Do politicians have the right to party? Videos and photos of 36-year-old Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin letting her hair down and having fun at a private gathering have brought back the age-old question - do people in power have the permission to have fun? In Plato's Apology of Socrates, Socrates states that any just person who becomes involved in politics will be destroyed by the "multitude" and that the philosopher must therefore lead a private life. While Plato and Aristotle’s idealism has come under attack from liberals in later centuries, Socrates’s surmise seems to hold true for Sanna Marin, who seems to be paying the price for letting her private life become public.
The videos of Marin singing and dancing, visibly in the throes of an intimate celebration, have left the usually tolerant Finnish and overall Western morality squirming. There have been questions about whether Marin, the bespoke Prime Minister, was on vacation mode and if so, who was running the nation. There were shadowy allegations about drug use (Marin said she tested negative for a drug test and said that there were no drugs involved in the party as to her knowledge). Social media was flooded with criticism and outrage over Marin’s partying ways, which soon led to a sea of support for the Social Democratic Party leader whose centre-left politics often make her a target for conservative gripe.
Sure, the partying comes at a bad time. The six-month anniversary of neighbouring Russia’s attack on Ukraine, which prompted long-neutral Finland and Sweden to apply for NATO membership, looms like a spectre on western nations, many pf whose leaders on Wednesday pledged to support Ukraine on the latter’s Independence Day. However, political commentators claim Marin’s liberal politics and her gender made things worse for her.
Marin became Finland’s youngest prime minister in 2019 at age 34. Even in the egalitarian Nordic country, Marin felt her gender and age sometimes received 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 am a young woman.” Some supporters say the criticism against the prime minister regarding the recent partying videos smacks of sexism.
An upright Marin, whose crimes are much lesser, has defended her party by appealing to the common sense of people. “I hope that in the year 2022 it’s accepted that even decision-makers dance, sing and go to parties,” Marin told reporters. “I didn’t wish for any images to be spread, but it’s up to the voters to decide what they think about it.”
Speaking about the viral photo of the topless celebrities kissing and covering themselves with a ‘Finland’ sign, Marin said, “…the picture is not appropriate. I apologise for it. That kind of a picture should not have been taken but otherwise, nothing extraordinary happened at the get-together,” confirming the photo was from her residence.
In January last year, Marin told the media that she and her fellow young female ministers often faced extensive hate speech for their gender and appearance while in office. The prime minister, who is married and has a 4-year-old daughter, has often insisted that even though she’s the head of Finland’s government, she’s just like anyone else her age who likes a good time with friends and family in their leisure time.
And yet, politicians having a good time are generally looked down upon, no matter what the political situation of a nation is. In the UK, Boris Johnson’s ‘party gate’ scandal became the end of his stint in 10 Downing Street with the conservative leader stepping down from the position of Prime Minister after evidence of him partying during the Covid-19 lockdown went viral.
Anu Koivonen, a professor of gender studies at the Finland’s University of Turku, disagrees that Marin’s trolling is entirely due to sexism. She tells the Associated Press that gender may not have been a decisive factor in the uproar over the leaked video. She said the partying itself was not a big issue, but the fact the video leaked could be viewed as a judgment lapse by the prime minister in terms of the people she surrounded herself with.
It’s not the first time that Marin’s partying has made headlines. In December, she apologized after going out clubbing until 4 a.m. and missing a text message advising her to avoid social contact due to her proximity to someone infected with COVID-19. Marin said she didn’t see the message because she had left her phone at home. She tested negative for the virus.
Even in a progressive society like Finland’s, Marin breaks the mould 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 set social media abuzz in April when she showed up to a press conference with her Swedish counterpart wearing a black leather jacket.
Marin and her female-majority Cabinet have also won praise in Finland and internationally for guiding the country steadfastly through the Covid-19 pandemic and the NATO application process.
Nevertheless, opinion remains divided over Marin’s decision to have a life. Recently, Indian politician Rahul Gandhi was caught in the eye of a controversy after he was seen dancing and enjoying himself at a party. But while much of the criticism about male politicians seen having a good time usually relates to abuse of power, the sexist undertones to questions about Marin’s character and personal life show that even Nordic countries like Finland with a high record of gender parity are not free of the vices of misogyny.
(With inputs from Associated Press)