When Consul General Torkel Stiernlöf invited me to speak at the event alongside Berggren and Kayaoğlu I gladly accepted, since Palme and the Sweden of his time have an important place in my own story.
I have not read the other 22 books written about Palme, the leader of the social democrats between 1969 and 1986 and prime minister first between 1969 and 1976 and later between 1982 and 1986. I am, therefore, in no position to judge which is the best, but I can assure you that Berggren's book is an excellent study, not solely of Palme's story. The book, on the basis of meticulous research, portrays in rich detail the Sweden in which Palme was born and grew up, his personal and intellectual evolution, and his impact on the country in over 600 pages. I would like to thank Berggren personally for this work, which helps me after so many years to gain an insight into things I did not quite understand about 20th century Sweden while I lived there during the 1970s. I congratulate Kayaoğlu for his superb translation and the İş Bankası Publishers for venturing to invest in a book that may not become a bestseller. Prior to the Turkish edition, the book had appeared in Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and German and deserves to soon appear in English.
Social democrats have been in opposition in Sweden since 2006. But from 1917 to 2006 (with the exception of the periods between 1926 and 1932 and 1976 and 1982) they held power either in single party or coalition governments for a span of close to 80 years. They led the reforms that have made Sweden undoubtedly one of the world's most consolidated democracies and welfare states. They parted ways with the communists in 1917, refrained from socializing the means of production and replacing the market with a planned economy, and by taking advantage of parliamentary democracy adopted reforms that made Sweden increasingly free, equal and prosperous.
They were highly pragmatic. Against the party program that stipulated a republic, they refrained from abolishing the monarchy but legislated it into a symbolic institution. They changed their minds and joined the European Union in 1995. Despite their staunch secularism they waited until the year 2000 to separate state and church. Sweden may have been governed by a coalition of right-wing parties for the last six years, but its institutions are basically the ones put in place by the social democrats.
Olof Palme is undoubtedly the politician who put Sweden on the world stage. His political career began in 1954 at the age of 27 when he was discovered and appointed as an aide by the legendary Prime Minister Tage Erlander, who uninterruptedly served in that office for 23 years between 1946 and 1969. He became a cabinet member in 1963 and took over the party leadership and premiership in 1969.
Palme's place in my story began when, as a member of the radical leftist student movement, I had to flee Turkey soon after the second military coup in 1971 and applied for political asylum in Sweden. At the time I received a Swedish alien's passport, in the fall of 1972, these were, roughly, my thoughts: Marxism showed the way for mankind in theory, but its practice -- especially in Turkey -- was dismal. I was ready to take a fresh look at it. Nine years later, when I returned home to Turkey for good, I had converted into a liberal social democrat of the Palme kind. That is why I often joke about Sweden being the laundry machine of the world, which takes in radicals and turns out liberals.
My conversion was surely aided by the Swedish welfare state giving me the opportunity to put my life in order and to resume academic studies towards a doctoral degree in political science at Stockholm University under the supervision of Tomas Hammar, Sweden's first migration studies professor -- now retired -- who still thinks that I often over-idealize Sweden. Besides the Swedish social democrats' most successful implementation of functional socialism, Olof Palme's resolute stand against both communist and fascist dictatorships, in support of people's struggles against imperialist aggression, and his staunch belief that we can make the world a better place have impressed me a lot.
Soon after midnight on Feb. 28, 1986, my friend Yavuz Baydar, then still living in Stockholm, called to give me the terrible news: Palme had been assassinated. I was truly shaken. I had not, unfortunately, had an opportunity to meet him personally; I had only come across him on the Stockholm subway. I have personally met and interviewed on several occasions Anna Lindh, Sweden's foreign minister, and likely prime minister if she had survived assassination in 2003. I am angry with Sweden and the Swedes, to whom I owe so much, for failing to protect their best leaders.