Opinion Festival in English

This year’s Opinion Festival will be taking place on the 9-10th of August in its traditional place right in the heart of Estonia – the lovely town of Paide. The main theme of the Opinion Festival 2019 is FUTURE.

If you are an opinionated, forward-looking, debate-seeking foreigner that does not yet speak the Estonian language, then fear not, we have got you covered. During the two days, there will be plenty of discussions taking place in English at Arvamusfestival to accommodate your need to speak up and think freely. Everything from sustainability to politics, with a side-dish of the economy. Schoolchildren won’t be left out either – there will be a discussion about the youth of Europe, as well as one on the topic of interpersonal skills. Take a look for yourself at the list below. The festival is free for visitors.

Friday, 9th of  August

12.00-13.30 Trash Heroes – an artistic initiative for a better city

Trash Heroes combines art and environmental awareness with having fun together. They bring up values essential to a better future through dance, music, green energy, recycling, and environmentally-friendly vehicles. The plan is simple: 1. cruising around with custom-made cargo bikes, 2. cleaning up areas to make them better for dancing, 3. dancing, 4. moving on to next destination. The cargo bikes have percussions, DJ-sets and sound systems, all powered by solar energy. Ride on! Participants: Antti Lahti (artistic director of Time of Dance Festival in Jyväskylä), Panu Varstala (founding member of Apinatarha dance collective). Moderator Karoliina Korpilahti. 

13.30-14.45 Diversity – a tool for sustainable success

Discussion is about the benefits of diversity for different types of organizations. Diverse workforce brings along open-mindedness and helps to grasp all potential business opportunities. Why diversity brings various benefits? Are Nordic and Baltic companies realizing this competitive edge? Participants: Piia Karhu (Finnair), Anu Realo (Tartu Ülikool), Kaire Tero (Rimi Eesti Food AS). Moderator Annika Arras (Miltton New Nordics). 

14.00-15.30 The Future of Nato

2019 marks the 70th Anniversary of the North Atlantic Alliance and 15 years of Estonia’s membership in NATO. It’s a good moment to look at current and future challenges to the Alliance. What are the key issues, risks and threats the Alliance is facing in the future? How is the nature of threats evolving and what should be our response? The discussion is organised in cooperation with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Embassy of Germany in Estonia. Participants: Marko Mihkelson (Chairman of the Council of EATA), Colonel Paul Clayton (eFP commander of the British Army in Estonia), Anu Eslas (Member of Estonian Atlantic Treaty Association and long-term representative of Estonia at the NATO Industrial Advisory Group), Kalev Stoicescu (International Centre for Defence and Security). Moderator Taavi Toom.

Video: British Embassy Tallinn

15.00-16.15 What is the future-proof economic model?

Consumption is the fuel for economy – how will the business do in the post-growth economy? Is circular and bioeconomy the right vehicle? Is it possible really to detach growth from resource consumption? Some socio-economic studies refer to new alternatives. These are crucial issues for politicians, social scientists, economists and entrepreneurs. Participants Kristiina Esop (Vastutustundliku Ettevõtluse Foorum), Mika Pantzar (finnish economist), Mikael Malmaeus (economist and an expert of environment politicst) ja Tea Danilov (Arenguseire Keskus). Moderator Kristi Saare. 

16.00-17.30 The Youth of Europe – is what we want, what we get? Expectations and reality

Possible decline of liberal values and blurred landscape of political system, rapid development of technology, consequences of climate change, China as a global player are but a few challenges and questions the millennials have to face. How do they imagine their future and what can actually be done about it in the next 15-20 years time? We’ll ask both young idealists and experienced realists. Participants: Luukas Ilves, expert on technology and cyber issues, former Deputy Director and Senior Fellow at Brussels-based think tank and policy network the Lisbon Council; Klen Jäärats, Director for European Union Affairs at Estonian Government Office; Kristen Aigro from Estonian Roundtable for Development Cooperation and former board member of European Youth Council and Gustaf Göthberg, Member of the Swedish Moderate Party. Moderator Johannes Tralla. The debate at the Estonian Opinion Festival is supported by European Commission Europe for Citizens programme and is part of the EU Solutions Lab project. Similar debates take also place in Latvia and Lithuania.

18.00-19.30 How to define relationships? 

There are different types of relationships. How do you even know whether monogamy, polygamy, relationship anarchy, polyamory, polyandry or any other type would suit you? In the debate we will discuss different relationship types, hear stories from anonymous authors and discuss about when would it make sense to talk to your partner(s) about your expectations for your roles and goals. Participants: everyone is welcome! Moderator Heli Aomets. 

18.00-19.30 European Citizens’ Initiative: Participatory democracy for citizen-powered Europe

How much power do you have? With the European Citizens’ Initiative, you can shape European policy. Join us to find out more about this unique tool allowing you to suggest concrete legal changes in any field where the European Commission has power to propose legislation. We will discuss the importance of participatory democracy as well as give you valuable information on the European Citizens’ Initiative. Come and take the initiative with us! Participants: Pirkko Valge (Good Deed Foundation), Martin A. Noorkõiv (Domus Dorpatensis, Good Citizen), Pascal Herry (European Commission), Marta Pardavi (Hungarian Helsinki Committee). Moderator Mall Hellam (Open Estonia Foundation).


Saturday 10th of August

14.00-15.30 Rethinking the smart city

We all know what a smart home is, but what exactly is a smart city? Is it green, comfortable or something that evokes memories of a happy childhood? What does it offer to its people and businesses? Smart solutions eliminate traffic jams and parking problems, promoting green transport instead. They also offer effective and creative solutions for energy, water and waste disposal. Smart cities attract companies that think alike, creating a synergy of fresh ideas and people, cooperation and competition. Join us and let’s rethink the city! Participants: Teet Raudsep (Ülemiste City), prof. Jarek Kurnitski (TalTechCity), British expert Dr Jacqui Taylor (Smart City Tsar), Grete Arro (Tallinn University research fellow). Moderator: Rode Luhaäär (CEO & Co-founder, Paytailor)

15.00-16.30 Social inclusion as the key to success

For success in life, it is important to have connections. Some people are born into families that already have connections but what about the youth that does not have any to begin with? In this workshop/discussion we will explore the possibilities of those young people and what could be the solutions to the given issue. Participants: Külliki Vainu (AIESEC) and others. Moderator: members of AIESEC.

The festival is supported by the National Foundation of Civil Society, University of Tartu, Estonia 100, Swedbank, Telia, the British Embassy in Estonia, city of Paide, Association of Local Governments in Järva County, European Parliament Information Office, and the office of the European Commission in Estonia. The Opinion Festival is a part of the Nordic network of festivals called Democracy Festivals.

Photos: Opinion Festival

Discussions of the Opinion Festival focus on the future

The seventh annual Opinion Festival taking place in Paide in August focuses on the future, asking questions about how to be prepared for changes as an individual and a society as a whole. The festival focuses on a science-based approach to topics that are important for society, sustainable development and an aware approach to life.

“Every discussion within the Opinion Festival creates a better understanding of what are the important questions for Estonian people today and how we can best deal with coming changes as individuals and as a society,” said Maiu Lauring, the Head Organizer of the festival. “Future is uncertain and conflict doesn’t help, but on the contrary, makes it more difficult to rise to the challenge. The Opinion Festival wishes to bring together people from different communities, create an opportunity for face-to-face interaction and calm and fruitful discussions,” Lauring added.

During this year’s festival there is a stronger focus on the role of scientists in public discussions. Scientist will have the main stage Meie Tulevik (‘Our Future’ in Estonian). There will also be fields of discussions dedicated to science and fresh science. “The foundation of science is a fact- and evidence-based world view. Taking this into consideration, the role of scientists is not only to further their own field of study, but also to create a shared space for communication in society. In order for us to make unanimous and smart decisions for the future we need to first find a common language,” said Kadri Asmer, the Project Manager of Estonia’s National University 100.

From the suggestions sent in, 160 discussions were chosen for the programme of the festival. These discussions handle climate, energy, economy, education, science, Estonian language and culture, health, technology, etc. The festival programme, which is the result of the collaboration of tens of organizations and people, can be viewed here: These discussions either introduce a phenomenon, seek a solution for a problem or take an analytical look at existing knowledge. Several discussions have set a specific goal, such as a compiling list of proposals or suggestions.

The festival also offers a varied cultural programme organized by the Paide Cultural Centre. During the festival you can see performers such as Kaido Kirikmäe, Mari Kalkun, and Robert Jürjendal, and the Weekend Guitar Trio. The festival will be concluded by Lenna’s concert in Paide city centre.

The Opinion Festival takes place on August 9th and 10th in Paide. The festival brings together people from different communities who care about Estonia and the world in order to have balanced discussions and create better understanding of ourselves, each other, and the world. The festival is supported by the National Foundation of Civil Society, University of Tartu, Estonia 100, Swedbank, Telia, the British Embassy in Estonia, city of Paide, Association of Local Governments in Järva County, European Parliament Information Office, and the office of the European Commission in Estonia. The festival is free for visitors.

Arvamusfestival is part of the International Democracy Festivals Association

Cooperation among democracy festivals in the Nordic and Baltic region has increased over the years. However, thus far they had no official platform for cooperation. This changed in March, when eight democracy festivals from the Nordic and Baltic regions and one European-wide festivals joined their forces to establish the International Democracy Festivals Association (IDFA).

During the Association’s founding meeting in Oslo, the head organizer of the Estonian opinion festival Arvamusfestival, Maiu Lauring and fellow organizers of other festivals discussed the aims and principles of the Association as well as shared best practices for preparing, conducting and measuring the impact of the festivals. The highlight of the meeting was of course signing the Association agreement.

The newly founded IDFA gathers festivals that provide a platform for a democratic dialogue between civil society, politicians, business, media, universities and people at large. It aims to strengthen the existing democracy festivals in order to help other countries and organisers build similar democracy festivals and unite muscles in the effort to use the democracy festivals as vehicles for democratic change. The association also serves as a great platform to share know-how, best practices, discuss challenges and help each other find solutions.

According Maiu Lauring, joining the Association is an important step in the progress of Arvamusfestival. „During last years we have witnessed a big growth of democracy festivals popularity in our countries! There seems to be an underlying need for the people and citizens of todays democracies to have such meeting places and meaningful conversations. I’m especially glad, that together we are looking for ways to better the quality and value of conversations and interactions at our festivals. Our heart is in discovering and designing solutions, how to revalitise face-to-face conversations between different groups of interest.”

The Association has already recognised a remarkable interest from other countries for organising their own democracy festivals and will proceed to promote the democracy festivals format as a platform that, according to the Chair of the Democracy Festivals Association, Zakia Elvang „revitalises democracy by strengthening the link between a political system and citizens as well as creating spaces for dialogue and participation“.


The future-themed Opinion Festival is waiting for discussion ideas

The guiding principle of the seventh Opinion Festival is future. Especially welcomed to the programme are discussions that, in one way or another, prepare us for the future and ask questions that don’t really have answers yet. The discussion will be chosen for the programme by a public gathering of ideas which lasts until January 31st.

Future is the guiding principle in light of the Estonia 100 celebrations of the last state-building milestones. “All countries are created to last forever – the survival of Estonian nation, language, and culture through time is the foundational idea of the Republic of Estonia. Hundred years after the birth of the country is a good time to set new goals for the coming centuries. Therefore, it makes sense to look forward, to the future – as well as we can, with the highest academic and intellectual capacity that we have,” said Toomas Kiho, the Head of the Steering Group of Estonia 100.

Maiu Lauring, the Head Organizer of the Opinion Festival says it’s inevitable that the future brings increasingly more changes and that it’s in human nature to be cautious about them. “During the seventh Opinion Festival we’ll ask what will this future be like –  the one we’re creating today with our choices, acts, and words. By involving the best knowledge and taking into account the human caution, we’ll discuss what kind of future do we want and, in co-creation, we will take first steps to shape this future,” said Lauring.

During the year of Estonia’s National University 100, the role of the University of Tartu and scientists is of particular importance in the public discussion around future. The Project Manager of Estonia’s National University 100, Kadri Asmer says that it’s important to understand that hundred years of higher education in Estonian is a gift to the whole country of Estonia and not only the pride of one university. “The task of the National University is to be the leader of social development and to offer solutions to problems while looking out for Estonian culture and science,” said Asmer.

The more precise reference point set to mark the future is the year 2035 which is also the basis for preparing a new long-term strategy for the Estonian state. The ideas for the next Opinion Festival discussions should help explain some complex topics, to create a better understanding between opposing sides, introduce new knowledge, provide smart solutions, or ask questions that don’t have an answer yet. As always, discussions by everyone – individuals as well as institutions, businesses, NGOs, and networks – are welcome.

The gathering of ideas will last until January 31st. All the ideas received will be rated by the Opinion Festival’s organizational team consisting of ten members. Every discussion idea will be rated in four categories (reasoning, purpose, form of discussion, diversity of participants) and this will form the ranked list of discussion topics. After this, the ideas are divided into matching fields of discussion. The preparation of these fields will begin in March with the organizers of these discussions with the aim of publishing the programme at the beginning June.

NB! The call for ideas has closed!

In case of questions, please send them to and the organizers will give advice. The Opinion Festival will take place on August 9th and 10th in Paide.

Democracy Festivals unite the Nordic and Baltic Sea Region

The Opinion Festival, taking place in Estonia for the sixth year running, is now part of Democracy Festivals, a newly established network of like-minded events. Eight democracy festivals from the Nordic and Baltic regions, from Visby in Sweden to Birštonas in Lithuania, have joined forces in an effort to foster stronger participatory democracy everywhere in the world and offer opportunities to learn from each other’s experience and best practice.

The network was formed as the result of a joint Estonian-Latvian-Danish initiative. It was initially the brainchild of Ieva Morica who heads the conversation festival LAMPA, who had been supported by the Opinion Festival team for putting on the festival. Kristi Liiva, founder of the Opinion Festival, said: “We spoke about the various areas for improvement that can be found in every country’s democratic discussion process as well as communication culture more broadly, and that spurred us on to lean more heavily on each other’s best practice and together start breathing life into the wider mission of ‘democracy festivals’.”

The change agency We Do Democracy, headed by Zakia Elvang, is leading the platform and the project. “It’s fair to say democracy festivals have really gone viral in the Baltic sea region. They are all well known and respected in their countries, they have all become a must attend event for people from all corners of society who are interested in the country’s future. We believe this is open democracy in the making,” says Zakia Elvang.

The ambition of the Democracy Festivals platform

The unique participatory democracy and experience of democracy festivals in the Nordic and Baltic countries deserve wider recognition, and the aim of the Democracy Festivals web platform is to capture and share some of that experience. Here you can find an introduction to eight individual festivals whose aim is to advance democracy, as well as guidance for anyone who would like to kickstart their own festival or promote discursive democracy in some other way. In addition to the Opinion Festival, members of the network include Almedalsveckan (Sweden), SuomiAreena (Finland), LAMPA (Latvia), Fundur Fólksins (from 2018 known as Lysa; Iceland), Arendalsuka (Norway), Taani Folkemødet (Denmark) and Būtent! (Lithuania).

The ambition of the democracy festivals is supported by the Nordic Council of Ministers. Christer Haglund, Director of the director of the Council’s Office in Estonia, commented: “Today’s democracy is in constant flux, bringing with it challenges as well as new opportunities. We support cooperation between the Baltic and Nordic countries to improve the culture of public debate, inspiring people to take part in social discussion which in turn supports their sense of safety and welfare, their ability and courage to express themselves, and their willingness to listen to others and respect different opinions. We want to help this kind of culture of public debate take off beyond our region.”

The format of the democracy festivals has attracted interest from several countries, including Ukraine, South Korea, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Belarus, but also places like the Catalonia region.


Opinion Festival stands out for extensive volunteer support

The Opinion Festival in Paide is distinct from the other festivals primarily for two reasons. According to Maiu Lauring, head organiser of the Opinion Festival, “unlike the other festivals where the main organiser tends to be the local government and/or local enterprises, in our case the festival comes together as a combined effort of hundreds of volunteers and supporters. Our partner festivals have been amazed by our capacity to involve so many volunteers and especially the local community totogether keep the festival going. Nordic democracy festival organisers have also been impressed by just how well the festival grounds layout, the creation of space and ambience of the Opinion Festival supports discussions, both those organised beforehand as well as spontaneous ones. Within the family of democracy festivals, the Opinion Festival is a community and boutique festival in the best possible sense.”

The Estonian example inspires

The conversation festival LAMPA, which takes place in Latvia, was modelled after the Opinion Festival. Estonians also shared tips and best practice with young people and civic society activists in Belarus, Ukraine, and Bulgaria. On 9 September 2017, Severedonetsk, a small town in Ukraine, played host to the country’s first one-day opinion festival, which brought together experts and locals to raise topics that matter to them. Six other regions are keen to try out the Opinion Festival model, with an aim to establish their own festival within the next two years. From an Estonian perspective, the expansion of the idea and format of the democracy festivals to Europe’s eastern borders is only a positive development and this year an even greater number of steps will be taken to provide active support.

Olof Palme’s legacy and the birth of democracy festivals

The tradition of democracy festivals stretches back to 1968 when Olof Palme, Sweden’s education minister at the time, gave a speech from the back of a pick-up truck. The truck was parked in Almedalen park and several hundred people gathered to listen to him. In all likelihood, none of them had the faintest clue that they had changed history and made a lasting impact on the whole Nordic and Baltic Sea region. Fast forward 50 years later and democracy festivals have made their way into several countries in the Baltic Sea region, becoming seminal events where people from across the social spectrum but who share an interest in the future of their country can come together. In 2017 alone, the eight festivals collectively lasted for 29 days, hosted 8,700 events or discussions, and brought together up to 500,000 participants.

The Opinion Festival attracts wide selection of discussion ideas

This year’s Opinion Festival received submissions for over 200 discussions, with topics ranging from human capital and medicine to innovation and forestry. Ideas related to values, education and youth issues formed the largest category.

According to the Festival’s head organizer Maiu Lauring, the submissions help map the topics that are currently important to people living in Estonia and point to the questions that call for more social debate. “As with previous years, the Festival will explore a broad array of topics — submissions included ideas for discussions on education, the environment, economy, innovation, medicine, foreign policy as well as culture. Meanwhile, human capital and forests stood out as specific areas of concern,” said Maiu Lauring.

This year, in addition to ideas for individual discussions, the Festival also welcomed submissions for themed discussion areas. “Our aim was to inspire discussion hosts to start thinking about collaboration from the moment they start developing ideas so they’d have more time and energy to get the discussions themselves ready. This approach seems to have worked – there were 15 submissions for themed discussion areas, most of which are likely to end up in the final programme,” explained Lauring.

The idea evaluation team will consider each submission based on four criteria: stated objective for the discussion, clarity of the topic, diversity of participants, and discussion format. This year’s evaluation process will also involve delegates from the Estonia 100 Youth Assembly, which will help to ensure that the festival programme also includes the topics most relevant to young people.

Discussions will be selected at the beginning of March. The final programme will come together as a result of collaboration between a number of organizations acting as discussion hosts, and will be confirmed by early June.

The sixth Opinion Festival will take place on 10-11 August in Paide. Last year’s Festival attracted over 9,000 participants.