Leaders bid honorable farewell to Lennart Meri

  • 2006-03-29
  • From wire reports

WITH PRIDE: Meri's funeral proceeded with honor and elegance, and was attended by some of Europe's most distinguished leaders.

TALLINN - Distinguished leaders from across Europe gathered at Kadriorg Palace to pay respects to one of Estonia's most beloved presidents on March 26. Lennart Meri was quietly laid to rest in the company of his closest friends and family at Forest Cemetary, after an elegant public service in Tallinn's Kaarli Church.

"Meri believed in the ability of personality to shape history, and that small countries could play a special role in today's world. Steadfast and charismatic, he gave others confidence in him and in Estonia," President Arnold Ruutel said during the Kadriorg Palace ceremony. Ruutel said that, as a statesman, Meri applied his unique skill to change the pace of time. "Meri was a valuable contribution to speeding up the turn of Estonia's life for the better."

Finnish President Tarja Halonen spoke on behalf of foreign delegations. "Though we miss him and mourn him, we're comforted by fond memories of a person who was truly unique," she said in Estonian. "He was a man who achieved much during his lifetime. Lennart Meri was a deep-thinking humanist who had a special affinity with the Finno-Ugric peoples. He worked tirelessly to improve the prosperity and well-being of the people of Estonia."

The Finnish president said that the events that led to Estonia's re-independence linked the Baltic state's fate even closer to Finland. "For us Finns, he was a fascinating cousin, a cosmopolitan and an artist. For us, he was the new Estonia," Halonen said.

The church service, which proceeded the Kadriorg Palace ceremony, was headed by Archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church Andres Poder. At the end of the funeral, church bells tolled across Estonia for 10 minutes.

Later that afternoon, Arnold Ruutel met in Kadriorg Palace's Museum of Art with current and former European heads of state who had arrived for Meri's funeral. The gathering was attended by Finnish President Tarja Halonen, Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, along with former Finnish presidents Mauno Koivisto and Martti Ahtisaari, former Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis, former Lithuanian heads of state Algirdas Brazauskas and Vytautas Landsbergis, as well as German ex-President Roman Herzog.

Those present reminisced about Meri's activities as head of state. Fond speeches in memory of the former president were made at the reception by Vike-Freiberga, Adamkus and Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson.

At the moment of Meri's burial, defense forces fired an artillery salute, and an honorary guard stood by his grave until sunrise. The former president died after a prolonged illness on March 14. He was 76.