Anna and Ksenia's passport quest: Making up our minds

A couple of our colleagues at Latvian Radio and LSM are on their way to becoming Latvian citizens after spending their lives so far as "non citizens" with an "alien passport".

Here's how they're going about it.

For different reasons we, Ksenija and Anna, are still alien passport holders in our twentysomethings. Recently we realized that, almost at the same time, we've come to the conclusion that we should apply for citizenship.

However it'd be too boring to simply obtain a passport: we want to show others whether the devil is as black as he is painted. We have different levels of language ability and history knowledge.

The reasons why we want to go through the naturalization process are different as well, and this is what we'll be addressing first.

Every non-citizen's passport has "Alien's passport" written in it in English. 

It means not only 'foreigner, unknown, subject of an alien government, illegal immigrant' but also 'extraterrestrial'. This alone is reason enough to cause a major identity crisis.

Ksenija

I'll be taking the citizenship exam for the second time. I first had the idea of becoming a citizen during my second year as a journalism student at the University of Latvia. Up until that time I was simply lazy, but there was something else, too.

My frequent visits to my friends at Saint Petersburg, as well as the complete lack of political interest in my family and school also played a part. In my family, no one was putting much weight on elections and citizens' rights. At school their attitude towards any change was neutral. Math and school grades were more important than civic participation.

By the time I started college, I had already fallen out with almost all of my friends at Saint Petersburg and made my way into a company of cool Latvians that gave me a very warm welcome. By the second study year, the lecturers were able to drive out my former indifference for politics. On top of that, a friend of mine offered me to go to London to stay at his friends' place. It meant that I had either to become a citizen or pay up a hefty sum for a visa.

The visit to London along with the upcoming election posed a reason good enough to finally become a citizen, especially since I was already fluent in Latvian and had excellent history knowledge.

However it turned out that knowing the Latvian anthem by heart didn't mean that I can write it down with perfect grammar. I didn't pass the exam. I was hurt and therefore chose to ignore the repeat exam. 

Since then I remembered that I should become a citizen about once a year. Truth be told, the prospect of running around collecting references and subjecting myself to all the bureaucracy discouraged me each time. Plus I'm no longer a student and so have to pay the full state fee of almost €30. It's the cost of four movie tickets, or a ride to Berlin, where I love to go to on vacation.

It all changed during the last twelve months. At first, following a Midsummer party I woke up in a Europe that would soon be without Great Britain.

Afterwards I saw a couple of young American girls hugging one another, close to tears, while a smug Donald Trump was smiling on the TV screen.

But what really topped it off was when my bicycle was either bouncing on holes in the pavement or had me praying that I don't get run over by a car when I was cycling on the road.

There are no safe cycling trails from my home to work.

If the British chose Brexit and Americans chose Trump, perhaps it'll be in Rīga where there'll be leadership that won't just pretend but really consider the interests of everyone - even cyclists in traffic?

Because in theory at least, everything is possible if you get up from your couch and go to the polling station.

Anna

At the rebirth of independent Latvia, my parents were trying to master the basics of business and start a little company of their own. Despite being non-citizens, they were able to do that but with varying levels of success. That's why I spent most of the 'wild' 90s at my grandmothers'.

In my childhood I was cruising from one yard to another, and in each one the Russians kept away from Latvians. If there was any contact it was mostly in Russian. In the kitchen, my grandmothers were saying something along the lines of, "the Russian language is subduing Latvian". It was there that I heard the following stories, too: "A Russian child was sent to a Latvian kindergarten, and after a while all the little ones started nattering in Russian."

One of my grandmothers taught me how to be a young pioneer.

We even had the 'Pioneer's Library', which was a collection of stories and novels for young people, starting from Pavlik Morozov to the young underground fighter Volodia Dubinin who died treading on a land mine.

I didn't glean much of anything else from there. I remember how they were tying my scarf, for I was "the last of the pioneers".

It was as if I was a sleeping hero bound to awaken when the Fatherland calls.

While at the university, as a philology student, I learned that 'nationalism' was particularly stressed by romanticism adherents in the 19th century.

It was then that the first philologists appeared, digging deep into the depths of the ages and coming up with 'national' songs. I started to understand how they serving the idea of the Russian 'Fatherland' or Latvian 'Tēvzeme' in a colorful wrapper, but every time I see something bad or unjust inside.

When you're with company, no one cares about your roots, but when it's politics they're scoring votes on account of nationalism.

As a Latvian resident, I want to throw my pioneer's scarf into a fire as just another piece of ideological trash, together with the rest of my grudges that are of no use to anyone but which professional nationalists feed on.

I want to give my vote to whichever candidate for mayor of Riga I like best. I want to show my preference to that party at the Saeima which I like. I no longer want to mark 'stateless/ refugee' when I check in at Ryanair.

I no longer wan't to 'break' the system by going to Russia without a visa. I know little about the latter, and it's clear that I don't consider it my Fatherland, native land or a place I know at all. Yes, they speak my native language there, but my feelings tell me it's a third-world country with sorry people living in it.

I know that my Rīga is my native city, and I know every part of it. A familiar landscape flashes along the roads, and if I will at some time feel the desire to plant a kiss on my native land, it will happen here after all.

Our next step is collecting and submitting all the required documents. That means passing almost every single bureaucratic procedure. Hopefully it won't interfere with our day jobs. We'll be reporting the results soon. But now we're going to cram the precise spelling of the Latvian national anthem.

We will let you know how Anna and Ksenija get on... 

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