In 1958, after travelling to the Kara Kum Desert and the Tian Shan Mountains in Central Asia, Lennart wrote his first book, that was well-received by readers.
He joined the ‘Estonian Writers' Union’ in 1963, and a year later wrote the famous book 'Tulemägede Maale' ('To the Land of Fiery Mountains'). The non-fictional work describes his trip to the Kamchatka Peninsula, taken early that decade.
In 1974, the talented writer penned 'Virmaliste Väraval' ('At the Gate of the Northern Lights'), which spoke about his voyage to the Northeast Passage, bringing him critical acclaim. The book also refers to the observations of other travellers like Cook, Wrangel and Bering.
Two years later, in 1976, he published the famous 'Hõbevalge' ('Silver White'), which deals with the history of his homeland and the surrounding region. Here too, the author resorted to a lot of documented references coupled with rational thinking.
His book 'Virmaliste Väraval' was transliterated into Finnish, in the 'Soviet Writers Series', a compilation which also consisted of works by other Estonian authors like Ülo Tuulik and Mats Traat. The same year, 'Lähenevad rannad' ('Nearing Shores'), a critically appreciated book by Meri, was published.
Later that decade the writer was allowed by the Soviet authorities to travel to Finland, where he advocated Estonia's quest for freedom. During the trip, he also openly criticized the government's decision to use the Virumaa region for phosphorite mining.
In 1988, the prolific writer was responsible for establishing the ‘Estonian Institute’ (‘Eesti Instituut’), which helped students of the country go abroad to pursue higher education.
The same year, he turned to politics and helping form the ‘Estonian Popular Front’. The organization advocated freedom of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia from the Soviet rule, and played a major role in the ‘Singing Revolution’, also known as the ‘Estonian Independence Movement’.
In 1990, non-communist elections were held in Estonia, where Lennart was chosen as the 'Minister of Foreign Affairs'. For his ministry, he carefully selected highly learned young people, some of them knowing English, so that Estonia could gain recognition globally.
To make a name for his nation in world affairs, he regularly attended conferences in New York, Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen, and Moscow. The politician also held meetings with Foreign Ministers of other nations, and became the first Eastern European national to speak at Brussels' 'NATO' head-office.
In 1992, he was chosen to be the Estonian Ambassador, and along with Foreign Ministers of other Baltic nations he established the ‘Council of the Baltic Sea States’ (‘CBSS’).
On October 6, the same year, as a candidate representing the ‘Pro Patria Union’, he was elected as the second President of the Republic of Estonia, defeating communist leader and rival, Arnold Rüütel.
Lennart was re-elected for his second term as President of Estonia, on September 20, 1996, and he served in this capacity for the next five years.
The former President was also known for making films that dealt with his country and the Soviet regime. 'Linnutee tuuled' (' The Winds of the Milky Way'), was a movie made with the help of the governments of Finland and Hungary. The movie won accolades at the ‘New York Film Festival’, but its release was prohibited in the Soviet Union.
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Awards and Achievements
In 1979, this author was named the 'Merited Writer of Estonian SSR'.
He was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1986, from the 'University of Helsinki', in Finland.
French newspaper ‘La Vie’ declared the political leader and author, the ‘European of the Year’, in 1998.
He has received several orders of merits from the governments of Jordan, Poland, Norway, Germany, and Greece, amongst others.
He is also the recipient of the 'Liberal International Prize', which is presented for outstanding contribution to human rights, and the 'Coudenhove-Kalergi Award', given for efforts to promote European integration.
Personal Life & Legacy
Lennart got married to Regina Meri, who left for Canada in 1987, returning to Estonia sixteen years later. The couple had a son Mart, who is now a politician, and a daughter, Kristjan.
In 1985, the politician had a daughter, Tuule, with his girlfriend Helle, an actress, who he married seven years later.
This writer and political leader had contributed to the rehabilitation of refugees from Germany and other places, working with several human rights organizations. He was also a representative of the jury of the 'Franz Werfel Human Rights Award', which was presented to felicitate people working against genocide.
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On March 14, 2006, the former President succumbed to a malignant brain tumour, after several months of treatment.
This great statesman was honoured by Tarja Halonen and Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, Presidents of Finland and Latvia respectively. Swedish diplomat Carl Bildt was one of the distinguished personalities who attended Meri's funeral service.
In 2009, as a tribute to the popular former President, the Tallin Airport was named ‘Lennart Meri Tallinn International Airport’.
Childhood & Early Life
Lennart Georg Meri was born to diplomat-turned-translator Georg and his wife Alice-Brigitta Engmann, on March 29, 1929, in Tallin, Republic of Estonia.
At a young age, Lennart had to move from Estonia and travel all over the world with his parents. He studied in nine schools, including ‘Lycée Janson de Sailly', in Paris. Due to his schooling in different parts of the world, he learnt to speak languages like French, Russian, German, Finnish, English, and of course his native tongue Estonian.
In 1940, when the Soviet Union seized the nation of Estonia, Meri was in his hometown with his parents. Some of his family members were in support of the invaders while others were not, and Arnold, Lennart's cousin, joined the Soviet Army.
Arnold was made the ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ and was involved in the genocide and deportation of thousands of Estonians, Lithuanians and Latvians, including his own family.
The people were sent to Siberia, where they were forced to live in concentration camps, often separated from the heads of the families. Lennart had to fend for his household, by working as a potato peeler, or a lumberjack and sometimes even as a rafter.
During his stay in Siberia, the young boy showed an inclination towards other Uralic languages like Hungarian and Finnish, and this interest appeared later in most of his literary works.
After the family's return to Estonia, Meri graduated in 1953 from the 'University of Tartu', specializing in History and Languages. Considering the Communist rule of the Soviet Union, it was difficult for the young man to have a career as a historian. Instead, he started off working as a playwright for Estonia's oldest theatre 'Vanemuine'.