February 24, 2012
A Latvian government agency will appeal a recent Supreme Court ruling that restores dual citizenship for a scientist who now lives in Sweden, a spokesman says.
Attorneys for the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (Pilsonības un migrācijas lietu pārvalde, or PMLP) have reviewed the ruling in the case of physicist Uldis Bērziņš and plan to appeal it to the Senate of the Supreme Court, spokesman Andrejs Rjabcevs told Latvians Online in a Feb. 24 e-mail.
Justices of the Supreme Court’s Chamber of Civil Cases on Feb. 16 overturned a lower court’s decision that stripped Bērziņš of his Latvian citizenship. Bērziņš in 2007 became a naturalized Swedish citizen but did not relinquish his Latvian citizenship. However, under Latvian law, dual citizenship is not allowed and so the PMLP sought to revoke Bērziņš‘s Latvian citizenship.
From 1991-1995, a transitional rule in the Citizenship Law allowed more than 30,000 exiles and their descendants to reclaim their Latvian citizenship without giving up the citizenship of their home country. Several attempts to lift the restriction have failed, although proposed amendments to the Citizenship Law now before the Saeima appear to have broad support, especially as the emigration of tens of thousands of citizens in recent years has become a major political issue.
Arguing for Berziņš before the justices, attorney Māris Jansons pointed to the proposed amendments—and the fact that they have already cleared a first reading in the Saeima—as one of the reasons his client’s dual citizenship should be allowed, according to a Supreme Court press release.
Jansons also noted that his client’s ties to Latvia are strong and that he has contributed to the development of physics in his homeland. Many people in recent years have moved abroad in search of work, but maintain strong ties to Latvia, even participating in homeland elections, Jansons added.
From the PMLP’s perspective, lawmakers in crafting the Citizenship Law did not foresee special circumstances or criteria that would prevent revoking a person’s Latvian citizenship when that person has become a citizen of another country, Rjabcevs told Latvians Online. A decision by the Supreme Court would establish case law in how to deal with similar situations in the future, Rjabcevs said.
This is not the first the Supreme Court has dealt with the dual citizenship question. In 2010, for example, the court upheld a decision by the PMLP to deny Latvian citizenship to the daughter of Baiba Lapiņa-Strunska and Viktors Strunskis, a couple living in Germany. Ironically, the Supreme Court in the same case in 2009 called into question the fairness of the ban on dual citizenship, but the Constitutional Court in 2010 upheld the restriction.
At least one exception to the dual citizenship restriction has been allowed. In 2010, by a unanimous vote of the Saeima, Canadian citizen Agra Vāgnere was recognized as a Latvian citizen for her contributions to the diaspora community. Vāgnere moved from Latvia to Canada in 1989 and became a Canadian citizen, but missed the July 2005 deadline for reclaiming her Latvian citizenship.
Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000-2012 he was editor of the website.