Although Norway’s democracy and civil society have roots and traditions many times older than Estonia’s, the tradition of the Opinion Festival emerged in both countries at the beginning of the last decade. At the invitation of the Norwegian ambassador, Inna and Marcuse from NENO, together with colleagues from Citizen OS and the Open Estonia Foundation, managed to take part in the Arendalsuka festival that took place in August and analyze what are the similarities and differences between Norwegian and Estonian events.
Arendalsuka takes place in a small Norwegian town called Arendal. The seaside town is full of people during the festival. This is well illustrated by the fact that there is no accommodation available in the city during the event, and most of the participants come to the festival from further away, some with their own boat. It is boats and ships that create a unique network and atmosphere for Arendalsuka’s event. Namely, ships are not only used as means of transportation, but they also serve as a space where discussions and meetings are held, and sometimes they even used as a mobile marketing channel. It is marketing that largely distinguishes Estonian and Norwegian festivals.
While in Estonia it is usual that a large part of the fun of the Opinion Festival is determined by the good ideas, thoughts, discussions and, above all, the participants, the Norwegian opinion festival is more like a trade fair, where various organizations, politicians and companies use the opportunity to present and promote themselves through the discussions. Part of the area is not filled with discussion tents, but instead with all kinds of product and service providers. Inevitably, the atmosphere leaves the feeling that whoever pays, also orders the music. If in Estonia the topics to be discussed are determined within the framework of an idea competition, in Norway it is possible for anyone with the resources to plan and organize their own discussions. When we entered the place, we found a few discussions happening outside of the discussion area, and they were no less popular than those taking place in the areas marked on the map.
The main working language of the event is Norwegian, but there were enough discussions in English as well. As an important difference compared to the Estonian festival, most of the discussions last 45 minutes, which means that arguments often continue after the end of the discussion in the cafe next door. However, people are ready to discuss and show their willingness: this is well illustrated by the fact that many of the attendees are politicians, public relations managers, representatives of the liberal community and think tanks.
To sum up, the Norwegian opinion festival is different and unique enough that we recommend every democracy lover to go there and experience it. The seemingly questionable choices for us fit the context well and that makes visiting the festival even more interesting.