Estonia to strip citizenship from Abkhazian Estonians, Anvelt wants change

Arnold Rutto visiting his homeland in Abkhazia.
Arnold Rutto visiting his homeland in Abkhazia. Source: private library

According to a recent decision by the Supreme Court of Estonia, Estonians who left Estonia prior to the establishment of the Republic of Estonia and did not return after the Treaty of Tartu entered into force are not actually Estonian citizens. This decision has drastically affected one such Estonian family from Abkhazia from whom the state wants to strip their mistakenly granted citizenship by birth. Minister of the Interior Andres Anvelt (SDE) confirmed, however, that this is why he wants to see the law changed.

Arnold Rutto was born in Abkhazia into an Estonian family whose forefathers immigrated to Abkhazia prior to the birth of the Republic of Estonia. His family spoke Estonian at home, and passed on Estonian customs. In 2005, when Rutto moved to Estonia, he set about applying for Estonian citizenship, reported ETV news broadcast Aktuaalne kaamera.

In 2013, however, Rutto discovered his forefather's certificate of citizenship in the National Archives, which granted him, his mother and his sister all the right to apply for citizenship by birth instead. Now they are facing the threat of being stripped of their Estonian citizenship.

"In renewing her passport, it turned out that her passport had actually been issued to her by mistake, and that the state does not in fact consider her a citizen by birth, but rather a citizen who received citizenship and a passport by mistake," Rutto explained about his mother Alli Rutto, whose current Estonian passport expires in less than one month.

"Here is where Estonia as a state should feel regret and admit that Estonia as a state has mistakenly granted citizenship to people," said Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) Deputy Director General Priit Pärkna. "What the Treaty of Tartu foresaw at the time was that those people who wanted to receive Estonian citizenship had to leave Russia. Although yes, I agree, the Treaty of Tartu did not provide precisely where they had to go."

Contradictory rulings

"The stupid situation, which it really is, that is a headache for officials and politicians alike, but first and foremost for the people themselves, is that in a span of 15-16 years, we have had two court rulings that directly contradict  one another," explained Anvelt. "At the beginning of 2000, an administrative court ruled that those who received citizenship by option but did not return to Estonia within a year [in 1920] are citizens. In 2018, the Supreme Court of Estonia now says that they were not citizens."

According to Ministry of the Interior estimates, the current situation affects nearly 40,000 people. The solution currently being offered is that the affected persons renounce their other citizenship, at which point their mistakenly granted citizenship by birth would remain.

Rutto currently already has only Estonian citizenship, but his mother Alli's situation is more complicated, as she lives in Abkhazia.

"It would be very complicated and difficult to be just an Estonian citizen in Abkhazia, as she would have to apply for visas to cross the border between Abkhazia and Russia," Rutto explained. "I am waiting for the same solution that some politicians already have, with multiple passports. I will not applly for multiple passports for myself; what I want is for my mother to be able to safely visit Estonia and also safely live in Abkhazia, and the most important thing for me right now is the fact that I want to be a citizen by birth."

Anvelt wants to change the law

"I have launched a change to the legislative process with which to change the paragraph of the Citizenship Act pertaining to citizenship mistakenly issued by fault of the state so that if an individual has been granted citizenship by birth even by mistake, then they will retain it under the same exact bases as all citizens by birth, unconditionally and with no restrictions," said the minister.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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