Anna Lindh was the first woman to serve as chair of Sveriges socialdemokratiska ungdomsförbund (SSU) (Swedish Social Democrat party youth association). She was later appointed Foreign Minister. She made important contributions within both the European Union and the United Nations.
Anna Lindh grew up in a cultured home characterised by creativity, social engagement, and a respect for knowledge. Her mother, Nancy, was a primary school teacher. Her father, Staffan, was an artist who was locally active within the Social Democrat party in Enköping. He was also a member of the municipal council.
Anna Lindh, catalysed by the major international activism of the era, joined the SSU when she was only 12 years old, in 1969. Once she had completed her schooling in 1976 she began to study law in Uppsala. She gained her Bachelor of Law in 1982 and then served as a clerk for a district court at Stockholm district court from 1982–1983. In 1984 she was elected as the first chair of SSU. This organisation had been characterised in the early 1980s by a major struggle between the ‘self-managers’ and the ‘traditionalists’. The latter represented a more traditional form of Social Democrat reform policies, largely based on social responsibility, whilst the former sought to develop more direct forms of civic engagement. Anna Lindh’s opinions lay closer to those of the ‘self-managers’ but she never involved herself directly in the factionalising. Instead she served as a mediator between the most hot-tempered spokespeople of the two rival factions within the organisation’s board. Thus, once the worst of the strife had been settled she found herself elected as a unifying personality during the 1984 congress.
This period as chair of the SSU led to a deepening of Anna Lindh’s international activism. She also seriously raised awareness of environmental issues within the organisation. Ecological considerations were tied together with traditional Social Democratic concerns such as societal development and the economy: what kind of growth do we want? And what kind of society?
Anna Lindh gradually became a strong supporter of the European Union. However, as chair of the SSU she was not favourably inclined to Swedish membership of what was then known as the European Community. For her, as for so many other Swedes, a major reason for this lay in Sweden’s neutrality policy. Within SSU the European Community was also seen as a capitalist organisation that was highly influenced by the leading members’ colonialist pasts and the resulting attitudes. Both membership of the European Union and the building of the Öresund bridge were controversial topics at the 1990 Social Democratic party congress. SSU lost both arguments, but this did not prevent Anna Lindh from becoming elected onto the party’s executive committee. She gained more votes than another younger up-and-coming politician by the name of Göran Persson.
That same year Anna Lindh resigned from her post as chair of the SSU in order to spend time with her first-born child. The child’s father was the then Minister of Civil Affairs Bo Holmberg. Anna Lindh and Bo Holmberg got married the following year and their second son was born in 1994. Anna Lindh spent the years of 1991–1994 serving as Commissioner of Leisure, Culture and Sports in Stockholm as well as serving as chair of the board for Stockholm city theatre. Throughout her life she expressed a deep interest in culture and as commissioner she initiated the campaign for Stockholm to become European city of culture. This came to fruition in 1998.
However, her role within Stockholm municipal politics was short-lived. Following the 1994 election success of the Social Democrat party she was appointed Minister for the Environment within Ingvar Carlsson’s government. She had a somewhat tricky start to her time as environmental minister. Not only did Anna Lindh have to give up her resistance to the building of the Öresund bridge but she also – as did all other heads of ministries – had to accept that there would be 5 percent cuts to state subsidies as a result of budgetary consolidations. As Minister for the Environment she demanded strengthened environmental laws, harsher requirements from companies to reduce discharges and limit the use of chemicals and additives in food. When Göran Persson, as a newly elected Prime Minister and party chair, launched the concept of the ‘green welfare state’ a few years later it was Anna Lindh who became responsible for putting it into practise. She based her approach on the belief that it was time to stop providing cleaning up services and to focus on proper behaviour from the start.
Successful environmental policies are dependent on international collaboration and perhaps it was Anna Lindh’s environmental activism which led her to change her views and become an active supporter of the European Union. Within the Baltic sea area of cooperation – which was part of the United Nations’ agenda 21 – she revealed the same talent for diplomatic mediation which she had displayed within the SSU and was often successful in bridging opposing views between the wealthy Nordic countries and the poorer Eastern European Baltic states.
In 1998 Anna Lindh was appointed Foreign Minister and during her year in post her political potential developed in full along with her personal charisma. She became a significant actor on the international political scene, as would be clearly made apparent in the speeches given by the international guests at her funeral. Her name was increasingly floated as the next chair of the Social Democrat party.
Disarmament, human rights, and resolving conflicts were the issues which particularly enthused Anna Lindh. Sweden became the first country to develop a comprehensive programme of action in order to prevent violent conflicts. This eventually led to a specific European Union programme, which is often termed the Gothenburg programme as the decision was made at the European Union meeting held in Gothenburg in 2001. Anna Lindh also contributed to changes in views on international law: the previous hard emphasis on the sovereignty of individual states began to be replaced by an emphasis on an individual’s freedoms and rights.
In 2003 the Swedish referendum on joining the Euro was held. Anna Lindh was a leading proponent of the yes-campaign. On 10 September she was going to participate in a tv-debate and, in the company of her friend and colleague Eva Franchell, she headed to the Nordiska Kompaniet department store in order to purchase a new suit. She was attacked and knifed so viciously that she died of her injuries at the Karolinska hospital the following morning. The perpetrator was a 25-year old named Mijailo Mijailović, originally from the former Yugoslavia, who had previously been charged with several cases of threatening behaviour and assault. Although no motive for this particular attack was ever established Mijailović had previously been in receipt of psychiatric treatment. The court’s psychological evaluation did not reveal any kind of psychological illness, as per legal requirements, and thus he was condemned to spend the rest of his life in prison.
There are many memorials to Anna Lindh. One of these lies at Medborgarplatsen in Stockholm where she gave her last public speech on 10 September 2003. Several squares and streets both in Sweden and elsewhere have been named in her memory. The Anna Lindh Minnesfond (memorial fund) trust awards an annual prize to individuals or organisations who work in Anna Lindh’s spirit.
Anna Lindh is buried at Katarina church in Stockholm.