pühapäev, november 19, 2006

Alternative Routes to Citizenship

There's a great story about Russian speakers in Latvia in this week's St. Petersburg Times, and I think it illustrates some ways in which Baltic naturalization policies have failed, particularly in Latvia. It has also got me thinking about solutions to the problems that come with statelessness. But first, an excerpt.

The last Russian tank rolled out of Latvia more than a decade ago. But Inesa Kuznetsova, 75, a resident here for more than 50 years, has little doubt where she calls home."My address isn't a city. My address isn't a town. My address isn't a street," says the dressmaker, who arrived from Leningrad during World War II. "My address is the Soviet Union."

Kuznetsova's address is, in fact, Bolderaja, a largely Russian-speaking neighborhood on the outskirts of Riga, where a former Russian naval barracks sits empty and signs in the supermarket are in both Russian and Latvian. Here, she inhabits a parallel universe that has little to do with Latvia. She watches a Kremlin-funded television station, eats Russian food, and has no intention of learning the Latvian language — "Why the hell would I want to do that?" — though she says her grandchildren are being forced to do so.

Kuznetsova calls it an "insult" that residents who arrived after 1940, when the Soviet Union occupied Latvia, must now take a naturalization exam to become Latvian citizens. She has not done so, instead pinning her hopes on a new "Russian occupation" of Latvia.

Obviously Kuznetsova's dream of a reoccupation of Latvia, which I guess would force Vaira Vike-Freiberga to flee one more time while Einars Repse finds himself escorted to a Siberian psychiatric hospital, is scary. And it's not just scary to Latvians. It's scary to Swedes, who are haunted by memories of Baltic refugees, and scary to NATO commanders who have sworn to defend the boggy meat in the Baltic sandwich, as City Paper puts it.

But beyond the shock factor, by reading this article I have come to this conclusion. One reason that people like Inesa Kuznetsova still think they belong to the Soviet Union is because they have not yet been invited into Latvia. If Inesa had the right to vote, would she pay more attention to who her president was and what parties were in the Latvian Saema? Maybe she would, maybe she wouldn't. But she would be forced to accept that she had a genuine relationship with a new state. Latvia. Today she is still stuck in the gray, and will most likely die that way. But for those who would look to prevent the kinds of attitudes that would welcome the destruction of their own homeland, perhaps citizenship could ease the mental transition.

Now Latvia is in a different situation from Estonia because Estonia has naturalized more than half of its non-citizens. There's still about 9 percent left of the total population to go. Therefore, you could call Estonia's citizenship policies successful, though they are controversial. But I am considering the idea that granting long-time residents of Estonia - perhaps only people that have been born there, and this INCLUDES those born after 1992 as the current law dictates - citizenship may in the long-term prove beneficial to the survival of the state. By eliminating a subcaste of discontents and by virtue of citizenship forcing them to join in the Estonian dialog, you can basically end that debate.

People in Estonia, and more understandably in Latvia, are worried that by granting citizenship to people that arrived illegally in the period between 1945 and 1991 and their descendants that they will be appeasing the Soviet Russification policies of the 1960s and 70s that led the nationalist backlash that resulted in the reinstatement of independence.

But I think that, at least in Estonia, without the support of Soviet or imperial Russian bureaucracy, this is something that is not to be feared. The false dichotomy of the 1960-90 period, where Estonians rapidly declined as part of the population and Russification policies were enacted at the federal level, is over. The Estonian language is the language of the majority, and in a state that is split 70/30 does it make more sense economically to teach the language of 30 percent to the 70 percent or vice versa?

Politically, those who would suffer the greatest would be right-wing politicians from Estonian people's parties like IRL. The knee-jerk reaction is that KESK would be able to rely on its ethnic Russian supporters, but I don't think that's true either. Surely, the non-citizens of Ida Virumaa would, if granted citizenship, also be inspired to vote for a party like Reformierakond, that wants to make Estonia one of the five richest countries in Europe. Or maybe they would prefer to vote for the Social Democrats or the Greens. Just because KESK has a better ground operation, doesn't mean it owns the ethnic Russian minority, because beyond being of Russian descent, they are also Estonians. They live there and have a future there, and perhaps they have more to worry about than a dead country their fathers belonged to.

I honestly don't think that the government will change its policy. It doesn't have to because the current one is moderately successful. But in light of information like the article about Latvia, I thought I would take the time to discuss other options. What are your thoughts?

14 kommentaari:

Anonüümne ütles ...

Granting that 75yo granny a citizenship wouldn't change anything. Trust me, I have a grandma that age, she doesn't care about "the new things". She wants to live like she has always lived. (And because of the increased pension she can finally live normally. Ofcourse she cannot afford everything and still has to buy relatively cheap things but atleast money isn't a primary concern anymore.)

mel ütles ...

As I see it your question is basically whether the citizenship is a precondition for integration or is it merely a formal acknowledgment of a completed integration.

The main reason stateless people in Estonia haven't been able to get a citizenship is the language requirement. I remember reading from somewhere that 70% of those who actually wanted the citizenship were not able to pass the language test.

The language situation is much better with the younger generation of Russian speakers having spent most of their life in independent Estonia. As for grandmas and especially the types like the one depicted in the article who don't give a damn about their host country I don't think we can just go and hand out the citizenship - isn't it the norm everywhere that the person would actually have to respect the country before she can have it? And dear I say it - the demographics would soon sort out that problem anyway..!

The first commenter is right in the sense that it wouldn't change anything. We would only be seen as bending over before comrade Putin but rest assured that even if all the stateless people were given Estonian passports tomorrow Russia would quickly find something else to chew on - there just isn't a way for them to pull back and let us be, it just isn't how Russia works.

Now, going back to the language issue - should we scrap the language test altogether in order to get them in?

Although it has been mentioned that the motives for learning the language lie elsewhere (say, in order to find a job) I personally believe that that could only be true in case of the younger generation of Russian speakers. Given that for others the chances of picking up the language afterwards are very small the language test should at least provide them with some sort of a basis.

Now here lies the main weakness in my mind - the state should regard it as far more important than it does now and commit SERIOUS amounts of funds to the language teaching. I've been speaking about respect here - it goes both ways, we are not exactly showing much respect if we demand passing a language test but only pay lip service when it comes to helping them to get some proper language lessons. Yes, there are free lessons provided but it should be a much more prevalent and professional approach, and easier for Russian speakers to commit to.

If we are not serious about the integration then we should say so. If we are then let's cough up the dough. Say, instead of coming up with this idiotic idea of Arengufond and earmark half a billion kroons for it.

And finally, if the Russian speakers regard this requirement as an insult then, well, back to the respect and demographics issues!

Giustino ütles ...

I don't think we can just go and hand out the citizenship - isn't it the norm everywhere that the person would actually have to respect the country before she can have it?

Well the thing is that the Soviet annexation of Estonia was illegal, so the people that arrived under that regime came illegally. So any citizenship act would have to include people born in Estonia afterwards too. That would mean granting citizenship to, say, children of Americans or Finns or Swedes born in Estonia after 1992. And, like you said, such blanket citizenship would be unprecedented.

mel ütles ...

It could well be that it's a slow day for me but I'm afraid you lost me here with your reasoning - you care to elaborate on the illegal arrivals and including people born in Estonia theme?

I'm not saying that you're wrong or anything but I'm just not getting your logic.

As for granting citizenship to people born in Estonia then I think that's what the current law says - you either have to have at least one parent who is a citizen of Estonia or stateless parents who have lived in Estonia for more than 5 years.

tere ütles ...

The US grants citizenship to children born on the surface of it. Estonia doesn't. It grants automatic citizenship if atleast one of the parents has Estonian citizenship beforehand. Which is sensible in my opinion.

Giustino ütles ...

It could well be that it's a slow day for me but I'm afraid you lost me here with your reasoning - you care to elaborate on the illegal arrivals and including people born in Estonia theme?

I'm not saying that you're wrong or anything but I'm just not getting your logic.


My point is this: if Estonia decided to scrap its current citizenship policy and create one that was tailored to suit the needs of non-citizens, then it would make sense that they would choose to include certain NEW parameters, ie. citizenship for those born in Estonia.

Any other parameter - such as "lived in Estonia for a certain amount of time" is completely arbitrary because technically, legally, there is no difference between someone who immigrated to Estonia in 1955 and someone who came in 1989 and someone who came in 1999.

If all three wanted Estonian citizenship they should be dealt with as equals by the state because they are on the same legal footing. No preference should be given to people that arrived during the occupation versus after, because legally they are the same.

Therefore, the only "new route" I can imagine is one where Estonia would grant blanket citizenship to people born in Estonia.

This is all hypothetical, but I am saying that if a new policy was adopted to "take care" of the non-citizens problem, this one would be the most likely route.

As for granting citizenship to people born in Estonia then I think that's what the current law says - you either have to have at least one parent who is a citizen of Estonia or stateless parents who have lived in Estonia for more than 5 years.

Exactly right.

Giustino ütles ...

The US grants citizenship to children born on the surface of it. Estonia doesn't. It grants automatic citizenship if atleast one of the parents has Estonian citizenship beforehand. Which is sensible in my opinion.

I am not arguing that it is not, so much as I am playing with hypothetical situations.

I think many people unfamiliar with Estonia, upon learning of the citizenship policies, are bound to ask something like, "Well, then why don't they just grant citizenship to everybody."

EU bureaucrats no doubt have pondered a solution that could get Russia to shut up about the "issue of human rights in the Baltics."

So this dialog is exploring the topic of, "If not the current policy, then what?"

mel ütles ...

Thanks, I hear you. Couple of things:

1) Why is a parameter such as "lived in Estonia for..." arbitrary? While I agree that there is no difference between the people who arrived at different points in time why would a minimum period of residence requirement be arbitrary? I believe this is a usual requirement in many countries all over the place, eg in the UK where you can apply for the citizenship after having spent 5 (I think) legal years in the country.

The only difference being that we have in the law the 1992 threshold when it comes to granting citizenship to siblings of stateless parents. And the existence of so many stateless people is rather unique as far as I can gather.

2) If all three wanted Estonian citizenship they should be dealt with as equals by the state because they are on the same legal footing. No preference should be given to people that arrived during the occupation versus after, because legally they are the same. Sure, but isn't that the current situation? I.e. all of them must have legally lived in Estonia for a number of years, all of them must pass the language test and so on. This applies to them all.

3) I think many people unfamiliar with Estonia, upon learning of the citizenship policies, are bound to ask something like, "Well, then why don't they just grant citizenship to everybody." In a way we do already - the language test being the only real obstacle people are faced with... And I guess this we deem important.

4) EU bureaucrats no doubt have pondered a solution that could get Russia to shut up about the "issue of human rights in the Baltics." I'm sure they have! But what they don't get is that Russia will never shut up.

5) As I see it you are effectively proposing a "new course" that would differ from the current one mainly by being without a language requirement. Well, if it had to be changed then this could be an option indeed.

But then again I think I'd rather have the language test (because I simply don't think granting a blanket citizenship would motivate them enough to join in on the Estonian dialogue) but would reshuffle the current language training provisioning and especially the funding part of it (currently people will be refunded only after having successfully passed the exam - although this is probably meant to behave like a sort of an incentive most people who need to take the exam tend to be from low income families and may face problems with coming up with the money). And it would be a nice way of showing them we are serious about integrating them.

the other mel ütles ...

I think it is difficult to compare Latvia and Estonia aside from the basic situation.

First of all, the population balance in Latvia is more precarious than Estonia. Secondly, the Russian-speaking population in Latvia is more wide-spread and they occupy a majority in all urban areas (I think Ventspils is like 50.5% Latvian now, but...).

Plus, like it or not, Latvian is a Baltic (thus Indo-European) and closer to Russian. Estonian, being so different, made it more impulse to learn.

And with Estonia's main urban centres boasting economic opportunities in Estonian and English (and Finnish) rather than Russian, that pushes the younger population from the Russian-speaking community to learn Estonian. In Latvia, the attitude and opportunities for Russian-speakers are different -- and easier to remain in their own sub-stratum.

From my own observations this is a telling point. Russian speakers in Narva would complain why there are so few Estonian language teachers for their children. In Daugavpils, you mention Latvian, you get: "ugh, latishski" and a spit. That is very telling.

Giustino ütles ...

1) Why is a parameter such as "lived in Estonia for..." arbitrary? While I agree that there is no difference between the people who arrived at different points in time why would a minimum period of residence requirement be arbitrary? I believe this is a usual requirement in many countries all over the place, eg in the UK where you can apply for the citizenship after having spent 5 (I think) legal years in the country.

Well the only other solution to non-citizens who charge that it is "an insult" that they have to apply for citizenship would be that they would be automatically granted citizenship, like Lithuania did in the early 1990s (see as unique a situation as it is, there are precedents).

But the problem with that is - who is eligible and who is not? I mean, what makes a non-citizen that arrived in 1985 different from the Finn that moved in in 1995? If they both came illegally, then in the eyes of the state, they are the same.

Sure, Russia still thinks that the Baltics joined of their own free will and Konstantin Päts asked for a room with a view at the hospital in Kirov, and Toomas Hendrik Ilves family fled to Stockholm to pursue better job opportunities. But the rest of the world understands that because Estonia has a government in exile from 1944 until 1991, its law still existed on paper, although it was not enforced.

You can charge that non-citizens are stateless persons who are "in need" of citizenship, while a Finnish citizen has a state, so the non-citizens are therefore "more deserving" of citizenship. But at the same time, Russian citizenship is always open to non-citizens in Estonia, and since the Russian Federation is the successor state to the USSR in international affairs, then wouldn't non-citizens really be RF citizens, compatriots if you will, until they CHOOSE to take Estonian citizenship?

This is why I am saying that if Estonia changed its citizenship laws to accommodate the needs of more non-citizens, then it would most certainly have to draw a line at making automatic citizenship available for all born on the surface of Estonia.

So basically, what this all boils down to, for those interested - there is no quick legal solution for women like Inesa Kuznetsova. Many articles infer that there is, but even if rules were relaxed to allow more stateless people to gain Latvian citizenship - in this case - Kuznetsova would still be ineligible.

My hope is that EU bureaucrats who are constantly listening to the Kremlin smear the Baltics would understand that there is no immediate resolution for the problem. Russia talks about the situation like all it would take is a special action by the Saema to make everything go away - but in reality it probably wouldn't.

Martin ütles ...


My hope is that EU bureaucrats who are constantly listening to the Kremlin smear the Baltics would understand that there is no immediate resolution for the problem. Russia talks about the situation like all it would take is a special action by the Saema to make everything go away - but in reality it probably wouldn't.

I think the EU does understand Estonia's position, afterall, the EU was well aware of the situation prior to allowing Estonia to join the EU in 2004, and Estonia's efforts at integration have only improved since then.

In regard to whether Estonia ought to apply blanket citizenship, one must consider an individual's right to choose. Many are quite content to remain non-citizens. There are a few benefits, for example, they can avoid compulsory military service which Estonian citizens are obliged to participate. Anyway, for the state to impose citizenship upon people who may no necessarily want it would be an infringement of their rights.

Franz ütles ...

"I honestly don't think that the government will change its policy. It doesn't have to because the current one is moderately successful"
Citizenship policy in Estonia has been quite succesfull. Since 1992 142676 persons have received Estonian citizenship by naturalization. I do not see need to change policy. Many non-citizens don't want to get citizenship. They have psychology of "big nation".

Giustino ütles ...

Citizenship policy in Estonia has been quite succesfull. Since 1992 142676 persons have received Estonian citizenship by naturalization. I do not see need to change policy. Many non-citizens don't want to get citizenship. They have psychology of "big nation".

I've tried to do the math to calculate when the statelessness will end. Some estimates say 2015 - I am not sure.

In comparison, I read an estimate that said that in Latvia, statelessness could continue into the 2050s.

Anonüümne ütles ...


I've tried to do the math to calculate when the statelessness will end. Some estimates say 2015 - I am not sure.

In comparison, I read an estimate that said that in Latvia, statelessness could continue into the 2050s.

Well the problem was 50 years in the making, so we cannot expect it will be solved overnight.