(Translated from Finnish)
“Why does it always have to be us? Here we are, the happiest country on Earth. We have a small population and an almost unlimited amount of beautiful, unspoilt, open spaces for everyone to enjoy, with only 16 people per square km. And yet our political leaders let us down, nay, embarrass us.”
“True. Germany, not far away, has 234 people per square km. Bangladesh has 1,141. And our per capita GDP is also a very healthy $46,000.”
When this conversation between Johannes and Maria started, people sitting close to them had started to pay attention, ignoring the private conversations they were having with their neighbours before that.
“I admit she is young. But that cannot be an excuse when you contest in an election for a public role,” Johannes responded.
A hush descended over the popular crowded sauna in the middle of Helsinki. So far people had been trying to pretend it was not there, but this statement could leave no doubt about the presence of the elephant in the sauna. Even the hissing of the hot stones topping the ‘kiuas’ seemed to have quietened down. There could no longer be any doubt what they were talking about.
The leaked videos of Sanna Marin, the Finnish Prime Minister, dancing in a private party, and generally letting her hair down, has divided the nation down the middle. Some were of the view that it was OK and that as a human being she needed to let her hair down to stay sane, as well as get some exercise. Others felt that she had put herself, as well as the nation, in an embarrassing and compromising position by appearing to act like a common person and not respecting the dignity of her position.
“Why did she do it?” Anneli, sitting on the other side of the sauna, wondered, adjusting her towel. “I am travelling to Italy tomorrow. No way am I going to say where I come from. Tomorrow she will want to go and order an Americano in a coffee shop. Where will this stop?”
Antero, throwing a ladleful of water on the hot stones, to get them hissing again, looked around for an opening and added, “It is not that she has a shortage of role models in terms of popular, democratically elected leaders around the world, many of them much more experienced. She should be open to learning from them.”
“Is it a surprise that America is the richest and most powerful nation today?” asked Olavi from the far corner of the rectangular room lined with wooden benches, to no one in particular. “They have an equally mature voting population who have chosen a leader who can barely stand. Can he ever embarrass the nation by even attempting to dance?”
There were nods of agreement all around. Anneli added, “And when he goes out cycling, he falls over. She could at least have fallen over or had two left feet, instead of the competent performance she put in. Could she not have fallen over or bumped into someone to save us from this embarrassment?”
Maria, sitting next to Antero, said with some nastiness, “Did she not know about the island nation in the Indian Ocean where the leaders appointed relatives to positions of power and led the economy to ruin through mismanagement? It may cause a popular uprising and a revolt but does it divide opinion in this way? No way.”
Annelli added, “And do you know how they were getting exercise? By filling water in the huge swimming pool in the presidential palace while people outside the palace did not have drinking water. No, not swimming. Filling water. Could she not have done that? And then the president got more exercise when he ran away from the public to another country, in time-tested political tradition.”
The temperature in the sauna was rising, and it wasn’t only because of the hot stones on the ‘kiuas’. The owner adjusted the temperature downwards to prevent an explosion.
“Then there is India, the world’s most populous democracy,” Helena, just back from a vacation to India, piped up. “They also have a young leader and a great role model. He may be seventy years old but for a country with 90 being the usual cut-off for a Prime Minister, that is young. Has he ever been caught out dancing? He is like a rock. Check out his pictures in front of popular holy shrines around the country at the taxpayer’s expense. He is absolutely still, and usually covered in an orange coloured cloth. Do you know what he exercises? He exercises his vocal cords. That is what experienced politicians are expected to do.”
“She does not need to look far for inspiration,” it was Olavi’s turn to speak. “She only needs to look at our neighbour Russia. Why can we not randomly invade a country and kill ourselves some civilians? Letting hair down and exercise can both be achieved, not just for herself but for a lot of people at the same time, without anyone even noticing. And once it starts, it can go on indefinitely.”
“And what about Bolsonaro?” Anneli found her voice again.
“Bol who?” asked Maria. “Anyway, what about Bol whatever?”
Directing a cold glance at Maria inside the hot sauna where the temperature had already topped ninety, Anneli said in an even colder tone, “For those of you who don’t know, President Jair Bolsonaro is, well, the president of Brazil, the biggest country in South America.”
Quickly getting over the disappointment of not receiving an ovation at the momentous declaration, she asked, “Do you know how he exercises and loosens up?”
Seeing blank faces around she answered her own question. “Well, he goes around meeting people face to face. And, when he does not like a question someone has asked, he lunges at him, grabs his shirt and tries to snatch his mobile away from him.”
“That is what I would call a true, traditional politician,” Olave clapped and said. “My fear is, with leaders like Sanna, we may be running out of such leaders. It will be a sad day for the world when that happens.”
“Could she not have violated some Covid-19 related or other protocols, as done so effectively by Boris Johnson just a few months back?” Helena asked, a bit ruefully, thinking about the missed opportunities. “Party if you need to, but what is the point of being the prime minister if you are not even going to break some rules while doing so?”
Cross-talk began as the temperature and emotions started to rise.
Johanna, who had just returned to the sauna after a refreshing dip in the adjoining lake, and eager to contribute, said, “And did you know that in North Korea…” But she was not allowed to complete her sentence. There was a hissing sound, not from the stones, but emanating out of the people, as they picked up their respective, and so far unused, ‘vihta’ and set upon her.