President of Estonia for two consecutive terms, 1992-2001. Estonian writer, film director, and statesman, born in 1929.
Lennart Meri has been, along with President Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, one of the few "literary presidents" on the international political scene. Before taking part in the struggle for liberation of Estonia during the years around 1990, he had no background in politics, but was a much appreciated writer and film director. His only "political experience" before that was to have been deported to Siberia by Stalin's secret police.
As a writer and film-maker, Lennart Meri has been acknowledged for his skill in making history vivid and exciting. Meri has published a number of books based on his expeditions to Siberia, the Far East, and the Arctic. In his works Meri combines historical facts and folk poetry with subjective, poetic insight. His books have been translated into about a dozen languages. Meri's films in the 1970s and 1980s won international renown: The Winds of the Milky Way received a silver medal at the New York Film Festival.
Lennart Meri was born in 1929 in Tallinn as the son of the Estonian diplomat Georg Meri. Because of his father's diplomatic postings the family spent many years abroad, where Lennart Meri acquired his knowledge of foreign languages - he speaks excellent English, French, German, Finnish and Russian. During World War II Estonia was occupied by the Russian Red Army. The Meri family was deported to Siberia in 1941 and Georg Meri was imprisoned at Lubyanka prison in Moscow, but the family survived the harsh conditions, and could return to Soviet-occupied Estonia after the war. Meri graduated from the University of Tartu, where he had studied history. After a stretch as a dramatist and producer of theater and radio plays, he made long expeditions to various places in the East, among them Samarkand, Tashkent, North-Eastern Siberia and Kamchatka. These travels resulted in widely acclaimed books and films, earning Meri a reputation as an accomplished writer and anthropologist.
During the 1988 "Singing revolution" in Estonia - singing mass demonstrations of up to 300 000 people - Meri played an active part. When Estonia regained full independence, Lennart Meri was elected the 28th President of the Republic of Estonia in 1992 - the first freely elected President after half a century of Soviet occupation. In office as President, Meri worked most actively in order to strengthen his country's contacts with the European Union and NATO, with Estonian EU and NATO membership as the final goal. In spite of the small size of his country, Lennart Meri became a widely respected figure on the international political scene.
UPDATE March 15, 2006:
Lennart Meri died on March 14, 2006, in Tallinn.
Pekka Erelt, Tarmo Vahter (ed): Meie Lennart (1999)
Andreas Oplatka: Lennart Meri - Eestile elatud elu (2000)