Sten Hankewitz, the Executive Editor of Estonian World, writes that by closing the Estonian consulate general in New York City, the country’s government is ripping the heart out of Estonia’s 20th century history and destroying the very principles of the continuity of the Republic of Estonia.
The Estonian foreign ministry has decided, in an effort to cut back expenses, to close its consulates general in New York City and San Francisco. By doing so, they’re completely disregarding the legacy of the great Estonian diplomat, Ernst Jaakson, and the fact that the consulate general in New York City was the last bastion of the freedom of the Republic of Estonia during the Soviet occupation; a monument to its continuity.
When Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940 (and then by the Nazis in 1941, and then again by the Soviet Union in 1944 – which lasted until 1991), the country didn’t cease to exist. Its territory and its people were under an illegal occupation by a foreign power, but the continuity of the statehood, as defined by international law, remained intact. In fact, many countries didn’t recognise the illegal Soviet occupation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania throughout the occupation, most notably the United States and the United Kingdom.
One of the examples of the United States’ non-recognition policy was the fact that the Estonian consulate general in New York City continued to operate throughout all the occupations of the Estonian territory. Not only did the consulate general in NYC remain the only foreign representation of the occupied country, the consul general, Ernst Jaakson, continued issuing Estonian passports to Estonian citizens – passports that were recognised by many Western governments, including the United States.
Some say that by issuing these passports, he helped save a ton of Estonians who were displaced around the world after the Second World War, who had fled or were forced to flee their homeland during the Soviet occupation. Many of them may have perished, hadn’t they had that Jaakson passport.
Erasing a piece of Estonia’s history
And now, the Estonian government is completely disregarding the legacy of Jaakson and the Estonian consulate general in New York. Just a row in the foreign ministry’s Excel sheet? Screw it, delete.
What the current government isn’t realising, however, is that by closing the consulate general in New York City, they’re erasing a massive piece of Estonian history.
The continuity of the Republic of Estonia during the years of occupation comes from international law, that’s a given. But the physical representation of this continuity is this – now deemed insignificant – consulate that operated at the Rockefeller Center for decades and ensured that the Republic of Estonia did, indeed, exist, from 1940 to 1991, even though no contemporary map actually showed its existence.
Let’s remind the Estonian government and its foreign ministry that the first representative of Estonia, Nikolai Köstner, was appointed to New York City on 1 May 1921 – just three years after the Republic of Estonia was born. The consulate started operations on 28 July 1922 when the United States recognised the Republic of Estonia.
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 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.
Not even measuring once
The truth is, Estonia has embassies all over the world, some in very obscure places. An embassy in Egypt? Really? Kazakhstan? Really? Belarus? Are you bloody kidding me? Not to mention that having fully staffed embassies in every European Union country is a colossal waste of money and completely unnecessary, because every EU citizen is technically at home in every EU country.
But this bastion of freedom, this very monument of the Estonian continuity, Estonia’s independence, Estonia’s freedom, the one entity that has stood through the worst of times, that one must go? That’s a disgrace.
The current government of Estonia needs to understand that one of its duties is to preserve the history of the country. And not only the history, but its context. What it represents. Thanks to some political forces in Estonia, many in the younger generation genuinely think that the Republic of Estonia was born on 20 August 1991 when the Estonian Supreme Council – a Soviet name for the Estonian parliament – adopted a resolution of Estonia’s national independence. But when these youngsters travel to New York City – and they will – and visit the Estonian consulate general in Manhattan and learn that this consulate was actually there in 1921, they might learn the actual history of their country.
Closing this monument is ripping the heart out of Estonia’s 20th century history, destroying the very principles of the continuity of the Republic of Estonia and, essentially, spitting in the face of the memory of Ernst Jaakson. Not to mention the tens of thousands of expat Estonians who relied on the services of the NYC consulate – and that of the SF one.
There’s an old Estonian saying. Measure nine times, cut once. The Estonian government didn’t even bother measuring once.