The Latvian parliament has passed the second reading of amendments to the country’s Citizenship Law. The amendments, among other changes, would open the possibility of dual citizenship for tens of thousands of Latvians now living abroad.
However, opposition politicians said the legislation discriminates against those who do not live in certain countries or who are not ethnic Latvians.
A total of 65 members of parliament voted Sept. 6 in favor of the amendment, eight voted against and 19 abstained, according to a transcript of the Sept. 6 Saeima session.
The legislation (Nr. 52/Lp11) now returns to the Legal Affairs Committee (Juridiskā komisija) in preparation for a third and final reading.
Speaking about language that would once again allow exiles and their descendants to register their Latvian citizenship and become dual citizens, MP Rasma Kārkliņa of the Unity (Vienotība) party reminded the Saeima that the amendment is tied to the concept of state continuity.
Under the current Citizenship Law, exiles and their descendants only until July 1995 were able to reclaim Latvian citizenship without giving up citizenship in their host countries. Since then, dual citizenship has not been allowed.
Many exiles were not able to meet the deadline, Kārkliņa said, and this is unfair.
Besides allowing exiles and their descendants to become dual citizens, the amendments also would allow dual citizenship for citizens of European Union, European Free Trade Association, and NATO defense alliance member states.
The Saeima rejected a proposal from the Russian-oriented Harmony Centre party (Saskaņas Centrs) that would have allowed dual citizenship regardless of where a person lives.
“This proposal is presented with the goal of not discriminating Latvian citizens and their descendants on the basis of which country and ethnic group they belong to,” MP Valerijs Agešins of Harmony Centre told the Saeima. He noted that exiles went not just to Western countries.
“Harmony Centre believes that all citizens—all citizens—are needed by Latvia and it would not be right to lock out those whom fate dropped into countries that do no belong to elite clubs,” Agešins said. Those countries would include Russia.
Dual citizenship should be allowed only with countries with which Latvia has friendly relations, countered MP Dzintars Ābiķis of Unity. He noted that President Vladimir Putin has said that one of the tragedies of the 20th century was the collapse of the Soviet Union, suggesting that the Russian leader views Latvia’s renewed independence as a mistake.
“Therefore it is more than clear that the institution of dual citizenship can exist only with those countries with which we have friendly relations, about which we do not have to wonder if they acknowledge our independence, about which we do not have to wonder if they will invade the territory of our friendly states,” Ābiķis said.
The Legal Affairs Committee has asked for proposals regarding the third reading to be received by Sept. 20. If passed by the Saeima and approved by President Andris Bērziņš, the amended Citizenship Law would take effect Jan. 1.
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