Democracy Festivals Unite the Nordic and Baltic Sea Region

Eight democracy festivals from Akureyri (Iceland) to Cēsis (Latvia) are joining forces in the Democracy Festival Platform to help build stronger participatory democracies all over the world and to learn from the best practices of others. After two years of cross-analytic fieldwork, the first comprehensive overview of the Nordic and Baltic democracy festivals is published and supplemented by an inspirational guide for those who want to build their own democracy festival or lead democratic processes with stronger interaction and conversations.

Democracy Festival Platform

The work is supported with funding by the Nordic Council of Ministers. The platform has been established by Sarunu festivāls LAMPA in Latvia, Almedalsveckan in Sweden, SuomiAreena in Finland, Arvamusfestival in Estonia, Fundur Fólksins (as of 2018 Lysa) in Iceland, Arendalsuka in Norway, Folkemødet in Denmark, and Diskusijų festivalis „Būtent!“ in Lithuania. The change agency WE DO DEMOCRACY, headed by Zakia Elvang, is leading the platform and the project.

Democracy is like an old friend

“It’s fair to say democracy festivals have really gone viral in the Baltic sea region. They are all well known and respected in their countries, they have all become a must attend event for people from all corners of society who are interested in the country’s future. We believe this is open democracy in the making,” says Zakia Elvang, Director of the Democracy Festival Platform and continues: “For many modern citizens, democracy has become like an old friend we have neglected. The democracy festivals are important occasions to revitalize, rethink and activate people’s participation and create space for a larger conversation about the future of our societies.

The legacy of Olof Palme

The tradition of the democracy festivals can be traced back to 1968 when Olof Palme, Sweden’s minister of education at the time, held a speech standing in the back of a flatbed truck. The truck was parked by Almedalen park and several hundred people gathered to listen. Most likely these people — including Palme — had no idea they had changed history, influencing the whole Nordic-Baltic region. 50 years later, democracy festivals are a vital part of the DNA of people living in the North.

8 festivals with up to 150 000 participants

One-by-one all the nations in the Baltic-Nordic region have set up their own festivals, where each summer people can spend a few days, discussing how to improve their countries. Civil society activists, entrepreneurs, government officials, ministers and the general public sit together and talk about how to make their country a better place for everybody. The newest member of the family is the Lithuanian Diskusijų festivalis „Būtent!“ held for the first time in September 2017. In 2017, altogether the eight festivals attracted up to 150 000 participants, holding 8700 events over 29 days.

Global need for Democracy Festivals

"Now it’s time to take things further,” Elvang said. "All the festivals in the region have come together; we feel that together we can be even stronger. In these turbulent times, we find it crucial to spread the word of democracy and to support not only open democracy in our own countries, but also likeminded developments in the rest of the world. We are happy to see the positive response and interest in the Democracy Festival format from such diverse countries as South Korea, United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Belgium, Belarus and also from regions, such as Spain’s Catalonia."

The eight countries of the Nordic and Baltic region have decided to found an international platform for Democracy Festival cooperation and development. Even though Belarus does not have a similar Democracy Festival (yet) partners from Belarus has been participating in the work and will also be a part of the future work in the platform.

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