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Enlightened Rule

Portraits of Six Exceptional Twentieth Century Premiers

Paul Maylam

The twentieth century has been called an ‘age of catastrophe’, characterized by devastating wars and a general poverty of leadership at government level. This book, written in a more optimistic vein, offers biographical essays on six twentieth century heads of government – three from Latin America, and one each from Africa, Asia and Europe – who were exceptions to the norm. During their terms of office each displayed admirable qualities: moral authority, integrity, an egalitarian spirit, and a firm commitment to democracy, human rights, social justice and international peace. They shunned personality cults, grandiosity and conspicuous consumption. Their governance was shaped by high ideals, in the tradition of democratic socialism or social democracy, but also marked by pragmatism and an awareness that the realization of these ideals was not always practicable. Although some of the six became iconic, venerated figures, none of them are presented here as ‘heroes’ or ‘great leaders’. Each had failings and flaws, and each has been subject to critique. They are rather presented as government heads whose leadership has been worthy of deep respect and admiration. Had other premiers emulated their style of governance, twentieth century history would have taken a very different course.


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Chapter 6 The Internationalist: Olof Palme of Sweden (1969–1976, 1982–1986) 209


CHAPTER SIX The Internationalist: Olof Palme of Sweden (1969–1976, 1982–1986) Olof Palme liked to live as ordinary a life as it was possible for a prime minister to do. So on the morning of 28 February 1986 he played tennis for an hour, and then sat down to write letters – one to a boy who wanted to know the premier’s favourite ice-hockey players. In the afternoon he gave an interview to a newspaper correspondent, making a statement on what had become one of his major concerns – nuclear disarmament: ‘Let us believe’, he said, ‘in a mutual and verifiable ban on nuclear weapons tests. Such a ban would provide the opportunity and time for negotiation and ref lec- tion. Obviously, if all nuclear tests are stopped, we shall live in a safer world’. That evening he planned a quiet stay at home. But his son, Mårten, called to suggest that Palme and Lisbet, his wife, join him and his girlfriend at a movie, The Mozart Brothers. Palme and Lisbet duly went, unaccompanied, taking the local train. This was Palme’s style – no cavalcades, no outriders, not even a bodyguard. Walking home after the movie he was shot dead at close range, by an assassin, who has still not been identified or found to this day. That the prime minister should have been walking a city street unguarded, late at night, was a source of amazement to the rest of the world. 210 CHAPTER SIX This had been Palme’s own...

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