Partygate: A Very Finnish Scandal That Took the World By Storm

When clips of their prime minister’s private life leaked, Finnish media exploded. Some members of parliament even called for her immediate resignation. For a supposedly liberal country, the backlash has raised eyebrows abroad. Surely, asked the world’s press, Sanna Marin has a right to party?

What happened?

The week before last, photographs were leaked to Finnish tabloid Iltalehti. They appeared to show the prime minister, Sanna Marin, partying with friends at a Helsinki nightclub. With swathes of the nation left shocked at her apparent lack of judgement, magazine 7 päivää released further videos showing a ‘clearly intoxicated’ Marin pressed up to a fellow dancer. Media, opposition parties (and some in Marin’s own Social Democratic party) said background cries of “jauhojengi” (“flour gang”) in the first video referred to drugs, and proved the prime minister was in the process of taking illegal substances. Responding to the claims, Marin said she was aware of being filmed, but was disappointed the video had been leaked. Bowing to public pressure, and with new images emerging that appeared to show guests at a separate party posing behind the prime minister’s official desk, Marin took a drugs test. It returned a negative result. Responding to the result, she told reporters she had never taken substances, and hoped “in the year 2022, it’s accepted that even decision-makers dance and sing.”

Marin took office in December 2019 and was, for two years, the youngest world leader (that title is now held by Chilean president Gabriel Bonic). She was widely praised for her actions during the coronavirus pandemic, and earlier this month was awarded the title of ‘coolest prime minister in the world’ by German tabloid Bild. This accolade came as photographs of her attending a rock concert were spread in world media. Marin grew up with two female parents. She married long-term partner Markus Räikkönen in August 2020, and together they have a 4-year-old daughter.

What was the reaction?

Joel Willans, who has written two books on Finnish life, says Marin has a successful habit of grabbing international headlines. These included a stir in October 2020, when she caused consternation for posing in a photoshoot wearing a blazer and nothing underneath. “You can’t shy away from the fact she’s photogenic,” he told Fika Online, and went on to explain that there have been accusations of double standards in the Finnish press. Fingers, he says, were pointed particularly at male president Urho Kekkonen (in position from 1956-82), who was famed for relaxing on the job, but had little questions asked of his supposed lack of judgement. Marin, for her part, is presumed to have been accompanied by at least some bodyguards in the nightclub, and says she was readily contactable had a national emergency called her back to the office. Defending her ‘right to party’, Willans shared a video of Danish women dancing in support of Marin. “These leaks might have actually increased her support,” he explains. “I think the initial reaction could just have been because she’s a young leader, and people aren’t used to seeing prime ministers letting their hair down in that way.”

Writing for The Guardian, academic Minna Ålander said the ‘partygate’ episode reflected a conservatism in Finnish politics. ‘Politicians here are held to very high moral standards,’ she explained. ‘Consequently, the threshold for scandals is very low’. Ålander also pointed out that Marin endured a ‘breakfastgate’ last year (it was discovered she had been paying for groceries using taxpayer money, though that apparently followed norms set by her predecessors). Many were outraged at the time, but if that scandal had the long-term ability to damage her popularity, it seemed to fail. Marin enjoyed a 58 per cent approval rating in June, though it’s unknown how the most recent revelations have affected her likeability with the electorate.

JOEL WILLANS is the author of The Very Finnish Problems books, available to buy now.

This article is a Fika Online exclusive.

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