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Kaljulaid, Ratas call for citizenship laws to be amended if necessary

President Kersti Kaljulaid in Narva this summer.
President Kersti Kaljulaid in Narva this summer. Source: Sergei Stepanov/ERR

Both President Kersti Kaljulaid and Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Centre) have called for Estonia's citizenship laws to be amended if necessary, expressing disappointment over the way the case of an Estonian family from Abkhazia and their citizenship status has been handled. Estonia must cherish and value its people at home as well as abroad, Ratas said.

"Seeing all that has happened in recent weeks with the citizenship of Alli Rutto, an Estonian residing in Abkhazia, I am embarrassed," Kaljulaid wrote on Facebook, adding that she was embarrassed both as a person as well as a public officer for what happened to Rutto and other people in a similar position.

"The state has to be just to its people, and if the state and officials have made a mistake, the people cannot be made to suffer in the course of correcting these mistakes," the president wrote. "It breaks the trust between our state and our people."

According to Kaljulaid, the case of Alli Rutto and others sharing her fate is a lesson to the public sector.

"I hope people will learn from this, that they will be prepared to admit they made mistakes and correct them quickly," she wrote. "This will have to be a joint effort by our officials and politicians to eliminate this mess as fast as possible. If needed, review each individual case, amend the laws, supplement the procedures, and restore the people's confidence in a just state. We can debate who a real Estonian is and we should do so, however, first and foremost, this mess needs to be cleared so that the people who have fallen through the cracks will not suffer any further."

The president's comments came in response to the latest news regarding Alli Rutto, an ethnic Estonia who lives in Abkhazia and had her Estonian citizenship by birth [jus sanguinis] revoked, being informed that it had been granted to her by mistake.

Based on a Supreme Court ruling from earlier this year, of ethnic Estonian residents in Russia at the time, only those who returned to Estonia from Russia within a year after the 1920 Treaty of Tartu entered into force became citizens of Estonia.

A rigid change in practice has led to the state of Estonia declaring the granting of citizenship by birth to people like Rutto an error. For that reason, Rutto, who lives in Abkhazia, and her children and grandchildren, who reside in Estonia, are now faced with a choice — either they renounce their Russian citizenship, which is a necessity living in Abkhazia, or the state of Estonia will no longer extend the validity of their passports. As the state no longer considers them to be citizens by birth, dual citizenship is not allowed in their case.

Ratas: State must value its people at home, abroad

Ratas likewise commented on the citizenship issue on Facebook on Thursday, saying that the Estonian state must always put the well-being and rights of its own people first.

Innocent people should never be allowed to suffer as a result of mistakes made by the state or by contradicting interpretations [of the law], Ratas wrote, saying that the Rutto family's case is a striking example of a situation in which the state must demonstrate more empahty and understanding as well as seek opportunities to help its people, not reasons for not being able to do so.

"Where there is a will, there is a way," he added.

"We must together build a state that cherishes and values its people both at home and abroad," the prime minister said. "Only then can Estonia be a country with growing population numbers where young people born here wish to live, work and build families, and those who have left in the past and their descendants wish to return. Thus our citizenship policy must also be caring and inclusive, not exclusive and dividing society into our people and those foreign to us."

Therefore also our citizenship policy must be caring and inclusive, not exclusive and dividing society into our people and those foreign to us."

Minister of the Interior Andres Anvelt on Wednesday submitted a bill seeking to amend the article of the Citizenship Act pertaining to the mistaken granting of Estonian citizenship by birth due to an error on the state's part, allowing an individual erroneously declared a citizen by birth to retain this citizenship except in the cases of an actual security threat. Dual citizenship would thus no longer be an obstacle.

While dual citizenship is not allowed by the Citizenship Act, jus sanguinis citizenship is protected by the Constitution and cannot be stripped against a citizen's will, creating a situation in which many members of the Estonian diaspora, for example, are able to remain dual citizens of Estonia and their country of birth.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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