Estonians in the West Coast protest against the SF consulate closure

Estonians and friends of Estonia in the West Coast of the United States have written an open letter to the Estonian foreign minister, protesting the closure of the Estonian consulate general in San Francisco.

“Estonians and friends of Estonia in the Bay Area and on the West Coast are deeply concerned and dismayed by the planned closure of the consulate general of Estonia in San Francisco next year,” the signatories say.

“Opened in 2019 and only fully functional since 2020, during this brief time the consulate in San Francisco has become an essential part of Estonian life in the Bay Area, as well as across the western United States. By developing close connections with the business, diplomatic, governmental, educational and cultural communities, it has positioned itself to take advantage of unique opportunities on the West Coast.”

An Estonian party at the West Coast Estonian Days in 2017.

The signatories of the open letter also say they’re equally concerned over the proposed closure of the New York City consulate, saying they believe keeping both consulates open is in Estonia’s self-interest, and they specifically urge that the foreign ministry give its investments in the San Francisco Bay Area and on the West Coast the time to reach maturity.

“Advancing economic relations and economic cooperation was a top priority when the consulate opened in 2019, along with providing services to the growing number of Estonians in California. California is indeed home to a diverse and vibrant economy, the largest of any US state and the fifth largest in the world, if it was its own country,” the open letter says.

“Silicon Valley as a global center for digital innovation and capital requires no explanation; at the time of the consulate’s opening in 2019, 30 Estonian companies were reported to be operating in the area. While the startup landscape continues to evolve, the critical importance of this ecosystem to both the Estonian and Californian economies, and the connection between them is clear.” 

Limiting Estonia’s global footprint

According to the signatories, the San Francisco consul serves 13 states – Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming – that comprise half of the area of the United States. 

“Estonian citizens travel here, study here and work here. From April 2022 to April 2023, the consulate provided 1,000 consular services,” the open letter says. “San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles are all located three time zones and nearly 4,000 km away from Washington DC, larger than the distance between Tallinn and any European city.”

The Estonian embassy in Washington, D.C. San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles are all located three time zones and nearly 4,000 kilometres away from Washington, D.C., larger than the distance between Tallinn and any European city.

“We are aware that a small country must shepherd its resources wisely and set its own priorities. However, we believe this disinvestment from the western United States is a short-term solution that limits Estonia’s global footprint and influence at a time when this could not be of greater importance.”

“On behalf of Estonian communities, organisations and individuals who have worked in support of a free and thriving Estonia and the continuance of Estonian identity and culture here, we urge the foreign minister to reconsider this decision.”

The signatories of the open letter represent California and West Coast Estonians and some friends of Estonia. Some of the notable signers are Tiit Helimets, a recently retired principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet; Jaan Puhvel, a well-regarded professor of linguistics at UCLA; Jüri Koll, a film director and a member of the Directors Guild of America; Ralf-Martin Soe, an Estonian visiting scholar at Stanford University; Sten Tamkivi, a long-time CEO of Skype Estonia; and many organisations representing Estonians in the West Coast.

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