Consulate closures: Letter from US West Coast

The San Francisco Estonian Society in its current form was founded in 1950. The first West Coast Estonian Days were held by the Estonian League of the West Coast in San Francisco two years later, in 1953.
The San Francisco Estonian Society in its current form was founded in 1950. The first West Coast Estonian Days were held by the Estonian League of the West Coast in San Francisco two years later, in 1953. Source: SF Estonian Society

In response to the closure of the consulate in San Francisco, more than 200 Estonians from California and the West Coast, as well as nine organizations, have signed an appeal "In Support of the Consulate General of Estonia in San Francisco."

The San Francisco Estonian Society's appeal is published in its entirety below.

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.

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.

We are equally concerned over the proposed closure of the New York consulate. We believe keeping both consulates open is in Estonia's self-interest, and we specifically urge that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 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 U.S. state and the fifth largest in the world, if it was its own country.

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.

California is also home to a large diplomatic corps in both the Bay Area and Los Angeles, as well as opportunities benefiting Estonia across the region's educational and cultural landscape, including but not limited to top universities (Stanford, UC Berkeley, and UCLA) and the entertainment industry of Southern California. The consulate has organized visits to the region by delegations of Estonian business leaders, Estonian politicians and government officials, and leaders of Estonian universities, a role that honorary consuls or local societies alone can't fill.

For local Estonian communities, the primary impact of the closures is the inaccessibility of consular services. 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 and work here. From April 2022 to April 2023, the consulate provided 1,000 consular services. (In addition to serving Estonian citizens, the office assists e-residents and processes visas for travelers.) San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles are all located three time zones and nearly 4,000 km away from Washington D.C., larger than the distance between Tallinn and any European city.

Without a consulate, Estonian citizens, who also make up a large part of all generations of the diaspora community, will lose the opportunity to vote in person in Estonian elections. And while the activities of the diaspora community have long stood independent on the West Coast, we have welcomed and appreciated the involvement of consul staff, which has helped us build new connections, and begun to play a role in creating relationships with newly arrived Estonians. Active community creates and maintains identity, which matters when it comes to speaking up for Estonian interests.

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. While the work of honorary consuls is admirable and necessary, they cannot accomplish all of the roles that Ministry of Foreign Affairs staff fulfill in their full-time work. Wherever these professionals are present, they raise Estonia's profile.

At a time when funding for European and Baltic security is increasingly driven not only by government institutions in Washington, D.C. but by American popular opinion, Estonia's presence more broadly through the hands-on, in-person work of the consulate general must continue to be felt. We believe that closing consulates at this moment is detrimental to Estonia's international standing and contrary to its security interests.

On behalf of Estonian communities, organizations, 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 San Francisco Estonian Society's appeal and over 200 signers and their affiliations could be seen here.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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