Handing out citizenship is not the answer: President

Simply handing out Latvian citizenship to people with "non-citizen" status without them having to undergo naturalization would not be an appropriate measure, PResident Raimonds Vejonis said Tuesday, reported the LETA newswire.

Even though having a large number of non-citizens (250,000) in Latvia is not a good thing, blanket naturalization would not be the right solution to the problem, Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis said in an interview with the public Latvian Radio today.

Speaking about a report that the Centennial Council of Latvia’s former presidents and state officials planning the celebration of Latvia’s Centennial in 2018 had started a discussion about a possible political gesture to the country’s residents on the eve of the celebration, Vejonis said the Centennial Council had discussed different issues but no specific initiatives were being elaborated at the moment.

Vejonis pointed out that the Supreme Court in the past had already ruled that blanket naturalization would be anti-constitutional. "I think that no one, including myself as the President, would agree to the move,” he said.

Latvia does have problems with consolidation of society, therefore a special working group of experts had been created to come up with proposals by the fall, the Latvian president said.

He said that more thought should be given to popularization of naturalization, a relatively simple process involving a test for basic proficiency in the Latvian language and a knowledge of the country's history.

Former president Valdis Zatlers said in an interview to LETA earlier that the existing naturalization procedure had worked well in Latvia for the past 25 years and non-citizens could choose whether they wanted to become Latvian citizens.

"Why should we change anything? If it is one’s own choice [to naturalize], people will be more happy than they would be in a situation when they are handed something [the Latvian citizenship] without even being asked whether they want it or not,” Zatlers said.

The Latvijas Avize daily reported previously that during a meeting of the Centennial Council it had been suggested to take political decisions in the run-up to Latvia's Centennial in 2018 aimed at reconciliation with non-citizens.

Different options had been discussed, including automatic Latvian citizenship for children of non-citizens born in Latvia, giving non-citizens the right to vote in local elections or even abolishing the non-citizen status and giving them all Latvian citizenship. But the representatives of the Centennial Council told the newspaper that no specific decisions had yet been made.

Non-citizens are overwhelmingly Soviet-era immigrants and in some cases their children who moved to Latvia during the 50-year occupation of the country. While descendants of the pre-war Latvian Republic can get automatic citizenship (provided they can track down the necessary documentation), thse who moved to Latvia during the Comunist era need to undergo a naturalization process.

Non-citizen status entails restrictions on certain jobs in the public sector and on voting rights. Consequently it is a frequent topic of criticism from Moscow and some other sources. 

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