Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Lennart Meri dead

Lennart Meri, former president of Estonia, passed away silently this morning at the age of 76. Having suffered from a brain tumor, Meri was operated on last August and has since not fully recuperated. Therefore, his death came as no surprise to Estonians.

Meri was elected the first president of resurrected Estonia in 1992 and was twice reelected before leaving office in 2001. As president, he brought Estonia closer to Nato and the EU, and could a few years back see his dream of membership in both organisations realised, thus anchoring Estonia firmly to western Europe and forging a transatlantic link also for his country.

Besides his role as president, Meri will go down in history as one of the leaders in Estonia's fight to regain independence by the "singing revolution" and thereby ridding the country of the soviet yoke. As for myself, I will most remember him for the time leading up to the dramatic events of August 1991, when independence was gained. As things were then still quite shaky, Meri took upon himself to organise a government in exile in Helsinki, and over a few hectic weeks he and his young associates prepared for this option in case worse would come to worst. Given his central position for Estonia's freedom, his election as president in 1992 came as no surprise.

Prior to his political engagement, Meri was a well-known author and dramatist. As many others of his generation, he and his family were deported to Siberia by the soviet occupation power during WWII. In contrast to all those lost in Gulag, Meri's family came back to Estonia, without which Estonia and the world would have lost an interesting political leader of these tumultuous times, when witnessing the rebirth of freedom in Eastern Europe and the demise of the Soviet Union.

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