Latvia marks 25 years of non-citizens

On October 15, 1991 the Supreme Council (the interim parliament) granted citizenship to Latvians that were citizens during the inter-war period, and their offspring. As a result, a third of Latvian residents who did not fit the criteria became non-citizens, reported Latvian Radio Friday.

During the last 25 years, 150,000 non-citizens have been granted citizenship under the naturalization program. A further 250,000 are still non-citizens and have no voting rights. In the last few years naturalization has slowed down, while experts say Latvia cannot afford a split society given the current tensions between Russia and the West.

Supreme Council MP Juris Bojārs: No citizenship for occupiers

"The institution of citizenship is very complex and nuanced, and in that area you have to know the history of many people. First of all citizenship is a politicized institution," said former Supreme Council MP Juris Bojārs.

"Local Russian speakers thought that they have a right to citizenship, that it should be granted to everyone.

Latvia's independence has been reinstated, so everyone should be granted citizenship -- [this idea is] utter nonsense, as occupiers shouldn't be granted citizenship,

and tens of thousands of Russian officer families remained here with children, grandchildren, grandmothers and everything else, and so they settled down here," he said.

Broken promises?

However the Popular Front of Latvia, which was represented in the interim parliament by Bojārs, had said in its election campaign that the front proposes granting citizenship to permanent residents of Latvia who "declare their wish to get Latvian citizenship and without reservation connect their fate to the Latvian state."

That means that people who later were pronounced non-citizens may have voted for reinstating Latvia's independence in hopes to be legally recognized as citizens later on.

Does that mean it's a deception of the electorate? "It partly is, and partly isn't. I wouldn't say that it was deliberate deception.

I myself, to tell the truth, in separate cases did speak about [granting citizenship to everyone] but I never spoke about automatic citizenship.

I did speak about that the citizenship of the Republic of Latvia could be obtained, according to the law, by everyone who lives here. It partly happened, and partly did not. It's how you interpret it," said Andrejs Panteļējevs, who served as a Popular Front MP at the Supreme Council.

Naturalization began too late

As a result of the citizenship law, about 700,000 people - a third of Latvia's residents - were left with an ambiguous legal status which was clarified only in 1995. That's when the naturalization process began.

"I think the biggest mistake was that several years passed. The people without a citizenship were left unsure about their future," said Svetlana Djačkova, a researcher at the Latvian Center for Human Rights.

She stressed that the first criteria for naturalization were very strict, with time windows given to several groups of people during which they can naturalize.

"We recall the so-called naturalization windows and the ban for children non-citizens to obtain citizenship. The children who were born following the restoration of Latvia's independence had no right to obtain Latvian citizenship automatically or following a parent's request," she said.

"The integration of non-citizens began too late and it greatly promoted alienation and the slow course of naturalization," said Djačkova.

By 1998, only 15,000 people had obtained citizenship via naturalization.

While after the so-called "naturalization windows" were lifted following a referendum, the number of naturalized citizens grew, peaking around the time Latvia entered the EU - from 2003 to 2005 about 62,000 became citizens.

Obtaining citizenship has slowed down

The pace of naturalization has slowed down, and while 250,000 are still non-citizens, less than 1000 people became Latvian nationals last year.

Two years ago in a survey by SKDS pollster about 10% of non-citizens said they're planning to naturalize next year.

Latvia can't afford a divided society

A divided society is often mentioned as one of the main security risks for Latvia.

Experts told Latvian Radio that while part of non-citizens will never fully recognize Latvia as their own country, the state should focus on the naturalization of young people and children.

About 7,000 non-citizens under the age of 18 are living in Latvia.

President Raimonds Vējonis this year created a Social Cohesion work group that's making a report on how to unite people living in Latvia. Liesma Ose, head of that work group, said that while the work has been done, the results will be announced by the president in early November.

The Centenary Council featuring Vējonis and a group of former presidents has reviewed several scenarios of reaching out to non-citizens, including granting citizenship to all the people born in Latvia or abolishing the non-citizens' status as such.

Despite this, the president later said that en masse naturalization is not the right solution.

However it's clear that as tensions build between Russia and the west Latvia cannot afford for its society to be divided.

5 comments
stop british manerism in Latvia!
Hey, stop british manerism in Latvia! The cause was occupation as it is declared by Latvia and many other countries! Where it is written in your article with honour towards those who suffered and felt terrible humiliation during the soviet/russian ocupation?
suba
Though Baltics had an unprecedented case in history (who doesn't?) - the leaders and government of Latvia set a good example of how not to run integration. The two separate stream of schools for Russians and Latvians are first example. How are people born in this country supposed to integrate if they are supposed to be educated in different enviroment? Why can't be there just Latvian language schooling since it is the state language? Now so much time has passed, any changes are not without bad repurcussions. Strangley I am yet to meet anyone of either community who is willing to forget the history and embrace the other. (i didnt meet doesnt mean there isn't)
Janis Puriņš
The world, and Latvians, need to recognize that the current problem of Russians squatting in Latvia is the result of a failed attempt at the genocide, by demographic drowning, of the Latvian people, initiated by Stalin as "punishment" for fighting for their independence. The statelessness of these Russians is easily solved by their return to Mother Russia and, in any event, is not Latvia's problem. I agree that post-occupation Latvian governments have done a poor job of dealing with this issue. Assimilating these colonists doesn't remove the risk that Putler will invade Latvia under the pretext of protecting the "rights" of ethnic Russians in Latvia. These "rights" are, incidentally, invented to order by Russian agitators in Latvia to suit whatever their complaint of the day may be. Sadly the Russians' best weapon may be the political apathy of Latvians themselves. Come and try to piss on national monuments in Canada or the U.S and see what happens.
Janis Puriņš
Every free state has the fundamental right to determine who will or won't be allowed entry and/or residency in their country. The Russians who entered Latvia during the occupation did so without the consent or permission of the people of Latvia. For that reason they are in Latvia illegaly. The longevity of their stay doesn't magically make it legal, although I would blame the government of Latvia for failing to address the problem. Similarly, any offspring these Russians may have had do not, simply by being born, acquire rights to Latvian residence or citizenship. I agree that "split" society is a liability for Latvia. To address this problem Latvia should create another window during which those unable or unwilling to become citizens of Latvia can divest themselves of whatever assets they have and leave, or be deported and/or denied re-entry if they ever leave Latvia.
Don't be dumb
The thing with them is that they became stateless when Soviet Union collapsed and apparently statelessness is considered big no no internationally, because in many cases it indeed deprives people of rights and they lack protection of state that could intervene to resolve this, that's why they were given this special status that grants them certain rights and apparently in view of Latvian government this status is different from statelessness, if Latvia did something like you suggest it would automatically evoke this view that they are status and lack rights and therefore need international protection, that could turn out very bad for the country. Meanwhile if nothing is done sooner or later this is going to resolve on its own as people either get any kind of citizenship, leave the country or die (considering many if them now are elderly)
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