Finland asks: does a prime minister have the right to party?

HELSINKI — A leaked video shows Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin dancing and singing with friends at a private party. The 36-year-old leader poses for the camera. She is on her knees, hands behind her head. She is entangled in a group hug. She’s having a great time.

Numerous similar videos are shared daily on social media by young and not so young people partying in Finland and around the world. But the leak has sparked a debate among Finns about what level of revelry is appropriate for a prime minister, especially given neighboring Russia’s attack on Ukraine, which led to long-neutral Finland and Sweden applying for NATO membership.

Marin, who leads the center-left Social Democratic Party, has faced a barrage of questions about the party: Were there drugs? Alcohol? Was she at work or on summer vacation? Was the Prime Minister sober enough to handle an emergency if one had arisen?

The video, made clear by someone at the party, has been leaked on social media and caught the attention of Finnish media this week. Marin said she’s been attending the party for the past few weeks, but declined to say exactly where and when.

She also acknowledged that she and her friends were celebrating the party in a “rambunctious way” and that alcohol was involved, but no drugs to her knowledge. She said Friday she was taking a drug test to end speculation about illegal substances.

“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 Prime Minister, who is married and has a 4-year-old daughter, has often insisted that although she is the head of the Finnish government, she is like anyone her age who enjoys hanging out with friends and family in their spare time. . .

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Opinions were divided in Helsinki on Friday afternoon.

Josua Fagerholm, who works in marketing, said the episode may have harmed Finland’s reputation and public confidence in Finnish politicians.

“I think it is important that our politicians are respectable and have the trust of the public. So I don’t think it looks good,” he said.

Mintuu Kylliainen, a student in Helsinki, disagreed. She said everyone was entitled to their opinion, but felt the leaked video was getting too much attention.

“It’s normal to party,” Kylliainen said. “She should also have fun in her life.”

According to some supporters, the criticism of the prime minister smacks of sexism.

Marin became Finland’s youngest Prime Minister in 2019 at the age of 34. Even in the egalitarian Scandinavian country, Marin felt that her gender and age were sometimes given too much emphasis. She told Vogue magazine in 2020 that “in every position I’ve ever been in, my gender has always been the starting point — that I’m a young woman.”

Anu Koivonen, a professor of gender studies at the Finnish University of Turku, said she did not think gender was a deciding factor in the uproar over the leaked video. She said the partying itself wasn’t a big deal, but the fact that the video leaked could be seen as a misjudgment by the prime minister in terms of the people she surrounded herself with.

“That she didn’t hold back in a company where she can’t trust everyone in the room,” Koivonen said. “I think that’s the main problem.”

Jarno Limnell, a cybersecurity expert and politician for Finland’s conservative National Coalition Party, said the party incident was problematic from a security perspective, noting that Finland’s top leaders are important to foreign security services.

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“Information is collected from a variety of sources, and even seemingly trivial bits of information can be of interest to a foreign power,” Limnell told Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat. “Top decision-makers are closely monitored during NATO’s ratification process.”

It’s not the first time Marin’s parties have made headlines. In December, she apologized after going out until 4 a.m. and missing a text message advising her to avoid social contacts due to her proximity to someone infected with COVID-19. Marin said she didn’t see the message because she left her phone at home. She tested negative for the virus.

Even in a progressive society like Finland’s, Marin breaks the pattern of a typical politician. She grew up with a single mother who was in a relationship with another woman. Many Finns are proud of her modern approach to the office, including her casual attire. Marin rocked social media in April when she appeared at a press conference with her Swedish counterpart in a black leather jacket.

Marin and her women-majority cabinet have also received praise in Finland and internationally for steadfastly guiding the country through the COVID-19 pandemic and the NATO application process.

“Our prime minister is great,” said Jori Korkman, a retiree in Helsinki. “She has taken her very difficult job in a very difficult time, and she has made a first-class job. What she does in her spare time is none of our business.”

——— Ritter reported from Stockholm.

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