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Lennart Meri – a Great Estonian

30. June 2014 - 10:40

POSTIMEES March 15, 2006

Lennart Meri began his career as foreign minister at a time when the Estonian state had not yet been restored, and left this post for Finland to become the first post-war Estonian ambassador there, when the Estonian flag was already waving proudly in front of the United Nations. He laid the foundation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the direct sense of the expression. He conceived of and built up a network of Estonian information offices in several European capitals, and when the day came, it became the first network of Estonian embassies and consulates. His famous speeches and remarkable, super-intellectual behaviour, which drew attention to Estonia, accompanied him throughout his years as president, but evolved when he was serving as foreign minister.

From April 1990 till April 1992, Lennart Meri held the post of minister of foreign affairs of Estonia. These were but two short years, but in the mind of those who have followed closely the process of Estonia’s resurgence from the ashes, there remains the impression that Lennart Meri has always dealt with foreign policy. Those who visited him at his home in the suburb of Nõmme, even in the old days, remember how he would, from time to time, grab from the bookshelf a French dictionary of diplomacy, inherited from his father, a pre-war Estonian diplomat. As a person who had, already in his childhood, breathed the air of international politics and had become infected by the virus of foreign policy, it was easy for him to grasp the challenges of the new times. When he became minister of foreign affairs, his motto became: "New times require new people!", and the result was, that soon a new Estonian foreign service, staffed by extremely young and talented people, came into being. Its growth and development remained close to his heart until the end.

His colleagues from the early days of the reborn ministry recall that the characteristic traits of his policy were, at the beginning, an ingenious ability to create situations and to wait patiently. He was constantly looking for new contacts abroad, in order to mould them into something useful. But, for his colleagues, the codeword "to wait" meant, that from early morning till late at night something important might take place. In a world where Estonia belongs.

One of the striking moments of Lennart Meri's unique ability to grasp the nature of the situation, occurred at the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation meeting in December 1991, where the North Atlantic Cooperation Council was founded. While the meeting was still in progress, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. To begin with, the Russian foreign minister, Andrei Kozyrev, was delayed, and thereupon, the Soviet ambassador asked for the term Soviet Union to be eliminated from the draft of the final text. The atmosphere of the meeting became tense. At that moment, Lennart Meri flicked ashes off his cigarette, and one of Secretary General Manfred Wörner's assistants thought that Foreign Minister Meri wanted to have the floor. But Minister Meri had already been critical in his comments concerning the continued presence of Russian troops in Estonia, and Wörner was at quite a loss. The situation was serious enough… Nevertheless, he declared: "And now the minister of foreign affairs of Estonia would like to take the floor." Silence fell over the meeting – the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse, NATO had lost its head… Lennart Meri stated: "Mr Secretary General, I was just smoking..." After three seconds of silence the meeting burst out laughing. "... but as you have given me the floor, I would like to recall Orwell..."

We remember Lennart, our first minister, colleague and friend with deep sorrow over his demise, but we are, however, more than glad that he was with us. We remember him as a man who comprehended Orwellian threats better than many others are capable of doing. We remember him as an international persona and a great Estonian who placed Estonia back on the map of the world. As a man who could see farther and think broader than the limiting boundaries predetermined by the smallness his nation would have suggested. Without Lennart Meri, Estonia, in its present form, would be unimaginable.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia

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