One of the major sponsors of the Festival of Opinion Culture, the Open Estonia Foundation (OEF), gave us an unexpected gift this year: we applied for 13,000 euros financing and received 15,000 euros instead. Of course, this made the organising team overjoyed and we were deeply moved.
Mall Hellam, the head of the OEF, told us this week that we would have had great difficulties without the foundation’s support last year. She is absolutely right! We are very glad that the Festival of Opinion Culture was held for the first time last year, mainly with the support of the OEF, and it is with their continued assistance that we can return to Vallimägi Hill in Paide on 15–16 August. There would be no Festival of Opinion Culture without our sponsors, so we asked Mall Hellam why the OEF supports the festival and what their plans are this year.
Mall Hellam, why has the OEF decided to finance the festival and why by such a large sum?
One of the objectives of the Open Estonia Foundation is to strengthen a society that values a diversity of opinion and open discussion between people, associations and authorities. For almost 25 years we have supported initiatives that we believe our society has been lacking, and that would make us wiser and more open. The communication gap between the authorities and the population has become dangerously wide. This is exactly why we supported both the discussion day of the People’s Assembly ‘Rahvakogu’ last spring, which evaluated the political behaviour patterns of our parties and appealed to people to think about legislation, and Festival of Opinion Culture first implemented last summer. We believe it will become the largest and most comprehensive discussion forum held in the public space for Estonian people.
The festival would have found it almost impossible to organise on such a large scale without our assistance. So we thought it natural to support both the People’s Assembly and Festival of Opinion Culture.
Why is it important for Estonia to have such an event and to make sure it endures?
Continuous public discussion, expressing one’s opinions and supporting them with arguments, finding a common truth and looking for consensus are the pillars of a democratic society. Festival of Opinion Culture, with its inclusion of non-government organisations, parties, entrepreneurs, cultural figures, media and the general public, is a small-scale model of society. We discuss, listen, argue, and do it of our own free will in the company of warm summer days, good entertainment and friends – but also with people who think differently.
How important is it for the OEF that the festival is organised as a volunteer project?
Organising an event on a volunteer basis, especially such a large-scale event, is always a milestone of a kind. It shows that a great number of people care about the type of society we live in and what the values of our country are, and that they are ready to contribute with time and energy. Volunteering is naturally accompanied by civil activity; it unites very different people and generations and brings us closer together.
Are you going to attend and what are the foundation’s plans for Festival of Opinion Culture? What do you expect from the festival this year?
Of course we are coming to the festival this year, and we would like to make sure that the discussions that are related to our society and influence take place and come to something.
We would also like to attract attention to the topic that we raised last year, together with top media managers, about anonymous hate speeches and the way that the most popular media is going to protect its readers and the people they talk about from insults, hatred and abusive language.
We also care about the future of Europe and of Estonia within it. Although concerns that the European Union can collapse are subsiding, there will undoubtedly be discussions about how we can join forces to cope with future financial, economic, political and social problems. In addition, we care about the future of Ukraine as well as understanding the nature of present-day Russia and Russia’s potential choices for peaceful coexistence with the west.
This year’s budget of Festival of Opinion Culture is around 40,000 euros, of which 15,000 come from the Open Estonia Foundation.