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Lennart Meri 1929-2006

March 15, 2006

Lennart Meri was the president of the Republic of Estonia in 1992-2001 who died today. We can safely call him the greatest statesman of contemporary Estonia. Before doing state stuff, he was a well-known publicist, filmmaker and many other things. See the BBC for more about his life before becoming the president (and before that, becoming the first foreign minister of the newly re-established country). He was well-educated and knew many languages and cultures, which certainly helped in his work.

What the BBC doesn’t say is that during his nine years in the office, Meri’s immense personal contribution and character did a lot to re-establish Estonia on the international scene and reinject the much-needed confidence and future vision to Estonians that the country is now ours and we can rebuild it for a better tomorrow. A great accomplishment of his was signing the treaty to withdraw all Russian troops from Estonian soil in 1994, which de facto ended the 50-year occupation.

We have many funny stories about him. He used to be late to all the meetings, be it with heads of state or whoever. But when he finally arrived, people didn’t mind. Once he drew a circle on George Bush senior’s globe with a pen because it didn’t have Estonia as an independent country on it. In Jordania, he remarked that his face is much like that of a camel and there’s a famous camel painting by an Estonian artist Viiralt to which people likened him after this event. He had a great sense of humor and feel for people and the country.

See also his official page and the official “farewell” page. I like this fact (I didn’t know this before and just came across it on the farewell page): “Lennart Meri can take pride in knowing that the state he helped to build has – for the first time in history – become strong enough for a former Head of State to die in free Estonia.”