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Analysis: Did Finnish ‘partygate’ videos help or hurt Sanna Marin?

Did recent videos of Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin partying with friends help or hurt her?

Is she still the coolest prime minister in the worldHas she disrespected a major public office, is she unreliable in a crisis, or is she even the victim of a targeted Russian cyber-information operation?

You can find all of these opinions – and many more – being speculated on social media, but the truth is much more nuanced, and it helps to understand Finnish politics and society a bit to put the whole story into context.

So let’s try to do that.

First of all, it is important to understand that Finland has a fairly low threshold for what constitutes a “political scandal”. How low? Far enough low that the latest “Partygate scandal” was roundly mocked on an episode of The Daily Show on Comedy Central on Friday night.

“Finland should be grateful for the scandals it has!” said host Trevor Noah, comparing the cover of Marin singing and dancing with friends at a private party, to political scandals in America where former President Donald Trump’s home was recently raided, as officers of the FBI were looking for highly classified documents that could contain nuclear secrets.

To illustrate how low the bar is in Finland for political ‘scandals’, in recent years the media and political opponents made molehills of the mountains when a pile of firewood was delivered to the home of a former prime minister; when the then leader of the Greens visited a gay bar in Stockholm during Pride week; and when another former prime minister was photographed — gasp — wearing shorts.

Marin has endured an endless barrage of such ‘scandals’ since taking office as the world’s youngest prime minister in December 2019, and it’s clear that much of the criticism she faces is due to the fact that she is a relatively young, accomplished and capable woman.

She made headlines and the wrath of her political opponents for behavior such as cooking breakfast at home with food paid for from public funds (previous prime ministers had done this, no one cared). complained before, Marin personally reimbursed the very modest amount of money).

There was also the time she was at a bar with friends, and might or might not have been reachable on her official phone when one of her ministers tested positive for COVID (she was cleared of any wrongdoing); and the time some media and political haters ridiculed her because it turns out she likes cleaning up at her official residence, Kesäranta, instead.

To be fair to Finns, there were one or two incidents that the rest of Europe would recognize as authentic political scandals, such as in 2008 when the foreign minister was fired for texting from his work phone. But they tend to be the exception rather than the rule.

Was there a foreign influence behind the leaked videos?

Another line of thought easily found online, mostly from people outside of Finland, is whether the Russians had targeted Marin in a digital espionage campaign and leaked the videos online or to the media.

The timing of the scandal, they say, is suspicious because it came as Finland announced that it drastically reduce the number of visas offered to Russian tourists, and as the Nordic nation nears the end of its NATO accession process.

It’s true that there were a few instances on Thursday and Friday of actors acting in bad faith amplifying false posts online about Marin. However, Finns in general are quite savvy about this type of disinformation effort, having recently topped the Media Literacy Indexan annual ranking of European countries measuring resistance to fake news.

Finnish media speculated how Marin’s first video leaked online on Wednesday night and concluded it was likely from his group of friends. The second video, which was shared by the celebrity gossip magazine Seika Friday morning, was taken by a Finn who is not a fan of Marin or his social democratic party, and who told Euronews he wanted to harm him politically.

“No one usually dares to write anything negative about her. I thought Seiska dares,” the source told Euronews.

“She’s clearly narcissistic in my book,” they said.

What about the cocaine comments, the media reaction and the fact that Marin is on duty?

Much of the furor over Marin’s first video centered around whether any of his friends said the word “jauhojengi” – literally, flour gang – supposedly a slang reference to cocaine (which many Finns said is not even a word at all!)

It was that phrase that prompted the leader of the far-right Finnish Party and a fringe MK from the Center Party – one of the government partners in Marin’s five-party coalition – to suggest she take a test. drug testing, what she did laterwith results expected next week.

This cocaine allegation has also been debunked by the likes of Finnish political commentator Janne Korhonen, who has earned a reputation as a straight-shooter when it comes to exposing misinformation and explaining Finnish politics on Twitter.

So how did some of the more sinister reports about Marin’s personal life get so much attention? Part of the answer to this could potentially be found in Helsinki’s relatively small media and politics gene pool.

Finnish tabloid Iltalehti had the most enthusiastic coverage of events this week. The newspaper’s editor is married to the communications officer of the National Coalition Party; while one of his star opinion columnists is married to the media chief of the far-right Finnish party – both opposed to Sanna Marin – and there has certainly been speculation online in the past about links between political parties and these high profile media roles.

Likewise, Marin was technically on duty as Prime Minister or on vacation in early August when she attended a series of parties, went to bars and restaurants and danced closely with a Finnish music star , who kissed her on the neck or leaned over to talk to her. ear, which version of events do you believe?

It appears she was working, a fact that naysayers rushed to make it seem like the very security of the country was in jeopardy while Sanna partied.

Of course, responsibility for national security in Finland does not rest solely with the prime minister, there are multiple levels of decision-makers in government and the military, and Marin being at a bar or a house party ( or potentially at the movies, or at a family event) does not mean she was unreachable – she said her security was outside the house party venue.

So could there still be a political price to pay for Sanna Marin?

Whether Sanna Marin still has a political price to pay for her August antics remains to be seen.

There were strong messages of support from the chairwoman of her own party’s caucus, and from the leader of the Center Party, the second largest party in the coalition, and the one she needs the support to keep the government together. .

But sometimes messages of political support can be strong one day and evaporate the next. Especially with a general election scheduled for spring 2023 anyway and parties already jostling for positions of power.

Would it be advantageous for the Center Party to say that it will leave the government unless the Prime Minister resigns? It is not inconceivable: in fact, Sanna Marin only obtained the post of Prime Minister because her predecessor Antti Rinne was forced after less than a year in power by the Center Party in such a scenario.

Marin’s own party, which has tended to attract older voters, decide that she is an electoral handicap for their main voters and put her on the sidelines? This seems unlikely in the short term, as until now she was seen as an electoral asset and an upheaval before the start of an election campaign would not be a strong signal to send.

Yet Marin has enjoyed a high level of public approval for the work she has done as prime minister, particularly during the COVID pandemic and in the coming weeks Finnish media will likely release data. poll, which will be an important moment to see what impact – if any – Marin’s leaked party videos had on voting intentions.

For now, most of the top Finnish media seems to have moved on, while tabloid websites are still full of grim details, gossip, rumours, backlash and speculation about Sanna Marin’s personal and professional life. .

In the country’s official gazette, Helsingin Sanomatthe most read stories on Saturday afternoon were about long waits at a Helsinki amusement park, Russia’s war in Ukraine, an Ed Sheerin concert at the city’s Olympic stadium and the growing popularity of swimming pools in the capital region.

No sign of Sanna Marin in the top 10 stories.