Some 5,600 people were involved in various formats of discussion on the first day of the 5th annual Opinion Festival, a two-day event held in Paide, Central Estonia.
The most popular discussions focused on societal themes, including what future communities will be like, why Estonians are afraid of feminism, the conservative future and a seamless society as well as topics involving health and children's discussions.
Chief festival organizer Ott Karulin said that the first day of the festival pased as pleasantly as expected. "I think that in five years together, we have been able to create something so strong and necessary that we do not need to search desperately for people to participate in the festival or forcibly invent hard-hitting discussion topics," he said. "Quite the opposite — there are more topics than we have time to cover in two days. The festival is not only organized by hundreds of volunteers, but also by all of the excellent organizations and people who find their way to Paide in August."
The list of discussion and debate topics is extensive, with approximately 160 themes in Estonian, Russian and English spread across 25 themeds stages or sites over Friday and Saturday. Topics discussed on Friday included the conscious direction of hatred, how to survive in a crisis situation, what the future of Europe looks like and whether schools can be happy places. Panelists also raised the issue of the role of democracy festivals first and foremost in Nordic countries. The reasons for launching such festivals are similar in each country — to pose important questions and create a platform in which everyone, including those who do not typically do so, can express their opinion or, if necessary, find support in forming it.
In addition to classic discusssion formats, the festival also promotes less traditional formats which encourage the better inclusion of festival attendees in discourse. For example, this year's festival once again featured a "World Café" in which people could discuss topics including why society is afraid to offer youth more opportunities to have a say in their studies if they are expected to show responsibility as they get older.
"Of course, tangible results are good as they are easier to notice, but the lion's share of the festival's impact is indirect," Karulin said. "In addition to the fact that participants will gain self-confidence for future discussions on some burning topics, the festival also offers people the opportunity to ask politicians, opinion leaders, experts and others direct questions regarding why they hold a specific opinion on a particular issue."
Festival communication director Katerina Danilova said that a number of discussions also bring with them changes in behavioral habits. "A lot of new contacts are established," she highlighted. "In order to support this, similarly to our Scandinavian friends, we launched the communications app Minglia this year, which helps people with similar interests find each other and communicate."
The festival continues on Saturday, which will conclude with a number of highly anticipated discussions, including the traditional parliamentary party chairmen's debate and a discussion entitled "How to stand against populism and extremism," whose panel will include former Finnish President Tarja Halonen.
The full festival program is available here (link in Estonian; uncheck "eesti and "vene" boxes at top to view only English-language discussions).
More information on the Opinion Festival's English-language discussions can be found on a dedicated Facebook event here.
Editor: Aili Vahtla