VILNIUS - Sauna lovers in the port town of Klaipeda are poised to stage an unusual protest rally in front of the city council.
Protesters are going to march stark naked through the city to show their disapproval of the plan to privatize the city's only public bathhouse.
The demonstration, which is sure to attract widespread media attention, is the latest part in a lengthy drama in this coastal city of 187,000 residents.
In 2002, a group of Klaipeda residents collected signatures to stop privatization of the bathhouse, and the facility was excluded from the list of the city properties that were slated to be sold.
Six years later, however, several city council members have re-initiated the sell-off plan, causing panic among loyal adherents of steam bathing, a traditional pastime not only in Lithuania, but in the Baltics, Finland and Russia.
The Klaipeda municipal property committee so far is opposed to the privatization, but complex dealings involving the bathhouse continue at various levels of the city council and among ordinary citizens of Klaipeda.
Vitautas Eitmanavicius, a manager of Vilmmina, a municipal firm that manages the Klaipeda bathhouse, is convinced that there is no reason to privatize the bathing facility. Demand for the bathhouse services in Klaipeda is strong, and the bathhouse shows modest but steady profit.
Since 2003 the Klaipeda bathhouse is completely self-sufficient and does not receive any subsidies from the city budget, said Eitmanavicious.
"Over 50,000 people per year bathe at our bathhouse," he said. "This is a lot for our small city of only 187,000 residents."
The competition from the private sector is growing, and this may be a threat to Klaipeda public bathing in the future. Four hotels in Klaipeda boast steam house facilities, which include jacuzzis, beverages and massage.
Antanas Padavicius, managing bathhouse facilities at the Navalis hotel in Klaipeda, told The Baltic Times that protestors were serious about their threat.
"Nobody has walked naked around Klaipeda downtown so far, but it may happen any day now," he said.