- January 14, 2013
What about double citizenship?
The problem of double citizenship has been robbing politicians of their sleep for years. Every new government tries to solve this problem by proposing amendments to the Citizenship Act.
Nevertheless, the amendments are always rejected by the Constitutional Court. The basic law states that the Lithuanian citizen cannot have a dual citizenship, whereas citizens of foreign countries can obtain Lithuanian citizenship only for outstanding services for the country. So far politicians did not succeed in trying to legally circumvent the constitutional principles. The President, Dalia Grybauskaitė, not seeing any solution to that problem, decided to ask the Constitutional Court. The Bench will have to decide whether it is possible to liberalise granting of double citizenship without changing the Constitution or whether the alternation of the basic law is indispensible.
The President believes that the procedures to grant a citizenship are too rigorous and changes in society trigger changes in expectations. “That is why we need a clear answer that will tell us straightforwardly whether the possibility to grant the Lithuanian citizenship can be extended by means of amending the Citizenship Act or whether it is necessary to change the constitution” – we read in the justification in the President’s motion. The Prime Minister, Algirdas Butkevičius, supports her initiative. He also believes that the regulations are too rigorous and must be changed.
“There are some doubts that should be cleared up by the Constitutional Court’s decision,” said the Prime Minister yesterday. He is concerned by yet another change in the draft bill of Citizenship Act which was submitted to the Sejm. The content of the amendment does not differ much from the previous drafts admitted by the Sejm but rejected by the Constitutional Court. Parliamentary lawyers reported their reservations concerning the new draft, claiming that it may be considered contradictory to the basic law.
Meanwhile, the problem of double citizenship is of utmost importance for Lithuania and its people. It concerns hundreds of thousands Lithuanian emigrants who left the country to look for work in Great Britain, Norway, Ireland and Germany. When they acquire a new citizenship, they inevitably lose their Lithuanian one. If their children get the citizenship of the country they were born in, they cannot apply for Lithuanian citizenship until they waive their first citizenship.
The rigorous regulations for granting double citizenship were introduced right after regaining the independence. It was feared that Russian and Polish minorities would apply for the citizenships from their motherlands, which by many Lithuanian politicians was perceived as at least a disloyalty to Lithuania.
Such emotions are evoked even by the Polish Charter which is neither a document proving Polish citizenship nor is it binding as a national pledge. Nevertheless, until recently any Lithuanian Pole owning the Polish Charter, had serious problems applying for government offices.
Jarosław Narkiewicz, an MP from the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania, because of the Polish Charter could not become the vice-chairman of a parliamentary committee in the previous government. Although the new coalition of parties, with the EAPL in it, is more liberal towards the Charter issue, and MP Narkiewicz became the deputy prime minister, the matter of having a double citizenship is still difficult to resolve.
It works on the fringes of the constitutional law. Therefore, the President wants the Tribunal to explain whether the Lithuanian citizens who left the country after regaining the independence and gained new citizenships can keep the Lithuanian citizenship, too. Dalia Grybauskaitė also wants to know in what exceptional circumstances it is possible to grant foreigners with Lithuanian citizenship; according to the constitutional law a foreigner may be granted with Lithuanian citizenship only for his services for Lithuania.
Meanwhile, the problem with granting citizenships emerges when it comes to the issue of sportsmen who may render such a service in the future. A good recent example is the case of Isabella Tobias, an American sportswoman of Lithuanian origin, who wants to represent Lithuania with her Lithuanian dance partner Deividas Stagniūnas in ice dancing during the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Dalia Grybauskaitė refused to grant Tobias the Lithuanian citizenship because, as her legal advisers claimed, one cannot be granted with citizenship for potential services for the country. Previously, another Stagniūnas’ dance partner tried in vain to apply for Lithuanian passport before the Olympic Games in Vancouver. The problem of Lithuanian passport affects other sportsmen, also those Lithuanians who sign contracts with foreign sports clubs and teams, as sometimes these contracts involve changing citizenship. In that case, sportsmen have to choose between a sports career and Lithuanian passport, as the acceptance of a new citizenship inevitably revokes the Lithuanian one.
Tłumaczenie Patrycja Olszówka w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Patrycja Olszówka the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.