One million more Lithuanian citizens?

  • 2010-06-10
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

POTENTIAL CITIZENS: A Lithuanian Sunday school in Ireland.

VILNIUS - During the entire last week, the Lithuanian parliament discussed the issue of Lithuanian citizenship and passed a draft on June 4 significantly expanding the possibility to have dual citizenship. The final vote on the issue is expected in two weeks. The new law could theoretically result in one million more Lithuanian citizens. Although Lithuania has never had problems with the citizenship issue inside its borders, because Lithuanian citizenship was granted to all inhabitants of Lithuania who wished to be Lithuanian citizens in 1990, the citizenship issue of the Lithuanian diaspora has been a never ending story during the last 20 years.

Lithuanian law allows dual citizenship only in exceptional cases. Some MPs were very emotional in defending the status quo, stating that Lithuanian citizens should avoid situations which would force them to receive another citizenship.
“If you want to despise the March 11 [proclamation of re-establishment of Lithuania’s independence in 1990], which was defended with blood, go ahead, give the citizenship to everybody, even to Martians,” Saulius Peceliunas, MP of the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats, shouted ironically on June 1 during the discussion in the parliament. However, he was in the minority: on June 4, 74 MPs voted in favor of the draft, three MPs said ‘nay’ while 14 MPs abstained.

According to the draft, the right to Lithuanian citizenship will be given to Lithuanian-origin citizens of the European Union and NATO countries as well as ethnic Lithuanians in ethnic Lithuanian lands, which now have borders with Lithuania. There will be no more currently existing limits in terms of the time of leaving Lithuania which, until now, was limited to the years of Soviet occupation, i.e. June 15, 1940 - March 11, 1990. There is no more limit of three generations, which exists now, for such seekers of Lithuanian citizenship.

The move of liberalization is strongly supported by the Lithuanian World Community, a non-governmental and non-profit organization established in 1949 and having its sections in 36 countries.
“How can you demand faithfulness to Lithuania if you don’t give Lithuanian citizenship?” asked Vida Bandis, representative of the Lithuanian World Community during an improvised briefing June 1.

Even the liberal draft would not make the Lithuanian World Community absolutely happy because, according to the draft, 10,000 Lithuanians in Australia and some half million Lithuanian-origin citizens of Latin American countries have no chance to acquire Lithuanian citizenship. The draft also leaves citizens of Switzerland, which is not a member of EU and NATO, without the right to demand Lithuanian citizenship. However, some 60 percent of potential Lithuanian citizens, including some 0.5-1 million Lithuanian-origin U.S. citizens and up to half a million post-1990 emigres (mostly to other EU countries), are covered with this draft. There are situations, as it is in the case of Canada, when a child, who was born into a Lithuanian family, would have no chance of applying for Lithuanian citizenship because Canadian citizenship was given him automatically and the Canadian citizenship excluded Lithuanian citizenship due to strict Lithuanian rules regarding dual citizenship.

A similar story with Lithuanian kids is in Ireland, the most popular destination for Lithuanian emigres of the last two decades. The Irish institutions do not issue the Lithuania-required statement that the Ireland-born child got no Irish citizenship: it means that those children can either get Irish citizenship, or no citizenship at all.
Many emigres of 1990-2004, before Lithuania’s entrance to the EU, were eager to get citizenship of the UK or Ireland via marriage or child birth to legalize their status in those countries. Now they will be able to get their Lithuanian citizenship back in case the draft will become law in the parliament and the Constitutional Court will not annul that law. According to the draft, the Soviet-era deportees and their offspring in Siberia and other areas of the former USSR will also have the right to Lithuanian citizenship.

The Lithuanian World Community is skeptical about some talk that the issue of dual citizenship should be decided in a referendum: although a majority of Lithuanians understand that it is important for the small nation to cherish all Lithuanians who seek to regain their Lithuanian citizenship or become citizens of Lithuania, the Lithuanian referendum law is very strict: it requires a “yes” vote from more than 50 percent of voters entitled to vote, i.e. those who are too lazy to vote or have no such possibility are automatically counted as those who said “no” to the issue put to referendum.

Some Social Democrat MPs suggest organizing the referendum together with next year’s local election, or even the next presidential election, but there are no guarantees that the turnout will be high enough, taking into account the electoral apathy in Lithuania. There is no obligatory participation in the elections in Lithuania as there is in Belgium and some other EU countries.

The decision to lift a ban for those who received citizenship of another country after March 11, 1990, was supported by Christian Party MP Mantas Varaska. “Those new emigres and their children have much stronger emotional ties with Lithuania and much stronger motives to return back than those whose ancestors left Lithuania many decades ago,” Varaska said on June 1.

“In case the parliament would vote in favor of a new law regarding dual citizenship and the Lithuanian president would sign it, this law would be discussed by the Constitutional Court,” Stasys Sedbaras, MP of the Homeland Union - Lithuanian Christian Democrats and chairman of the parliamentary committee on legal affairs, said during his briefing on June 4. Sedbaras said that practice regarding dual citizenship is different in various EU countries. Germany, which is considered to be strict towards the issue of dual citizenship, allows German citizenship for citizens of EU member states as well as states with close ties to EU, such as Switzerland. Poland has a policy of not paying attention to other citizenships of Polish citizens. Malta allows its citizens to have several other citizenships as well. Due to the current strict rules regarding dual citizenship, Lithuania turned down applications from some U.S. citizens who asked for Lithuanian citizenship seeking to represent the Lithuanian tricolor in the Olympics in basketball and figure skating. They failed to prove that they have some Lithuanian roots.

According to Social Democrat MP Julius Sabatauskas, Lithuanian institutions can be forced to have a more sober and liberal view on dual citizenship if the planned census of 2011 will show that Lithuanian population is rapidly diminishing due to economic crisis-caused emigration.

According to Dainius Zalimas, a well-known specialist of Constitutional law, Hungary’s solution regarding dual citizenship could be an example for Lithuania: it would mean that citizenship can be given to Lithuanians, living abroad easily, but the right to vote would be left only for those who live on the territory of Lithuania.

In 2006, the Constitutional Court stated that dual citizenship should be an extremely rare exception. It is unlikely that the Constitutional Court would soften its position now. Article 12 of the Lithuanian Constitution reads as follows, “Citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania shall be acquired by birth and other grounds established by law. With the exception of individual cases provided for by law, no one may be a citizen of both the Republic of Lithuania and another state at the same time. The procedure for the acquisition and loss of citizenship shall be established by law.” According to Bandis, the best solution would be to reach an agreement of all parties and avoid a referendum; to change this Constitution’s article in the parliament.