Well, that was a disappointment. For the last couple of weeks, Swedes have been waiting for the results of a new police inquiry into the assassination of Olof Palme in a side street in Stockholm 34 years ago. Even by the standards of political assassinations, Palme’s murder has been more puzzling than most, and more controversial.
Sweden’s relationship with the EU is almost as problematic as Britain’s. It only joined in 1995 – 25 years after the UK – and on the basis of a pretty narrow popular vote. At the same time, Norway voted to stay out. Like the UK, Sweden has spurned the euro. The bigger political parties are all pro-Europe. Sweden used to have a party like Ukip, known as Junilistan (‘June List’), which won 15 per cent of the vote in the 2004 European elections, but has withered away since. A recent opinion poll put its support at 0.3 per cent. There’s also a Folkrörelse (‘People’s Movement’) opposed to EU membership on mainly socialist grounds. The Vänsterpartiet (‘Left Party’, ex-communist) is anti-Europe. The right-wing Sverigedemokraten’s policy is to renegotiate the terms of Sweden’s membership, rather than to leave. The Greens are swithering.
Three years ago there weren’t many beggars on Stockholm’s streets. Some homeless, yes, selling Situation (the Swedish equivalent of the Big Issue), a few buskers in the Tunnelbana; but not men and women huddled in doorways, wrapped in blankets – it’s well below freezing here now – with stories of sick children, homelessness and hunger scrawled on squares of cardboard beside them, and paper coffee cups for passers-by to put coins into, or not. This is new. It’s a shock for someone who’s been coming to Sweden for years, always impressed by the absence of obvious signs of poverty, only too familiar in the UK and elsewhere in Western Europe, but relieved in Sweden by the generous welfare safety net. It seems so very osvensk.
Sweden has always had a problem with Russians and the sea. You can see why when you visit the Stockholm Archipelago and learn about the days when whole islands were set on fire by Russian invaders in the 18th century. Covered with fir trees and little wooden houses, they are very combustible. Whole towns were burned down. It was called a ‘terror’ campaign. Against this, Sweden’s eastern defences are not too impressive. The story is told of the Prussian general Helmuth von Moltke that he laughed ‘only twice in his life: once when he heard of the death of his mother-in-law, and then when he visited Waxholm.’ Waxholm fort was supposed to be Stockholm’s outer defence.
Hannes Råstam’s Thomas Quick: The Making of a Serial Killer was translated into English earlier this year. We can highly recommend it for any fan of Nordic noir. Thomas Quick trumps any of Henning Mankell or Stieg Larsson’s villains, with more than thirty victims to his name: boys, girls, women, old men, blacks, whites; slaughtered all over Sweden and Norway (and one in Finland) between 1964 and the early 1990s, by knifing, clubbing, strangulation or suffocation; sometimes raped (both sexes); dismembered; and in one case cannibalised. He was tried for eight of the murders, and found guilty of all of them, serving his sentences in Säter psychiatric prison in Dalarna. He puts British ‘rippers’ in the shade. Except that he doesn’t. Because he almost certainly didn’t commit any of these crimes. He was formally pardoned for the last of them a few months ago.