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Lithuanian passport
© DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

Up to the referendum on dual citizenship it is necessary to clearly answer questions of whether foreign "spies" will not appear in the Lithuanian military, whether we will have MPs living thousands of kilometres away and whether certain fellow citizens will not be privileged, having only rights, but not duties, Lietuvos Žinios writes.

While there has been talk of dual citizenship for individuals who departed Lithuania after 1990 for many years and on the eve of the centenary, public and expert votes ranked it one of the three most important ideas for Lithuania, it would appear that an understanding of how this would work in practice is lost in the enthusiasm. At the end of December, a group of MPs was gathered and has discussed in a number of meetings, what the formulation of the dual citizenship referendum could be, as well as what potential dangers it brings. If not dangers, then at least quirks, which individuals who wish to be citizens of two states at once could be faced with.

Foreign spies in the military?

"Norwegian spy in the Lithuanian military," a Lithuanian living in Norway found it peculiar, how his son, who does not speak Lithuanian all that well, was called upon in the conscription, lists. In the story, which was published on Delfi, it is retold how the youth already obtained Norwegian citizenship, but had not yet, finished the procedures to relinquish Lithuanian citizenship. However, every Lithuanian citizen, who also has dual citizenship, has both duties and rights, among which is the requirement for military service, regardless of place of residence. Last year, 30 such "dual" citizens were called to serve.

Thus if incomparably more dual citizens would appear after the referendum, the peculiar situation of the Lithuanians living in Norway could become far more frequent. Exactly how would fellow citizens who do not speak Lithuanian or speak poorly manage to serve in our country's military? Would a citizen from Argentina or New Zealand drop everything and fly from abroad to learn to defend their second homeland? On the other hand, who knows how much use there would be of their preparations to serve the homeland – if it were truly necessary, it would take them several days to arrive from Buenos Aires or Wellington, even if they hurried. Another subtle question – what would happen if a citizen of two states would have to defend one homeland from another?

There can be no privileged citizens

"I prefer clarity in the contract. We have to state what dual citizenship is. Will the individual serve in the military? Where will they pay taxes? What are their duties? We cannot have just one side, saying that it will cost you nothing, you will, however, receive further benefits, some sort of political rights, but if we do not say what is on the other side, it appears unfair to me. It must be clear in the referendum, what we are voting for," deputy chairman of the Bank of Lithuania Raimondas Kuodis emphasised during discussions on dual citizenship.

Constitutional Court (KT) chairman Dainius Žalimas reminds that based on the text of the constitution, its meaning and constitutional tradition, what is called dual or multiple citizenship is a rare exception. As the KT ruled in October, the current constitutional norm can only be changed via the referendum, which is being prepared. "However I would like for the discussions on the potential change in the Constitution to focus not on emotions, where nationality and citizenship is often confused, but a holistic view, pragmatic questions. Discussions should not be limited to explanations of whether you are Lithuanian or not because it has nothing to do with constitutional questions of multiple citizenship. With the absolute liberalisation of multiple citizenship, it is necessary to also see the challenges to national security and potential influence on other segments of the Constitution," D. Žalimas noted.

He reminds that the Constitution does not create any basis to give privilege to individuals with multiple citizenship, they must have the same rights and duties. For example, the Constitution clearly specifies a citizen's duty to serve in the military. A duty dictated by the concept of citizenship itself is loyalty to the state – as a citizen you must uphold the Constitution and laws.

Based on the Constitution, only Lithuanian citizens can become members of Seimas or other state officials. As such, D. Žalimas highlights, if we expand the possibility of multiple citizenship, it is worth discussing whether individuals who hold this right can be allowed to become members of Seimas. Otherwise, we may be faced with a similar case as Moldova in the European Court of Human Rights, where the court ruled that under multiple citizenship, prohibiting individuals who hold it from participating in the parliamentary elections is a breach.

The KT's chairman reminds that other legislative level issues could arise. For example the State and Service Secrecy Law perceives multiple citizenship as a threat and under this basis, permits for work with classified information are not issued.

In addition, according to D. Žalimas, it is worth remembering that certain important decisions are made in consideration of a certain number of citizens. For example, there are barriers in the referendum or Seimas elections, how many citizens must have participated to view the election or referendum as successful. As it has been observed, currently Lithuanian citizens living abroad are not active in the elections and if the number of such citizens increases, the problem of electoral legality could arise.

Questions also arise regarding how much basis one has to demand electoral rights in a country they do not live in and perhaps are fairly distant from its issues. According to D. Žalimas, certain countries limit electoral rights not just for "dual" citizens, but also those who do not hold permanent residence and only have a symbolic (passport-shaped) connection to it. If they wish to participate in the elections, they must return to the country. These problematic aspects, D. Žalimas believes, must be clearly defined before making the decision over multiple citizenship.

For all or just from friendly countries?

A workgroup has been formed in the Seimas over the referendum to expand dual citizenship. It has gathered for meetings a number of times now, but a final decision on what wording should be proposed for the constitutional amendments has not been made so far. The workgroup's chairman, Seimas vice Speaker Arvydas Nekrošius of the "Farmers" told Lietuvos Žinios that not just the wording needed for the referendum must be clear, but that also there is need for a broader explanation to the public, what duties and what rights "dual" citizens will have. Especially given that you cannot specify everything in the Constitution – certain specific premises will enter other legislation and legislative acts.

Conservative member of the workgroup Žygimantas Pavilionis believes that the referendum's wording should reflect the constitutionally established principles of transatlantic priority and non-alignment with the post-Soviet sphere. "I am in favour of granting citizenship to individuals from friendly countries, which does not cause security risks. Regardless, most of our fellow citizens live in the West," Pavilionis stated.

Fellow workgroup member Aušrinė Armonaitė of the Liberals agrees – when deciding whether dual citizenship should be permitted for citizens of all states or just friendly ones, questions of national security are important, keeping in mind our Eastern neighbour's special policy towards its compatriots.

However if we enter OECD, NATO and EU members, certain friendly countries would not be included. As such, the best variant is being discussed.

Suggests not intimidating with dual citizenship

"The citizenship law has exceptions, based on which over 25 thousand individuals have both a Lithuanian and other citizenship. Based on Migration Department data, just this year, 378 individuals received dual citizenship, while last year – a total of 2337. It is misleading to state that dual citizenship is a new phenomenon. However Lithuanians who departed Lithuania after 1990, as unfortunate as it is, still cannot retain citizenship," Lithuanian World Community (PLB) chairwoman Dalia Henke, who lives in Germany, lamented.

She reminds that the PLB has been consistently seeking ways to ensure citizenship is not stripped against the holder's will for many years and does not view the retention of Lithuanian citizenship as equal to dual or broadly permitted citizenship. In one of the PLB Seimas' resolutions it is stressed that Lithuanian citizenship should be retained after receiving a foreign citizenship by individuals (as well as their children, grand-children and great grand-children), whose parents, grandparents or they themselves were Lithuanian citizens up to the beginning of Soviet occupation – June 15, 1940, also if they departed independent Lithuania after March 11, 1990, hoping to not lose Lithuanian citizenship. Such a definition, the PLB believes, would limit the number of applications for dual citizenship and would maintain internal safeguards and restrictions.

"Everything can be regulated through bilateral agreements between states. It should not be made into a bogeyman," D. Henke spoke on the coordination of rights and duties for dual citizens. For example, Germany, while it still had mandatory military service, had bilateral agreements regarding military service, thus "dual" citizens did not have to perform it twice, also regarding taxes in order to avoid doubled taxation. The PLB chairwoman was surprised by mentions of taxation because they are paid in the state where you earn your income; only the USA has a tax payment practice linked to citizenship.

Regarding the possibility of being elected to parliament, D. Henke believes that foreign practice should be used, where the citizen holds no such right, if they have a foreign citizenship. This principle also applies in certain state services, where an oath must be given to a single state and where the service is linked to state security.

The chairman of the World Lithuanian Youth Association (PLJS) Vladas Oleinikovas points out that according to the Statistics Department, two thirds of Lithuanian citizens, who departed, are aged 15 to 39. "It is important for young individuals who are still creating plans for their lives to have the opportunity to maintain a connection to their homeland, even if they choose to live abroad. However, it is important for this to not be left a symbolic gesture. It is crucial to create better opportunities by employing modern technologies to allow global Lithuanian citizens to be as involved in Lithuanian life and to enable to contribute in creating joint Lithuanian welfare and progress," V. Oleinikovas, who lives in the UK, said. Lithuania would only obtain advantages by having citizens who are loyal to it acting actively in other countries, ones who could contribute to the progress of Lithuanian science, culture and economy through their local networks, would form more favourable foreign countries' positions regarding Lithuania. The PLJS chairman reminds that foreign Lithuanians were "a significant soft power tool" in seeking recognition of Lithuanian independence. Of course, he notes, duties are equal for all citizens, thus it must be clearly understood and emphasised in the procedures of obtaining or retaining Lithuanian citizenship.

MP Ž. Pavilionis points out that while we have an old diaspora, we have been unable to make use of it. "The Irish and the Jews make use of theirs to attract investment, ensure security and strengthen relations with other states. Meanwhile we only know how to hand over our minds, our people, but fail to attract them. If you wish to survive, you must make use of the strength of every citizen," he stated.

Of course, first and foremost, to help one's homeland it is necessary to have desire for it and not just citizenship. However perhaps in a global world it would somewhat strengthen links with one's home country.

Citizenship legislation becoming more liberal

Currently "dual" citizens make up only around 0.5% of all Lithuanian citizenship holders. Dual citizenship is permitted only for citizens, who departed Lithuania up to re-establishment of independence and their children, thus of the 2337 who received citizenship last year, only 190 children were born in Lithuania, while 961 – in Israel and 392 in South Africa.

Exemptions are also in place for children born abroad to retain dual citizenship, if they were granted foreign citizenship at birth, also those who obtained citizenship automatically via marriage with a foreign citizen. Dual citizenship is also granted for special merits to Lithuania.

Discussions of the need to liberalise obtaining dual citizenship are ongoing in more than just Lithuania. From the year 2000, only Slovakia has prohibited granting dual citizenship, while Belgium, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Finland, Sweden and Germany have established dual citizenship and increasingly liberalised it. The legislation of seven EU states (Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Croatia, France, Slovakia and Slovenia) do not outline a universal multiple citizenship format, however situations are also possible here where citizenship is not lost after obtaining a foreign one. Every country's decisions over dual citizenship is based on their geopolitical situation or colonial past.

For Lithuania to liberalise the constitutional stance on dual citizenship, not just more than half of citizenship holders must participate in the referendum, but also more than half of all citizens must vote in favour. There have been no talks of the possibility to change legislation and reduce the bar for the referendum in the Seimas workgroup, A. Nekrošius stated. It is believed that universal party consensus would be needed for this question.

Based on a survey commissioned by the Kaunas University of Technology Institute of Europe in January, 71% of the country's citizens view the possibility of granting dual citizenship for those born in Lithuania, but working abroad (in EU and NATO countries) positively. Nevertheless, for the referendum to be a success, it is firstly necessary for those holding solely Lithuanian citizenship to vote for it and for those living in Lithuania to clearly know, what they are voting for – privileged or equal fellow citizens, who would share citizen duties with residents at home.

The referendum on dual citizenship is being considered to be held together with the 2019 presidential elections.