Olof Palme was an unknown to my daughter’s boyfriend. So I tried to explain, in a few brief sentences, that he was the last great Nordic statesman, and that he had followed in the footsteps of Dag Hammarskjold. ‘How come I’ve never heard of him?’ he asked. ‘Well, you were born after his death and he was Swedish,’ I responded, trying not to infer that he was, you know, uninformed.
Palme came up because the subject had turned to world events, and I was lamenting the dearth of politicians of substance in Europe, especially here in the Nordic region. That dearth can be summed up by Jens Stoltenberg, who has now associated Norwegian-accented English with a pro-war NATO zeal bordering on religious fanaticism. What a contrast to peacemaker Palme’s beautifully modulated Swedish English, which few remember so long after his death.
We had invited my daughter and her ‘Mr R’ to Le Pavé, a French-inspired restaurant off the tourist trail in Copenhagen. This was the first time we were allowed to meet him. So, neutral territory with French cuisine and, as it turned out, two Swedish serveur, was an appropriate venue.
Mr R told us about a recent trip to Stockholm with his dad’s business. Their production is in Borlänge apparently. “It’s been such a long time since I visited the city,” I said, “Next time I’m up there I want to lay a flower on the grave of Olof Palme.” That’s when I saw Mr R’s blank expression regarding the former Swedish prime minister.
“Yes, Sweden used to be a humanitarian superpower,” I explained, “Palme was not afraid to protest America’s Vietnam War nor to criticise the Soviets.”
If Palme had lived in our time it’s pretty much a given that he would have made it onto TV screens around the world. His message would have been dialogue and de-escalation of the current crisis. Of course, he’d have had his work cut out for him, from Afghanistan, through Iraq, to Palestine, Libya, Syria, and Yemen – conflicts with the fingerprints of the Western world all over them. And then there’s the ‘Ukraine project’ which has, quite predictably, become the cause celebre of the fashionable Russophobe.
Palme was well aware that the empire of lies turns on the axis of evil. His public denunciation of Western-backed regime change wars and violent coup d’etats confirmed this. It was perhaps this that made him a target, just as Dag Hammarskjold was the victim of assassination before him.
Mr R was surprised to learn that Palme had been gunned down while walking home from the cinema with his wife. A very public murder. After an ineffective 35 years, the largely inept and bungling inquiry pointed the finger at another ‘probable’ assassin – now dead. It then it promptly shut down.
Just like the Scottish case at the Supreme Court, it’s obvious when a government is trying to fail. That said, the leads were there. The South African connection mentioned in Jan Stocklassa’s excellent, ‘The Man Who Played With Fire’ is intriguing. Oddly enough, this lead appears to have come, almost immediately, from British intelligence circles. That known assassins of the apartheid regime were involved, certainly seemed more plausible than the absurd, and ultimately dead-end, ‘Kurdish trail’ that the authorities focused on.
I could see this was all going over their heads so I quickly ended the Palme chat. Still, food for thought for Mr R, perhaps?
One of the lasting memories of Palme’s funeral was a very emotional Willy Brandt. He gave a truly heartfelt eulogy. A few years ago I was meeting my son in Berlin. I’d driven down to transport both him and his stuff back home after his first post-grad business stint in the German capital. As I was waiting for him, I came across the Willy Brandt Forum on Unter der Linden. It turned out to be a fascinating museum dedicated to the late Bundeskanzler. An opponent and refugee from Nazism, Brandt ended up in Norway and Sweden. He was very much a statesmen on the same political frequency as his Swedish comrade, Olof.
One theory surrounding Palme’s death strongly infers the involvement of an extreme neo-Nazi element, embedded within the Stockholm police. That this group existed is a matter of historical record. It is also clear that ‘Palme hate’ was widespread in those circles. The suggestion is, that the Swedish police force was fertile ground for Nazi sympathisers – because the force in ‘neutral’ Sweden was never ‘purged’ as it was in Norway and Denmark.
Post-1945, and post-occupation, ideological Nazis were persona non grata in the structures of the security state in both Norway and Denmark. The neutral Swedes, having facilitated the transportation of war materials to Germany, appear not to have felt the same need as their Scandinavian neighbours.
A good while back, I picked up a biography of Reinhard Gehlen – a German lieutenant-general and intelligence officer on the Eastern Front during WWII. Gehlen was a classic case of ‘our enemy’s enemy is our friend’. He became a useful tool of the West during the Cold War. The Americans had no moral scruples about using Nazis against their former Second World War ally, the Soviet Union.
One of those protected by Gehlen’s post-war organisation was Stepan Bandera. Bandera, who is still revered in Ukraine today, was a notorious Nazi collaborator. Despite his alleged involvement in horrendous atrocities he was considered too valuable to hand over to the Russians. Another war criminal became a useful asset of the West – in the covert war against the Soviets. Something worth pondering when today’s Ukrainian nationalists proudly post their videos of POW executions online – as they have done once again this week. Reports that Western ‘advisors’ are helping the current crackdown in Kherson is deeply disturbing. Scores of Russian-speaking citizens have been either shot or ‘disappeared’. Even the German pro-Kiev journalist, Julian Roepcke, called out the latest murders of surrendered POWs.
Anyway, I’m glad I changed the subject before we got as far as Gehlen, the Stockholm police, and the modern legacy of fascism in Europe. In fact, the evening went very well. No one is ever good enough for our daughters, but Mr R made an okay first impression. He also likes sport, a definite plus.
The Gewurtztraminer and Pulgia red supplemented the restaurant’s menu excellently. Our two Swedish serveur were unusually attentive, although one of them clearly disapproved of my choice of the Alsace white. It wasn’t a reprimand, as such, though probably as close to one as you can get.
The conversation never touched on Danish politics at any point, though the World Cup was an unavoidable topic. Hummel’s ‘protest kit’ came up, which everyone had heard of, and which, as it turns out, FIFA are having none of. Whether we like it or not, countries like Denmark are treated as the ‘diddy teams’ of international politics.
The post-election horse trading continues in Copenhagen, and there is no definitive majority government coalition yet. The background noise is the kind of ‘holding to account’ of politicians that I miss in the Scottish media. For example, fall-out from the politically-motivated case against the former intelligence chief is still on-going. Meanwhile, a politician (Morten Messerschmidt) is in danger of losing ‘parliamentary immunity’ because of a misdemeanour involving the misuse of EU funds.
Hopefully, Scottish MSPs and ministers – currently pushing for irreversible ‘gender treatment’ – will have no immunity from any future prosecutions, resulting from their failure in their duty of care towards the young and vulnerable.
Still, some progress was made on the 18th of November when all of the new Danish MPs entered Folketinget. Great for the cameras, for sure, but it’ll be some time before any actual governing takes place.
We walked together across a dimly lit Gråbrødre Torv towards the station. It was quiet with just a few neon reflections on the cobblestones. We said our goodbyes and Mr R and our daughter continued into the night.
The train arrived on time, as it usually does. Had we missed it, another would be along in 20 minutes. On the journey home, a recent headline about the rise of fascism in the West got me thinking. A unwelcome ghost from yesteryear really is returning.
As far as my daughter is concerned, though, her childhood is now forever in the past – and the future is arriving a little too quickly for me to get my head around.