Olof Palme Was More American Than Swedish

Via The Local:

With a new film once again turning Swedes’ attention toward Olof Palme, historian and political commentator David Linden argues the assassinated Swedish Prime Minister was, in many ways, more of an American politician than a Swedish one.

More than two decades after his death, the life and career of Olof Palme (1927-1986) haunt and intrigue Sweden’s national psyche.

He was Social Democratic Prime Minister between 1969-1976, and from 1982 until he was shot dead in 1986. The fact that his murder is still unsolved helped create a legend that has made Palme a secular Swedish saint.

He is the closest thing Sweden has ever had to a U.S. president. A telling detail is that one still needs permission from the Palme family to access his papers.

Olof Palme is intriguing in many ways and not just because of his tragic death.

His public career lasted for almost four decades and he was a politician that could stir up emotions. According to former Social Democrat party leader Mona Sahlin, when she joined the party she did not become just a member of the Social Democrats, she “joined Olof Palme”.

On the other hand Ulf Adelsohn, who was leader of the rival Moderate Party from 1981-1986, has said of Palme that “no-one could make me so angry”.

This divisive mode is captured in the title of the new documentary chronicling his life: “Olof Palme: alskad och hatad” (‘Olof Palme: loved and hated’).

Olof Palme was a feared opponent and a formidable friend. He is famous for his aggressive and arrogant oratory. It is said that when he lost the 1976 election it was as a result of debating with the leader of the agrarian Center Party, Thorbjörn Fälldin, who succeeded him as Prime Minister.

Fälldin was the opposite of Palme and he realized that he could not keep up with his opponent’s rhetorical skills. His strategy was instead to make Palme angry and frustrated by speaking slowly and appearing clumsy.

It worked.

The debate was held in the Scandinavium sports stadium in Gothenburg and those who attended the debate live voted for Palme, while those that saw it on TV and heard it on radio opted for Fälldin.

On TV, Palme often appeared aggressive and condescending, while those who heard him live found the experience unforgettable.

He was not a normal Swedish politician since, despite having aristocratic roots and being educated in the U.S., he chose to become a Social Democrat.

And this is also where the key to understanding Palme lies: in many ways, he was more an American than a Swedish politician.

When Palme became Prime Minister he maintained his connection to the Anglo-American world. In his archive, there are letters from the historian and John F. Kennedy adviser Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and the economist John Kenneth Galbraith, among others.

Despite a speech in which Palme likened the 1972 Christmas U.S. bombings of Hanoi to atrocities committed under the Nazis – a speech that led to the expulsion of the Swedish ambassador from Washington – U.S. statesman Henry Kissinger nevertheless said that there were only two Swedes you could talk to: Olof Palme and Pehr G. Gyllenhammar.

What makes Olof Palme unique is that he was, and so far remains, Sweden’s most international Prime Minister, and the only one who was educated outside of Sweden.

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