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MEPs 'sweat for Europe' in sauna sessions with public

Apr 21, 2017
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French people headed to the polls in the first round of presidential elections this weekend and British prime minister Theresa May called snap elections for this summer, all amid an atmosphere of uncertainty about the future of Europe.

It's in this challenging context that the Finnish Cultural Institute, the Alliance Française and the Goethe Institute have come up with a creative initiative called Sweating for Europe: a three-day event where a firetruck converted into sauna will be the setting for informal conversations between MEPs and the people in Brussels.

"We want to find creative ways to shorten the distance between politicians and ordinary people, the citizens," says Aleksi Malmberg, director of the Finnish Cultural Institute. "Because in the sauna everyone is the same."

The truck-sauna was created by artist Dida Zende in collaboration with Pro Puu in Lahti for the World Design Capital Helsinki in 2012, and it will be parked outside the European parliament on Monday and Tuesday (24-25 April), where MEPs will have a sauna session with a moderator from 17.00 to 19.00 before proceeding to the Parliamentarium where dialogue between the MEPs and the attending citizens will take place from 19.00, followed by an "Afterheat" party from 20.00, where the sauna is open for all.

Registration for the event is online or at the Parliamentarium on the day, depending on availability. Sauna users are requested to bring a towel and swimsuit.

The sauna is one of the most important symbols in Finnish culture. “Back in the days, the first thing you built was the sauna. Then came the rest of the house,” says Malmberg.

“That's where women used to give birth in the past,” adds Emma Mether, project coordinator at the Finnish Cultural Institute. “It's also where people's bodies were cleaned when they died."

2017 is a very significant year for Finnish people: they celebrate 100 years of independence. And it's also a year where, many say, the future of Europe could be determined.

"That's part of the reason why we're doing it now," says Malmberg. But it's also because we want to do something good, create change. There are so many challenges these days - political polarisation in society, the environment, the economy, and so we think that surprising, out-of-the-ordinary platforms are needed. The sauna strips off the structure and hierarchy.”

“It's about building trust,” adds Mether. “You take off your clothes and go in. No judgement. And when you leave out all the judgement, it gives space for something else.”

On Wednesday 26 April, the truck will be parked outside Bozar and open to the public from 17.30.

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