Lauded in foreign press, Meri snubbed at home

  • 2000-01-13
Estonia's president has been hailed by the in-ternational press as a
reformer and an optimist and may be a big reason why western leaders
can place the Baltics on the map.

U.S. Vice President Al Gore even included Lennart Meri in a recent
monologue on foreign policy aimed at upstaging Republican candidates
in Gore's knowledge of world leaders.

Meri's outspokenness led him to boycott the OSCE summit in Turkey,
claiming the organization has failed in its obligation to secure
Europeans against human rights violations, anti-semitism and
genocide. He specifically protested the organization's action, or
non-action as he said, in Chechnya.

The president's action didn't halt the summit, but it did draw the
attention of world leaders. Following the summit, President Bill
Clinton sent Meri a letter expressing his understanding of his
counterpart's appeal.

In Estonia, Meri has redefined what it means to be president and is
one reason the country's lawmakers and citizens are debating direct
presidential elections.

Despite being lauded in the foreign media, this year he was given
the dubious award, "Least press-friendly person of the year,"by the
Estonian Newspaper Association. He took the opposite honor - "Most
press-friendly public figure"- in 1998. But in 1999, criticism of the
local media during a speech in the United States and unwillingness to
be available to the Estonian press, shot his chances at a repeat of
his 1998 award.