Monday, 28 February 2011

On this date: 25th anniversary of the assassination of Olof Palme

Shortly before midnight on Friday 28 February 1986 the Prime Minister of Sweden, Olof Palme, was shot from behind at the junction of Sveavägen and Tunnelgatan in central Stockholm as he walked towards the entrance to the underground station. A single shot killed the Prime Minister, while a second shot grazed his wife Lisbet.
25 years on neither the assassin nor the weapon has been found and the murder of the Prime Minister would have become prescribed today unless Parliament had changed the law last year so that there is no longer any prescription time for serious crimes such as murder.
The unsolved assassination of the Prime Minister has understandably become something of a national trauma for Sweden. While it is probably an exaggeration to call it the most significant event in the country’s twentieth century history, as some people have done, it certainly marked a change of paradigm in that it violently brought to an end the notion of Sweden as an idyllic outpost where such things did not happen. In hindsight it is easy to identify 28 February 1986 as the date when a certain sense of innocence was lost.
The impact was not quite as great when the same thing happened again with the assassination of Foreign Minister Anna Lindh in 2003. This was probably partly due to the simple fact that it was not the first time such a thing happened in Sweden, but also because Anna Lindh’s assassin was found and brought to justice.
25 years after Olof Palme was shot to death in the street the police investigation goes on, but the investigators admitted a few days ago that they are not making progress. The last significant development was probably in 1998, when the police requested that Christer Pettersson, the man who was pointed out by Lisbet Palme during a witness confrontation and convicted for the murder in 1988 but acquitted in 1989, should be put on trial again. However, the Supreme Court turned down the request as they could not see that there was a sufficient amount of new evidence to take such an action. Christer Pettersson died in 2004.
Since 1986 some 130 people have admitted to having killed Olof Palme and there have been countless other leads, none of them leading to the assassination being solved. The unsolved murder has thus for many years come to overshadow Olof Palme himself and it has been interesting to note recently that his life and work have again begun attract attention, resulting in a number of studies and two excellent recent biographies.
The 25th anniversary of the assassination of one of the most interesting and consequential politicians of the twentieth century has also been widely covered in the media and commemorated in many other ways today and as usual a huge number of red roses have been laid at his grave in the churchyard of Adolf Fredrik and at the scene of his murder.
The photo shows the bust of Olof Palme which is to be found in the Parliament Building.

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