Riga 2014 – learning from past conferences and other fields

For an international network that has member organisations in all of the Nordic and Baltic countries, the center piece and gathering point of NordAN is an annual conference taking place every fall.

Since year 2000 different capitals and larger cities have welcomed people active in alcohol and drug policy to meet and discuss and to hear international experts. Until 2008 the conferences took place only in Nordic countries but on that year the first NordAN conference was organized in the capital of Estonia, Tallinn, thus entering to the Baltics. After that we have visited also Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania and now this year we are coming to the last country we have´nt been yet – Riga, capital of Latvia, which is by the way also the Culture Capital of Europe in 2014.

Perhaps more than in many other cases, NordAN conferences are a networking conferences. Nordic countries have a longstanding history of civil society organisations that have focused on alcohol and drug issues and some of them are not focusing only on research, prevention or advocacy but also on building up a community, a shared understanding of life without addictions.

Each conference has tried to develop learning from the last one. Each conference gets a special input from the hosting country and local organisations. NordAN thrives to use the knowledge and experience that members of that network have.

One of the main feedbacks that we got from last years conference was to make the next one more practical. That is a challenge but we have tried to do it. This October in Riga you will hear speakers from different areas speaking about their work experience. It is clear that one of the main problems that we are facing in reducing alcohol related harm is the influence of alcohol companies. We are seeing that again and again whenever a country is trying to make a change in policy to decrease the use of alcoholic bevereages – economic operators are uniting their forces to convince the lawmakers that there is a ”better” way.

In Riga we will learn what we can take over from a decades long fight with tobacco industry. One of the centers of that confrontation of public health and economic interests is at the moment in United Kingdom with minimum unit price. We will hear what has happened there and what can we learn from that. A special mapping tool will be introduced to improve our efforts in counteracting the lobby of the industry.

There will be 4 parallel workshops giving a better possibility to engage, ask and share your own point of view. As decided at the last General Assembly NordAN has made a turn back to drug issues and we will have, among other topics, a workshop on cannabis and mental health but also a plenary session to have a fresh look at the latest developments in drug field.

To increase the practical aspect, we are going to have a specific plenary session where we will hear nine 10-minute presentations from different countries to learn advocacy activities in our member organisations.

As always we hope that you will leave Riga knowing a bit better the situation that latvians are having so there will be a plenary focusing on Latvian work. Remember, Latvia has a key importance – starting from January 2015, Latvia will have the EU presidency.

One tradition that we have in connection with conferences and General Assemblies are the resolutions with what we are highlighting a problem, a unified position. At one point we decided that we will work further with the topic and not limit ourselves with just a one-time paper. In Malmö (2012) NordAN adopted a resolution urging airline companies and governments to deal with alcohol problem and flying. Last year in Tallinn we heard the position of the European Commission and this year in Riga we are returning to this matter once again as a representative of International Air Transport Association (IATA) will be there to speak about their efforts to tackle unruly passengers and alcohol related issues.

We hope to see you in Riga! It´s worth experiencing.
Lauri Beekmann
Secretary General of NordAN