Citizenship Act amends pass first reading, meet opposition criticism

Alien's passport issued in Estonia for the purpose of international travel.
Alien's passport issued in Estonia for the purpose of international travel. Source: Stanislav Moshkov/Denj za dnjom/Scanpix

Amendments to the Citizenship Act proposed by the coalition government passed their fist reading at the Riigikogu on Monday. However, it has been dismissed as a disingenuous move by opposition MP Jevgeni Ossinovski, Baltic News Service reports.

The amendments tabled are ostensibly aimed at streamlining the procedure for allowing citizenship for those born in Estonia who have either parents or grandparents who have been living in the country since the restoration of independence in 1991.

Under the terms of the bill, an individual born in Estonia to one parent with Russian citizenship and the other of indeterminate citizenship (the so-called "gray passport"-holders) would receive citizenship under a faster process.

The minor would need to be born in Estonia or take up permanent residence their immediately after birth. The bill would cover those who had one parent from any third country (plus the other a gray-passport holder) but in practice it overwhelmingly affects those with a Russian-citizenship parent. The individual would also need a parent or grandparent to have been a resident of Estonia as at Aug. 20 1991, when Estonia became independent.

Around 1,500 minors would be covered by the bill, and the citizenship would need to be requested by a legal guardian.

However, since the bill would require the minor to have their Russian citizenship renounced there and then, this meets the problem that the Russian Federation does not allow such a renunciation; in practice it is likely that the method will not resolve the issue, according to BNS.

Andrei Korobeinik, deputy chair of the Center Party's parliamentary group, said that this bill is a very important step in unifying Estonian society.

"There are over 70,000 holders of alien's passports living in Estonia, and many of them feel that their country does not need them. It does not have to be that way," he said.

"This initiative does not completely solve the problem of gray passports, but at least stops them recurring. I thank the coalition partners for this fundamental decision," he added.

Jevgeni Ossinovski: Disingenuous mockery

However, Social Democratic Party (SDE) MP Jevgeni Ossinovski said that the bill was window dressing and would do little to fulfill its alleged purpose and was, in fact, disingenuous mockery.

"The minister of the interior calls it a gesture of goodwill towards Russian-speaking residents. And I wholeheartedly agree that Estonian children should grow up as citizens of Estonia. Going further into the details of the bill, however, we find that this gesture of goodwill is outright mockery," Ossinovski said.

"Since Russian law does not allow for releasing these people from the citizenship of that state until they reach the age of majority, what arises is indeed one of those Kafkaesque situations [Chancellor of Justice] Ülle Madise referred to (Madise was referring to bureaucracy in general-ed.),* where a minor goes to the Police and Border Guard Board with their parents and the €13 state fee to apply for citizenship is paid. An order from the government then arrives, signed by [Prime Minister] Jüri Ratas, instructing the granting [to the child] their citizenship. This order government order, however, cannot take effect until the child submits proof that they have been released of the citizenship of the Russian Federation," Ossinovski said.

Since there was no scope for renouncing Russian citizenship, the move is worthless, in effect, Ossinovski said, adding that it was up to the Estonian parliament to decide if the children in question are to be granted Estonian citizenship under simplified procedure or not. 

"If a decision is made that we want to naturalize this group as citizens under simplified procedure, the state should treat the matter with dignity," Ossinovski said.

"Kafkaesque situations create minor grievances, and those don't lead to a coherent society, which is what Mr. Helme was talking about; instead minor grievances beget one major resentment."

SDE is to submit a motion to amend the bill to eliminate the apparent contradiction, and has also initiated a bill of its own seeking to treat children residing in Estonia equally and to allow for the majority of Estonian children to commence their lives as citizens of Estonia.

Ossinovski had already made statements ahead of the vote in discussions which included interior minister Mart Helme (EKRE) and Reform party MP Taavi Rõivas.

The parliamentary group of the Reform Party proposed rejecting the bill during its first reading, but it still passed.


*defined as situations marked by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity along the lines of those appearing in novels and short stories by the German-speaking Bohemian Franz Kafka (1883-1924).

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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