The Estonian foreign ministry is to close the country’s consulates general in New York City, NY, and San Francisco, CA; the NYC consulate general operated throughout the Soviet occupation of Estonia and can be regarded as a monument to the continuity of the Republic of Estonia.
The Estonian foreign ministry on 26 September announced it is laying off 45 positions and “rearranging” the work of the consulates general in New York City and San Francisco.
“When talking about saving money for the foreign ministry, we’ve always followed the principle that we have to fulfil our obligations successfully also in the future, and also implement our foreign policy,” the Estonian foreign minister, Margus Tsahkna, said in a statement.
“When we were getting ready for possible budget cuts, we analysed all departments of the ministry. Reducing the number of positions involves every aspect of our activities and also our foreign representations.”
The consulates general in New York City and San Francisco will be closed from the summer of 2024 onwards and, according to the foreign ministry’s statement, “the economic diplomacy and consular affairs in the United States will be rearragned.” The ministry added that an additional consular diplomat and an economic diplomat will be appointed to the Estonian embassy in Washington, DC.
The closure of the consulate general in New York City is especially remarkable as it operated throughout the Soviet occupation of Estonia and can be regarded as a monument to the continuity of the Republic of Estonia. The first representative of Estonia in NYC, Nikolai Köstner, was appointed on 1 May 1921 and the consulate started operations on 28 July 1922 when the United States recognised the Republic of Estonia.
Estonian passports issued throughout the occupation
The consulate was renamed consulate general after Estonia decided to close its embassy in Washington DC. The Estonian foreign ministry planned to reopen the embassy in 1940, but then Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union. The consulate general in New York City, however, operated continuously until Estonia restored its independence.
Until 1965, Estonia was represented in NYC by Johannes Kaiv, followed by the legendary diplomat Ernst Jaakson, who, in 1991, was appointed as the Estonian ambassador to the United States and the permanent representative of Estonia to the United Nations. Jaakson served his country as a diplomat for 79 years, and he was revered by his fellow Estonians for being an ambassador without a country and for making the consulate a symbol of freedom in the decades that the country was occupied by the Soviet Union.
In those years, he represented Estonia’s interests before the government and businesses of the United States and broadcast messages of hope on the Voice of America. He also continued to issue Estonian passports, leftovers from its years as a free nation, which ended in 1940. Jaakson passports, as they came to be known, were honoured by many Western countries, including the United States. Altogether, Jaakson issued some 20,000 Estonian passports.
Most of its existence, the Estonian consulate general in New York City operated at the Rockefeller Center. From 2007 onwards, it has been located on East 47th Street in Manhattan, together with the Estonian permanent mission to the UN – just half a block away from the UN headquarters.