Sanna Marin's 'partygate:' A very Finnish scandal
Brussels, Aug 20: Once again, Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin made international headlines. But this time it was with a video showing her at a private party, dancing with friends.
What ensued was a very classic "Finnish scandal," which is actually not a scandal at all, but because Finnish politics tend to be so uptight and slightly boring, you have to get creative to stir things up every once in a while.
It is at the same time indicative of the very high moral standards that are applied to politicians and that they are expected to live up to. Consequently, the threshold is very low for Finnish politicians to resign over what seem like rather insignificant incidents elsewhere.
For example, in 2008 then-Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva was sacked over a text message scandal: he had been sending text messages to a controversial female celebrity. Sanna Marin herself became prime minister after her predecessor Antti Rinne resigned over a scandal related to a post office strike.
Marin and her female-led government have been at the center of unusual international attention ever since taking office in December 2019. A 2021 study by the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence found that the female ministers of the Marin government receive disproportionate numbers of abusive messages and Marin herself has been frequently subject to domestic "scandals," such as posting certain selfies on Instagram or other party incidents that have earned her the nickname "party-Sanna" in the press.
Some of the more memorable Sanna "scandals" were "breakfastgate" over her breakfast expenses or the controversy over the revelation that she likes cleaning, even the official residence, herself.
Much of the rather absurd domestic controversies smack of misogyny, as Marin has been leading Finland steadfastly through several exceptionally difficult situations, starting with the pandemic and now the NATO membership process. It is a lot to take in that a competent prime minister can be a 36-year-old woman, mother of a small child, who despite having one of the toughest jobs in the country, also manages to have a social life, go to festivals, and even to party occasionally.
Usually, the domestic "scandals" do not make international headlines. What was different this time was the allegation that she would have possibly been doing drugs.
It was based on a sentence in the leaked party video that was misheard as "jauhojengi" ("flour gang") and interpreted to mean drugs. In fact, Marin and her friends seem to be singing along to the lyrics of a Finnish pop song that mentions "jallu," a Finnish alcoholic drink. No one would call drugs "flour" anyway in Finland, which makes the whole business even sillier.
Misinformation spreads quickly
Nevertheless, international media picked up on it in an unprecedented manner. In a series of pieces with unchecked facts, foreign media even alleged the word "cocaine" was being yelled in the background.
After a fringe member of one of the coalition parties suggested she should take a drug test, Marin told reporters on Friday that she had done so to clear any misconceptions about her behavior – although the burden of proof should not be on the accused.
While Marin also received strong messages of international support, the case shows how easily misinformation can start spreading like wildfire. It takes so little to do damage but so much work to set the record straight.
It is always the burden of a pioneer, which Marin is in many ways, to reform the image of an institution, such as what and who a prime minister can be. This will hardly be the last very Finnish scandal about the prime minister and, maybe, that's a good thing.