallowed, were it not for two reasons.

One: These remarks, obviously not intended to embellish Palme’s memory, have been perpetually reiterated ad infinutum through the years by our corporate media (covering 80 percent of the printed media). There is hardly a new word in this DN editorial, its main theme has been printed innumerable times and the readers know it by heart.

The second reason would have been that even an enemy is expected to show some respect on a day of mourning. But such attitudes of decency are not required in the case of Olof Palme.

There is one more thing to mention about Palme, something that distinguishes him from every other person in his country. No one has been so openly and shamelessly persecuted, vilified and despised – ever. The most horrible rumors were spread: Palme was mentally ill, he was a drug addict, a KGB agent and whatever.

There were no limits to the stupidities, and they were spread even by the upper classes in Stockholm’s finest quarters and treated by these “sophisticated” people as pure truths. Internet was hardly invented, but the hate speech appeared openly in most media. Most photos of Palme showed him from an unfavorable angel and with a distorted look in his face. Not to speak of the cartoons which often looked like something taken from Der Stürmer, like this one (The text says: “Moscow’s parrot is silenced”):

Palme karikatyr

The day after the murder the Swedish people suddenly got to see some normal portraits of Palme in their papers, such as the one below, and probably hardly recognized him.

Palme 2016

All of this is nothing to be surprised about. It’s just the class war in which the ruling classes are merciless, and for the moment have the upper hand (and have had so for the last 30-40 years). We just have to keep on struggling, and in that we may look to Olof Palme and many others for inspiration.

Noam Chomsky has lived for 85 years to become our greatest inspiration

Today is Noam Chomsky’s 85th birthday. The most important intellectual leader on earth has reached a mature age and is still an active forerunner in the struggle for an equitable, humane and reasonable world in which he wants the well-being of humankind to be in the center of our efforts. I sent him my warmest congratulations, adding a few notes on the current situation in Sweden, an excerpt of which follows:

On this day one year ago I wrote you a few words about the deconstruction of the concept “Sweden” as it usually has been known by many people. I’m afraid that the decline has continued since then, even manifesting itself in further disastrous developments.

But today we of course remember Nelson Mandela. For us his memory is tied to an era when “Sweden” was a different society. This was then my country to which Mandela made his first foreign visit, just one month after his release from Robben Island. That country had given more financial support to ANC than all the large European countries together. It was furthermore a policy supported by a substantial majority of Swedes and agitated by numerous solidarity movements. But a key decision maker was naturally Olof Palme.

Only one political party here opposed the support of ANC, thus in fact backing apartheid, namely the Right Party, at that time a rather insignificant party on the remote flank of the bourgeoisie. Today that party – now (naturally) calling itself “The Moderates” – dominates the government and provides our Prime Minister. One renowned left wing commentator recommends their ministers to stay away from the Mandela funeral because “their party’s breath stinks from dead viper” when it comes to ANC and Mandela.

To pick another shock that hit us the other day: the 2012 PISA report. Swedish scores in math, science and reading are falling like stones, in a speed not matched by any other OECD country. It’s now widely held that the reason can be directly derived from the neoliberal excesses, starting with free choice of schools in the 1990s, accelerated by anarchistic privatizations and erupting in robber capitalism with dismantling of resources in private schools resulting in huge profits transferred to tax havens.

The dire consequence of this experiment is that schools in Sweden have become extremely segregated, this in turn being the basic explanation behind the disastrous performance. We who grew up in the old Sweden (I’m 72) can hardly believe our eyes. Our country once had the most homogeneous schools in the world, a property now considered by many experts to be the foundation for good performance. It’s not just that the least talented kids are hit by the segregation; the performance by the top students is also declining!

All the neoliberal reforms are enforced on pure ideological grounds, based on the religious belief that market principles are infallible. Thus regulatory bodies usually haven’t been set up, let alone effective regulations carried through. Politicians seem to have shown the most naïve confidence in their religion, but perhaps they just don’t care (“if we privatize as much as we can manage we’ll leave the problems to the next government, since we know that people won’t put up with us for much longer anyway”).

If I were to say a few words on another neoliberal experiment and some democratic paradoxes I could choose an exotic welfare measure for the rich called RUT. In short it means that the government (tax payers) picks up half the bill when people buy domestic services of different kinds (including homework assistance for their kids, and hiring of butlers).

As one would expect it’s only ten percent of households that are entitled to this welfare check, since the rest cannot afford the services in the first place. In a democratic society it would seem self evident that the 90 percent of voters abolish an absurdity like this. But no way! The Social Democrats don’t dare to touch the “reform” which was pitched as a means of “gender equality” and a way to reduce black work. (The last argument is just too wonderful: rich criminals should be bribed to stay legal!)

Although Sweden isn’t business run to the extent the US is, “democracy” seems to work in the same way. The RUT absurdity is not in any way the only example where a large majority has no say. One way it’s made to work is through media. It’s said that we are obedient here, don’t want to stand out, feel safe with social conformity etcetera. But if that’s an explanation, the same seems to be the case in all (so called) democracies.

In polls 10 percent say that they are fully content with the present form of profit-making in schools and welfare businesses. The rest want some kind of restrictions, from banning dividends to prohibiting profits altogether. The only party whose program deals in at least some way with the wishes of 90 percent of voters is the Left Party, which nevertheless is supported by only about 7 percent in polls. It would have been a paradox if you hadn’t taught us that democracy in our sense is just a marketing procedure.

Well, crisis and opportunity are synonyms, as the old Chinese teach us. And there are more and more signs of a change in politics here. The impediments should just inspire to do more work (I try to contribute verbally in a blog). And in this work, dear Noam, you are the most inspiring person on earth. You demonstrate that rationality is the fundamental way to progress. And as you often point out there is constant progress going on, with one or other setback here and there, of course. So if my report seems depressing, I myself am filled with optimism regarding the development in the longer run. And this optimism is something I gain from listening to your talks regularly.

Nelson Mandela was a hero and a model for humanity. In my world you are even more so!