The citizenship law in the Baltic country could often lead to confusion for outsiders who try to understand the country’s context.
It is completely necessary to look at Latvia’s history, even if it’s briefly. We have to go back to the 1940s. Following the German occupation (1941-1944), Latvia was then annexed into the Soviet Union. The occupation lasted until 1991 – when Latvia regained its fully independence. The polls showed and overwhelming feeling to acquire the longed dream.
And it was partly thanks to the former Soviet citizens that were living in the country, that Latvia became independent again. Under promises of becoming full right Latvian citizenship – according to those affected by it – they gave full support and voted YES in the polls.
Later that same year, Latvia’s Supreme Soviet, a legislative body at the time, adopted a law restoring the citizenship of those who were citizens of Latvia before the Soviet occupation of 1940.
But it took few more years for the Baltic nation to adopt a proper citizenship law. In 1994, the Latvian government adopted the country’s citizenship law. According to the national authorities, the new Latvian republic was an extension of the republic that lost its independence back in 1940. That meant that any residents who were not citizens of the country at the time of the annexation did not qualify for the new citizenship.
The status of non-citizenship embraced over 700,000 people in the country. It did it officially in 1995, when Latvia allowed them to naturalise and obtain the same rights.
Most of these citizens where Soviet workers – engineers, bureaucrats and laborers – who where relocated to the Baltic state to boost the Soviet industry and economy. Therefore, they were mostly ethnic Russians, although there where other ethnic groups too.
Latvian non-citizens felt betrayed by the government. Some say, back in 1991, the ruling national party promised citizenship to all residents regardless of their nationality or the date of arrival.
At the moment, there are 326,735 non-citizens (also known as aliens) who are not eligible to vote in any elections, neither at national nor at local level. They are not eligible to travel in the EU as freely as the Latvian citizens. Nor can they work for any public body.
We leave for coming posts whether they can be considered stateless people and a more international approach to the issue.