(image from Palmefonden)
This week it’s been 25 years since Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was murdered.
It’s one of those defining moments in Swedish history I think. Any Swede back then, no matter what they thought of their Prime Minister can recall where and when they heard the news.
In February 1986 I had just turned 13. I can remember waking up in the night and hearing my mom talk on the phone with someone. She sounded upset but I fell back to sleep.
In the morning she woke me and told me Olof Palme had been shot.
“They have shot Olof Palme” she said.
“Who” said I.
Already then there were rumours flying around and this was just the first day.
Olof Palme was a man who inspired. In some he inspired admiration and loyalty, and in others he inspired loathing and even hatred.
He was a very respected politician in Sweden but also a very much hated politician. There didn’t seem to be a middle way with him.
My parents were politically active in the town council back then. At least my father was. And they were both actively working during the re-election campaign the previous September when the Social Democrats and Olof Palme had been re-elected into government.
They helped arrange all the local activities that seem to follow. Setting up areas where you could write your condolences.
Once the arrangements around the funeral were falling into place it was decided that one child from each local party organisation would be flown to Stockholm to participate in a choir that would sing at the funeral in the City Hall in Stockholm.
I was at the right age, I had the “right connections” and I already sang in a choir so I don’t think there was much debate at home who would get to go.
It was also decided to send my father to carry the local party organisation flag in the “flag wall”.
We were a group of 5-8 children who flew out of Sturup together and we were shipped off to a manor house outside Stockholm to bunk with the rest of the 240 children sent to participate.
It was a bit like Summer Camp. We would sing during the day and eat barbecued hotdogs at night. We were shipped into the City Hall in buses one day to practice singing and entering the Hall end exiting.
We passed the crime scene on the way.
On March 15th we were sent into town once more and spread out in the City Hall to wait for our entry. We all sang and laughed and made a lot of jokes and I don’t think a lot of us thought about why we were really there until one of the officials came up to us and told us to simmer down because the coffin had arrived.
After that it all went quiet. Some children in the choir were as young as 7 or 8 I think and some started crying.
We got our cue and went inside the Blue Room where we filled the large stair case and parts of the balcony.
Here is a link to the opening of the ceremony. (I hope it’s available outside Sweden as well – let me know if it isn’t?). At 1:33 you can see the whole staircase filled with children wearing white sweatshirts. At 2:02 there is a shot of the “flag wall” I spoke of where my father was. At 2:14 you can hear us sing the first hymn.
At 2:41 they cut to show the children a bit more up close and at the moment they cut I am standing just to the right of the camera, no more than a child or two out of shot. (Also! Hello 80’s hairstyles! I don’t miss you.)
I had this on a vcr tape at home – I wonder what became of it. I haven’t seen this in so long.
I can’t help but feeling a bit dualistic about it. It was a sad occasion and a horrific event (the murder) but it was still a fun experience. I’m glad I had it.
(I can’t help link to this too. It’s the speech made by Anna Lindh at Olof Palme’s funeral. She was chairman of the Social Democrat’s Youth organisation at the time of the murder. She later went on to become Foreign Minister and she herself was murdered on September 11th 2003 when she was stabbed to death in a department store in central Stockholm.)