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Honorary Doctorates

Selected eight recipients of honorary doctorates from our faculty

Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim
Born June 4, 1867, Askainen. Died January 27, 1951, Lausanne, Switzerland
Honorary doctorate 1919

Akseli Gallen-Kallela
Born April 26, 1865, Pori. Died March 7, 1931, Stockholm
Honorary doctorate 1923

Otto Manninen
Born August 13, 1872, Kangasniemi. Died April 6, 1950, Helsinki
Honorary doctorate 1927

Frans Emil Sillanpää
Born September 16, 1888, Hämeenkyrö. Died June 3, 1964, Helsinki
Honorary doctorate 1936

Ilmari Kianto
Born May 7, 1874, Pulkkila. Died April 28, 1970, Helsinki
Honorary doctorate 1957

Lennart-Georg Meri
Born March 19, 1929, Tallinn. Died March 14, 2006,Tallinn
Honorary doctorate 1986

Esteri Hellen Vapaa-Jää
Born August 24, 1925, Kärkölä. Died November 22, 2011, Espoo
Honorary doctorate 1994

Mirkka Elina Rekola
Born June 26, 1931, Tampere. Died February 5, 2014, Helsinki
Honorary doctorate 2000

Photo: Faculty of Arts
Written by Tero Juutilainen and Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by Matthew Billington

Lennart Meri – Building Cultural Bridges

Lennart Meri is widely remembered as the President of Estonia (1992-2001). However, he started out as a writer, producer and film director. His father, Georg-Peeter Meri, was a diplomat and translator, and consequently the family travelled extensively and Lennart learned to speak several languages fluently. He could speak Finnish, French, German, English and Russian.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Meri family was deported from Tallinn to Siberia. Nonetheless, some of Meri’s relatives had a positive attitude towards the Soviet Union, and his cousin, for example, joined the Soviet Army. While in Siberia, Meri studied the local culture and became interested in the local languages, which were closely related to Estonian. He continued studying these languages later in his career.

Lennart Meri visiting the Pentagon in 1998. Photo from Wikipedia Commons.

Upon returning to Tallinn, Meri first studied at the Tallinn Nõmme Gymnasium before graduating from the Faculty of History and Languages at the University of Tartu in 1953. After his graduation he initially worked as a dramatist in the Vanemuine theatre in Tartu and later as a producer on Estonian radio.

The main source of income for Lennart Meri, however, was writing. His travelogues were widely read both in the Soviet Union and Finland. His best-known works include the 1976 book Hõbevalge (‘Silver White’), which deals with the history of Estonia through original sources peppered with occasional dashes of imagination. Meri was also a member of the Estonian Writers’ Union and an honorary member of the Finnish Literature Society.

Moreover, Meri was a film director. His film work included a series of five documentaries; the most well-known of these was the 1972 film The Winds of the Milky Way (Linnutee tuuled in Estonian), which was banned in the Soviet Union. The film won a silver medal at the New York Film Festival in 1977 and was used as study material in Finnish schools.

Lennart Meri became politically active in the late 1970s. When the Soviet Union gave him permission to visit the West, Meri made good use of the opportunity and tried to form social and cultural contacts beyond the Iron Curtain. He continued in the same manner while serving as the Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs between 1990 and 1992. The Faculty of Languages and History at the University of Helsinki awarded Meri an honorary doctorate in 1986 as recognition for his cultural work.

Monument to Lennart Meri at Tallinn Airport. Photo by E.D. White, from Wikipedia Commons.


  • Oittinen, Hannu, Lennart Meri. Accessed September 17.
  • Zetterberg, Seppo, Viron historia (’The History of Estonia’), SKS, Helsinki 2007. Accessed September 17.
  • Lennart Meri. Wikipedia article (English). Accessed September 17.
  • Lennart Meri. Wikipedia article (Finnish). Accessed September 17
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