Special commission to study changes to Latvia’s citizenship law

A special subcommission will be created to work out differences among three sets of proposed amendments to Latvia’s citizenship law, including changes that could lead to allowing dual citizenship in certain circumstances.

The Saeima’s Law Commission decided March 23 to form the subcommission to study the proposed amendments as well as other issues related to the Citizenship Law, according to the parliamentary press office.

“To codify all these initiatives and to take into account suggestions from experts and the public, we have decided to form a subcommission to prepare a bill,” Ilma Čepāne, chair of the Law Commission, said in a press release.

Since January, the Saeima has received bills from the National Association (Nacionālā apvienība “Visu Latvijai!” – “Tēvzemei un Brīvībai/LNNK”) and from the Unity (Vienotība) bloc, as well as an initiative from President Valdis Zatlers.

Čepāne, a member of the Unity (Vienotība) bloc, herself is a co-sponsor of one of the proposed amendments.

Under Latvian law, dual citizenship no longer is allowed. From 1991 to July 1995, exile Latvians and their descendants were able to register as Latvian citizens without giving up the citizenship of their home country. Since then, pressure to reconsider restrictions in the law has increased both from exile Latvians who missed the 1995 deadline and from politicians interested in helping thousands of post-independence emigrants maintain ties with their homeland.

All three sets of amendments seek to allow dual citizenship for wartime exiles and their descendants, as well as to former Latvian citizens who have become citizens of European Union, European Free Trade Association and NATO defense alliance member states.

However, the proposals differ in several ways. While all three would allow dual citizenship for persons who left Latvia between the start of the Soviet occupation of Latvia in June 1940 and Latvia’s declaration of independence from the U.S.S.R. in May 1990, only Unity’s proposal has language that specifically mentions World War II exiles (trimdinieki), creating a specific paragraph in the law identifying them.

All three proposals address Latvians now living abroad, especially in Europe. While the United States and Canada are not mentioned by name, they would fall under the proposals’ desire to extend dual citizenship to Latvians in NATO member states. Only the National Alliance proposal specifically addresses Australia and Brazil—countries with significant ethnic Latvian populations. The president’s amendments and Unity’s bill could include Australia and Brazil under provisions recognizing dual citizenship through bilateral agreements.

Only Unity’s and the president’s proposals include language allowing dual citizenship for persons who become citizens of another country through marriage. Only the National Association and the president’s proposals mention granting dual citizenship rights to children adopted by Latvian parents.

The president’s initiative also includes language to make it easier for children born of non-citizens in Latvia to become citizens.

The Law Commission will ask the Saeima to set a deadline in September for recommendations to be submitted for the legislation’s second reading. Each fraction in the Saeima will be asked to appoint two representatives to the subcommission, according to the parliament’s press office.

Zatlers is expected to meet at the beginning of April with a group of ethnic Latvian youth in the United States interested in the dual citizenship issue. The president will be attending the annual conference of the Joint Baltic American National Committee in Washington, D.C.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

2 thoughts on “Special commission to study changes to Latvia’s citizenship law

  1. It never made any sense to me to cut off access and deny refugees who during WII fled Latvia, many of us like me, every year fewer and fewer of us, little kids or babies who ran with our parents. Taking the citizenship opportunity away felt almost punitive. Taking it one step further, we should always have had an opportunity to get dual citizenship. Asking us to give up, say US citizenship to do that was/is naive and more than unrealistic. We have built lives and have memories, relationships and ties elsewhere,and have children and grandchildren like my wife and I. She went through the same flight and trauma that I did. My life started out very hellish with much, much suffering borne by my parents but not anything more and in many cases less than others and those that stayed. For our family, we like most families that fled, were able to work through that, but like for my mother and father and others, they carried scars, the loss of country, family and identity, their “loss of self”, to their grave. Both my parents were Latvians, born in Latvia before WWI.I was born in Latvia in 1942. We fled in 1944.I had a career in the US where I couldn’t jeopardize that with dual citizenship, when the short window opened and closed. Now retired, I would love to have dual citizenship as would my wife and children, and while that is very important to me, I know that my parents would smile on that from above, maybe that would return some self, self esteem to their souls. The loss that we, especially they suffered, as a two year old I was to some extent along for the ride, has stayed with me all my life and is something that never goes away. The times I have returned to Latvia it is like I belong there.

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