Latvia’s Constitutional Court has agreed to hear a case that could settle a lawsuit filed by a family in Germany and determine the future of dual citizenship for thousands of Latvians in the diaspora.
The court on Sept. 23 decided to initiate the case challenging the constitutionality of parts of Latvia’s citizenship law, according to spokeswoman Līna Kovalevska. Under the law, exile Latvians and their descendants had the opportunity until July 1995 to register as Latvian citizens without giving up citizenship in their home countries. Since July 1995, dual citizenship has been outlawed.
Latvia’s Supreme Court, which is in the process of ruling on a case involving an ethnic Latvian family living in Germany, said in an Aug. 25 opinion that the restrictions are unconstitutional and called on the Constitutional Court to take a look at the citizenship law.
Baiba Lapiņa-Strunska and Viktors Strunskis and their daughter Rauna went to court after the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (Pilsonības un migrācijas lietu pārvalde, or PMLP) told them that they would have to give up their German citizenship before they could register as Latvian citizens. The Strunskis family contended that passports issued to them by Latvian legations in exile were evidence that they already were Latvian citizens, but the PMLP disagreed.
According to the Supreme Court, under the principle of state continuity Latvia as a nation did not disappear with the start of the Soviet occupation. The legations in exile continued the work of the pre-war Latvian state.
The Supreme Court also said in its opinion that the 1995 deadline to apply for Latvian citizenship and the prohibition on dual citizenship are unconstitutional.
About 30,000 ethnic Latvians became dual citizens before the 1995 deadline, but many have complained that they did not know about the cut-off date. Lapiņa-Strunska, commenting on the Supreme Court’s decision in August, estimated that at least 500,000 ethnic Latvians could be affected by a Constitutional Court ruling.
The Constitutional Court has asked Latvia’s parliament, the Saeima, to submit a written response to the constitutional challenge by Oct. 23. The court expects to finish its preparations by Dec. 23, including collecting other materials that will allow judges to objectively evaluate the case, Kovalevska told Latvians Online in an e-mail.
The court will then determine a hearing date for the case as well as whether the case will be heard in open session or through a written process. An opinion, Kovalevska said, is supposed to be rendered within 30 days of the hearing date.
“The practice so far,” Kovalevska added, “suggests that from the initiation of a case until a judgment is issued on average takes from six to nine months.”
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