Donors help promote naturalization

  • 2001-10-04
  • Elizabeth Gudrais
RIGA - As part of a broader initiative to increase Latvia's naturalization rate, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe plans to launch a major public relations campaign.

Costing approximately 175,000 lats ($280,000) and spanning the months of November, December and January, the campaign will consist of print, radio and television advertisements, as well as direct mailings of informational material.

Advertisements will appear mainly in Russian, and will focus on encouraging non-citizens to become citizens, said Peter Semneby, director of the OSCE's office in Latvia.

The mailings will provide them with practical information about how to obtain citizenship, he said.

The money comes from various foreign governments, including: $50,000 each from the U.K., Sweden and Canada; $80,000 from the U.S.A., through both direct government funding and the American NGO Freedom House; $30,000 from Norway; and $20,000 from Germany.

The OSCE has also worked with Latvia's naturalization board and the U.N. Development Program on this project.

Ilana Stalidzane, acting head of the naturalization board's information center, said the campaign comes in response to the declining naturalization rates in recent years.

Currently, 535,000 of Latvia's roughly 2 million residents are non-citizens. Since the current naturalization process was introduced in February, 1995, 47,000 Latvia residents have become citizens through naturalization, most in the last three years.

According to the results of focus groups conducted earlier this month, Stalidzane said the naturalization board expects the campaign to increase citizenship rates by as much as 20 percent to 30 percent.

She said the test run, tried on three groups of 80 people each, also revealed that the campaign found more success with men than with women, perhaps because the idea of being able to serve in the military appealed to them. Stalidzane speculated that this effect was magnified in light of the possible impending war in Afghanistan.

Stalidzane said the publicity campaign operates on the assumption that if people simply receive information on naturalization, they will be convinced to pursue it.

"The campaign tells them what naturalization can do for them, how it will change their lives," Stalidzane said.

The materials were prepared by private advertising agencies in Riga. The OSCE could not reveal which agencies, as the contracts have not yet been finalized.

"This is quite an important event," said Semneby. "It's probably the biggest single effort we're making this year here in Latvia."

In order to become naturalized citizens, residents must pass a test on Latvian history and one on Latvian.

In a survey conducted by the Baltic Institute of Social Sciences released earlier this year, the top reason given by people who decided not become citizens was a fear they couldn't pass the tests. Another popular answer was that the process was "humiliating," according to the survey.