US President George W. Bush:
A seminal figure in the struggle for freedom, President Meri provided a moral compass to the Estonian people, ably leading them through the challenges that faced an Estonian republic that regained independence after a half-century of oppression.
The New York Times:
In contrast to the office of prime minister, Estonia's post-Soviet presidency was conceived as a largely ceremonial position. Mr. Meri, however, routinely tested the elasticity of the job. In 1994, for instance, Mr. Meri negotiated a treaty with President Boris N. Yeltsin of Russia securing the withdrawal of the last Russian troops from Estonia.
International Herald Tribune:
Among ordinary Estonians, Meri, also a writer and film director, was a beloved, charismatic father figure, whose dry humor and sharp wit only added to his charm.
More broadly, he saw himself as a kind of public conscience, rather like Václav Havel in Prague, a figure who could stand above political squabbling and urge the maintenance of basic standards of behaviour. Meri’s greatest asset to Estonia remained as an international figurehead. A polyglot, endlessly curious, full of humour, Meri charmed foreign visitors, who readily forgave his famous inability to stick to a timetable. He firmly asserted what his life’s work had proved: that Estonia had the right to call itself a fully European nation, historically tied to the West.
On a state visit to Lithuania in the late 1990s, he stopped his official convoy, asked a girl in the street if he could borrow her bike and cycled off to find a much-loved bookshop. On another occasion, he found the coffee served at a City lunch in London so unpleasant that he stopped the convoy again, this time for an espresso at Pret A Manger.
Radio Free Europe:
He grew up in the Estonian missions in Paris and Berlin, learning French so well that several French presidents went out of their way, in clear violation of protocol, to have him seated next to them at dinners in Paris. His German was reputedly so good that several Baltic German families said they were sure that somehow, somewhere there was German in his background. But his father, who at the end of the 1930s was serving as Estonia's deputy foreign minister, insisted from the start that his oldest son learn English and corresponded with him in that language both whenever he was away from home and even, on several occasions, from a cell in the Lubyanka. And possibly as a result of his perfect command of English and his father's enthusiasm, Meri was to the end of his life the most consistent supporter of an Atlanticist perspective for Estonia and her neighbors.
Being 6ft 4in and fluent in six languages, he could not fail to stand out at any international function. Whether he talked in English, French, German or Finnish, few would have realised how much of his background knowledge had come from books hidden during Soviet occupation or from listening illegally to short-wave radio stations.
Finnish President Tarja Halonen:
The Finnish nation lost in Lennart Meri a close and sincere friend and the world, a great statesman who was one of the leading architects of the post-Cold War world.
During Lennart Meri’s time as president Estonia has greatly changed. This was in no uncertain terms achieved by the president of the country whose role in the main was connected with presenting a certain image of the country in the international community. Meri managed to create an image of Estonia in the world that was far from Soviet. It is surprising that a man who lived virtually his whole life in the Soviet Union, starting in Siberia, managed to retain a semblance of European politics. The president of small Estonia was known in different international forums for his smart suit, black tie and decent manners. A man from Tallinn!
Urmas Paet, Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs:
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.