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Ten years since the passing of Estonia’s second president, Lennart Meri

On March 14, 2006, Lennart-Georg Meri, the second president of Estonia and first president of the country since the restoration of its independence in 1991, succumbed to a months-long battle with brain cancer at age 76.

Meri, while perhaps best known as the second president of Estonia and first since the reestablishment of its independence in 1991, was also a trained and educated historian as well as an internationally recognized filmmaker, translator, travel writer, and intellectual, all of which preceded his career as the Estonian head of state.

Much of Lennart Meri’s writing and documentary work focused on the cultures of Estonia and related Finno-Ugric peoples of northeastern Europe and Siberia, and has been translated into multiple other languages. Among his best-known works are Silverwhite, a 1976 book focusing on the reconstruction of the history of Estonia and the surrounding Baltic Sea region, and "The Winds of the Milky Way", a New York Film Festival silver medalist ethnographic documentary from 1977 which was banned in the Soviet Union.

Meri had been widely quoted as having once said that “History is more interesting than politics.”

While the president of Estonia has been considered since the reestablishment of the independent state to be more of a ceremonial role, especially compared to the power of the prime minister, Meri was known for testing the boundaries of his power as president. In one such instance, in 1994, Lennart Meri helped to broker a controversial deal with the president of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, in which he secured the withdrawal of the last of the Russian troops in Estonia in exchange for the granting of residence permits to Russian military pensioners living in the country.

Banned by the Constitution from seeking a third term, Lennart Meri served as president of Estonia for two consecutive terms spanning from 1992 to 2001. Divorced from his first wife of nearly three decades, Meri was survived at the time of his death by his second wife Helle, sons Mart and Kristjan, daughter Tuule, and four grandchildren.

Further and more detailed biographical info on Meri can be found on the website of the President of Estonia (link in English).

Editor: Editor: Aili Sarapik

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