Survey raises hope for dual citizenship

The recent survey about dual citizenship sent out by Latvia’s integration secretariat has raised in me a glimmer of hope that perhaps I could have another chance. Back before 1995, when it was possible for exile Latvians and their children to regain citizenship in the homeland, I balked. My application was all filled out and I was ready to send it to the embassy in Washington, D.C. But a question nagged at me: Why?

I was just a postage stamp away from becoming a dual citizen, in one hand a U.S. passport and in the other a Latvian passport. Acquaintances argued that to have Latvian citizenship would allow me to vote in the homeland’s parliamentary elections. I wondered why I should be voting for people whom I did not know and who would be making decisions that would affect people living in Latvia, but not me.

What clinched the decision to not apply for dual citizenship was a conversation with a woman who had already sent in her application. I posed to her a hypothetical question: You’re in Latvia, with your U.S. passport in one hand and your Latvian passport in the other, and the Russians invade. What do you do? Her answer was a disappointment: She would take her U.S. passport and head home. So much for the responsibility that citizenship brings.

Now, more than a dozen years later, I am ready for both the responsibility and the privilege of Latvian citizenship. I expect to move to Latvia at some point and having dual citizenship would help the process. And having worked in Latvia, I have experienced what a hassle it is for non-citizens to get paid.

Whispers about the possibility of Latvia reintroducing some aspects of dual citizenship have been heard for about a year. As it stands now, the law forbids most Latvians from holding dual citizenship. So it was a pleasant surprise to receive news last week from the Secretariat of the Special Assignments Minister for Social Integration of a survey about dual citizenship.

The survey addresses a specific issue, that of granting dual citizenship to children born abroad of Latvian citizens. One proposal from a task force set up by the integration secretariat suggests this might be a way to foster return migration from some of the tens of thousands of Latvians who during the past several years have moved to Ireland and elsewhere.

I hope it’s a way to start an even broader discussion about extending dual citizenship to an even broader constituency—including those from the trimda who let the 1995 deadline slip by.

The secretariat’s survey asks five questions. Here are my answers:

1. Kurā valstī Jūs šobrīd dzīvojat/strādājat? In which country are you currently living or working?

I live and work in the United States, but I would rather be living and working in Latvia. To avoid a heated political argument at this point, let me just remind readers that none of us chooses where we are born.

2. Vai Jūs esat informēts par Sekretariāta darba grupas izstrādātājiem priekšlikumiem kā atgriezt aizbraukušos Latvijas iedzīvotājus dzimtenē? Are you informed about the secretariat’s task force’s proposals for how to get Latvian emigrants back to the homeland?

Yes, but I am a journalist who keeps tabs on things Latvian. I would not be surprised if many of the surveys returned from locations outside of Europe will show a lack of knowledge or interest about these proposals. After all, the proposals are geared to entice back to Latvia those thousands who have left in recent years to seek their fortunes in countries such as Ireland and the United Kingdom, not the children and grandchildren of the exile.

3. Vai atzīstat, ka Sekretariāta ierosinājums – ieviest dubultpilsonību ārvalstīs dzīvojošo Latvijas iedzīvotāju dzimušajiem bērniem – ir nepieciešams? Do you agree with the necessity of the secretariat’s suggestion that dual citizenship be introduced for children born to Latvian citizens abroad?

Yes, if it clarifies the citizenship law. The law already states that a child born to Latvian citizens abroad gets Latvian citizenship. But there is some confusion, because the law also states that someone who becomes a Latvian citizen (for example, through naturalization) cannot be a dual citizen. I say fix the citizenship law, make it possible for people to hold dual citizenship, and expand the list of who can get dual citizenship.

4. Vai minētā dubultpilsonības ieviešana, Jūsuprāt, stimulētu Latvijas iedzīvotāju iesaistīšanos Latvijas demokrātiskajos procesos (vēlēšanās, referendumos u.c.)? Would introduction of the aforementioned dual citizenship, in your opinion, stimulate Latvian citizens to engage in Latvia’s democratic processes (elections, referendums, etc.)?

You’re kidding, right? Citizenship in and of itself is no guarantee of participation in a democratic process, especially if one has little hope or trust in that process. Many people are disenchanted with politics in Latvia. So why don’t they vote for change? Because they have been disappointed so many times before. And the farther away they are from Latvia, the less interested they seem to be. In last year’s parliamentary election, just 542 citizens voted in Ireland—out of tens of thousands who live there. In the United States, where 12,473 Latvians got dual citizenship before the 1995 deadline, the number of voters has decreased with each election. Last year just 1,479 cast ballots, less than half the number back in 1998. A lot more than extending dual citizenship to children will be needed to get folks involved in the political process, perhaps starting with reform of the electoral process.

5. Vai minētā dubultpilsonības ieviešana, Jūsuprāt, kaut kādā veidā stimulētu Latvijas iedzīvotāju atgriešanos Latvijā? In your opinion would the aforementioned introduction of dual citizenship in some way stimulate the return of Latvian residents to Latvia?

I would have to go with the third choice offered by the survey: only together with other efforts to address issues of well-being. Thousands of Latvian citizens have not moved to Ireland in recent years in search of dual citizenship. They have moved there because they are fed up with low wages and the lack of hope in Latvia. Introduction of dual citizenship would work with me and others who want to move to Latvia, but not on those who have willingly moved away. What they need is convincing evidence that life in Latvia would hold as much promise as life in Ireland or elsewhere.

But opening up dual citizenship in a broad way, to the children of Latvians in Ireland and to the children and grandchildren of the exiles, would nonetheless be a step in the right direction. I have to agree with reader Ivars Graudiņš, who wrote in our forums, “Latvians can be supporters of Latvia and things Latvian even when they do not have Latvian citizenship. However, eat your heart out, without citizenship one is marginalized to act for or in behalf of Latvia. Citizenship is a form of empowerment and raises the sense of belonging and responsibility.”

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

12 thoughts on “Survey raises hope for dual citizenship

  1. I am the daughter of exiled Latvians in Canada. Both parents are now deceased. A day doesn’t go by that I regret that I didn’t have the foresight to proceed with dual citizenship priior to July 1, 1995. I wonder how many kindred tormented spirits there are out there? I have two children with whom I have shared my passion for all things Latvian. However, the glue to it all is the citizenship, as Graudins says, that “raises the sense of belonging and responsibility”. My daughter is now studying in university in Riga (her daily practical and moral quality of life would be greatly improved with Latvian citizenship) and my son is finishing up his Sveiks, Latvija! tour. With all my heart and soul I pray that another chance will open up for dual citizenship. I would pounce with Rotweillerian ferocity at such an opportunity. What other way can I become a Latvian? I believe I need to live there for 5 years, then allow 18 montns for the process, which includes writing an essay to prove understanding of the parliamentary process. I shall continue to read all print available about how it can be done. Are there any petitions or surveys out there that I can hook into? Count me in! Inta

  2. YO, Inta :) My older kids (Dāvis 22, Nīls 20) are also not citizens, but have EU (Swedish) passports. Dāvis was just in Rīga for a few days (both kids are tri-lingual). My youngest, who turns 12 next week, has a Latvian and US passport, but was born in Sweden :)

  3. I am a retired Latvian administrative level social worker and the daughter of exiled Latvian parents now deceased. I had no idea about the 1995 citizenship deadline either. I do hope that I will have a chance to obtain my Latvian passport very soon. I want to be able to take my grandchildren and their parents freely to visit my home country where their great grandparents lived and their cousins are now residing. I long to go back and recapture all what life was like for my mom and dad, and see the farms they grew up on, and the small town where dad was postmaster and mother taught school. I was 4yrs old when my two sisters, 2 and 6, were forced to flee Latvia for fear of my parents lives. Surely there is someway that I can get a Latvian passport also. Alexandra

  4. In the 1990s I was working for the US government and didn’t feel that having dual citizenship would be real good for my clearance situation and work. Maybe, I was wrong but my job was important to me. Being a child of two Latvian parents,both were born in Latvia and fled Latvia in 1944, I never thought that eventual dual citizenship would be denied to me or could ever be. Was I ever WRONG! Having two born in Latvia and 100% Latvian parents with a family history of Latvians, well, it seems strange to me to be denied now.

  5. Born into a free Latvia in 1935, I was 9 years old when my mother and I fled Latvia in Oct 1944. I have never ceased to consider myself Latvian even though I took Australian citizenship as a young man. Eight children and eighteen grandchildren later and after 3 trips back to Latvia, I have finally managed to find my family in Riga. I was not aware of the window of opportunity in the 1990s to reclaim citizenship and would dearly love to move back semi permanently. (Each time I go through customs they ask me why I don’t have a Latvian passport) It seems incongruous that those whose circumstances were similar and who met the cutoff date are allowed to have Latvian citizenship, where those who missed the arbitrary cutoff date cannot.

  6. Is there any way for those of us, who missed the ’95 deadline, to get together for a “class action” of somekind? Is there such a thing in the Latvian judicial system? Does anyone know? I too would like dual citizenship. Can we use the strength in numbers strategy? On the other hand, how many of us can there be left who want this privilege? I really doubt that the government would have to deal with an onslaught of such requests. Is there anyone who knows a lawyer, in Latvia, who might take this task on? It seems to me that what we are asking for is quite simple. Am I deluded? Naive?

  7. It seems absurd that we, born or Latvian parents, should be denied dual citizenship. There are enough of us, I know, who feel that way and would work toward achieving it. There is a big push right now for children of Latvian-born citizens to be accepted for dual citizenship, as in the case of all the Latvian babies being born in Ireland from recent immigrants. With Latvija in the EU, migrations will be rampant, and this issue will need to be addressed to benefit the need for more Latvian citizens, not fewer.
    The point for us wannabes, is, that we too might ride in on the coattails. Can it not be argued that we,too, are children of Latvian parents ? Okay, most of us are “orphans”, but nonetheless children of Latvian parents. I’m up for a fight! What’s to lose? When the little offspring get in (as they should!) let’s hand in our petitiion!

  8. I think that the only reason why soooo many people from far away places suddenly realise that the they want to apply for Latvian citizenship is that Latvia is now part of the EU, and with a Latvian passport they can leave and work anywhere in the EU… Sad reality, when in fact you are denying citizenship rights to the ones who deserve it, the oppressed Russian minority that has been living in Latvia for decades if not for centuries. I’m sad that the EU did not require Latvia to learn democracy before joining, only because of its hunger for cheap labour from the East.

  9. My younger sister and I got the dual citizenship before 1995, but for some reason our parents did not apply for all 5 kids in my family. It was so sad when we were in Latvia trying to apply for my older brother to get citizenship and the officials in the various places we went telling him there was nothing they could do. I am also in favor of the government extending the dual citizenship law. Does anyone know who we could write to, or something we could do to help the situation?

  10. I have lived in Latvia for 6 years without Latvian citizenship. It is not a good situation to have a well informed opinion and not be able to vote. When the window of opportunity existed in 1995 I never knew about it. I would love to have the opportunity to fill in a survey about this but again I am not informed about it!

  11. It is my second post to the same article-i do not understand, what was a need for the deadline in a first place? Anybody, that now lives outside the Latvia; are pretty much well to do people, and every time we are going there to visit, we are bringing so much needed moral and financial support to our Dzimtene…I have lot of colleagues, that came to the US from different countries, and NONE of them can understand, why it is such a big problem to obtain Latvian citizenship…

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