Sven Olof Joachim Palme (January 30, 1927 - February 28, 1986) was a Swedish politician. He was the leader of the Social Democrat Party from 1969 to 1986 and was Prime Minister of Sweden with a Privy Council Government from October 1969 to October 1976 and with a Cabinet Government starting in October 1982. Palme was assassinated in 1986 and was succeeded by Ingvar Carlsson.
Early life and education
Palme was born in Östermalm, Stockholm, Sweden. He came from an upper-class background and his family belonged to the Swedish nobility. However, his political orientation came to be influenced by Social Democratic ideas and ideals.
On a scholarship, he studied at Kenyon College, Ohio 1947-1948, graduating with a B.A. in less than a year. Inspired by the radical debate in the student community, he wrote a critical essay on Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom. After hitchhiking through the U.S., he returned to Stockholm to study law at Stockholm University. During his time at university, Palme became involved in student politics, working with the Swedish National Union of Students. In 1951, he became a member of the social democratic student association in Stockholm, although it seems he did not attend their political meetings at the time. The following year he was elected President of the Swedish National Union of Students, a position making it necessary to tone down party loyalties.
In 1953, Palme was recruited by social democratic Prime Minister Tage Erlander to work in his secretariat. From 1955 he was a board member of the Swedish Social Democratic Youth League. In 1958 he was elected Member of Parliament.
Olof Palme held several cabinet posts from 1963 and onwards. In 1967 he became Minister of Education, and the following year he was the target of fierce critisism from left-wing students protesting against the government's plans for university reform. When party leader Tage Erlander stepped down in 1969, Palme was unanimously elected as the new leader by the Social Democratic party congress and succeeded Erlander as Prime Minister.
Palme was a controversial political figure with strong views, criticising United States for the Vietnam War, fighting nuclear weapons proliferation, and condemning the apartheid politics in South Africa. He received some criticism for being too idealistic about the PLO and Fidel Castro. Palme is the most internationally known Swedish politician of the 20th century (with the possible exclusion of "humanitarians" like Raoul Wallenberg and Dag Hammarskjöld).
Olof Palme could often be seen without any bodyguard protection, and the night of his murder was one such occasion. Walking home from a movie theatre with his wife Lisbet on the central Stockholm street Sveavägen, close to midnight on February 28, 1986, the couple was attacked by a lone gunman firing two rounds with a magnum revolver. The first bullet killed Olof Palme, the second left Lisbet Palme wounded. The attacker could escape eastwards on the crossing Tunnelgatan and disappeared.
His assassination remains unsolved. Similar to that of John F. Kennedy, several conspiracy theories surround the murder. Christer Pettersson, a small-time criminal and alcoholic, was arrested for the murder in December 1988. Identified by Olof Palme's wife Lisbet as the killer, he was tried and convicted for the murder, but was later acquitted on appeal. After additional evidence against Pettersson surfaced in the late 1990s, Attorney General Klas Bergenstrand filed for a new court hearing, but in May 1998 the Swedish Supreme Court turned down the demand. The murder weapon never found, the police investigation remains open to this day.
The assassination of Olof Palme was the first murder of a Swedish politician since that of Axel von Fersen in 1810, and the first assassination of a Swedish head of government since that of King Gustav III of Sweden in 1792.