With very little fanfare or ceremony, a further three countries have lost their local Watchtower branches, as the organization continues to quietly downsize operations.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have all been stripped of their branch status. Elders in those countries must now report to the branch in Finland for any matters that cannot be dealt with locally by the congregation.
It is only a year or so since similar “consolidations” were implemented on the other side of the Baltic, when Sweden and Norway were brought under the jurisdiction of the newly formed “Scandinavian Branch” in Denmark.
And 2011 saw the closure of branches in New Zealand and Ireland, not to mention a radical shake-up in Latin America as no less than six branches were axed. Bethelites from those countries were either sent home or reassigned as the Mexico Branch took control of the region. The reason? Because “technology has simplified the work,” and because former bethelites need to “spend more time preaching” – according to the recent JW.org article on branch “consolidation.”
Of the above six now-closed branches in yellow, the most recently dedicated branches were Nicaragua and Panama, which received dedication ceremonies to herald the construction of new facilities in 2004 and 2005 respectively. Little did the brothers know when Samuel Herd came and gave both dedication talks that the branch offices would be redundant within a decade.
And regarding the El Salvador branch, the 1990 Yearbook gave this glowingly-optimistic account of its 1988 dedication ceremony…
“‘Hail the Theocracy, ever increasing! Wondrous expansion is now taking place.’ On Saturday, November 12, 1988, 22,091 voices joined together to sing those stirring words in celebration of the dedication of the new branch office and Bethel Home in the Central American country of El Salvador.” – yb90 p.26
One can’t help but wonder, if El Salvador’s branch’s opening and dedication meant that theocracy was “ever increasing” with “wondrous expansion” taking place, how should Witnesses now interpret its closure, along with that of dozens of other branches globally?
But it is arguably in Europe where the Society’s retreat is most obvious and haphazard, as the following map demonstrates…
Please bear in mind that information displayed in the above map has been put together to the best of my knowledge, and with precious little transparent information from Watchtower as to which branches have been closed. If anybody can supply further authoritative information, I will gladly update the map with any needed corrections.
Basically, the dark blue countries denote branches controlling more than one country, whereas the lightest blue countries show where branches have been recently closed and brought under the control of another country. For some countries (such as Belarus, Bosnia and Malta) there never has been a branch to my knowledge, but I have still tried to show which branches these countries fall under (Russia, Croatia and Britain, respectively).
Here is a written summary of what the above map shows…
- Scandinavian Branch (Denmark) – this now serves Faeroe Islands, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.
- Finland Branch – this now serves Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.
- German Branch – this now serves Luxembourg, Austria and Switzerland.
- French Branch – this now serves Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, La Réunion, Mayotte, Saint Pierre and Miquelon.
- Britain Branch – this now serves Ireland and Malta.
- Slovakia Branch – this now also serves the Czech Republic.
- Greek Branch – this now also serves Cyprus.
A dramatic U-turn
Of all the changes in the above map, the closure of the Estonian and Latvian branches will come as the biggest surprise to the local brothers in those countries. This is because these branches were only dedicated as recently as 2010, and are already being forced to shut down only three years later. And if there is ever to be a poignant symbol of Watchtower’s downsizing U-turns, it is the official welcome brochure for the now-defunct Estonia branch – published in 2010 and still available on this link.
Though Watchtower seems intent in hailing these branch closures, however drastic, as evidence of “God eras[ing] and eliminat[ing] national borders” (w12 8/15 p.16), it doesn’t take too much scepticism to see through the spin and realize that the organization is in steady retreat.
The 2010 Yearbook boasted 118 branches (for 2009), but by 2012 that figure had plummeted to 96. With these latest closures in Northern Europe, we can expect the 2013 figure to show yet more reduction in Watchtower’s global footprint. This is not the sort of smooth, staggered transition you would expect from the Society if this was simply about improved efficiency, with money as no object.
I have already made my views on the causes of Watchtower downsizing well known on this website, so rather than repeat myself I will end this article with a quote. I don’t normally like to quote from uncorroborated sources, but given the preponderance of evidence I will make an exception in this case. Julia Orwell (a well-known visitor to this site) has made the following comment over on the jehovahs-witness.net forum…
“A respectable and reputable elder told me earlier this year when I asked him about all the sell offs that the reason they’ve had to is because the donations just aren’t coming in from developed countries like they used to.”
Given the rapidity and ruthlessness with which these “sell offs” are now being made, this quote sounds credible.