What is a Democracy Festival?

In 1968 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 a couple of hundred people gathered to listen to what he had to say. Most likely these people — including Palme — had no idea they had changed history in the whole Nordic-Baltic region and 50 years later democracy festivals would be a vital part of the DNA of people living in the north of Europe.

 

Parliamentary democracy, the core model of governance in the Nordic and Baltic countries, is challenged in many ways. Crisis in democracy in Europe and beyond has been widely debated in recent years. A growing number of voters prefer populist and nationalist candidates; public mistrust of government, parliament and political parties is rising. At the same time, voter turnout is decreasing. An increasing sense of uncertainty, complexity, and unpredictability among the population helps foster the rise of authoritarian leaders and populist parties.

 

However, democracy is about much more than democratic institutions and sets of written rules and laws. It is a culture that has to be nourished. A key to enabling this kind of culture is the creation of spaces and platforms where people can physically get together, talk to each other, listen, get inspired, exchange opinions and debate their ideas. Active civic engagement, a culture of discussing and critical thinking, and open governance can serve as a response to the alarming rise of authoritarianism and nationalism in our geographic neighbourhood.

 

Palme’s speech eventually grew into an annual summer gathering for the Swedish people, a platform where people come together to nourish democracy. One-by-one, all the nations in the region have set up their own festivals, where people of different trades and backgrounds come together each summer to discuss how to improve their countries. Civil society activists, entrepreneurs, government officials, ministers and ordinary people sit together and casually talk about how to make their country a better place for everybody. These platforms for constructive political dialogue across opinions, age, gender and hierarchy are democracy festivals.

 

We can proudly say that democracy festivals have gone viral. They are all well known and respected in their countries, they have all become a must-attend event for everybody who is interested in the country’s future. We believe this is real participatory democracy!

Criteria of Democracy Festivals

  • Nationwide
  • Working for participatory democracy and societal benefit
  • Free admission for participants and open to everyone
  • Festival-like in form and expression
  • A participatory democracy philosophy
  • Informal atmosphere
  • Focus on conversations and dialogue

Democracy Festival Platform

The festivals in the Nordic and Baltic Sea Region are now – for the first time – connected in a platform financed by the Nordic Council of Ministers. The platform is led by the Foundation for an Open Society DOTS (Latvia) and the Change Agency WE DO DEMOCRACY (Denmark). The platform unites Democracy Festival secretariats from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania.

Knowledge base on Democracy Festivals

Democracy Festival is a characteristic feature of the Nordic and Baltic Sea Region, and we are eager to share our knowledge and experience with the rest of the world.

Overview

Until now, it has been difficult to get a comprehensive overview of the festivals in the region: not only due to language – but also on a deeper level, grasping the underlying cultural differences. We hope this paper will provide an introduction to the differences, similarities, challenges and opportunities of the various festivals in the Nordic and Baltic Sea Region.

Design Dimensions

This paper is a result of our joint efforts to deconstruct a democracy festival into ten core design dimensions based into the experience of all eight democracy festivals. We hope that this paper will serve you as an inspiration and be a good guide in strengthening participatory democracy, organising a democracy festival or convening people in other events in your home country.

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