Commemorating Boris Nemtsov

This is an opinion piece by Andrey Makarychev, a visiting professor at the Institute for Government and Politics, University of Tartu. Professor Makarychev teaches in the political science master’s programmes in Tartu.

Boris Nemtsov

This picture was taken in Moscow the day after Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was killed. People gathered at the site of the murder to mourn the victim. Image credit: @Jay / Flickr Creative Commons

Words kill. Discourses matter.

Whoever physically triggered the gun that killed Boris Nemtsov, one of the most charismatic Russian opposition leaders in Moscow, his death on February 27th was definitely a result of Putin’s provocative invectives against “the fifth column”, “foreign agents”, “national traitors” and “enemies of the people”. The murder was politically prepared and justified before it happened in reality. At some point the boundary between giving a direct order and passively observing how others interpret your accusatory words is blurred.

Unfortunately, there is nothing new about political murders during Putin’s presidency: Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko, and now Boris Nemtsov. These assassinations once again confirmed how sovereignty in Russia is installed – as Michel Foucault would have said, not through encouraging people to live, but mainly through taking their lives, in Ukraine and within Russia itself. Continue reading

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The Biology of Sacrifice (and Terrorism)

Elin Sild and Tuul Sepp are immune ecology researchers at the University of Tartu’s Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences. Elin Sild spent last two years as a post-doctoral researcher at Lund University. Tuul Sepp won an award for her popular science articles in the Estonian cultural weekly “Sirp” in 2014.

'Je Suis Charlie' rally in Paris

Terrorism acts often involve self-sacrifice, paradoxically linked to the fear of death. Image credit: Doug / Flickr Creative Commons.

Self-sacrifice for the benefit of others is a powerful symbol. This act is thought of as noble, endlessly auspicious – a supreme case of self-denial. A good indication of the immense power of this symbol is the fact that even now, 2,000 years later, Christmas, the day when Christ was born, is celebrated massively in so many places. Christ’s most impactful act was definitely the salvation of humankind: sacrificing himself so that others could be saved.

Could self-sacrifice also be biologically rational? Could it paradoxically bring profit to the one sacrificing? How is it even possible that the evolutionary process has developed a disposition of such kind?

Recognizing one’s mortality

If we want to study the psychological and biological mechanisms that lead to self-sacrifice, then the term itself must be explained first. The self-sacrifice of a person has been defined as the willingness to accept losses so that personal principles and values could be maintained. 1 As self-sacrifice has been spotted in other species, too, not exclusively in humans, the definition must probably be expanded, so all kinds of actions that seriously harm the actor while (presumably, at least) others capitalize on it can be included.

Jesus dies on the cross to redeem humankind. A schoolboy goes to war to protect his homeland. Kamikazes, the Japanese daredevils, crash their planes into American military objects in World War II. In Lebanon, terrorists blow themselves up in crowded places, as well as in Sri Lanka, Israel, Iraq, and, increasingly, in Western countries as well. Although all these deeds have different levels of violence, as well as (depending on the cultural background) different ethical standards, the inner motivating mechanisms are probably quite similar. In the name of an immortal idea or value, an individual is ready for the ultimate sacrifice – to give up his or her life. Continue reading


  1. De Cremer, D., van Knippenberg, D. 2004. Leader self-sacrifice and leadership effectiveness: The moderating role of leader self-confidence. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 95:140–155.
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Estonians Want Estonians for Neighbours

Katre Tatrik is the editor of the Estonian-language popular science portal Novaator.

Lasnamäe panorama in Tallinn

Estonians are leaving Lasnamäe and other districts with communal block buildings in Tallinn and Tartu. Image credit: Raimo Papper/Flickr Creative Commons

Although Estonians and Russians’ preferences for a place to live have evened up during the last decades, those two ethnic groups have different chances to make their dreams a reality. As a result, city dwellers are becoming more separated by their ethnicity.

Which is your preferred nationality for neighbours? Estonian-speaking people answer: Estonians. The Russians in Estonia mostly don’t care about the nationality of their neighbours. Both would move into a more affluent neighbourhood if it were financially possible. Still, Estonians miss economically successful neighbours a little more than Russians. But these two ethnic groups differ in their outlook when it comes to achieving their dreams. That’s why Estonian- and Russian-speaking people live more and more separately from each other.

Such a conclusion could be made from an article published in a reputable geography journal and written by Kadri Leetmaa and Tiit Tammaru, both researchers of the Department of Geography at the University of Tartu, with Daniel Baldwin Hess of the University at Buffalo. Their study is based on the “Tartu and the Inhabitants of Tartu” surveys from 1998, 2008, and 2013, as well as the last two censuses. The analysis observes where and with whom people prefer to live and where they actually do live. Continue reading

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Attitudes That Matter

Uku Tooming holds a PhD in philosophy from the University of Tartu. His doctoral thesis examines the communicative significance of beliefs and desires.

It often matters to us what other people believe and want. This is apparent in everyday interactions, in gossip and in debates, in domestic life, and in a meeting of strangers.

Knowledge about the beliefs and desires of others is a form of basic social knowledge because these attitudes express a person’s take on the world: from the perspective of their possessor, beliefs are about what is the case and desires are about what should be the case.

It is noticeable that such knowledge matters to us as social animals: already the fact that another person believes or wants something, especially if one disagrees with it, might bring about strong affective reactions in us. Why is that? I am not asking here about the psychological mechanisms which ground our reactions to others’ attitudes. This is a philosophical question of why we should care about these attitudes and how this relates to our practical interests more generally. Questions about why something is important are admittedly quite imprecise but still worth inquiring into, for the sake of reflective self-understanding.

There are at least three answers to our question which do not necessarily exclude one another. According to the first, knowing others’ attitudes matters to us because these attitudes have behavioural consequences, at least potentially, which might be contrary to our interests. This can’t be the whole story, however, because others’ attitudes seem to matter even in cases when we haven’t got a clear idea what actions would follow from these attitudes (That being said, predictions of action that the awareness of attitudes enables can’t be dismissed as a negligible benefit of attitude attributions).

i-thought-you-love-me-darling Continue reading

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My Passion Called Estonia

The Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs recognized Kazimierz Popławski as a civil diplomat for his years of work presenting Estonia through his portal in 2014. In 2008–2011 Kazimierz studied three semesters as an exchange student at the University of Tartu.

Kazimierz Poplawski with PM Rõivas

Kazimierz at the meeting with Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas (first on the right from the standing PM) as a part of the “100 friends” study visit last summer. Image credit: Government Office

Questions about the origins of my passion called “Estonia” are quite problematic for me. Usually, people who ask these kinds of questions expect romantic or at least family stories as an answer, yet mine is quite simple, pragmatic, and even boring.

I got my first computer when I was in middle school. I never had a great passion for computer games, but the Internet was something that was very fascinating. I thought back then that it would be nice to create a part of it. I decided to learn to build websites – coding, administering, publishing, etc. I’d heard some interesting news about this little country north of Poland, and I thought: “Hmm, Estonia is a good topic to cover – it’s small, so I’ll build the website, I’ll write about all the possible topics, and I’ll be done within 2–3 months”.

I failed, as it’s already 12 years and I’m still working on the website (from the beginning of the year you can visit the brand new version of During this time hundreds of thousands of people have visited the website and each of them have read a couple of articles and news. People simply need information about Estonia, and I can tell you that many of them are just fascinated by what they read about. That’s the first reason why I keep working on it. There are more of them, and to me, personally, the following are probably even more important. Continue reading

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10 Most Popular Stories on UT Blog in 2014

Let’s take a look at the most popular stories on our blog from the last year. Truth be told, some stories from previous years continued to be extremely popular also in 2014, like our most successful story ever: 10 Tips for a Good Presentation, but we will focus on the stories published last year. So, in 2014 our big hit was this:

1. 10 Tongue Twisters To Get You Started on Estonian

Impress your friends and yourself by learning some difficult and fun Estonian words and phrases. For example, ‘jäääär':


2. The Song Festival Is Sacred for Estonians

This survey led by University of Tartu researchers reveals why the tradition of song and dance festivals is sacred for Estonians, and also reveals the top 5 festival experiences.

3. Family Tradition Brings Ana from Georgia To Study Medicine in Tartu

Read the fascinating story of a Georgian family and their love for Estonia. Ana (17) started her medical studies at the University of Tartu in her father’s steps, but the story begins even earlier with Ana’s grandmother. Continue reading

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Christmas Gift Idea: Infinity Scarf in Less Than an Hour

In November, four master’s students of communication management at our Institute of Social Studies – Eliise Ott, Helena Hain, Liina Külv and Kai Reinfeldt – launched a campaign entitled “I’ll make Christmas gifts myself this year!” as a part of their E-marketing course. As part of the campaign, the girls try out a lot of do-it-yourself gift ideas and post the results on the campaign blog, Facebook, and Instagram.

“Buying Christmas gifts has become a somewhat nerve-wracking responsibility, when you oftentimes grab stuff from supermarket shelves that brings no joy to the gift receiver or the giver. We think that a thoughtful Christmas gift is a great sign to our close ones how much we care about them,” said Kai, one of the campaign initiators.

One of the most popular gift ideas that Kai tried making was the so-called infinity scarf, which took her 40 minutes to complete without knitting needles. All you need is 2–4 skeins of yarn and your own hands. For the best result, the yarn should be bulky, stiff, and non-stretchy.

The yarn that Kai used turned out to be a bit too soft and stretchy for this purpose — in fact, she unraveled her old scarf in order to make a new one. So, Kai’s new scarf got some holes in it as a result – one way to go if you don’t want your scarf to be too warm.

This is the video that Kai used to guide her:

And let’s follow Kai’s progress as she went through the steps:

step 1The start has been made…

Continue reading

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