By Joakim Ydebäck
Olof Palme’s life was full of controversies. During his eleven year tenure as Prime Minister of Sweden and his long tenure as leader of the Social Democratic Party, he became an enigmatic political figure. But all of this has been overshadowed by his assassination in 1986 and the subsequent investigation which, so far, has gone nowhere. There are a lot of suspects but none have been convicted. Recently the main investigator, Krister Petersson, promised to put an end to the investigation before summer, either by prosecuting a suspect or by closing the investigation. Will our questions be answered?
While possessing some of the highest political positions, he was hated for his outspoken criticism of his opponents while simultaneously being revered for being an unusually charismatic leader in a polarized time. Because of this, he was involved in several controversies. One example is the IB affair where journalists Jan Guillou and Peter Bratt exposed an intelligence agency, known only to the government, that spied on people with communist sympathies. Another controversy he was involved in was the Geijer affair which concerned allegations against the Minister of Justice about having been involved with prostitutes and thereby possessing a security risk. Or the infamous Christmas Speech where Palme criticized the US bombings of Hanoi in 1972, after which the American Ambassador was ordered home. But all of these examples will be forever overshadowed by the controversies that emerged surrounding his assassination and the faulty investigation that followed.
On the 28th of February 1986, Olof Palme and his wife Lisbet went to see a movie in central Stockholm. For some reason, they decided to not call in bodyguards. They should have. Palme was shot down in the street while on his way home. His wife had to watch her husband die. Most Swedish people are familiar with this story. Most likely we have pictures in our heads of the body on the ground and the desperate woman trying to stop the bleeding. At the same time, a mysterious figure with a smoking gun in his hand runs away into a dark alley and disappears. Many of us wish we knew more about what happened that night.
Everybody is a suspect. Was it assassins from the Kurdish liberation group PKK? Low-level criminal Christer Pettersson? Someone part of a South African death squad? Swedish nazis? The mysterious figure known as Skandiamannen? Palme-hater Alf Enerström? Mysterious mercenary Bertil Wedin? Political opponents? The CIA? A police officer with right-wing extremist sympathies? Or maybe you did it? All of them seems to have an alibi. Palme obviously had a lot of enemies. And everybody seemed to have been close to the movie theater that specific winter night. Even beloved comedian Robert Gustafsson was there watching the same film as Palme. Few have been prosecuted and none have been convicted. Most of the suspects are probably not even alive anymore.
If we get something out of this over thirty-year-old ordeal, it is the controversies and the conspiracy theories. They are, if nothing else, entertaining and even perhaps tillitating for some. The media value is not least evident when the chief investigator announced that the investigation was going to end: either they would prosecute a suspect before the summer or end the investigation without a proper conclusion. But none of these two outcomes will likely suffice to satisfy our need to know: Who shot Olof Palme?
Cover photo: Rob Bogaerts
Joakim Ydebäck is studying at the Peace and Development Program at Uppsala University. After that, his goal is to somehow make the world just a little bit better. If he were to be offered the position of foreign minister, he would not say no. His four main interests include talk radio, international opinion polls, political crises and somber jazz music.