The international community can have a say, too!

This is a guest post from Open Estonia Foundation. Mari wants to make sure that as many of Estonia’s international residents as possible come to Paide for the English discussions at the Opinion Festival. Above: photo by the talented Kristin Kalnapenk, taken this May at Club of Different Rooms (Erinevate Tubade Klubi), Tallinn at the debate “What Future for Europe?” by Open Estonia Foundation in cooperation with Estonishing Evenings and Estonian World. There were close to 150 people at the venue from 27 different nations!

For the full English festival programme, check our schedule, unticking the boxes for “Eesti” and “Vene”.

For the past few years, Open Estonia Foundation has been reaching out to both Estonians and its international community, setting its goal to offer English-language discussions at the Opinion Festival.

In the times of disinformation and fake news attacks, we believe it best to rely on people who are directly involved – whether it is their struggle for the survival in shrinking civic space in Hungary or Poland (feel free to watch out last year’s debate HERE) or the reasons for people relocating from neighboring Russia to Estonia (discussion in Russian) the year before.

This year, our discussion focuses on the equilibrium between expectation and reality in EU affairs, from the youth point of view. To give it a bit of international flair, we’re glad to introduce Gustaf Göthberg, a 25-year old member of the Swedish Moderate Party, who also ran for a seat in the European Parliament elections and was the first runner-up. A young conservative himself, he will try to make his point in the future decisions the EU has to make in his opinion. He will also tackle the point of why a large number of youngsters are turning to conservative ideas. However, Göthberg presents the so-called “bright side” of conservatism, open to other cultures and ideas and, of course, respecting human rights. He also boasts a wonderful sense of humour and a relaxed presence at stage.

(To follow the discussion live stream when it takes place, use this YouTube link – ed.)

He will be accompanied by Kristen Aigro from the Estonian Roundtable for Development Cooperation – human rights activist and youth leader within civil society, she has campaigned for lowering the voting age and youth turnout both in her native Estonia and on European level. Luukas Ilves, with his broad expertise on everything digital will comment on the technological challenges we’re going to have to face in the next decades both in Estonia, Europe and on a global level. And Klen Jäärats, the Director for European Union Affairs at Estonian Government Office European Union Secretariat, will offer his insights on what makes sense in the EU, and what doesn’t.

The man in charge of which way the conversation goes will be journalist Johannes Tralla from Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR) who spent 6 years as spent six years as Estonian correspondent in the heart of Europe in Brussels. Like Politico magazine stated: “For most Estonians, more than any politician, Johannes Tralla is the face of the EU.”

We’re also going to engage the audience, using Estonian-founded digital platform WorksUp and hoping that the digital nation will actively use it for the Q & A! This enables us to collect questions from viewers online as well.

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.

Shortly after the discussion at Eesti 2035 stage, at 18:00 on Eesti Maailmas (Estonia in the World) stage, Executive Director of the Open Estonia Foundation Mall Hellam will moderate a discussion on the European Citizen Initiative as a tool for active citizens to shape policies on EU level. However, the ECI has its weak points, and hasn’t therefore exactly enjoyed real success so far. What should be done about it and what’s going to change in January 2020?

ECI Team Leader from European Commission, Pascal Herry; Marta Pardavi from one of the most prominent human rights organizations Hungarian Helsinki Committee and Estonian civil society activists Pirkko Valge (Good Deed Foundation) and Martin A. Noorkõiv (Domus Dorpatensis, NENO) will discuss.

Open Estonia Foundation has been with the festival since its very first baby steps, offering financial support for a kick-start in the first years and seeing the festival’s independent success over the past few. We are happy that the festival has managed to create a platform where people meet eye-to-eye and contribute to the creation of a healthier and more respectful opinion culture. This year, there are 9 discussions in English – 7 on Friday and only 2 on Saturday. We believe that the more we can engage the people who have voluntarily chosen Estonia as their temporary or permanent home, the better for our society as a whole. Barriers can be broken; friendships (or at least cooperation and respect) could be built.

Hence – we are hoping for an in-depth discussion, in which the Estonian international community could take part, with English as the logical lingua franca. Perhaps a few discussions in the future could also be organised by members of the international community living here? There is plenty of scope for progress.