Double citizenship put to referendum in Lithuania

Lithuania doesn't allow double citizenship, but a referendum could change existing legislation.

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Lithuania
Double citizenship put to referendum in Lithuania - NewsMavens
Russian passports. Wikicommons

Why this story matters:

Unlike many other European countries, Lithuania is very strict about double citizenship. The reasoning is that lax legal provisions would allow citizens of "unfriendly" countries to vote. This was an especially important concern in the 1990s, when the country's democracy was less than stable.

Russia is the elephant in the room -- the fact that one cannot have two passports makes double loyalty more difficult and forces residents to think twice before applying for an additional passport.

However, Lithuania's global diaspora is pushing for change, as they want to be able to settle in Lithuania (or elsewhere in the EU) without losing the passport (e.g. American) they already have. Brexit is also worrisome for the thousands of Lithuanians who want to secure their right to stay without cutting off their Lithuanian (and EU) links. A blog on rights post-Brexit lists Lithuania and Estonia as the only EU countries that prohibit dual citizenship with the UK.

There are large diaspora communities in the US, Canada, Brazil, Uruguay and other countries outside of Europe. Access to Lithuanian citizenship would provide individuals with Lithuanian ancestry up to the third generation an opportunity to travel visa-free to many countries, study and do business across the EU, and enjoy legal protection. According to current regulations, they would not need to serve in the army or reside in Lithuania to be able to vote. 

The move is expected to boost diaspora relations, but another elephant in the room is that many of the applicants -- who will hurry to the archives should the amendment be adopted -- would use their Lithuanian passports to enjoy visa-free travel and hassle-free residence in the EU rather than to reconnect with their roots in Lithuania.

However, proponents of the changes say that Lithuania, with its shrinking population, can no longer afford to alienate so many of its descendants, and that extending citizenship rights would be fair and in line with international practice.

Details from the story:

  • The Lithuanian parliament has approved a referendum on double citizenship. It would span two days: 12 and 26 May. The Constitutional Court still has to rule whether this arrangement is legal.
  • The referendum will coincide with the presidential and MEP elections.
  • Expanding the right to double citizenship requires amending the constitution, which requires a 'super-majority' in the Parliament or a referendum.
  • Currently double citizenship is available to Lithuanians who have either acquired another citizenship at the time when Lithuania did not enjoy sovereignty (that is, between 1941 and 1990) or automatically receives multiple nationalities at birth.
  • Following the amendment, Lithuanians will retain their citizenship if they acquire a citizenship of a state that "meets the criteria of European and Transatlantic integration". The criteria would be set in the Law on Citizenship.
  • Organising the referendum would cost between 1.8 and 2.5 million euros. The changes will pass only if over a half of all eligible voters vote yes. Thus, if only 51% of the voters show up, they would all have to vote 'yes' for the amendments to be approved.
  • If adopted, the changes would enter into force on 1 January 2020.
  • Diaspora in Latin America andSouth Africa are closely watching these changes, as many of their members emigrated in the 1920s or 1930s in search of economic opportunities and currently cannot obtain Lithuanian citizenship.
  • Those whose ancestors left after WWII -- another major wave of Lithuanian migration -- are already covered by the existing law. With the proposal to define the list of countries in a separate law, politicians reserve the right to include Latin America, Israel, and the like, while excluding Russia.
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