Why do some people get so energised by the Opinion Festival? Maybe it’s the summer air, or the awayday atmosphere that comes from being together in the grounds of a medieval castle in leafy central Estonia, or maybe it’s the enthusiastic contributors to all of the discussions taking place around the ground, but there’s something in the air.
Below are some reasons why we care about the Opinion Festival, and why you might just find unexpected joy in it too.
It’s not all about politics…
The Opinion Festival always covers the full breadth of topics within public life. Although it is thought by some that a few people on a committee come up with the topics for discussions, in actual fact, anyone can, and does, submit discussion topics.
There are only limited restrictions, mostly concerning the wish to have constructive and multi-sided debates that are conducted in an orderly fashion, but otherwise, organisations can submit any topic they like, as long as they take responsibility for organising the whole discussion, and for the composition of the panel.
In previous years, this led to enlightening talks that may have opened some attendees’ minds, such as a debate on the health benefits and drawbacks of vegan food, in 2017. Also that year was a panel discussion on how to design a great user experience on mobile apps, which not only got the Estonian tech startup crowd out of the city, but also brought a spontaneous opportunity to quiz one of the founders of taxi-ordering app Taxify about changes to his own product’s user experience.
It is often after the main discussion has concluded, when it goes to questions and answers, that the debate really heats up, and where discussions can often take intriguing routes.
…but you can get close to the decision-makers
The Opinion Festival isn’t unique in this regard, but if you have something to say to someone in power, this weekend is one of the best opportunities to do so. While in the United States, for example, politicians are largely shielded from direct conversation with the public, in Estonia that is considered unthinkable.
Politicians and thought leaders are on Vallimägi for both days of the festival, and while they’re ostensibly here to take part in discussions organised by their party or connected organisations, there’s nothing stopping anyone from talking to them about the issues of the moment.
It’s one of the great things about democracy festivals in general, and with Estonian politicians, in some (but not all) cases, appearing aloof rather than engaged with the struggles of ordinary voters and taxpayers, this is a unique opportunity to ask the questions you want to know the answers to. You don’t have to win an election, or donate money, to hold representatives to account, and democracy festivals like this one are a reminder of that.
The Opinion Festival is in Paide to stay. The small town, often called the Heart of Estonia as it is the closest large population centre to the mid-point of the country, has hosted every festival since the concept came to Estonia. The festival has a very special feeling partly because of its surroundings; the kind of inspiration that is often sparked at the Opinion Festival in Paide might not come if it were staged in a big city.
Just as people sometimes have their most inventive ideas while on holiday, so too debates and discussions that might seem everyday when taking place in the capital become more nuanced and take different directions when conducted outdoors in the countryside. If you’re not sure what we mean, take in a few talks and see for yourself.
You’ll take new ideas home
Every year the Opinion Festival convinces people of new things they need to do with their lives, whether that is writing to their Riigikogu member about an issue that affects them or their friends, taking better care of their personal finances, checking out an author’s new book that was being discussed, trying the vegan diet, campaigning for a fairer deal in some respect, or just exercising mindfulness in some way. All of these topics have been, or will be, covered at the Opinion Festival, and all offer you the chance to open your mind to something.
Being able to change your view is a great thing, so our advice is to be open to discussions on topics outside your comfort zone, but also to listen to viewpoints different to your own. You might find your own feelings change.