Arvamusfestival 2019

ERR News discussion: immigration in Estonia

By Helen Wright

Is immigration to Estonia a benefit, a threat, or neither? The panel for the talk ‘Immigration in Estonia: Benefit, natural necessity or threat?’, which was lead by ERR News’s Andrew Whyte, discussed how and who should control migration, attitudes towards immigrants, and integration of Estonia’s migrant communities.

Foreign Minister and Isamaa Riigikogu member Urmas Reinsalu called immigration a “rising issue” which is increasingly important to people.

CEO of HML Project Management Leo O’Neill said his home country Ireland looked at migration in a different way. It was encouraged; “we needed more people,” he said. He also suggested the issues around migration were “about colour”. This was something Reinsalu denied, arguing it was about the preservation of a small nation. The “core idea is that we ourselves, our elected bodies, will decide,” he said.

O’Neill also said that politicians needed to lead by example and create a good atmosphere around discussions of migration. “At the moment it has that sort of really anti-migrant and negative feel in the public [conversation].” Peep Peterson, Head of the Estonian Trade Union Confederation, agreed and saying people have to work together and that it was “unfortunate that there was a sense of racism” in Estonia. He also said that Ukrainians working in the country could help Estonians to see them as individuals and “normal people”.

Peterson said he supported plans that the government were working on to join up companies and who works for them to get a better picture of the economy.

Riigikogu member for EKRE Anti Poolamets said there were enough people in the European Union and more people did not need to be brought in from third countries. He also said that more people should come home and not work abroad.

Are cities working for us?

When talking about smart cities, there’s a need to focus in on specific problem and solutions, given that it is such a broad subject matter with so many potential tangents. The panel on the talk by the Estonian Entrepreneurship University of Applied Sciences, ‘Rethinking the Smart City’, understood this, and looked at how various technological and non-technological solutions could help society in a city context.

Jacqui Taylor, a UK security expert, said, “only 9% of security professionals in the world have any experience in any business. Deep-dive cyber. No experience in what we’re talking about.” She said that the difficulty for many was putting theory into practice, and that there was a need to phrase and plan technological solutions in terms of the problems they would solve for people living in population centres, and in terms of their value to society, while still not compromising privacy.

Teet Raudsep, Head of Customer Experience at Ülemiste City, the Tallinn business district that he said had been built entirely using private funding, stressed the need for any solutions to have a problem in mind, along with value for all. “It has to take into account what the solution is going to solve. I talked earlier about the parking solution. You can see somewhere here [on show at the festival] a snow robot, that will probably be cleaning our parking lots next winter. This is right now a nice-to-have thing, it doesn’t bring us money back directly, but indirectly people feel better in their environment.”

“The solution has to bring some value to the end user, it has to be sustainable from the perspective of finances. Also we want to bring solutions that are not tech solutions, but help the environment, such as plastic bags. There was an initiative in Ülemiste City to change plastic boxes to reusable boxes, for example. We need to change the mindset of everyone to how it is possible to help the environment with the choices they make. It’s not enough to be tech-savvy, there are thousands of tech solutions we could implement, but it doesn’t make sense if it doesn’t have any value.”

Grete Arro, a Research Fellow at Tallinn University and a member of urban community organisation Telliskivi Selts, talked about the factors that can decide whether people are happy or unhappy living in a city, and what can change life for the better. “Researchers in Berlin,” she said, “found that the further from nature people were, the more susceptible to stress they were. When the city is green, it buffers you from being unhealthy if you are poor.”

The audience was keen to get answers to their questions, and in answer to one, Jarek Kurnitski, an academic at Taltech, pointed out the need for change in Tallinn’s public transport infrastructure, and also Estonia’s. “In the Estonian context, 60% of smart city issues are related to transport. It’s really a bottleneck we have now. It’s not just an infrastructure issue, we need to build new roads, new trams tracks, but also it’s the capacity of buses and trams, and it’s about routing.”

“The evidence base is not often used in planning in Tallinn, most routes start off from one side of the city and will go to the city centre, but let’s say from Pirita to Mustamae, one side to the other side, if people lose 15 minutes from one side to the other, changing transport, they won’t bother with that. When I’m driving to Taltech , I take the car and sit in traffic jams, but what would persuade me to take the bus would be if there were a bus connection from Pirita to Mustamae, if capacity were increased by 20-30% to have less people on buses, shorter intervals, and air conditioning. If buses don’t have air conditioning, don’t expect people to switch from their car, which does. Public transport should provide exactly the same or better quality than private transport.”

The Youth of Europe – is what we want, what we get?

By Helen Wright

The panel The Youth of Europe – is what we want, what we get? discussed the expectations and political realities of young Europeans. The topics discussed are some of the biggest faced by young people today.

Political Participation of Young Europeans

Kristen Aigro, Networks Coordinator at the Estonian Roundtable for Development Cooperation, believes that young people are being left behind when it comes to policy making. This is because there are fewer young people in society. She believes there voting age should be lowered. Gustaf Göthberg, member of the Swedish Moderate Party who joined a political party when he was 12, said that not everyone should follow what he did and that technology has given people more options. Adding that it is possible to change to society for the better “even if you don’t wear a suit”.

Klen Jäärats, Estonia’s Director for EU Affairs, said politics is becoming younger referencing France’s President Macron but said parties are a limiting factor, with an inflexible world view. He suggested that new civic platforms, such as social media, give people more choices and said that young people should be included because they have the best understanding of how technology is changing politics. Luukas Ilves, head of strategy at Guardtime, said there should be many different ways for young people to get into politics.

Liberal Values

Moderator Johannes Tralla said that a poll in Estonia has shown that young people in Estonia showed high support for right-wing party EKRE, which goes against the idea that young people are liberal and progressive. Gustaf Göthberg said that young people did not think in one particular way and should not be thought of as one big homogenous group. He said in Sweden being conservative is trend. Young people claim to be conservative but don’t advocate for conservative policies. Kristen Aigro said one reason for the increase in support for conservative parties is that “politics as usual is not what appeals to people, [they are] looking for an alternative”. Luukas Ilves said you can find both 25 year olds and 65 year olds who are unhappy and worried about the future in the countryside, which is where a large part of disaffected voters are found. Klen Jäärats said diversity is a core European value.

Climate Change

Should the EU reach climate neutrality by 2050? Klen Jäärats said people need to realise what this really means, and how it will affect everything from transport to what we eat. There could also be big opportunities for Estonia especially regarding technology. “Fundamentally it’s a questions about us because we humans are the problem,” he said.

Luukas Ilves said one of the questions for countries like Estonia is what can young people do outside of politics. The questions should not just be left up to politicians but what can companies or NGOs do? Gustaf Göthberg praised 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg’s activism and making people discuss these issues, but said young people needed to get involved with policy making not just protests. Kristen Aigro said young people had no choice but to get involved and that Thunberg has voiced a lot of young people’s anger at politicians who are not acting quickly enough.


Discussing fake news and technology regulation, Gustaf Göthberg said there should be a European-wide solution to the regulation of technology platforms – such as Facebook – and the resulting legislation. Klen Jäärats agreed that there should be an EU-wide solution and that technology can be good and bad. Luukas Ilves said the approach we’ve taken so far should be evaluated as existing regulations are not working very well. Kristen Aigro working inclusivity with other countries is the way forward and the internet has helped that. Klen Jäärats said the gig-economy may have an effect on how people vote in elections.

The debate at the Estonian Opinion Festival was supported by European Commission Europe for Citizens programme and is part of the EU Solutions Lab project. Similar debates also take place in Latvia, Lithuania and Belgium democracy festivals.

The future of NATO

By Helen Wright

Panellists: Deputy Chairman of Foreign Affairs Committee of Estonian Parliament
Marko Mihkelson, commanding Officer in the British Army Paul Clayton, CEO of the Estonian Wind Power Association Anu Eslas (who has a background in defence), research fellow at the International Centre for Defence and Security Kalev Stoicescu, with Taavi Toom acting as moderator.

At 70, NATO is technically a pensioner. But the panel members at The Future of NATO discussion on Friday afternoon agreed that the alliance is in good health. “70 is the new 50 or 30,” joked Marko Mikkhelson.

Subjects covered by the panellists included cooperation, integration, member states’ defence spending, threat assessments, Russia, and the future relationship between NATO and China.

Panellists agreed cooperation between member states has been strengthened after the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014. They discussed the view that members further west had realised that Russia poses a threat to the alliance, as opposed to this being simply a case of eastern members simply being paranoid. Now, one of the biggest challenges the alliance faces in the future is how all the members cooperate with each other with their equipment and technology.

Looking ahead, the panellists agreed they did not see the threat posed by Russia diminishing anytime soon, and maybe not for the next 50 years. Kalev Stoicescu said Europe will have to be in charge of its own defence, especially if the United States becomes more involved in other regions of the world.

While discussing the role China plays in NATO’s defence, Paul Clayton said it was possible China could place some of its military in Africa to protect its investments. This would put China in direct conflict with some European NATO members interests in the region.

What are the roots of inequality, and how can we deal with it?

‘Diversity – A Tool for Sustainable Success’ was a talk at the Opinion Festival/Arvamusfestival, organised by the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Office in Estonia, along with the Estonian Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, and the Estonian Roundtable for Development Cooperation. It looked at the concept and practice of diversity within and outside of Estonia, from the perspective of what moderator Annika Arras termed “the global village”.

The panel’s discussion was directed not only at identifying and offering potential solutions to any perceived problems in Estonia, but also at taking perspectives from people of different ages and backgrounds. Ahmed Abdirahman is a Swedish man of Somali ancestry, who spoke of how New York City was the first place he had visited outside of Sweden, and he could instantly feel as a young man that there was far greater diversity in New York.

While Abdirahman has made a success of his career in Sweden, having returned there to work, he felt there were systemic and unconscious biases that often prevented ethnic-minority applicants from getting jobs. However, as he relayed, the response, rather than stating the rejection was in any way due to race or background, was often for the recruiter to simply say, “thank you for the application.” He suggested that this was often down to bias against wanting to employ members of particular ethnic groups, and pointed this out as one of the key matters for governments to address under the banner of diversity.

Estonian politician Jevgeni Ossinovski of the Social Democrat party (SDE) was another member of the panel. He said, “diversity is a nice word to discuss, but it’s a different side of the same process to discrimination. Diversity gives you a warm feeling, and you don’t [feel as though you] have to talk about discrimination, which is nasty. It’s like how talking about prosperity is good because you [feel you] don’t have to talk about poverty. When you talk about diversity you shouldn’t forget to talk about discrimination. The fight for diversity, or against discrimination, fundamentally, is not about economic gain. It’s about fundamental freedoms, equality, ethics. Even if the economic gains are not there, we should still fight for diversity.”

Some believe that there are generators of inequality in Estonia in the system of applying for jobs. For example, in Estonia it is not required for companies in the private sector to list the recommended salary for vacancies. According to anecdotal evidence, there is a chance this leads to women nominating themselves for a lower salary than men when asked what they expect to earn in an interview. In answer to a question about this, Ossinovski, who prior to his most recent ministerial role as Minister for Health, had been the Minister for Gender Equality, said he had spoken up for this and other measures while in government.

“My ideas were presented to Cabinet, and I remember at the time there was one female minister. A colleague said, ‘what gender pay gap? I don’t see a gender pay gap.’ You get the picture as to why nothing is moving in that direction. It was a big fight, but I fought for half a year with the Ministry of Finance so they include in their Public Service Yearbook a section on gender equality. They measured different professions, age, whatever other characteristics, but they didn’t measure gender, because we ‘didn’t have a problem with gender.’ It’s a very, very conscious bias, they didn’t want to deal with the issue, but in the public sector now things are getting much better, partly because they know they’re going to be monitored.”

“When I tried to touch the private sector just a little bit, the backlash was incredible. In Estonia, when you open CV Keskus [the job-searching platform], you can filter out anybody. You can say, you’re looking for a Russian, young, girl. I wanted to say that you’d disallow these selections in the first round at least. Of course it turned out to be an ‘infringement on the entrepreneurship in this country’, and my fantastic coalition partners at Isamaa didn’t support it. If you think about it further, in terms of social value, the political situation has soured since then, which is why nothing has been done, and probably won’t be for a long time.”

Anu Realo, a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick, listening to the discussions in the talk, cautioned against use of the term ‘unconscious bias’ to describe ingrained prejudice in individuals or society. “‘Unconscious bias’ has been a buzzword for a few years now. As a psychologist I’m not enthusiastic about [the word], if I may say – I think it’s one of the concepts where, when we talk about it, it allows us to justify discrimination in a way, and think we’re becoming better people by discussing and noticing it.”

“To be honest, research doesn’t really support it, because among individuals it’s not a stable characteristic. I may have biases this afternoon, but then you could test me tomorrow morning and I may not, or I may have different ones. I’m not saying there are not unconscious biases, but it’s not a stable characteristic, and we don’t have enough research to show it exists. It’s only important if it’s going to show something. We should know our biases, and address them, without calling them unconscious.”

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.