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 wasnâ€™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 Palmeâ€™s person and politics. Parts of his many important contributions, which they almost mandatory omits, are the ones on the international arena. Itâ€™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 Palmeâ€™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 ofÂ 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 Palmeâ€™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 â€œJaraâ€. 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 Palmeâ€™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,Â Rhodesia,Â Angola,Â MozambiqueÂ 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 Palmeâ€™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. Iâ€™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 â€“ Dagens Nyheter â€“ 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 Palmeâ€™s real achievements, only about his â€œunreasonably aggressiveâ€ style in debates, his â€œpoisonous rhetoric remarksâ€, his ability to â€œarouse strong feelingsâ€, to â€œinspire people â€“ or drive them insaneâ€, 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 Palmeâ€™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 â€“ 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 Stockholmâ€™s finest quarters and treated by these â€œsophisticatedâ€ people as pure truths. Internet was hardly invented, but the hate speech appeared openly in most media.Â MostÂ photos of Palme showed him from an unfavorable angel and with a distorted look in his face. Not to speak of the cartoons which oftenÂ looked like something taken from Der StÃ¼rmer, like this one (The text says: “Moscow’s parrot is silenced”):
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.
All of this is nothing to be surprised about. Itâ€™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.