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Lennart Meri dies

Statesman and author now part of history.

It is said what Estonians—and others—so much admired about President Lennart Meri, was that he always behaved as a president, never as the president of a small nation. Lennart Meri, Estonia’s first post-independence period president, died Tuesday, March 14th, after serious illness. Meri was 76 years old.

Lennart-Georg Meri was born on March 29, 1929, into the prominent Estonian family of Georg Meri, diplomat and Shakespeare translator. In 1941 his family was deported to Siberia with tens of thousands of other Estonians. The family survived and returned to Estonia. In 1953, Meri graduated from Tartu University as a historian cum laude. Meri worked in the Vanemuine theatre and as a lecturer in the Tartu Art School and was an editor at Eesti Raadio. He also worked as a screenwriter and producer, serving as the Estonian Writers Union foreign secretary. He was founder and director of the Estonian Institute.
Meri served as Estonian foreign minister as well as Estonia’s ambassador in Finland. In 1992, Meri was elected president and was re-elected in 1996. Meri was widely celebrated for successfully negotiating the withdrawal of Russian troops from Estonia with Boris Yeltsin in 1994.
Meri is survived by his first wife Regina, who emigrated to Canada in 1987, his second wife, Helle, an actress until 1992 at the Tallinn Drama Theatre, and two sons, Mart and Kristjan, from his first marriage, and a daughter, Tuule, from his second. There are four grandchildren.

The funeral ceremony will take place on Sunday, March 26th, in Tallinn’s Kaarli Church. The public is welcome in the church on Saturday, March 25th. An electronic book of condolences is open at www.riik.ee/lennartmeri.