Olof Palme


Portrait of Olof PalmeOlof Palme (1927-1986), prime minister of Sweden, was born in Stockholm in an upper middle class family. His father, a businessman, died when Olof was six years old. His mother brought up her children in a well-to-do home in Stockholm. As a child he suffered from poor health and received a great deal of his education from private tutors. Even as a child, he gained thorough knowledge of two foreign languages. He then studied at the Sigtuna School of Liberal Arts - Sigtuna Humanistiska Laroverk - one of Sweden's few residential high schools, and matriculated (passed university entrance examination) with high marks at an exceptionally early age of 17. He then did military service and enrolled in the University of Stockholm. He spent two terms (one year) at Kenyon College, Ohio, USA, and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1948.

After graduation, he hitch-hiked across the United States and to Mexico with hardly a penny in his pocket.


Returning to Stockholm, he studied at the University of Stockholm and received a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1951. He became interested in radical politics during the early post war years and joined the Social Democratic Party in 1949. He took part in the student movement and was elected Chairman of the National Swedish Union of Students in 1951. As a student politician, he concentrated on international affairs and travelled widely in East and West Europe. In 1953, he attended a student seminar in Mysore and spent almost three months travelling in India and other Asian countries (Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia - perhaps also Japan).


Swedish stamps to commemorate Olof PalmeHis travels had a great influence on his thinking. He was struck by the inequalities in the USA, the race problem and the rise of McCarthyism. His anti-colonial attitude was intensified by his journey to Asia. After his return from the Asian journey, Tage Erlander, the Prime Minister, discovered him and appointed him as his Personal Secretary - in the summer of 1953. His duties involved central coordination. These duties and his almost daily contact with the Prime Minister helped his development as a politician. In 1955, he became Director of Studies in the Social Democratic Youth League, and retained this position until 1961. In the same year, he also became member of the Workers' Educational Association. Though he did not have a base in the labour movement, he travelled constantly around the country, especially over weekends, and became popular among the young Social Democrats as a lecturer and debater.


In 1956, Palme, then 29, married Lisbet Beck-Friis, 25, a child psychologist. In 1957, Palme was elected to Parliament for the first time, representing Jonkoping county. At the beginning of 1960`s, Palme was a member of the Swedish Agency for International Assistance (SIDA) and was also in charge of inquiries into assistance to the developing countries and educational aid. In 1963, he became a member of the Cabinet - as Minister without Portfolio in the Cabinet Office, and retained his duties as a close political adviser to Prime Minister Tage Erlander. In 1965, he became Minister of Transport and Communications. One issue of special interest to him was the further development of radio and television, while ensuring their independence from commercial interests. He was appointed Minister of Education and Cultural Affairs in 1967, and supervised major reforms in the educational system, especially of higher education, towards greater democratisation.


Plaque marking the spot where Olof Palme was killedIn 1965, Palme made a speech in Gavle reviewing the principles underlying the situation in the world and in Sweden. One part of his speech concerned Vietnam and was regarded as severe criticism of United States involvement in that country. Swedish public opinion had become increasing critical of the action in Vietnam and in 1968 aroused some irritation in the United States. Palme, who had taken part in a protest march in Stockholm, in which North Vietnamese ambassador also participated, was also criticized by the Swedish non-Socialist parties. (Palme said he was not aware that the ambassador would join the march, and did not wish to withdraw from the march because of his participation). Palme and the Swedish Government energetically defended the right of Sweden to criticize and to express solidarity with the struggle for liberation going on in many parts of the world. At the Social Democratic Party Congress in October 1969, Palme was unanimously elected the Chairman of the Party, succeeding Tage Erlander who had resigned after 23 years as leader of the Party and Prime Minister. On 14 October 1969, he took office as Prime Minister. By then Socialists had been continuously in power for 39 years (from 1932).


He was Prime Minister until the Parliamentary elections of October 1976 when a non-Socialist coalition formed the government. (The Social Democrats had won a big electoral victory in 1968. Palme's first election in 1970 brought a slight reverse. His second election, under a new Constitution, brought further reverses: the Social Democrats formed a minority government which could not carry out reforms). Palme lost the election in 1976, largely on the issue of nuclear power. A non-Socialist coalition government was formed but the coalition did not last. The non-Socialists, however, won a narrow majority in the 1979 elections. Palme returned to power after the 1982 Parliamentary elections. His party won the 1985 elections also and he was Prime Minister until his assassination in 1986.


Palme was Vice-president of the Socialist International. He headed the SI task force on southern Africa, and led a mission to the region in the summer of 1977. With Willy Brandt of Germany and Bruno Kreisky of Austria, he helped reform the orientation and image of the Socialist International. He was a member of Brandt Commission - Independent Commission on International Development Issues - which studied the relationship between poor and rich countries and published its report in 1979.


Portrait of Olof PalmeHe took the initiative for, and chaired, the Palme Commission - the Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security Issues - which began its work soon after the Brandt Commission completed its report in 1979. It presented its report, Common Security, to the special session of the United Nations General Assembly on disarmament in June 1982.


In November 1980, Palme was appointed as the representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for exploring a peaceful solution of the conflict between Iran and Iraq. He visited the region several times for talks with the leaders of the two countries.


Palme has been interested in southern Africa since the early 1950's. He was President of the International Conference on South West Africa, held in Oxford in 1966, which recommended the termination of South Africa's mandate. During his term as Prime Minister, the Swedish government began substantial humanitarian and social assistance directly to southern African liberation movements. In March 1977, he addressed the United Nations Security Council on the question of South Africa. In May 1977, he addressed the Maputo Conference on Zimbabwe and Namibia as a special guest. In August 1977, he addressed the Lagos World Conference for Action against Apartheid. He led the SI mission to southern Africa during that year for consultations with liberation movements and frontline States.


On 11 October 1978 the General Assembly at a special meeting gave him an award for his contribution, in cooperation with the United Nations, to the international campaign against apartheid.





Article on Olof Palme in Wikipedia.

Statement by Olof Palme in the Security Council on 25 March 1977: So long as there is apartheid and racism, there can be no peace.

Speech by Olof Palme at the United Nations Conference in Support of the Peoples of Zimbabwe and Namibia, Maputo , 20 May 1977.



Stamp catalogue


Union of Soviet Socialist Republics        1 August 1986









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last revised: 28 March 2010