Finland’s leader has a steely side: How the world’s youngest (and most modern) Prime Minister

Finland’s leader has a steely side: How the world’s youngest (and most modern) Prime Minister stood up to a bully neighbour

On a girls’ sauna night out – well that’s what you do in Finland – a few years ago, a journalist asked Sanna Marin whether she was going to be leader of her party, the Social Democrats.

‘She just looked at me as if to say, are you even asking me this?’ recalls Kristiina Tolkki.

In a situation where most aspiring politicians would try to hide their ambition, Mrs Marin was refreshingly straightforward. 

Two years ago – aged 34 – she fulfilled that ambition and became the world’s youngest prime minister.

Now it’s her moment to step on to the world stage alongside Boris Johnson, who made a historic agreement with Finland (and Sweden) earlier this week to help defend each other if attacked by Russia.

The Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin has showed her steely side in her reaction to Russia’s declaration of war

Having a much bigger – and terrifying – next-door neighbour, Finland has long pursued a policy of neutrality. 

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has changed everything. 

Even before the conflict began, as Russian troops were massing on the Ukrainian border but the Kremlin was denying any plans to invade, Mrs Marin broke ground in her New Year’s address. 

Finland had the right to join Nato, and should consider it, she said.

The Russian media was outraged, with critics claiming ‘Moscow was stabbed in the back’.

The Russian crisis has revealed a steely side to the Finnish PM who had previously attracted most attention – perhaps unfairly – for her youth, good looks and progressive social policies.

Some say if the creator of Love Actually was to write the character of a 21st-century female prime minister (akin to Hugh Grant’s dancing PM), he would come up with someone very like Mrs Marin. 

Now leader of 5.5million people, she was raised in an unconventional household by her mother, who had split with Mrs Marin’s alcoholic father, and her mother’s new (female) partner.

A politician for the Instagram generation – she has posted pictures of herself breastfeeding and pasta recipes – Mrs Marin’s policies have included raising the school-leaving age to 18 and extending parental leave. 

She and her long-term partner Markus Raikkonen met when they were aged 18 and married in 2020 when their daughter was two. 

They both, of course, took parental leave.

She was the first in her family to go to university and her political career began early. 

She has faced backlash over her age, sex, looks and now takes on the world stage over Putin's war on Finland's neighbour Ukraine as they both border Russia

She has faced backlash over her age, sex, looks and now takes on the world stage over Putin’s war on Finland’s neighbour Ukraine as they both border Russia

At 20, she joined the Social Democrats and ran for election to the city council in Tampere, Finland’s third biggest city. 

She was successful on her second try and went on to lead the council before being elected to parliament.

Not long after she took over as head of Finland’s coalition government (comprised of five political parties, all led by women) she caused a sensation by posing for a 2020 magazine photoshoot in a sleek jacket – with nothing underneath.

Some thought the picture eroded her credibility but #imwithsanna quickly took off online, with legions of fans praising her style.

‘In every position I’ve ever been in, my gender has always been the starting point – that I am a young woman,’ she told Vogue. 

‘I hope one day it won’t be an issue… I’m no better and no worse than a middle-aged man.’


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