Ilmārs Čaklais of the Unity (Vienotība) party confers with other MPs during the May 9 debates on amendments to the Citizenship Law. Čaklais led the Citizenship Law Amendments Subcommittee of the Legal Affairs Committee. (Photo by Reinis Inkēns, Saeima Chancellery)
After several hours of debate, the Latvian parliament on May 9 approved legislation that will allow dual citizenship for many individuals, including World War II-era exiles and their descendants.
The amendments to the Citizenship Law, which passed on a vote of 54-27, take effect Oct. 1.
The amendments also clarify the citizenship process for children born to non-citizens or to those born abroad to Latvian citizens. In addition, they spell out changes in the naturalization process.
Reworking the Citizenship Law became increasingly urgent in recent years as tens of thousands of Latvia’s citizens have emigrated since the country became a member of the European Union in 2004. Diaspora organizations have pressured Latvian politicians to deal with the question of dual citizenship.
The parliament faced 93 proposals to review as part of the final reading of the amendments. Debate arose around a number of proposals that dealt with dual citizenship and the granting of citizenship to children.
Almost immediately coalition and opposition MPs began sparring over a new section of the Citizenship Law that outlines the goals of the legislation, including the guarantee that ethnic Latvians and Livs may register as citizens.
Valērijs Agešins of the opposition party Harmony Centre (Saskaņas centrs) said the language moved Latvia closer to becoming an ethnic state that would ignore the interests of minorities. Harmony Centre’s base of support is largely within the Russian-speaking minority.
Ilma Čepāne of the Unity party (Vienotība) and head of the Legal Affairs Committee responded that Latvians and Livs are the core of the nation.
In a series of proposals that were turned down, Harmony Centre (Saskaņas centrs) also sought to broaden the countries with which Latvia would recognize dual citizenship.
Under the approved amendments, dual citizenship will be allowed for those Latvian citizens who have become citizens of member states of the European Union, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the NATO defense alliance. In addition, thanks to lobbying by the World Federation of Free Latvians (Pasaules brīvo latviešu apvienība) and other diaspora organizations, dual citizenship also will be allowed with Australia, Brazil and New Zealand.
This did not sit well with Harmony Centre MPs, including Agešins.
“Only those Latvians who live in the right countries will be able to have dual citizenship,” Agešins said during floor debate.
Harmony Centre tried unsuccessfully to replace EFTA with either the Council of Europe or the World Trade Organization. Both organizations include Russia as a member state.
Boriss Cilēvics of Harmony Centre pushed MPs from the ruling coalition to name with which countries Latvia would not allow dual citizenship, while Nikolajs Kabanovs said that the desire to shut out Russia was a political effort aimed against his party.
The only point on which MPs seemed to agree was allowing exiles and their descendants to register as Latvian citizens. That proposal passed unanimously.
The section on exiles applies to persons who were citizens of Latvia on June 7, 1940, as well as their descendants who will have been born by Oct. 1, 2014. Exiles are those who left Latvia during the first Soviet occupation, during the Nazi occupation from 1941-1944, or during the second Soviet occupation up to May 4, 1990, the day the Latvian Supreme Council declared independence from the USSR. Exiles or the descendants who register as Latvian citizens also are allowed to have dual citizenship.
During floor debate, proponents of the legislation pointed out that the language on exiles applies to Latvians regardless of where they live.
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