The jubilation over Latvia’s into the European Union, and the more muted but perhaps even more significant pleasure over accession to the NATO defense alliance, have faded all too quickly—particularly for those Latvians living in the West.
Those who left Latvia during World War II and their descendants who are now dual citizens have been as a group openly identified as not being trusted to hold significant public office in Latvia unless they give up their non-Latvian citizenship. In a move that stunned the World Federation of Free Latvians (Pasaules brīvo latviešu apvienība, or PBLA), the People’s Party (Tautas partija) has proposed a law forbidding dual citizens from filling significant public positions.
Currently, only the position of president has this restriction. When Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga became president in 1999, she renounced her Canadian citizenship. At the moment, several dual citizens either hold public office or have been candidates. The most significant of these is perhaps in the most sensitive position: Jānis Kažociņš, head of the euphemistically named Constitution Protection Bureau (Satversmes aizsardzības birojs)—Latvia’s intelligence service—holds British citizenship as well as Latvian.
A brief glance back at Latvia’s citizenship history is instructive. The original 1922 constitution made all those living in Latvia at the time citizens, and forbad double citizenship, as was the norm in Europe.
The issue of double citizenship arose again with renewed independence in 1991, when it was decided to grant citizenship only to those who already had been citizens in 1940 (just before the Soviet occupation) and to their descendants. This of course has been a bone of contention with Russia ever since. For those Latvians outside Latvia, however, whether in Siberia or in the west, it created a new situation. They or their descendants too were original citizens of Latvia, and in most cases now had a different citizenship. But the argument was accepted that they had been forced to leave Latvia not of their own free will and were entitled to have their Latvian citizenship renewed. Latvians living outside Latvia had only until July 1995 to apply for such citizenship. In addition, a constitutional amendment in 1997 identified the presidency as being the one public office that could not be held by a dual citizen.
Several dual citizens have held public office, including ministerial posts and seats in the Saeima (Parliament). The proposed law will limit dual citizens from these and other high-level offices.
In a justification of extraordinary hypocrisy even for Latvian standards, MP Anita Rungāte, one of the proponents of the law, argued in a June 7 opinion piece in the newspaper Diena that the issues of citizenship are one more consequence of the long Soviet occupation, which should now be terminated by cleaning up the various exceptions for dual citizenship made in the 1990s. Latvia, she said, should revert to a standard of one citizenship for all. While this will not threaten the dual citizens, she said, there should be no allowing of dual citizens to hold significant public office.
Rugāte argued that those who promote repatriation—such as MP Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš of Jaunais laiks (New Era), himself a dual Latvian and U.S. citizen—must surely also ipso facto accept taking up Latvian citizenship to the exclusion of others.
More menacingly, Rugāte pointed to dangers of lack of loyalty. She posed this as a choice people have between their private interests and national interests. And, she claimed, “The inclusion of those with dual citizenship in parliamentary life in Latvia did not bring any real improvement compared with the work of the former Supreme Council (the former Supreme Soviet that adopted the sovereignty declaration in 1990). From this point of view it is critical to evaluate the work of dual citizens in higher public office in Latvia. Experience has shown that the involvement of dual citizens in the work of government has often strengthened a difficult-to-control influence by foreign countries on important Latvian affairs of state, to the detriment of Latvia’s interest. One example: Lattelekom (the state telephone company).”
Such sentiments are a warning shot to all dual citizens. We have here the unmistakable smell of old-style Soviet politics, which remains an almost indelible aspect of the way politicians in Latvia still define issues:
- First define your enemies. Any will do. Western Latvians will do.
- Second, make up spurious arguments using instances of no relevance, and employ them with no regard to logic. How is this extraordinary evaluation of dual-citizen parliamentarians arrived at? By simple assertion! And this at a time when single-citizenship parliamentarians have been consistently trying to undermine the Latvian state and its institutions, politicians who include the People’s Party coalition partners or silent supporters.
- Third, argue that matters of great national interest are threatened by these enemies. How many botched and corrupt privatisations have occurred in Latvia? And in how many instances have dual citizens been involved? Only one? And was dual citizenship itself the problem at all there, or just a convenient target so as to ignore other corrupt practices?
- Finally, define your enemies as unpatriotic, and opposition to such a law as lack of loyalty. This, happily and conveniently, is particularly wounding to western Latvians.
Public positions should not be held by those difficult to control. They should be held by your own people. That is the logic espoused here.
This is a critical moment for those with dual citizenship. While western discussion groups such as that on our own Web site overwhelmingly have been against the law, varied views are given by those in Latvia itself. Debate on the Apollo site, which at the time of writing had more than 700 comments on this issue, mostly from those living in Latvia, is instructive. Debate was kicked off by Einars Repše, emerging from his long political sulk after losing the prime ministership, who saw this proposed law as clearly targeting Kažociņš. In the Apollo debates, few discussants even mention dual citizenship, but refer instead to Repše’s own record (more negatively than positively), the corruption or rectitude of the present government and Saeima, or alternative enemies that should also be targeted. A few ask whether Kažociņš is or is not a British agent; a tiny number explicitly support or oppose dual citizenship.
This is very much the standard of debate on any issue in Latvia. And those debating this issue in Latvia will be far more powerful than western Latvians in determining acceptance or rejection of this proposed law. In a way that may be difficult for western Latvians to imagine, those with dual citizenship are being seen as potential enemies. While western Latvians may have got used to abuse from the Soviet regime in previous times, this times the threat comes from Latvia’s own parliament. It is that serious.
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