By Elwe Json
IT’S BEEN thirty years this year since Swedish PM Olof Palme was shot at point-blank range on his way home from a late-night movie on February 28 1986.
His wife survived the attack but her positive witness confrontation with the suspected killer was later declared void, due to obvious blunders and serious mishandling of the investigation by the Swedish police. On that fateful night, Palme naively believed he was less vulnerable if he changed his habits and the unplanned cinema visit was not reported to his secret service minders, who had been told the couple would stay in for the night and sent home.
It was a harsh collective wake-up call in JFK fashion for a globally envied, modern welfare state that until recently successfully pursued the goal of full employment, income equalisation, social security and political transparency. In typical Scandinavian egalitarian fashion most citizens did not perceive a gap between public figures and hoi polloi, blame it on the widespread influence of Sandemose’s Law-of-Jante or an innate cultural sense on the importance of the collective.
In a debate column article published in the biggest Swedish Daily, the ‘independently liberal’ Dagens Nyheter, est. 1864, a former Secretary of State, Ulf Dahlsten, trusted colleague and friend of the murdered PM, goes public with his conclusion of the true identity of the killer in a bid to ease the minds of the Swedish public – ‘once and for all’.
Dahlsten cites three reasons for his new findings. Firstly, hitherto unknown bits of information Dahlsten received from credible witnesses that disclosed Pettersson’s intent years before the fatal shooting. Secondly, the fact that the main suspect, Christer Pettersson, unofficially confessed to the crime according to several witnesses. He had also given a detailed account of the circumstances leading up to the murder. Thirdly, Dahlsten emphasises the significance of Lisbet Palme’s profession as a practising psychologist and her photographic memory that stood her in good stead in positively identifying the murderer.
The decision by the Police to accommodate the wishes of the grieving First Lady of using a video link for the customary witness confrontation was disastrous. The result was that it was declared void since it breached the legal requirements for the investigative protocol at the time because of the different locations of the witness and the suspect. Dahlsten also claims that the expert witness, Psychology Professor L-G Nilsson stated he was misinterpreted when asked by the court on his views regarding witness memories and their truthfulness.
Lisbet Palme had a good look at the perpetrator (who was not wearing a mask) from a distance less than two metres. All the same, her key witness statement was thrown out by the judges, paving the way for an acquittal at the appeal trial 1989 that followed the conviction of life in prison given at the initial trial a year earlier. The case against the suspect Christer Pettersson thus collapsed, as did another appeal for a re-trial in 1997, and the murderer got away scot-free and died, as free man, in 2004.
Dahlsten headlines his article ‘the uncomfortable truth’ referring to his long-held opinion that, contrary to popular belief and conspiracy theorists favouring possible connections to foreign secret service agents or various terrorist-groups, Palme was murdered by one of his own, a Swede. Period.
Dahlsten even suggests that what ultimately killed the Swedish PM was the widespread hatred orchestrated and promulgated by the conservative cadre of the Swedish media apparatus at the time. This hatred inspired the suspect to either act alone or on behalf of his alleged boss and co-conspirator, Lars ‘The Bomber’ Tingström, a fellow jailbird and like Pettersson, on a collision course with the authorities, convicted for life in prison (where he later died) for some fatal bomb-attacks during the 1970s and 80s.
Palme’s radical political views made him some powerful enemies during his twenty odd year political career, and his scalding oratory attacks in several UN addresses against the enemies of democracy and freedom made headlines at the time, both home and abroad. He was fairly alone among top politicians in his demonstrative condemnation and active support of Anti-American sentiments and even participated in Anti-Vietnam War demonstrations.
He also openly favoured and supported the struggles against dictatorship and the anti-colonial wars that raged in Latin and South Americas and Africa and his staunch anti-apartheid stand against South-Africa and Rhodesia. Palme thus cut a brave, but highly controversial PM on the global scene, coming from a rather obscure, Lille-put land of barely 9 million citizens.
Dahlsten’s views, however, have not remained unanswered. Lars Linder, DN journalist questions in his reply to Dahlsten whether the ‘uncomfortable truth’ Dahlsten refer to is, in fact, a rather handy conclusion, since it nullifies the widespread popular belief of foreign, clandestine involvement in the murder. Linder suggests this would rather evoke a more politically discharged explanation, free of any associations with weapons smuggling and other clandestine and highly unpleasant affairs that figured widely in the rumours and speculations in the wake of the murder. Linder suspects this would act as a boon to many of Dahlsten’s former cabinet colleagues and party members.
He also refers to a recent book by Gunnar Wall, that points in another direction. Wall, who has dug deep into the investigation mire over the years, has found possible connections between some shady, nationalist, right-wing forces within the police and army. These groups were presumably worried about the future of the country’s long-held neutrality, national independence against USSR at the end of the Cold War and Palme’s bid for re-election in the autumn of 1985. This view points the finger to a deeply disturbing possibility that individuals somewhere within the State’s operational parts were involved in the murder, perhaps even instrumental in the complete fiasco that was the investigation, according to Linder.
Linder concludes that none of the theories have been proven but holds that Wall’s version of the truth is as likely as Dahlsten’s. With key suspects and many witnesses now deceased, the truth is that we will probably never know the truth, which unfortunately, Linder concedes, makes it just as uncomfortable as back in 1986.