The Estonian American National Council on 29 September issued a statement, saying Estonia’s decision to close its consulates general in New York City and San Francisco came as a shock and disappointment to Estonian Americans and the negative impact of this decision will be felt widely in the US.
“Many [Estonian Americans] have contacted the Estonian American National Council to voice their dismay and feelings that the support given by Estonian Americans to Estonia, not only during re-independence years, but the long 50-year period of occupation to ensure the legal continuity of the Republic of Estonia, is no longer valued by the Estonian government,” the council said in its statement.
“We understand that the Estonian foreign ministry faces severe budget constraints. Yet, this reduction feels short-sighted. How does one monetise good will? How can one put a dollar value on the Estonian diaspora? The New York consulate, previously headed by the legendary diplomat Ernst Jaakson, has been the focal point and symbol of Estonian independence for Estonian Americans ever since Soviet occupation in 1941, over 80 years. It is a vital part of the history of Estonian Americans and of the Republic of Estonia.”
According to the council, the Estonian consulate general in New York City has established strong ties with Estonian communities throughout the East Coast and the Midwest, supporting cultural and educational activities in those centres.
The president of the Estonian American National Council, Marju Rink-Abel said that the council has been a member of the committee to develop the Estonian government’s Global Estonian initiative and programme for 2022-2025, which has as a goal for the foreign missions to engage with the local Estonian community.
The embassy in DC can’t absorb the consulates’ work
“But it should also be emphasised that the established relationships, thanks to the proximity of the consulates, also enhance the work of Estonian Americans in supporting Estonia. The consulates have admirably fulfilled many roles, in addition to providing consular services. The embassy in Washington will not be able to absorb all of this work, even with two additional staff considering the long distances involved,” she stated.
Mai-Liis Bartling, a vice president of the council and the president of the San Francisco Estonian Society, noted that the SF consulate general opened just ahead of the pandemic lockdown, which was followed by a pandemic-fueled economic downturn.
“The consulate may not have had the chance to reach its full potential, but already garnered so much goodwill. We think it’s a lost future opportunity for Estonia to get its message out as a forward-looking, culturally-rich nation, not to mention that West Coast Estonian Americans – already geographically distant from centres of Estonian activity on the East Coast – will once again need to go to extra efforts to get basic consular services,” she added.
The Estonian American National Council, representing the Estonian diaspora in the US, also notes that Estonia will be losing the wide-reaching work and important relationships that have developed between the consulates and the community.
Founded in 1952, the Estonian American National Council is a nationally elected body, representing the interests of Estonian Americans in the United States and Estonia, and is dedicated to preserving and sustaining Estonian culture and heritage.