The official car of former Estonian President Lennart Meri, which up to now has been in the care of the Estonian Defense League (Kaitseliit), is set to be transferred to the Estonian War Museum in Viimsi. Visitors will be able to see the car on display later this summer.
Major Tanel Rütman, deputy head of the Estonian Defense League's (Kaitseliit) strategic communications department, said that the car will be given to the Estonian War Museum on a permanent basis.
"Since it is more of a historical object, the official car of the President of the Republic of Estonia ought to belong to a memory institution," Rütman said.
Rütman added, that when the Defense League took possession of the car a number of years ago, it was not in the best condition. However, he said that it has since been restored and is now almost back to being in its original condition.
According to director of the Estonian War Museum Hellar Lill, the precise date that the car is due to arrive at the museum is still to be confirmed. However, he expects the new exhibit to be in place soon. "Visitors will probably be able to see the car here in the summer," Lill said.
Lill added, that what makes the car particularly important as an exhibit, is its history and connection to the first president of re-independent Estonia.
"Lennart Meri is already a legend in his own right, and in the early 1990s, as he was head of national defense, he was also a very important person in national defense," Lill explained. "This same official car could also be seen at the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) parades, and so bringing it to the War Museum is very appropriate."
Tõnu Korrol, marketing manager of LaitseRallyPark, said that although Meri's official car, an S-class Mercedes, was something of a flagship for the car company, it was still not a particularly special machine.
"It wasn't the most expensive version of the Mercedes S-Class, more like a basic version, which didn't have any special engine or any add-ons, and it wasn't bulletproof, as has been mistakenly assumed since," Korrol said.
Korrol explained, that the car was in use throughout the eight years Meri held office, at the end of which it had clocked more than 300,000 kilometers.
"After all, Lennart was a legendary late driver. If you had to get to Tartu by, say, 2 o'clock, then you would get there at 2 o'clock, but the start time from Tallinn was the same as the time that Lennart finished in Kadriorg," Korrol said.
"If the president finished an hour and a half before two o'clock, then it took an hour and a half to get [to Tartu], but there were apparently occasions when that journey to Tartu was even quicker."
Headlights had to be changed frequently
According to Korrol, all that rushing around certainly left its mark on the car.
"We also drove along the worst roads and when we came to a gravel track with lots of small loose stones, we drove close to each other, with the stones flying around," Korrol said. "The Mercedes had its front wheels changed quite often during its tenure, and the front end also had to be repainted several times, because it suffered a lot from the driving. It was necessary to go fast, which meant driving with all that gravel flying."
According to Korrol, the significance of the car was only realized quite late on. After Meri's term of office came to an end, the car was abandoned for ten years, with seemingly no one wanting to exhibit or see it.
"At one point, the car was even offered for sale at an auction, on the osta.ee site, if I remember correctly. Fortunately, someone intervened and the car remained in the possession of the Defense League," Korrol said.
Korrol added, that it is also important for the car to remain on display in the museum in the future, as it is a part of Estonia's national and political history.
"If this car could relay all the stories that have been told from its back seat and the phone calls that have been made in it, then I think a very thick book could have been written about all those memories," Korrol said.
Meri's official car has previously been exhibited at both Tallinn Airport and the Estonian National Museum (ERM) in Tartu.
Editor: Michael Cole