Katerina Danilova

The 2017 Opinion Festival boosts English-language discussions in number and diversity

In the spirit of opening up one of Estonia’s foremost civic events to people of all creeds and backgrounds, the Opinion Festival (Arvamusfestival) will this year host a raft of discussions in English.

The ten discussions and one theatre performance will be tackling a diverse range of topics, from the sustainability of Estonia’s start-up scene, to the growing popularity of veganism, to changes afoot in the European Union. Befittingly for its fifth anniversary, this marks the highest concentration of English-language discussions in the festival’s history.

While this year’s festival has consciously trimmed the number of discussions to 162 overall, English emerges as the exception here. This is not just a mere numbers’ game. The diversity of issues under discussion shows English truly cementing itself as an essential festival language, alongside Estonian and Russian, and displays a growing interest from discussion organisers to tap into the full expertise available in Estonia and nearby countries.

The discussions are dispersed across all of the festival’s six core themes — technology, labour and markets, education, the living environment, the individual, and community —  but there are common threads running through all eleven English-language events.

A case in point are two discussions on Friday which attempt to offer a different outlook on Estonia’s technology sector. The first, bringing together an anthropologist with local tech scene sweethearts Taxify, Pipedrive and Mooncascade, aims to humanise User Experience (or, to use its more techie moniker, UX) and unravel the value of putting human experience at the centre of product design from the get-go, a still largely new concept in Estonian start-ups.

A separate discussion turns its back on ready-made assumptions and looks to ask honest, if uncomfortable, questions about the state of Estonia’s start-up ecosystem and whether the “yippee-rhetoric attitude” it sometimes attracts could be counterproductive to its success.

There are also a wealth of other discussions tackling market-related questions. Notably, as more and more companies in Estonia are adopting, or at least involving to some degree, English as a working language, it has never been timelier to consider diversity in the Estonian workplace and build awareness of expats and people from different cultural backgrounds already enriching Estonian society. Pushing Opinion Festival’s philosophy of inclusivity one step further, a discussion on Saturday will not have “speakers” in the traditional sense but will follow the “World Cafe” method where small groups of people move from table to table to discuss different issues related to the topic of diversity.

Other discussions on Saturday give participants the chance to delve into wider questions about social responsibility and consumer education. In this vein, development charity NGO Mondo is holding an extensive discussion on the reality of palm oil production to consider what improvements can be made to the supply chain to eliminate environmental damage and human rights violations. To keep it solutions-focused, the discussion will draw in research and practical tips from Finland and Estonia.

The experiences of Estonia’s northern neighbours will likely also feed in heavily into a discussion about veganism. While veganism has flourished in Estonia over the past few years and become the chosen diet for many, there is still social stigma attached to it and official nutritional guidelines continue to regard it as a potentially dangerous self-restricted diet — unlike Finland and Sweden where it by and large enjoys the backing of the medical community.

This is just a taste of the discussions available in English over the two days. Coinciding with Estonia’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, it is only appropriate that other topics involve the issues shaping Europe today and which Estonia will be trying to co-ordinate at an EU-wide level during the latter part of 2017 — such as the impact of Brexit, involving speakers from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Likewise, a discussion on Catalan independence can cast an interesting light on the way Estonia thinks about self-determination, especially as the country’s own long-anticipated 100th anniversary in February 2018 draws near.

The Opinion Festival is also constantly evolving and responding to its participants — who, given that the festival is free and open to all, could be anyone from Estonia and beyond. It is hardly surprising that in its fifth year, the festival should include a self-reflexive discussion about the role and impact of democracy festivals, born in collaboration with other similar events in the Nordic and Baltic region.

If we were to see the Opinion Festival as both reflecting and catalysing the state of democratic debate in Estonia, the boom in English-language discussions should be seen part and parcel of Estonia becoming at once more outward-facing and not afraid to open up its inward-facing reflections to a wider audience.

The full programme is available here.


All English-language discussions at the Opinion Festival

Friday, 11th August

Humanizing IT – UX for the future
Discoveries area (Avastuste ala)

User experience (UX) design has been declared to be one of the keys in order to succeed in innovation. However, in Estonia it is still a rather new course. In the discussion we would like to find answers to questions such as what is the purpose of participatory design and how to find out as quickly as possible what one’s target group really needs and wants. We are bringing programmers, designers and anthropologists together to collaborate and find out the best ways to create something new and useful. This enables the ICT specialists and designers to figure out the niche of their products. At the same time anthropologists and other people from social and human sciences can rediscover the potential of using their skills in the job market on somewhat surprising fields like ICT and design.
Moderator: Ede Schank Tamkivi (NGO Eesti 2.0 CEO)
Participants: Jaanus Kase (Pipedrive, Head of Product Design) Markus Villig (Taxify, CEO) Genia Trofimova (Mooncascade, Product and Project Manager) Keiu Telve (Center for Applied Anthropology of Estonia, anthropologist)
Organiser: Center for Applied Anthropology of Estonia
Category: Technology

Unlocking the new economic development – the prospect of bioeconomy
Discoveries area (Avastuste ala)

Why countries and companies invest increasingly in bioeconomy? Because this is the next economic wave. Bioeconomy shall also mitigate the climate change and environmental impact and make sustainable use of natural resources. This is the only way to do business today! The bioeconomy means the smart, circular use of renewable natural resources for food, feed, bio-products and energy. During the debate we shall look into how the bioeconomy reconciles environment and economy and bolster rural employment. We investigate the new bioeconomy business model and describe what is in it for everybody. We have invited Nordic entrepreneurs to share their experiences about opportunities and challenges of bioeconomy. Estonian panelists contemplate on how Estonia could step up the developments towards bioeconomy – what will this demand of society, communities and the government? Come along, listen in and have your say on how to do business in the future, where current trends are pointing us and why certain countries are dedicated to promoting the bioeconomy.
Moderator: Madis Tilga (Nordic Council of Ministers)
Participants: Stefan Sundman (Vice-President, UPM Biofore), Tanja Häyrynen (Project manager, Arctic Bioeconomy), Toomas Kevvai (Vice-chancellor of Estonian Ministry of Rural Affairs), Kristjan Piirimäe (sustainability expert)
Organiser: Nordic Concil of Ministers’ Office in Estonia

Self-determination of nations in the European Union: Case of Catalonia
Estonian Free Party area (Eesti Vabaerakonna ala)

Self-determination of nations in today’s European Union. The Catalans wish to hold a referendum to determine the opinion of their people about independence. So far, Spain has avoided the issue, and the official position has been not favourable. How the Spaniards and the Catalans themselves see it. This program and debate is organised in cooperation with the Public Diplomacy Council of Catalonia.
Moderator: Artur Talvik
Participants: Mr. Jaume Clotet Planas, Communications Manager at the Government of Catalonia and Mr. Rafael Arenas, law professor and former President of anti-Catalan Independence organization “Societat Civil Catalana”
Organiser: Estonian Free Party
Category: Living environment

Let’s get real about start-ups: Signal vs. Noise
Inclusive Society area (Kaasava ühiskonna ala)

Estonia produces the biggest number of startups and seed stage investments per capita than any other country in Europe. Estonian startup ecosystem is packed with business plan competitions, pitching workshops, hubs, conferences and events and the confidence of young Estonian entrepreneurs is backed up by start-up accelerators and venture capitalists in London and Silicon Valley. At the same time there are questions about their success-stories and criticism towards the yippee-rhetoric attitude. Is this a confrontation between the new and the old economy or is it something else? We are exchanging thoughts and debate the issue to better understand what’s behind the criticism.
Moderator: Jüri Muttika
Participants: Martin Henk (Co-Founder at Pipedrive), Gleb Maltsev (Co-Founder at Fundwise)
Organiser: Pipedrive
Category: Technology

What will the future of Great Britain and the EU be like after Brexit?
Estonian Free Party area (Eesti Vabaerakonna ala)

Brexit and its impact on Europe, Great Britain and Estonia. Estonia has just assumed the Presidency of the EU Council, and this topic is a daily relevant issue also during our Presidency. What can we and the European Union learn from it, and what do the people from different parts of Great Britain think of it.
Moderator: Andres Herkel
Participants: Representatives of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Britain
Organiser: Estonian Free Party
Category: Living environment

The power of democracy festivals
Participatory democracy area (Osalusdemokraatia ala)

In 1968 Olof Palme, Sweden’s minister of education at the time, held a speech, standing in the back of a flatbed truck. The truck was parked by Almedalen park and a couple of hundred people gathered to listen to what he had to say. 50 years later, democracy festivals throughout the Nordic region have gone viral. Why is that? Is it because we’ve noticed lately how fragile democracy actually is? We invite you to have a conversation with us over what has been the societal impact of democracy festivals in our region and why do we need them.
Moderator: Liis Kängsepp (The Opinion Festival’s coordinator of international cooperation)
Participants: Mari Haavisto (SuomiAreena organiser), Ieva Morica (LAMPA organiser), Mads Randbøll Wolff (independent senior adviser at Spark)
Organiser: The Opinion Festival
Category: Community

Saturday, 12th August

Diversity in the Estonian workplace and society: The good, the bad and the ugly
Education area (Hariduse ala)

The aim of this discussion is to increase the awareness towards foreigners and people from different cultural backgrounds working and living in Estonia as an already existing part of society. We wish to encourage a lively discussion where we exchange views on the benefits and challenges of cultural diversity at the workplace and what it means to society in broader terms, hopefully resulting in new ideas and proposals for the discussed issues. All this with the help of a diverse audience.
Moderator: Cornelia Godfrey (Austrian Embassy)
Participants: Instead of a panel, we opted to have a lively and constructive discussion in small groups, based on the World Café method. We hope to hear the views, concerns and proposals that the audience has about the different questions and topics, with Dennis Kristensen (Sindi Lanka, Danspin) making a brief introduction.
Organisers: Enterprise Estonia, Estonian Ministry of Culture
Category: Labour and markets

Veganism: a self-restricted or a healthy diet?
Health area (Tervise ala)

Veganism is growing in popularity both globally and in Estonia but opinions about the healthfulness of vegan diets vary to the extreme between specialists and countries. Overseas in Finland and Sweden, veganism in considered appropriate throughout all stages of life and the national nutritional guidelines give advice on balanced nutrition for vegans. Estonian nutritional guidelines, on the other hand, regard veganism as a self-restricted diet that will lead to long-term health complications. What does the science tell? Should vegans be supported and how?
Moderator: Marta Velgan (Estonian Junior Doctors’ Association)
Participants: David Stenhholtz (oncologist at Stockholm’s Södersjukhuset hospital​),​ Mikael Fogelholm (Professor of Nutrition at Helsinki University),​ Ülle Einberg (president of the Estonian Association of Paediatricians),  Karmen Joller (general practitioner)
Organiser: Eesti Vegan Selts (Estonian Vegan Society); sponsored by Swedish Institute and the National Foundation of Civil Society
Category: The individual

The pain and glory of PhD degree: do you and the society need it?
Science area (Teadusala)

The movement March For Science started in 2017 indicates that science aims for more impact in society. Is the role of PhD degree also changing? What are the risks and gains of PhD degree in Estonia? These questions will be discussed with the professionals representing different views. We will inform the audience about PhD studies, possible carrier choices and the current drawbacks of science funding system aiming. We aim to come up with the new ideas improving perspectives of the doctorates.
Moderator: Dr Martin Aher
Participants: Prof. Andres Taklaja (CEO of OÜ Rantelon, private sector member), Prof. Anne Kahru (professor at National Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics – independent research institute), Prof. Erkki Truve (former vice-rector of Tallinn University of Technology), Dr. Ulla Preeden (Rector of Tartu Health Care College and politician)
Organiser: National Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics
Category: Education

Under the palm tree
Inclusive Society area (Kaasava ühiskonna ala)

Under the palm tree”  Palm oil is one of the most used and consumed vegetable oils that is found in approximately 40-50% of household products and fuel in many developed countries including Estonia. Palm oil can be present in a wide variety of products, including baked goods, confectionery, shampoo, cosmetics, cleaning agents, washing detergents and toothpaste. The truth, however, is that palm oil industry is linked to issues such as deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses in the countries where it is produced. Let’s talk about the real life under the palm tree but also let’s look at the solutions: how can we make good palm oil? How can we produce, supply and consume without damaging the environment and abusing people’s rights? What is the role of the producers? What can Estonian supermarkets do? With the stories, facts, research and practices from Finland and Estonia, we will engage the participants to think about their choices and consumption patterns to reduce poverty and contribute to economic sustainability also for the farmers and producers in the Global South. The discussion takes place within a pan-European project “Supply Cha!nge. Let’s Make Supermarkets Fair” that is funded by the European Commission and the Republic of Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs development and humanitarian aid resources. The contents of the discussion are the sole responsibility of NGO Mondo and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union.
Moderator: Kristina Mänd (NGO Mondo)
Participants: Anu Kultalahti (researcher in the Finnish NGO Finnwatch), Märt Miljan (co-founder of Estonian cosmetics producer Lumi) and Kaire Roosi (Meal Category Group Manager from Rimi supermarket chain)
Organiser: NGO Mondo
Category: Category: Living environment

Youth Democracy Theatre
Participatory Democracy area (Osalusdemokraatia ala)

In cooperation with NGO Forum Theatre in Estonia, the Danish documentary theatre C:NTACT and NGO Palidzesim from Latvia the Danish Cultural Institute in EST, LV and LT presents a youth theatre production on democracy at Opinion Festival 2017.
The performance engages youngsters from Estonia, Latvia and Denmark in a joint performance with a point of departure in the young people’s experiences of democracy in everyday life and the society they wish for in their future. Enjoy the performance and take part in the discussion afterwards: How does YOUR democratic society look like and where do YOU take part?
Moderator: Didzis Jonovs
Participants: Youngsters from Estonia, Latvia and Denmark
Organiser: The Danish Cultural Institute in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

Why I’m investing about 200 hours yearly into volunteering

Maarit Cimolonskas
Employee experience @Bigbank, volunteer @Arvamusfestival

Some time ago, we hosted a workshop in our office where about 20 people joined from the Government Office of EstoniaEuropean Innovation AcademyEstonian Unemployment Insurance Fund, the digital agency Optimist DigitalEstonian Ministry of the InteriorEstonian Green Movement, an educational independent body ArchimedesEstonian Patients Association and some other organisations.

All of these people are among the organisers of the Opinion festival. Together, we had a communications and marketing workshop since they are leading the communication initiatives for the upcoming 5th Opinion Festival in Estonia.

Opinion what?

Once a year, on the second weekend in August, a tiny city in Estonia called Paide changes into a festival ground which brings about 10,000 people together. It’s not a regular festival but one of a kind, called the Opinion Festival — http://2017.arvamusfestival.ee/en/. It provides an open platform for alert and active people who can discuss issues which are important to them and relevant topics on society. We call it a self-evolving community-wide festival open to everyone.

‘Community-wide’ means that the festival welcomes representatives and interest groups from all walks of life. ‘Self-evolving’ refers to organisations and associations bringing issues to the table with using their own resources. ‘Open to everyone’ means that anyone interested in sharing his or her ideas is welcome to take part. It also means that the festival is free of charge for participants.

What it means in reality is that during those two days in Paide, more than 170 discussions will be held. Think of it as organising 170 internal trainings.

Different NGOs, public & private organisations come together, think and work together to make all of these discussions happen. Everyone in Estonia can propose topics they would like to discuss about and the preparation phase starts from February already. The festival happens for the fifth time this year, and we have more and more experienced organisations, who think beyond panel discussions and are eager to engage the audience through various fun, weird, serious, difficult and completely out-of-box-like methods.

Another thing, we neither think nor talk of the festival audience but the discourse has evolved into festival participants. The people who attend are participating more and more and have given feedback that this is how they want it to be as well. People join the Opinion Festival to exchange opinions, gain new knowledge and fresh ideas, meet new people and enjoy the vibe. Below is a little example of how it all comes together with hundreds of volunteers.

What’s in it for me

I have been a volunteer since 2002, so I like to call myself a senior volunteer already. Back in high school it just started out as a way to attend to events I didn’t have money to attend otherwise. I used to volunteer for years for the Black Nights Film festival PÖFF and for the yearly jazz music festival Jazzkaar. The tickets were expensive and my family didn’t have the means to send me on concert after concert, so I found another way.

Years went by and I started getting knowledge in other topics than smiling and checking the tickets, so while at my Erasmus year in Paris, I helped to organise a summer theatre festival. Later, back in Estonia, I decided to put my social media skills into practice and helped out a Pelgulinna maternity hospital’s support foundation in their social media marketing.

After some time in Bigbank with internal communications, I decided that it’s time to put the skills I have learned here, into practice somewhere else too. This is how I ended up with the Opinion festival last year, helping their team of about 300 people with managing internal communications.

I was just thinking the other day, that voting is very natural for me, but I want to do more. I want to feel good about myself that I have taken steps to improve the Estonian society. Today, I can’t be sure that something changes because of it, but I’m at least trying and might see the results in the future.

Thus, being a volunteer is a question of mindset for me. If I have something to share and I see that there is a place that needs it, then why not to share it?

I gave an interview once about being a volunteer and the first question I was asked was: “Why don’t you ask money for sharing your knowledge?”. Well, I don’t believe in asking money about everything you have. By sharing, you are actually learning and this way the learning never stops.

I have developed so much because of these broad experiences with different people from different fields, with different knowledge and experiences. I decided that while volunteering at the Opinion festival, I would like to change the field annually. So last year I was dealing with coaching the team leaders and sharing information to all volunteers last year. This year, I’m helping to curate three areas at the festival, which means I dig deeper with the organisations who organise these discussions:

  • The area of science which tackles on topics like Industry 4.0, biologic city, the role of future technologies in improving societies and other cool stuff
  • The area of prejudices which covers topics like why don’t people dance in the church, why Estonians are afraid of feminism, if the soviet people have space in Estonia and other cool stuff
  • The area of Müürileht and Vikerkaar which broadens minds about if there is life after capitalism, the Estonian protest culture, what is the Estonian conservative culture about and other cool stuff

I feel how dealing with the people, the organisations, the topics I’m regularly not dealing with really broadens my mindset. This is my goal, I love it and it’s fun too!

Other similar festivals around Europe

Actually, the Opinion Festival was inspired by the 49-year-old Almedalsveckan festival in Sweden, as well as other similar events in Finland, Norway and Denmark and was held for the first time in Estonia in 2013. We, in turn, have inspired Latvia too, who organised a similar festival this year for the third time this year. Below is a little guide about these festivals around Northern Europe.

Folkemødet — Denmark

Danish Folkemødet started in 2011 with a goal to strengthen democracy and dialogue in Denmark, and soon became one of the landmark events in Danish society. Over the last six years, the number of events and participants has grown by more than ten times. Last year’s festival featured 3000 events and gathered 100 000 participants, and this is not the limit. This year, it happened on June 15–18.

Lampa – Latvia

LAMPA (Sarunu festivāls LAMPA) is organised in the picturesque city of Cesis since 2015. LAMPA celebrates democratic culture and calls for active citizenship. It is a place to broaden one’s mind in an ever-changing world. This year it took place on June 30-July 1.

Arendalsuka — Norway

Arendalsuka is organised since 2012 and has so far been a huge and it is considered as the most important meeting place between leaders in politics and business, the media and the public. This forum strengthens the belief in poltical debate. This year it will take place on August 14–19.

Almedalen — Sweden

The history of Almedalen goes back to 1968, when the Swedish politician Olof Palme held speeches in Almedalen during the summertime. The first official Almedalen Week took place in 1982. With over 30 000 participants, this has now grown to one of the most important forums in Sweden to debate and discuss on current social issues. This year it took place on July 02–09.

SuomiAreena — Finland

SuomiAreena week in Pori started back in 2006 and now welcomes about 60 000 participants to discuss on politics, society, culture and sports. This year it took place on July 10–14. http://suomiareena.fi/in-english (you can find the video on the link)

Fundur fólksins — Iceland

Held since 2015, Fundur fólksins brings together people who wish to discuss issues of society and ensures that all voices are heard. This year it will take place on September 8–9.

For now, I invite you all to check the Opinion festival out on August 11–12 — just come with an open mind and see where it takes you!

Check here to see all discussions held in English: https://www.facebook.com/events/1759788734318427

This year’s Opinion Festival will ask whether there could be dancing at church

The 162 discussions taking place at this summer’s Opinion Festival range in topic from the digital revolution (or the inability to keep up with it) to radicalization. As befits a year dedicated to celebrating children’s and youth culture in Estonia, a selection of discussions at the Festival will also be organized by children. The full programme is available on our website from today onwards.

Ott Karulin, head organizer of the Opinion Festival, explains that the range of discussions reflects the current prevailing mood in society and tackles some of the year’s most important societal changes. For instance, the consequences of the administrative reform and any opportunities it brings for further cooperation will be up for discussion at the Periphery Area, while the European Area will examine the future of the European Union and NATO and Estonia’s options as a member of both. Following feedback from previous years, there will be fewer discussions and themed areas at this year’s event. In total, there will be 25 different themed areas where, over two days, the more than 500 invited participants will be given a platform to speak.

Opinion Festival 2016. Photo author: Anna Markova

According to Karulin, participants will be spoilt for choice when it comes to finding topics to pique their interest — discussions will touch upon a broad range of subjects, from health to stereotypes to social innovation. “In addition to topical issues, there will be no shortage of timeless, ethical questions to explore. This year will also raise some slightly more provocative questions – for example, why could there not be dancing at church when singing and music are seen as artistic expression and therefore permitted? Or whether elderly women should be applauded for reaching an old age or be scorned instead,” notes Karulin. He adds that the programme also includes topics that still tend to be seen as taboo in society — one such discussions is “12 years old and consuming porn — whose concern and responsibility?”.

For the first time in its history, the Festival will have a children’s area where students from Years 5 to 7 will together organize eight discussions. The discussions they have in store will focus not just on issues like children’s happiness (at school) or ways to spend spare time more actively but also questions like environmental protection or addiction to the virtual world. To help find solutions, they plan to invite external participants such as scientists and young athletes to speak, but participants in the discussions will, of course, also include young people themselves.

Explore the programme here: 2017.arvamusfestival.ee/kava

The Opinion Festival programme has been created as a result of a public call for ideas and is a place where people can exchange thoughts about the social order, gain fresh ideas and acquire new knowledge. Taking place for the fifth year running, this year’s Festival will be from 11 to 12 August in Paide. The Hiiumaa [pre-]opinion festival will take place on 10 June in Suursadama and the Southeastern Estonia festival on 14 July at the Estonian Road Museum.

The Opinion Festival is supported by Paide Town Government, the Union of Järvamaa Regional Governments, Swedbank, the Representation of the European Commission in Estonia, the National Foundation of Civil Society, the Information Office of the European Parliament, the Estonian Cooperation Assembly, SpeakSmart and many others. One of the themed areas at the Festival is sponsored by the Archimedes Foundation and the Center for Applied Anthropology of Estonia.

Migration area on Saturday: virtual reality, quiz, migration crisis and media coverage

During the Saturday different questions are going to be discussed: Do we have a migration crisis? What is actually going on and what kinds of threats are out there in sense of migration? What are the challenges people returning to Estonia have to face?

In addition, an eye-opening value game and exciting experiment are taking place. Also there is an opportunity to experience the virtual reality of refugee camp in Jordan.

All Migration Area panel discussions are translated simultaneously into English.


10.00-18.00 Virtual reality “Clouds over Sidra” (Organizer: Estonian Refugee Council/UNHCR)
Meet Sidra. This charming 12-year-old girl will guide you through her temporary home: Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan. Za’atari is home to 130,000 Syrians fleeing violence and war, and children make up half the camp’s population.

10:00-11:30 „Discovering Values“ (Tartu University Centre for Ethics/Estonian Refugee Council)
The game „Discovering Values“ combines an entertaining format with a serious content that supports the development of one’s value clarification, argumentation ability and empathy. The game is meant to facilitate discussion with the aim of forming, formulating and defending a personal position, with no right or wrong solutions.
Moderator: Mari-Liis Nummert

12.00-13.00 Why are they coming here, to fight on our yard?* (Organizer: Estonian Atlantic Treaty Association)
The migration crisis and refugee problems are discussed through mass media often in a way that anger and fear are following. What is actually going on and what kinds of threats are out there in sense of migration? The discussion is held in perspective of security and collective defense.
Panelists: Hanno Pevkur, Uku Särekanno and Anni Säär
Moderator: Mart Nutt

13.30-15.00 Migration crisis?! No panic, please! (Organizer: Ministry of the Interior)
In recent years, discussions about the migration crisis have dominated Estonian public sphere. Statistics show that there is no mass immigration into Estonia – there are no migrant flows targeting us. But how could we explain then this sense of crisis in Estonia?
Panelists: Mari-Liis Jakobson, Eero Janson, Tiit Tammaru and Raivo Vare
Moderator: Marju Lauristin

15.30-16.45 Immigrant – are you a ghost or a human?* (Organizer: Ministry of the Interior)
Surveys are showing that Estonians are not that open-minded towards immigrants and often have certain prejudices particularly towards those with different ethnic background. At the panel, an experiment is going to take place where the audience can have their say in this matter and the mechanisms of development of beliefs and attitudes are discussed by experts in the field.
Panelists: Karmen Maikalu, Aune Valk and David Vseviov
Moderator: Tarmo Jüristo

17.15-18.30 Estonians living abroad: Brains lost or Estonian ambassadors in the world? (Organizer: European Migration Network/Tallinn University)
From when Estonia regained its independence 25 years ago, more people have left the country than moved here to contribute in Estonia’s social and economic wellbeing. The country needs to promote immigration of foreign specialists as well as to work on its diaspora engagement policies and thats what this panel discusses.
Panelists: Peter Gornischeff, Piret Kärtner, Ave Lauren and Tõnu Pekk
Moderator: Marion Pajumets

*quotes from famous Estonian movies

The Migration Area is organised by Estonian Refugee Council, Estonian Atlantic Treaty Association, European Migration Network/University of Tallinn, Ülemiste City, Tartu University Centre for Ethics and Ministry of the Interior,  Government Office. The activities of the Migration Area  shall be financed from the European Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund and the budget of the The Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Estonia, under the project project of AMIF2015-14 „Monitoring and Communicating Immigration Crisis.

Opinion Festival in Estonia Builds Nordic Musical Bridge

The soundwaves of the Opinion Festival create a musical bridge between Aruküla, Gothenburg and Tartu

This year the culture programme of the word-rock festival held in Paide in August wanders along psychedelic and jazzy paths instead of rock music. Filling the Festival Club with sounds is the responsibility of Tartu’s multicultural Genialistide Klubi in cooperation with Möku. Their joint programme attracts audiences with both superb DJs and young rappers.

If you want to escape the discussions for a bit, you can pop into the festival club where you can enjoy the sounds of the hissing old vinyl from the Melodija label, pulsating beats from the Balkans, the best estrada pieces of the Eastern block and the soft breeze of yacht rock.

The keyword of Friday night’s official programme is “Youth”. At the festival club, you can enjoy the performance of 15-year-old rapper EIXD from Aruküla, whose lyrics tackle social issues and may even bring additional thoughts to some of the topics debated at the discussions. Then, Liis Ring aka Cirkl who is studying music and sound production in Gothenburg takes stage with her dreamy indie-pop, a hovering cross between jazz and classical music. To finish off the first day you can listen to playful improvisations by Edmund Hõbe, a multi-instrumentalist from Tartu.

Saturday is all about psychedelic sounds and vinyl. Once the last discussions have ended, Berk Vaher, a multi-talent with an odd taste in music, and Ahto Külvet, a vinyl enthusiast who gets excited by the products of weird-looking record labels, invite you to the first ever Psycho Disco in Paide. The audience will be welcomed by the colourful world of analogue music with repertoire expanding from Kazakhstan to Latvia and from Brazil to Poland. The motto of Psycho Disco is simple − we are all equal before the Moog keyboard!


Translated to English by Piret Raudsepp.

The Mayor of Paide: “The Opinion Festival offers something for everyone!”

Paide has been home to the Opinion Festival since its beginning. What kind of town does it take to host one of the coolest events of the summer? What is the festival’s influence on this quiet and peaceful place in the heart of Estonia? The mayor of Paide, Siret Pihelgas explains and talks about other exciting things as well.

What are the benefits of Paide being the festival site?

Firstly, we are located in the centre of Estonia so that it’s easily accessible for everyone. Another big advantage is that the town is small and compact. At first, the festival took place only in Vallimägi, which holds many people. Now we have also expanded to the centre, which is actually only a few steps away from Vallimägi. Various themed areas, accommodation places and an opportunity to get to know the town − they’re all close at hand.


Paide already has several years of experience of hosting the Festival. What are the important things to remember when hosting an event this big?

The most important thing is the community and making sure of a smooth cooperation. With these things, you could organise the Opinion Festival anywhere. Any undertaking of this size always relies on people. Therefore, it’s really great that there are so many volunteers who are trying their hardest and are willing to give one hundred per cent regardless of their family and work obligations to make this festival happen. Many of the volunteers are actually from here and every year after the festival they all come together and start planning the next year at once.

What are the festival’s benefits to your town?

The fact that the festival takes place in Paide is a really big gift for us, no kidding. Many people hadn’t been to Paide before or they didn’t have a reason to come here, but thanks to the Opinion Festival lots of people have now discovered our town. Even during those couple of days, it’s good to see young families taking an interest in the abandoned houses of the old town and saying that this place has the right atmosphere that they need to settle down.

Of course, another great thing is that local companies − namely restaurants and shops − earn more money during this weekend than maybe for the entire year.

The festival is also a starting point to many great ideas, many of which have been brought to life right here in Paide or in Järvamaa. For example, last year we had an idea to establish Paide’s own city theatre. We have found some young people from the drama school and they are trying to figure out how to start, what the theatre is going to be like, what the benefits would be for the community; how it would educate kids and so on. We commenced a huge project last year. Paide’s city theatre will be established in 2017 and it will start work in 2018.

Have you had any unexpected obstacles or surprises along the way?

There are always minor bumps on the road, that’s inevitable. It could be anything related to electric power, internet connection, garbage collection or whatever. But everything can be solved. Luckily, we haven’t had any major mishaps and each year we get smarter.

What is different this year?

For example, I know that last year we had some problems with getting access to Vallimägi for disabled people, but this is definitely being organised better this year.

Do you have any wise words for other towns and cities to motivate them to be as brave as you and organise big events like this one?

You have to think big. You can’t be afraid of impossible ideas, you have to put your faith in them and give people a chance to act. It will repay you a hundredfold!

Why do you recommend people to come to the Opinion Festival this summer?

This is a difficult question because I have taken part every year and I wouldn’t even know otherwise. It’s not easy to point out something specific because I believe that there’s something for everyone.

The festival has evolved so fast and it is downright terrifying, in a good way, to think about the future. There are so many discussion stages that there can never be a moment when you don’t have anything interesting to listen to.

Discussing important subjects in the open air creates new ideas and may make you see some things in a different light. Nobody can possibly think all the time, so from time to time you can just ponder on your own or spend quality time with other people.

The positive emotions of the festival last for a long time and once you’ve run out of those, you can start looking forward to the next edition!


Interviewed by Maarja-Liis Mölder.
Translated to English by Piret Raudsepp.

Opinion Festival 2016: Why Am I Volunteering at the Opinion Festival? Because it’s Fun!

In the spring of 2015, I had the honour of participating in the course held by Liis Kängsepp, the then-Communication Manager of the Opinion Festival, at Tallinn University. As an overly-excited first year journalism student I kept my eyes and ears open for possible internship jobs for the coming summer. Then, all of a sudden, Liis mentioned that the Opinion Festival was looking for communications volunteers. By the time I got from Tallinn University to Telliskivi Street by tram, I had made my decision. When I got off the tram, I was sure that I could become a volunteer at the Opinion Festival. To be fair, I didn’t know too much about the Opinion Festival back then − sure, I was aware of the festival’s presence in the media, but I hadn’t even been to Paide that much before, let alone participated in the festival. So it was time to open my mailbox and write an email to Liis.

And so, one fine day I found myself in the Opinion Festival’s Communications team, informing readers about all kinds of exciting discussion topics, people and events that together form the Opinion Festival. It was a fun time. I could make my contribution to one of the coolest events in Estonia by writing up stories and doing interviews over the whole summer. Whether at 6 am on the coach to Tartu or fending off flies in the afternoon sun on Saaremaa, I could help with putting together the big picture of the festival by writing pieces on the festival blog.

And then came August and the festival. I remember sitting in the Opinion Festival’s Press Centre finalising another one of my pre-festival articles and through the open window, I could hear people adjusting the mics all over the place and the tech guys making a racket on the balconies while installing the internet. Excitement and thrill filled the air − just like prior to a birthday party when the table is already set but the guests haven’t arrived yet. We weren’t able to enjoy that peace and quiet for too long though, because the guests began to arrive. Thousands of them. Eight, nine, ten thousand people gathered in Paide to take part in the festival’s discussions.

Yes, these two festival days were rather mental and now when I think about them, I remember the ceaseless chatter, sitting on the grass with my legs crossed and the keyboard, which I was devotedly tapping for 12 hours on a trot. Down the stairs to the discussions and up the stairs to write. Down the stairs to the discussions and… Until all of a sudden it was the evening of the second day and I found myself sitting on the ground and braiding grass rings; the dark and soft August night was flowing past me with its overheard conversations, gales of laughter and good ideas. I was thinking to myself, “Wow! So cool!” And that feeling has stayed with me ever since. And that’s exactly why three months later I sent another email saying that I wanted to help out and work on the Opinion Festival in 2016 as well. This year the festival will be even bigger, even more diverse and even more fun. That’s why the team and I are already in full swing to make the festival happen. There are many great, fun and exciting things on the way. So stay tuned and see you all in Paide!

Written by Jakob Rosin.
Translated to English by Piret Raudsepp.