ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2007 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 53, No 4 - Winter 2007
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas

Dual Citizenship

Regina Narušis

Regina Narušis J.D. is an attorney of Constitutional Law in Chicago and President of the World Lithuanian Community, Inc. (2006-2009).

Over the last ten to fifteen years, most countries of the European Union have maintained ties with their émigrés by making legal provision for them to preserve or reacquire their original citizenship while also holding citizenship in another country. What are the factors that led to an increase in dual citizenship? 

The dissolution of the Soviet Union gave rise to the rebirth of independent eastern European nations and this led to a quick expansion of the membership in the European Union. European Union membership and inexpensive and quick international travel made it attractive for great numbers of people to legally leave their home countries and acquire citizenship in the countries in which they had settled. 

What motivates a mother country to extend citizenship rights to its émigré population anywhere in the world? One obvious reason, of course, is economic, because most émigrés send home funds they have earned abroad and invest in their homelands. Another reason, and a very important one, is that countries with small populations believe population loss is harmful to their country’s economic growth and cultural survival, and thus see the need to preserve the goodwill of the émigré population and encourage it to return. Returning émigrés strengthen their homeland in many, often subtle ways, and constitute an invaluable asset. On the other hand, the émigré is an effective and indispensable advocate and representative of his or her homeland abroad and should be encouraged to perpetuate its history and culture away from home. Furthermore, the émigré may gain political skills through political involvement abroad and constitute an important power that can be marshaled to provide international support for legitimate needs of their homeland. 

The émigré population too has its reasons for maintaining citizenship with their country of origin. For them, citizenship is the most important real tie to their country of origin, which they continue to love. For them it is a symbol, a marker of their identity throughout the world. Many have left close and extended family in their homeland and own property there. They visit often and many plan to return permanently someday. Thus they want to participate in its political development in the present and well into the future. Any law or policy that denies them citizenship puzzles and distresses them.

According to Rainer Baubock, in the Eurozine article entitled, “Who are the citizens of Europe?” at least seven of the original European Union member states and almost all of the new members permit citizenship by descent without a residence requirement in the country of origin. France allows its citizens residing abroad to acquire a second citizenship and retain their French citizenship. The descendants of French citizens living abroad automatically and indefinitely possess French citizenship across generations. The Irish allow dual citizenship for children born of Irish parents. Dual citizenship is permitted in Italy, and persons of Italian descent who are not citizens are even eligible for public and elective office. Portugal’s constitution allows dual citizenship and grants its citizens abroad equal rights, including the right to hold office and elect members of parliament. The Spanish constitution (Article 11-2) provides that Spaniards by origin cannot be deprived of their citizenship. Swedish expatriates posses dual citizenship, have full rights and are a strong influence in Sweden’s politics. Estonia’s constitution provides that “no person may be deprived of Estonian citizenship acquired by birth.” Latvia’s prohibition of dual citizenship does not apply to émigrés. Although dual citizenship is prohibited in Poland, that prohibition does not apply to ethnic Poles. Poland does have a provision for repatriation for those who left Poland voluntarily, who are nonethnics, and have obtained citizenship in their original nationality. Further, Poland adopted a constitutional amendment to make it impossible to deprive anyone of Polish nationality unless he or she expressed the intention to give it up. The Czech constitution provides that no one shall be deprived of his or her citizenship against his or her will. Slovakia provides that citizenship can be lost only upon one’s own request (Acquisition and Loss of Nationality, Rainer Baubock, Eva Ersboll, Kees Groenendijk and Harald Waldrauch 2006). 

Dual citizenship is an unavoidable and widespread phenomenon. Little reliable data exist on the number of persons in the world today holding dual citizenship, because it is impossible to verify and lies well beyond the means of the countries to control. This plurality of citizenship seems to frustrate the initial purpose of nationhood, but most countries now believe that a more liberal attitude towards dual citizenship is the best way to preserve national unity. Even though some countries still have clear policies not allowing dual or multi citizenship or strictly prohibiting the same, most laws contain multiple exceptions and restrictive policies are not always enforced. (“Variations in Dual Citizenship Policies in the Countries of the EU” by Marc Morje Howard in IMR Volume 39 Number 3 (Fall 2005): 697-720). More and more people have dual citizenship without either country knowing about the other or even being able to find out. A prohibition of dual citizenship is basically unenforceable

Restrictions of political rights, such as the right to vote or hold office are rare exceptions in the European Union. Some assert that discrimination against its nationals with multiple citizenship would most probably be prohibited by general equal treatment clauses contained in most constitutions and by international conventions, such as the European Convention on Nationality. (Acquisition and Loss of Nationality, Vol.1 – p. 364 Harold Waldenbrauch).

Surprisingly, one country that has taken a step backward in this regard is Lithuania. After declaring the reestablishment of its independence, Lithuania’s new parliament enacted legislation allowing ethnic Lithuanians to live abroad, hold citizenship in another country and still maintain Lithuanian citizenship. However, on November 13, 2006, the Constitutional Court ruled these laws to be unconstitutional and even discriminatory. Interpreting the constitution in a very restrictive manner, the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania ruled that Article 12 of the Constitution of Lithuania does not permit dual citizenship, except in “separate circumstances provided by law.” As a result, no ethnic Lithuanian can hold dual citizenship. 

Needless to say, for a small country like Lithuania and in view of the recent massive emigration from it, such a step constitutes a real threat to Lithuania’s nationhood and a risk to its very survival. As various polls reflect, the majority of the population believes that ethnic Lithuanian émigrés should not lose their Lithuanian citizenship when they acquire citizenship in another country. 

How can this situation be remedied? The Constitutional Court says that Article 12 of the Constitution can be changed by a referendum. However, holding a constitutional referendum is cumbersome. There are several other possible ways to address the problem: 

1. Appropriate legislation specifying the “separate circumstances” alluded to in Article 12 of the Constitution. Such legislation is now pending. 

2. Parliamentary amendment of Article 32 of the Constitution, which does not require a referendum, by adding to Article 32 the following language: 

a. “No person may be deprived of Lithuanian citizenship acquired by birth” (as is in the Estonian Constitution, Article 5.2) or 

b. “If a citizen of Lithuania simultaneously can be considered a citizen of a foreign country in accordance with the laws of that country, then the citizen shall be considered solely a citizen 71 of Lithuania in his or her legal relations with the Republic of Lithuania.” (as in the Latvian Constitution, Article 9.2) or 

c. “A person who is a Lithuanian citizen under Lithuanian law cannot be recognized at the same time as a citizen of another state.” (as in the Polish Constitution, Article 2) and no one can be deprived of Lithuanian nationality unless he expresses the desire to do so, or 

d. “The citizenship of Lithuania can be lost only at one’s own request” (as in the Constitution of the Republic of Slovakia, Article 9.1), or 

e. “No one shall be deprived of his or her citizenship against his or her will” (as in the Czech constitutional amendment of 1993), or 

f. Lithuanians by origin cannot be deprived of their citizenship. (Spanish Constitution 1978, Article 11.2), or 

g. “No citizen can be deprived of his or her Lithuanian citizenship attained by birth against his/ her will” (pending proposal by the Republic of Lithuania Parliament and the World Lithuanian Community Commission, adopted April 20, 2007). 

3. International treaty. Every Lithuanian is also a citizen of the European Union (Article 17), but not of any other individual European Union country. All Lithuanians already have dual citizenship through membership in the European Union. 

Lithuania entered into a treaty with the United States on July 20, 1938 permitting dual citizenship. Other countries have also entered into bilateral and even multilateral agreements and/or treaties with other states providing for citizenship duality, as have Italy and the Czech Republic. 

Presently, the Parliament of Lithuania is in the process of legislating changes. I hope and believe that it will take appropriate legislative action in the best interests of the country and its citizens both home and abroad.