In defense of Sanna Marin

A week ago, video footage of Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin partying with friends leaked on social media.

The backlash was sharp and swift.  Her primary detractors were opposition party leaders in Finland.  Soon, the media piled on.

Reacting to the leak, Marin said she knew she was being filmed but was upset that the video had become public.

"I danced, sang, and partied — perfectly legal things.  And I've never been in a situation where I've seen or known of others [using drugs]," said Marin.

Opposition party leader Riikka Purra said there was a "shadow of doubt" hanging over the prime minister and called for Marin to take a voluntary drug test.

Marin told reporters that she had "no problem taking tests," and so she did.

In response to the "controversy," some women across Finland and in some other countries posted videos of themselves dancing with the hashtag #imwithsanna.

A government statement (in Finnish) said "no drugs were found" in the test and that Marin paid personally for the drug tests.

A bit of background about Sanna Marin.

Marin's parents separated when she was very young, and in her early years, her mother raised her alone.  The family faced financial problems.

Marin said she worked in a bakery at 15 and distributed magazines for pocket money during high school.

Marin was the first person in her family to finish high school and go to university.

At 34, Marin became the world's youngest serving prime minister.

During her three-year tenure, Marin capably led Finland through the COVID-19 pandemic.  She showed remarkable toughness as Helsinki applied for NATO membership in response to Russian president Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.  She was among the few leaders who condemned China's persecution of Uyghurs.

Back to the "wild" party...

It is foolish to expect nuance or sense from the virtual lynch mobs on social media.

But what about the mainstream media?

The BBC carried an article provocatively headlined "Sanna Marin: Finland prime minister who loves to party," defining her only due to her recreational habits.  Fortunately, many others chose to have the word "wild" in quotes while describing the party.

There are some who called the attacks on Marin sexist.

But we must also remember that deputy prime minister Annika Saarikko, who said the partying lifestyle in the video did not match the experience of many Finns struggling with the cost of living crisis, and the opposition party leader, Riikka Purra, who demanded a drug test for Marin, are both women. 

More than sexism, it seems to be a cultural shock.

So let's unpack this further.

First, should a P.M. be partying the way Sanna Marin did?

Before we answer that, let's imagine a hypothetical situation: What if Marin had attended an opera instead of the party and footage of her entering the auditorium or being moved to tears during the opera or applauding with a standing ovation after the opera was leaked to the media?

Would there be outrage?  Most likely not.

This is because we are conditioned to think a certain way about specific activities or hobbies.

Attending a classical music concert or an opera or watching a "serious" play or a film is "appropriate."  The attendees of such events are regarded as having great taste and class.

However, clubbing is regarded as frivolous.

There are those who compared Marin's partying with Boris Johnson's parties.  This is a case of false equivalence.  Johnson's parties were held when his own government imposed strict COVID-19 lockdowns and draconian restrictions.  In Johnson's case, it was the hypocrisy that irked many.

Some claimed that Margaret Thatcher, also a female leader, would never have partied like that.  Thatcher was 54 when she became P.M.; that was a different time, and Thatcher was a different person, obviously.

Critics claimed that it was insensitive, considering that the regular Finnish people are struggling with the rising cost of living.

But Marin wasn't engaging in any ostentatious display.  It was just a party at her home. 

Unless the party was funded by taxpayers' money or an individual who could compromise her role as P.M., there is nothing to be concerned about. 

Most importantly, it was her personal time, and Marin's privacy was invaded. 

Did the public have a right to know that Marin was partying?

Just as an employer is not entitled to know what his employee does during his downtime as long as laws aren't broken, voters and taxpayers, who are employers for politicians, have no business snooping into the private lives of their leaders.

Leaders must be evaluated by their record.

They must also be judged as to whether their words match their actions.

If Marin has made speeches against clubbing and partying and demanded that the young stay indoors, it would have been a problem.  But that didn't occur.

Marin did deserve to be criticized when a photo of her dancing at a crowded club surfaced last year in the midst of the COVID outbreak.  She was clubbing despite having been exposed the previous day to a Cabinet minister who had been diagnosed with COVID.  Marin acknowledged after the fact that she had used poor judgment in violating health protocols that required that she isolate herself from the public.

What should concern Marin is the leak, especially if she was among friends and there was an implicit or explicit understanding that the party remain private.  Clearly, there is someone in the circle who is reckless or untrustworthy.  That can never be good for a prime minister.

Being prime minister is a job like any other. 

Like all humans, the prime minister does deserve time off, especially over the holidays, if there are no pressing engagements. 

The job of a prime minister is always mentally stressful.  This makes periodic recreational activities essential.  Taking the mind off work is the best way to recharge an exhausted mind.  The public deserves to have a leader who is mentally fit. 

It is up to the individual about the choice of recreation. 

Marin is a young woman accustomed to a certain way of recreation.  If dancing and partying provide her relief, it is up to her.

Marin said her schedule was clear, hence she did nothing wrong in partying.

It is important for people to understand that the P.M. is not a robot who works 24X7.  

Recreation brightens the mood, and a happy person with a positive mindset often makes a better leader.

The is essential, especially during tough times.

Photo credit: YouTube screen grab.

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