Conductor Chichon gets Latvian citizenship for 'special merit'

On Thursday, December 3, the Saeima unanimously supported British conductor Karel Mark Chichon obtaining Latvian citizenship for 'special merit' in his role building the reputation of Latvian music abroad.

Karel Mark Chichon is currently Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Orquesta Filarmónica de Gran Canaria. Previously he was Chief Conductor of the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern (2011-2017) and before that Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra (2009-2012) and Chief Conductor of the Graz Symphony Orchestra (2006-2009).

Chichon has been a resident of Latvia since 2009 and his wife is opera singer Elīna Garanča. Their children have Latvian citizenship. 

In his application, which was sponsored by numerous Saeima deputies, the conductor promises to be loyal to Latvia and to comply with the Constitution and Laws of the Republic of Latvia in good faith. The text of the application praises Chichon's work in promoting Latvian composers and performers.

“I will defend the independence of the Latvian State, strengthen the Latvian language as the only official language, live and work fairly to promote the well-being of the Latvian State and its people. I assure that that my actions will never be directed against Latvia as an independent and democratic state,” wrote the artist.

Acquiring Latvian and therefore European Union citizenship is likely to make the peripatetic life of an orchestral conductor considerably easier when 'Brexit' rules come into full force on January 1. With no comprehensive agreement yet in place between the United Kingdom and European Union, Britons travelling abroad are likely to face delays and increased paperwork.

Latvia does allow dual citizenship with countries that are full members of the European Union or NATO, plus a few others with significant Latvian diaspora populations, so unless the United Kingdom decides to Brexit NATO, Chichon will not have to give up his U.K. citizenship.

The Saeima is allowed to confer Latvian citizenship in special cases. Most famously Rīga-born American citizen Mikhail Baryshnikov became a dual Latvian-U.S. citizen in 2017, also for "'special merit" reasons. However, an earlier application for citizenship on behalf of former chess champion Garry Kasparov was rejected

However, being awarded citizenship by Saeima remains quite rare. Most people acquire Latvian citizenship via the process of naturalization, the criteria for which require residency, language proficiency and a basic knowledge of Latvian history and the constitution. To see what this involves from the inside, we have a series of features by another Briton in search of a Latvian passport. 

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