Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Palme, Olof (1927–1986)

Swedish politician, chairman of the Social Democratic Workers' Party (SAP) during 1969–1986, and prime minister during 1969–1976 and 1982–1986. Born on 30 January 1927 to an upper-class family in Stockholm, Sven Olof Joachim Palme earned a bachelor's degree in political science from Kenyon College, Ohio, in 1948 and a law degree from the University of Stockholm in 1951. He joined SAP in 1949. In 1953 he was employed by Prime Minister Tage Erlander as his personal secretary and in 1958 was elected to parliament. In 1963 Palme entered government as minister without portfolio. Two years later he became minister of communication and in 1967 became minister of education, a post he held until 1969.

In October 1969 Palme succeeded his patron Erlander as prime minister and chairman of SAP. Palme was a charismatic and often controversial politician, with a keen interest in foreign affairs. He became internationally renowned for his provocations of the United States and sympathies for the developing world, although in spite of his sometimes-polarizing foreign policy he acted in a generally pragmatic vein.

As the leader of a neutral country in the Cold War, Palme was a leading propagandist against the Vietnam War, which he opposed as a colonial legacy and imprudent effort to contain communism. His appearance in a demonstration alongside the North Vietnamese ambassador to Moscow in February 1968, his comparison of the Christmas 1972 U.S. bombing of Hanoi with fascism, and his welcoming of U.S. military deserters to Sweden precipitated a significant diplomatic falling out with Washington. Palme's positions regarding South Africa's apartheid regime, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Cuba, Nicaragua, and nuclear disarmament only caused further irritation. Many U.S. officials were sharply critical of Palme, but others saw him as the apotheosis of a statesman wedded to his principles who did not submit to the bipolar logic of the Cold War. In spite of his dovish image, he nevertheless maintained a strong defense as well as military contacts with the West.

Palme initiated and chaired the Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security Issues, active during September 1980–April 1982, that advocated the concept of global common security. Palme was assassinated on a downtown Stockholm street on 28 February 1986 after he and his wife left a theater. His murder stunned the Swedes, who are known for their civility and nonviolence. The man accused and convicted of assassinating Palme was later acquitted for lack of evidence, and ever since, conspiracy theories have proliferated concerning Palme's untimely death.

Norbert Götz


Further Reading
Malm-Andersson, Ingrid. Olof Palme: En bibliografi [Olof Palme: A Biography]. Uppsala: Gidlunds, 2001.; Palme, Olof. Socialism, Peace and Solidarity: Selected Speeches of Olof Palme. Edited by Enuga Sreenivasulu Reddy. New Delhi: Vikas, 1990.
 

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