Lennart Meri Biography

Lennart Meri, a renowned Estonian writer, film director, and the second President of the Republic, had a remarkable journey from his challenging upbringing in concentration camps to becoming a celebrated playwright. His literary works not only depicted his personal struggles but also showcased his adventures as a globetrotter, intertwining each anecdote with the region’s history. With a deep passion for Estonia’s rich history, Meri often delved into the downfall of the Soviet Union in his writings. In the late 1980s, he made a transition into active politics, serving as the Minister of Foreign Affairs and later being elected as the President of his homeland. Throughout his nine-year presidency, Meri was highly regarded for his dedication to promoting Estonia’s cultural heritage and his efforts in rehabilitating refugees from around the world.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Lennart Georg Meri
  • Died At Age: 76
  • Family: Spouse/Ex-: Helle Meri
  • Writers
  • Directors
  • Political ideology: Pro Patria Union
  • Died on: March 14, 2006
  • Place of death: Tallinn, Estonia
  • Notable Alumni: Lycée Janson-de-Sailly, University Of Tartu
  • Cause of Death: Brain Tumor
  • Ideology: Republicans
  • City: Tallinn, Estonia
  • Founder/Co-Founder: Estonian Institute
  • Education: University Of Tartu, Lycée Janson-de-Sailly
  • Humanitarian Work: Associated with organizations like the ‘Federation of Expellees’ and ‘Centre Against Expulsions’ for rehabilitation of refugees.

Early Career and Writing Success

In 1958, Lennart Meri wrote his first book after traveling to the Kara Kum Desert and the Tian Shan Mountains in Central Asia. The book was well-received by readers. In 1963, he joined the Estonian Writers’ Union and a year later wrote the famous book ‘Tulemägede Maale’ (‘To the Land of Fiery Mountains’). This non-fiction work described his trip to the Kamchatka Peninsula in the early 1960s.

In 1974, Meri wrote ‘Virmaliste Väraval’ (‘At the Gate of the Northern Lights’), which brought him critical acclaim. The book detailed his voyage to the Northeast Passage and included observations from other travelers like Cook, Wrangel, and Bering. Two years later, in 1976, he published ‘Hõbevalge’ (‘Silver White’), which explored the history of his homeland and the surrounding region. This book relied heavily on documented references and rational thinking.

Recognition and Political Involvement

Meri’s book ‘Virmaliste Väraval’ was translated into Finnish as part of the ‘Soviet Writers Series’. In 1988, he established the Estonian Institute, which helped students pursue higher education abroad. That same year, he became involved in politics and helped form the Estonian Popular Front, an organization advocating for freedom from Soviet rule. He played a major role in the ‘Singing Revolution’ or the Estonian Independence Movement.

In 1990, Meri was chosen as the Minister of Foreign Affairs in non-communist elections in Estonia. He carefully selected highly educated individuals, some of whom spoke English, to help Estonia gain recognition globally. He attended conferences and held meetings with foreign ministers of other nations, becoming the first Eastern European national to speak at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels.

Presidency and Later Years

In 1992, Meri was chosen as the Estonian Ambassador and helped establish the Council of the Baltic Sea States. On October 6 of the same year, he was elected as the second President of the Republic of Estonia, defeating his communist rival. He served as President for two terms, from 1992 to 2001.

Meri was also known for his films that focused on Estonia and the Soviet regime. One of his movies, ‘Linnutee tuuled’ (‘The Winds of the Milky Way’), won accolades at the New York Film Festival but was prohibited from being released in the Soviet Union.

Personal Life and Legacy

Lennart Meri was married to Regina Meri, and they had a son named Mart and a daughter named Kristjan. He also had a daughter named Tuule with his girlfriend Helle, whom he later married. Meri was involved in the rehabilitation of refugees and worked with human rights organizations. He passed away on March 14, 2006, after battling a malignant brain tumor.

In honor of Lennart Meri, the Tallin Airport was named ‘Lennart Meri Tallinn International Airport’ in 2009. He was recognized with numerous awards and honors throughout his life, including being named the ‘Merited Writer of Estonian SSR’ in 1979 and receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Helsinki in 1986.

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