Category Archives: Citizenship

Soviet Legacy

Non-citizen passport

So here it comes, this is the final TV documentary I have been working on during the last couple of months. As I promised, I uploaded it on Vimeo (it is divided in two parts) so you can watch it any time you want.

However, I have protected it by password. So if you want to check it out, just post your email address in the comments and I will be sending the password to your inbox as soon as I can.

As a sort of intro for newcomers to the blog – and pitch as well – the text below;

Soviet Legacy

Latvia regained its independence in August 1991 and the new elected government updated the country’s citizenship law one month later, creating a new status for the former USSR citizens.
Twenty years later, the country still has 325,000 inhabitants who hold an alien passport, what limits their democratic and social rights.

Non-citizens have been offered the possibility to acquire Latvian citizenship, but most of them just refuse it for different reasons.

Who is to blame for having such a special situation within a EU state member? Is it democratically fair for a state member to have such a large community of people whose rights are limited? Why do not non-citizens apply for the Latvian passport?

I analyze the whole situation in this documentary. Check it out!

Soviet legacy (Part One)

Soviet legacy (Part Two)

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All things come in their due seasons

Alex was born in Latvia within a family of people later on became non-citizens. Therefore he is a non-citizen himself.

He is cheerful and optimistic. He is one of the scarce number of people here in Latvia that give you a smile as soon as you see him – at least people I have met and come across so far.

He is about to apply for citizenship because he says: “I do not have to do the military service and I have established myself in the private business.

Now I feel it is the right time to do so, since I can devote some time into naturalising and I have worked on my future too. I did not feel the need to become a citizen before.”

Although his infectious character and positive attitude towards life, Alex does not take for granted the current situation of non-citizens in Latvia.

 

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Non-citizenship; a personal battle

Non-citizens and their rights has been one of Tatjana Ždanoka‘s longstanding fights at the international arena.

Non-citizens were included in the Schengen Treaty in 2007 thanks in part to her work. That meant the end of visa applications in order to travel freely throughout Europe. A year later, the same conditions were granted by Russia.

In this short clip, she talks about international assistance and EU/Russia‘s role on the subject of non-citizenship. She points out the lack of commitment from the latter to help out those who have been trying to keep Russian language and culture alive in the Baltic country.

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Latvia fires its Parliament

Latvians have voted massively to dissolve their parliament after a historical referendum. Almost 95 percent of voters want new general elections and the dismissal of the current Saeima.

Counting began shortly after ballots were closed – 23 hours local time – and according to the Central Election Commission participants have expressed their wish to dissolve the the Latvian Parliament.

More than 682,000 citizens voted in the referendum that saw an important turnout along the Gulf of Rīga. Saulkrasti County, on the gulf’s eastern side, registered a turnout of nearly 143 percent thanks, partly, to voters from outside the district who casted ballots there.

Vidzeme province had the highest participation – 54.16 percent – followed by Kurzeme at 53.04 and Zemgale at 47.61 percent. On the other hand, Latgale had the lowest, 34.60 percent. The capital of Rīga also had a low turnout: 36.46 percent.

Latvians living abroad had also the opportunity to take part in the historical referendum, the first of such kind in the Baltic country’s history.

“I voted for the dissolution of the Saeima. I want to bring to an end the influence of oligarchs in Latvia,” said student Ilze Zake.

“Hopefully, today’s result will help to draw a different political map in Latvia. However, we have to vote smartly, making sure that a new political elite takes over.”

CORRUPTION

Former president Valdis Zatlers called for the vote in late May. The Parliament had refused to lift the immunity of MPs after the anti-corruption office, KNAB, requested to search the house of parliament deputy and businessman Ainars Slesers, suspected of being involved in corruption deals.

He also denounced the influence of “business oligarchs” in Latvian politics. Mr Zatlers was ousted just one week later by the parliament, but has since founded a new political party.

“I had enough of living in a Latvia based on lies, cynicism and greed,” said the former president.

“We need to be honest before ourselves; Latvia is considered a small mafia state, and this is not the best reputation for a country,” Mr Zatlers told the LNT.

Latvia, who joined the EU in 2004, has long been dogged by corruption. The country is still emerging from the economic crunch – its economy fell 18 percent in 2009 due to strict budget cuts.

Elections are now expected to be held in September.

The last election in Latvia was only last October. It is expected that Mr Zatlers and allies – including PM Valdis Dombrovskis – will do well.

Mr Dombrovskis said this week; “A main goal of the elections will be to ensure that oligarchs, and the parties supporting oligarchs, do not control a majority in the next parliament. If this happens, then I would say the former president’s initiative of dissolving the parliament will pay off.”

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“Non-citizenship is an artificial controversy”

Tom Schmit is a management teacher, communications consultant and long-term resident. He was born in Buffalo, New York, but moved to Latvia 12 years ago.

He speaks on the issue of non-citizenship in Latvia and the naturalisation procedure – comparing it to the one in the US. He also offers his take on the subject of politics and non-citizens in the Baltic country.

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The Naturalisation procedure

Nadzezhda and her husband, a non-citizen of Latvia.

Non-citizens are able to apply for Latvian citizenship provided that they have been permanent residents of the country for, at least, five years. They have also to demonstrate Latvian language proficiency, pass both Latvia’s history and constitution tests and know the Latvian national anthem. One more thing

As I previously wrote, some 135,000 people have naturalised since 1995. The naturalisation rates reached its height over two periods; 1999 – 2001 and 2003 – 2005. However, the rates have fallen off substantially during the last few years.

Nadzezhda holds a Latvian passport, though she was born in the Ukrainian city of Lviv. She arrived in Latvia for the first time in 1985. Her desire to “feel more integrated in the country” and be able to vote and travel freely, led her to apply for citizenship and naturalise.

“I failed the writing exam the first time I apply for citizenship. I found it quite difficult to be honest,” said Nadzezhda.

She then attended to a language course to improve her Latvian and with the help of her daughter, who was at primary school, manage to pass the exam and naturalise.

She added; “I wanted to be a full right citizen of the country where I live and feel more integrated in its society. Besides, I wanted my daughter to have a Latvian passport, so she could feel at the same level like full right citizens.

“I did not have many problems when I was a non-citizen. As long as you know the language, things are fine. However, after acquiring Latvian citizenship I felt more confident in myself; I can take part in anything I want to as a full right citizen.

“I think the naturalisation procedure should be easier. There are hundreds of people who, like me, have been living in the country for many many years, paying the same taxes and contributing to the country’s development and the Government should ease the procedure for them.”

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“There is no political interest to sort the situation”

In August Latvia will celebrate the 20th anniversary since it regained its independence. In October, it will be twenty years since the citizenship law was updated  by the newly elected government.

Back then, more than 700,000 people acquired a new status; non-citizens of Latvia. Nowadays, 14.6% of the Baltic country’s population (325,000) still holds a non-citizen passport.

Nils Muiznieks, director of the Advanced Social and Political Research Institute of the University of Latvia and
former Minister for Social Integration, does not hesitate to say that the current situation is “a contradictory picture.

“In the early 90s when the international community got involved here, Bosnia was the reference. Everyone was afraid of violence and mass expulsions. It did not happen and that was a success.

“But the law on citizenship was a controversial issue that almost prevented Latvia joining the Council for Europe, was monitored by international bodies and was highly contested by Russia.”

Due to the international pressure, the Latvian government acted. Lots have been done ever since and some important steps were taken in the previous years to join the EU.

Some 133,000 people have naturalised during this time, but a large number of non-citizens have not “overcome this psychological barrier” and seemed to have got accustomed to their status.

Nils added; “I think non-citizenship in Latvia is still an issue and it will be soon prove by some political parties. However, once we joined the clubs – EU and NATO – international pressure to sort the problem disappeared and therefore there is no political interest within the country.”

More about Nils Muižnieks and the interview in the final documentary!! Don’t miss it out!

Current Law on Citizenship

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