A black and white photograph of a woman at a rock music festival, dressed in a leather jacket, short jeans and ankle boots recently caused a furor on the internet. The woman in the image was not a social media influencer or celebrity, but rather Sanna Marin, the prime minister of Finland. Marin was 34 years old when she took office, making her the youngest Finnish prime minister in history and the second-youngest leader in the world. Now at age 36 she is continuing to live up to her nickname as the “millennial prime minister.” In July, Marin attended the Ruisrock music festival, which has been held since 1970 on the Finnish island of Ruissalo. In the past, it has featured many big names in music such as David Bowie and Morrissey, as well as bands such as Blondie, Metallica and Motörhead. Marin’s appearance at the festival sent a clear message to the public: she was not an ordinary prime minister, and she was not going to wear a suit on her day off.
Marin’s attitude was widely celebrated, both inside and outside of Finland. The 36-year-old represented a new kind of politics, one with a young, friendly and modern face. The Twitter account Very Finnish Problems tweeted: “Finnish Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, today at Ruisrock Festival. Name a cooler prime minister...I’ll wait.”
The fact that the prime minister had no qualms about being seen at the festival on her day off was also applauded, with many arguing she was setting a good example for the need to respect work-life balance. If the head of state can do it, everyone should do it.
His Instagram account is proof of this attitude. She appears in photos with prime ministers and presidents of other countries, as well as hanging out with friends. It even features the odd selfie.
During the summer, Marin – who was raised by two women – also took part in the Helsinki Pride parade. “Pride also means a lot to me personally because of my background. I grew up in a rainbow family, for me the equality of people and the fulfillment of human rights are the reasons why I once got involved in politics,” she said in an interview at the parade.
A few weeks later, she attended Helsinki’s Flow Festival, one of the country’s biggest music events. She took part in a debate about the state of the country’s music industry, and then mingled with the participants.
But while some have celebrated her relaxed approach, others have accused her of being too frivolous. Last Tuesday, for example, a video was leaked showing the prime minister dancing and drinking at a private party in a house with friends.
Finland’s PM is again subjected to criticism for partying! Why can’t she party after work? Do we expect our leaders not to be human beings? pic.twitter.com/9fbrGVq9Wa— Ashok Swain (@ashoswai) August 18, 2022
The backlash to the video prompted Marin to defend her actions to the press. She said the recordings were private and recorded in a private residence a few weeks ago. While she knew she was being filmed, she did not think the videos would be released. “I am upset that these videos have become public. It was about me having a night out with friends. Partying – even in a boisterous way – dancing and singing,” she said.
“Personally, I did not take drugs, nor did I consume anything other than alcohol. 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),” added Marin, who was asked by one of the leaders of an opposition party to take a drug test.
“I have a family life, I have a work life and I have free time to spend with my friends. Pretty much the same as many people my age,” said Marin.
It is not the first time that Marin has faced backlash for partying: in December of last year, she issued a public apology after various local media reported that she had gone clubbing after her minister of foreign affairs, environmentalist Pekka Haavisto, tested positive for Covid-19. Marin explained she was sent two text messages recommending that she isolate, but did not see them until the next day because she had left her work cellphone at home. Her critics called her actions “absolutely irresponsible.”
The latest controversy has divided Finland. Critics on social media have called her actions unprofessional. “This is the Prime Minister of Finland Sanna Marin. Some been saying she’s cool... maybe among other teenagers. But a responsible leader for a country in crisis? She is by far the most incompetent PM we ever had. Knows nothing. Please take your leather jacket and resign. Thanks,” wrote Aleksi Vlavuori on Twitter.
Perhaps the old guard is still not able to understand the new millennial wave in politics: a generation sandwiched between two crises, that is used to using social networks professionally and personally at the same time, and that seeks a better work-life balance, even if they are the leaders of a country. Sanna Marin isn’t looking to win over the old guard, but rather to connect with young voters.