Analysis: Optants who did not return to Estonia did not have rights of citizens

  • 2018-12-10
  • LETA/TBT Staff

TALLINN - An analysis on opting for Estonian citizenship carried out by researchers at the University of Tartu indicates that the rights and responsibilities of citizens in the current sense were given to only those people who had opted for Estonian citizenship and actually returned to Estonia and received the identity card of a citizen of the Republic of Estonia here.

"It has been approximately 100 years since opting for Estonian citizenship under the Tartu Peace Treaty. Perceptions of citizenship, international law and the relations between a state and a citizen after World War I and the time between wars in general differed significantly from the perceptions of today," Marju Luts-Sootak, professor of legal history at the University of Tartu and head of the analysis working group, said.

The analysis commissioned by the Interior Ministry highlights that in addition to the right of each person to choose or opt for citizenship, it was possible then to establish with an agreement between states a state's right to refuse to accept into its citizenship a person who has opted for the state's citizenship. The Tartu Peace Treaty signed between Estonia and Soviet Russia gave that right of refusal to both signatories.

Estonian citizenship could be opted for by people originally from Estonia and at least 18 years old, who in order to do that had to submit a statement of opting to a control-optation committee then operating in Russia. The committee issued certificates of citizenship. This certificate did not grant a direct possibility of realizing one's civil rights after arriving in Estonia.

This possibility was granted instead by an identity card, which was issued only after an additional control. During the control, it may have been determined that the decision of the optation committee was erroneous or its confirmation was refused on ideological and political grounds. The state made the decision of issuing an identity card only with regard to those people who had arrived in Estonia.

"Optants who stayed in Russia were considered Estonian citizens, but they could not perform Estonia's civil rights and they also did not bear the responsibilities of citizens of Estonia. Both optants themselves and the Estonian authorities hoped that the certificates of Estonian citizenship could save people from Soviet mobilization or taxes and the nationalization or confiscation of their assets," Luts-Sootak said.

The optants retained the potential opportunity to perform their civil rights if they had reached Estonia and been granted the identity card of a citizen of the Republic of Estonia. At the same time, it is not certain that the optants, who stayed in Russia, could have been guaranteed the opportunity in every single instance," the professor added.

Ruth Annus, head of the Interior Ministry's citizenship and migration policy department, said that the analysis confirmed the current stances across the country. "Based on the analysis, the descendants of optants who did not return to Estonia are not citizens by birth in its meaning today. This is because the rights and responsibilities originating from citizenship were very different for people who settled in Estonia and those who did not," Annus said.

"If we compare the current administrative practice of the Police and Border Guard Board, the conclusions of the spring verdict of the Supreme Court and the results of the analysis, they are in accordance with each other. The descendants of those optants who did not return to Estonia must continue to be considered foreigners," she said.

During the period from 2003 to 2015, the descendants of those optants who did not settle in Estonia were also considered as Estonian citizens. "However, they are not citizens by birth, but as the state has made a mistake and gave them the passports of Estonian citizens then, a solutions must also be found for this situation. Work on this is underway," Annus said.

The Interior Ministry at the end of last year commissioned an analysis from the researchers at the University of Tartu on the portion of Estonia's citizenship law in 1918-1940 that concerned the acquisition of Estonian citizenship by the process of opting for it stipulated in international agreements. Opting for citizenship is a right granted to a person by an international agreement to choose citizenship after territorial changes have taken place in countries or new countries have been created instead of former ones.