To the first man who sacrificed himself for Hong Kong

Hongkongers mourn the tragic death of Leung.
Photo: HK01 media

Freedom isn’t free.

Last week, waves of protests against an Extradition Bill took place in Hong Kong. The first protest gained international attention, as one million demonstrators marched peacefully to oppose this controversial legislative proposal. 

As the local government remained indifferent, the protest turned ugly and clashes were seen between the young protesters and riot police. 150 canisters of tear gas, 20 rounds of bean bag bullets, and several rounds of rubber bullets were used to disperse the protesters. Violence erupted at this global financial centre’s protest, and the government decided to suspend the legislation. 

Within a few days, two million Hongkongers demonstrated again to demand the withdrawal of the Extradition Bill, resignation of Hong Kong’s leader, and release of protesters being charged with “rioting”. The Hong Kong leader only apologised. The bill wasn’t completely withdrawn. 

Two million Hongkongers protested to demand the withdrawal of the Extradition Bill.
Photo: HK01 media

Between these events, a tragedy occurred. A 35-year-old surnamed Leung climbed up to the rooftop of a shopping mall and displayed a banner, reading “No extradition to China, total withdrawal of the Extradition Bill, we are not rioters, release the students and injured, Carrie Lam steps down, help Hong Kong.” After standing for 5 hours, he fell to the ground and was later certified dead. 

Mr. Leung’s death is, perhaps, a symbol of Hong Kong’s bygone legacies. Arguably, Leung has become the first man to die in the name of defending Hong Kong’s core principles of “One Country, Two Systems”, “High Degree of Autonomy” and “50 Years Remain Unchanged” under an international treaty signed between Britain and China in 1984. 

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Everyone’s nature conservation – what can you do?

Diverse and functional ecosystems are critical to our mental and physical health.
Photo by Estonian Saunas on Unsplash

Species-rich and well-working ecosystems are the very things that keep stuff circulating – globally, on the landscape level, and in one’s garden. They provide us with pure water and air, fill the earth with nutrients, and guarantee the sustainability of food production. They give us something to identify with and a sense of well-being. They are critical to our health – both mental and physical.

Our children are healthier, better able to concentrate and study, while adults are more peaceful and happier when the living environment is green and biodiverse.

Nature’s aforementioned contributions that provide us a suitable environment in which to live are called ecosystem services. We use those services for free and constantly, thus tending to see their existence as a casual fact, not thinking much about their origin or current conditions. Still, all of those services do not come from some sort of endless cornucopia. They are related to the situation of ecosystems, which depend on our own activities.

Biodiversity and the natural environment are both in a deep crisis

During the last 50 years we have destroyed nearly 50 percent of habitats.
Photo by Sandra Kaas on Unsplash

Despite its importance, the state of biodiversity and the natural environment is not good. It’s true around the world, and in Europe and Estonia as well. The IPBES review published last week collected the best data that we have about the state of the nature surrounding us, and concluded that during the last 50 years we have destroyed nearly 50 percent of habitats and pushed one in every eight species to the brink of extinction, with every fourth one now deemed endangered. 

Both biodiversity and the natural environment are in a deep crisis. The main cause is too intense and careless use of Earth, which has led to rapid loss in habitats.

Estonia is no exception

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Becoming a Tartu student – becoming a globally minded student

Dear reader, I would like you to take a minute and think about borders…

If you are in Estonia, or another country, you can easily imagine that official line which gives shape to a specific physical territory. But what about our borders? To be more precise, what are the borders of our mind and thinking?

My interpretation is that our mind’s territory ends with our understanding of the world. With this as a starting point, I would like to show you how I occupied new territories for my mind and how it is connected to Universitas Tartuensis.

Tatiana (Yes, this is me) from Moldova

Map of Europe
Tatiana (Moldova). Map credit: Ivan Vasilyev

As I was physically “captured” within the first borders (Moldova), I had a specific mindset, filled with irrational and unjustified beliefs about the situation in my country. I do not pretend now that my beliefs are true, but at least I hope they are approximately close to be true.

Going back in time, one of my false ideas was that only few people make an effort to protect the environment and that the outcomes are insignificant. And only one change of physical borders (moving to Estonia) and two relevant courses (Spatial Data Studio and Strategic Environmental Assessment for Urban Regions) made me realize that the situation is not as tragic as I had imagined.

There are higher-level organisations that are concerned about the issue and new legislation is being adopted at the moment in Moldova in order to align and enforce best practices in sustainability. In addition to that, we, consumers, in the majority of cases are limited in visions and see only the bottom-up behaviour, which certainly requires some time to follow the top-down strategy and approach.

“When it comes to protecting the environment and not exacerbating the current state of things, all our small actions matter” and “pollution has no borders, so we have to keep it in mind, no matter the country of residence (at least before the human migration to space)” – these are my mind borders so far.

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What is the true ancient Estonian food?

The first thing to come into most people’s minds as the Estonians’ “own” food would be black rye bread. However, rye has the shortest history of the cereals growing in Estonia.
Photo by Anthony Ievlev on Unsplash

Every nation and region has its own pride in the culinary field – such as a historically developed favorite or a trademark-status edible article. What would be the Estonians’ so-called “own” food?

The first thing to come into most people’s minds would probably be black bread, made of rye. But exactly how ancient is this “old Estonian thing”? Is there anything or anybody that could compete with black bread, at least in history? And how deep do the roots of our modern eating habits go?

The answers most overarching in time come from the field of archaeology, especially studies of ancient food culture combining the latest analytical methods of chemistry, biology, geology, and physics, allowing us to look back at the coming of age of our menu, spanning thousands of years.

A short history of rye

In fact, rye has the shortest history of the cereals growing in our geographical location. The first local cereals were barley, wheat, and oats instead. Pollen diagrams indicating early cereal cultures go back 4,000-5,000 years.

Barley grains with direct radiocarbon dating found in a former fortified settlement at Asva, Saaremaa, and Iru near Tallinn originate from the Bronze Age about 1,000 years BCE.

Barley was among the first cereals grown in Estonia.
Image credit: Craig Nagy / CC BY-SA 2.0
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Affective meaning-making: novel forms of community formation

Contemporary communication is performed at an increasingly fast pace. The emergence of political identities and communities on social media is dominated by affective reactions to current events – a tendency enabled by the prevalence of emotionally and visually oriented communication. Social movements from the Arab Spring to the Yellow Vests in France are perhaps the best examples of such novel forms of political identity formation.

Tweets and emotionally loaded images on social media can be enough for connecting masses. Image credit:
“Viva_La_Revolucion” by The Daring Librarian / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Communities stirred by emotion

These transformations in identity formation are closely connected to socio-technical affordances of social-media communication that allow for formation of publics on an unprecedented temporal, spatial, affective scale. These affordances render some patterns of behavior or use more handy and natural than others. The formation of networked publics on social media does not depend so much on a specific topic, issue, or belief. Rather, these publics are organized around shared emotions (affect) driving them to care about a certain issue.

In this process of formation, social, political, environmental, etc. topics are often simplified and the decision-making process becomes dependent on emotions and affect. The affective role is manifested in the anchoring of public topics to personal emotions, the creation and spread of hashtags, and tags that unify disparate phenomena under a single label. The collective is held together around connective action and the only political demand is change.

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Re-thinking Ukraine – an experimental approach to studying perceptions of contested regions

The ongoing war in eastern Ukraine has already led to over 13,000 deaths since the beginning of 2014. As a journalist, one of our groupmates spent a week in Kyiv and Donetsk for a journalistic project in 2015. Taking it as a source of inspiration, our group decided to further investigate the perceptions of Tartu students and residents about the contested regions of Donbas and Crimea in Ukraine.

After discussing different methods to carry out our research, we decided to test and compare the pre- and post-experimental beliefs on the topic of a selected group of participants.

Indeed, the notion of a disinformation campaign from certain countries has been prominent in recent years. To respond, Ukraine and the EU launched fact-checking websites, such as EU vs. Disinfo and StopFake.org, to inform the general public of the real situation in the conflict regions in Ukraine.

Our experimental research aimed at evaluating the effectiveness of such practice by showing factsheets dealing with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine to a group of volunteers. We found that there was a significant shift in attitudes of the participants whom we recruited for the experiment after showing them the factsheets.

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When the days and nights in Estonia are not long enough

Observing the Arctic landscape. Photo from the private collection

I think there might be a number of people who think I am a bit odd, due to my wish to voluntarily spend a few months of my life in the world’s northernmost higher education institution, the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), situated in the Arctic at 78º N.

Spending 1.5 months studying biology and underwater robotics during the polar night, as well as learning about Arctic microbiology for 1.5 months during the polar day, has given me a chance to experience quite a bit.

It was during the polar night in January 2017 when I first landed in the Arctic. There were absolutely no noticeable differences in the illumination levels between the night and daytime.

Clouds and snow blending into one on Foxfonna glacier. Photo from the private collection

I found it quite easy to get used to it, as the hours of sunlight during the Estonian winter are not really noteworthy either. However, it is much more extreme in the city of Longyearbyen (the capital of Svalbard), as sun does not reach the city before March. Being there, I really understood the impact of light pollution, or rather the effects of the absence of it – the darkness is totally different compared to what I was used to in Estonia – the night really was pitch black, making it feel mysterious.

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