Court rules dual citizenship restriction is constitutional

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.

8 thoughts on “Court rules dual citizenship restriction is constitutional

  1. I think it’s a far cry for the courts to say people (ex Pats) had plenty of time to register for duel citizenship. As a son of a Latvian Mother who lives in country Victoria in Australia I can tell you back in the early to mid 1990’s there was no information about ex pats regaining there citizenship. There was no internet like we have today for maximum information.And the Latvian government back then made no effort to contact there displaced citizens.The time we found in 1996 it was to late.It wouldn’t of taken much effort to contact ex pats by mail informing them of this choice of duel citizenship.They know where there ex pats are they have a government department which has information where Latvia’s ex pats are living.I know as I was in this department in Riga in 1997. As we say in Australia give people a fair go. I feel very sad for my Mother and people like her. They didn’t asked to be chased out of there country in WW2.

  2. I am the citizen of Latvia in the process of becoming the citizen of another country. I am sad that I would have to give up my Latvian citizenship. Also with it would perish my European citizenship. Might as well dedicate 8 years of my life to UK and obtain EU citizenship that way. I find this protectionism by Latvian government short sighted, people leave and will not come back because they took away their citizenship.

  3. I agree with Robbie. It’s especially frustrating that because my father didn’t register us kids as citizens we lost our opportunity to have dual citizenship. I was only 15 when the opportunity was over. In the year 2002 when I finally visited Latvia for the first time, I learned of this change in the law. Imagine how many people with Latvian ancestry would consider living in Latvia, even for just a few years, potentially settling in and starting families! Latvia is experiencing another diaspora and should not be so strict in this aspect.

  4. As I’ve said here before because of job clearances I couldn’t explore dual citizenship. Give up my job around 1995? Not very realistic for Latvia to expect that. I was born in Latvia, my parents are Latvians and I can’t get dual citizenship, that’s pretty sad and is very narrow minded of Latvia.

  5. I was lucky enough and had the foresight to get dual citizenship while in college. My twin brothers were still in high school and didn’t think much about it. Now, I’m the only one in my family who has a Latvian passport. My poor parents, brothers, nieces, and nephews are left out.

  6. Robbie, there was a lot of publicity regarding the eligibility for LV citizenship pre 1995. It was in the Austrālijas Lativietis newspaper plus word of mouth.

  7. Diāna, do you really believe that everyone reads the Ausralijas Latvietis? or that word of mouth was enough? in fact if we look at individual country census data for people that identify as latvians and then contrast that with membership in clubs like ALA in those countries at least in the U.S. you will find that less than 10% were in the organizations, if so then how could it possibly have got to everyone. if one looks at the history of the community its understandable why some people just disappeared. latvia was a country that had a lot of political views in the pre-war republic which was largely distilled down into an ulmanist variation abroad, this is not a criticism but just a reason why some people may have not participated. Other reasons abound of course, but i find it hard to believe you are justifying a 1995 law, which if one reads the stenograms from Saeima for the debate its clearly about fear of Russians and nothing to do with the trimda. indeed, why would a country with so few human rescources want to limit them further? Its all in the Australijas Latvietis you’d probably say.

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