Tal av Pierre Schori. ”The Legacy of Olof Palme and Sweden”

Här är talet som Pierre Schori höll i Vietnam då bysten av Olof Palme nyss avtäcktes (detta evenemang genererade cirka 125 artiklar och ett dussin TV-intervjuer):

”The Legacy of Olof Palme and Sweden”

Address by the Swedish Prime Minister´s Special Representative, Pierre Schori, at the Ho Chi Minh Political Academy, Hanoi, June 2, 2016


Dear Vietnamese friends, Ladies and gentlemen.

It is indeed an honor for me to be here in Hanoi and to participate at the half-day seminar on The legacy of Olof Palme and Sweden and to take part of the unveiling of a bust of Olof Palme at the National Hospital of Pediatric.

The cold war between the two military superpowers was a dangerous period for mankind, and for small and middle-sized countries. No nation could avoid being affected by that global power game. East against West, conflicts and wars by proxies in the South, but also liberation struggles against colonial powers and foreign aggressors and occupiers.

It was in these difficult times that Olof Palme made his debut and fame in Swedish politics and global affairs. And the American war in Vietnam was very much in the focus.

Personally, I had begun my work for Olof Palme as his foreign policy adviser, and every day you could feel the global turbulence all around you. Sweden was neighbour to one of the superpowers, the Soviet Union, and the occupied Baltic states. The fight against apartheid and colonialism in Southern Africa and the Western dictatorships in Portugal, Spain and Greece demanded our solidarity, while the US was preparing its war in Indochina and general Pinochet his coup d´état against the lawful government of Salvador Allende in Chile.

The Swedish foreign minister Östen Undén was the first Western politician to denounce the Vietnam war. In an article in June of 1965 he wondered ”with what fictitious international law the United States considered itself having free hands to undertake military actions in South East Asia”.

But it was Olof Palme, then a junior minister in the government who really caught the attention of the public, of the American embassy in Stockholm and Washington, when he delivered his famous speech at a Social Democratic party congress in the city of Gävle the same summer, now over 50 years ago.

Palme was essentially an anti-colonialist, and he considered that the American way of taking over an old and lost French colonial war and propping up a corrupt military dictatorship was doomed to failure and moreover morally reprehensible.

At the same time, the two most quoted sentences in his speech were valid for the situation at large in unfree nations and many developing countries: ”It is an illusion to believe that you can meet demands for social justice with violence and military might. You cannot freeze the social and economic development in the world.it will continue with unstoppable force”. He added: We must learn to live with the demands for liberation, maybe even perhaps to learn to live for it.

No Western politician had ever spoken out so forcefully nor analysed in such depth the critical development in the Third world as he did. Conservative politicians in Sweden did not like the speech at all and accused Palme of anti-Americanism.

The truth is that Palme was on the whole pro-American, the same way Vietnamese today like president Obama and what he stands for.

Palme met the year after his speech senator William Fulbright who also was against the war in Stockholm.

When Palme in February 1968 became world news for marching in Stockholm against the war side by side with the then North Vietnamese ambassador to Moscow, Ngyuen Tho Chan, he sent Fulbright his speech, which the senator read into the written protocol of the US Congress.

37 years later, the American scholar Carl-Gustaf Scott quoting a secret memorandum of April 1970 from the US embassy in Sweden, wrote, that ”the Swedish social democracy stands in hindsight out as the foremost symbol of Western European resistance to the war”.

On 11th January 1969, Sweden became the very first Western country to establish diplomatic relations with Vietnam, at that time still a divided country fighting for its national independence. By establishing diplomatic relations Sweden wanted also to express its support for the Vietnamese people.

Sweden then also had the strongest solidarity movement for the Vietnamese people during the war for independence and national reunification according to official Vietnamese texts.

In June 1970 the Swedish Embassy in Hanoi was opened, and I am proud to say that I am now a guest in the very same room, room 105 at the Metropole, that served as office for the first Swedish ambassador to Hanoi, Jean-Cristophe Öberg,

A month later Vietnam’s Embassy in Stockholm was opened. It was in this period, 46 years ago, that I came on my first visit to Vietnam, in the company of Sten Andersson, the Social Democratic party general secretary.

On the 18th of December 1972, Hanoi and its inhabitants were savagely attacked by more than 100 American bomb planes supported by 500 fighter jets. During twelve horrible days they dropped over 20 000 tons of bombs in a blatant violation of international humanitarian law.

Olof Palme, now Sweden´s prime minister, reacted immediately. It was Christmas and he was at home with his family, he wrote down his strong feelings and then read the text in the Swedish state television for everyone to hear and see it.

U.S. President Richard Nixon who had great problems at home with the Watergate scandal and a growing peace movement also reacted fast. Within 24 hours the US acting ambassador, on Christmas leave at home, was stopped from returning to Sweden, and the Swedish ambassador in Washington was declared persona non grata, in the US. The frosty relations between the two countries lasted two years.

Sten Andersson then took the initiative of a nation-wide manifestation named Sweden for peace in Vietnam, calling for written protests by the Swedish population demanding an immediate end of the bombings. He managed to get the leaders of all Swedish political parties to sign, All together 2, 7 million Swedes signed the appeal.


Vietnam and Sweden have continuously exchanged many visits and contacts at different levels in order to strengthen and broaden the longstanding friendship and multi-faceted bilateral cooperation.

High-level visits from Sweden to Vietnam started in June 1973 with Krister Wickman, Minister for Foreign Affairs.

High-level visits from Vietnam to Sweden comprise among many the following: Mme Binh who visited as honoured guest the Social Democratic party congress in 1972, and in April 1974, Prime Minister Pham Van Dong who visited Sweden at the invitation of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. It was the very first official visit of the head of the government of Vietnam to a Western country.

In his welcoming speech, Palme quoted President Ho Chi Minh through the famous statement made while declaring independence in 1945 ”Nothing is more precious than independence and freedom”. Palme added, ”The entire history of Vietnam only reflects an epic of a great nation with people who refuse the domination of others”.


Looking back, moving ahead

Sweden has made uninterrupted and effective contributions to the national construction and socio-economic development in Vietnam, ever since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1969. The total amount of ODA from Sweden to Vietnam up to date is over 3 billion USD. Initially, the focus was on humanitarian assistance and infrastructure projects. Over the years the focus has been shifted to supporting the Doi Moi reform process.

How do we actually measure progress and development? The Human Development Index (HDI) of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) measures the development of a country by taking into account both economic growth and social indicators. The HDI examines three factors: length of life (life expectancy at birth), knowledge (average literacy and years of schooling) and standard of living (purchasing power etc.).

UNDP motivates its analysis in terms reminiscent of those of Amartya Sen: Being poor is not just about money; it may be about not having access to clean water, being hungry, not feeling safe, being vulnerable and without rights, and not having the opportunity to influence one’s own life.

Another approach is to include political factors. In their 1998 study Who Gives Foreign Aid to Whom and Why? Alberto Alesina and David Dollar conclude that political considerations have always been a prime motivation of the world’s largest aid donors.

The authors point out that as much as 70 per cent of total DAC aid between 1970 and 1994 came from four countries: the United States, Japan, France and Germany.

They found that colonial past and voting patterns in the United Nations explain more about aid distribution than the economic and political conditions of the recipient countries.

The United States targeted about one third of its aid to Egypt and Israel, France focused on its former colonies and what was most important for Japan was that the receiving countries voted in tandem with Japan in the UN.

How, then, has Sweden fared over the years, including between 1994 and 1999, when I was responsible in the Swedish government for international development assistance?

In 2012, Uppsala researcher Lennart Wohlgemut noted in his study of fifty years of Swedish development cooperation (Svenskt utvecklingssamarbete 50 år) that the traditional attitude in Swedish society about redistribution from the relatively wealthy to the relatively poor at individual, local and national level had also guided us in our international aid. He concluded that the first Government Bill in 1962 had as its aim the focus on long-term changes – based on solidarity and self-help, and that these objectives have been fulfilled.

The debate, however, was tough and at its harshest on the Bai Bang project in Vietnam. This was Sweden’s largest-ever aid project and for a long time it was branded by a chorus of critics as nothing short of a scandal. The decision to provide aid for the construction of the paper mill was made in 1969. The total cost exceeded SEK 2.8 billion – the projected cost had been SEK 770 million. Not until 1996 was the paper mill operating at full capacity. But when the project was evaluated many years after the launch, and after Vietnam had changed its economic policy, it was clear that it had become an unquestionable success.

Bai Bang might be the most outstanding example of an aid project that has acquired new relevance with the passage of time.

An Australian consultancy concluded that Sweden and the Vietnamese Government had succeeded in lifting millions of Vietnamese people out of poverty and improving public health and education levels. In addition to providing people with paper, Bai Bang had also generated export revenue for Vietnam and opened the door to soft capitalism in the country.

New competition laws, corporate bankruptcy laws and civil courts were introduced. Sweden’s support for the democratization process was also effective, according to this largest-ever evaluation of Sida’s development aid.

Ragnar Ängeby, head of the Sida office in Hanoi from December 1981 to January 1985, played an important role in the Bai Bang project. After consulting with me – I was State Secretary for Foreign Affairs at the time – he was given a mandate to conduct talks on this matter with representatives of the Communist Party leadership, including Prime Minister Pham Van Dong. The Prime Minister appreciated that the mill would be able to buy raw materials directly from local producers and introduce a wage structure that would enable efficient production. “It has to pay to work,” he said to Ängeby.

The main areas for co-operation have included poverty alleviation, Public Administration Reform, Economic Reform, Public Financial Management, Health care, Legal Reform, Natural Resources and Environment, Rural Energy, Research Cooperation, Culture and Media.

Our cooperation with Vietnam is now changing but our Embassy will remain – our roots are firm in Vietnamese soil; our commercial, scientific, cultural and civil society relations will continue to blossom. And more and more Swedish tourists are discovering the beauty of this country and the friendliness of its people.

Trade and investment relations as well as cultural and research cooperation have been developed. Swedish companies investing in Vietnam are Ericsson, Electrolux, Alfa-Laval, Atlas Copco, SKF and Tetra Pak. Volvo Cars are newly here and H&M and IKEA may soon be seen HM and IKEA more visibly in Vietnam.

Prime Minister Löfven this week sent a letter to Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, proposing Sweden and Vietnam should deepen the relationship through a regular political dialogue, set out in a Strategic Partnership Agreement.

Higher education and life science are suggested as focus areas in such an Agreement. There are several reasons for this:

One is that Vietnam has a very large population of young people looking for high quality education, as your country is one of the largest exporters of students abroad. Sweden is home to some of the best universities in the world, many of which have the ambition to attract Vietnamese students, but also to conduct research and providing education in Vietnam.

Another reason is that Sweden has a long tradition of working in the field of life science in Vietnam, building the National Hospital of Pediatrics and the hospital in Uong Bi, as well as educating numerous Vietnamese medical practitioners over the years. Today, Sweden has one of the most advanced national systems for medical care and would gladly share that experience with Vietnam, through education and research but also through the many Swedish companies active in the medical field, showing a keen interest for the Vietnamese market.

Another import project could be Blue Economy and Maritime Security.

The Blue Economy covers oceans, seas, coasts, lakes, rivers, and underground water. It comprises fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, transport, shipbuilding, energy, bio -prospecting, and underwater mining and related activities such as fighting piracy and pollution, trafficking in drugs and human beings and enforcing respect for international law.

Vietnam and Sweden both have a long coastal line. Vietnam has recently suffered two disasters: water pollution and drought. We need to cooperate for such basic human needs such as food security and livelihood from fishing, elimination of poisonous environments, in short the survival of our planet.

Sustainable use of domestic resources gives nations means to build institutions for economic development and thus increased independence against bigger countries. Sweden is an important voice internationally for sustainable development of marine resources and security. We match that with advanced technical know-how and innovations and encouragement of entrepreneurship regarding water use ecoturism and small-scale fishing.

All together the blue economy signifies sustainable growth, fight against poverty and corruption, and for jobs, good governance, food security, peace, security and development.

Sweden has become a clear voice within the EU and the UN for the sustainable development of marine resources. Sweden also gives a major contribution to the Green Climate Fund, and, together with Fiji, we have taken the initiative to work for the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goal on oceans, seas and marine resources, known as SDG 14. A conference will be held in connection with World Oceans Day in Fiji in June 2017.

Sweden and Vietnam could develop the ‘blue economy’ concept and link it to a broader security policy agenda. This marine agenda includes the battle against piracy and the drugs trade, as well as the exploitation of marine resources. Just a few companies control the majority of global trade in fish and seafood. Thirteen companies control approximately 40 per cent of the largest fish stocks. It is still the case that at least 15 per cent of catches throughout the world are illegal. Peace and the fight against poverty and corruption are linked to the blue economy – as it provides the opportunity to secure both food and energy supplies in the future.


Today, 30 years after Olof Palme´s death, the world is woven together even more in a global common destiny, socially, economically, technologically and ecologically.

But it is a tragic paradox that in the Middle East Israel is still occupying Palestinian land, that the unfinished peoples´uprisings in Norther Africa and Syria demand the same kind of solidarity and humanity towards refugees as was the case with the military dictatorships in Latin America in the 1970s. The nuclear powers, that Palme accused of keeping the rest of the world as hostages, are even more today.

His conviction that Sweden as a militarily nonaliged country must actively work for world peace is as topical today as then. In Afghanistan his words of warning from 1980 are still valid: ”A people´ s liberation can only come from within”. And the United Nations, without which the world would be a much more dangerous place, still needs to be reformed.

Palme showed that politics and the world can be changed with passion and tenacity.

In 2017 it will be 20 years since Sweden sat in the United Nations Security Council. Today, in these times of rising tensions between East and West, between North and South, a country like Sweden, without a colonial past and with a tradition of diplomacy and dialogue, solidarity and standing up for principles, is needed in the council. Our recognition of Palestine is an expression of this integrity, rooted in our identity as a small, militarily non-aligned country.

We hope to be partners with Vietnam in that mission. And with his ideas, words and action Olof Palme would have liked to be part of that noble effort.

Thank you!