The day that Sanna Marin (Helsinki, 36 years old) became the youngest head of government in the world, dozens of articles were written about her figure in the international press. Few, if any, references were made to Russia or NATO; the texts highlighted her humble origins, her vertiginous political career, and that the five parties that formed the coalition Executive were led by women, four of them in their thirties. Two and a half years later, the Prime Minister of Finland appears again in media around the world for her strong reaction to the invasion of Ukraine and the Kremlin’s constant threats against her country.
Raised by her mother and her girlfriend — “a rainbow family,” she describes them — in Pirkkala, a town of 20,000, Marin first worked in a bakery at age 15 during summer vacations. She combined her university studies with a job as a shop assistant. She joined the Social Democratic Party shortly after her 20th birthday and seven years later she began her meteoric rise by being elected as a councilor for Tampere, the country’s third-largest city. In December 2019, she became the third woman to rule Finland, having just turned 34.
Marin was born in a dark country, in which politicians were still limited and supervised by the Soviet Union. Finland’s transformation since the end of the Cold War is a source of pride for the Social Democrat. In addition to being a benchmark in terms of education or equality, an index prepared by the UN has placed it five consecutive years as the happiest country in the world. “All citizens have the opportunity to prosper, all children start from the same level,” she said at the end of January during an interview with this newspaper, one of the few that she has granted since her inauguration.
His efforts now focus on ensuring the security and independence of his country. Less than 48 hours after Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova threatened Finland and Sweden with “serious military consequences” if they asked to join NATO. Several politicians and pundits close to the Kremlin joined the intimidating rhetoric in the following days.
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The fierce Russian offensive in Ukraine has shocked the population of Finland. The collective memory of the country is deeply marked by the brave resistance with which an invasion launched by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union was repelled shortly after the start of World War II. The possibility of future attack from Russia, with which it shares one of the longest borders in Europe, has never entirely dissipated. A third of the Finnish population is a reservist, some facilities such as swimming pools or ice rinks are designed to be quickly converted into anti-aircraft shelters if necessary, and the country has strategic reserves of fuel and grain for at least six months.
Approach to NATO
The constant threats coming from Moscow have had the opposite effect to that intended by the Kremlin: they have brought Finland closer to NATO than ever before. In a January interview in Madrid, the Finnish prime minister said joining the military organization was not an option to be discussed in the short term. On Wednesday, after meeting in Stockholm with her Swedish counterpart, Magdalena Andersson, she said that her country will make a firm decision on whether or not to join the Alliance in the coming weeks. That 180-degree turn is also obvious in society; More than two-thirds of Finns today support joining the military organization, almost three times as many as in December, according to a survey by a public body. Last week, the five-party coalition led by Marin approved a 70% increase in military spending over the next four years.
The Finnish president was one of the first to demand that all EU countries close the tap on Russian gas and oil. “We are financing the war,” she said. This week, given the reluctance of countries like Austria, Germany or Hungary to impose that embargo, she insisted that “a price must be paid to end the war.”
The times in which Marin has had to govern have not been easy; a time with multiple obstacles to develop policies that further strengthen the Nordic model of the welfare state, which the Social Democrat considers the key to Finnish success. She took office a month before the first cases of coronavirus were registered in Europe, and her management of the health crisis has been one of the most successful on the continent. She is now dealing with inflation and the imperialist airs of her neighbor.
A sports fan and vegetarian, the prime minister told a local media outlet at the end of 2020 that it would be “a dream” for her to one day move to the countryside with her husband and daughter. For the moment, she will continue to live in Kesäranta, the official residence located in the capital, but Marin knows that time is running out: on March 11, the Chilean Gabriel Boric became the youngest head of government in the world.
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