Teddy Roosevelt hunted, Winston Churchill painted and Menachem Begin played chess, but no national leader was caught rocking in a nightclub or drinking, shouting and kneeling while wrapped in a dance party’s blinking lights.
No leader, that is, except Finland’s Sanna Marin, the prime minister whose juvenile emergence in widely circulated video clips sparked attacks at home and puzzlement abroad, evoking suspicions that Europe’s youngest leader represents an epoch’s political degeneration and moral decay.
She doesn’t. In fact, the woman who initially represented a peaceful nation’s will to live, now also embodies a brave nation’s willingness to fight.
Shots fired at Marin
ATTACKS ON the 36-year-old Marin were led by rivals like Riikka Purra, head of the anti-immigrant Finns Party, who loudly suspected that while dancing the prime minister also did drugs. Others questioned her sense of responsibility.
Such disgruntlement is not about Marin’s youthful conduct, but about her youth itself.
The opposition’s concerns about substance abuse were quickly refuted by a drug test Marin wisely took in response. Her age, however, is not a matter of allegation. The woman who at 34 became the world’s youngest prime minister really is young, a status that apparently frustrates rivals like Purra who at 45 has yet to land her first cabinet post, a goal she will doubtfully reach before she is 50, if at all.
Jealousy of the young and successful has been around since Cain stormed Abel and is clearly one thing at play here. Marin would be an idiot to avoid behaving young just because that might trigger someone’s envy. Then again, just like her youth is no reason to dismiss whatever she does, it is also no reason to avoid scrutinizing her record. Fortunately, that record is fine.
Was her nearly three-year incumbency flawless? It wasn’t. Working opposite a veteran democracy’s aggressive media, she has been accused of misreporting her grocery expenses and of failing to immediately quarantine after contact with a diagnosed COVID patient because she was offline dancing in a nightclub.
Yet such failures are negligible compared with the big picture, which is that Marin shepherded her country through the pandemic, and that is the smaller part of the big picture. The bigger part is the Ukraine-Russia War, the most testing challenge Finland has faced since World War II.
Marin and her nation
FINLAND IS a small nation, hardly 5.5 million people, but the border it shares with Russia is more than three times the length of Israel.
Even more crucially, Finland and Russia (as the USSR) fought a gruesome war in 1939-1944 that ended with the Finns forced to cede territories and declare the neutrality that governed their foreign policy for more than 70 years.
Now the rocking prime minister was required not merely to pass laws, build budgets and impose lockdowns, but to steer her country across history’s gushing waves. Marin did that, taking the grand decision to join NATO and thus end her country’s neutrality and confront the Russian bear.
The question about Sanna Marin is therefore not whether she is fit to lead – she is – but what, if not juvenile frivolity and generational decadence, she represents. And the answer is she represents Western civilization’s ideals and strengths, and is an embodiment of what its current struggle is all about.
In her personal history, Marin personifies the mobility that Russia’s citizens can only crave, and the liberalism that its leaders detest.
Born to parents who separated in her early childhood, Marin was raised by two women – her biological mother and her girlfriend. Though herself a heterosexual mother and wife, Marin is a quintessential product of the progressivism that is part of Scandinavian life, along with the feminism that generated the world’s most egalitarian parliaments and cabinets.
This is what Marin represents passively. Actively, her statecraft helped bolster the free world’s resolve and map the borders of its current struggle. While at it, she did something even larger than these: Sanna Marin tapped into Finland’s legacy of heroism.
Of the many countries invaded by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union during World War II, none fought as durably and effectively as Finland. Now, Marin could have cowered in the face of Russia’s menace, and chosen to ingratiate its masterminds. Instead, she followed in the footsteps of her forebears who, unlike others those days, refused to surrender to tyranny’s march.
Beyond her upbringing and record, Marin also represents youth itself. What she does after hours is what millions of other young adults do across the free world.
Yes, she is also different compared with many Western leaders. It’s difficult to imagine Margaret Thatcher in a rock concert wearing shorts, boots and a motorcyclists’ jacket, not to mention Golda Meir, whose appearance seemed designed to represent the grandmothers of the world. But that was when Meir was twice Marin’s age. When she was young, she did what millions of other young people did those days when she traveled to a distant land in order to build a better world.
That cannot be said about the man staring at Sanna Marin from the Kremlin, whether or not his operation had anything to do with her video clips’ circulation, as some suspect.
Vladimir Putin was Marin’s age in spring 1988 when Michael Jackson held a massively attended concert on the western side of the Berlin Wall, while on its other side police clashed with thousands of youths who thronged toward the wall, eager to rock with their brethren out West.
Putin was not on the rockers’ side. He was with the KGB spooks who oversaw the Stasi, which unleashed the cops who tried to suppress music’s power, in vain. Had the thirtysomething Putin been mentally where those rockers were, he would not have become the engineer of death who is now at loggerheads with Sanna Marin’s zest for life.
The writer, a Hartman Institute fellow, is the author of the bestselling Mitzad Ha’ivelet Ha’yehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sefarim, 2019), a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s political leadership.