Eight democracy festivals from the Nordic and Baltic regions, including the Conversation festival LAMPA, and a European-wide festival have joined their forces and established the International Democracy Festivals Association. Each of the festivals provides a platform for a democratic dialogue between civil society, politicians, business, media, universities and people at large. The aim of the Association is to strengthen the existing democracy festivals, to help other countries and organisers build democracy festivals and unite muscles in the effort to use democracy festivals as vehicles for democratic change.
“The vision of the Association is to revitalise democracy by strengthening the link between a political system and citizens as well as creating spaces for dialogue and participation,” says the Chair of the Democracy Festivals Association, Zakia Elvang, partner in WE DO DEMOCRACY.
“The Conversation festival LAMPA is one of the initiators of the democracy festivals cooperation network, established two years ago with the support from the Nordic Council of Ministers, and we are very pleased that our cooperation has evolved into the legal establishment of the Association. We strongly believe that there is a need for public arenas, where all members of society can meet, converse and discuss the topical issues. In the next two years, we will be an active Board Member of the new Association, sharing Latvian experience and assisting new democracy festivals all around the world,” adds Ieva Morica, director of the Conversation festival LAMPA.
It all started in Almedalen – a park in the Swedish city of Visby on the island of Gotland – in 1968 by an initiative of the Swedish education minister and later prime minister Olof Palme. Today there are eight democracy festivals in all the Nordic and Baltic countries plus a European-wide festival: SuomiAreena in Finland (2006), Folkemødet in Denmark (2011), Arendalsuka in Norway (2012), Arvamusfestival in Estonia (2013), Sarunu festivāls LAMPA in Latvia (2015), LÝSA in Iceland (2015), Diskusijų festivalis „Būtent!“ in Lithuania (2017) and European democracy festival “Jubel” in Brussels, Belgium (2018).
In 2018, over 600.000 people in all nine countries participated in almost 9000 events over 36 days. The majority of the parliamentarian political parties take part, and the festivals are the largest democratic event in all the countries besides the elections.
There are already young democracy festival initiatives in other countries – and others are on the way. The Netherlands already has a regional democracy festival – and starting from August will have a national festival as well. There has been an interest to organise democracy festival in Turkey, Ukraine, Ethiopia, and California/San Francisco (United States). New festivals will be invited to join the Association.
Zakia Elvang adds: “There is tremendous interest from other countries in organising their own democracy festivals. And this leads us to believe that the lack of trust between citizens and a political system and the notion of echo-chambers seems to be creating a need that goes beyond national boundaries.”