The “Narva Paradox” and a Reality Check

Andrey Makarychev is a guest professor and Stefano Braghiroli a lecturer at the Institute of Government and Politics of the University of Tartu. They both teach in the European Union–Russia Studies master’s programme.

Brigita's love for Estonia

“This is how I love Estonia”, says Brigita Salkute, our master’s student from Lithuania. Image credit: Anette Parksepp

The annexation of Crimea and the military insurgency in Ukraine’s eastern provinces under the “Russian world” slogan triggered political and academic debates centred on the whole set of issues related to post-Soviet borderlands. Territories populated by Russian speakers and those culturally connected to Russia are obviously at the core of this debate. In this flammable context, the Estonian city of Narva has become one of the hottest points in heated discussions over the prospects of a new Cold War between Russia and the West.

According to Russian political analyst Andrey Piontkovsky, Narva turned into a double metaphor signifying both the remnants of Russian military glory and the Western passivity in containing Russia. In later polemics, Piontkovsky formulated “the Narva paradox” as “Putin’s ability by one single move to make the entire West face an unthinkable choice – humiliating capitulation and marginalization, or a nuclear war with someone who lives in a different reality”.

Of course, this is a highly hypothetical scenario, and there are many signs that both the EU and NATO keep a close eye on its probability. In this context it was highly symbolic that the military parade on the occasion of the Estonian Independence Day on 24 February 2015 was held with the participation of UK and US military personnel in Narva, only 300 metres from the Russian border. And it was largely accepted by city residents as an element of Estonian security policy. Continue reading

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10 Estonian Tongue Twisters for Language Hackers

Being a hacker does not necessarily involve information technology, but certainly implies bold attitude. With time, the meaning of the term hacker has widened to embrace everyone who is curious and enthusiastic to undertake something creatively and learn by doing. This is exactly what this post is about — here are ten words and phrases that scale high on difficulty and challenge you to learn some of the dark and quirky sides of the Estonian language. As you’ll see, the last phrase on the list ain’t easy even for Estonians!

If you need a warm-up, try the 10 Tongue Twisters to Get You Started on Estonian.

So, let’s go. The first one is easy and might even turn out practical:

1. Ma armastan Sind

ma armastan sind

2. Iseseisvuspäev


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My Memorable Moments in Tartu

Desiree SimpsonDesiree Simpson, an international exchange student from Canada, writes about her study abroad year 2014/2015 at the University of Tartu. See also Desiree’s travel blog.

It’s mid-morning, and from the dorm window I watch people walk by, their pace is brisk: taking very short, quick steps. Their shoulder’s are hunched, and their ears are tucked in to the top of their hats and the bottom of their scarves, to keep the cold at bay. A low fog hangs just at the tree tops, burying the peak of the church in the distance. The flat is empty and quiet, save for the light sound of jazz coming from my computer. And, at a short distance the hum of the elevator running, carrying the last of the tardy students on their way to class.

It’s already February. September and October passed at an unfathomably quick pace, fuelled, in part, by mild weather, but mostly by social outings that included a myriad of events, both university and non-university related. November and December passed in similar fashion though the promise of snow had left latent enthusiasm in some, and dread in others. Now, even February is coming to an end. As I stand here, I think back on a few of my most memorable moments in Tartu:

The first thing that struck me the most upon my arrival in Tartu in late August was how quiet it was. Sure, I arrived at the bus station sometime closer to midnight, but even the cabs sat quietly, waiting patiently nearby. The driver too, of the cab that I hopped into, spoke in a modestly low volume.

Graffiti in Tartu

The first thing that struck me the most upon my arrival in Tartu in late August was how quiet it was. Photo from personal archive.

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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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