May 13, 2010
Restrictions on dual citizenship, including language that gave exiles until just 1995 to reclaim their Latvian citizenship, are constitutional, the nation’s Constitutional Court has ruled.
The court announced its ruling May 13, ending a challenge to the citizenship law by the Supreme Court and perhaps dashing the hopes of a Latvian family in Germany whose case led to the constitutional question.
However, the Constitutional Court also noted that the restriction on dual citizenship is essentially a political question, not one to be decided on legal considerations, court spokeswoman Līna Kovalevska said in a press release.
“Therefore the overall question about allowing dual citizenship should be decided by lawmakers or by the citizens,” she added, echoing the court’s written opinion.
The Constitutional Court heard the case on April 13 and had 30 days in which to issue an opinion.
In August, Latvia’s Supreme Court justices said that in their opinion rules barring dual citizenship are unconstitutional and asked the Constitutional Court to look into the matter.
The Supreme Court has been considering the case of Baiba Lapiņa-Strunska and Viktors Strunskis and their daughter, Rauna. The three are German citizens but also understood themselves to be Latvian citizens based on pre-1991 passports issued by Latvia’s legations in exile. However, when they tried to register as Latvian citizens in Rīga, officials of the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (Pilsonības un migrācijas lietu pārvalde, or PMLP) told them they first would have to renounce their German citizenship.
When Latvia regained independence in 1991, the government allowed pre-World War II citizens and their descendants to renew Latvian citizenship without giving up the citizenship of their home countries. The “transitional rule” expired in July 1995 and since that time it has not been possible for Latvians to obtain dual citizenship.
Lapiņa-Strunska and Strunskis challenged the rule and sued the PMLP.
Lapiņa-Strunska, reached by e-mail shortly after the decision was announced, declined to comment immediately. However, she said she had expected the result.
Lapiņa-Strunska has said the ban on dual citizenship is unfair and runs counter to modern European practice. The 1995 deadline, she has said, did not give enough time for many exile Latvians and their descendants to learn of the possibility of dual citizenship and to take care of the paperwork. Tens of thousands of potential Latvian citizens, Lapiņa-Strunska has said, were denied the chance to become dual citizens.
The Constitutional Court disagreed, noting that the window for claiming dual citizenship was about three and a half years.
“There is no reason to believe that persons who really wanted to renew Latvian citizenship in all this time had no chance to take care of registration,” the court’s opinion stated.
Under the transitional rule, Latvian citizens and their descendants who from June 17, 1940, until May 4, 1990, left the country as refugees or were deported, and who during that time had become naturalized in another country, until July 1, 1995, could also register as Latvian citizens. After the deadline, persons wanting to become Latvian citizens must renounce their existing citizenship.
According to PMLP data, a total of 30,793 persons registered as Latvian dual citizens. Of those, 12,473 were from the United States; 4,283 from Australia; 3,788 from Canada; 2,759 from Great Britain; and 1,615 from Germany.
Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000-2012 he was editor of the website.