Legislation comes in two types: those that resolve problems and those that create tension and uncertainty. We speak little of the former – we simply follow them. The latter create confusion and turmoil.
It appears that Parliament is preparing to install questionable legislation, which will legitimise dual citizenship. Few laws receive so much attention and require so many amendments. Some amendments, proposed at the last minute before the ballot, circumvent vigorous examination by the voters: that is how many questionable ideas, reflecting narrow interests, become law.
Even worse, dual citizenship legislation is planned to operate on exemptions. Exemptions for NATO and EU citizens. Exemptions for the neighbours.
Dual citizenship is a moral dilemma, like bigamy. You can claim loyalty twice, but it is impossible to be dually loyal. Who, in the end, decides to whom the dual citizen is loyal – to Lithuania, the US or Russia? If those seeking dual citizenship have no idea what they are seeking, why steer them to a moral dead end?
Even friends have conflicts; let’s hope that there will be no war and that those with dual citizenship will not be forced to choose which side to support. The privilege to vote and participate in referendums, however, can be more dangerous that outright war.
Let’s not forget that in the last twenty years the Lithuanian geopolitical situation has not changed. Are we ready to have hundreds of thousands of “dual” Lithuanian/Russian citizens? Recall recent events in Georgia, and Moscow’s foreign policy of defending its citizens in a neighbouring country.
We are still stuck with that Soviet way of thinking, that whenever we leave for overseas, someone could forcibly seize our citizenship. With a Lithuanian passport one can live and work not just within EU. Some think that it is convenient to be a citizen of the country of residence. They should not be punished nor encouraged by awarding them Lithuanian citizenship.
Cries of despair come in regard to the children, born to Lithuanian parents residing in Ireland, who automatically become Irish citizens. Alas, do not forget cases where children born in Lithuania to mixed families were denied Lithuanian citizenship. These cases are not the result of Lithuanian law, but the result of Lithuanian bureaucracy’s criminal incompetence.
Much legislation in Lithuania suffers from the inherent problem of not taking into an account what it costs to implement the law in practical terms. Perhaps if people knew the real cost, many would change their minds. Until the chaos of health insurance and social welfare are sorted out, the cost of dual citizenship cannot begin to be estimated. The cost of dual citizenship could be impossibly difficult to bear.
Some political parties quietly hope that by enlarging the number of voters overseas they will receive more votes. Is this an illusion? Departure is often a sign of protest. The agenda of courting votes overseas is risky and politically irresponsible. Why should those residing overseas have any say in how Lithuania is run, how its tax payers’ money is spent?
It is important to know the difference between citizenship and nationality – they are closely related, but ultimately separate. Lithuanians can love a country without being citizens. Citizenship firstly and most importantly bestows responsibility and duty and then consequently rights and privileges.
The Lithuanian legislators of the Constitution purposefully built in safeguards, which protect Lithuania from a return to the post-soviet community and limits dual citizenship. This is a wise position, which has taken into account threats reflected by recent events in Georgia.
The proposed citizenship legislation creates ways to surpass the Constitution and creates an example of political nihilism. If it is because we are ready for dual citizens – of which I am very doubtful – let’s do things appropriately and change the Constitution. Parliament must set an example in following the law. Only then can it expect that from ordinary citizens.
Arguments that opinion polls show that Lithuanians support dual citizenship is meaningless at best. Why has there been no referendum? Let’s not forget that opinion polls depend on cleverly crafted questions. If we ask an average Lithuanian if he or she supports children of Lithuanians residing in Ireland remaining Lithuanian citizens, few would disagree. But how would that average Lithuanian react to the proposition of supporting that non-residents, not contributing tax to the Lithuanian economy, help to decide how Lithuanian welfare is distributed?
During the last year of Soviet occupation I visited Rome where from the hands of Kazys Lozoraitis I received a Lithuanian Passport. That document gave me no privileges and only minimal protection in crossing the Soviet border. Nonetheless, that passport was a symbolic connection with independent Lithuania. I do not know how many such passports Lithuanian consulates in Washington, London and in the Vatican awarded. One thing is clear, not many then were requesting Lithuanian passports.
Gintaras Aleknonis, commentator and host of the Public Radio programmes, Dean and Lecture of the Mykolas Romeris University, former employee of the Radio Liberty. The comment was published in lrt.lt on 10 June
Translated by D.T.