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In memoriam President Lennart Meri

The President of the Republic, the Riigikogu and the Government of the Republic announce with deep sorrow that Lennart-Georg Meri, the President of the Republic in the years 1992-2001, has died today, on March 14, 2006, in Tallinn.

Lennart-Georg Meri was born in Tallinn, March 29, 1929, the eldest son of the Estonian diplomat Georg Meri. His years of youth and path of education were as twisty as the fate of the entire people of Estonia in the middle of the 19th century – his first school years in Berlin and Paris were followed by a harsh school of life of deportees in the years of 1941-1945 in Russia, first of all at Jaransk.

After arriving back in Estonia with his family, Lennart Meri finished secondary school in Tallinn and graduated cum laude from Tartu University in 1953, where he had studied history. Following that, he worked as a literary director at Vanemuine Theatre and an editor at the Estonian Radio. He found his first calling and broader public attention with his travel books where he depicted his expeditions to Central Asia, Kamchatka, and the Siberian taiga.

The indigenous culture of the people living there and its dramatic contacts with the reality that contaminates the environment and people’s minds stayed in Meri’s sphere of interest during his entire lifetime.

His work at Tallinnfilm studios and, first of all, his films about the culture of Finno-Ugric peoples that enjoyed international recognition, gave Lennart Meri a possibility to reach the attention of even bigger audience.

His most influential work as a writer was “Hõbevalge”, published in 1976, and “Hõbevalgem” that was published eight years later. In those two books Meri combined his knowledge as an historian, a man of letters and an ideologists, and put into words the beliefs that helped to reinforce our national identity and that underlay his political activities later. His sharp political nerve manifested itself also in his activity of building a bridge of kinship between Estonia and Finland and in the choice of works of world literature translated by him into Estonian.

In the years of the Singing Revolution, Lennart Meri, as an active cultural figure, was engaged in political activities giving a weighty contribution to the liberation period’s content-rich discussions held in the unions of creative people and elsewhere. His speech of that time about the hope of Estonians and existential problems of the nation has not lost its topicality even today.

As a worthy son of his father, Lennart Meri, at the first possible moment, started to develop Estonia’s relations with foreign countries – at first as the founder and leader of the Estonian Institute, and later as the Minister of Foreign Affairs who established our contemporary foreign service.

In 1992, he worked as the Estonian Ambassador to Finland – among the people whom he had always highly appreciated and loved.

On October 6, 1992, Lennart Meri took office as the President of the Republic. Being re-elected in the autumn of 1996, during the nine years of being the Head of State he committed his activities, first of all, to the strengthening of Estonia’s position on the international arena. The people of Estonia and our state will remember the years of Meri’s presidency, 1999-2001, as a youthfully fast and dynamic time of stretching our wings, the following period of maturing and becoming ourselves is based on the work, inspired by the sense of mission, of that time.

Being a charismatic personality and a skilled orator, Lennart Meri received a lot of attention in the world and earned recognition not only to himself but also to his fatherland. His nature as a creator and his knowledge of languages helped to alleviate stereotypes spread about the people who had stayed behind the iron curtain. He has received Honorary Doctorate degrees from a number of universities, has been awarded decorations by several states and has earned significant prizes and honorary titles both at home and abroad. He was also an initiator and patron of many praiseworthy undertakings. Since 2001 he has been a member of the Estonian Academy of Sciences

Diverse and extensive activity of Lennart Meri will remain an outstanding page of Estonia’s recent history and undoubtedly deserves further attention and interpretation also in the international context. Meri was brilliant and sharp-witted. He was a full-blooded European, who, as an erudite, thoroughly knew his way in the surrounding time and space, and was therefore able to influence the epoch in which he lived. This is an opportunity given by fate, which requires sense of responsibility and greatness of mind and is given only to few of us.

The President of the Republic, the Riigikogu and the Government of the Republic express deep condolences to the family and relatives of Lennart Meri. The entire state of Estonia and its people bow their heads in mourning and gratitude.

Estonia will remember her highly esteemed President.

Public Relations Unit of the Office of the President
Kadriorg, March 14, 2006

© 2006 Office of the President l tel: + 372 631 6202 l fax: + 372 631 6250 l