Top court questions constitutionality of Latvia’s dual citizenship rule

Questioning a rule that bars exiles from becoming dual citizens after 1995, Latvia’s Supreme Court is turning to the country’s Constitutional Court to help decide a case involving a family in Germany.

Calling them an unfair restriction on human rights, the Supreme Court’s Department of Administrative Cases decided Aug. 25 to seek an opinion on whether parts of Latvia’s citizenship law are unconstitutional.

An opinion by the Constitutional Court would have bearing on the case of Baiba Lapiņa-Strunska and Viktors Strunskis and their daughter Rauna, who live in Germany. They want the Supreme Court to overturn a decision by the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (Pilsonības un migrācijas lietu pārvalde, or PMLP) that they cannot be dual citizens under Latvian law. The Strunskis family maintains that the Latvian passports issued to them by exile Latvian legations are proof that they were Latvian citizens before 1995 and that they should not have to give up their German citizenship.

When Latvia regained independence from the Soviet Union, a transitional rule in the citizenship law was added that allowed exile Latvians and their descendants to register as citizens without renouncing their citizenship in another country. The window on registration closed in July 1995 and since then dual citizenship has not been allowed.

The case could also have bearing on other Latvian exiles and descendants who have expressed a desire to register as citizens but have been stymied by the restriction. About 30,000 exiles and their descendants did become dual citizens before the window closed.

The Supreme Court’s ruling, spokeswoman Linda Priedīte told Latvians Online in an e-mail, is significant in that it points to shortcomings in the citizenship law and gives the Constitutional Court grounds to take on the case.

Assuming that they were German as well as Latvian citizens, and that by birth their daughter also was a dual citizen, Lapiņa-Strunska and Strunskis sought to get a Latvian passport for Rauna. But the PMLP turned them down, saying that the passports issued by the exile legations only gave them the right to apply for Latvian citizenship. And to do that, they would have to renounce their German citizenship, in accordance with the citizenship law.

The Strunskis family sued but lost their case in the district and regional courts, so they appealed to the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court justices Jānis Neimanis, Andris Guļāns and Vēsma Kakste stopped short of ruling on the case, opting instead to seek the advice of the Constitutional Court. In their opinion, the justices wrote, the transitional rules of the citizenship law violate the constitution as well as the Latvian Supreme Council’s 1990 declaration of independence from the Soviet Union.

The justices based their opinion in part on the principle of state continuity, which in this case argues that despite the Soviet occupation, Latvia as a country remained in existence. Because the country remained in existence, those Latvians who fled the occupation—and their descendants—retained Latvian citizenship. During the occupation, the justices wrote, legations abroad continued their work and their decisions and actions remain valid.

Based on these facts, the Supreme Court said, the Strunskis family are Latvian citizens. The justices also wrote that while nations have a right to determine who may be a citizen, whether a person is a citizen of another country in general is irrelevant.

In language that might have particular significance for those exiles wanting to become Latvian citizens, the justices wrote that the 1995 deadline to apply for Latvian citizenship and the prohibition on dual citizenship are unconstitutional.

In writing the transitional rules, lawmakers failed to address the point that dual citizens became such as a result of the occupation. And, the justices added, “during the time of Latvia’s occupation, these people as Latvian citizens abroad made up one of the Latvian state’s most essential elements—the constitutive people.”

Because the Strunskis family are German citizens and both Germany and Latvia are members of the European Union, the transitional rule also runs counter to the EU’s anti-discrimination law, according to the Supreme Court’s opinion.

Lapiņa-Strunska, in a statement distributed online and to media, applauded the Supreme Court’s decision.

“We are close to the point,” she wrote, “where at a minimum 500,000 Latvian citizens in Western countries will have the right to renew and receive their Latvian citizenship!”

Lapiņa-Strunska also slammed the PMLP, saying that a lid has finally been put on the agency’s understanding of the law.

The Supreme Court has forwarded the matter to the Constitutional Court, Priedīte told Latvians Online. The Constitutional Court must now decide if it will take up the matter.

A final ruling by the Supreme Court on the Strunskis family’s case would be expected after a decision by the Constitutional Court.

The World Federation of Free Latvians (Pasaules brīvo latviešu apvienība, or PBLA) has been informed about the Strunskis case but is not competent to speak about all its consequences, Jānis Andersons, head of the PBLA’s representative office in Rīga said by e-mail.

However, PBLA Chairman Mārtiņš Sausiņš said in a statement that if the Latvian government sees itself as continuation of the state founded in November 1918, then it should acknowledge as legal the citizenship documents issued by Latvian legations in exile.

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

9 thoughts on “Top court questions constitutionality of Latvia’s dual citizenship rule

  1. Let us hope that the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court rule in favor of this family and the many others in a similar situation. Whatever the legal terms, the outcome should be that Latvia acknowledges that II World War Latvian citizen refugees and their descendants the right to be dual citizens. And let us ask and assist PBLA to facilitiate such rulings!

  2. This has been a week of bad news and potentially good news. Let’s hope the Constitutional Court addresses this issue and acknowledges the Supreme Courts opinion. I am of Latvian descendant. My mother is a Latvian citizen, as were her ancestors. I just don’t understand what harm could come to Latvia as a result of me (and my brother) having dual citizenship. I hope that this time common sense prevails. Possibly when it is out of the hands of politicians, and with the courts who base their decisions on law, not emotions, this will have a positive outcome for both Latvia and exiles and their descendants.

  3. Latvians are the third smallest nation on our planet that supposedly has its own country. But the regulations and laws are not supporting Latvians as a nation – the economical conditions are close to Genocide-Democide. And when the Latvian people go abroad to survive they are forced by their own national embassies to ask to take away their Latvian citizenship to be able when returning to their fatherland to register as citizens again, otherwise they would be just withdrawn from the citizen state by the Naturalization office and would have to live in Latvia 5 years as all other non-residents to get their citizenship again. I have been forced 2008 to give away my Latvian citizenship to be able to keep swedish which I need for my occupation. We are talking about half a million latvians (one of the smallest nations on the planet) that are by a Democidal government being kept from their basic human rights – their citizenship.

  4. I strongly support the Supreme Court decision! Only one remark to the article: “We are close to the point,” she wrote, “where at a minimum 500,000 Latvian citizens in Western countries will have the right to renew and receive their Latvian citizenship!” Why only Western countries ??!! Does she really think that ethnic Latvians live only in EU and America?

  5. Very true, Oleg — unfortunately, there is not just a “western-centric” but also a very strong anglocentric “bent” amongst overseas Latvians. Many young ones growing up in anglo countries (e.g. the USA and Australia) cannot even imagine Latvians not speaking English (probably because they cannot speak much else) — not to mention the distrust of “Latvian Latvians.” Living in Russia, you probably wouldn’t even get a look in!

  6. At last! – some common sense to correct a ridiculous situation. Latvia is little more than a Third World country at present and needs its expatriates abroad to help it survive and prosper.

  7. I make this comment, which may or may not be totally relevant to the Strunska case, and, for obvious reasons, omit any names. A person born in Latvija, holder of an antipodean passport (and a citizen) applied for and was granted a Latvian passport upon application supported by their Latvian birth certificate. The original application was made in 2003 and, due to a typographical error in that passport, it was recalled and re-issued in 2008. Also is the article, in Latvians Online of March 28th, 2009, of any relevance? It concerns the dual citizenship of five candidates for the European Parliament, at least two of whom still live outside Latvija.

  8. Lets hope that this asinine law gets over turned. As a Latvian Canadian who grew up speaking Latvian and learning latvian culture, My parents never registered me before the 1995 deadline. Be it as it may, i am 100% latvian by blood on both sides of the family, I speak Latvian but yet I am not latvian due to this discriminatory law of 1995. Latvia has more than half of its population in exile and one of the lowest birth rates in europe. If latvija would like to succeed as a nation, it needs to change its policies. Just because children born before 1995 who were children and were not registered does not mean that they are not Latvian even though they speak the same language. Latvia needs to adopt a dual citizenship law like Israel or they will not succeed in the EU. This policy needs to be overturned or Latvija will continue to lose its population to other nations who will embrace their nationalities.

  9. Latvia must allow dual citizenship for it’s people, especially now that it’s part of EU. Anything otherwise will result in further depopulation of this already tiny country.

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