Asute arhiveeritud lehel. Mine värske Arvamusfestivali lehele.

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Here’s How to Give Everyone a Say in Estonia

The official Opinion Festival brochure says that when we think of the Netherlands we think of tulips and windmills, but for others, the Low Country means philosophical footballers, excellent flood defences and a – cough – liberal attitude towards what someone may or may not be smoking. But there is a tradition of this small nation, which was once a merchant shipping hub for the world, exporting new solutions to civic and political problems, and it was one way of doing so, the polder model, which was discussed on Friday afternoon in the talk “How to Make Consensus-Based Decisions: Dutch Polder Brunch”.

According to Wikipedia, “the polder model is consensus decision-making, based on the acclaimed Dutch version of consensus-based economic and social policy making in the 1980s and 1990s.” Wim Kok, who was Dutch Prime Minister during the economic boom-time of 1994 to 2002, supported the polder model, or his version of it, as a way of ensuring that all voices be heard in a process of decision-making.

Things have changed, some would say for the worse, since Kok’s time at the head of his government. The far right is building its share of the vote in the Netherlands, Estonia and many other parts of Europe, and the idea that consensus can be found on any issue just by talking it over now seems less of a certainty than it once was.

Peter Kentie, a Dutchman from Rotterdam living at the moment in Tallinn, talked about the rebranding of Estonia, with Visit Estonia now using slogans like “ESTonishing”, alongside a new logo. “It’s not about the logo, it’s about passions. You can’t have it that someone from the ministry comes to someone and gives someone the task to do the design, the ministry should team up with the stakeholders in Estonia, and together create the brief and together be responsible for the result.”

Sometimes, Kentie argued, it matters how people collaborate, not just who collaborates. “If the person giving the brief is sitting next to you, rather than just being the one who gives the money, that makes the difference. It’s better to have that discussion in the room, than in a newspaper.”

When asked by moderator Annika Uudelepp how he would attract Asian, or international, talent in greater numbers to Estonia, Kentie said that perhaps the problem should be viewed differently. “I think maybe, as a first priority, talent should not be coming, maybe the priority should be exporting to the rest of the world.”

“There are qualities here that aren’t yet fully-known to other countries. You really have to communicate those qualities to the rest of the world. If you do that, then maybe people [in other countries] will think ‘I can contribute something there in the future.’ The ‘Skype Mafia’ shows that you have all these young people who use the digital world in a disruptive way, and that’s the important thing, to disrupt. If others go left, you should go right, and if you get that mentality right, people will come to you. You have to first tell the world you’re really open to that, and communicate to the rest of the world that you’re there.”

One example of increased civic activism in Estonia has been evident over the proposed development of Kalarand in Tallinn. Local groups ensured that they had a say in the planning of a new development on the promenade, and ensured the current beach would remain in place, but only after the developers, with the apparent backing of local government for their building plans, tried to sue a local activist to bring in a gagging order.

“In the Netherlands,” said panellist and Dutch Ambassador to Estonia Jos Schellaars, “we also have property developers who are very keen on acquiring areas on which they can build. But then there is a process of permission. Even after the permission is given, I think in the Netherlands protesters have a louder voice. The discussion process, I think, is much longer. Voices are louder and better-heard.”

Is Debate A Luxury That We Can’t Afford?

The Opinion Festival has, as one of its aims, to create an atmosphere that is good for open discussion, but how much do we actually want, or need this? Is this kind of debate a peacetime luxury, in a time when it often feels like war, or at least some bigger conflict, is pending?

During the aftermath of the recent referendum that saw Britain vote to leave the European Union, there was a lot of discussion about the different choices faced by the UK and the rest of Europe in the future. The vote, which took most of the political elite by surprise and was greeted with a sense of joy by some and impending doom by others, threw individuals and political parties into a period of extended soul-searching, from which they have not yet emerged.

What was particularly interesting was what it meant for the future of debate. We take it for granted today that we will be given time and space to discuss openly solutions to problems. However there is a growing feeling that the way in which we conduct debate is changing. The Donald Trump campaign in the United States, the refugee crisis in Europe, and discussions on how many displaced people Estonia will take, have all been conducted in an increasingly bellicose manner. The manner of debate seems to be similar to that shown in this video (apologies for linking to an RT post, but it shows what I mean).

This all begs the question, although many of us like to philosophise about the best way of organising ourselves, does this mean that modern culture and government can do so? We have seen, with the acceptance of political “spin” as a necessary tool for most governments, distrust in elites rise. This appears to be at least part of the reason for the rise of Trump, and for Brexit. It’s created a situation where it doesn’t take many points in a conversation on something like Twitter, for example, for one side or both sides to start exhibiting anger.

Essentially, a Twitter conversation in 2016 goes like this:

  • Person One: I’m being deliberately provocative, but I’m obviously right, because the person in [this link] agrees with me.
  • Person Two: Really? I don’t agree with all of what you just said. Here is another [link] that I feel proves my argument is right.
  • Person One: What gives you the right to argue against my point? Check your privilege. You must be a misogynist, or a conservative, or most likely both.
  • Person Two: I have every right to exist in this world, but you are the whole reason why the global system is going down the toilet. And you’re ugly.
At some point, perhaps during the Brexit referendum, or the refugee crisis, or Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, or the discussion over the need for a Ghostbusters reboot, it seems we forgot how to find consensus. A talking head recently floated the idea that David Bowie held the secret of the universe, and that this explained why many things had seemingly gone downhill since his death. And yet surely can’t have only been the presence in the world of David Bowie that was holding opinion culture together – it must be within us to rediscover the art of compromise.

The Opinion Festival can at times seem endearingly old-school, like a non-threatening meeting of minds that could not happen outside the comforting town boundaries of Paide. Can we learn a better, more civilised, way of arguing while we’re here? Is it possible, in a time when opinions are often weaponised and used as propaganda, for neutrality to exist, or at least for people to come to a discussion and then make up their minds, rather than beforehand? Is the Opinion Festival serving a useful purpose by opening up so many different views, and bringing together many people who would, in an increasingly-polarised atmosphere, often choose not to meet? Or is debate a peacetime luxury, which we cannot countenance now we need to “lock and load,” as the man says in the linked video rant?

It won’t surprise you that, on the festival blog, this post argues that, no, debate is not a luxury. But we all need to get better at doing it, and soon. Otherwise we run the risk of becoming the people we always hated. Whatever we believe, let’s share the love, because that’s the true spirit of the Opinion Festival, and that’s what can get us through this absolute dog’s dinner of a year.

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.

AGENDA

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.

Children and the Internet: a Positive Combination?

The new generation of young people has access to many things that their parents, and certainly their grandparents, did not at the same stage in life. Walk into the apartment of a reasonably-affluent young family in Estonia today and you are less likely to see a family sitting down in front of the same television programme than you are to see each family member engaged in activities on a different electronic device.
 

Is this, in itself, a bad thing, or just the natural evolution of things? Telia, in association with the Opinion Festival, will discuss this in Paide, on August 13th at 5pm.

In the media and in everyday conversation, there is frequent discussion of the place of technology in everyday life. Many of the opinions are built upon personal circumstance, or unscientific speculation. That’s why Telia is forming a discussion forum at the Opinion festival to ask how the internet can play a positive role in the development of children.

The organisers are looking for balanced, rational, scientific contributions to help answer the questions that parents have to answer constantly. How can anyone define a reasonable amount of time for a smartphone or tablet to be used? When does pleasure at using a social network become an addiction? Is the answer to ban, or moderate, access to certain information channels?

We have seen recently in debates as diverse as those over the Estonian Cohabitation Law, the US Presidential Election, and the release of the new Ghostbusters film, that while the internet is a tremendous democratising tool, it has also allowed sexism, racism and homophobia to be viewed by increasing numbers of people, sometimes by children. There have also been numerous instances of children being trolled using social media comments, something which is viewed as very hard, if not impossible, to regulate. How can parents ensure that children are given access to the information they need, but are protected from some of the worst excesses of the online world?

That’s not all that will be discussed, though. There will also be a look at the kind of role schools in Estonia and more widely can play in helping parents and children to make good use of the unlimited information at their fingertips. With the Estonian government taking a proud lead on technological development in schools, the increased use of computers to solve childhood problems must go hand-in-hand with an understanding of its impact on society.

The discussion will be moderated by Katrin Tiidenberg, a sociologist specialising in online matters from Tallinn University’s Institute of Social Sciences. Her main research topic is social media user practices, especially concerning visual expression.

She will be joined by Tõnu Piibur, Headteacher of Tallinn’s Pelgulinn High School. He says that he uses electronic devices daily, and he encourages, but does not force, students to find new ways to use technology in the classroom.

Speaker Kristi Vinter, the Director of the Institute of Educational Sciences at Tallinn University, says, “I have small children, and a research interest in the internet. In 2013 I defended my doctoral thesis at Tallinn University, the subject of which was the use of digital resources with young children in the kindergarten and the home. Tallinn University will teach future teachers to recognise and analyse the global impact of digital media and the possibilities it brings for developing and teaching children. I have carried training on this topic with teachers and parents.”

Kaisa Kask, who is 15 years old and attends the Humanitarian High School in Pärnu, says “I sing, I play the flute and I’m interested in acting and the theatre in general. As with any of our younger generation, I am constantly to be found with my phone in my hand, using the internet. Most of my communication, homework, and news consumption is done on that.” Kaisa will be on the panel alongside Katrin Isotamm, a mother who has many views on children and the internet.

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.

Thoughts from the final moments of the third Arvamusfestival

AF tervitussilt

We listened and spoke up, we danced and laughed (to the beat of 90s music, no less), we connected… the Arvamusfestival may be over for this year, but it certainly will not rest and keep still, thanks to the sheer enthusiasm, ideas and collaborations it sparked.

The PISI Kärt Vajakas-1508-249third Arvamusfestival ended on a high note on Saturday evening. The final debate of the festival invited all six leaders of the Estonian parties currently in parliament (with Kadri Simson standing in for Edgar Savisaar, leader of the Centre Party) to share their vision and common goals beyond the nitty-gritty and quibbles of everyday politics. Fitting in with the several events at this year’s festival searching for a ‘story of the future’ for Estonia, the party leaders were asked to share their idea about what Estonia could and should stand for and look like by 2040.

To add a light twist to the weightier questions at the debate and the festival at large, stand-up group Fopaa! completed the programme on Vallimägi with astute jokes about whales, the meaning of ‘normal’, and new loanwords for ending a phone conversation. The night, and festival, drifted to a playful and sweaty end on Paide’s central square with the ever-popular Theatre NO99’s ‘Dance Camp’ where participants danced away to moves inspired by music videos from the lycra-loving 80s and 90s.

This year, the Arvamusfestival grew by leaps and bounds in every sense of the expression. It brought together an unprecedented 10,000 people and more over two days; by comparison, last year’s festival welcomed 4,200 people in total. Meanwhile, the programme, comprising an impressive 224 discussions on a vast range of socially relevant topics, was the result of a successful collaboration with various public institutions, NGOs and private enterprises. This was also the first year that Paide’s central square became a festival location, acting, among other things, as a hotspot for home cafés and a graffiti competition.

So, what made this weekend special, and why is the Arvamusfestival a very different and necessary kind of offering amongst the plethora of summer events taking place in Estonia?

PISI 14-08_Anna_Markova (17)-17As a first-time participant of the festival myself, I felt at complete ease from the second I visited Paide Vallimägi and witnessed the festival area for the first time. While, truth be told, that was partly to do with my love for eco-centric design, hammocks and all things cosy, I was also struck by how the divers discussion areas, all shaped differently and hosting often very different discussions, all came together in the spirit of the festival’s belief in discussing and sharing opinions.

To give you a sense of the mind-boggling number of topics just one participant can encounter in two days, here is a short list of the discussions I managed to attend, in no particular order: refugee policy in Estonia and Europe, the utility of start-ups for Estonia, urban space and new urban landmarks, ‘a year after Crimea’ and the state of European defense policy, the oft-mythical and harmful connection between alcohol and culture, apps and Estonian small businesses, animal rights in a human-centred society, the debate between party leaders. This did not even scratch the surface of the discussions taking place nor does it include the cafés visited, the people and dogs spoken to, the cultural events attended. With so much going on from Friday morning onwards, it felt like I had always been a part of the festival, and this feeling only grew as the Arvamusfestival went on.

PISI 1508_Anna_Markova (23)But mostly, I was inspired by the people at the Arvamusfestival. The seven hundred participants in the discussion panels, the thousands of participants in the audience, and the three hundred festival volunteers. The Arvamusfestival involves everyone in discussing, questioning and acting on topics close to Estonia and Europe – and the thoughtful way the discussions were run, the abundance of constructive questions and the lack of any awkward silences (…and this in a country that often feels like the birthplace of the awkward silence) showed that a place for healthy discussion matters, and that active citizenship is no longer a thing of dreams, but alive and rather well in Estonia.

Thank you, and see you again (or for the first time) next August!

Grand Designs: Arvamus Festival Best Stand

DSCF1693Some of the stands at the Arvamus festival weren’t just about the speakers taking part in the debate, but were also about great design creating a more effective space in which to have discussions. The best design of any stand at the festival, a space that treated acoustics and sight-lines as far more than afterthoughts, was created by Architecture and Urban Planning students of Eesti Kunstiakadeemia (the Estonian Academy of Arts).

DSCF1692

 

 

The honeycomb ceiling kept the audience warm and sheltered, and although each piece was made from cardboard boxes, they were reinforced with waterproof, insulating material which is often used for packing computers.

The result was a spot that felt uniquely-attuned to great debate, and was a credit to the ingenious third-year EKA students, who have set down a marker for their successors who will design the stand for next year’s Arvamus Festival.

The Arvamus Festival and Why We’re Getting Smarter

When out last night in Paide, I noticed an unusual thing. Young people, battling in the street. It was a turf war, with the fight being for pride and territory. But it’s not what you think. The battle was on ten different chess and draughts boards. This made me think of my own childhood, and speculate why things have changed so much. Is the Arvamus Festival an example of how, generation-by-generation, we are getting smarter?

When I was at school in the 1990s, many teenagers would talk about their summer trips to Ibiza or Ayia Napa, which were a fortnight’s blur of clubbing, alcohol abuse, and possibly a lot more. This was the era of the superclub, Cream and the Ministry of Sound hoovering up customers every Saturday in Liverpool and London respectively, then going on tour to the Balearic Islands to play to an audience dominated by British tourists.

I didn’t go to Ibiza with my school friends. Of course, some people were comfortable at home, like I was. But the aim of these trips was to get very, very drunk – and this wasn’t something I was interested in. I was a country boy who enjoyed reading and music – and not played at 100 decibels. I sometimes asked my parents why I wasn’t the “kind of person” who could go, but they just looked at me with that look that says, “one day, you’ll understand”.

Now, I do. It seems to me that young Estonians are growing up with so many more positive influences than my school class had. Last night, in the Must Puudel’s party for Arvamus Festival-goers, I saw happy people singing along to obscure pop tunes released in 1984 or ’85, when I was 3 or 4 years old, and they were a long way from being born. This was the kind of music I loved playing – in private, of course (I even got picked-on for buying Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet or Ultravox from the record store when I was a teenager), but now it wasn’t a source of shame for anyone. Indeed, it seemed like a badge of honour to know as much of the music as possible.

The knowledge extends to the debates, too. Young people are being thanked for their contribution, being actively praised for their knowledge of complex topics – and more and more people know more and more things, that’s something that’s obvious from asking a few questions, and hearing the different opinions expressed at the Arvamus Festival.

I never used to mind being called a “nerd” or a “geek”. Those are terms that just mean someone knows a lot about something. But what’s changed beyond recognition is the way the nerd and the geek are now seen as the intelligent, well-rounded people they always were.

So how about it, are we getting smarter by generation? That, like everything else here, is a matter of debate. All I know is, I wish I’d been given this festival when I was 20 or 21. I would have loved every minute, just like I do now.

A short guide to the dogs attending the festival

When the Arvamusfestival says it is open to everyone in Estonia and beyond, one’s first thought usually would not to extend beyond the human species. But when we say inclusive, we mean inclusive: the festival was one of the first in Estonia to allow dogs to attend. You can set your eyes on a dashing dog at almost every discussion and around every corner. 

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Note: this is not Muki who preferred to remain unphotographed. Photo: Kärt Vajakas

When I set foot in the official ‘pooch park’ of the festival, I found two festival volunteers ready to attend to dogs wanting to rest from the hustle and bustle of the festival… but no dogs. Where were all the dogs? At the festival, of course! I spoke to Muki (or well, his owner), a charismatic but camera-shy creature attending both days of the festival. As Muki prefers the company of people to other dogs, he chose to experience the festival proper all through the two days. Muki is not the only one too excited about the festival to take a breather – the dogs participating in the festival are often present at the discussions themselves or strolling around the tiny lanes and paths around Vallimägi and town centre.

What kinds of dogs have found their way to the festival, and what are they looking for?*

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The Dedicated Fan

 If you can’t already tell by the stern look, this dog means serious business, and is here to soak up on all the discussions have to offer. I spotted their motley fluffy coat at several discussions about start-ups. While thinking big thoughts, is sure to impress everyone around – but they are too focused to notice that they are making a fuss.

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The First-Timer

The First-Timer is very excited to be at the Arvamusfestival, and though it is their first time here, they are certain to return again next year… and the one after the next, and the one after that. In fact, they are so excited about everything happening that they hardly make it to any discussions. Because there is so much to explore, so much to grasp, so many friends to see, to even think about standing still! And they love every bit of it.

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The Chill Dog

They love the ambience in Paide and make good use of the hammocks dotted around the festival area. This is also a great way to mingle with friends old and new, and soak up the discussions from a reclined position and with a relaxed mind. Let ideas drift through you and truly feel the festival.

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The Adventure Seeker

Although there are well over 200 discussions taking place at the festival, they seem to have attended a good quarter of them. And the morning yoga. And the Black Poodle party last night (but that one mainly to see why it was named after poodles when smaller dogs are obviously the better breed). There is no way to explain it: some dogs simply manage to do everything.

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The Hipster

Alright, this goat is technically not a dog, but they like to be the face of ‘different’, even among the fourlegged kind attending the festival. They represent the new directions the festival is taking. Just like the festival welcomes a true mix of people, the animal scene shows just how colourful and vibrant the Arvamusfestival 2015 is.

*Please note that these are the mere speculations of the author of the piece, and do not represent the personalities of the individual dogs depicted .

Lunch @ Arvamus: Hamburger

The Arvamus Festival food options continue to excite and enthrall. Having been pleasantly-surprised by the flavoursome beetroot-dominated veggie burger on Friday, I decided to go two metres to the right, and try the meat option, the hamburger, to see how it compared.

For €8, it’s a premium price, but the burger, which came to me after only five minutes, was tender, broad and substantial. Served on a plate (rather than horizontally in paper as is usually favoured by Estonian convenience stalls), and with a wooden skewer through the middle in order to hold everything together, it feels like quality when you take it.

The mayonnaise and red onion chutney go well together, and the brown granary flat bun is a nice touch, though I always prefer it when burger places slightly toast them. However, the big X-factor of this burger was the makers’ use of smoked cheese in place of the usual processed strip – a variation on the theme that made the burger taste classy. Sticking with the upmarket theme, this is definitely a meal for picking apart, not picking up, hence why knives and forks are supplied.

If, like me, you craved a meat fix after a long day on the Festival tracks, the hamburger is something you will not be disappointed with. Head down to the food court and see what we mean.

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Won’t the Young Estonians Please Stand Up?

Mehirt Emmus (10)

The Arvamus Festival isn’t only about the topics that make us ponder deeply about our existence. It’s also about the things that make us laugh, that make us joyful. On the Ekspress Meedia stage, a group of Estonian performers got together to ask, “Is stand-up the new Estonian theatre?”

There were differing views on the matter, and of course there was mention of the increasing popularity of stand-up comedy, that form of performance where, usually, one person stands on a stage and speaks directly to the audience in an attempt to make them laugh.

After the discussion, we met up with Estonian producer and performer Karl Kermes, who had been one of the panel, to get his view on the topic. He was frank about where Estonian comedy stood at the moment. “I think we don’t have a stand-up culture. It’s coming, but it’s not there yet,” Kermes explained, citing the fact that audience trends are different in Estonia to those traditional hot-spots of stand-up, the UK and USA.

“If we speak about stand-up from different languages [and cultures], I personally think, for an Estonian mainstream theatre audience, that kind of raw stand-up in pubs and clubs is not something they’re taking. It’s a great theatre-loving country. I’m working to build up stand-up shows that last one to two hours, for example like what Eddie Izzard is doing.”

Estonian comedy has always existed, but in different forms, the producer explained. “We have this problem that most of the comedians we put on the stage have graduated from Estonian drama school, then have been working in different theatres, in different roles. Now you’re asking them to come on stage and speak as themselves, with their own ideas, and I’ve found out it’s very difficult to them.” There has, he feels, been a general trend towards Estonian performers preferring to hide behind a role. “Somehow [the show] turns into a play, not a stand-up, in the end. That’s why I’m saying that at the moment, we don’t have Estonian stand-up.”

We asked if the reason for that was because of the way young people were brought up in the school system in Estonia, which has not always encouraged play or creativity in the way other systems have. “It can be;” Kermes said, “if you look at our history, where we are coming from, the time has been very short. I think also the new, young actors that are coming from drama school are thinking differently to the older, well-known comedians. So I think things will change, but it takes time.”

On another topic, Kermes was quick to name his favourite comedian. “Eddie Izzard. The main reason, or let’s say subconscious reason, is he was the first show I looked at on YouTube, and he’s great – he’s doing it so fluently, and I just love him.”

The enormous popularity of Irish comedian Dylan Moran, who sold out his November stand-up show in Tallinn within hours of tickets being released online, is heartening for those who loved him as an actor in the sitcoms ‘Black Books’ and ‘How Do You Want Me?’. Moran appears to share a special bond with Estonian audiences, and there is evidence the feeling is reciprocal. “The first time Dylan came to Estonia, it was surprising how quickly he sold out [of tickets], and it was so good, and I think it’s great to see, but I can’t put my finger on the reasons,” Kermes concluded.

Three reasons to wake up at the Arvamusfestival instead of your home

AF_threereasons_Anna_MarkovaIf your feet have recovered from all the retro dancing at the Must Puudel (Black Poodle) party last night or your ears have stopped humming from the mellow sounds of Vaiko Eplik and Eliit, then welcome – you have woken up to enjoy the sundrenched second day of the Arvamusfestival.

To make it, and you, feel even more glorious, here are three reasons why Paide is the place to be this morning:

1. Chance to take a moment.

This is a festival that is in constant movement as new areas and home cafés spring up while old areas feel transformed with every new discussion. To allow for peaceful thoughts to happen, yoga at 7:30 in the Mäeala (or the Hill Area) offered participants a chance to wake up with the Sun Salutation and slowly stretch their body into high spirits. For those of us who were not such early birds, the Festival offered Minutes of Silence, a trip into your body and breathing through exercises at mindfulness. Keeping that feeling of calm with us as we entered another day of exciting thoughts, we followed the mantra from one participant: ‘I am going to have a brilliant day’.

2. New friends from unexpected places.

Although there are no inhabitable houses on the Paide Vallimägi, that does not mean there is a shortage of residents eager to meet you here from the moment you found yourself at the festival area this morning. There is a family of storks keeping an eager lookout atop some old ruins just next to the café area. Do not fear their watchful gaze and take pleasure in their comforting local presence. You can also make new (human) friends from 11:00 to 13:00 at the Mäeala (Hill Area) which transforms into the ‘Meeting Place.’

3. Awesome talks straight from the morning.

As the festival means business (that is, opinion business), we were off to a passionate and thoughtful start with the MEP discussion about the European Union’s policy towards Russia, contemplating the possibility of co-operation with Russia. Other discussions welcomed eager participants from 10:00 onwards, to think about topics of all shapes and sizes, from measuring the pulse and blood pressure of active citizenship in the Voluntary Sector Growth area to contemplating the meaning and level of digital poisoning in the Digital Education area.

Start-ups in Estonia: should society fear or embrace them?

Estonia has long dedicated itself to building a reputation as a haven for all things tech, encapsulated by the witty if tongue-twisting label ‘e-Estonia.’ But have we become slightly too bewitched by flashy interfaces and uber-cool brands to think critically about the exact effects of start-ups disrupting entire industries before governments can even react? Two discussions at this year’s festival asked just that.

The Festival of Opinion Culture has dedicated several themes and discussion areas to technological innovation, with several of these taking a long hard look at the wider socioeconomic effects of start-ups on other industries, jobs and regulations. The phrasing of two such discussions, ‘What’s the Use of Start-Ups to Estonia? in the Enterprise Area and ‘Are Apps Devouring Estonian Small Businesses?’ in the Postimees Area, both bring negative, or at least sceptical, viewpoints to the spotlight. For a country that promotes itself with a photo of a young woman surfing the internet while sitting on a haystack, this could be a healthy signal that we are getting away from a blind admiration of tech specs and savvy marketing slogans to actually engaging with the close connection between our tech scene and society.

Kärt Vajakas-1408-110In the Enterprise Area, the focus was on the viability of start-ups for Estonian enterprise culture at large. What is a start-up – and why does it need or want to be called one? Are start-ups solving problems that call for urgent attention, or are they too infatuated by their own ideas and make up problems to suit their needs, as suggested by one of the participants, Margus Uudam? Scepticism aside, one take-away from the discussion was that start-ups are delicate creatures, masterminded and developed by ambitious people, but they do not necessarily need to make a profit to be useful for Estonian economy.

Although named even more provocatively than the previous offering, the overall consensus at the discussion in the Postimees Area was equally positive, bringing the discussion back again and again to ‘customer experience.’ This seemed to be less from a love of marketing jargon than a genuine belief that apps have revolutionised traditional industries such as transport and hospitality in the name of consumer comfort and availability. As Kadri Hansalu from Postimees noted, ‘But at the end of the day, someone must bring about such change in any case.’

However, the newly adopted creed of start-ups, that ‘customer is king’, was not given such an easy pass by all involved. Are start-ups like Uber and Booking.com middlemen that take income and control away from actual service providers, increasingly reliant on customer ratings rather than accredited regulators? Do they merely make service less controlled and safe? Then there is the issue of market specificity – Verni Loodma, representing Hotell London in Tartu, suggested that ever-powerful apps such as Booking.com are often far removed from the many markets they operate in, particularly in the case of small countries like Estonia. Not knowing the market context can in turn lead to factual errors in the app’s descriptions and comparative methods that may harm the popularity of a given hotel. Service providers are left stranded as the process of getting things fixed is often unacceptably slow.

Having said that, the pressure to get better reviews can be conducive to becoming better at what you do, raising the bar for the industry in general. One thought that echoed throughout the discussion was that a ratings culture works to empower ordinary customers, an update perhaps long overdue.

Enn Metsar from Uber emphasised how important scale is for start-ups: to create a great app, one needs resources and a global market to support further development. In a similar vein, Tõnu Runnel from voog.com summed this up with a jocoserious statement: ‘You can’t make an app in the same way as a chicken hatches an egg.’ And if innovation wants to happen and customers support it, society will need to follow and regulate it in hindsight.

This realisation guided the discussion as Kadri Hansalu emphasised that ‘innovation is in our blood.’ Generation Y is more attuned to the necessity and reality of change, which makes the streamlined but often more personalised customer experience offered by apps appear as a natural and positive development. While Verni Loodma remained convinced that certain customers will always prefer the comforts of a hotel to new app-enabled services such as Airbnb, the effect of a generational difference on how we like – and more importantly, will like – certain services remained largely unexplored.

Are innovation and their stronghold of supporters simply waiting for all the nay-sayers to catch up? As Tõnu Runnel strikingly put it, while certain popular start-ups may feel like the future now, they will inevitably change and fade with time: ‘Monopolies spring up, grow, and die.’ So, even as we think if we should embrace or fear the start-ups of today, whether as individuals or governments, innovation and change are ongoing and will all the same take us to unexpected places.