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Social Summit takes to the streets of Geneva

Fireworks at social summit in Geneva

(Keystone)

The thousands of delegates attending the UN General Assembly special session in Geneva have been given the chance to let their hair down, thanks to an intriguing cultural programme.

Twenty-six street theatre groups from all over the world took part in the event along the lakeside, which culminated with a brief but impressive fireworks and laser show which lit up the Jet d’Eau, the 140-metre fountain in the city’s harbour.

The colourful fire and light display, meant to symbolise the convergence of the five continents, was devised by Christophe Berthonneau, most famous for his spectacular New Year’s Eve pyrotechnics show on the Eiffel Tower.

"The Meeting of the Peoples is the kind of mega-event we wanted to mark Geneva 2000 and to really leave an impression," says Tatyana Darany, secretary general of the Foundation for Geneva, which staged the show. "It also allows the local population to meet the people taking part in the summit, and highlights the things Geneva has to offer."

Darany told swissinfo that it was important for the thousands of delegates to get away from the conference halls and enjoy themselves:

"The culture events are important because they allow people to meet each other in an informal setting, where you don’t have to follow protocol and you don’t have to wear your UN badge. We thought it was important to offer a few moments for people to relax, get together and talk to each other," she said

The gathering on the Quai du Mont Blanc was truly multicultural. The jugglers, acrobats and musicians came from as far afield as Ghana, Cuba, Canada and Afghanistan. And there were stalls selling food from places like China, the Caribbean and Mauritius. The crowds drawn to the open air attractions were also from all over the world. Some were delegates to the UN summit, but many were residents of Geneva.

"The city has a very varied and close-knit fabric. People from many countries live here. Some work for the foreign missions, some have sought refuge here. It’s a very tolerant place. Geneva is like a microcosm of the whole world," Darany said.

Street theatre is not very well known in Switzerland, but Darany says it made sense for this celebration: "We chose street artists for symbolic reasons. They go down into the streets to seek out an audience. They force people to meet each other. You have to make that first step, because if you don’t, people will never get to know each other."

She says that it’s also fitting that street artists were used, given the themes being discussed at the UN General Assembly session: "Exclusion, poverty and unemployment is something that many of these street artists know about at first hand. What they do is a way for them to escape."

by Roy Probert

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