Right-wing party calls for a halt in naturalization

  • 2005-10-12
  • By Aaron Eglitis
RIGA - The nationalist party For Fatherland and Freedom called for more alterations in the citizenship law and proposed a halt to the current system of naturalization in what many see as pre-election posturing.

Amendments to the law on citizenship have been passed through parliamentary committee but so far have only envisaged a "loyalty" clause that would allow the state to withhold citizenship from people who have passed the exam that are considered a threat to the state.

For Fatherland and Freedom, however, on Oct. 8 called for giving the state power to strip citizenship post factum, as well as slowing or temporarily halting the process of naturalization through a quota system.

Other right-wing politicians also supported the proposed restrictions.

The new criteria could be added in the second reading of the law, a representative of For Fatherland and Freedom said. A proposal needs to pass through three readings to become law.

Ultimately, law enforcement agencies would decide who was not loyal to the state, the party suggested.

Maris Grinblats, a leader of For Fatherland, explained in an interview to Latvijas Avize that the law could provide for deprive someone of citizenship if disloyalty was proven. This would include continual violations of the law or repeated public display of occupation-era symbols in open areas.

"For example, walking with a red flag in your hands is an instance of disloyalty," Grinblats said.

Many observers have pointed out that the amendment will likely not pass, but some form of the loyalty criteria will likely be included in the citizenship law.

If For Fatherland's quota system is accepted, it would likely lead to a drawn-out international legal battle and many unpleasant questions for Latvia's political leadership in the halls of EU power.

"That is exactly why we can't have [the quota system] in the law," said Ilze Brands Kehris, director of the Latvian Centre for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies. She said that leaving "loyalty" open to interpretation could lead to abuse.

Martins Mits, a lecturer in human rights law at the Riga Graduate School of Law, said the legislation, if enacted, could be challenged in domestic administrative court, or possibly in the international arena.

The initial loyalty clause came out of the Justice Ministry, which last month allowed for the strengthening of a state oath, by promising to show loyalty to the country, defend its independence and respect the Latvian language as the only official state language.

The loyalty debate emerged after anti-education reform activist Juris Petropavlovskis was barred from the franchise despite passing the exam. At the time, the Cabinet of Ministers justified their decision by saying he was not loyal to the state.

Petropavlovskis has taken the decision to domestic court and has promised to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights if he loses. Perhaps as a reaction to the untested legal ground that the Cabinet's decision rests on, some in the government have proposed adding the criteria to the citizenship law itself.