Latvia's honorary consulates abroad (1918-1991)

16.12.2014. 10:18

Latvia's honorary consulates abroad (1918-1991) 

"The work of establishing the Latvian state is progressing rapidly. We have already set up an army. The domestic life of our country is now running along more or less normal lines. Political and economic ties with foreign countries have also been established, and all that remains is for us to develop them and organize them better. To achieve this, the Economic-Consular Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is establishing Latvian consulates abroad - both in the most important cities and in centers where larger groups of Latvians reside."

What follows is an elaboration of the activities to be undertaken by consulates in order to defend national economic interests and the rights of Latvian citizens abroad. Though this article sounds as if it could be of recent vintage, it was published on 16 September 1919 in Valdības Vēstnesis, the official gazette of the Provisional Government of Latvia. We look upon it as the founding document of all consulates of the Republic of Latvia.

Interestingly, action preceded the written document: on 7 July 1919, the first Honorary Consular Agent, Jānis Kalniņš, was appointed to work in New York (USA) and on 18 August 1919 Arturs Vanags became honorary consul in Oslo (Norway). Later that year, on December 1, Honorary Consul Roberts Valdmanis assumed his duties in Shanghai (China).

In 1920, the number of Honorary Consuls serving in foreign countries was 6, followed in 1921 by 11, in 1922 by 31. In 1923, 12 new Honorary Consuls were appointed. The year 1922 is considered as the year when Latvia first established a network of honorary consulates, with 26 operating in Great Britain, its colonies and dominions, 7 in Germany and one in each of 12 other countries. The reason why the figures at times seem to conflict stems from the fact that some of the newly opened honorary consulates functioned only briefly – between five months and one year. Furthermore, between 1919 and 1921, government changes and other developments necessitated the closure of 3 honorary consulates in Georgia, 2 in China and 1 in Japan.

During the first years of Latvian independence, consular activities followed the regulations established in Czarist Russia in 1903. This changed in 1925, when Latvia drafted its own regulations; these were revised in 1935. To meet the needs of Honorary Consuls, normative acts and documents relating to consular activities were translated into English, French and German. In 1925 honorary consular agencies where renamed honorary vice-consulates.

The number of Latvian honorary consular representations abroad between 1924 and 1940 was as follows:

 

1924

1925

1928

1933

1940

Honorary consulates-general

2

2

5

9

9

Honorary consulates

34

50

77

120

101

Honorary vice-consulates

29

48

82

61

76

Honorary consular representations in total

65

100

164

190

186

The greatest number of Latvia's honorary consular representations was located in the United Kingdom and its dominions, followed by Germany, the United States, Sweden, Finland, France and Norway.

Following Latvia's occupation and annexation by the USSR, the Cabinet of Ministers of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic adopted a decision on 8 August 1940 on the cessation of activities of Latvia's representations abroad. Because the USSR Supreme Soviet had already decided to terminate the work of all Latvian embassies, missions and consulates on 5 August 1940 so as to coincide with the date of Latvia’s incorporation into the USSR, the Latvian SSR Cabinet of Ministers felt obliged to stipulate in its decision of 8 August 1940 that this decision came into force already on 6 August 1940. It was decreed that the archives and property of Latvia's representations abroad be transferred to the representation or consulate of the USSR in each country. In addition, Latvian consular representations had to inform the local authorities they were ceasing operations.

Of the 186 Latvian honorary consulates, 128 ceased activities in August 1940. This meant that there were no longer any Latvian honorary consulates in 17 European and 3 Asian countries, Cuba or Egypt.

Refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the forcible annexation of the independent Republic of Latvia by the Soviet Union and considering as legally non-binding the directives of the Latvian SSR government and those of a third state (USSR), 58 Latvian honorary consular representations continued to operate in 8 countries throughout the Second World War and during the first postwar decade. These consulates were located in the USA, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Ireland, Canada, the United Kingdom (including its protectorates, dominions and colonies) and Norway.

As the years passed the number of consulates diminished. In 1946, 50 honorary consular representatives were active in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries, but only 32 remained so in 1975. At the beginning of the 1950s in the United States, there were 5 honorary consular representatives, but in years that followed, only Leo Andersons (1932-1987) and Aivars Jerumanis (1987-1992) in Los Angeles continued to pursue their work actively. Emils Delins, who in 1979 was appointed vice consul in Australia (Melbourne), in 1982 became honorary consul and in 1992 - honorary consul general. Emils Delins continues to hold this post to this day.

During the decades of foreign occupation, Latvia’s honorary consular representatives were appointed by Kārlis Zariņš, Ambassador and Consul General in the United Kingdom. In view of the uncertain times ahead following the outbreak of World War II and the establishment of Soviet military bases in Latvia in 1939, on 17 May 1940 the Latvian Cabinet of Ministers granted Ambassador Zariņš extraordinary powers and delegated him to supervise the work of Latvia's representations abroad in time of war or other extraordinary circumstance. Ambassador Zariņš was authorized to defend Latvia’s interests in all countries (except Estonia, Lithuania, Finland, Sweden, Germany and the USSR); issue binding orders to institutions representing Latvia; oversee all property and handle financial resources of these institutions; relieve ambassadors of their duties; transfer or discharge employees of these institutions; and close these institutions (except Latvia’s Embassy in the United States). Since most Western democracies did not recognize the legality of the USSR’s annexation of Latvia, it was possible to continue Latvia’s representation abroad. The scope of Latvian diplomatic and consular activities, however, was determined by each country’s particular view of Latvia’s incorporation – de facto or de iure – into the USSR; Latvian diplomats worked either in an official status or within the limits of a personal diplomatic status. These same considerations applied to the work and status of honorary consuls; thus, after 1940 it was possible to appoint in a number of countries only acting consuls and acting vice consuls. Only the US and Australia endorsed the establishment of Latvian honorary consular missions without any restrictions and assented to the appointment of honorary consuls and vice consuls.

After the death of Kārlis Zariņš in 1963, Latvian diplomats abroad delegated the duties of overseeing the diplomatic and consular services to Latvia’s chargés d'affaires in the United States. It should be noted that the United States never recognized de iure or de facto the Soviet Union’s incorporation of the three Baltic States. Thus, until 1991, when Latvia regained its independence, the Latvian chargé d’affaires in Washington appointed Latvia’s honorary consular officials.

Between 1942 and 1991 more than 40 honorary consular representatives were appointed in the United States, Great Britain and the Commonwealth countries of Australia and Canada. Since occupation forces ruled Latvia, the status and powers of Latvian honorary consuls were limited. Their principal function was to defend the interests of Latvian citizens in their countries of residence and beyond the borders of those countries, and maintain their consular offices so as to remind the world of the continued de iure existence of the Republic of Latvia.

Silvija Križevica,

Senior Desk Officer

Historical Archives Section

Documentation Administration Department

December 2002

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The following sources of statistical information were utilised in the writing of this article:

Ārlietu ministrijas darbība 1925.g. Rīga, 1925.

Latvija desmit gados. Rīga, Jubilejas komisijas izdevums, 18th November, 1928.

Latviešu konversācijas vārdnīca.- Vol. 9.-Rīga, 1933,.column 17464-17480.

Latvijas diplomātiskās un konsulārās pārstāvības ārzemēs. Ārlietu ministrija. Rīga, 1933.

Likumu un Ministru kabineta noteikumu krājums. No. 17, 24th August 1940, pp. 222.-225.

List compiled by E. Jēkabsons and V. Ščerbinskis (researchers at the Latvian State Historical Archives) “Latvijas konsulārie pārstāvji ārvalstīs. 1918. -1991.” Unpublished. Used with the authors' permission.