Dual citizenship may translate into discrimination against some people

Lithuanian passport
DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

‘We are likely to run into the problem of ethnic discrimination while defining the notion of dual citizenship,’ claims Eglė Verseckaitė-Grzeskowiak, Senior Lecturer at ISM University of Management and Economics, in her interview to the LRT television programme LRT Forum. In her words, discrimination is inevitable when the state needs to avoid granting citizenship to all applicants without exception. Vytautas Sinkevičius, constitutional law expert, claims that, on the other hand, the state has full discretionary power to decide on matters of citizenship; therefore, to him, the subject of discrimination is not even worth talking about.

One of the proposed wordings, if adopted, may pose a threat to the state

The Commission of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania and the Lithuanian World Community are currently examining two options for defining dual citizenship. It follows from the wording of the first option that ‘citizenship acquired by birth cannot be lost against the person’s will.’

The second option proposes amending Article 12 of the Constitution. The latter states that ‘citizenship of the Republic of Lithuania shall be acquired by birth or on other grounds established by law. With the exception of individual cases provided for by law, no one may be a citizen of both the Republic of Lithuania and another state at the same time. The procedure for the acquisition and loss of citizenship shall be established by law.’

The Commission proposes that the wording of the Constitution should be changed to: ‘with the exception of the cases provided for in the constitutional law of the Republic of Lithuania, no one may be a citizen of both the Republic of Lithuania and another state at the same time.’

According to Mr Sinkevičius, Professor of Mykolas Romeris University and constitutional law expert, the wording in the second option may be open to debate, while the first option’s wording is very poor. In the Professor’s words, adopting the second option would mean that all citizens of Lithuania, regardless of their place of residence, could concurrently hold the citizenship of Lithuania and another state.

‘Since the absolute majority of the Lithuanian citizens have acquired citizenship by birth, in this option we would allow all residents of Lithuania to acquire the citizenship of another state and remain holders of the Lithuanian citizenship at the same time. The amendment to this effect was already proposed back in 2013. At the time, all the political groups in the parliament and all the ministries rejected it as a threat to national security. Nothing has changed now, even though five years have passed,’ Mr Sinkevičius stresses.

Žygimantas Pavilionis, member of the Commission of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania and the Lithuanian World Community, is also convinced that the proposed first option should be discarded. The second option, in the politician’s view, it is much more appropriate, since it prevents granting the Lithuanian citizenship to all and envisages the application of the guidelines of the Constitutional Court on that matter.

‘The Court made it clear that Lithuanian citizens may not possess dual citizenship; it may, however, be granted in certain individual cases specified in the law, for instance, to citizens living in a friendly country,’ Mr Pavilionis notes.

The court deemed the previous wording on dual citizenship to be discriminatory

Ms Verseckaitė-Grzeskowiak agrees that the definition of dual citizenship should be restrictive. One of the options, as mentioned by Mr Pavilionis, would consist in granting dual citizenship to nationals of certain countries, in which case, however, as Ms Verseckaitė-Grzeskowiak points out, discrimination is inevitable.

‘There was a time when it was relatively easy for Lithuanians to obtain dual citizenship. There was only one exception to the rule: representatives of Lithuania’s ethnic minorities who repatriate from their ethnic homeland were not entitled to dual citizenship. However, the Constitutional Court ruled this exception to constitute ethnic discrimination,’ Ms Verseckaitė-Grzeskowiak points out.

According to her, one of the ways to avoid discrimination is to remove the words ‘in individual cases’ from the current wording. However, Ms Verseckaitė-Grzeskowiak believes that most of the public and even politicians would like to revert to the previous wording, which makes it possible to choose who is granted the Lithuanian citizenship and who is not.

‘Unfortunately, this is bound to produce ethnic discrimination, one way or the other. Of course, we will find a separate word for it, restrict it. We may insert words like ‘friendly countries,’ or modify the notion in other ways, but a law would offer far more opportunities than such a generalised decision’, Ms Verseckaitė-Grzeskowiak said in the TV programme LRT Forumas.

Proposals to think beyond the effects of the recent wave of emigration

Aušrinė Armonaitė, Deputy Chair of the Liberal Movement Political Group in the Seimas, agrees that the act of granting dual citizenship to certain restricted groups of people can be treated as discriminatory, but it can also be seen as an opportunity to grant privileges. In her view, the debate on dual citizenship should also take account of people other than those wishing to retain their citizenship.

‘There are two other aspects which should be borne in mind. The first of them is the option to restore citizenship. The regulation currently in force is making some Lithuanian citizens renounce their Lithuanian citizenship. For their sake, the new law should, in any case, make provisions for the restoration of their citizenship. […] Besides, members of mixed families residing Lithuania […] may wish to become Lithuanian citizens by naturalisation under the regulations in force. Logically, they should also be able to retain their original citizenship,’ Ms Armonaitė said in the TV programme.

Mr Sinkevičius notes, however, that the State is free to define who its citizens are. Therefore, reservations and restrictions, such as the ones specifying some countries, should not be considered discriminatory: ‘This is not even worth talking about. Secondly, what are the factors the state should take into account? The State should take into account whether the definition of dual citizenship conflicts with national security or not; how much the definition of dual citizenship integrates the nation and brings people together; and what are the future implications of the decision to opt for either a broader or a narrower definition of dual citizenship.’

Mr Sinkevičiaus argues that, should the wording of the first option be used (‘citizenship acquired by birth cannot be lost against the person’s will’), this would pose a threat to the security of the country: ‘if we revert to a situation where those who acquire citizenship by birth cannot lose it, where does this lead us to? We will deprive the Seimas of the right to regulate questions of dual citizenship altogether. The Seimas will no longer be able to adopt any law on loss of citizenship.’

Most benefits come from emigrants who emigrated long ago

Ms Verseckaitė-Grzeskowiak, Senior Lecturer at ISM University of Management and Economics, notes that research demonstrates that emigrants can bring advantages to their countries of origin. However, most tangible benefits come from the emigrants who left the country more than 10 years ago and retained dual citizenship. ‘These are the people who bring most investment, most progress, and contribute to life-changing effects in the provinces and other environments to the largest extent.’

Ms Armonaitė agrees that dual citizenship should be seen as an opportunity and not as a threat: ‘It is true that one may consider making manifold amendments to the Constitution, but this is also a window of opportunity. If we are talking about granting people the possibility of preserving or restoring their Lithuanian citizenship, we are dealing with a problem at hand. We are putting out the fire for five or ten years ahead, if you will. I suggest we look 20 years ahead.’

In the view of Ms Armonaitė, MP, it is well worth considering the option of providing for naturalisation with concurrently preserved citizenship of another country: ‘After all, we are not talking about the citizens of failed states. We are talking about the same Euro-Atlantic criterion. If we want to adopt the long-term approach and plan what happens in 30 years or more, it is high time we acted right now.’

Prof. Sinkevičius agrees that the problems faced today offer new opportunities. In his words, Lithuania currently ranks among the Member States that have the most restrictive regulation on dual citizenship in the EU.

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