Latvia Citizenship Law Changes

From: MINELRES moderator <>
Date: Fri, 8 May 1998 09:57:25 +0300 (EET DST)
Message-Id: <>
Subject: Latvia Citizenship Law Changes

From: MINELRES moderator <>

Original sender: Fernand De Varennes <>

Latvia Citizenship Law Changes

It has been announced that the Latvian cabinet "approved a change to
the country's citizenship legislation that would grant citizenship to
all children born in Latvian after 21 August 1991 regardless of the
citizenship of their parents, the Riga newspaper "Diena" reported on 6
May. The only restriction is that the parents must have been living
legally in Latvia for at least five years."

This is extremely good news, and the Latvian government should be
congratulated for this approach more in conformity with
non-discrimination under international law.

I have however just one question for anyone who might have more direct
information on this situation. The announcement seems to say that all
restrictions will be lifted. Does this mean that language requirements
have also been removed? If they have not, the report from Radio Free
Europe is wrong.

Dr Fernand de Varennes

>From the moderator: Current situation is as follows. On April 23, the
bill on amendments to the citizenship law was sent for consideration
in the Parliament's commissions. This used to be called "the zero
reading" - alternatively, any bill can be rejected by the Parliament
without consideration (what BTW was the fate of numerous similar
amendments submitted earlier by the opposition factions). The bill was
submitted by the leaders of major parties of the ruling coalition. Now
it must be adopted in three readings. 

Among other changes, the draft proposes that a child born in Latvia
after 21 August 1991, if at least one of his/her parents is the former
USSR citizens who has no other state's citizenship, has the right to
Latvian citizenship upon achieving 16 years age if he/she either
graduated from school with Latvian language of instruction or confirms
his command in Latvian language according to level established by
Art.19 and 20 ot the current citizenship law. The child can make use
of the aforementioned right before he is 18 years old. 

Thus, in comparison with the citizenship law currently in force, this
means that children born in Latvia are only exempted from the history
and legislation tests. 

As Latvian media reported, the proposed amendments were severely
criticized by the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities and
other European organizations (some letters to Latvian government were
mentioned which's texts are not yet made public). 

On May 5, the Cabinet decided to submit another amendmenmt reportedly
of the following nature. A child born in Latvia after 21 August 1991,
if at least one of his/her parents is the former USSR citizen who has
no other state's citizenship, is granted Latvian citizenship by
registration if the both their parents request this. Indeed, the
parents must have been residing in Latvia for at least five years. If
the parents don't make use of this opportunity, the child can apply
for citizenship him/herself in age of 16 on the conditions described
above. I don't yet have the text of this bill, and this was not yet
considered by the parliament. 

It goes without saying that I completely agree with Dr de Varennes -
if adopted, these amendments could become a major breakthrough for
resolution of the statelessness problem in Latvia and building
democratic civil society. On the other hand, I am rather cautious with
optimistic evaluations. What bothers me is that these steps were not
made by the ruling parties in Latvia because they themselves
reconsidered their attitude towards inclusive policies in respect of
Russian-speaking non-citizen minority. Rather Russia's drastically
increased political attacks and de facto starting economic sanctions
caused much more pressure on the part of European organizations, also
big business companies sponsoring these parties apparently demanded
doing something to save their profits gained from trade with Russia. 

Judging by rhetorics of political leaders, comments in media and other
internal sources, liberalization of the citizenship law is seen by the
ruling elite as a forced concession to be compensated by other tools -
first of all, tightening of the language legislation and speeding up
the process of elimination of (at least) state- and municipally-funded
school education in Russian language. In other words, before achieving
full-age these children must be fully linguistically and culturally
assimilated, as one prominent nationalistic politician overtly said.  

Anyway, it is clear that resolution of the statelessness problem will
(hopefully) become just the first step, we will still have to cope
somehow with many other problems related to the general "nationalism
and democracy" controversies... 


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