The Leeds Annual Olof Palme Memorial Peace Lecture

Leeds Beckett University, Leeds City Council and Leeds Peace Links Group have worked together for many years now  to organise the annual Leeds Olof Palme Memorial Peace Lecture.

The lecture was first established in 1987 by then Labour Euro-MP for Leeds, Michael McGowan in memory of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, a peace campaigner and outspoken opponent of apartheid in South Africa. The lectures were originally organised from Michael’s Leeds European Office with support from the Socialist Group of the European Parliament. Later, the City Council became formerly involved thanks especially to Sean Morris from Peace and Emergency Planning and Leeds Peace Links, and Leeds Beckett (then Metropolitan) University followed around the time of the establishment of a Peace Studies section there.

Olof Palme became prime minister of Sweden in 1969 and, although he lost his parliamentary majority in 1971, he managed to carry out major constitutional reforms. He was a widely recognised political figure and he openly criticised and opposed apartheid in South Africa, the Franco Regime in Spain, the United States’ role in the Vietnam War and the crushing of the Prague Spring by the Soviet Union. He was also active in campaigning against nuclear weapons proliferation.

Born in Stockholm, on 30th January 1927, Olof Palme joined the Social Democratic Labour Party He studied at Kenyon College, Ohio from 1947-48 and after hitchhiking through the USA, he returned to Sweden to study law at Stockholm University where he was elected president of the United Students Union in 1952. Palme was recruited to the secretariat of Tage Erlander, the prime minister of Sweden in 1953 and in 1955 he became leader of the Social Democratic Labour Party youth movement. The following year he was elected as an MP to the Riksdag.

Over the next few years he held several ministerial posts including Minister of Communications and Minister of Education and Cultural Affairs, eventually becoming prime minister in 1969. Although he lost his parliamentary majority in 1971 he managed to carry out major constitutional reforms. In 1976 he was defeated over his plans to increase taxes to pay for Sweden’s welfare state.

He was returned to power in 1982. However, on 28th February, 1986, he was shot dead as he left a cinema in Stockholm with his wife Lisbeth.

Olof Palme was briefly a student in Leeds University in the 1950s and these lectures have been held to remember his work for promoting peace and security in the world.

Leeds Peace Links is a group of individuals and organisational representatives who promote peace, justice, human rights and international understanding. It meets regularly in the Civic Hall to share information and ideas. The next meeting will be on Thursday 24 November at 7pm – all welcome.

Past Lectures includes a long line of esteemed speakers, including the following:

  • Lisbeth Palme, the wife of Olof Palme;
  • Fred Singleton, Head of Yugoslav Studies , University of Bradford;
  • Martin Ennals, Former Sec Gen of Amnesty International and Founder of International Alert;
  • Pauline Green MEP, Leader of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament;
  • Jos Lemas, Director of the North -South Centre of the Council of Europe, based in Lisbon;
  • Ken Coates, Former MEP and Director of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation;
  • The Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Tadatoshi Akiba and Iccho Itoh;
  • John Hulme MP, MEP, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate;
  • Clare Short MP, Former International Development Minister;
  • Jude Kelly CBE, Former Director of the West Yorkshire Playhouse;
  • Jos Lemmers, Former Director of the Council of Europe’s North – South Centre;
  • Pauline Green DBE, Former leader of the European Parliament Socialist Group.
Michael McGowan with (left) Lisbet Palme and (right) John Hulme

In recent years the following lectures have been presented:

  • 2006: Professor Paul Rogers, Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford – “A War too Far? Iran, Iraq and the New American Century” – see a recording of the lecture here.
  • 2007: Shakespearean actor Patrick Stewart – “Why Promote Human Rights?”
  • 2008: Senator George Mitchell – “Is Peace Possible?” – see a recording of the lecture here.
  • 2009: Bruce Kent, Vice President of CND – “The Global Elimination of Nuclear Weapons – Possibilities & Practicalities” – see a recording of the lecture here.
  • 2010: Former war correspondent Victoria Brittain – “Lies, Truth and Whistleblowers in War Reporting” – see a recording of the lecture here.
  • 2011: Professor Johan Galtung, Founder and Director of TRANSCEND – A Peace and Development Network for Conflict Transformation by Peaceful Means – “World Interests – and what Wikileaks tells us about Diplomacy as an Institution” – see a recording of the lecture here.
  • 2012: Professor Sir Richard Jolly, former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations and Honourary Professor at Sussex University – “Security for People – the real alternative to crisis and war”
  • 2013: Colin Archer, Secretary General of the International Peace Bureau – “Military Spending in a time of Austerity”
  • 2014: Professor Jenny Pearce, Professor of Latin American Politics at the University of Bradford – “1945-2045: Towards a Politics for a Future Peace”
  • 2015: Professor Alistair Hay from the University of Leeds – “Chemical Weapons: Just History?”
  • 2016: Caroline Lucas M.P. – “War and Peace in the Modern World”
  • 2019: Professor Paul Rogers, Emeritus Professor of Peace Studies, University of Bradford – “Routes to Peace in an Uncertain World”
  • 2021: Anthony Clavane – “Marcelo Bielsa – How to reinvent a Football Club, a City, and the World” – see a recording of the lecture here.
  • 2022: Anna Sundström, Secretary General, Olof Palme International Center, Stockholm – “Common Security – the way forward for a failing world?”
  • 2023: Clive Barrett, Chair of the Bradford Peace Museum – “Our Objects are Peace, a Culture of Peace is our Object – How the Peace Museum holds the past and releases the future” – see a recording of the lecture here.

Prof Paul Rogers   
Paul Rogers (left) Patrick Stuart (center) and George Mitchell (right)
Johan Galtung (left) Bruce Kent (center) and Caroline Lucas (right)