Meri, Lennart

​29 March 1929 Tallinn –14 March 2006 Tallinn
Estonian statesman, writer, ethnographer and documentary film-maker, first president of the Republic of Estonia (1992-2001)

He was born in the family of an Estonian diplomat, and lived in Germany and France in the 1930s. In 1941 the family was deported to Siberia, released in 1945 and came back to Estonia. In 1953 he graduated from Tartu University as a historian. He worked as a director at the Vanemuine Theatre in Tartu, produced plays for Estonian Radio, wrote scripts and directed films at the Tallinnfilm studio, was then a freelance writer. He organised expeditions to Central Asia, Siberia and the Far East and the northern peoples. The books and films resulting from his trips examined the common roots and customs of the Finno-Ugric nations, small nations in Siberia and in the Far North, and the history of the discovery and colonisation of Siberia. His best-known film is The Winds of the Milky Way. The most important book, Silver White, constitutes a comprehensive reconstruction of history in Estonia and the Baltic Sea countries, depicting the ancient Estonians as active people in an open Northern Europe, and encouraging Estonians to hope for a better future. In Estonia, one of Meri’s favourite research topics was the story of the Kaali meteorite, its reflections in ancient literature and the folklore of Northern European peoples.

In 1987 he was one of the leaders of the environmentalists fighting against the Moscow-planned phosphorite mines in northeast Estonia. In 1988 he established the Estonian Institute whose cultural representations in Copenhagen, Stockholm, London, Bonn, Paris and Helsinki acted as Estonian embassies until the restoration of independence. In 1990–91 he was the foreign minister in the transitional government, laying the foundation of the new Estonian foreign service. From April to October 1992 he was ambassador in Finland. In 1992–96 and 1996–2001 he served as President of the Republic of Estonia. His aim was Estonia’s quick return to Europe, de-Sovietisation, the restoration and development of nationhood according to the principle of Estonian legal continuity, and joining the European Union and NATO. Multilingual, erudite and an excellent speaker, Meri was Estonia’s ‘visiting-card’ abroad. Lennart Meri was member of the Estonian Academy of Sciences (2002), an honorary doctor of several foreign universities, and he received numerous international awards. In 2002–03 he represented Estonia at the Convention on the Future of Europe.

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