The scandal with the Finnish prime minister shows that shaking up politics comes at a price

The scandal with the Finnish prime minister shows that shaking up politics comes at a price

The writer is a postdoctoral researcher in political science and international political economy at the University of Zurich

It was a week of big news for Finland. The country has joined several other EU countries in dramatically limiting the number Russian tourist visas — a move that would narrow the main route used by Russians to European destinations this summer. The candidate for NATO membership managed to get 23 of the required 30 votes from the current members of the defense alliance after French President Emmanuel Macron signed the membership protocols for both Finland and Sweden. On top of that, Finnish border guards were investigating an alleged airspace violation by Russian fighter jets.

Unfortunately, these were not the events that attracted the greatest worldwide attention. Instead, images and videos of Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin dancing flooded all possible front pages and social networks. Speculation on the Internet led opposition politicians to demand that Marin take a drug test. Although the results were negative, more videos and pictures continued to surface from the parties she attended over the summer.

It is not surprising that scandals involving top politicians generate more interest inflation ratesthe likes of which Finland has not experienced since the 1980s, or Support package of 687 million euros which the country managed to secure from the European Commission to compensate energy-intensive companies for the indirect costs of emissions. Nor is it shocking that there is often only room for one story from a small country like Finland a week – if that.

What was notable was the speed with which the world jumped on the story of Marino’s pastime. Media companies in Finland have justified their journalistic interest from various perspectives, both political and social: should the prime minister be allowed to spend her weekends as she pleases, assuming no laws are broken and no work duties are neglected? Would the prime minister be able to lead in the event of a sudden crisis? Are unnecessary security risks taken that could lead to personal injury or leave her open to blackmail? And if her behavior raises such questions, is her judgment questionable?

Accusations of sexism abound, with many pointing out that as a millennial female leader, the 36-year-old Marin receives harsher judgment for her leisure activities than many of her male predecessors or peers because of the factors that influenced their work. After all, Finnish politicians have a a history of heavy alcohol use: president Urho Kekkonen he was notorious for conducting his Soviet-era diplomacy often under heavy alcohol.

However, gender and age are not the only things that separate Marin from previous political leaders. The prime minister’s popularity largely stems from her embrace publicity, including social media, in a way previously unheard of in Finnish politics. Although Democratic politics has always been a popularity contest, Marin expanded the arena. And some feel justified in turning the tools that built her power into political weapons to fight her.

Spending free time with pop stars and influencers, Marin also offered unconventional individuals access to power. Defenders hope that she could attract more young voters by appearing more relatable. As she herself said at a press conference this week, “I am a man.” But as always when it comes down to it shaking the institution of the prime minister, of course there will be a public discussion on the way it is done.

Important as such political questions are, they seem like an afterthought to the general obsession with every last detail of Marino’s behavior. The scandal shows how dangerously easy it is to distract us – both through traditional media organizations and on social networks. First of all, of course, journalists will always be on the news wave. And as the editor-in-chief of the National Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) said, the role of the media in a democracy is to investigate those in power.

But, as with the series of scandals that culminated in the resignation of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the cult of personality in politics tends to suck the oxygen out of more important political and social debates. Certainly, factions within Marin’s own Social Democratic Party (SDP) are frustrated by the space the scandal has taken up.

Marin has shown her commitment to a steadfast foreign policy for Finland despite this Russian intimidation after their invasion of Ukraine. The nation, on the front line in the defense of democratic values ​​against Moscow, had to recalculate its national security strategy. Now, with Marin approaching her first general election in office next April, the Kremlin must at the very least find the timing of the polarizing scandal surrounding her marriage opportune.

Freedom of the press is key. But the heightened security situation makes all our responsibilities as critical media producers and consumers burdensome. Marin herself says that some lessons have been learned. The final decision will be up to voters next spring.

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