RIGA - In an unprecedented move, the Cabinet of Ministers on Nov. 16 voted unanimously to deny citizenship to an applicant. Although security police have not declared Jurijs Petropavlovskis a threat to the state, the anti-education reform activist was nonetheless denied citizenship even though he passed the citizenship exam.
Petropavlovskis promised to take his case to court in Latvia and overturn the decision, saying he would go as far as the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if he were to lose in Latvia.
The government justified its decision on the basis of disloyalty. According to Justice Minister Vineta Muizniece, Petropavlovskis' actions during the school-reform protests and as a member of Shtab, the group that organized the protests throughout the year, spoke louder than the oath of loyalty he gave to the state after passing the citizenship exam nearly a year ago.
"This decision is understandable to any citizen that cares about the future of Latvia," Muizniece, who is a member of the People's Party, said.
Petropavlovskis rejected the logic. "If I wouldn't support an independent Latvia, then I wouldn't live here. I speak English pretty well and would be able to live in any other country," he told The Baltic Times.
"There was no violence at our meetings during the school reform. Shtab has only peaceful intentions, and the government has no proof that [the organization] hasn't been peaceful. I would also sue them for slander, but right now I'm just too busy with my election campaign," Petropavlovskis said.
Human rights lawyers also found that the decision rested on dubious legal grounds.
"If the security police had concluded that he was a danger to the state, then there would have been legal criteria," said Martins Mits, a lecturer on human rights at the Riga Graduate School of Law.
Mits added that, because security police did not classify Petropavlovskis as a threat to the state - the only legal criterion that can bar a person of citizenship - there were no legal grounds for the Cabinet's decision.
Kristine Kruma, also a lecturer at the Riga Graduate School of Law, agreed. "Clearly it's a political decision," she said.
Petropavlovskis drew the ire of many government officials for his bombastic rhetoric as a leader of the Shtab outfit. The unregistered organization drew strong condemnation over its extremist actions and alleged links to Moscow prior to implementation of the state education reform.
The issue of citizenship and Petropavlovskis was discussed at length in the nationalist daily Latvijas Avize, which polled intellectuals and Latvians on whether or not he should be barred from citizenship.
Petropavlovskis, who passed the citizenship exam nearly a year ago, was waiting for a passport so he could run in the upcoming local elections for mayor of Riga with the left-wing party, For Human Rights in a United Latvia.
Taking this into consideration, some observers saw political machinations behind the government's move to bar him from gaining citizenship.
"It's a no-holds barred political decision. The People's Party is clutching at the straw of nationalism to help their ratings in the municipal elections," political analyst Karlis Streips said.
Not everyone agreed, however. "If this had been purely a political decision by the People's Party, then you would have seen some dissenting voices in the Cabinet, where the decision was unanimous," Integration Minister Nils Muiznieks stressed.
Due to the so-called operational information - information that would compromise an on-going investigation if made public - presented by the security police over the last six months, Muiznieks said he supported denying Petropavlovskis citizenship. He added that the Shtab activist previously claimed to have combat groups available as well as admitting to current cooperation with a Neo-Nazi group in Liepaja.