Olof Palme and World Interests

EDITORIAL, 24 Jan 2011

#148 | Johan Galtung, 24 Jan 2011 - TRANSCEND Media Service

Leeds City Hall, UK – Jan 23, 2011

Lord Mayor, Ladies and Gentlemen, a great honor to deliver the 25th Olof Palme lecture now almost 25 years after he was murdered on 19 February 1986.  An extraordinary person, brilliant, charismatic, with a world view, the Third Way, neither pro-Soviet nor pro-USA, already when he was president of the Swedish National Union of Students in 1950.  As international vice-president of the Norwegian one I met him, we cooperated, met again, till his life line was cut.  By the bullet of an assassin.

He was identified by Palme’s wife, Lisbeth, but the case was dismissed for lack of proof.  Or, because the case was non-judiciable? Maybe he was a patsy, like Oswald in the Kennedy murder, hired by dark forces: the right wing of the Swedish security police, Säpo, and retired FBI-CIA.  All the assassin, rather derelict, shadowy, now long time dead but a part of Swedish history, had to do was to intimate to the judge that he would tell the whole story in court, and open for conflicts Sweden was not prepared to handle.

They had a glowing hatred for Palme.  The Swedes because he, upper class, of Baltic-Swedish nobility, was a traitor to his own class with his welfare state policy, and refused to toe the anti-Soviet line that Säpo–with a Nazi German orientation during the Second world war–saw as being in the Swedish national interest.  And the Americans because Palme, criticizing both superpowers for their policies in Eastern Europe, and in the Viêt Nam war (imagine him alive today!), and for their nuclear arms race, equalized them and their arms, refusing to see one as good and the other as evil.  He was accused of offering unsolicited advice as if he were above.

He was.  To Palme the two superpowers and their hideous arms were more than a problem to each other.  Together they were a world problem and it was in the world interest to sort it out.

Swedish history was enacted through his person, with two expansion periods, The Viking Age (ca. 800-1050) and The Age of Greatness (17th century).  During the Viking Age “the eastern route” was primarily used by the Swedish Vikings, penetrating into Russia as far as to the Black and Caspian Seas.  Settles lands were established in Balticum and in Southwestern Finland.  And then the expansion collapsed by overextension rather than defeat “around 1050 the political connection between Sweden and Russia ceased” and, “at the end of the century, the Mediterranean was reopened to the Orient trade by the First Crusade – -“.

The expansion acquired a name: dominium maris baltici.

The Age of Greatness was brilliant and short, based on the Vasa kings and their creation and consolidation of the Swedish state.  Gustavus Adolphus (ruled 1611-1632, killed at Lützen, Germany), and Charles XII (1697-1718, killed at Halden, Norway) are the high points.  After the defeat of Charles XII by the Russian Tsar Peter I at Poltava, 29 June 1709, came the loss of Finland to the Russians in 1809, and the dissolution of the Union with Norway 1905.  Decline and fall of an empire, what next?

Sweden had entered a “waiting room” before that.  The waiting room also had a name, neutrality, as in the declaration by Charles IV Johan 4 June 1834 of “my system of strict and independent neutrality”, practiced in the Crimean War, (with difficulty) in the Danish-Prussian war, the French-Prussian war and in the two World Wars of last century–including the free passage accorded to German troops to-from Narvik through Sweden.  And, most important in this context: Sweden was nonaligned during the Cold War 1949-1989 – officially, even if in practice leaning heavily to the West.  But Sweden was sufficiently nonaligned officially to irritate the USA with “unsolicited advice”.

Olof Palme’s crime, even treason, was very clear and unpardonable: he defined the waiting room-recovery home as normalcy, and created a new concept of Sweden as a Great Power, based on the welfare state and neutrality.  He traveled to the Soviet Union not to demonstrate Swedish ascendancy or to express rightful dominus maris baltici, but to enlist a companion in the struggle against the nuclear arms race.  He was soliciting their help rather than waiting for them to be weak and Sweden strong, individually or jointly with others, forcing the Soviet Union or Russia to solicit Swedish assistance, in whatever field.  At the same time he was lukewarm in a submarine issue constructed by the Swedish military and their media helpers as a Soviet expansion of dominus maris baltici, into the Swedish coastal waters.[i]

In short, he broke the script by trying to introduce a new, non-expansionist, cooperative script.  By doing so he rejected the collective subconscious of expansion eastward as a normal-natural program for Swedish foreign policy, arguing an alternative course.  His Sweden was not reborn; his Sweden was a New Beginning.  He made the Great Period pre-history.  And killing him made his New Beginning a non-starter, and Olof Palme a parenthesis, first paralyzing Sweden, then launching Sweden firmly on the EU-NATO track in Eastern Europe-Croatia-Bosnia-Kosovo-Afghanistan. Swedish policy toward Yugoslavia in 1999 was not a relation to Yugoslavia, but to EU-NATO as membership candidate.  The same applies to the policy in Afghanistan.

Conclusion: there were strong contradictions centered on Palme.  There was much at stake when he launched his Five Powers initiative to help rid the world of nuclear arms.  May there be many like him putting world interests above narrow national and regional concerns.


[i]. “The Citizens’ Commission has been able to show that evidence tampering has occurred (as in the manipulation of weather reports) and even of instances in which Swedish submarines have used to wrongfully  elicit or provoke false ‘sightings'”.  Lars Bergström and Klas åmark eds., Ubåtsfrågan, Uppsala: Verdandi Debatt, 1999, p. 193.

Olof Palme Memorial Lecture, Delivered by Professor Johan Galtung


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 24 Jan 2011.

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4 Responses to “Olof Palme and World Interests”

  1. Incredibly informative and authoritative lecture. Thank you.

  2. “May there be many like him putting world interests above narrow national and regional concerns.”

    World interests have many facets. World interests are a strong background for acting locally when looking at coping with climate change or prevention of further soil degradation caused mainly by industrialized or industrializing greedy countries worldwide (causes for continuing physical, cultural and structural violence against people and nature).

    World interests views force us to worry about, question and change our narrow national, regional and communal policies.

    Deluded world? Please send for the doctors. Obviously Olof Palme was one of those doctors.

  3. I celebrate the success of the lecture.