Today the Latvian parliament rejected the proposal of the State President Raimonds Vējonis. Shortly, the proposal would allow the children, who are born to non-citizens, gain Latvian citizenship automatically.
What is so noteworthy about this initiative, is the fact, that the president, who seldom uses his rights to hand in proposals to the parliament, did it while knowing that one of the coalition partners – National Alliance “All for Latvia!” – “For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK” – was strictly against it and has used their veto rights in the coalition council to stop the other coalition partners from supporting this initiative. To formally evade the chance to use veto rights, the proposal is formed as a separate law, not related with the Citizenship law, although lawyers claim, that it is impossible to introduce such legal norm without changing the Citizenship law. Although coalition parties have promised not to violate the coalition agreement, the liberal group, which split off from the coalition party “Unity”, strongly supports the automatic citizenship, together with some other coalition politicians.
Another noteworthy thing is the fact, that non-citizen children can gain Latvian citizenship extremely easily already now – one of the parents just has to hand in an application. What the President, liberals and the pro-Kremlin forces want, is to skip this phase of application and the written will of the parents. Actually, there are just about a few dozen of such cases a year; moreover, the numbers are decreasing. The explanation, why nationalists value this as dangerous, is the case of precedent. In fact, proposals for changing the procedure for obtaining citizenship by 180 degrees, contradicts the meaning of the existence of the Latvian state as it is defined in the Constitution of Latvia: to preserve the existence and development of the Latvian nation and culture through the centuries. The inescapable counteraction to the redefinition of one of the key features of the nation – a set of citizens – is reduced to a discourse about “50 babies” by the tandem of Liberals and pro-Russian politicians. On top of that, this resembles the way liberals tried to ridicule and marginalize the worries about immigration and so-called “refugee quotas” issue a couple of years ago. However, juggling with numbers does not change the fact, that the planned initiative is a fundamental change in the principle for obtaining citizenship – from inheritance to a birth in the territory of Latvia (the old good comparison with the kitten born in the horse stable).
The non-citizen institute was established in Latvia soon after the regaining of the independence from USSR to overcome the consequences of occupation and brutal russification policy, when hundreds of thousands of Soviet settlers (alongside with huge numbers of army) were flooded into the tiny Baltic nations to change the ethnic features of these countries and therefore fight the “disobedience”. So after the restoration of independence, the citizenship was only restored to those, who have been citizens before the occupation in 1940, and their descendants. Others could gain citizenship according to the naturalization procedure (which has been criticized by nationalists a lot for being too easy). Since many of the Soviet time colonists, who are in their majority disloyal and even hateful towards Latvia, were not repatriated back to their homeland after the restoration of independence, this was an attempt to keep away the political power from the hands of those, who are against the very existence of the state. Still, some liberals claim, that those, who do not want to abandon the non-citizen institute, defend the consequences of the occupation. Well, O’Brien had not put it better…
Since the beginning of 1990ties there have been several attempts (some of them successful) to make the Citizenship law “softer”. In fact, what liberals and pro-Russians tried to push through, was so called “zero version” of the citizenship, which would grant the citizenship (and therefore the voting rights) to anybody living in Latvia at the moment. This can only be valued as nonsense or a sabotage, as the russification had reached its maximum exactly in the end of 1980ties, when ethnic Latvians were only 52% in their own country (and some sources even claim 49%). Still there are non-citizens, who knowingly choose not to undergo naturalization, as there are few gains (like voting rights, for example), but also some losses – citizens need a visa to travel to Russia, while non-citizens do not need it. There are also people, who refuse from the not so hard to get citizenship out of pure contempt against the Latvian state. Numbers of those, who wanted to naturalize, increased in 2004, when Latvia joined EU. Their motivation might have been the opportunity to travel freely in the Schengen area.
One more argument, which nationalists (and to be honest, just reasonable people) offer, is the fact, that Latvia still has split education system and state-financed Russian language schools with severe problems of loyalty to the country. The new almost-automatic citizens absolve these schools with totally twisted view to the reality and understanding of history and politics according to the taste of Vladimir Putin.
I have not heard anything how the supporters of the idea of automatic citizenship, plan to separate those born here as a result of USSR occupation from others, who have just been “accidentally” born in our country. This suggests that the “50 children” a year is only the first step towards a modern zero-version of citizenship, when not only non-citizens, but also the children of refugees and other migrants born on our soil would gain citizenship.