Opinion Festival 2023 to host a dozen English discussion panels

Estonian politicians taking part in a previous edition of Arvamusfestival.
Estonian politicians taking part in a previous edition of Arvamusfestival. Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

Thousands of people will come together in August in the small central Estonian town of Paide, for two days of full-on discussions covering a large variety of topics, taking place this year for the 11th time.

The main program for the Opinion Festival, known in Estonian as Arvamusfestival, runs over the weekend of August 11-12, and will include over 150 discussions, Sigrid Solnik, head of the Opinion Festival's discussion program, says.

Eleven of these are to be in English, complemented by an exciting cultural program, Solnik goes on, in an interview which follows.

How would you describe the Opinion Festival to those who have never been there?

I'd say that for over two days, Paide turns into the coolest place in Estonia, with an increased concentration of smart and interesting people who together create a very special intellectual atmosphere.

As I was putting the discussion program together, it was my goal that everyone who comes to the festival will be able to then take a piece of that special atmosphere away with them, and be continuously inspired by it.

Furthermore, the Festival is not just the formal program; it inspires discussions people have on the sidelines, giving an opportunity to exchange opinions with those who we otherwise just read about in the media.

What is the significance of the festival?

First and foremost it's about the discussion culture. All discussions included in the festival program must comply with the Respectful Discussion Convention. A quality discussion implies there are a range of opinions and views on the topic in question, opponents are able to clearly formulate their position and arguments, and they are prepared to listen to the others and to understand that all the participants have a common objective, a reason for holding this discussion. These skills are useful in many situations, from business meetings to Riigikogu debates.

Thanks to these high-quality discussions, people involved in different areas will have the opportunity to hear and better understand each other, which in turn helps them to look at many issues in a new way and help inform the work going forward.

A record number of organizations have proposed their ideas for discussion this year for the first time, which means that the festival is attracting more and more different people, who see it as a useful platform for public discussions.

Opinion Festival logo installation in Paide on Saturday, August 13, 2022. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Any surprises at the festival this year?

Definitely the new formats! Many of the discussion had already organizers proposed something completely new through the open call for ideas, and we have helped some along the new path.

For example, communications researchers from the University of Tartu will install a TikTok house at the Youth discussion area; in the Migration area, real-life experiments on integration through creativity will take place.

Look for the specific signs next to every discussion in the program - these will tell you how much involvement is required from the public audience.

There will be classic panel discussions with Q&A at the end, but there will also be discussions where full participation is encouraged.

Some highlights of the scheduled discussions in English are:

  • Informal discussion with internationally known evolution biologist, futurist, professor and author of many books Elisabet Sahtouris (U.S./Greece), who will talk about the relevance of biological systems to organizational design in business, government and globalization.
  • Is This the Time for Africa? The discussion held in the Foreign Policy area will look into a role for Estonia to play in the transformation of Africa, and how the continent and Estonia could benefit from each other.
  • The Happy Place – Stuck in the Purgatory of Your Work Life? Is it possible to be happy and successful at the same time? Within the Resilience area, keywords like flexible working hours, work-private life balance, a supportive team will be taken apart in search for what makes a happy working environment.
  • Greenwashing Takes a Toll on Green Transition – is it even possible to reduce, offset, or remove the CO2 emissions companies create?
  • Does Voting Still Matter? The significance and trends of voting will be explored by examining case studies from Hungary, Turkey, and Estonia.
  • Why Do We Need Higher Education? The discussion will take place in Finland, Latvia, and Estonia simultaneously, so it will compare the three systems in place in the neighboring countries and their challenges, common solutions, and future development opportunities.
A discussion panel at last year's Arvamusfestival in Paide. Source: Kaja Tampere

Opinion Festival/Arvamusfestival 2023 runs Saturday, August 11-Sunday, August 12, in Paide, Järva County. The main events take place in the grounds of the Livonian crusader-era castle. The festival's official site is here.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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