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Blog Archives - Arvamusfestival 2016
Asute arhiveeritud lehel. Mine värske Arvamusfestivali lehele.

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Ask Not What Your Country…

Estonia is in an interesting place at the moment, seen increasingly as a great spot in which to do business, and as such accommodating increasing numbers of international workers. This, and Estonia’s corporate social responsibility agenda, were covered in two entertaining and informative English-language talks at the Opinion Festival.

The growing number of Erasmus courses offered by Estonian universities is also helping to change the complexion of Estonia. How are foreigners finding life in Estonia, and how good are relations with local people? This was one of the questions considered by the talk on Saturday, ‘Do Non-Native Residents Feel Like Hosts or Guests?’, presented by Estonian World and the Estonia 100 Celebration team.

The panel was moderated by Stewart Johnson, an American long-time Tartu resident who is also one of the stalwarts of English stand-up comedy troupe Comedy Estonia. He raised a point which seemed to elicit several different answers from different people, about the supposed need for children born with two passports to choose if they wish to keep their Estonian passport or another one at the age of 18.

Although Johnson, the guests and the audience discussed the constitutional need for a child to choose, the Estonian state is prevented from taking away a passport, which, if taken literally, means that if an 18 year-old makes no decision, he or she keeps both passports. It was an intriguing point, and one that perhaps ought to be clarified now that more and more children are being born to one Estonian and one foreign parent.

Otherwise, the talk was mostly about cultural difference, race, and understanding of others. There was a discussion of what needs to be done to make foreigners feel more welcome in the cities in which they have settled, with Joao Rey, a Portuguese living in Tallinn, making the point that there appear to be far fewer negative incidents related to a person’s race or nationality in the capital than in a city like Tartu, for example.

Although most of the panellists spoke of at least one racist incident, the talk was generally framed in a positive way, with Johnson, a fluent Estonian-speaker who sometimes performs his comedy acts in the language, closing by reassuring the audience that he and the panel understood the need for Estonian language learning in order for a person to contribute fully to society.

Another English-language talk followed, down in the centre of Paide. ‘Whose Business is Social Responsibility?’ was moderated by Mart Soonik, with contributions from Kristiina Esop, Annika Migur, civil servant Liisa Oviir and outgoing British Ambassador to Estonia Chris Holtby. Ambassador Holtby has only nine days to go on his posting in Estonia, but can be said to have made huge steps to influence positively the international perception of Estonia.

Asked about the challenges of giving his staff a corporate social responsibility requirement, Holtby said how he had made it a requirement in staff’s annual review that they complete a CSR task. He experienced some push-back to that requirement at first, but according to the Ambassador, the response after staff completed tasks in the local community was overwhelmingly positive. He also talked about how there are plans in the Estonian government to axe the need for supermarkets to pay tax if they give away more than 3% of their stock for free. Rimi was alone among Estonian supermarkets in having given away stock to soup kitchens in spite of having to pay tax on it.

There was also discussion of the gender pay gap. Currently recruiters are not required by Estonian law to list a salary in job advertisements, meaning interviewees usually need to name their salary. There is some evidence that women generally ask for a lower salary than men would in the same situation. In response to an audience suggestion that the requirement by law for a listing of salary in the advert might close the largest gender pay-gap in the European Union, Oviir said, “yes, we did suggest it, but we have a coalition government, so it’s not currently an option. We hope it will be back on the table after the next election.”

Motherhood – burden or privilege?

Photo: Kärt Vajakas

There are moments when debate feels like luxury. Nowhere did this seem to be more the case than when sat on a bunch of haystacks-turned-sofas in the afternoon sun in Paide, listening to a discussion on motherhood across the world. Considering that in many countries there is still little choice or discussion about whether to be or not be a mother, the NGO Mondo-organised panel felt almost outer-worldly.

Why is motherhood, experienced by nearly half of the world’s population at some point in their lives, still a contested issue? How do concepts of maternity differ from culture to culture? Could a globally-minded approach to motherhood be key to solving other global development issues?

The debate, entitled “Motherhood: a burden or a privilege?”, saw speakers from Afganistan, Finland, Somalia and Norway try to crack how to make motherhood a more fulfilling experience across cultures.

While there were no Estonian speakers in the panel, it felt highly timely to listen to a debate on motherhood at a time when the Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs is proposing an elongated parenthood leave, stretching the current period of 1,5 years to 3 years. This is a world removed from the discussion’s opening remarks by Zahra Akbari, an Afghan midwife now living in Estonia. Akbari, who has delivered 6000 babies into the world, noted that in a country torn by war and conflict, any desire to become a mother is always shaded by the constant fear for safety. In such an unstable environment, questions of family planning simply cannot exist in a way similar to the Nordics or even Estonia.

The above thought was later built upon by Wali Hashi, a Finnish-Somalian journalist, suggesting that differences in political and economic system of a country determine motherhood more than any specific cultural beliefs. Even so, cultural relativity must remain part of the discussion in global development goals around motherhood. As noted by Gro Lindstad, heading the Norway-based FOKUS (Forum for Women and Development), actions to ensure sexual reproduction rights on a global scale are tied up with post-colonialism and can face lash-back if Western values are imposed too rigidly.   

Increasing women’s economic self-sufficiency is at the heart of giving women the choice to become, or not to become, mothers. The panelists scrutinised the Bangladesh micro-loan example which has allowed more women to make their own living. As a result, fertility figures in the country, once among the highest in the world, have dropped rapidly. Could a social innovation scheme across developing economies be part of a solution?

It is easy to invent master plans for world peace and equality, but implementation can be tricky. Tapping into the problematic of global ambitions and local realities, I was struck by one question by an audience member: ”How to develop a global solution rather than localised solutions?”. For Lindstad, this is something addressed in the UN’s seven new sustainable development goals. Rather than placing responsibility on certain developed economies, tainted by the spectre of post-colonialism, Lindstad opined the new goals mean that “all of us are accountable.” As for an integrated solution, comprehensive sexual education across cultures could be the answer.

Yet, as with any debate, and particularly with global development, there are no easy answers. Zainab Homam from the London-based organisation Afghan Action stressed the difficulty of bringing sexual education to her country of origin Afganistan, which could take many years before it is publicly accepted. Instead, she suggested that the emphasis should be on individual parents, rather than state or global organisations, who can teach their children about reproduction in accordance with social mores. 

But there is a global medium already shaping understandings about motherhood: social media. An increasing part of the global population now has access to mobile phones, and this number is only set to rise, particularly across developing economies. Is this what will make motherhood into a more uniform experience globally? While I ultimately remain sceptical on whether social media is the saving grace, it may indeed alleviate some of the issues around cross-cultural sexual education. Thinking about motherhood on a prickly haystack in Paide was great, but we need new versatile mediums to truly make this into a global conversation.

The panel was sponsored by the Nordic Embassies in Estonia.

World Peace Just Happened

‘What Can We Do For World Peace?’ is possibly the biggest question on the planet, and at the Opinion Festival on Saturday morning, an intrepid group of academics, educators and activists attempted to answer it.

Although it is fair to say that, over the course of 90 minutes, it was not possible to reach a consensus on how to achieve world peace, or even if it is possible, the most interesting part of the discussion was, as is often the case in such theoretical talks, the individual stories of the speakers.

Piet Boerefijn is the Director of the Estonian Food Bank, which has set up food relief in towns and cities all over Estonia to help the people who cannot afford to feed their families. However, at first, this was not a personal mission of his – the Dutchman came to Estonia shortly after the restoration of independence for a totally different reason.

“When I first came, it wasn’t with the idea of helping Estonia. Actually, I read ‘The Czar’s Madman’ by Jaan Kross and wanted to see the house from that book, a manor house close to Põltsamaa. The manor had a big wall around it, and a small fence. I looked through the fence, and it came out that the house had been turned into a home for mentally-disturbed people. It was like a zoo, it was awful inside, it was 1992 or 1993.”

“I thought it would be revolutionary if only someone could bring some new beds, or install some extra toilets. We took some mattresses from hospitals in the Netherlands for free.” Estonia was a far different country to the one that foreigners in 2016 experience, Boerefijn explained. “At that time Estonia was extremely poor. It was still the Soviet Army there. Often they would get their salary in roubles, not the Estonian kroon, and that meant they couldn’t buy anything. So what did they do? They sold their weapons, so you could buy your weapons from the Russian Army in Estonia.”The recollections of Ekke Nõmm, Director of the Estonian School of Diplomacy, were, as you might expect, more moderated and mild. Nõmm, a fuzzy-haired man who seems permanently calm, talked about his experiences running a private university that receives international funding to train global diplomats.

Nõmm believes that accord can be found between people of most nationalities if they can learn to relate to each other on a personal level. “After a year [studying together], they’re friends, they understand each other better.” There are still tensions, mostly due to pressure from the students’ parent countries. “There was one group, with whom we went for a discussion in Kadriorg with the President. We had a photo taken with the him, and I arranged it that on one side were two Armenian women, on the other two Azeri men.”

“We had the photos taken, it all went well, we went back to school, and then after an hour, the Azeris called me and said, ‘please don’t use this photo in a professional capacity,’ because it might mean trouble for them. They were worried about going back to Baku, and their superiors perhaps saying, ‘you’re becoming too friendsly with the Armenians.’ So this shows the divisions that are there, but by bringing these people together I think we can somehow do something for world peace.”

In attempting to explain the still-existent divisions between first-language Estonian- and Russian-speakers in Estonia, Nõmm had a theory. “A lot of this had to do with the fact that the Russians in Estonia had to do a tremendous mental switch, from being masters of the universe, rulers of the empire, and from there, they had to change to a minority in a small country. I agree that Estonians are typically quiet and modest, and Russians are more outgoing. I suppose a Russian by nature would expect a friend to be outgoing, but Estonians aren’t like that in their nature. So when Estonians say, ‘ok, learn the language, do your job, and we’ll all be happy,’ because embracing and hugging is not in their nature, Russians might interpret it as unwelcoming. Also, the fact that the Russians live in their own media-sphere: I would consider that to be the greatest problem.”

Liga Rudzite is a Marie Curie Fellow at the Tallinn School of Economics and Business Administration, Tallinn University of Technology, and media falls into her research. She said it is not only Russian media that is biased. “I think we are biased – even our free media. We speak about Latvia always on Latvian terms, and if I were a Russian of course I wouldn’t use Latvian media because I would use what spoke more personally to me.”

Discussions continued, with world peace still some way off at the time of writing.

How to prepare for a robot attack (on work)

Photo: Anna Markova

Robots are advancing and they are hungry for our jobs. While the narrative of man vs. machine is centuries-old, the advent of artificial intelligence has made it trendy to talk about work again and picture how it will look in the future — or if work will exist at all.

Little surprise, then, that one of the first discussions of this year’s Opinion Festival, exploring attitudes towards employment in Estonia, would attract a huge crowd. The discussion, moderated by Urmas Vaino, saw a panel of four explore a wide spectrum of issues related to work now and in the future, youth unemployment, responsibility, automatisation, and rural development as intrinsically tied up with employment.

As much as the daily drudgery (or joy) of work can feel like a constant, the way we work and think about work is ever evolving. This inevitability of change was acknowledged straight away, with the panelists offering their take on the biggest change in employment over the last thirty years. Needless to say, this has been a period of phenomenal change in Estonia as the country went from communism to full-blown capitalism following the restoration of independence. According to Toomas Tansar, head of the Estonian Employers’ Confederation, work used to be perceived as something singular, something everyone had to do no matter what. Attitudes towards work are now far more diverse, with more and more people deciding just how and how much they want to work. But with more flexibility comes more responsibility.

One train of thought running through the whole discussion is the need to prepare society and individuals for the changing landscape of work. Jevgeni Ossinovski, Estonia’s Minister of Health and Labour, argued that change is neither good nor bad, but boils down to society’s level of preparation. The introduction of self-service machines to supermarkets, for example, is part of the process of automatisation, and can ultimately free up citizens to do more creative, more fulfilling jobs. “A person’s work life ought to be fruitful and offer satisfaction to those who work,” suggested Ossinovski.

For Peep Peterson, who represents trade unions, this responsibility to prepare and reconsider is not merely societal but personal. It is “essential to rewire yourself” and be agile. However, Peterson stressed that the choice where and how to work remains a privilege for certain fractions of society. On the flip side of privilege is what Meelis Paavel, manager of Eesti Töötukassa, suggests is a more “fun”-centric approach to work, particularly among younger people entering the workforce. Paavel has increasingly encountered the attitude whereby “work should not interfere with life”, that is, workers desire less dependability on their employers and crave more freedom.

This desire for freedom and flexibility sits uneasily with Estonia’s youth unemployment: currently 39,000 young people neither work nor study. Low-paid jobs remain vacant while, as Ossinovski pointed out, the interest to work even summer jobs is on the wane. If the education system does not ramp up entrepreneurial education or vocational learning that does not ignore the looming spectre of automation, it is not nurturing the employees future economic models will desperately need. This situation intensifies in rural areas where opportunities are more sparse. Toomas Tansar argued that rather than forcing industry and vocations to rural areas, rethinking workforce mobility to urban hubs could be the solution.

Tansar also urged a poignant word of caution when acting on the changing face of work, either as state or employer. The transition to a smart, knowledge-based economic system cannot simply be willed into existence: “Let’s just do away with easy jobs and then somehow, more of those smart jobs will follow. But where will they come from?” This question, in essence global, needs to co-exist with more local and transient considerations, such as battling unemployment in former industrial powerhouses such as Ida-Virumaa or youth demotivation. 

Aarhus is a Very Fine House: Why be Nordic?

Why do so many countries want to be like Nordic countries? Are they really as “happy” as they seem? Can Estonia ever be a Nordic country? These were some of the questions considered by the panel at the Opinion Festival’s talk, ‘How Strong Are the Nordic Countries? Strong Enough to Be Happy?!’ (punctuation as written in the brochure) which took place on Friday afternoon and was organised in association with the Norden Nordic Council of Ministers.

Helen Russell is a freelance journalist whose book, Living Danishly, describes the many social and cultural adaptations that have to be made by a British immigrant to the place ranked by the United Nations as the happiest in the world. Moderator Villu Arak asked why there was such an appetite in Denmark for dark, noirish crime fiction. Russell replied that it was possibly because life was comfortable enough to want to read or see a struggle. “There’s definitely something to be said for taking things for granted.” She then turned to the topic of what makes Denmark special to international workers.

“I speak to a lot of businesses who are trying to attract more international talent. The kind of international talent that would be drawn to Scandinavia are the more liberal people on the left, who don’t mind paying such high taxes. What’s special about Scandinavia is this welfare state, is this equality. It’s about recognising that, and preserving it a bit more, and not taking it for granted, whilst also trying to celebrate diversity. In a typically-homogeneous country such as Denmark, and also Norway and Sweden, it’s about trying to welcome in new people, and realising that could be a good thing.”

Joar Vitterso is a Psychology professor from the University of Tromso in Norway. He cautioned against expecting all nations to join a neoliberal consensus based on the European austerity-driven model. What he said could be considered a message to Estonia, seen by some as a kind of test-bed for Friedman School economics. “I’m very sceptical when people say the development forces us to replace something that is working well with something that is working not so well. Why is that? Why should we accept that development means pensions go down, that unhealthy [unwell] people don’t get the treatment they used to get?”

“The next generation is the first for hundreds of years that has fewer prospects than their parents had. Why must we accept that this has to happen because of development? For me, development is something that gets better, and I can’t accept these people who say ‘this can’t go on because so and so.'”

Third panellist Bengt Lindroth, a Swedish author and musician, was concerned that Sweden look now at the kind of society it wants in the future. This is a country whose most famous modern citizen is footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who came to the country with his Bosnian/Croatian family as a youngster, and it could be argued ‘Ibra’ has changed forever the perception of a Swede. “Sweden is, I think, the only country with a paragraph in its constitution saying the country should aim to become a multicultural society. We need to think what that means, today, in practice, and what policies should be enacted. That is a very important question for Sweden to handle today.”

Vitterso voiced his hopes for the future of the Nordic nations and their neighbours. “I like utopias, because they’re irresponsible, and just throw out ideas and say, ‘hey, isn’t this a good way of living?’ I hope in ten years we will talk more about things that matter, like good lives and good societies. I hope we will have developed a better way of talking about what we want, and not just measuring it in terms of economies, but what we really want our kids to experience in this society. I hope that governments will take the pursuit of a good life seriously enough to discuss it every day.”

Russell said she was happy to see sustainability taught in Danish schools. “Aarhus is the European Capital of Culture next year, and they’re running a campaign about sustainability in childcare and schools and what a difference that could make. However, she noticed that although Denmark is commonly felt to be such a contented nation, there were many users of antidepressants – Denmark is felt by some measures to be among the highest users of ‘happy pills’ in the world.

“I thought, ‘how can you be the happiest nation, with such high antidepressant use?’ I have spoken to many Danes about this, and I think because they expect Arbejdsglæde, which means happiness at work; if they’re not getting it, they do something about it. There’s a lot of stress leave, and doctors are very receptive, if someone says they’re not feeling great, antidepressants are handed out fairly liberally, from my experience in my research. In the UK and US there’s a culture of soldiering on, for fear that any admission of weakness will impact negatively on your career.”

Although there seems a darkness below the Danish facade of complete contentment, it could be said that the high rates of cancer in the country were, in some way, due to happiness, according to Russell. “Danes are libertarians, they love to eat pork, eat ice cream and smoke – sometimes all at the same time. All around me I see people having a hoot – perhaps not looking so good, but knowing the system is there to help them.”

The last word went to Estonia’s Swedish Ambassador, Anders Ljunggren, who was in the audience. He had an opinion on one of the most popular questions of the day, why some countries are considered ‘Nordic’ and others  are not. His words may not go down well with Estonians. “Being here in Estonia, I should say that Finland was successful, they made very big sacrifices, they kept their freedom during the Second World War, they had the ability to choose to be a Nordic country, and they were welcomed.”

“That’s also the situation today. You have to wish to be a Nordic country, you have to fulfil some criteria, with geography and so on, and you have to be welcomed. The political construction [of Norden] is not forever – it depends on the will of the people in Norden and the neighbouring countries.” It could be said that Estonia has already made more than enough sacrifices. Maybe now is the time for some international recognition of them.

Here’s How to Give Everyone a Say in Estonia

The official Opinion Festival brochure says that when we think of the Netherlands we think of tulips and windmills, but for others, the Low Country means philosophical footballers, excellent flood defences and a – cough – liberal attitude towards what someone may or may not be smoking. But there is a tradition of this small nation, which was once a merchant shipping hub for the world, exporting new solutions to civic and political problems, and it was one way of doing so, the polder model, which was discussed on Friday afternoon in the talk “How to Make Consensus-Based Decisions: Dutch Polder Brunch”.

According to Wikipedia, “the polder model is consensus decision-making, based on the acclaimed Dutch version of consensus-based economic and social policy making in the 1980s and 1990s.” Wim Kok, who was Dutch Prime Minister during the economic boom-time of 1994 to 2002, supported the polder model, or his version of it, as a way of ensuring that all voices be heard in a process of decision-making.

Things have changed, some would say for the worse, since Kok’s time at the head of his government. The far right is building its share of the vote in the Netherlands, Estonia and many other parts of Europe, and the idea that consensus can be found on any issue just by talking it over now seems less of a certainty than it once was.

Peter Kentie, a Dutchman from Rotterdam living at the moment in Tallinn, talked about the rebranding of Estonia, with Visit Estonia now using slogans like “ESTonishing”, alongside a new logo. “It’s not about the logo, it’s about passions. You can’t have it that someone from the ministry comes to someone and gives someone the task to do the design, the ministry should team up with the stakeholders in Estonia, and together create the brief and together be responsible for the result.”

Sometimes, Kentie argued, it matters how people collaborate, not just who collaborates. “If the person giving the brief is sitting next to you, rather than just being the one who gives the money, that makes the difference. It’s better to have that discussion in the room, than in a newspaper.”

When asked by moderator Annika Uudelepp how he would attract Asian, or international, talent in greater numbers to Estonia, Kentie said that perhaps the problem should be viewed differently. “I think maybe, as a first priority, talent should not be coming, maybe the priority should be exporting to the rest of the world.”

“There are qualities here that aren’t yet fully-known to other countries. You really have to communicate those qualities to the rest of the world. If you do that, then maybe people [in other countries] will think ‘I can contribute something there in the future.’ The ‘Skype Mafia’ shows that you have all these young people who use the digital world in a disruptive way, and that’s the important thing, to disrupt. If others go left, you should go right, and if you get that mentality right, people will come to you. You have to first tell the world you’re really open to that, and communicate to the rest of the world that you’re there.”

One example of increased civic activism in Estonia has been evident over the proposed development of Kalarand in Tallinn. Local groups ensured that they had a say in the planning of a new development on the promenade, and ensured the current beach would remain in place, but only after the developers, with the apparent backing of local government for their building plans, tried to sue a local activist to bring in a gagging order.

“In the Netherlands,” said panellist and Dutch Ambassador to Estonia Jos Schellaars, “we also have property developers who are very keen on acquiring areas on which they can build. But then there is a process of permission. Even after the permission is given, I think in the Netherlands protesters have a louder voice. The discussion process, I think, is much longer. Voices are louder and better-heard.”

Is Debate A Luxury That We Can’t Afford?

The Opinion Festival has, as one of its aims, to create an atmosphere that is good for open discussion, but how much do we actually want, or need this? Is this kind of debate a peacetime luxury, in a time when it often feels like war, or at least some bigger conflict, is pending?

During the aftermath of the recent referendum that saw Britain vote to leave the European Union, there was a lot of discussion about the different choices faced by the UK and the rest of Europe in the future. The vote, which took most of the political elite by surprise and was greeted with a sense of joy by some and impending doom by others, threw individuals and political parties into a period of extended soul-searching, from which they have not yet emerged.

What was particularly interesting was what it meant for the future of debate. We take it for granted today that we will be given time and space to discuss openly solutions to problems. However there is a growing feeling that the way in which we conduct debate is changing. The Donald Trump campaign in the United States, the refugee crisis in Europe, and discussions on how many displaced people Estonia will take, have all been conducted in an increasingly bellicose manner. The manner of debate seems to be similar to that shown in this video (apologies for linking to an RT post, but it shows what I mean).

This all begs the question, although many of us like to philosophise about the best way of organising ourselves, does this mean that modern culture and government can do so? We have seen, with the acceptance of political “spin” as a necessary tool for most governments, distrust in elites rise. This appears to be at least part of the reason for the rise of Trump, and for Brexit. It’s created a situation where it doesn’t take many points in a conversation on something like Twitter, for example, for one side or both sides to start exhibiting anger.

Essentially, a Twitter conversation in 2016 goes like this:

  • Person One: I’m being deliberately provocative, but I’m obviously right, because the person in [this link] agrees with me.
  • Person Two: Really? I don’t agree with all of what you just said. Here is another [link] that I feel proves my argument is right.
  • Person One: What gives you the right to argue against my point? Check your privilege. You must be a misogynist, or a conservative, or most likely both.
  • Person Two: I have every right to exist in this world, but you are the whole reason why the global system is going down the toilet. And you’re ugly.
At some point, perhaps during the Brexit referendum, or the refugee crisis, or Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, or the discussion over the need for a Ghostbusters reboot, it seems we forgot how to find consensus. A talking head recently floated the idea that David Bowie held the secret of the universe, and that this explained why many things had seemingly gone downhill since his death. And yet surely can’t have only been the presence in the world of David Bowie that was holding opinion culture together – it must be within us to rediscover the art of compromise.

The Opinion Festival can at times seem endearingly old-school, like a non-threatening meeting of minds that could not happen outside the comforting town boundaries of Paide. Can we learn a better, more civilised, way of arguing while we’re here? Is it possible, in a time when opinions are often weaponised and used as propaganda, for neutrality to exist, or at least for people to come to a discussion and then make up their minds, rather than beforehand? Is the Opinion Festival serving a useful purpose by opening up so many different views, and bringing together many people who would, in an increasingly-polarised atmosphere, often choose not to meet? Or is debate a peacetime luxury, which we cannot countenance now we need to “lock and load,” as the man says in the linked video rant?

It won’t surprise you that, on the festival blog, this post argues that, no, debate is not a luxury. But we all need to get better at doing it, and soon. Otherwise we run the risk of becoming the people we always hated. Whatever we believe, let’s share the love, because that’s the true spirit of the Opinion Festival, and that’s what can get us through this absolute dog’s dinner of a year.

Migration area on Saturday: virtual reality, quiz, migration crisis and media coverage

During the Saturday different questions are going to be discussed: Do we have a migration crisis? What is actually going on and what kinds of threats are out there in sense of migration? What are the challenges people returning to Estonia have to face?

In addition, an eye-opening value game and exciting experiment are taking place. Also there is an opportunity to experience the virtual reality of refugee camp in Jordan.

All Migration Area panel discussions are translated simultaneously into English.

AGENDA

10.00-18.00 Virtual reality “Clouds over Sidra” (Organizer: Estonian Refugee Council/UNHCR)
Meet Sidra. This charming 12-year-old girl will guide you through her temporary home: Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan. Za’atari is home to 130,000 Syrians fleeing violence and war, and children make up half the camp’s population.

10:00-11:30 „Discovering Values“ (Tartu University Centre for Ethics/Estonian Refugee Council)
The game „Discovering Values“ combines an entertaining format with a serious content that supports the development of one’s value clarification, argumentation ability and empathy. The game is meant to facilitate discussion with the aim of forming, formulating and defending a personal position, with no right or wrong solutions.
Moderator: Mari-Liis Nummert

12.00-13.00 Why are they coming here, to fight on our yard?* (Organizer: Estonian Atlantic Treaty Association)
The migration crisis and refugee problems are discussed through mass media often in a way that anger and fear are following. What is actually going on and what kinds of threats are out there in sense of migration? The discussion is held in perspective of security and collective defense.
Panelists: Hanno Pevkur, Uku Särekanno and Anni Säär
Moderator: Mart Nutt

13.30-15.00 Migration crisis?! No panic, please! (Organizer: Ministry of the Interior)
In recent years, discussions about the migration crisis have dominated Estonian public sphere. Statistics show that there is no mass immigration into Estonia – there are no migrant flows targeting us. But how could we explain then this sense of crisis in Estonia?
Panelists: Mari-Liis Jakobson, Eero Janson, Tiit Tammaru and Raivo Vare
Moderator: Marju Lauristin

15.30-16.45 Immigrant – are you a ghost or a human?* (Organizer: Ministry of the Interior)
Surveys are showing that Estonians are not that open-minded towards immigrants and often have certain prejudices particularly towards those with different ethnic background. At the panel, an experiment is going to take place where the audience can have their say in this matter and the mechanisms of development of beliefs and attitudes are discussed by experts in the field.
Panelists: Karmen Maikalu, Aune Valk and David Vseviov
Moderator: Tarmo Jüristo

17.15-18.30 Estonians living abroad: Brains lost or Estonian ambassadors in the world? (Organizer: European Migration Network/Tallinn University)
From when Estonia regained its independence 25 years ago, more people have left the country than moved here to contribute in Estonia’s social and economic wellbeing. The country needs to promote immigration of foreign specialists as well as to work on its diaspora engagement policies and thats what this panel discusses.
Panelists: Peter Gornischeff, Piret Kärtner, Ave Lauren and Tõnu Pekk
Moderator: Marion Pajumets

*quotes from famous Estonian movies

The Migration Area is organised by Estonian Refugee Council, Estonian Atlantic Treaty Association, European Migration Network/University of Tallinn, Ülemiste City, Tartu University Centre for Ethics and Ministry of the Interior, Government Office.

The activities of the Migration Area shall be financed from the European Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund and the budget of the The Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Estonia, under the project project of AMIF2015-14 „Monitoring and Communicating Immigration Crisis.

Children and the Internet: a Positive Combination?

The new generation of young people has access to many things that their parents, and certainly their grandparents, did not at the same stage in life. Walk into the apartment of a reasonably-affluent young family in Estonia today and you are less likely to see a family sitting down in front of the same television programme than you are to see each family member engaged in activities on a different electronic device.
 

Is this, in itself, a bad thing, or just the natural evolution of things? Telia, in association with the Opinion Festival, will discuss this in Paide, on August 13th at 5pm.

In the media and in everyday conversation, there is frequent discussion of the place of technology in everyday life. Many of the opinions are built upon personal circumstance, or unscientific speculation. That’s why Telia is forming a discussion forum at the Opinion festival to ask how the internet can play a positive role in the development of children.

The organisers are looking for balanced, rational, scientific contributions to help answer the questions that parents have to answer constantly. How can anyone define a reasonable amount of time for a smartphone or tablet to be used? When does pleasure at using a social network become an addiction? Is the answer to ban, or moderate, access to certain information channels?

We have seen recently in debates as diverse as those over the Estonian Cohabitation Law, the US Presidential Election, and the release of the new Ghostbusters film, that while the internet is a tremendous democratising tool, it has also allowed sexism, racism and homophobia to be viewed by increasing numbers of people, sometimes by children. There have also been numerous instances of children being trolled using social media comments, something which is viewed as very hard, if not impossible, to regulate. How can parents ensure that children are given access to the information they need, but are protected from some of the worst excesses of the online world?

That’s not all that will be discussed, though. There will also be a look at the kind of role schools in Estonia and more widely can play in helping parents and children to make good use of the unlimited information at their fingertips. With the Estonian government taking a proud lead on technological development in schools, the increased use of computers to solve childhood problems must go hand-in-hand with an understanding of its impact on society.

The discussion will be moderated by Katrin Tiidenberg, a sociologist specialising in online matters from Tallinn University’s Institute of Social Sciences. Her main research topic is social media user practices, especially concerning visual expression.

She will be joined by Tõnu Piibur, Headteacher of Tallinn’s Pelgulinn High School. He says that he uses electronic devices daily, and he encourages, but does not force, students to find new ways to use technology in the classroom.

Speaker Kristi Vinter, the Director of the Institute of Educational Sciences at Tallinn University, says, “I have small children, and a research interest in the internet. In 2013 I defended my doctoral thesis at Tallinn University, the subject of which was the use of digital resources with young children in the kindergarten and the home. Tallinn University will teach future teachers to recognise and analyse the global impact of digital media and the possibilities it brings for developing and teaching children. I have carried training on this topic with teachers and parents.”

Kaisa Kask, who is 15 years old and attends the Humanitarian High School in Pärnu, says “I sing, I play the flute and I’m interested in acting and the theatre in general. As with any of our younger generation, I am constantly to be found with my phone in my hand, using the internet. Most of my communication, homework, and news consumption is done on that.” Kaisa will be on the panel alongside Katrin Isotamm, a mother who has many views on children and the internet.

Opinion Festival in Estonia Builds Nordic Musical Bridge

The soundwaves of the Opinion Festival create a musical bridge between Aruküla, Gothenburg and Tartu

This year the culture programme of the word-rock festival held in Paide in August wanders along psychedelic and jazzy paths instead of rock music. Filling the Festival Club with sounds is the responsibility of Tartu’s multicultural Genialistide Klubi in cooperation with Möku. Their joint programme attracts audiences with both superb DJs and young rappers.

If you want to escape the discussions for a bit, you can pop into the festival club where you can enjoy the sounds of the hissing old vinyl from the Melodija label, pulsating beats from the Balkans, the best estrada pieces of the Eastern block and the soft breeze of yacht rock.

The keyword of Friday night’s official programme is “Youth”. At the festival club, you can enjoy the performance of 15-year-old rapper EIXD from Aruküla, whose lyrics tackle social issues and may even bring additional thoughts to some of the topics debated at the discussions. Then, Liis Ring aka Cirkl who is studying music and sound production in Gothenburg takes stage with her dreamy indie-pop, a hovering cross between jazz and classical music. To finish off the first day you can listen to playful improvisations by Edmund Hõbe, a multi-instrumentalist from Tartu.

Saturday is all about psychedelic sounds and vinyl. Once the last discussions have ended, Berk Vaher, a multi-talent with an odd taste in music, and Ahto Külvet, a vinyl enthusiast who gets excited by the products of weird-looking record labels, invite you to the first ever Psycho Disco in Paide. The audience will be welcomed by the colourful world of analogue music with repertoire expanding from Kazakhstan to Latvia and from Brazil to Poland. The motto of Psycho Disco is simple − we are all equal before the Moog keyboard!

 

Translated to English by Piret Raudsepp.

The Mayor of Paide: “The Opinion Festival offers something for everyone!”

Paide has been home to the Opinion Festival since its beginning. What kind of town does it take to host one of the coolest events of the summer? What is the festival’s influence on this quiet and peaceful place in the heart of Estonia? The mayor of Paide, Siret Pihelgas explains and talks about other exciting things as well.

What are the benefits of Paide being the festival site?

Firstly, we are located in the centre of Estonia so that it’s easily accessible for everyone. Another big advantage is that the town is small and compact. At first, the festival took place only in Vallimägi, which holds many people. Now we have also expanded to the centre, which is actually only a few steps away from Vallimägi. Various themed areas, accommodation places and an opportunity to get to know the town − they’re all close at hand.

 

Paide already has several years of experience of hosting the Festival. What are the important things to remember when hosting an event this big?

The most important thing is the community and making sure of a smooth cooperation. With these things, you could organise the Opinion Festival anywhere. Any undertaking of this size always relies on people. Therefore, it’s really great that there are so many volunteers who are trying their hardest and are willing to give one hundred per cent regardless of their family and work obligations to make this festival happen. Many of the volunteers are actually from here and every year after the festival they all come together and start planning the next year at once.

What are the festival’s benefits to your town?

The fact that the festival takes place in Paide is a really big gift for us, no kidding. Many people hadn’t been to Paide before or they didn’t have a reason to come here, but thanks to the Opinion Festival lots of people have now discovered our town. Even during those couple of days, it’s good to see young families taking an interest in the abandoned houses of the old town and saying that this place has the right atmosphere that they need to settle down.

Of course, another great thing is that local companies − namely restaurants and shops − earn more money during this weekend than maybe for the entire year.

The festival is also a starting point to many great ideas, many of which have been brought to life right here in Paide or in Järvamaa. For example, last year we had an idea to establish Paide’s own city theatre. We have found some young people from the drama school and they are trying to figure out how to start, what the theatre is going to be like, what the benefits would be for the community; how it would educate kids and so on. We commenced a huge project last year. Paide’s city theatre will be established in 2017 and it will start work in 2018.

Have you had any unexpected obstacles or surprises along the way?

There are always minor bumps on the road, that’s inevitable. It could be anything related to electric power, internet connection, garbage collection or whatever. But everything can be solved. Luckily, we haven’t had any major mishaps and each year we get smarter.

What is different this year?

For example, I know that last year we had some problems with getting access to Vallimägi for disabled people, but this is definitely being organised better this year.

Do you have any wise words for other towns and cities to motivate them to be as brave as you and organise big events like this one?

You have to think big. You can’t be afraid of impossible ideas, you have to put your faith in them and give people a chance to act. It will repay you a hundredfold!

Why do you recommend people to come to the Opinion Festival this summer?

This is a difficult question because I have taken part every year and I wouldn’t even know otherwise. It’s not easy to point out something specific because I believe that there’s something for everyone.

The festival has evolved so fast and it is downright terrifying, in a good way, to think about the future. There are so many discussion stages that there can never be a moment when you don’t have anything interesting to listen to.

Discussing important subjects in the open air creates new ideas and may make you see some things in a different light. Nobody can possibly think all the time, so from time to time you can just ponder on your own or spend quality time with other people.

The positive emotions of the festival last for a long time and once you’ve run out of those, you can start looking forward to the next edition!

 

Interviewed by Maarja-Liis Mölder.
Translated to English by Piret Raudsepp.

Opinion Festival 2016: Why Am I Volunteering at the Opinion Festival? Because it’s Fun!

In the spring of 2015, I had the honour of participating in the course held by Liis Kängsepp, the then-Communication Manager of the Opinion Festival, at Tallinn University. As an overly-excited first year journalism student I kept my eyes and ears open for possible internship jobs for the coming summer. Then, all of a sudden, Liis mentioned that the Opinion Festival was looking for communications volunteers. By the time I got from Tallinn University to Telliskivi Street by tram, I had made my decision. When I got off the tram, I was sure that I could become a volunteer at the Opinion Festival. To be fair, I didn’t know too much about the Opinion Festival back then − sure, I was aware of the festival’s presence in the media, but I hadn’t even been to Paide that much before, let alone participated in the festival. So it was time to open my mailbox and write an email to Liis.

And so, one fine day I found myself in the Opinion Festival’s Communications team, informing readers about all kinds of exciting discussion topics, people and events that together form the Opinion Festival. It was a fun time. I could make my contribution to one of the coolest events in Estonia by writing up stories and doing interviews over the whole summer. Whether at 6 am on the coach to Tartu or fending off flies in the afternoon sun on Saaremaa, I could help with putting together the big picture of the festival by writing pieces on the festival blog.

And then came August and the festival. I remember sitting in the Opinion Festival’s Press Centre finalising another one of my pre-festival articles and through the open window, I could hear people adjusting the mics all over the place and the tech guys making a racket on the balconies while installing the internet. Excitement and thrill filled the air − just like prior to a birthday party when the table is already set but the guests haven’t arrived yet. We weren’t able to enjoy that peace and quiet for too long though, because the guests began to arrive. Thousands of them. Eight, nine, ten thousand people gathered in Paide to take part in the festival’s discussions.

Yes, these two festival days were rather mental and now when I think about them, I remember the ceaseless chatter, sitting on the grass with my legs crossed and the keyboard, which I was devotedly tapping for 12 hours on a trot. Down the stairs to the discussions and up the stairs to write. Down the stairs to the discussions and… Until all of a sudden it was the evening of the second day and I found myself sitting on the ground and braiding grass rings; the dark and soft August night was flowing past me with its overheard conversations, gales of laughter and good ideas. I was thinking to myself, “Wow! So cool!” And that feeling has stayed with me ever since. And that’s exactly why three months later I sent another email saying that I wanted to help out and work on the Opinion Festival in 2016 as well. This year the festival will be even bigger, even more diverse and even more fun. That’s why the team and I are already in full swing to make the festival happen. There are many great, fun and exciting things on the way. So stay tuned and see you all in Paide!

Written by Jakob Rosin.
Translated to English by Piret Raudsepp.

Thoughts from the final moments of the third Arvamusfestival

AF tervitussilt

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).

DSCF1692

 

 

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.