After the outbreak of the Second World War and the Soviet occupation of 1940, many Estonian diplomats working in embassies remained abroad, and several of the staff of the ministry headquarters managed to flee Estonia during the Second World War. Fifty-six of the diplomats working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs between 1918 and 1940 chose a new homeland.
Among those who were working for the Foreign Ministry or who returned to Estonia after the elimination of the embassies in 1940, 21 were subject to repressions from the Soviet occupying power. A total of 52 diplomats who had worked at the Foreign Ministry over two decades were arrested; 12 of them were executed and 31 died in prison camps or in exile. One diplomat committed suicide before arrest and one was executed by the German occupying forces. Most of the arrests were made in 1940 and 1941, and four after the war. Only six diplomats who were in Estonia escaped repressions.
THE ELIMINATION OF THE FOREIGN MINISTRY AND EMBASSIES IN 1940
- At the beginning of the Second World War, following the June coup of 1940, Estonia’s merging with and incorporation into the Soviet Union began. Nigol Andresen became the Foreign Minister of the new puppet government. On 30 June, the Foreign Ministry recalled all Estonian diplomats. Most of them refused to comply and instead protested the occupation and annexation of Estonia by the Soviet Union. The 23 July 1940 statement by the United States government refused to recognise the annexation of the Baltic States, and the representations of these countries were allowed to continue operating. Several other states also continued to recognise Estonian diplomats as representatives of the Republic of Estonia.
- On 5 August 1940, a law on punishing the traitors and their family members living abroad was published in the official journal of Estonia, Riigi Teataja, classifying all people refusing to return home as traitors, ordering their property to be confiscated and condemning them to be shot within 24 hours of identification. A prison sentence of up to 10 years and confiscation of property also awaited the family members of those refusing to return home.
- On 6 August 1940, the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic 'was admitted' to the Soviet Union. As early as 8 August, the government of the Estonian SSR decided to eliminate all Estonian embassies, consulates and honorary consulates, and hand over their assets to local representations of the Soviet Union. This was duly carried out in several countries.
- By 25 August 1940, all foreign ambassadors posted to Estonia were ordered to leave. By the decision of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Estonian SSR on 11 September 1940, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was abolished. The Estonian SSR’s People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, essentially a front institution, began operating, lacking any right to conduct foreign policy and only carrying out orders from Moscow.
THE ESTONIAN EMBASSY IN LONDON AND CONSULATE GENERAL IN NEW YORK AS THE CARRIERS OF THE LEGAL CONTINUITY OF THE REPUBLIC OF ESTONIA BETWEEN 1940 AND 1991
Following the outbreak of the Second World War and the June coup in Estonia, the diplomatic representations of the Republic of Estonia continued to operate in the United States and the United Kingdom. Thanks to the activities of these foreign missions, the Foreign Ministry was the only public institution that continued to exist between 1940 and 1991, therefore preserving the continuity of Estonian statehood. The policy of non-recognition of the occupation and annexation of Estonia was practised most consistently by the United States.
In 1940, the Foreign Ministry planned to reopen its embassy in Washington but Estonia was occupied again. The consulate general in New York, on the other hand, continued to work until the restoration of Estonia’s independence in 1991. It was home to Johannes Kaiv (1897-1965), the consul general carrying out the duties of an ambassador until 1965. Ernst Jaakson (1905-1998) continued his work. In 1991, Jaakson was named ambassador of the restored Republic of Estonia to the United States and permanent representative to the UN, and he was in the Estonian diplomatic service for a total of 79 years.
The British government did not recognise Estonia’s inclusion in the Soviet Union de jure and in 1940, August Torma (1895-1971) continued to work as an ambassador in London until his death in 1971. Subsequently, the British Foreign Office accepted Ernst Sarepera, an embassy counsellor, as a chargé d'affaires, however, he died only a few months after Torma. After his death, the baton was passed on to an official named August Bergman, who had worked at the embassy since 1923. As it was not permitted to appoint new diplomats, the embassy was moved under the management of Ernst Jaakson at the consulate general in New York, and only the embassy secretary Anna Taru continued to work in London until 1989.
DIPLOMATS WHO REMAINED IN THE FREE WORLD PROTECTED ESTONIA’S INTERESTS IN OTHER COUNTRIES
The diplomats who had remained in the West protected Estonia’s interests in other countries; however, their status was usually semi-official and more uncertain than that of their colleagues in London and New York. Here are but a few of them:
- In 1940, August Koern worked as a counsellor at the Estonian Embassy in Copenhagen, and after the June coup, he remained in Denmark, keeping the consulate open until his death in 1989; and from 1964 to 1982, he was also the foreign minister of the government in exile.
- Aleksander Warma continued to carry out his duties as an ambassador in Helsinki until September 1944, when he was forced to leave Finland at the request of the authorities. He then went on to become a leading figure in the organisations of expat Estonians in Sweden and a member of the government in exile.
- In 1940, Karl Robert Pusta was a special counsellor at the Estonian Embassy in Paris. After France was occupied, he went to the United States and lived in Washington and New York, and organised the cooperation of occupied nations. In 1952, Pusta returned to Europe and until his death in 1964, he was Estonia’s diplomatic representative in Spain, France and Belgium.
GOVERNMENT IN EXILE
- In 1953, the Estonian government in exile started operating and Estonian diplomats played a vital part in its activities. Despite their differences, both the diplomatic representatives as well as the government in exile played an important role in preserving the continuity of Estonian statehood and organising the life of Estonians living in exile. The government in exile was never officially recognised by any government, which is why Estonia’s diplomatic representatives kept a certain distance, and at times, relations became tense.
In the Second World War, Estonia lost its independence, and the Foreign Ministry and embassies were eliminated. The Soviet occupation lasted for half a century, until Lennart Meri became the foreign minister in Edgar Savisaar’s government at the peak of the perestroika and the Singing Revolution in 1990. It is to him the Estonian foreign service dates the 'second coming' that led to the restoration of the Republic of Estonia and the subsequent re-establishment of the Foreign Ministry and embassies. Thanks to the work of Estonian diplomats who remained in the free world, the Foreign Ministry is the only Estonian institution that has continuously worked for 100 years and has therefore carried the continuity and spirit of the Republic of Estonia.
- Leaflet "Estonia and the Second World War" (2.02 MB, PDF)