Over breakfast with my Swedish friend and before we set off cross country skiing, we discussed the contents of the local daily paper, Sundsvalls Tidning. Despite financial difficulties in the industry this regional newspaper continues to be published and the owners are investing in a new printing press to expand the diversity of their printing activities.
I do not speak or understand much Swedish, although I have been a regular visitor to the country since the late 1960’s, so I was pleased when he pointed out a story marking the 65th birthday of the journalist, whistleblower and professor of criminology, Leif GW Persson.
GW is a very special journalist. In my younger days I had always looked on Sweden as a sort of social democratic paradise on earth – comprehensive social services, good social provision for all from the cradle to the grave, maternity and paternity rights, well ahead of those in the UK, an open and democratic society, freedom of expression and information and all that.
Leif Persson helped strike a dent in the image of an open and democratic society when, in 1977 and while working for the then head of the national police board, he confirmed the existence of a classified memo that a former national police chief had sent to Prime Minister Olof Palme about the then Minister of Justice Lennart Geijer’s involvement with prostitutes (exposing the minister to blackmail and the possibility of becoming a security risk).
At the time Geijer was strongly defended by social democratic prime minister Olof Palme (who was later murdered in Stockholm in 1986). Those who did not buy into his ‘innocence’, like Persson, were denounced and subsequently he was fired from his job at the National Police Board where he was investigating financial crime.
Palme, who has the nearest thing to sainthood in Sweden, knew the truth all the time, but spun the lie that Geijer was innocent and the state went out to crush those who said anything different. This included Peter Bratt, a friend of Persson, and investigative journalist at the biggest daily paper in Sweden, Dagens Nyheter (Daily News) who originally broke the story in November 1977 (and within days apologised for publishing it!).
Bratt, along with fellow journalist Jan Guillou, had already served a prison sentence for jointly revealing in 1973 the secret activities undertaken by some rather shady characters who operated in the twilight world of spying on political activists (mainly on the left) in Sweden and abroad, for the appropriately called the ‘Information Bureau’ connected to the armed forces.
The Geijer story became the background to Persson’s first novel ‘Pork Festival’. Since then he has been a teacher at Stockholm University, professor of criminology and a media commentator on high profile crime cases.
Now at 65, Persson has no intention of retiring – he could spend more time with his wife, six children and four grand children. But perhaps not. He intends to carry on with his criminal research ‘until I die’. Quoted in the Sundsvalls Tidning on being 65 years on 12 March, Persson exclaims; “that will become an additional burden. The best time in my life was when I was 40. Socially mature and healthy, I could drink my head off and then hunt for three days in a row. Now I can’t manage that!”