pühapäev, november 02, 2008

kodakondsus redux

For the first time since I became acquainted with Estonia, there is a renewed public interest in the criteria for obtaining Estonian citizenship.

You may find that humorous, in that myself and others have written about this contentious issue to the point of exhaustion over the years.

However, these were external debates. The visit of a PACE chairman here or a UN high representative there could spur heated conversations about Estonian citizenship laws by outsiders, yet within the country they mostly provoked defensive reactions. I encountered few passionate arguments within Estonia about citizenship. The Estonian mindset seemed to be, "the law is the law, and I have more important things to think about."

Last week though, several government ministers met to discuss the current policies. Minister of Education Tõnis Lukas did not divulge the agreements, if any, that were reached during the talks to the media. He said an official statement on the internal discussion was unlikely. But what has changed to bring about such a debate?

One major factor is undeniably the war in Georgia. The Kremlin's logic of protecting its citizens on the territory of another state did not go unnoticed in Tallinn. 8 percent of Estonian residents hold foreign citizenship, mostly Russian, Ukrainian, and Finnish. And then there's that other 8 percent, the roughly 100,000 people who still have undetermined citizenship.

Ideally, most long-term residents of Estonia would adopt Estonian citizenship. That is what the government is trying to encourage. Learn the Constitution. Take some language courses. Here's your passport. But many stateless persons enjoy the best of both worlds. They have visa free travel to both the European Union and the Russian Federation. And what do they get with their eesti pass? The freedom to join the Center Party and vote for Edgar Savisaar in European Parliamentary elections? How grand.

That solid bloc of ~100,000 residents with undetermined citizenship is indeed a challenge. As one recent op-ed pointed out, that's more people than live in the city of Tartu, Estonia's second largest. In the 1990s, Estonians might have been quick to passionately defend such a policy. They were still sorting through the broken garbage of the Soviet legacy and probably believed, next to the legal and moral arguments, that the *temporary* exclusion of part of the population from the democratic process was the best way to consolidate the state within Western institutions.

Today, though, with the average Torumees Joosep anxious about the global financial crisis and the implosion of Estonia's consumer-driven market, this is just another headache that I believe most would simply like to go away. With Estonian reestablished as the primary language of public life and the fear of being subverted by Homo Sovieticus retreating into memory, Estonians now feel comfortable again within their own skin and within their own land. To be Estonian is uhke ja hää? When was it ever not?

In this environment, one would hope that the law would work and the situation would naturally resolve itself. The news that the Russian embassy handed out more Russian passports to stateless persons than the Estonian government did last year, however, is symbolic of the challenge that faces either this Estonian government or a future one.

What is the solution? There are various incremental actions being discussed by the current government to encourage more to take Estonian citizenship. But I think that ultimately a larger renewal of policy may be underway. This is probably no longer an issue that the Estonian government wishes to expend vast resources to resolve. In my experience, Estonians are ultimately stubborn yet practical people. I have confidence that a solution will eventually be found.

40 kommentaari:

Alex ütles ...

Which is worse? To grant the some 100,000 stateless with automatic or easy/fast track Estonian citizenship, or let this divisive issue drag out over the next couple decades and end up with over half of that group as permanent residents with Russian citizenship? It seems like the majority in the "stateless group" aren't going to take the initiative and are just waiting for someone to tell them what they should be. I'd rather they be Estonians that vote for Savisaar, than Russians voting for one of Putin's boys.

Parruda ütles ...

I would rather say, as an foreigner living in Estonia, there is no advantage in obtaining a Estonian Passport if you already have a long term residence permit. You can now even travel to the Schengen Countries with your Red Passport, just ask for a sticker in the Migration board and you can have 3 months visa free!

As for being an Estonian and traveling/working everywhere in E.U., I heard that it's not that simple... Try going to Germany or UK :S

Giustino ütles ...

Does anyone have a copy of the original 1938 law on citizenship? I would like to read it, because I read that it was selectively restored.

Giustino ütles ...

Kossachev never knows when to keep his mouth shut.

Martin-Éric ütles ...

Personally, I've often been tempted to ditch Finland in favor of Estonia.

The only thing keeping me from going ahead is that I would have to go back to square one, as far as citizenship is concerned, despite having been in EU for more than twice as long as Estonia has.

Thus, one small change I would welcome, if they would consider it, would be for the 5-year of residence time to be rephrased as meaning "5 years or more inside EU", instead of strictly counting time spent in Estonia itself. The rest of the conditions (no criminal record, language test, etc.) can remain as they are.

That small change would make it easier for people like me who love this country and who already speak a passable Estonian but who simply don't want to go back to square one and wait until they hit retirement age before they can finally ditch their non-EU citizenship and be considered as local to make up their mind and come here for good.

Kristopher ütles ...

I don't think that fast-track citizenship idea is a very good idea at all. Citizenship is a privilege and can't be devalued just because of perceived blackmail.

If Russia is truly the hostile power many say it is, it doesn't need an excuse next time. Just because it did something one way in Georgia doesn't mean it is going to play the citizen card again.

And how would these new automatic Estonian citizens participate in the democratic process? Would they then learn Estonian so that they could exercise their civic duty, or would they lobby the Estonian government to print out bilingual ballots for them?

Giustino ütles ...

I don't think that fast-track citizenship idea is a very good idea at all.

There may be a more efficient way to grant it to this special category of people, though. The problem being identified in the media and discussed by government is that the current laws are not producing the desired result -- continued reduction of stateless persons in Estonia. I am not in favor of the 'null variant' -- I am in favor of better policies, always.

Citizenship is a privilege and can't be devalued just because of perceived blackmail.

That's why it is important that the Estonian debate not be influenced by external pressures (see comment about Kossachev).

I believe that Estonia is a country that sets its own laws. Just because one Estonian government passed one law on citizenship, does not mean that it is the law for all time.

Estonians should determine for themselves what they want their citizenship laws to be. They should assess the situation again and see if what are the costs and benefits of changing the current policies.

And how would these new automatic Estonian citizens participate in the democratic process? Would they then learn Estonian so that they could exercise their civic duty, or would they lobby the Estonian government to print out bilingual ballots for them?

My opinion is that stateless persons are largely alienated both from Estonian civic and social life. I doubt that they would lobby for anything.

And besides, the citizenship equals loyalty argument is not all it's cracked up to be. Aren't Klenski and Linter Estonian citizens who speak the national language?

Martin-Éric ütles ...

Stateless and non-EU nationals are in equally bad situations inside EU, in that both are at the complete mercy of government policy; neither has rights; they only have limited privileges that can be revoked at any time.

Politicians can say all they want about the EC Long-Term status being good enough for them; in practice, someone can have lived in a country forever and yet still be considered as outsiders, simply because they have the wrong passport. They pay tax like everyone else, but have no voice on issues that directly affect them. They also get to enter or leave Schengen territory in the "suspicious furriner" queue.

The crux of the issue is the two generally acknowledged forms of denizenship: is someone refusing to identify with their country of residence or is someone being prevented from doing so? If someone is consciously refusing citizenship, I cannot have any sympathy for them and see no reason to grant them a free lunch. However, if someone is constantly seeing their genuine intention to become a citizen thwarted by the authorities, then it becomes a significantly more serious issue.

Alex ütles ...

I would guess that a large majority of the stateless group are rather advanced in years. Surely attrition will reduce the numbers significantly in the future anyway. Maybe the governments master plan is just to wait them out.

Flasher T ütles ...

"This is probably no longer an issue that the Estonian government wishes to expend vast resources to resolve."

Absolutely. And at this point, in 2008, nobody should need to be convinced to take Estonian citizenship. It's not a matter of perks, it's a matter of associating oneself with the country. People who take Russian citizenship today, are not only disenfranchising themselves, but giving the state and the society to disenfranchise them.

Flasher T ütles ...

"The problem being identified in the media and discussed by government is that the current laws are not producing the desired result -- continued reduction of stateless persons in Estonia."

Right, but at what cost do we care to reduce the number of stateless persons? We are a practical nation. We can go on indefinitely with an unresolved border dispute, and we can go on with stateless persons until they all emigrate, or die out.

"And besides, the citizenship equals loyalty argument is not all it's cracked up to be. Aren't Klenski and Linter Estonian citizens who speak the national language?"

Klenski and Linter are not representative of anyone (as proven by their election track record). Most of the Russian-speaking ghetto has no deeply rooted ideology, they simply believe what is said to them on TV. Klenski is a citizen by birth; that is not the same as making an informed, conscious decision to become an Estonian citizen. I can honestly say that I do not want the sort of people I observe in the ghetto to be voting on issues important to this country. We are humanitarian enough to feed and clothe them, but citizenship is a privilege.

Flasher T ütles ...

"However, if someone is constantly seeing their genuine intention to become a citizen thwarted by the authorities, then it becomes a significantly more serious issue."

Agreed, but that is not the case here. I have friends who got naturalized; the exams are trivial for anyone who is functional in Estonian society.

Doris ütles ...

the 5-year wait is, as I understand, rather standard in other countries as well. here in the Netherlands, for example, no matter where you're from (Sweden, Estonia or Angola) there are certain industries you are not allowed to work in unless you've been here for 5+ years AND have completed certain tests etc. Flight attendant/pilot being one of those exclusive elusive branches, for example.

What Estonia really needs to do is becoem one of the 5 richest countries - or whatever, point being in the word "richest" - in EU (plus become completely safe from Russia) so that all the current expats, like me, would come back.

plasma-jack ütles ...

*The stateless men are not obliged to serve in either Estonian nor Russian army. I know a guy who says he doesn't want the passport for that reason.

*The retired stateless get two pensions - yeah you heard it, one from Russia and one from Estonia. You wanna think twice before taking a substantial revenue source from them.

Does anyone have a copy of the original 1938 law on citizenship?

http://www.nommevalitsus.org/?p=311

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that should be it, amended in 1939.

Have fun deciphering the archaisms - "kodakondsuse tunnistus" means passport etc. I can guess why Google couldn't help you - it's "kodakondsuse seadus", not "kodakondsusseadus" (:

plasma-jack ütles ...

http://et.wikisource.org/wiki/Kodakondsuse_seadus

A bit clearer version, you can see who amended what and when.

Giustino ütles ...

Thanks, Plasma-Jack. I just wonder how the 1938 version differs from the 1995 version when it comes to the naturalization process.

Andres ütles ...

Well, here is the current one:

https://www.riigiteataja.ee/ert/act.jsp?id=1042868


I think we should consider on a positive birth ratio instead of getting new citizens by trying to persuade people who don't feel at home in Estonia in the first place. The stuff about the non-citizens is marginal in my opinion compared to the declining population crisis.

Inner monologue ütles ...

Uh. All this talk about borders and rules and limits and papers and permissions and whatnot stresses me out. I've met some nice hallipassimees people in Estonia.

So I take my guitar and ploink it sadly:

...
Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

So? ütles ...

So I take my guitar and ploink it sadly:

...
Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...


The dude was a phony.
Jodie Foster is gay.
(Ironic?)

http://www.miamiherald.com/living/story/739928.html

Kristopher ütles ...

The dude was a phony.

Lennon is the British Bob Dylan. Seems to have bred all these people who think he's on their side or for some cause, then get all huffy when he betrays them. What, they confused him with Ringo? It's not like he didn't make it abundantly clear in his songs he only believed in himself and Yoko...

But back on topic, what would Bob Marley say about the stateless issue if he toured Estonia?

Inner monologue ütles ...

The guy was a phony. Sure.

Show me who is real.

What is real?


Are the borders real?

Are the citizenships real?

I don't know.

One day when we are all gone, were we ever real?

(I know, don't ever get into discussion with me on such topics if you want to have a quiet and soothing trip. :-))

Kristopher ütles ...

Sounds like you have been listening to Kansas, not the Beatles.

Be careful with the philosophy or some will claim that the universe was created 5 minutes ago with all the stateless people already in Estonia.

Giustino ütles ...

I think if the Bronze Soldier "defenders" had played Marley, smoked joints, and held hands, the monument would still be there.

Martin-Éric ütles ...

"Agreed, but that is not the case here. I have friends who got naturalized; the exams are trivial for anyone who is functional in Estonian society."

Funny, I heard the same thing back when I moved to Finland in 1998 and yet I'm still not eligible for citizenship.

Giustino ütles ...

If we ignore the nonsense that comes from the Russian foreign ministry, most of Estonia's Western partners are fine with its unique citizenship policies, so long as they work.

Statelessness is deemed by most Western governments to be a *problem* that needs to be solved with *enfranchisement*. The Estonians don't need a zero option or an amnesty. They just need a policy that works for these remaining 100,000 people, many of them either pensioners or children.

Here's what the COE recommended:

Specific attention should also be given to the elderly population since 15% of the non-citizens are over-65. The delegation was informed that proposals were made that require persons over-65 only to attend language and citizenship classes and not to take examinations. The Commissioner hopes that this proposal will be supported and adopted as soon as possible. The age of official retirement could serve as the threshold.

They also recommended that citizenship be given to children born to stateless persons automatically. These two measures could greatly reduce statelessness among two groups that would have minimal political impact, seniors and infants (who, by the way, can't vote).

If they spend all this money on making language courses available and there is still only a trickle of 1,000 or 2,000 new citizens each year, that shows that something is not working or needs to be rethought. Because from about 2001 to 2005, they were naturalizing 5,000-6,000 people per year.

So, what's wrong; how can they fix it. That is what the government needs to decide. The Estonian people don't need to permanently saddled by this issue.

Sharon B ütles ...

And then, just to show exactly how ridiculous these things can be, you have people like me.

I've never set foot in Estonia. Until last year I didn't know a word of Estonian. Neither of my parents were born in Estonia, and my grandmother has long since lost the language and the culture, having thoroughly assimilated into the Australian culture as a young teenager.

Heck, for years the only thing even remotely Estonian about my family was the way we prepared sauerkraut.

And yet, all I had to do to get a blue passport was fill in a form and smile for the camera.

Technically, because my grandmother and her siblings left Estonia at the start of the war, I was always entitled to Estonian citizenship and I didn't have to pass a single test.

My cousins, bless them, largely see this as a "European passport" and see no reason why they should know anything about the Estonian language, customs or country. Me, I think it's only fair that I make an effort to be Estonian if I'm going to flash around an Estonian passport. Thus I'm studying the language and culture in my spare time, hoping to get to the stage where I could pass a citizenship test if I wanted to.

There's the rub, though - "if I wanted to". I didn't have to jump through any of the hoops they expect of permanent residents and people who have lived in Estonia their whole lives.

Surely if it can be that easy for me, it shouldn't be so hard for them? Or, to look at it another way, if it's that hard for them, it shouldn't have been so easy for me...

Estonia in World Media (Rus) ütles ...

Not sure how this will help because Russia's policy is both protecting their citizens (not included in this otherwise great overview) and protection of "compatriots", also not covered in the present story, but very serious issue in light of the events last week.

In Georgia we saw how the first works, how serious is the second remains to be seen. As to the practical mindness of Estonians the most practical way to operate is by both being efficient and simple. That's why I'd see another recent government decision as means to attend the recent issue of Russia overprotecting her citizens. I mean the decision to upgrade armor and AA.

Da Russophile ütles ...

If I was one of those 100,000 stateless Russians forced to live under Baltic apartheid I'd reject Estonian citizenship if it was given free. It's a matter of principle, refusal to yield to the neo-fascist beast.

Kristopher ütles ...

No, you wouldn't. You'd probably be someone like a oil shale engineer. Maybe you came in the 1960s or 1970s. Like many people in the USSR, you probably looked to Estonia even back then as something not quite the Soviet Union, tantalizingly Western, a bit more progressive, and when the powers-that-were approved your assignment, you might have welcomed it as something that your children could stand to benefit from. Maybe you came as a bright-eyed young communist, completely sold on the ideology, but once you arrived, life happened. Maybe you your work involved developing a technology to extract oil from shale efficiently. You had to fight the exact same battles over patent rights with Moscow functionaries as your Estonian colleagues. The Estonians... Even though the Estonians seemed to gladly speak Russian with you, and seemed unaccountably concilatory -- you knew perfectly well the Estonians weren't Russian. You knew what their sentiments were toward the general situation, and besides you saw some of the same absurdities as they did, after a while life in the USSR seemed like a fourth-term Bush administration, weren't particularly surprised when they "decided to leave" the USSR. You don't know much about technologies, but should you run into an anonymous Internet commentator who has never been to Estonia but trolls expat blogs his comments might just make you sigh. You came here in the 1960s on a job posting in a state industry. As for the shrill Russian neoimperialists on the other side of the border, they just miss the complexity of your relationship with your "adopted" country. Of course you want better and you want more, you'll take what you can get. If someone holds a microphone to your face and asks about discrimination, you'll give them an earful. After all, it's not as if you could complain like that with impunity in Russia.

Giustino ütles ...

If I was one of those 100,000 stateless Russians forced to live under Baltic apartheid I'd reject Estonian citizenship if it was given free. It's a matter of principle, refusal to yield to the neo-fascist beast.

Those in the Russian Federation might have a hard time understanding Estonia, because, unlike Russia, Estonia has a genuine, multiparty parliamentary system.

It does not have one ideology. It does not have one view of history. It rejects Stalinist history, but, then again, so does the rest of the world. It does not hang on the words of one man, as it does in Russia.

I have heard so many times about how certain books are published in Estonia, or how certain war veterans are allowed to meet, or how certain politicians say controversial things.

The problem with this analysis is that it neglects that most politicians do not say those things. The Russian "retort" to Estonia is not to the actual people of Estonia, but typically to members of one party -- Isamaa-Res Publica Liit -- which has 19 seats in a 101 seat parliamentary body.

So the Russian Federation is not fighting with Estonia per se, but with certain parts of its political spectrum. It's almost trying to have a domestic political confrontation in an international atmosphere.

I mean, who really cares what Konstantin Kossachev thinks about anything? He has never said one thing that I have found insightful or interesting. And the right-wing parties in Estonia think the same way. They have an ongoing back and forth with the Russian Federation. Their discourse*, too, takes on domestic undertones.

No, you wouldn't. You'd probably be someone like a oil shale engineer. Maybe you came in the 1960s or 1970s.

I think a lot of people in Ida Virumaa are still workers first, Russians second. That is, they would gladly take a better economic deal over any kind of superfluous "rights." They have Russian-language schools, their linguistic environment is overwhelmingly Russophone. A "right to speak and work in Russian?" It's exercised every day.

Estonia in World Media (Rus) ütles ...

Simple test:
Nazism (fascism, apartheid etc) in Estonia

News.google.com engine

Search in Russian news (400 news sources):
http://news.google.com/news?ned=ru_ru&hl=ru&ned=ru_ru&q=%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%86%D0%B8%D0%B7%D0%BC+%D1%8D%D1%81%D1%82%D0%BE%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%8F
Results:
54 (instances of "Nazism (in) Estonia")
Estonia mentioned in (the Russian) news in total: 5,560 times

Search of news in English (4500 news sources):
http://news.google.com/news?hl=en&ned=us&q=nazism+estonia
Resuilts: 2 (1 of them from *.ru)
Estonia mentioned in news total: 11,646

Search in French news (500 news sources), Estonie, Nazisme:
http://news.google.com/news?ned=fr&hl=fr&ned=fr&q=estonie+nazism
Results: 2 (both Ria Novosti en France)

What do we learn from these results? We learn that the idea of "Nazism in Estonia" is specific Russian fantasy, delusion of a sick mind, which doesn't bother anyone else, except for those who are forced to listen to Russian babbling.

Inner monologue ütles ...

Kristopher

That figment of your imagination, that intelligent and introspective russian oil industry engineer that you had your inner monologue to engage with - fascinating.

Add to it his and his wife's fears during the bronze night when their little Dima did not come home until next morning, smelling of alcohol and pockets full of Tampax.

This is when your engineer would ask his wife:
"Kas mje sies sjellist jestid tahtsjime?"

Da Russophile ütles ...

kristopher,
That you should with such a brazen air of authority speak for the Baltic Russians you hold in condescending contempt is truly terrifying, a disturbing insight into the totalitarian mind.

@giustino,
"Those in the Russian Federation might have a hard time understanding Estonia, because, unlike Russia, Estonia has a genuine, multiparty parliamentary system."

Actually Russia is far more democratic country than Estonia since it doesn't disenfranchise a significant portion of its denizens. The only institutions who think otherwise are CIA fronts like Freedom House; more academically as opposed to ideologically focused organizations, like Polity IV (http://www.systemicpeace.org/polity/polity4.htm), unequivocally portrays Russia as a democracy, with a score of 7/(-10 to 10) - as opposed to neo-fascist Estonia with a score of 6/(-10 to 10).

Much of the rest of your post is similar recycling of Russophobic smears. As such it is not surprising that you hate Kossachev, a truly heroic, courageous man unafraid to call a spade a spade and a fascist a fascist in his pursuit of freedom and equality for ethnic minorities. But unlike the Jews under Nazi rule, Russians have a great state and will not have the latter day Goebbels and Streichers of this world have their say without being challenged.

@eSStonia in world media,
"What do we learn from these results? We learn that the idea of "Nazism in Estonia" is specific Russian fantasy, delusion of a sick mind, which doesn't bother anyone else, except for those who are forced to listen to Russian babbling."

Or perhaps they are full of hypocrisy and hatred for Russia. After all they did try to exterminate us every century or so. No doubt you'll be claiming this is a "delusion" and a "sick fantasy" even as NATO's black hosts rumble over the Russian border and the ovens of Tartu get fired up.

Giustino ütles ...

No doubt you'll be claiming this is a "delusion" and a "sick fantasy" even as NATO's black hosts rumble over the Russian border and the ovens of Tartu get fired up.

For what? Making pizza? What is so sad is how much of this pornography is to be found on the Internet. Even sadder is how similar it sounds to the inept Russian foreign ministry.

plasma-jack ütles ...

Polity IV (http://www.systemicpeace.org/polity/polity4.htm), unequivocally portrays Russia as a democracy, with a score of 7/(-10 to 10) - as opposed to neo-fascist Estonia with a score of 6/(-10 to 10).

You're saying that Russia is only one point away from being neo-fascist? Aw c'mon! Keep in mind that russophobia can be contagious, even via Internet.

If I was one of those 100,000 stateless Russians forced to live under Baltic apartheid I'd reject Estonian citizenship if it was given free. It's a matter of principle, refusal to yield to the neo-fascist beast.

Not only are they forced to live in Estonia, the most senior ones have to accept Estonian pensions. Now THAT's disgusting.

But back on topic, what would Bob Marley say about the stateless issue if he toured Estonia?

Yep, faced to that kind of opression, many of the stateless ask the question (and rightfully so) - what would Pete Doherty do?

Sharon B ütles ...

I once heard a statement that I think was rather profound:

"You cannot reason anyone out of a position they have not reasoned themselves into."

There is discussion, and then there is argument. One has ideas, the other invective and empty rhetoric.

Let's not allow ourselves to be drawn from one to the other by someone who clearly loves that sort of thing.

plasma-jack ütles ...

The problem is, the actors concerned with the stateless issue are either Estonian or Russian governments or international organisations. You can hear arguments from these entities, but where is the voice of the stateless persons we are talking about? Don't they have an NGO or something that could point out the practical ways how they can be helped?

Martin-Éric ütles ...

«where is the voice of the stateless persons we are talking about? Don't they have an NGO or something that could point out the practical ways how they can be helped?»

Hopefully they their voice is indeed getting heard. If not, we'll have yet another antidemocratic mess that won't solve anything.

Kristopher ütles ...

I think I pissed both sides off with my comment. My totalitarian mind has a headache. Still, IM's comment has to be one of the funniest things I have read.

Thinknam ütles ...

Those, who belive racism in Estonia were just russian propaganda please read this report of Amnesty International (page 126-127) http://thereport.amnesty.org/document/101
or alternatively here http://thereport.amnesty.org/eng/download-report
May it be, that this problem is simply silenced in western media?