The Legacy of Olof Palme

Georgy Arbatov, Director Emeritus at the Institute of U.S.A. and Canada in Moscow, visited Stockholm recently in order to participate in a seminar on nuclear disarmament and related issues. He is well-acquainted with both the city and the subject, having served on the so-called Palme Commission which played an important role in the disarmament process that led to the end of the Cold War.

One of Dr. Arbatov’s previous visits to Stockholm was in 1986, to attend the funeral of Olof Palme. ”We became close friends during our work with the commission,” he relates. ”I miss Olof very much. His death was mourned throughout the Soviet Union.”

It was an experience shared by many. Probably no other leader of a small nation has left such a deep impression around the world, as partially reflected in the great number and variety of public facilities that bear the name of Olof Palme-- a children’s hospital in Latin America, an elementary school in the middle of the West Sahara, a city park in Central Asia, etc., etc.

It has been said that, when Palme spoke in the United Nations, the entire organization came to a standstill: So many of the staff were listening to the Swedish prime minister that there was no point in trying to get any work done.

But that voice was silenced on the eve of March, 1986. Since then, much has changed in both Sweden and the world, and the legacy of Olof Palme has been largely neglected-- perhaps more so in his homeland than anywhere else. For that reason, alone, it is worth an effort to revive that legacy and pass it on to future generations.

It also provides a useful index by which to assess the current state of things. The principles so clearly articulated by Palme are at least as relevant today as they were during his lifetime, and his analyses of societal issues have shown themselves to be remarkably accurate. By comparing the rejected legacy of Olof Palme with the policies of his successors, it should be possible to learn something useful about both.

-- November 2000