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Dual citizenship for the selected few

  • 2009-02-25
  • By Justinas Vainilavicius

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN: World Lithuanian Community representatives Gabrielius Regina Zemkalnis and Narusiene meet with President Valdas Adamkus, who has thrown on his support behind dual citizenship.

VILNIUS - Article 12 of the Lithuanian Constitution reads, "Citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania shall be acquired by birth and other grounds established by law."
"With the exception of individual cases provided by law, no one may be a citizen of both the Republic of Lithuania and another state at the same time."

These few lines have caused a painful headache for lawmakers and Lithuanian communities around the world. In times of increasing globalization, the position seems to many too narrow. The country's population is predicted to decrease almost twice during the coming 50 years, and now many believe refusing to allow dual citizenship to the vast emigre community will only exacerbate a growing demographic crisis.
The Constitution is not so strict and still allows exceptions for some. This has led to a growing controversy over who is worthy of holding multiple passports and who is not. Spats over who is "more Lithuanian" arise almost every time the question of dual citizenship comes up.

President Valdas Adamkus has now taken up the issue by forming a group of law experts to find ways to improve the Citizenship Law. In February, the group presented its findings along with a proposal for amendments that make it easier for people to hold dual citizenship. The proposal has been controversial, however, for dividing emigrants into two groups 's those who left before the country regained independence and those who left after.

Gabrielius Zemkalnis, a Lithuanian World Community representative in Lithuania, said it is reasonable that those who emigrated from Lithuania before regaining independence deserve exceptions because they were made to do so because of the political situation at the time. Zemkalnis himself was persecuted by the KGB and emigrated to Australia 's though his brother Vytautas Landsbergis, a prominent Lithuanian conservative politician and the head of state after declaring independence, lived here freely.

"There are two different groups but I don't think they are divided, those two groups have formed under different circumstances, the later emigrants have made the choice themselves," Zemkalnis said.
Recent emigrants disagree, saying everyone should be treated equally.
Marius Zabrauskas, 27, has been living in London for five years, working in the IT industry. He thinks that this division between older emigres and the more recent ones does not exist for him. He was surprised that the new proposed amendments exclude those who left the country after March 11, 1990.

"First of all, I have never thought of myself as an emigrant. Most of my colleagues in the company [I'm working in] are not citizens of the United Kingdom; they pose themselves as citizens of the world. This is my opinion as well. I don't even need a British passport, as I have the same rights with those who have it anyway as a citizen of European Union," Zabrauskas said.

"I'm not a so called 'economic emigrant,' as I left Lithuania entirely because of personal reasons. London has become my first home, but I still am Lithuanian and don't see why I couldn't be a citizen of both Lithuania and the U.K. if the possibility would ever occur. As far as I know, Britain allows dual citizenship, and no one sees a problem in this. And its population is not declining, as in Lithuania's case, so it should be even more concerned," he said.

Regina Narusiene, the head of World Lithuanian Community, said the Lithuanian government is the only one responsible for any divisions between the Lithuanian Diaspora.
"World Lithuanian Community and Diaspora consist of all the Lithuanians living abroad. We are a part of the Lithuanian nation. We are not divided. If anyone divides us or creates a gap between Lithuania and its Diaspora, it will be the actions taken by the Lithuanian government and they will be responsible to the people and future generations for their actions. We love our motherland and are one," said Narusiene.

ONGOING DEBATE

Law experts and politicians regularly try to find ways to amend the citizenship law. The most recent attempt is a proposal from a group of well-known law experts. It expands the range of people eligible for dual citizenship.
"My opinion on this law is positive, although I need more time to study it," said Zemkalnis.
But the new law "would not be a solution, because it would actually divide emigrants into two groups," he said.

The project also states that those who left Lithuania from Jan. 9, 1919 to March 1990, and their descendants, can have dual citizenship. The emigration between the two World Wars, however, also happened primarily for economic reasons, much like the most recent wave of emigrants. Current laws allow dual citizenship for those who left Lithuania from June 15, 1940 and their descendants.

Lithuanians who emigrated after March 1990 would still have the possibility of holding dual citizenship by way of exceptions such as marriage with a foreign citizen whose country allows dual citizenship.
In summer 2008 Seimas (Lithuanian parliament) approved a law stating that children born abroad whose parents are citizens of Lithuania can have dual citizenship. Parliament also agreed that special treaties could be signed with certain countries that would allow dual citizenship.

Narusiene, herself an attorney, does not see the new dual citizenship law project "in substance broader than the past or even present one."
She also does not support the idea of holding a referendum on the dual citizenship law because of low voting turnout in Lithuania.
"Those that suggest and understand the requirements of the present referendum law fully understand that the present referendum law requires that at least half of the Lithuanian people vote and at least half to approve the change. That barrier has not been met in even the Ignalina vote. That many people do not vote," Narusiene said.  

"The Diaspora is not in favor of dual citizenship without limitations. The Constitution must contain for the sake of Lithuania restrictions on dual citizenship… such as limiting dual citizenship to those of Lithuanian descent only. Besides, the problem can be solved without a referendum by clarifying parts of the Constitution that do not require a referendum. Every person of Lithuanian descent who has acquired Lithuanian citizenship by birth has a birthright that cannot be restricted. The same can also be accomplished by a law setting forth the birthright that already exists in the Constitution," she said.