Editor’s Note: Marja Heinonen, a Finnish writer and author of several books, has more than three decades of experience as a journalist, editor and researcher. She has also worked in academia and has a PhD in communication. The opinions expressed here are her own. Read more opinion on DailyExpertNews.
It’s the talk of Finland’s coffee shops, its iconic saunas and headlines: what should people in this Scandinavian country think about our Prime Minister Sanna Marin, after a viral video this month made her dance and sing with reckless abandon?
Video showed Marin laughing, floundering, twirling hips — frankly, what seemed to be the time of her life — at what she later told the press was a private party with friends. A second video circulated hours later showing the prime minister, who is married and the mother of a young child, dancing in the arms of a man who is not her husband.
And on Tuesday, she felt compelled to apologize for photos posted online of two topless female house guests who attended a party last month kissing at Marin’s official residence in Helsinki. Marin said she was not personally involved in intimacy with the women.
“We had (a) sauna, swam and spent time together,” Marin said. “Such a photo should not have been taken, but otherwise nothing special happened during the meeting,” she added.
It all fits into the ‘work hard, play harder’ image that Marin has cultivated.
When she became Prime Minister in December 2019, Marin was just 34, one of the world’s youngest heads of state. She won the Finns with poise and professionalism that seemed to belie her years.
During her three-year tenure, she has managed to steer Finland in a capable manner by recording the domestic response to the Covid-19 pandemic and Moscow’s saber clatter when Helsinki applied for NATO membership in response to the Russian president’s invasion. Vladimir Putin in Ukraine.
Marin has also proven to be an adept operator at handling the more mundane aspects of running the country and navigating domestic politics, if polls are to be believed, with poll numbers reaching 80%, although they fell by the end of last year. around the 50% mark.
She came into office saying her goal was to promote a more egalitarian political culture, and has become an object of fascination on the international stage – indeed, the German newspaper Bild called her “the coolest politician in the world.”
But the zeal with which Marin has pursued nightlife got her into trouble last year, when a photo surfaced of her dancing in a crowded club in the midst of the Covid outbreak, despite being exposed to another minister the previous day. was diagnosed with Covid.
Marin admitted after using poor judgment in violating health protocols that required her to isolate herself from the public. “I did it wrong. I should have considered the situation more carefully,” she said in a televised interview after the incident.
And then there was her infamous photo shoot: Shortly after taking the post of Prime Minister, she appeared in a magazine photo broadcast, wearing a blazer but no blouse underneath, which scandalized critics at home and abroad.
Marin’s supporters, however, have gathered around her. In response to that controversy, women across Finland — as well as in some other countries — posted pictures of themselves online in similar states of undress, using the hashtag #imwithsanna.
Now Finns can see with their own eyes the ‘rambunctious’ partying – to use the word Marin herself used to describe her dance – for which the Prime Minister has become known.
The video posted online, which somehow made its way to Finnish news channels, showed Marin waving and hip thrusting at the camera. Marin revealed that she had been attending the party for the past few weeks, but declined to say exactly where or when. “I hope that in the year 2022 it will be accepted that even decision-makers dance, sing and go to parties,” Marin told reporters. “I didn’t want images to be distributed, but it’s up to voters to decide what they think.”
The controversy has led a few critics to question whether the lavish display was behavior befitting a government leader. But most of the criticism was about the “who looks after the store?” variety. Finns have debated what would have happened if there had been a national emergency while their prime minister was gone, who knows where.
Marin spoke about the matter in her comments to the press last week, saying she had always been at “full working capacity”, even when she was partying. “I spent one night with my friends. We just partied, also in a boisterous way. I danced and sang,” she says.
After political opponents suggested that illegal drugs may have been used at the dance, she submitted to a drug test, the results of which were released Monday and turned out to be negative.
And as with the controversy a few years ago over her bold photo spread, women are rushing to support Marin online by posting videos of herself, some with the hashtag #solidaritywithsanna and #istandwithsanna.
While we don’t all post dance videos, “stand with Sanna” seems to be the consensus among Finns. Most of us are not disturbed, many of us even amused, by the uproar.
In short, many Finns – until now at least – are behind her. Initially, many people thought her time as prime minister would be short-lived. They believed, somewhat disdainfully, that the young woman would not be able to stand her ground in the rough world of politics, which – even in this relatively progressive country – was historically dominated by grey-haired, gray-haired men. She proved the critics wrong.
Yes, she is young, compared to the men who held the post before her. But she’s also competent and serious (except maybe at private parties with cell phone video cameras.)
Rather than condemn her dancing, some people here have come to see her as a role model for work-life balance. She showed us that politicians can enjoy the ordinary pleasures of life. They can let their hair hang down a bit. And if they can do it, so can the rest of us.
But if people in Finland see her dancing as innocent, age-appropriate behavior, that doesn’t mean we think she’s completely innocent in her recent troubles.
The questions about her readiness for a potential work emergency are legitimate. Crises can’t be planned: Was she really always able to handle an emergency, did one arise during her parties?
Another thing to note is that the images of Marin were not taken covertly. She posed for them and later said the video was for private use only. She had trusted her friends not to spread them to a wider audience.
That’s where I personally find the biggest reason to blame her: that degree of naivety is worrisome in any politician. As a government official, if you dance provocatively in front of the camera, and those images are shared on an online account of nearly 100 people – as was the case with the video Marin appeared in – you have to assume that the images will go public.
While she still enjoys public support, it’s hard to say what the long-term impact this will have on Marin’s career. A national poll this week found that only 21% of Finns think they spend too much time partying, and 42% “strongly agree” that the prime minister should be able to relax and enjoy her free time. But 39% percent of respondents said the video doesn’t match their view of how the prime minister’s job should be done.
Marin’s lack of common sense and naivety has led us to this ridiculous reluctance that will eventually blow over. But I’m sure she’d much rather deal with government affairs. Instead, she publicly releases her drug test results and explains the intricacies of her social life to the entire world.