In Sweden, a Murder and Its Consequences


By Ariane Sains When Swedes go to the polls on Sept. 14 to decide whether to adopt the euro as their currency, the decision will be overshadowed by the brutal murder of 46-year-old Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, the pro side's chief spokesman, who was fatally stabbed on Sept. 10 while shopping for clothes in Stockholm's ritzy NK department store. Despite a high public profile -- her face could be seen on posters all over the country and she had been traveling ceaselessly to convince voters to approve monetary union -- she had no bodyguards with her at the time of the attack.

While police had no immediate motive or suspect in custody, the murder sent shockwaves through a country that prides itself on the closeness of politicians to the people. But after discussing possible postponement of the referendum with his Cabinet and opposition leaders, Social Democratic Prime Minister Goran Persson announced the vote would go ahead as planned. "It's important that we proceed in a democratic way and don't give in to violence," a clearly stricken Persson told journalists after the decision.

ROLE-MODEL. Swedes are no strangers to political murder and the lingering trauma it brings. For many, Lindh's murder recalls the 1986 shooting of then-Prime Minister Olof Palme on a Stockholm street while strolling home with his wife from a movie. Seventeen years later, Lindh's murder may prove even more traumatic for the country.

Tipped as Persson's successor, Lindh was known for her common touch. At the same time, she was respected among her European political peers for her diplomatic skills. Without Lindh, Sweden's leverage in the European Union and international politics will be diminished. Beyond that, there is now no clear heir to Persson.

Lindh was especially popular with female voters, many of whom related to her as a working woman with two young sons. Women are also more skeptical toward the EU, the euro, and Persson's policies. Lindh's death could be the wedge Persson's political opposition needs to remind Swedes that his government's policies haven't cut unemployment and have slashed cherished welfare benefits.

TOUGH CALL. Yet in death, Lindh may be able to do for Persson what she couldn't in life. In the near term, a sympathy vote from shaken electors could give Persson the "yes" decision on currency that he has staked so much prestige on. Until now, the "no" side has consistently led the polls, most recently by about 10 percentage points.

Lindh had refused to admit defeat -- a day before her death she had acknowledged she was racing against the clock, but still confident her side could win. Persson, staunchly in favor of Sweden adopting the euro, had openly split with key members of his government on the issue.

He was counting on Lindh's popularity to help push the "yes" vote over top. But even Lindh was having trouble convincing Swedes who felt betrayed after politicians' promises of better times pegged to the 1994 referendum on European Union membership failed to materialize.

No matter which way the vote goes, the outcome will be seen by many as tainted. A "yes" vote in the referendum will bolster Persson. But, with the country in shocked mourning, it will be a bitter victory indeed. Sains files stories for BusinessWeek from Stockholm


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