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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 September, 2003, 16:19 GMT 17:19 UK
Sweden's deep-seated openness
By Clare Murphy
BBC News Online

Just before midnight on an icy night in February, 1986, the then Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme and his wife were strolling home, alone, from the cinema.

Young people at the Karolinska hospital
The nation has been shocked by the news

As they passed by an underground station, he was shot dead.

The assassination of a man who was then one of the world's most respected politicians shocked Sweden to its core, and sparked a heated debate about how a country - which prides itself on being open - protects its politicians.

Swedish political culture, which sees ministers happily mingling with their electors, was in jeopardy, the pundits declared. But in the years which followed top politicians - with the exception of prime ministers - continued to mingle, unflanked by bodyguards.

It will take more than an assassination to change Swedish political culture
Jesper Bengtsson
Aftonbladet
The debate about the safety of such an open culture has been furiously rekindled by the murder of foreign minister Anna Lindh, stabbed as she shopped without bodyguards in a Stockholm department store at the height of campaigning for the country's euro referendum.

"The naivete should have gone," raged the daily Svenska Dagbladet, condemning the lack of protection for prominent figures.

"The time when the security police can leave a leading government minister without surveillance, particularly during a controversial period in politics when murky feelings are stirred up, should be over."

Pim parallel

The murder of Ms Lindh has inevitably prompted parallels with the assassination of the flamboyant Dutch populist Pim Fortuyn, who was, like Ms Lindh, killed at the height of a political campaign - in his case days before an election.

And the headlines which followed her death have echoed those which came on the heels of his murder.

Many predicted a sea change in Dutch politics - speaking of an "end of innocence" - and demanded greater protection for politicians.

"But actually so little has changed," says Dutch political analyst Frank Poortuyes. "For a while the ministers had bodyguards, for a while they spoke about changing the mould of Dutch politics.

Pim Fortuyn
The Dutch were stunned by the killing of Fortuyn
"Now they walk around like they always did - without any protection - doing politics the way they always did. An earthquake was predicted, but in fact it's back to business as usual."

Torbjoern Lundqvist of the Institute For Future Studies in Stockholm believes the fact that Sweden had already suffered death of a prime minister has to a certain extent prepared the country for the murder of a politician.

"We lost the innocence with the death of Palme," he says.

"People no longer believe that a politician can't be assassinated. In a sense, it's not so much that Anna Lindh was a minister that has caused the upset, it's the fact that she was so very popular."

Moving on

Jesper Bengtsson, a columnist with the daily Aftonbladet, agrees that Ms Lindh's popularity is crucial in determining the impact of her assassination on Sweden.

He notes that in the case of Mr Palme, it was the failure of the police to secure a conviction and the perceived incompetence of the authorities that arguably had the longer lasting consequences.

"People lost a huge amount of confidence in the authorities after that killing. And this is exactly what will happen again if they fail to catch the killer of Anna Lindh," he says.

"She was so widely liked, seen as a future prime minister even, and people want answers. But it would take more than her death, more than an assassination to change the Swedish political culture. It's very deep-rooted."

For the moment, shock and upset dominate in Sweden.

"It's difficult to speak about it rationally when there's so much grief," says Mr Lundqvist.

"In a few months time, maybe ministers will have a few more bodyguards, maybe they won't. My bet is though we'll be back to business as usual. Just as it was after the last assassination."




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