Opinion Festival 2016: Food for thought on over 250 topics ({{commentsTotal}})

Audience members listening to a panel discussion at the 2016 Opinion Festival in Paide. Source: (Rene Suurkaev/ERR)

Estonia’s fourth annual Opinion Festival took place in Paide on Friday and Saturday, featuring debates and discussions on over 250 themes on nearly 50 different themed stages or sites. This year, there were no "speakers" and "listeners," as such; everyone was referred to as a participant, underlining the festival’s central idea that everyone has the right to speak.

With 134 topics or activities offered on 33 different stages on Friday and 129 on 39 stages on Saturday, Paide’s fourth annual Opinion Festival, held on Vallimäe Hill, overlooked by the town's iconic Valli Tower, offered a wide variety of subject matter for festivalgoers’ consumption, leaving it up to each person to decide whether and just how actively to participate in a given discussion. In addition to scheduled panel discussions and debates, open mics were available for those interested in sharing their opinions with the crowd, however simply listening and thinking along was encouraged as well.

Originally inspired by Sweden’s Almedalen Week, which has been held annually since 1968 and is considered to be one of the most important forums in Swedish politics, Estonia’s Opinion Festival has broadened the scope of the subject matter far beyond just politics, although the schedule included not only a presidential debate, involving current presidential candidates Mart Helme (EKRE), Allar Jõks (IRL/Free), Siim Kallas (Reform), Eiki Nestor (SDE) and Mailis Reps (Center), but also a debate featuring chairmen of the current parliamentary parties, which included Andres Herkel (Free), Mart Helme (EKRE), Jevgeni Ossinovski (SDE) and Margus Tsahkna (IRL).

Debates and discussions, which ranged in subject matter from "The impact of smart technologies on society during the next 20 years" and "Will creativity save rural life?" to "A dignified end: Life and death for the elderly," were held primarily in Estonian, however a number were also held in English or Russian, languages in which open mic participants were welcome to speak as well, and some were also interpreted in Estonian Sign Language. The stages with the greatest number of scheduled discussions over two days were the “State’s Potential” Stage, boasting 17 different topics, the Youth Stage, with a total of 15 different topics, and the “Working Life” Stage, which offered 14 different topics in all.

Estonian media was represented with BNS, ERR, KUKU Raadio and Postimees Stages, and other themes were represented by dedicated areas, including education, science and energy as well as urban, rural and healthy living stages. Also timely were a Maritime Culture Stage — 2016 is Estonia’s Year of Maritime Culture — as well as a Republic of Estonia 100 Stage — Estonia’s 100th birthday is only a year and a half away — and families with children were encouraged to participate at a special Children and Families Stage that covered relevant topics ranging from divorce to child safety and gender roles.

In addition to these various stages, festivalgoers were offered refreshments from a total of 40 different businesses offering everything from “grandmothers’ Mulgi porridge” to eco-friendly ice cream and from vegan food to barbecue. Two children’s areas also provided special activities and supervision, and dog owners had the option to leave their dogs at a dedicated, supervised “dog parking lot.”

A complete overview of ERR’s Estonian-language coverage of the festival’s events, including various photo galleries, can be seen here.

The festival’s complete schedule of discussions and debates, which is in a mix of Estonian, English and Russian, can be found here.

Editor: Editor: Aili Sarapik

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