Russian Oil and Gas – Sanctions Produce Effect

Andrei V. Belyi is a Senior Researcher at the Institute of Government and Politics and an affiliated scholar at the Centre for EU-Russia Studies at the University of Tartu. He teaches in the international master’s programme in International Relations and Regional Studies.

Oil Industry Pavilion

Oil Industry Pavilion at VDNKh (Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy) in Moscow is in bad shape. Image credit: Inna Berezkina / Flickr Creative Commons.

Western sanctions on Russian oil and gas industries have started to take a significant although indirect effect. It would be still too much to expect that sanctions would have their immediate political effect on Russia’s position towards Ukraine. Nevertheless, important difficulties have emerged for the world largest hydrocarbon producer.

In fact, the history of sanctions demonstrates that economic pressure only rarely leads to a political effect. It could be that cases of sanctions against South Africa is amongst the rare examples of a political change followed by an economic isolation, whereas a number of unsuccessful stories (Cuba, Iran and Iraq are the most notorious examples) demonstrate the limited effect of economic instruments in international affairs.

In most of the cases, sanctions become an excuse for economic failures and rather reinforce a hardliner geopolitical choice of the states in question. Likewise, Russian political elites, and first of all Russian President, are not planning to give up their position on Ukraine even under a context of an economic hardship. Therefore, many in Russia claim that sanctions don’t have an effect. Continue reading

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Family Tradition Brings Ana from Georgia To Study Medicine in Tartu

Ana Bochorishvili

Ana Bochorishvili on 1 September 2014. Photo from a personal archive.

“It was in 1982″, remembers Zifrida Nikachadze, Ana’s grandmother. Thirty-two years ago her son Kote became a student of medicine at the University of Tartu. On 1 September 2014 – Zifrida’s birthday – she stands in front of the university’s Main Building in Tartu again, this time with both her son and granddaughter Ana, who is starting her medical studies in the steps of her father. Ana is only seventeen, just as her father was in 1982.

“It was my dream that Ana would study in Tartu”, reveals Kote. “It is symbolic that I took my only entrance exam in the chemistry building (now Philosophicum), whereas Ana had her very first lecture there – Latin”.

Kote and Zifrida

Kote Bochorishvili with his mother Zifrida on 1 September 2014. Photo from a personal archive.

With both parents being doctors, Ana knew early on that medicine was the right thing for her: “I decided it was my calling”. As for Tartu, Ana admits that it wasn’t her decision. When a sudden possibility emerged to complete high school in Tartu, Ana’s first reaction was ‘No’. She was only fifteen and obviously could not see the positive side of it. Still, as Ana puts it: “I never voiced my opposition. I never put up any real fight”.

The most difficult thing for Ana in the beginning was getting used to the new culture. She missed her family and Georgia; however, in about three months Ana came to appreciate the decision. “It was like a paradigm shift – I have learned so much now, and not only what they teach in school. I was able to combine the two cultures and become the person I am now”. Continue reading

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Why Universitas?

Mihhail Lotman is a member of the Semiotics Research Group at the University of Tartu and Professor of Semiotics and Literary Theory at Tallinn University. In Tartu, Lotman also teaches in the international master’s programme in semiotics.

Higher education is under pressure worldwide. This is especially true of the traditional European model of the universitas. It’s claimed to be outdated, not meeting the expectations of the government, economy, or society as a whole. What’s the use of spending 3+2+4 of the best years of your life, when it doesn’t guarantee a good income or an interesting job?

We see more and more young and successful people who haven’t attended university or have left their studies still becoming really rich and not just that — many of them have managed to break through in the world of the most cutting-edge technology.

Goethe's Faust

Goethe’s Faust. A poster by R.R. Holst from 1918. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The problem is not quite new. As Heinrich Faust, PhD admitted in frustration many centuries ago:

I have, alas! Philosophy,
Medicine, Jurisprudence too,
And to my cost Theology,
With ardent labour, studied through.
And here I stand, with all my lore,
Poor fool, no wiser than before.

Faust has completed studies in each of the four classical faculties. Still he quips indignantly that no one of these would bring about wisdom. Faust is absolutely right. The university does not make you wise (In fact, I’m not aware if the affirmative could be said of any place at all). Continue reading

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Facing the Truth of Growing Old

Kadi-Kai Eljaste is a graduate of the international master’s programme in Wellness and Spa Service Design and Management at the University of Tartu’s Pärnu College.

We are not immortal and losing spice in life as we age is natural – the question is how fast we will let it happen. Even though plenty of us are afraid of growing old, there is often no proactive and purposeful health behaviour seen. We still cannot prevent ageing, and the first signs we start to notice in ourselves and how we have suddenly aged is our appearance – the beauty of the skin, glow of the face, and the fitness of the body. It is a natural reaction to attempt to make changes after we start seeing the effects of the ageing process in the mirror. Conversely, practical evidence shows that people lead happier and healthier lives only after they finally give up on the idea that ageing can be undone by medical procedures and plastic surgery.

However, the more steps we take to implement a healthier lifestyle before the ravages of age start to appear, the better the chances of sustaining our quality of life as our age advances. It is for this reason that we should talk more about the power of prevention.

The effect of ageing

Ageing society – global and individual ageing

We are ageing not just as individuals or communities but as a world. According to the Natural Institute of Aging, in 2006 almost 500 million people worldwide were 65 or older. By 2030, that total is projected to increase to one billion – one in every eight of the planet’s inhabitants. Above all, the most rapid increases in the 65-and-older population are occurring in developing countries, which will see a jump of 140 per cent by 2030. According to the European Commission, approximately 18 per cent of the European population is currently 65 or older and by 2060 the elderly will outnumber children by more than two times. Moreover, the most senior group of people (80 or older) is growing faster than any other segment of the population. Continue reading

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What Does It Take to Get Elected in Estonia?

The next Riigikogu election will take place in March 2015. With another cohort of hopeful candidates entering the ring shortly, it is useful to look at what previous elections can teach candidates about how to get elected. Siim Trumm, a lecturer in Politics at the University of Sheffield, has examined the role that campaign activity and political capital have on candidates’ electoral performance in Estonia.

E-voting in Estonia

The next general election in Estonia, the first country in the EU to allow e-voting, will take place in March 2015. How to win votes? Image credit: European Parliament/Pietro Naj-Oleari.

The electoral campaigns of today are multi-faceted and fast-evolving. Long gone are the days where class barriers were impenetrable and parties could rely on ‘voters for life’. Instead, we have reached the era of ‘shopping around’. Voting is increasingly ad hoc, issue-based, and crucially, it is becoming more and more personalised. With (blind) loyalty out of the window, we are witnessing a rise in the number of late-deciders, swing voters, and in split-ticket voting. And with an increasing number of votes up for grabs, candidates are unsurprisingly throwing more and more money at their electoral campaigns to galvanise ‘last-minute’ support and capitalise on voters’ uncertainty in the run up to the election.

How much difference can extra €s really make for candidates’ electoral chances?

It is widely accepted that candidates who spend more on their electoral campaigns than their competitors fare better. This is the case even when controlling for other potentially relevant characteristics such as the campaign focus, incumbency, local-level political experience, and party belonging. The effect of spending has been documented in a wide range of countries, including the US, the UK, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, France, as well as at the European elections. Using individual-level data from the 2011 Estonian Candidate Survey (ECS), it is now possible to look also how spending affects electoral success in Estonia. Continue reading

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Tartu: Student-Friendly and Open-Minded. There Is History Here.

Reportedly, it only takes one-tenth of a second to make a first impression. It might take a bit longer to make an impression about a new city or country, though. We asked our new international students about their first impressions from Estonia, Tartu, and the university. Here is what Václav from Czech Republic, Rūta from Latvia, Elena and Ivan from Russia, Ilona from Finland, Desiree from Canada, Connor from the USA, and Michael from Kenya shared with us on Twitter.

New international students at the University of Tartu

New international students at the orientation week events in August 2014. Image credit: Andres Tennus.

What are your first impressions about Estonia and Tartu?

Continue reading

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In Search of an Estonian Narrative

Mari-Liisa Parder is a project manager at the Centre for Ethics at the University of Tartu.

In the shadowy summer evening of 15 August one hundred Estonians gathered together to discuss what the story or greater narrative of the future Estonia would be. We were all brought together by one question: “Towards which Estonia are we working?” This discussion concluded the first night of the two-day Festival of Opinion Culture (in Estonian: Arvamusfestival).

Why are Estonians looking for such a story? This topic has been at the centre of media attention since the spring of 2014, after the prime minister of Estonia declared that Estonia does not need a greater narrative. This statement triggered discussion on where Estonia is going and what is the greater aim for us as a free country.

The main organisers of the “In Search of an Estonian Narrative” discussion, volunteers Ruti Einpalu and myself, outlined that this discussion had two sides – strong proponents and critical opponents. Furthermore, in listening to both sides it emerges that they all tend to agree with the statement: “If we do not have our own story, we might discover that we are part of someone else’s story!”

So the aim of this discussion was to think as a group on how we are building our unity as a nation, and what are the combined values and the joint story that brings together Estonians all over the world. We were not looking for one story for all, but rather the unifying elements.

Festival of Opinion Culture in Estonia

Searching for an Estonian narrative in circles around bonfires. Image credit: Festival of Opinion Culture

Continue reading

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