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Blog Archives - Arvamusfestival 2015
Asute arhiveeritud lehel. Mine värske Arvamusfestivali lehele.

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Thoughts from the final moments of the third Arvamusfestival

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We listened and spoke up, we danced and laughed (to the beat of 90s music, no less), we connected… the Arvamusfestival may be over for this year, but it certainly will not rest and keep still, thanks to the sheer enthusiasm, ideas and collaborations it sparked.

The PISI Kärt Vajakas-1508-249third Arvamusfestival ended on a high note on Saturday evening. The final debate of the festival invited all six leaders of the Estonian parties currently in parliament (with Kadri Simson standing in for Edgar Savisaar, leader of the Centre Party) to share their vision and common goals beyond the nitty-gritty and quibbles of everyday politics. Fitting in with the several events at this year’s festival searching for a ‘story of the future’ for Estonia, the party leaders were asked to share their idea about what Estonia could and should stand for and look like by 2040.

To add a light twist to the weightier questions at the debate and the festival at large, stand-up group Fopaa! completed the programme on Vallimägi with astute jokes about whales, the meaning of ‘normal’, and new loanwords for ending a phone conversation. The night, and festival, drifted to a playful and sweaty end on Paide’s central square with the ever-popular Theatre NO99’s ‘Dance Camp’ where participants danced away to moves inspired by music videos from the lycra-loving 80s and 90s.

This year, the Arvamusfestival grew by leaps and bounds in every sense of the expression. It brought together an unprecedented 10,000 people and more over two days; by comparison, last year’s festival welcomed 4,200 people in total. Meanwhile, the programme, comprising an impressive 224 discussions on a vast range of socially relevant topics, was the result of a successful collaboration with various public institutions, NGOs and private enterprises. This was also the first year that Paide’s central square became a festival location, acting, among other things, as a hotspot for home cafés and a graffiti competition.

So, what made this weekend special, and why is the Arvamusfestival a very different and necessary kind of offering amongst the plethora of summer events taking place in Estonia?

PISI 14-08_Anna_Markova (17)-17As a first-time participant of the festival myself, I felt at complete ease from the second I visited Paide Vallimägi and witnessed the festival area for the first time. While, truth be told, that was partly to do with my love for eco-centric design, hammocks and all things cosy, I was also struck by how the divers discussion areas, all shaped differently and hosting often very different discussions, all came together in the spirit of the festival’s belief in discussing and sharing opinions.

To give you a sense of the mind-boggling number of topics just one participant can encounter in two days, here is a short list of the discussions I managed to attend, in no particular order: refugee policy in Estonia and Europe, the utility of start-ups for Estonia, urban space and new urban landmarks, ‘a year after Crimea’ and the state of European defense policy, the oft-mythical and harmful connection between alcohol and culture, apps and Estonian small businesses, animal rights in a human-centred society, the debate between party leaders. This did not even scratch the surface of the discussions taking place nor does it include the cafés visited, the people and dogs spoken to, the cultural events attended. With so much going on from Friday morning onwards, it felt like I had always been a part of the festival, and this feeling only grew as the Arvamusfestival went on.

PISI 1508_Anna_Markova (23)But mostly, I was inspired by the people at the Arvamusfestival. The seven hundred participants in the discussion panels, the thousands of participants in the audience, and the three hundred festival volunteers. The Arvamusfestival involves everyone in discussing, questioning and acting on topics close to Estonia and Europe – and the thoughtful way the discussions were run, the abundance of constructive questions and the lack of any awkward silences (…and this in a country that often feels like the birthplace of the awkward silence) showed that a place for healthy discussion matters, and that active citizenship is no longer a thing of dreams, but alive and rather well in Estonia.

Thank you, and see you again (or for the first time) next August!

Grand Designs: Arvamus Festival Best Stand

DSCF1693Some of the stands at the Arvamus festival weren’t just about the speakers taking part in the debate, but were also about great design creating a more effective space in which to have discussions. The best design of any stand at the festival, a space that treated acoustics and sight-lines as far more than afterthoughts, was created by Architecture and Urban Planning students of Eesti Kunstiakadeemia (the Estonian Academy of Arts).

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The honeycomb ceiling kept the audience warm and sheltered, and although each piece was made from cardboard boxes, they were reinforced with waterproof, insulating material which is often used for packing computers.

The result was a spot that felt uniquely-attuned to great debate, and was a credit to the ingenious third-year EKA students, who have set down a marker for their successors who will design the stand for next year’s Arvamus Festival.

The Arvamus Festival and Why We’re Getting Smarter

When out last night in Paide, I noticed an unusual thing. Young people, battling in the street. It was a turf war, with the fight being for pride and territory. But it’s not what you think. The battle was on ten different chess and draughts boards. This made me think of my own childhood, and speculate why things have changed so much. Is the Arvamus Festival an example of how, generation-by-generation, we are getting smarter?

When I was at school in the 1990s, many teenagers would talk about their summer trips to Ibiza or Ayia Napa, which were a fortnight’s blur of clubbing, alcohol abuse, and possibly a lot more. This was the era of the superclub, Cream and the Ministry of Sound hoovering up customers every Saturday in Liverpool and London respectively, then going on tour to the Balearic Islands to play to an audience dominated by British tourists.

I didn’t go to Ibiza with my school friends. Of course, some people were comfortable at home, like I was. But the aim of these trips was to get very, very drunk – and this wasn’t something I was interested in. I was a country boy who enjoyed reading and music – and not played at 100 decibels. I sometimes asked my parents why I wasn’t the “kind of person” who could go, but they just looked at me with that look that says, “one day, you’ll understand”.

Now, I do. It seems to me that young Estonians are growing up with so many more positive influences than my school class had. Last night, in the Must Puudel’s party for Arvamus Festival-goers, I saw happy people singing along to obscure pop tunes released in 1984 or ’85, when I was 3 or 4 years old, and they were a long way from being born. This was the kind of music I loved playing – in private, of course (I even got picked-on for buying Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet or Ultravox from the record store when I was a teenager), but now it wasn’t a source of shame for anyone. Indeed, it seemed like a badge of honour to know as much of the music as possible.

The knowledge extends to the debates, too. Young people are being thanked for their contribution, being actively praised for their knowledge of complex topics – and more and more people know more and more things, that’s something that’s obvious from asking a few questions, and hearing the different opinions expressed at the Arvamus Festival.

I never used to mind being called a “nerd” or a “geek”. Those are terms that just mean someone knows a lot about something. But what’s changed beyond recognition is the way the nerd and the geek are now seen as the intelligent, well-rounded people they always were.

So how about it, are we getting smarter by generation? That, like everything else here, is a matter of debate. All I know is, I wish I’d been given this festival when I was 20 or 21. I would have loved every minute, just like I do now.

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 .

Lunch @ Arvamus: Hamburger

The Arvamus Festival food options continue to excite and enthrall. Having been pleasantly-surprised by the flavoursome beetroot-dominated veggie burger on Friday, I decided to go two metres to the right, and try the meat option, the hamburger, to see how it compared.

For €8, it’s a premium price, but the burger, which came to me after only five minutes, was tender, broad and substantial. Served on a plate (rather than horizontally in paper as is usually favoured by Estonian convenience stalls), and with a wooden skewer through the middle in order to hold everything together, it feels like quality when you take it.

The mayonnaise and red onion chutney go well together, and the brown granary flat bun is a nice touch, though I always prefer it when burger places slightly toast them. However, the big X-factor of this burger was the makers’ use of smoked cheese in place of the usual processed strip – a variation on the theme that made the burger taste classy. Sticking with the upmarket theme, this is definitely a meal for picking apart, not picking up, hence why knives and forks are supplied.

If, like me, you craved a meat fix after a long day on the Festival tracks, the hamburger is something you will not be disappointed with. Head down to the food court and see what we mean.

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Won’t the Young Estonians Please Stand Up?

Mehirt Emmus (10)

The Arvamus Festival isn’t only about the topics that make us ponder deeply about our existence. It’s also about the things that make us laugh, that make us joyful. On the Ekspress Meedia stage, a group of Estonian performers got together to ask, “Is stand-up the new Estonian theatre?”

There were differing views on the matter, and of course there was mention of the increasing popularity of stand-up comedy, that form of performance where, usually, one person stands on a stage and speaks directly to the audience in an attempt to make them laugh.

After the discussion, we met up with Estonian producer and performer Karl Kermes, who had been one of the panel, to get his view on the topic. He was frank about where Estonian comedy stood at the moment. “I think we don’t have a stand-up culture. It’s coming, but it’s not there yet,” Kermes explained, citing the fact that audience trends are different in Estonia to those traditional hot-spots of stand-up, the UK and USA.

“If we speak about stand-up from different languages [and cultures], I personally think, for an Estonian mainstream theatre audience, that kind of raw stand-up in pubs and clubs is not something they’re taking. It’s a great theatre-loving country. I’m working to build up stand-up shows that last one to two hours, for example like what Eddie Izzard is doing.”

Estonian comedy has always existed, but in different forms, the producer explained. “We have this problem that most of the comedians we put on the stage have graduated from Estonian drama school, then have been working in different theatres, in different roles. Now you’re asking them to come on stage and speak as themselves, with their own ideas, and I’ve found out it’s very difficult to them.” There has, he feels, been a general trend towards Estonian performers preferring to hide behind a role. “Somehow [the show] turns into a play, not a stand-up, in the end. That’s why I’m saying that at the moment, we don’t have Estonian stand-up.”

We asked if the reason for that was because of the way young people were brought up in the school system in Estonia, which has not always encouraged play or creativity in the way other systems have. “It can be;” Kermes said, “if you look at our history, where we are coming from, the time has been very short. I think also the new, young actors that are coming from drama school are thinking differently to the older, well-known comedians. So I think things will change, but it takes time.”

On another topic, Kermes was quick to name his favourite comedian. “Eddie Izzard. The main reason, or let’s say subconscious reason, is he was the first show I looked at on YouTube, and he’s great – he’s doing it so fluently, and I just love him.”

The enormous popularity of Irish comedian Dylan Moran, who sold out his November stand-up show in Tallinn within hours of tickets being released online, is heartening for those who loved him as an actor in the sitcoms ‘Black Books’ and ‘How Do You Want Me?’. Moran appears to share a special bond with Estonian audiences, and there is evidence the feeling is reciprocal. “The first time Dylan came to Estonia, it was surprising how quickly he sold out [of tickets], and it was so good, and I think it’s great to see, but I can’t put my finger on the reasons,” Kermes concluded.

Three reasons to wake up at the Arvamusfestival instead of your home

AF_threereasons_Anna_MarkovaIf your feet have recovered from all the retro dancing at the Must Puudel (Black Poodle) party last night or your ears have stopped humming from the mellow sounds of Vaiko Eplik and Eliit, then welcome – you have woken up to enjoy the sundrenched second day of the Arvamusfestival.

To make it, and you, feel even more glorious, here are three reasons why Paide is the place to be this morning:

1. Chance to take a moment.

This is a festival that is in constant movement as new areas and home cafés spring up while old areas feel transformed with every new discussion. To allow for peaceful thoughts to happen, yoga at 7:30 in the Mäeala (or the Hill Area) offered participants a chance to wake up with the Sun Salutation and slowly stretch their body into high spirits. For those of us who were not such early birds, the Festival offered Minutes of Silence, a trip into your body and breathing through exercises at mindfulness. Keeping that feeling of calm with us as we entered another day of exciting thoughts, we followed the mantra from one participant: ‘I am going to have a brilliant day’.

2. New friends from unexpected places.

Although there are no inhabitable houses on the Paide Vallimägi, that does not mean there is a shortage of residents eager to meet you here from the moment you found yourself at the festival area this morning. There is a family of storks keeping an eager lookout atop some old ruins just next to the café area. Do not fear their watchful gaze and take pleasure in their comforting local presence. You can also make new (human) friends from 11:00 to 13:00 at the Mäeala (Hill Area) which transforms into the ‘Meeting Place.’

3. Awesome talks straight from the morning.

As the festival means business (that is, opinion business), we were off to a passionate and thoughtful start with the MEP discussion about the European Union’s policy towards Russia, contemplating the possibility of co-operation with Russia. Other discussions welcomed eager participants from 10:00 onwards, to think about topics of all shapes and sizes, from measuring the pulse and blood pressure of active citizenship in the Voluntary Sector Growth area to contemplating the meaning and level of digital poisoning in the Digital Education area.

Start-ups in Estonia: should society fear or embrace them?

Estonia has long dedicated itself to building a reputation as a haven for all things tech, encapsulated by the witty if tongue-twisting label ‘e-Estonia.’ But have we become slightly too bewitched by flashy interfaces and uber-cool brands to think critically about the exact effects of start-ups disrupting entire industries before governments can even react? Two discussions at this year’s festival asked just that.

The Festival of Opinion Culture has dedicated several themes and discussion areas to technological innovation, with several of these taking a long hard look at the wider socioeconomic effects of start-ups on other industries, jobs and regulations. The phrasing of two such discussions, ‘What’s the Use of Start-Ups to Estonia? in the Enterprise Area and ‘Are Apps Devouring Estonian Small Businesses?’ in the Postimees Area, both bring negative, or at least sceptical, viewpoints to the spotlight. For a country that promotes itself with a photo of a young woman surfing the internet while sitting on a haystack, this could be a healthy signal that we are getting away from a blind admiration of tech specs and savvy marketing slogans to actually engaging with the close connection between our tech scene and society.

Kärt Vajakas-1408-110In the Enterprise Area, the focus was on the viability of start-ups for Estonian enterprise culture at large. What is a start-up – and why does it need or want to be called one? Are start-ups solving problems that call for urgent attention, or are they too infatuated by their own ideas and make up problems to suit their needs, as suggested by one of the participants, Margus Uudam? Scepticism aside, one take-away from the discussion was that start-ups are delicate creatures, masterminded and developed by ambitious people, but they do not necessarily need to make a profit to be useful for Estonian economy.

Although named even more provocatively than the previous offering, the overall consensus at the discussion in the Postimees Area was equally positive, bringing the discussion back again and again to ‘customer experience.’ This seemed to be less from a love of marketing jargon than a genuine belief that apps have revolutionised traditional industries such as transport and hospitality in the name of consumer comfort and availability. As Kadri Hansalu from Postimees noted, ‘But at the end of the day, someone must bring about such change in any case.’

However, the newly adopted creed of start-ups, that ‘customer is king’, was not given such an easy pass by all involved. Are start-ups like Uber and Booking.com middlemen that take income and control away from actual service providers, increasingly reliant on customer ratings rather than accredited regulators? Do they merely make service less controlled and safe? Then there is the issue of market specificity – Verni Loodma, representing Hotell London in Tartu, suggested that ever-powerful apps such as Booking.com are often far removed from the many markets they operate in, particularly in the case of small countries like Estonia. Not knowing the market context can in turn lead to factual errors in the app’s descriptions and comparative methods that may harm the popularity of a given hotel. Service providers are left stranded as the process of getting things fixed is often unacceptably slow.

Having said that, the pressure to get better reviews can be conducive to becoming better at what you do, raising the bar for the industry in general. One thought that echoed throughout the discussion was that a ratings culture works to empower ordinary customers, an update perhaps long overdue.

Enn Metsar from Uber emphasised how important scale is for start-ups: to create a great app, one needs resources and a global market to support further development. In a similar vein, Tõnu Runnel from voog.com summed this up with a jocoserious statement: ‘You can’t make an app in the same way as a chicken hatches an egg.’ And if innovation wants to happen and customers support it, society will need to follow and regulate it in hindsight.

This realisation guided the discussion as Kadri Hansalu emphasised that ‘innovation is in our blood.’ Generation Y is more attuned to the necessity and reality of change, which makes the streamlined but often more personalised customer experience offered by apps appear as a natural and positive development. While Verni Loodma remained convinced that certain customers will always prefer the comforts of a hotel to new app-enabled services such as Airbnb, the effect of a generational difference on how we like – and more importantly, will like – certain services remained largely unexplored.

Are innovation and their stronghold of supporters simply waiting for all the nay-sayers to catch up? As Tõnu Runnel strikingly put it, while certain popular start-ups may feel like the future now, they will inevitably change and fade with time: ‘Monopolies spring up, grow, and die.’ So, even as we think if we should embrace or fear the start-ups of today, whether as individuals or governments, innovation and change are ongoing and will all the same take us to unexpected places.

 

Five Reasons Why the Arvamus Festival is Awesome

1. Diversity of Debate

With a speaking area for every taste, the Arvamus Festival has thrown up some interesting debates, on every part of Estonian public (and private) life. The discussion on the need for a Russian-language TV channel in Estonia continues to be heard, and I attended the debate run by Keskerakond (the Centre Party), which held a discussion of its representatives’ views on the matter.

With questions often heated, as they regularly are when it comes to Estonian politics, it was interesting to see the public being given an open forum on which to question elected politicians, and even more interesting to see how they responded. Other political parties have been holding parallel debates, including the Reform Party, the IRL and the Social Democrats, making this a fully-rounded political debate.

2. A Chance for a Charm Offensive

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Estonia’s first dedicated public Russian-language television channel, begins full service in September with 20 hours a week of factual and entertainment programming. Its representatives, such as channel head Darja Saar, were answering questions from all-comers about what it meant for Estonia, and why the station had been set up.

The positive PR campaign for the service, which will produce original programming in Estonia bringing news content, along with items such as a drama series, was led by Saar and Communications Manager Anastasia Dratsova. As the Arvamus Festival is a meeting-point for all those who like to consider issues, regardless of their background or interest, it makes it the perfect place for such a charm offensive.

 

3. Connecting with the Heart

“It’s the heart of Estonia.” I was told this about ten times by people I questioned about what was so special about Paide. The town, which hosts the Arvamus Festival up on Vallimägi, is loved by all visitors, especially on a blazing-hot summer’s day. There seems to be a special atmosphere of togetherness hereDSCF1669, which makes it so much easier to relax, unwind and enjoy calm deliberation of the issues not just of the mind, but also of the heart.

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It’s also a place where the best of Estonian culture comes to play. Tallinn’s best jazz club, Philly Joe’s, which often hosts artists of the calibre of Liisi Koikson, Holger Marjamaa and Laura and Joel Remmel, has brought a selection of great musicians to the festival. They lit up lunchtime with their smooth brand of virtuoso playing.

 

 

4. Connecting with the Stomach

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While listening to the music from Philly Joe’s, I sampled some of the excellent food on offer around the central courtyard of the Arvamus Festival grounds. Tallinn’s Kohvik Inspiratsioon, a vegetarian cafe of some repute, brought its cooks and service staff to Arvamus, and I ordered the veggie burger, purely for reasons of taste-testing, you understand.

The wholemeal bread used to wrap the burger was crusty and sturdy, even with a sizeable cut of cucumber and tomato inside. The burger was of course healthy, especially as it did not contain any dressing – the burger being made from a very tangy beetroot mix that more than provided enough flavour.

Inspiratsioon did indeed provide inspiration to continue my hunting of great events, though it still left an old-fashioned carnivore like me craving a juicy hamburger. It must be said, though, that the veggie burger, made with love, represents great value at €4.

5. Much More than Just Politics

Someone said before the festival, explaining why he would not be attending, “it’s just politics, though, isn’t it?” Er, no. The hundreds of events and talks cover everything from Estonian food, to why Estonia does not yet have an internationally-recognised crime novelist.

The search for the Estonian export star who could be a new Steig Larsson continues, but at the stage sponsored by Rahva Raamat, keen readers were given the chance to recline in the most comfortable bean-bags you can imagine, and listen to talented authors such as Indrek Hargla discuss their work, and the future of Estonian literature.

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Meanwhile, students from Estonian high schools all over the country taking part in the Our New Media Generation project in association with the Ministry of Education and the website etnoweb.ee were given the chance to go out, gain some experience and confidence, and do some reporting from the festival.

The Festival of Opinion Culture off to a spirited start

The third Festival of Opinion Culture has been spreading its wings on Paide Vallimägi since early this week, and is now fully flight-ready.

The festival has been bustling since the early hours of the morning, when the finishing touches were put to the 40 themed discussion areas to make them as colourful and conducive to great thoughts and discussions as possible. By now, the hills of Vallimägi have become alive with participants, big and small, local and from other parts of Estonia, human and four-legged. Thoughts have been echoing in the valleys of Paide since the first, packed discussion at the Oru area began at 11:00 which discussed the ‘state of the country’ and broadcast live on Radio 2. A full day of discussions, from the morals of AI to immigration in Estonia, has commenced.

The Festival of Opinion Culture is also a place where the appearance of the festival follows from the innovative and creative spirit of the discussions themselves. You can ponder about education while sitting on haystack seats at the Village of Community Schools area, or let yourself be enveloped under the cool shade of the honey-comb roof at the Urban Space area, made completely out of fully recycled cardboard boxes. Or, if you need to take a moment to let the thoughts from your latest discussion whirl around in your mind, there are crazy quilts and hammocks dotted around the festival, always ready to welcome you. As the best thoughts come with good food, the festival’s café area is full of delicious smells and flavours, from gourmet burgers to rhubarb ice cream and lemonade.

Let thoughts, opinions and ideas fly for the next two days in all possible directions, into your minds, hearts and future ventures. Let the festival begin!

Photo credit: Sven Tupits (Fotogeen.com)

Digital competence or digital poisoning?

The changes brought about by the digital society not only affect teaching and learning, but also the digital competence of employees – however the latter has not yet been clearly defined. It isn’t even clear, where the line runs between digital competence and digital poisoning, but the opinion festival’s digital education area discussions will hopefully clarify the questions and answers in this field.

The digital education area will feature several thought-provoking discussion topics: e.g. finding out whether the Estonian education system has been hit by digital poisoning. Ene Koitla from the Information Technology Foundation for Education (HITSA) will moderate the discussion on what are the fears and expectations concerning the inclusion of digital equipment in education. The discussion groups will be lead by recognised experts in the field, including Peeter Marvet, teacher Kalle Lina from Rakvere Secondary School, Airi Aavik from Virtsu school and local municipality official Jarno Laur.

The area will also include students who will discuss the possible use and benefits of several digital appliances in school and extracurricular life. The group together with students from Väätsa school and their teacher Anneli Tumanski will attempt to find opportunities for including parents and companies in this as well. The digital education discussions will end with a panel discussion on the future of the digitally poisoned – how to learn today so as not to lose one’s job to a computer tomorrow?

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“We shall involve employers in the discussions as well to determine the profile of a digitally competent employee and what benefits may the employee reap from this,” explained Koitla. The panel discussion will also attempt to find out how severely may a digitally incompetent employee curb a company’s development. The session will feature presentations by Skype’s HR manager Merle Liisu Lindma, State Information System’s senior architect Priit Raspel, Kristjan Rebane from the Tallinn Technical University and Kaarel Kotkas from Jalax. The panel will be moderated by journalist Henrik Roonemaa.

The digital education area intends to engage experts from every field of life in the discussions – parents, school masters, teachers, students and employers. Koitla believes that since digital skills are necessary in every walk of life, the digital education area will interest people of all age groups and work profiles.

The digital education area is jointly organised by the Information Technology Foundation for Education, the Teachers Association and several IT experts. Students themselves will also be contributing towards the discussions and the topics.

The exact program is available here: arvamusfestival.ee/kava.

What’s this festival album business all about?

Those who attended last year’s festival can revisit those memories from velvety August nights by browsing through the festival’s photo album. Those who weren’t in attendance last year can enjoy the photos to get an idea about what will happen in Paide on August 14th and 15th this year.

“It’s a pretty nifty idea – to look back on how the festival was organised previously and to encapsulate some of the festival’s energy in an album. The final push for the album came from Tartu university’s comms students,” said the album’s editor-in-chief Andrus Raudsep.

Besides linking the idea and action, the album serves as a trip down memory lane for those who have been to the festival in previous years. “You don’t always fully appreciate the outsider’s perspective on things when you’re smack in the middle of the action. The album gives the opportunity to glance at 2014’s festival at a standstill and from different perspectives. A static image gives a better understanding of what could be done differently and what may happen next,” explained Raudsep.

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These pictures may look like random snapshots of someone’s summer, but the objective was to get still photos of action. “We can see what is happening at the moment while also understanding what happened before and what will happen next.” There’s plenty for everyone to explore, as there are explanatory notes to the visual solutions.

Looking back on last year’s festival, the album should inspire people to participate in differently structured discussions and engage in debates. “When all participants converse in the spirit of good discussion culture, then the discussions go deeper as well. Hopefully the album as a new discussion format will support this as well,” said Raudsep.

The album was born as the result of one tiny idea in the heads of the organising team and the cooperative effort of Tartu university’s students, offering 58 pages of fun: arvamusfestival.ee/arvamusfestivali-album/

Opinion Culture Festival’s program is complete!

AF_kava valmisThe Opinion Culture Festival’s website now features the full festival program – 36 discussion areas will host approximately 200 debates and the festival will also expand to Paide’s central square for a vivid entertainment program.

The festival will be held in Paide on August 14th and 15th to discuss topics ranging from self-driving technology to alcohol consumption culture. Issues as diverse as education, values, health, science, economy and refugees will be discussed among others. The program will mainly comprise of nearly 200 debates, relying on the input of 100 different organisations.

“This year’s program has been compiled by many organisations and people, holding discussions on topics that they believe are relevant in Estonia today and invite everyone to think and speak along. The festival of opinion culture 2015 is truly an exercise in cooperation,” said the festival’s discussion areas program leader Maiu Uus. “The program is diverse enough to excite everyone and hopefully will engage people in lively discussions.”

The festival area will expand from Paide’s Vallimägi Hill to the central square and Tallinn street, where an exciting entertainment program by the Estonian Academy of Arts and other organisations will be on offer.

The Opinion Culture Festival in Paide is not the only one of its kind, similar meetings between people interested in the future of their respective countries are happening all across Scandinavia. This year Latvia hosted its first opinion culture festival in Cesis, using best practices gained from the festival in Paide. The Estonian opinion culture festival was inspired by the Almedalen week, which has been regularly happening in Sweden for over half a century. The hosts of festivals in different countries liaise with each other to exchange ideas, knowledge and experience to achieve the best possible result.

It is possible to support the festival through a kickstarter crowdfunding campaign until August 1st to ensure an even cosier event. Every kickstarter donation shall contribute towards the construction of the festival area, the building of a reusable rain shelter or the well-being of the hundreds of volunteers during the festival.

Just as in Scandinavia, the festival in Estonia is organised jointly with the local municipality and residents – the festival’s biggest supporters include the city of Paide, Järva county municipalities and local businesses alongside local residents, many of whom participate as volunteers. Another major supporter is the Open Estonia Foundation. Other sponsors include the Civil Society Foundation, the European Commission’s Estonian representation, the European Parliament’s information bureau in Estonia and several corporations, including Eesti Energia, Eesti Telekom, Nortal, Swedbank and UP Invest.

The kickstarter campaign is hosted by Hooandja: hooandja.ee/projekt/arvamusfestival-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.

The first pre-festival was a success

Festivalimelu NarvasHundreds of people gathered today in Narva to discuss issues as diverse as the role of social criticism in music to Russian schools in Estonia and the relevance of civil activity – this was the first pre-festival that acts as a prequel to the real Festival of Opinion Culture to be held in Paide in August.

“We’re pleased that the pre-festival event was eventful and successful, as was evident in the local community’s serious interest to participate in discussions about the region’s future. We remain hopeful that the discussions that got started here will continue in Paide in August,” said the festival’s theme areas leader Maiu Uus.

The festival’s two areas hosted six different and inspirational discussions. There were talks of Russia’s current affairs, of expectations to ETV’s new Russian-language TV-channel, of social responsibility and of Russian schools in Estonia. The speakers included both prominent culture and opinion leaders but also local activists and townsfolk.

The closing session was titled “Searching for Estonia’s future story”, where people were contemplating about what they value in Estonia and what should Estonia of the future stand for.

“The atmosphere at all discussions was very cooperative and the participants were willing to listen to each other and be creative with solutions. It was quite clear that the people in Eastern Virumaa care about the future of Estonia,” said Marten Lauri, who is the initiator of the gathering of future stories.

The program of the pre-festival in Narva was collaborated between the people in Eastern Virumaa, the festival’s organisers and the Open Estonia Foundation. The Festival of Opinion Culture will be held in Paide on August 14th and 15th. This year’s brainstorming event produced 250 ideas that will be divided between 30 different areas at the festival. Topics related to security and values will be given their own areas. The festival is organised by a number of different organisations and people from across Estonia.

Photos of Narva: flickr.com/photos/arvamusfestival/sets/72157653295268378

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.

Kickstart the festival!

The Festival of Opinion Culture kickstarted their crowd-funding campaign last week to encourage people to support arranging better conditions for the volunteers of the festival and also for a more comfortable environment to accommodate the discussions at the festival in August.

The crowd-funding campaign hopes to cover the lodging and catering costs of more than 150 volunteers during the festival. Some of the funds will be spent on making Vallimägi Hill cosier by offering more seating and covered areas. This should all contribute towards making the festival area accommodating for many inclusive discussion formats and also weatherproof.

“We shall commission as many works as possible from the locals – from the makers of quilts, festival area builders and others,” said the festival’s head of marketing Anu Melioranski. “We do have a dream – to build a weatherproof shelter that would fit in the picturesque natural surroundings of the Hill together with the students and professors and engineers of the Estonian Academy of Arts.”

The reusable shelter would be modern, easy to assemble and dismantle and would offer protection from the wind and the rain despite its airiness and open layout,” added Melioranski.

However, it is possible that the ambitious and labour-intensive shelter project may not be completed prior to the festival in 2016.

As is customary, the festival presents small tokens of appreciation to all kickstarters. The presents include the festival’s ear-rings, Stella Soomlais’ leather wristbands made exclusively for the festival, student enterprise Sikikikilips’ bow-ties and the festival’s T-shirts designed by Reet Aus.

The festival’s supporters include the Open Estonia Foundation, the city of Paide, the local municipalities of Järvamaa, the National Foundation of Civil Society, Swedbank and Eesti Energia. The Festival of Opinion Culture will be held on August 14th and 15th at the Vallimägi Hill in Paide. The Festival will provide ample opportunities for engaging in inspiring discussions and debates, for finding supporters for one’s ideas and projects and for seeking new and exciting connections.

“The festival is organised and supported by those who believe that the Festival of Opinion Culture is a possibility to do something themselves to make life in Estonia better,” said Melioranski. The crowd-funding campaign will remain active unti July 7th at the following link – hooandja.ee/projekt/arvamusfestival-2015.

Hellam: Opinion Culture Festival as a song festival of thoughts and debates

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The Festival of Opinion Culture will be held for the third year in a row this year and will kick off the event already on the 30th of May with a discussion day in Narva, bringing a multitude of topics and debates closer to people across the land.

The pre-festival aims to create an environment that would foster socially beneficial projects and new ideas, to develop the discussion and communication culture in Estonia and to inspire people to chip in on matters that affect their daily lives.
There will be several inspirational discussions held on the 30th of May. Eduard Odinets, Irene Käosaar, Kristina Kallas, Triin Ulla and Sergei Sedorenko will ruminate on the status of Russian schools in Estonia. A brainstorming session titled “Searching for the story of Estonia’s future” will attempt to formulate what can the people of Estonia themselves do for the future of their country.

“The Narva festival will focus primarily on the future of Narva’s development,” explained Mall Hellam from one of the most important supporters of the festival – the Open Estonia Foundation. “Well-known speakers Artemi Troitski and Vasja Oblomov will open the day’s discussions with an overview of the situation in Russia from the viewpoint of the cultural elite, hopefully this will serve as a great introduction to an exciting and informative day,” said Hellam.

The program of the actual Festival of Opinion Culture to be held in August in Paide looks just as interesting and varied. There will be discussions on gender roles, civil society, health, business, ethics and a number of other topical issues. One new addition is the unique approach to creating special areas for particular topics.

“We won’t be discussing about education, the environment or economy in general, but aim to identify more specific themes and problems that every discussion area could dissect, highlight and seek solutions to,” explained the festival’s theme area program leader Maiu Uus.

Just like in previous years, the festival will rely on people who dare and want to engage in discussions on topics that have an impact on Estonia. “Previous experience has shown that the festival in Paide tends to attract people who care about this country and wish to be heard. It’s almost like a song festival of thoughts and debates, bringing together a variety of people from different backgrounds,” said Hellam. She added that the festival presents a unique opportunity to meet other people eye-to-eye, to establish contacts, to argue and discuss matters frankly and under one’s own name, and also to gain new insights on expression and debating skills.

Altogether 250 ideas for discussion were submitted to the ideas gathering campaign in February, these will form the foundation for over 30 theme areas. The festival’s full program will be available in the coming weeks.

Translation from Estonian to English: Priit Koff

Festival of Opinion Culture to expand to the city centre

AF_talgud-9408This year’s Festival of Opinion Culture shall not remain only within the perimeter of the Vallimäe Hill in Paide, but will expand even further to the town’s central square and Tallinn street in partnership with the Estonian Academy of Arts.

Katrin Koov and her students of architecture and urban planning from the Estonian Academy of Arts have suggested a preliminary vision of new locations within Paide to where the festival could extend its activities. After an active brainstorming session in Paide last Saturday, the festival’s organising team came up with some ideas on new locations for discussion groups and which activities would be best suited for Paide’s main street and the central square.
The new discussion group areas were also given appropriate names – expect to hear thought-provoking debates at places such as Kooliorg (School Valley), Hekiaed (Hedge Garden), Keldrimägi (Cellar Hill) and Konvendimüür (Convent Wall).

Opinion festival’s topics will be exciting and versatile

IMGP2760From civil society to gender roles, innovation to health and ethics to governance. These are just a few of the 25 themes to be discussed at this year’s Festival of Opinion Culture.

The festival’s team has put a lot of effort into selecting the final topics – 250 crowdsourced ideas have been divided into 25 groups and these groups shall form the basis for the program in the coming weeks.

We reviewed the keywords that describe each idea in every theme. Whether the issue is the status of teachers or the school environment in general. Larger topics such as education were given subthemes, as every issue can be approached from different angles,” explained the festival’s program leader Maiu Uus. Each topic should ideally convey a particular message as well, as was the goal when mixing together the different ideas under each theme. “We were looking for a new approach to topics this year, aiming to identify more specific themes and problems that every discussion area could dissect, highlight and seek solutions to,” explained Uus. “For example, we would like to bring together discussions on different matters that are collectively raising questions about the vitality of Estonia.”

In addition to already traditional topics such as children and families, entrepreneurship and well-being; there will also be discussions on scientific issues, relations between men and women and gender roles in general, worklife, health, security etc.

Translation from Estonian to English: Priit Koff

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.

The next opinion culture festival to be held in Paide on August 14-15 in 2015

14906034576_1a2dcf6ce2_zWe are pleased to announce that the opinion culture festival team has commenced the preparations for the third opinion culture festival – this year’s event will be held on August 14th and 15th, still in Paide.

We will soon be updating our website with more information, but keep thinking about is in the meantime and read more postings from last year or check out the photo feed on Flickr. The photos are available here and the blog posts here.

Be seeing you!