'Managed indiscretions'

  • 2006-03-15
  • By RFE/RL
Lennart Meri left his mark literally 15 years ago during two visits to the White House in Washington. At that time, Lennart 's he was on a first name basis with virtually everyone he came into contact with after only a few minutes 's was foreign minister of a country still occupied by the Soviet Union. Ushered into the Oval Office, he immediately found a common language with President George H.W. Bush, speaking perfect English and finding a connection with a leader who was invariably treading cautiously in his dealings with the three Baltic countries.

After a few minutes of diplomatic niceties, the Estonian foreign minister told the U.S. president, in a way that suggested they had been friends for years, that he knew just where President Bush could go fishing and catch "a really big salmon." Bush, intrigued, asked Lennart to show him precisely where on the magnificent antique globe standing nearby.

Meri promptly got up, walked over to the globe, took out his ink pen, and placed an X on the spot designating a river in Kamchatka in the Russian Far East. Most of those in the room were aghast at this breach of protocol 's not to speak of their fears about possible damage to an incredibly valuable object. And many Estonians who heard about this later were horrified that their foreign minister would point out a river not in their own country but somewhere else.

But if the diplomats and some Estonians were disturbed, the American president was clearly entranced and said with a smile that he would be pleased to go with his new Estonian friend and try his luck in that faraway river.
Five months later, Meri returned to the Oval Office, this time as the representative of an Estonia that had recovered its independence. When he came into the room, President Bush lost no time in asking his "old friend" to show him again just where that river with the salmon was. And again, Lennart got up, walked to the globe 's which had been repaired in the meantime 's took out his pen and placed an X just where he had before. The president laughed, and the friendship was sealed.

In recalling this, Meri always referred to it as one of his "managed indiscretions," his carefully thought-out crossing of lines others had laid down, be they in politics, literature, film, or friendships. And throughout his life, he always acted in this way, whether he was an exile picking potatoes near Sverdlovsk as a child during World War II, a novelist exploring his nation's history, or a filmmaker seeking to bring attention to endangered peoples of the Russian north.