“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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Language, a sensitive issue

Svetlana Djačkova, researcher at the Latvian Centre for Human Rights, on language and integration in the Baltic Country and Latvian language proficiency.

To watch more bits of this interview, stay tuned for the final documentary!

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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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The Latvian diaspora; a tough challenge for the future

Riga, Latvia

A total of 6,563 people emigrated from Latvia during the first five months of the year. In other words, 43 persons left the country every day in Jan-May.

The data, which is available in the Central Statistic Bureau’s website, is likely to increase, for the number of emigrants during the month of June is yet to be published.

The figures may help to explain the ‘unexpected’ shrinkage of population in the small Baltic country, which will be confirmed as soon as the Government releases the results of the population census carried out from March to May. Continue reading

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“We have always fulfilled the EU legal framework”

Roberts Zile. ECR group

Non-citizenship in Latvia is an issue that concerns not only non-citizens and pro campaigners, but also those who defend that the naturalisation process is a fair one and it follows the framework of International law.

My idea is not to expose the situation of non-citizens in the Baltic country, but to analyse it from all points of view.

Roberts Zile is chairman of Latvia’s ‘For Fatherland and Freedom’/LNNK party and an MEP in the new European Conservatives and Reformists party in the European parliament. He is former Minister of Finance (1997-1998) and Minister of Transport (2002-2004).

He said; “We have offered them the possibility to become Latvian citizens and it is up to each individual. We have been changing the legislation over the years to adapt it each particular situation. If we had not fulfilled the EU legislation, we would not have become a EU member state.

“I have personally experienced the naturalisation process within my family. My mum came from Ukraine and though she was old when she took the exams, she passed them,” added Roberts Zile.

He believes that the issue of non-citizenship in Latvia has been “exaggerated over the years” and that his country faces other important challenges in the future.

Finally, he pointed out one more thing: “Tell me about a country where non-citizens have the right to vote in national or local elections? There is none, so why should we act differently?”

This is just a short piece extracted from the chat I had with Mr Zile. Stay tuned and don’t miss the best bits!

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“Naturalisation is a cynical procedure”

Interview with Aleksandrs Filejs

Aleksandrs Filejs is the youngest non-citizen of Latvija I have met so far. He was born in 1988 and is currently studying a master’s degree in Russian philology.

He told me about his story while sitting on a terrace in Old Riga – Vecrīga – enjoying a midday coffee. It was raining heavily.

“Naturalisation is a cynical procedure introduced at the very beginning of the 1990s. I particularly was born in Rīga, so why should pass an exam to acquire the citizenship of my country? I believe it should be given automatically to me,” said Aleksandrs.

Also, he mentioned ” a moral discomfort” when talking about the right to vote in any Latvian elections. Besides, he said; “I want my country to be developed, but nowadays Latvia is highly separated from inside.”

He is currently employed as a tourist guide, for he takes advantage of the several languages he speaks; Latvian, Russian, French and Spanish.

Aleksandrs is convinced that the problem of non-citizenship in Latvia can be solved, but how?

If you want to find out more about him and his answer to the above question stay tuned!

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