Looking back at Olof Palme and a short Ode to the Speed Junkie

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the assassination of the Swedish prime minister Olof Palme. One of the so called ’Fathers of the Nation’ in the tradition of Tage Erlander, Per-Albin Hansson and Hjalmar Branting, the founders of the Swedish Social Democratic system who paved the way for the so called ’Swedish Model’ which was the envy of the world during those few decades after the Second World War. 

Palme has been glorified over the years and especially after his untimely death. He’s been regarded as a great reformer and became somewhat of an international celebrity because he dared speak out against the United States’ bombings of North Vietnam, publicly labelled them ’atrocities’ and compared them to the acts of terror seen in places like Treblinka, Lidice, Sharpeville and Guernica. He spoke out against the Apartheid system in South Africa in a way no one else did and Archbishop Desmond Tutu referred to him as one of the reasons why the ANC didn’t go anti-white but anti-establishment. He continuously emphasized his belief that every country has a right to exist and should not be controlled or in anyway diverted from their own path by outside influences, force or fear.

On this the 30th anniversary I look back at two things, first, I look back at a time when the focus of the political debate was on humanism and not economics. A time when a high GDP of a country was not confused with a high standard of living. A time before neoliberalism. A time when the idea of social, racial and economical equality was something that existed within arms-reach and not described as some utopian fantasy. 

Second, I look back at the police investigation following Palme’s murder which was almost as horrifying as the assassination itself. It’s a long story and a mess at that. In my mind it’s one of the most extensive cases of police incompetence in modern time. It was apparent from the very beginning that the police wanted to have it over with. Make it unnecessarily confusing. Essentially making it into such a mess that it would be impossible to disentangle it all and as an outsider try to make sense of it. They disregarded the standard protocol when dealing with witnesses causing large parts of the time-sensitive and one of the most crucial parts of the investigation to be invalid. The Kurdish separatist organization PKK became the main suspect, then a South African lead, then a 33-year-old… but no one really looked towards the enemies in the United States that had been pointed out as potential threats before like members of the CIA. Or the Swedish Security Police (SÄPO) itself where they threw darts at pictures of Palme’s face in the break room. Or members of the military junta in Chile. Or the fascist regimes in Greece, Spain and Portugal who Palme all spoke out against. No, the main suspect became an amphetamine junkie from Rotebro, an area Northwest of Stockholm, with a criminal record. A man who’s at the wrong place at the wrong time because his dealer Sigge who lived two blocks away from the crime scene was not at home. A man who fit to a description and a police sketch the witnesses had seen BEFORE they were supposed to try to point out the suspect in a police lineup. Ruining the objectivity and the integrity of the investigation causing people to already know his face and confusing them about what it actually was that they saw the night of the assassination. He got convicted but later acquitted by the Court of Appeal based on this misconduct made by the police. He was a deeply sick and damaged person who used these accusations to make interviews, confessions and misleadings about what happened against payment to feed his alcoholism and drug addiction until his death in 2004. He was supposed to be the scape-goat from the lower parts of society, take the blame and finally, after two years, put this whole nightmare of a police investigation to rest. But no. To this day no one has yet been convicted of the murder of Olof Palme. 

The current Swedish prime minister Stefan Löven said today that ”he’s convinced that Christer Pettersson was Palme’s murderer”. I believe, along with the professor emeritus in criminology and TV personality Leif G.W. Persson, that the assassination has a far more sophisticated motive behind it than a junkie with a gun. That political people are most of the time assassinated for political reasons. It’s an unpopular and inconvenient persuasion because it embarrasses a lot of people for their incompetence and forces us to look at the faults in our ”perfect Nordic society” - making us have to leave our comfort zone for a moment. 

11000 people have been pointed out as suspects, 130 have at some time confessed to the murder and the investigation did in 2012 consist of 250 meters of files, folders and statements. It would take an experienced lawyer reading 300 documents per day, 7 days per week approximately 10 years to go through the Palme archives. Not counting the 22 TB of audio and video material recently transferred from tape and cassettes. Which is significantly more than for example the investigation of John F. Kennedy’s assassination and the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

Kali