July 29, 2007
The recent survey about dual citizenship sent out by Latvia’s integration secretariat has raised in me a glimmer of hope that perhaps I could have another chance. Back before 1995, when it was possible for exile Latvians and their children to regain citizenship in the homeland, I balked. My application was all filled out and I was ready to send it to the embassy in Washington, D.C. But a question nagged at me: Why?
I was just a postage stamp away from becoming a dual citizen, in one hand a U.S. passport and in the other a Latvian passport. Acquaintances argued that to have Latvian citizenship would allow me to vote in the homeland’s parliamentary elections. I wondered why I should be voting for people whom I did not know and who would be making decisions that would affect people living in Latvia, but not me.
What clinched the decision to not apply for dual citizenship was a conversation with a woman who had already sent in her application. I posed to her a hypothetical question: You’re in Latvia, with your U.S. passport in one hand and your Latvian passport in the other, and the Russians invade. What do you do? Her answer was a disappointment: She would take her U.S. passport and head home. So much for the responsibility that citizenship brings.
Now, more than a dozen years later, I am ready for both the responsibility and the privilege of Latvian citizenship. I expect to move to Latvia at some point and having dual citizenship would help the process. And having worked in Latvia, I have experienced what a hassle it is for non-citizens to get paid.
Whispers about the possibility of Latvia reintroducing some aspects of dual citizenship have been heard for about a year. As it stands now, the law forbids most Latvians from holding dual citizenship. So it was a pleasant surprise to receive news last week from the Secretariat of the Special Assignments Minister for Social Integration of a survey about dual citizenship.
The survey addresses a specific issue, that of granting dual citizenship to children born abroad of Latvian citizens. One proposal from a task force set up by the integration secretariat suggests this might be a way to foster return migration from some of the tens of thousands of Latvians who during the past several years have moved to Ireland and elsewhere.
I hope it’s a way to start an even broader discussion about extending dual citizenship to an even broader constituency—including those from the trimda who let the 1995 deadline slip by.
The secretariat’s survey asks five questions. Here are my answers:
1. Kurā valstī Jūs šobrīd dzīvojat/strādājat? In which country are you currently living or working?
I live and work in the United States, but I would rather be living and working in Latvia. To avoid a heated political argument at this point, let me just remind readers that none of us chooses where we are born.
2. Vai Jūs esat informēts par Sekretariāta darba grupas izstrādātājiem priekšlikumiem kā atgriezt aizbraukušos Latvijas iedzīvotājus dzimtenē? Are you informed about the secretariat’s task force’s proposals for how to get Latvian emigrants back to the homeland?
Yes, but I am a journalist who keeps tabs on things Latvian. I would not be surprised if many of the surveys returned from locations outside of Europe will show a lack of knowledge or interest about these proposals. After all, the proposals are geared to entice back to Latvia those thousands who have left in recent years to seek their fortunes in countries such as Ireland and the United Kingdom, not the children and grandchildren of the exile.
3. Vai atzīstat, ka Sekretariāta ierosinājums - ieviest dubultpilsonību ārvalstīs dzīvojošo Latvijas iedzīvotāju dzimušajiem bērniem - ir nepieciešams? Do you agree with the necessity of the secretariat’s suggestion that dual citizenship be introduced for children born to Latvian citizens abroad?
Yes, if it clarifies the citizenship law. The law already states that a child born to Latvian citizens abroad gets Latvian citizenship. But there is some confusion, because the law also states that someone who becomes a Latvian citizen (for example, through naturalization) cannot be a dual citizen. I say fix the citizenship law, make it possible for people to hold dual citizenship, and expand the list of who can get dual citizenship.
4. Vai minētā dubultpilsonības ieviešana, Jūsuprāt, stimulētu Latvijas iedzīvotāju iesaistīšanos Latvijas demokrātiskajos procesos (vēlēšanās, referendumos u.c.)? Would introduction of the aforementioned dual citizenship, in your opinion, stimulate Latvian citizens to engage in Latvia’s democratic processes (elections, referendums, etc.)?
You’re kidding, right? Citizenship in and of itself is no guarantee of participation in a democratic process, especially if one has little hope or trust in that process. Many people are disenchanted with politics in Latvia. So why don’t they vote for change? Because they have been disappointed so many times before. And the farther away they are from Latvia, the less interested they seem to be. In last year’s parliamentary election, just 542 citizens voted in Ireland—out of tens of thousands who live there. In the United States, where 12,473 Latvians got dual citizenship before the 1995 deadline, the number of voters has decreased with each election. Last year just 1,479 cast ballots, less than half the number back in 1998. A lot more than extending dual citizenship to children will be needed to get folks involved in the political process, perhaps starting with reform of the electoral process.
5. Vai minētā dubultpilsonības ieviešana, Jūsuprāt, kaut kādā veidā stimulētu Latvijas iedzīvotāju atgriešanos Latvijā? In your opinion would the aforementioned introduction of dual citizenship in some way stimulate the return of Latvian residents to Latvia?
I would have to go with the third choice offered by the survey: only together with other efforts to address issues of well-being. Thousands of Latvian citizens have not moved to Ireland in recent years in search of dual citizenship. They have moved there because they are fed up with low wages and the lack of hope in Latvia. Introduction of dual citizenship would work with me and others who want to move to Latvia, but not on those who have willingly moved away. What they need is convincing evidence that life in Latvia would hold as much promise as life in Ireland or elsewhere.
But opening up dual citizenship in a broad way, to the children of Latvians in Ireland and to the children and grandchildren of the exiles, would nonetheless be a step in the right direction. I have to agree with reader Ivars Graudiņš, who wrote in our forums, “Latvians can be supporters of Latvia and things Latvian even when they do not have Latvian citizenship. However, eat your heart out, without citizenship one is marginalized to act for or in behalf of Latvia. Citizenship is a form of empowerment and raises the sense of belonging and responsibility.”
Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000-2012 he was editor of the website.