Sinkevičius: the question of dual citizenship can only be resolved by referendum – not in any other way

Lithuanian passport
DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

After the restoration of independence in Lithuania, the citizens that left the country have acquired citizenship of another state – lost the Lithuanian citizenship. Is this a problem? If so – how to deal with it? About this in a talk show with constitutional law expert, and Vytautas Sinkevičius, a member of the Parliaments’ Foreign Affairs Committee, and former ambassador Žygimantas Pavilionis.

– Family members gathered 114 signatures of Parliament members and is proposing to amend the Citizenship Act without changing the Constitution. In an attempt to solve the problem and to expand exceptions, when it is possible to have dual citizenship. Why is this the way you are trying to solve this question, Mr. Pavilionis?

Žygimantas Pavilionis: Because we think that it is completely compatible with the Constitution, because the Constitution is not talking about an exception. Constitution talks about individual cases provided by law.

– The Constitutional Court has said that isolated cases are rare.

Ž. P.: Yes, but, in our opinion, the essential conditions have changed: we have become members in NATO and EU, almost one third of our people are already in these areas and we remain the vital self-determination – either we want our people to be together or we lose a large part of the nation. Before the First World War 600 thousand at most left Lithuania, in the inter-war 100 thousand had left, after the war and during the war itself – about 50 thousand people, and now we have already 850 thousand people, who have left and basically this is the category that is most discriminated against in our current Constitution.

– Mr Sinkevičius, the Constitution says that a person cannot be at the same time a citizen of Lithuania and of another state, except in cases established by law. 114 MPs consider during that time the situation has changed dramatically in Lithuania, since every year there are about 50 thousand people that leave. And this is sort of a basis for a law knowing in advance that it would be contrary to the Constitution. How do you assess this situation?

Vytautas Sinkevičius: The conditions have changed but the Constitution has not. Constitution still has the same ban. The state can and should respond to those conditions but only in a Constitutional manner – that is to change the Constitution. In 2013 when about 600 thousand citizens have already left Lithuania the Constitutional Court said that in order to extend the dual citizenship cases, you must first make a constitutional amendment. Second, by expanding the citizenship law you cannot do that. Third, the interpretation of the Constitutional Court restricts members of the Parliament, the Government and President in the sense that they are allowing the law the Constitution cannot be interpreted otherwise than it was done by the Constitutional Court. This judicial interpretation was made three times but the Parliament members still do not understand it.

– Mr Povilionis, do I understand your argument correctly, as one of the amendments to the organizer, would it be too difficult and almost impossible to change the Constitution by referendum?

Ž. P .: I think that if in a hundred years we want to solve the same question when Lithuania will have only half a million people, we can try a referendum on the matter. We know that our last successful referendum was only the accession to the European Union. If we want our future to be taken away from us as it was taken away, such as the future of nuclear power – go ahead, let’s go to a referendum. But my people are more important than what we are talking about now. Now the situation is that we practically cut the umbilical cord with about 300 thousand. Lithuanian located not only in London but also in America.

– Mr Sinkevičius, now the rare exceptions are common. Is it perhaps not much of a difference that those “rare exceptions” will increase?

VS: I would like to go back to the debate in principle – why can we only change by a referendum? Section I of Article 12 says: the people by adopting the Constitution, said that the fundamental values which are is nationality can only change by themselves – the people. Not the Parliament, not the Government and not the President. Only the people can change the Constitution. Another thing that is written in the Constitution is that the scope of powers is controlled by the Constitution. MPs are sworn to respect and enforce the Constitution, and now we hear about plans to ignore it. Nobody says that you can’t solve the problem but if we mention the principles that say – this is the way that the Constitution cannot limit Government, that the Constitution can be ignored, that the Constitutional Court interpretations are optional. It’s about what respect then we can talk about?

Ž. P .: May I ask only two questions for you, Professor? How do the words “separate” and “exception”? Are they different or not?

V.S.: If you look at the Constitution you would not find a single article, which said, “separating statutory”. The referendum is regulated by the Law and the elections as well. The only article, which deals with individual cases, is the said Article 12.

Ž. P.: And why 23 thousand people, who have already received citizenship can be referred to as an exception, but what can’t?

V.S.: The Constitutional Court did not investigate this matter. If you are in doubt, you can ask the Constitutional Court whether the provisions of the Law on Citizenship, allowing 23 thousand people to have dual citizenship are not against the Constitution. And you will get an answer.

– World Lithuanian Community Board Chairwoman Dalia Henkė has joined us on the phone. Mrs. Henke, what are your expectations? How do you think this issue should be resolved?

Dalia Henkė: First of all, I would like to start with the fact that the Constitution serves the people – who else? The Constitutional Court interpreted the citizenship in 2003, 2006 and most recently – in 2013. Then why the individual case is in the end? It is individually established case instead of a rere one and non-exclusive. Shouldn’t we return to the interpretation of the word in particular? World Lithuanian community has the legal advisors, who precisely mention that the doctrine of the Constitutional Court may be changed on a new file. We would like to appeal to all politicians, academics and lawyers – for Lithuania now, more than ever we need unity rather than splitting our community. Namely the teaching of what was once legitimized by the Constitution is what is fracturing it. Society lives separately and its development is faster than changing the Constitution. The doctrine of the Constitution often no longer meets the pace of public life. It is outdated and no longer relevant, it could be reviewed.

– Mrs. Dalia, why, in your opinion, dual citizenship is important Lithuanians who have left?
D.H.: Because it is a direct link to their roots, to their homeland and our fellow citizen living in the world, who do not want to lose these links.

– Mr Sinkevičius, perhaps indeed the Constitutional Court doctrine may change as circumstances do?

V.S.: It can change when there is a constitutional basis. However, the interpretation of the Constitution cannot change the political interests and other interests can lead to political parties programs, public opinion polls and the like. The Constitutional Court interprets the Constitution in accordance with the Constitution only. Let’s remember one thing – in 2003 the Parliament adopted the Law on Citizenship and found that everyone, who have left after January 2003 and who had citizenship until 1940 can have a dual citizenship. The Constitutional Court (KT) deemed the provision declared unconstitutional. In 2013 the President appealed to the KT asking whether those who left Lithuania after 1990 March 11 can be stated as citizens of Lithuania and of another state? KT said – no, they cannot, a correction is necessary. KT said even more – the Parliament is prohibited from adopting a law which provides for the same rules that were previously recognized as unconstitutional in earlier cases. Thus, the Parliament is constrained. It cannot be acting like it is right now. I call it a clear lack of respect for the Constitution and the Constitutional Court. Lithuania remained probably the only EU country where dual nationality is strictly limited. All states are responsive to changing circumstances by expanding dual citizenship. But why can they do it? Because the Constitution does not contain any prohibitions. They allow the Constitution to regulate the relations by laws.

– Mr. Povilionis, a lot of elections are coming up in 2019. So take the flag and organize a referendum.

Ž. P.: If I could do it myself, perhaps I would do. But I do it for the nation, which now asks us to take into account its interests. MPs gathered a lot of signatures and soon will vote for this law – let them show that there is a political will. Then we will appeal to the Constitutional Court and try to argue why this law is not in conflict with the Constitution.

– Dalia Asanavičiūtė, the Chairman of the Lithuanian community in Great Britain has joined us on the phone. Ms. Dalia, do you get the impression that although the loud political statements are correct, however, it is a wasted time because the only legitimate way is to change the Constitution?

Dalia Asanavičiūtė: I am glad that it is finally talked about and loudly, even if it is by populist words. The professor spoke about respect for the Constitution, I would like to ask – where is the respect for the Lithuanian citizens who have left? The respect has not been there for more than a decade. The referendum was never held and its plans not developed. Now we are talking about a referendum in the spring or summer of 2019 but Great Britain is leaving the EU composition in the beginning of 2019. Thus, the Lithuanians living in Britain will decide whether to refuse Lithuanian citizenship before the UK leaves, so after the referendum you will not be able to restore it as easily. This is a big problem. Even now, after the “Brexit “vote, the number of people wanting to get British citizenship or a permanent resident status sharply increased.

– Mr. Sinkevičius, the question was about the waste of time.

V.S.: I think that the time is being wasted. Instead of MPs dealing with the problem as they are supposed to and oblige to the Constitution, they are playing political games.

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