Latvian MEPs Andrejs Mamikins (Harmony) and Tatjana Zdanoka (Russian Union of Latvia) have jointly submitted a petition to the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions calling for voting rights for people who have chosen not to naturalize, despite living in Latvia and Estonia for much, or all of their lives.
Mamikins told the LETA news service that they had collected over 20,000 signatures under the petition, while admitting there were residents of Belgium, the United Kingdom, Iceland, Italy, Lithuania, the United States, Canada, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh among the signatories of the petition.
The petition seeks rights for Estonia’s non-citizens to become members of political parties and to vote in the European Parliament election and, in case of Latvia’s non-citizens, the right to vote in the European Parliament election.
The petition says that there were 82,341 non-citizens in Estonia and 252,017 non-citizens in Latvia at the beginning of 2016.
"These are huge numbers, considering that total population is around 2 million in Latvia and about 1.3 million in Estonia. Those people are not allowed to vote in the European Parliament election, although they are counted in when the number of seats [due to Latvia and Estonia in the European Parliament] is determined,” Mamikins said.
Zdanoka, who is better known for her support of the Russian annexation of Crimea, said she was optimistic about the initiative because she had received strong support from colleagues in Brussels.
She pointed out that this was the fourth petition about the situation of non-citizens in Estonia and Latvia that had been submitted to the European Parliament since the accession of both countries to the EU.
After the restoration of independence in the early 1990s, the Baltic states were left with huge number of non-citizens - Russian-speakers who had moved here during the long years of Soviet occupation as Moscow attempted to Russify the populations.
Though not granted automatic citizenship, all non-citizens have the right to apply for Latvian citizenship, a fairly simple process that involves learning basic Latvian language skills and boning up on a few historical facts.
The most famous individual to have completed the naturalization process is probably Nils Usakovs, who is now mayor of Riga and leads the Harmony political party of which Mamikins is a representative.