The impact of Facebook (groups) on political discussions

The essence of human beings, biologically and psychologically has not changed much throughout the past 50 000 years. On the other hand, during the same time, we have changed our own world dramatically – from inventing agriculture to the industrial revolution and the creation of the Internet.

The way we have been adapting to these changes (as we can’t change our biology and psychology) has been through social and political institutions. Institutions are, quoting from Samuel P. Huntington and Francis Fukuyama, “stable, valued, recurring patterns of behaviour” – in essence, the rules that shape human behaviour. So, every time the world changed, be it because of changes in climate or in technology or something else, humans have changed their institutions to adapt.

Martin Noorkõiv is the former President of the Student Council of the University of Tartu and currently the CEO of Domus Dorpatensis. Photo: Argo Ingver

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Where Do Our Everyday Habits Come From?

Why do we shake hands with other people when we meet? What is the origin of the knowledge that you have to finish your plate? Why do we take off our shoes when entering a living room, although putting them back on and tying the laces is really tedious and wastes our precious time? What is the origin of all the deeply rooted gestures, bodily movements, and customs we follow every day?

Art Leete, Professor of Ethnology at the University of Tartu, explains that no one really knows where some customs have come from: “This is the beauty of culture. Only tentative opinions exist about influences. People don’t make decisions about changing their customs at meetings. These things have just developed to be the way they are.”

From Knights to Politeness

In the Medieval Period and even a little later, politeness was a quality that was attributed solely to knights, as they constituted the higher social class. Many customs that are essential to modern etiquette come from the everyday life of the knights. For example, shaking hands while greeting someone, as well as tipping one’s hat, are thought to be from these old times. Showing a hand without a weapon or raising the visor of one’s armor were signs that the person came in peace, without aggressive intentions.

In the Middle Ages, showing a hand without a weapon meant you did not come with aggressive intentions. Photo credit: Chris-Håvard Berge / Flickr Creative Commons

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Hannah Schaper: Stay Curious and Show Initiative

During the hectic weeks leading up to the thesis submission and defence, I hardly realised that my time as a degree seeking student here at the University of Tartu is indeed coming to an end. Writing this blog post now, I begin to understand what I have experienced and learned during my time as a student here and in what follows, I would therefore like to share with you some of the best moments I’ve had during my two years of being an international degree seeking student at the University of Tartu, and how these moments changed me as a person.

IRRS students

After the thesis defences of the International Relations and Regional Studies programme in front of the Johan Skytte Institute. Photo credit: Maili Vilson.

Studying at the Johann Skytte Institute of Political Sciences

Needless to say I learned a bunch. My studies certainly made up the core of my student experience here in Tartu and I particularly enjoyed my programme’s flexibility as it allowed me to focus both on International Relations as a discipline as well as on a region of my choice. Apart from the fact that I know substantially more about the topics of International Relations and the post-Soviet space as a region than before starting my MA degree, studying here in Tartu has really helped me grow not only on an academic, but also on a personal level.

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Nicholas Vandrey: Visiting Tartu Is Like Taking a Vacation

Without a doubt, the first question I’m asked when meeting new people is, ‘Where are you from?’ That one is easy – I’m from Texas. Then, almost without fail, they’ll ask me how I ended up in Estonia. That one is a little more difficult to answer. Growing up, I had the opportunity to live in several countries and visit many more. I came to Estonia for the first time when I was 16. I spent three weeks in Tallinn, Tartu, and the countryside. While I had no immediate intentions of moving to Estonia, the tranquility of the countryside left a lasting impression. Despite the prevalence of WiFi in Estonia, it was a rare opportunity to disconnect. I also found out saunas were a thing, and that was pretty incredible.

Nicholas Vandrey – successful alumni of Business Administration programme at University of Tartu.  Photo from a personal archive.

It wasn’t until nearly two years later that found myself considering relocating to Estonia more permanently. I was preparing to graduate from high school in Texas without any concrete plan of what I wanted to do next. I had already applied to a few universities in the US, and had even accepted a spot at one of them (it might be relevant to note that universities generally require a commitment by May, about a month before admission results in Tartu are announced.) A friend pointed out to me that the University of Tartu had begun offering a bachelor’s program in Business Administration in English. I applied and got my acceptance notification a few months later while at the orienteering event for the university I had already committed to. One awkward email to the administration of the other university and a few weeks later, I was on a plane back to Estonia.

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Practical Field Research in Conflict Areas: Kosovo

In the center of the University of Prishtina’s (Kosovo) campus lie two contrasting buildings. One is the Church of Christ the Savior – a hollow, unfinished Serbian Orthodox Church bearing a golden cross. Less than one hundred meters away stands the Prishtina National Library – an eccentric structure of domes and concrete webs built by a famous Croatian architect in 1982. Yet the building is often disliked by most residents.

This view is an odd concoction, but so is Kosovo. Its past, like the abandoned Serbian Church, seems dark and incomplete. Its present, like the library, seems complicated and foreign-built, but still a structure no one is completely satisfied with. This was the odd flavor in the air of Prishtina: lively and welcoming, but with a taste of frustration. The future was perched, but uncertain whether it would take flight, and, if yes, then to which destination.

The Prishtina National Library in the front and the Church of Christ the Savior in the back. Photo credit: Stephanie Köppl.

On May 8, 2017, nine students and I flew to Prishtina, Kosovo for a one-week study trip as a part of our course “Practical Field Research in Conflict Areas” at the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies. Throughout the semester we had studied the conflict between Serbia and Kosovo, the role of international actors, and the process of state-building. Led by Professor Eiki Berg and PhD Fellow Thomas Linsenmeier, we spent five intense days having discussions with expert speakers and visiting a variety of sites. All of this was graciously organized by the University of Prishtina and the OSCE Mission in Kosovo.

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Can MRI Detect Antisocial Personality Disorder?

Magnetic resonance imaging – radiology technique that uses magnetism, radio waves, and a computer to produce images of body structures. Image credit:

Antisocial personality disorder is characterised by self-centeredness, and ignorance of others’ wishes, rights and feelings. Antisocial people are usually manipulative and deceitful, aiming to gain personal benefit or satisfaction, such as money, sex or power.

A person with antisocial personality disorder also tends to ignore social responsibilities. These include, for example, working and earning their living, paying taxes or keeping their word. Antisocial people are inconsiderate towards the feelings of others. They often have a unique way of behaviour, which contradicts the accepted social norms.

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52,000 Estonians Now Have a Personal Gene Map

The Estonian Genome Project is a national super-science project: gene samples from over 52,000 people were collected, which comprises about 5% of the population of Estonia. Now, 17 years after the project began, the Estonian Genome Center will offer personal feedback to people who donated their blood and information.

Tissue samples at the Estonian Genome Center. Photo credit: Andres Tennus

Through the Hardships

It was in 2001 when scientists from a small post-Soviet country came up with the ambitious plan to collect, record, and thoroughly decode the genetic information of Estonians. They hoped that the project would lead to scientific discoveries and help to create more precise medications. In 2007 the state became the project’s main financer and the Estonian Genome Center was united with the University of Tartu. Sample collecting began again, celebrities were hired to raise awareness about the project, and the topic of donating genetic information even appeared in the popular Estonian TV show “Õnne 13”.

The Estonian Genome Center got a new building with the monetary support from the European Union, new, state-of-the-art technology, and also lured back some of the scientists who had left Estonia. By the end of 2010, all the samples had been collected. What distinguishes this biobank from other biobanks in the world is that in Estonia the data collected did not involve only those who were ill, but it also offered a cross-sectional genetic view of the society.

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