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 .

Great Expectations for the Arvamus Festival 2015

Fotograaf Sven Tupits ( )

Fotograaf Sven Tupits ( )

You’ve arrived at the Arvamus Festival, and you’re excited about what you’re about to see, but what should you be looking out for in particular? Allow us to guide you through some of the best talks we’ve found over the next two days.

Let’s begin on Friday at 1pm with what promises to be an amusing talk, if only because it’s with, and about, Estonian stand-up comedy – “What’s the use of start-ups for Estonia?”. The act of standing behind a microphone and trying to make an expectant audience laugh is often considered to be something inherently British or American – but as the contributors to this talk, over in Ettevõtlus Ala, show, Estonian stand-ups are to be taken seriously.
Another group wishing to be taken seriously is Keskerakond, the Centre Party. At their stage, the opposition party is hosting, on Friday at 2pm, a discussion in light of the starting of the new ETV+ channel, which is intended for Russian-speaking Estonians. The talk, “ETV+; or, what does the future hold for Estonian integration politics?” will examine the best approach to take in order to get all of Estonia involved in the political conversation.
For something a little more esoteric, head afterwards to the Mäeala or Hill Area, where you will be able to participate in a discussion about the thoughts that go on in our heads, but rarely get revealed. “Collecting Dreams About Estonia” is your chance to say exactly what you hope, or what you feel, with everyone getting together to create a better understanding and a better world for each other. That’s at 3pm on Friday, and comes highly recommended.
Following that, on Friday at 5pm, there’s a chance to solve one of Estonia’s greatest mysteries: if it to be considered a Nordic nation (and that is itself a matter for stern debate), why is it that Denmark, Norway and Sweden have all produced internationally-successful crime novelists, but not Estonia? Join the debate, “Why are there so few crime writers in Estonia?”, gather the evidence, and follow the clues, and you might be able to use your very specific set of skills to find the answer.
There are plenty of things to enjoy around Paide in the evening, but the next day, make sure you’re up bright and early, because there’s a whole programme of great things to see and do. If you’re not feeling the effects of the previous night’s celebrations, you can test your flexibility with a spot of morning yoga, at 7.30am. Follow that up with the Minutes of Silence, designed to focus the mind and allow for quiet contemplation, at 9am, and you’re ready for the day ahead, with clarity of mind.
Over at the Ekspress Meedia area, Estonia’s most inventive weekly paper hosts a talk at 11am entitled “Is Stand-Up the New Estonian Theatre?”, which is likely to continue the amusing, but involving, discussion of the previous day, and will bring a greater understanding of what brings us joy and laughter.
The same area at 2pm on Saturday brings you a chance to take part in the debate on refugees in Estonia. Should this country be welcoming people in? Are we doing enough to help the displaced? The title of the talk, “Refugees in Estonia?!” should give you an idea, with its punctuation, of the strength of the debate.
A discussion everyone needs to attend, especially if they want to understand the changing values of a modern Estonia, is the one taking place at 5pm on Saturday in VUNK innovatsiooniala, “Millennium Children and Entertainment”. For many people, it is hard to connect with those born after the year 2000, raised on social media, tablet devices, and smartphones, and expecting instant entertainment. This discussion will look at the need to change the kind of television delivered to young people in Estonia.

The Festival of Opinion Culture Reveals the Promise of Volunteering and Collaboration

During the last twenty-five years, Estonia has made significant strides in terms of economic development and integration with international organizations such as the EU, NATO and the OECD. At the same time, according to the World Happiness Report issued by the United Nations Social Development Network (UNSDN), Estonia ranks 72nd among 156 countries in terms of the average level of happiness.

Estonia is well-known for its liberal economy and open governance, but there is a question to be asked about the extent to which Estonians actively participate in the creation of society and well-being in a broader sense. A case can be made that Estonian society, weighed down by Estonians’ lack of collaboration and involvement in societal affairs, is still looking for its identity and would greatly benefit from the strengthening of opinion culture and level of debate on issues such as integration and tolerance.

What can communities and civil society organizations do in order to stop the trend of Estonians permanently emigrating from Estonia, and to make Estonians wiser, more tolerant, and more inclined towards collaboration? Understanding the origins of the idea and the current role of the Festival of Opinion Culture  can help us understand its future potential with regard to the development of Estonian civil society.

Arvamusfestival. Since August 2013, when the first Festival of Opinion Culture took place in Paide, a city located in the center of Estonia, the event has become one of the most significant civil society projects in Estonia. While the first festival featured 50 discussions and 2000 participants, in 2014 these numbers doubled, and the third festival in August 2015 will present more than 200 different discussions and the list of contributors comprises an unprecedentedly high number of organizations and individuals: 200 and 600, respectively. The Festival of Opinion Culture is a venue for discussions and debates on topics that are of significant value to Estonia and the Estonian people. In terms of the topics covered in numerous discussions, the Festival of Opinion Culture is rather comprehensive. The topics vary from migration and national security to Russian-language journalism in Estonia and the future of Estonian schools.

The goal of the festival is to gather together different ideas and points of view and acquire new knowledge that would give momentum to the creation of new civil society organizations and contribute to the development of opinion culture in Estonia.


 The origins of Arvamusfestival. The idea of an Estonian own festival of opinion culture was inspired by Almedalen week, a Swedish societal-political festival that takes place on the island of Gotland, as well as SuomiAreena, an analogous event organized by Finns. The Festival of Opinion Culture is a citizens’ initiative, and the founder and one of the key organizers of the Festival of Opinion Culture is Kristi Liiva. The festival has fully relied on volunteer work since the beginning, and the festival is supported by both local and small non-government organizations and some of Estonia’s biggest NGOs such as the Open Estonia Foundation, Estonian Debating Society, and the Estonian Cooperation Assembly. In addition to that, a growing number of political parties, media channels and think tanks are contributing to the event. Since the festival was first held in 2013, part of the funding for the festival has been raised through an Estonian crowdfunding platform Hooandja.

In many ways, the success of the Opinion Culture Festival points to the potential and promise of an individual who has a good idea and a clear plan to implement it. When it comes to Arvamusfestival and Paide as its host city, the deal was a win-win: while a nation-wide festival designed for all Estonians has hardly any better locations than the city that is located in the middle of Estonia, the authorities of Paide were also interested in energizing social life in an area that has been characterized by relative decline over the recent decades.  In 2014, Kristi Liiva and mayor of Paide signed a deal by which Paide Vallimägi is the official location of Arvamusfestival at least until the year of 2017. The support of local authorities in Paide has proved important in organizing the event.

The Power of Volunteering. In a 2014 interview, Liiva suggested that she has done a great deal of thinking and talking about the differences between leading a corporate organization and a group of volunteers. Liiva proposes that leading a team of volunteers is “a management master class” – for while any corporative organization has a distinct hierarchy, established patterns of behavior, contracts and relationships, a leader may easily neglect the qualities that matter the most in supervising people: the need to inspire people and motivate them by example, through vision and values. Liiva suggests that this is the case particularly with today’s 25-year-olds, who “are not fixated on labels and hierarchies and driven by material values, but instead value true meaning, vision, and the opportunity to take part in something important, something bigger than themselves.”

Kristi Liiva claims that this kind of support is the most important thing that a manager can offer to the team, and says this is the most valuable and exciting lesson she got from the experience of organizing the first Festival Opinion Culture in Paide. Liiva continues: “One’s main role as a manager is to make sure members of the team are aware of the final goal, the one towards which the whole team is moving, and have enough information to perform their tasks. There is no way we could obligate anyone in a team of volunteers; what we can do, however, is to create an environment and vibe that makes people want to be a part of it – to give them an opportunity to work with topics that are important to them.”

Building Networks. The Festival of Opinion Culture is organized with the help of volunteers. However, many of the heads of certain executive areas relevant to the organization of the festival are experts in their fields. As opposed to some events that are organized by volunteers and put the joy of making at the center of their efforts, the Festival of Opinion culture has a rather elaborate organizational structure, agenda, and means of communication. Everyone can propose ideas for discussions, and based on the specific topics, more broad topic-areas emerge.  The Estonian Arvamusfestival encourages all contributing organizations to take care of the logistics of their debates, essentially forcing them – in a positive way, however – to reach out to other people, create contacts and build networks. The experience of organizing the 2014 festival proved that the collaboration between different civil society actors contributed to the creation of social capital.

Arvamusfestival branches out. In 2015, in addition to the main event taking place in Paide, Arvamusfestival had several local events, such as the Pre-Opinion Festival in Narva. Narva is an Estonian city where a considerable part of the population is Russian-speaking, and therefore the discussions took place both in Estonian and in Russian. The organizers suggested that when during the main festival in Paide the topics are broad in their scope and deal with issues that have to do with the entire population of Estonia, the local events provide a venue for discussions on topics most relevant to any given geographic location.

As an improvement compared to the previous years, a small number of discussions at the third Festival of Opinion Culture will use Russian or English as their working language. In addition to that, the relative abundance of different topics has fostered a wider variety of issues, and college students majoring in architecture and city planning have contributed to the creation of special removable platforms and areas to accommodate the increasing number of both discussions and participants. The impact of the success of Arvamusfestival has exceeded Estonian borders, and in 2015, for the first time, Festival Lampa, an equivalent of Estonian Arvamusfestival took place in Latvia.

Networks of people and social capital created by Arvamusfestival provide a basis for more closely-knit communities and a better life. The experience of collaboration and mutual trust created by Arvamusfestival is valuable for the further development of Estonian civil society, and Arvamusfestival as an event demonstrates the importance and promise of volunteering and collaboration.

The text is based on Valdar Liive’s paper “Civil Society and Democracy: the Proposed Impact of the Opinion Culture Festival in the Development of Estonian Civil Society” (2015).

Opinion Culture Festival awarded the coveted EFFE label

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 09.50.55The European Festivals Association has for the first time issued a special EFFE Label to certify the best festivals in Europe, the Festival of Opinion Culture is one of 24 festivals to win the title in Estonia. EFFE (Europe for Festivals, Festivals for Europe) is an international EFA platform for uniting festivals dedicated to the arts, communities and European values.

Hundreds of festivals across Europe submitted their applications to receive the EFFE Label, the applications were reviewed by EFA’s local experts and an international jury. EFFE Label carries three criteria: artistic dedication, community involvement and the festival’s international and global focus.

EFFE’s international jury chairman Vincent Baudriller said that the certified festivals represent various fields of culture and offer a multitude of activities to audiences. “These festivals have considerable positive influence on the local community and also on an international scale.” Baudrill added that the quality label helps these European festivals to extend their reach even further and involve even larger audiences by building new bridges in the festival community.

Festival of Opinion Culture’s head of marketing Anu Melioranski is pleased that the festival has been named as one of the best in Europe, especially considering that the Opinion Culture Festival had only happened twice prior to submitting the application.
“We submitted Opinion Culture Festival’s candidacy because we believe that we are organising a truly unique festival in Estonia, by inviting people to express their opinions through other genres as well – e.g. poetry, theatre, music,” said Melioranski. “The recognition is even greater when considering that the jury consisted of local and international culture experts. This positive attention and acknowledgment inspire us to organise the third exciting verbal rock festival. The EFFE Label is a badge of quality that that every single volunteer of the Opinion Culture Festival has contributed to.”

The EFFE Label was awarded in total to 761 festivals from 31 countries. Other festivals to receive the title in Estonia included e.g. PÖFF, Viljandi Folk, Jazzkaar, Juu Jääb, Viru Folk, Tallinn Treff and Tartu Student Days.

Good practices give the guidelines for the participants

0000054_argumenteerimine-juhtimisesThe Festival of Opinion Culture aims to bring together people and organisations from across Estonia and to give them the opportunity to talk about issues, which are relevant to Estonia, but are usually confined to closed board rooms. The festival team has compiled some good practices guidelines and expects the audience to follow them in order to make the the festival a comfortable platform for exchanging ideas to everyone.

The festival’s content team leader Margo Loor, what are the festival’s good practices guidelines?

The initiators of the festival agreed to seven key principles in the first year and these form the foundation for the festival, or the guidelines of good practices. This section is comparable to the general preamble of the constitution, listing the great values and principles that the organisers follow when making operative decisions.
It’s important to us that the people respect both other participants and their time and are free of prejudice, by reacting to the other person’s thoughts and not the persona. We want the discussion participants to focus on solutions rather than just criticism. And all in all – we just want people to have the conversation, not bullet points. So we strongly advise to avoid using PowerPoint.

Why does the festival need such guidelines?

Because the organising team may change, preliminary verbal agreements may be forgotten. The team may face new unforeseen challenges when organising the next festival. The guidelines are there to help them get back on the right track without having to dismantle the festival and the meaning of life down to the bare atoms. One just needs to glance at the guidelines and remind themselves of the whole DNA of the event.

If I’m coming to the festival and wish to follow these guidelines, then what particularly should I be paying attention to? How should I behave?

The good practices guidelines will be up at the festival site, on the program and on the website. It only takes a minute to read them, but we could spend hours discussing each item separately. There’ll be no need for memorising the points exactly. It’s all common sense really – listening is just as important as talking. A great discussion is born out of mutual respect. The most valued of discussions is a well-argumented exchange of opinions, where parties present logical and factual evidence as proof. These are concepts that reasonable and civilised people follow in good discussions anyway.
One point in the guidelines is still a delicate one in Estonia, as people in the public eye often tend to violate this rule – that we should react to the thoughts presented to us and not attack the person delivering these thoughts. So if a festival participant wishes to follow these guidelines, then let’s leave out all personal remarks and verbal abuse at the festival. This will help us all to create a cultured and solution-seeking atmosphere, where everyone has the right to participate in discussions with their ideas and opinions.

Latvians to host their own festival of opinion culture

6177597017_2dcf585382_bLatvia will be hosting their own festival of opinion culture in Cesis on the 3rd and 4th of July – the organisers of the Sarunu festivals “LAMPA” or conversation festival LAMP have undoubtedly picked up some inspiration for their event from their Estonian colleagues.

The festival will be organised by Latvian foundation Dots (formerly the Soros Foundation), which sent its delegation of scouts to attend the Open Estonia Foundation’s XIX open society forum in September last year. OEF’s leader Mall Hellam took the opportunity to introduce the concept of a festival of opinion culture to the Latvians during the forum. “We’re pleased to see our inspiration bear fruit already this summer,” said Hellam. “It’ll be very interesting to see how they will develop their programme, what will be their main focus, whether we will be discussing the same problems, how much overlap will there be and what are the main differences between Estonia and Latvia. The first problems that spring to mind revolve around the capital city centric approach to governance, problems in the periphery, the development of border regions and integration issues.

Ieva Morica from the Dots Foundation explained that their vision is to create a meeting point for discussions, where anyone can exchange ideas and ordinary citizens get to converse with the politicians and the decision-makers about the future of Latvia.
The Swedish Almedalen and the Danish Folkemodet festivals have also served as inspiration to the Latvians, besides the Festival of Opinion Culture in Paide. A number of the organisers of the Estonian Festival of Opinion Culture have already marked the LAMP event in Latvia in their calendars.