This year’s Opinion Festival will host more English-language discussion forums than ever before in the event’s four-year history. This comes part and parcel with the festival’s aim to create an inclusive space for addressing some of society’s biggest issues and welcome multilingual participants and speakers from Estonia and beyond.

Photo: Tauno Tõhk

Out of the eight discussion forums in English, three will take place on Friday, 12th August, and five on Saturday, 13th August. But in the spirit of the whole festival, the English-language offering is not about surpassing previous years at a numbers game. The aim is to offer a rich set of discussions that probe deep into local and global issues.

Topics, all housed under different themed areas, range from the future of education, to the cross-cultural meaning of motherhood, through to national identity on the eve of Estonia’s 100th anniversary.

At first glance, these may sound as different as chalk and cheese, but the common thread running through all discussions is how social progress is inseparable from the way we perceive ourselves and others. How do you create a happy society? What does Estonia mean and feel like for native and non-native residents alike? How can governments and citizens best work together?

Friday’s discussion forums will offer participants a foothold for exploration. The day kicks off with a panel on the Dutch polder model, a consensus method dating back to the medieval times and still widely used in the Netherlands. The highlight of the day is a panel titled “How strong are the Nordic countries? Strong enough to be happy!?”, which explores why there is disparity in happiness between Nordic societies and Estonia. While the discussion may satisfy Estonia’s Nordic aspirations, it promises to ask some difficult questions about tolerance, discontent and disenfranchisement—issues relevant not only in Estonia or Scandinavia but a post-Brexit Europe at large.

Estonia’s national pastime of introspection carries into the second day. On Saturday, four non-native residents in Estonia will discuss Estonia’s upcoming 100th birthday in a panel hosted in association with expat news title Estonian World. Together they will discuss whether they feel at home here and will certainly deliver on their promise to offer a “good, hard second look at the world we live in.” In a similar vein will be another discussion, this time hosted by Estonian National Broadcasting (ERR), where international journalists will be quizzed on their perceptions of Estonia.

Beyond local issues, there will be plenty of global themes for participants to delve into. On Friday, a discussion in the International Development Area asks why women’s rights and motherhood differ by culture. Saturday sees discussions as varied as world peace, building education around happiness, and why business should take corporate social responsibility seriously.

While English may be the working language for all these panels, the wealth of discussions on offer embraces the Opinion Festival’s commitment to diversity and hearty debate. In true festival fashion, they are set to provoke and challenge participants with fresh perspectives on issues near and far.

English-language discussion forums at the Opinion Festival

Friday, 12th August

Europe for Citizens area (Kodanike Euroopa ala)
How to make consensus-based decisions? – Dutch Polder Brunch
Dutch are famous for windmills, tulips, cheese, wooden shoes and…the polder model. The polder model is a process of decision-making by consensus, something that the Dutch are widely-recognized for around the world. The easiest way to describe the polder model is “cooperation despite differences.” Nevertheless, despite its apparent success, polder model includes many challenges. Is the consensus worth the time and effort? Where and how to use it for best results? Is it worth to learn to set aside differences for a greater purpose? The discussion will be translated into sign language.
Moderator: Annika Uudelepp
Participants: Mr Peter “Just ESTonishing” Kentie (Marketing Manager of Eindhoven) and Mr Jos Schellaars (The Netherlands Ambassador to Estonia)

Europe for Citizens area (Kodanike Euroopa ala)
How strong are the Nordic countries? Strong enough to be happy!?
The people and societies of the Nordic countries and Estonia differ greatly in their levels of happiness and life satisfaction. Dissatisfaction and a low level of happiness are dangerous for national security, breeding intolerance, social tensions among the people and against the state. Dissatisfaction makes Estonia smaller despite the success stories. The aim of our discussion is to identify how Estonia could increase its life satisfaction and happiness rating in future surveys. The discussion will have sign language interpretation.
Moderator: Villu Arak
Participants: Helen Russell (journalist from Denmark, author of The Year of Living Danishly), Vittersø Joar (professor of sociology and psychologist from Norway) and Bengt Lindroth (journalist and correspondent from Sweden)

International Development area (Arengukoostöö ala)
Motherhood Across the World: a Burden or a Privilege?
NGO Mondo invites you to learn and discuss about women’s rights and motherhood across the world. How come some women have the right to decide on if and when to have children and others don’t? Can motherhood sometimes become a burden too heavy to bare? Family planning, pregnancy, child birth and rearing children are viewed and valued differently, and have different political and economic implications from Africa to Afghanistan to Northern Europe. What can we learn from each other and in what ways can we help each other?
Moderator: Gustaf Antell
Participants: Zainab Homam (MD of London-based organization Afghan Action); Zahra Akbari (Afghan midwife living in Estonia), Gro Lindstad (MD of FOKUS – Forum for Women and Development), Wali Hashi- (MD of Wali Media Production Centeri; programme coordinator for the Finnish Foundation for Media and Development

Saturday, 13th August

Estonian National Broadcasting area (ERRi ala)
“What the elephant thinks of me” or “what the others think of us”
There is an old joke that upon seeing an elephant, an Estonian’s greatest concern is what the elephant thinks of the Estonian. There is no cause for alarm and there are no elephants around either, but as Tallinn University happens to host a number of journalists from various countries at the same time as the Opinion Festival is held, we will use the opportunity to ask about their perceptions of Estonia.
Moderator: Andres Jõesaar

Foreign Politics area (Välispoliitika ala)
MORNING COFFEE: What can we do for World Peace?
We are living in turbulent times – but are these really more turbulent than any other time in history? According to the UN and its development goals, humanity is in better shape than ever. Less poverty, better health and less violence than ever before (in relative terms). Is it time for us to set the bar high and aim for World Peace? In the UN´s new set of global development goals, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, peace is not in the list of 169 targets. But none of the targets are possible to achieve without peace.
Moderator: Gustaf Antell
Participants: Urmas Paet, Liene Veide, Liga Rudzite, Piet Boerefijn

Education for the 22nd Century area (22. sajandi hariduse ala)
100 Reasons to Be Happy at School
Why is it that we don’t like school? How to change this? While Estonian children do well in international comparisons, they stand out for their dislike of going to school. What may come as a surprise to many is that this is also true for Finland, a country whose school system is considered the best in the world. Is this inevitable? What are our common concerns? We will brainstorm ways to make school more enjoyable. We will look at how each one of us can contribute.
Moderator: Toomas Kruusimägi
Participants: Olli Vesterinen, Anna-Kaisa Oidermaa, Mario Mäeots, Tuuli Helind

100th Birthday of the Republic of Estonia area (Eesti Vabariik 100 ala)
Estonia 100 celebration – do non-native residents feel as hosts or guests?
Four non-native residents discuss whether they feel at home here and celebrate Estonia’s centenary on the equal grounds with the rest of the Estonian population or do they still feel as guests rather than locals in Estonia? The discussion is held in cooperation with a global independent online magazine Estonian World.
Moderator: Stewart Johnson (co-founder of Comedy Estonia)
Participants: Lili Milani (senior researcher at the Estonian Genome Centre), João Rei (digital innovation at marketing and advertising agency Idea Group),  Nithikul Nimkulrat (textile practitioner and academic, originally from Bangkok, Thailand), Ken Saburi (technical account manager at Playtech)

Social Innovation area (Ühiskondliku innovatsiooni ala)
Whose business is social responsibility?
What is Corporate Social Responsibility? By definition a company’s sense of responsibility towards the community and environment (both ecological and social) in which it operates. Companies express this citizenship through their waste and pollution reduction processes, by contributing to educational and social programs and by earning adequate returns on the employed resources. A broader definition expands from a focus on stakeholders to include philanthropy and volunteering. But who does it and, more importantly, what do they get out of it? What is the role of the government in this? Whose business Corporate Social Responsibility really is?
Moderator: Mart Soonik
Participants: Chris Holtby (Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Estonia since January 2012), Kristiina Esop (CEO of Responsible Business Forum), Liisa Oviir (Minister of Entrepreneurship), Dan Strömberg (Chairman of the Management board of Telia Estonia)

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