- August 5, 2014
“Who are you?”– your passport will tell
Lithuanian citizens will be allowed to record their nationality in their passports. On Tuesday, President Dalia Grybauskaitė has signed the amendment to the Passport Law, adopted by the Seimas a month ago, that allows that. The amendment will come into force next year and affect only passports.
There was no room and no technical possibility in ID cards for introducing a new entry. One will be able to receive the nationality entry after submitting a written request; however, the entry will be reserved for citizens who are receiving their first passport or replacing their old one.
The nationality entry was revoked from Lithuanian passports in 2003, as a part of the process of adjusting Lithuanian law to EU regulations before the upcoming Lithuania’s joining the European Union. Since then, there were several attempts to bring the nationality entry back. On July 10, 2014, the Parliament of Lithuania adopted amendment to the Law on Passport submitted by a Labour Party MP Mečislovas Zasčiurinskas; it was the fourth time when such amendment was submitted, including Zasčiurinskas’ previous attempt in 2011, during the Seimas’ previous term.
A year before, some citizens submitted an initiative petition to the Seimas that stipulated bringing the nationality entry back not only to passports but also to ID cards (identity documents). However, the Seimas Human Rights Committee decided that such entry would be anachronistic, since it would take Lithuania back to the early 20th century when nation states had been forming and written declaration of one’s nationality had been important and significant.
The first MPs to suggest bringing the nationality entry back to passports were conservatives of the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats in 2004-2008 term. The then-opposition party did not have many supporters, so their alteration was rejected. During the next term, the conservatives, the ruling party, blocked the citizens’ initiative and Zasčiurinskas’ amendments. (The Labour Party was in opposition.)
Currently the conservatives are in opposition again; they criticise the amendment to the Passport Law, perceiving it as a direct danger to Lithuania’s national security.
Mantas Adomėnas, an MP of the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats, told BNS why he believed the amendments signed by the President was dangerous: “Before this law, all people in Lithuania were Lithuanian citizens and there was no formal basis to believe that there’s some ‘minority of Russian compatriots’ in here. Now, there will be a formal basis for Russia to say that there are Russian nationals in here and they must be defended as they have records in their passports saying that they are Russians.”
The adopting and rejecting of the amendment is still motivated by political, or abstract, reasons.
Submitting the alteration to the Seimas in 2011, its author justified it by stating that introducing the nationality entry to passports and identity documents will enable people who were proud of their nationality to declare it not only in oral form but also in writing, in the most important documents. Zasčiurinskas found a connection between his amendment and the European Basketball Championship, hosted by Lithuania at the time. He actually tried to convince his colleagues that the nationality entry would enable the Lithuanian society to unite while expecting success of Lithuanian basketball players in the championship.
“The lack of the entry leads to deprivation of one’s national identity and diminishing of patriotism,” said Zasčiurinskas. His amendment was rejected, though. His pessimistic predictions also did not come true. However, the political council of the ruling coalition decided in November 2013 to accept Zasčiurinskas’ amendment. The Ministry of the Interior agreed with the decision, even though it had claimed in 2011 that “nether a passport nor an identity document is supposed to verify its owner’s nationality, since the nationality entry is not related to verifying identity or citizenship.”
However, in November 2011, the ministry stated that the nationality entry “is not illegal.” The nationality entry amendment was adopted by majority of votes. Both members of the coalition as well as of the opposition, including Zasčiurinskas’ colleagues, voted for the amendment. All present Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania MPs also voted for it, though, as the EAPL MPs had pointed out previously, the nationality entry is not the main demand of the Polish minority in Lithuania. The Poles want primarily to be able to use the original spelling of their names and surnames in passports, on which the Seimas was to debate on the day when the voting on Zasčiurinskas’ amendment was held. However, voting on both the Law on Spelling of Names and Surnames as well as the Law on National minorities was postponed. Eventually, the Seimas moved the drafts that were important for the Polish community to autumn. Again.
Translated by Michał M. Kowalski within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.