The number of stateless people in Estonia - or legal residents lacking citizenship of any country - dropped below the 100,000 mark last week.
When Estonia won its independence in 1991, stateless residents - holders of the so-called grey passports who are mostly of Russian origin - formed 30 percent of the population. Twenty years later, that figure is 8 percent, according to the Interior Ministry's assistant secretary general of internal security, Erkki Koort. Halfway between, during the last population census in 2000, the number of stateless residents was 170,000.
The prevailing reason for not taking Estonian citizenship, Koort said, is the right of visa-free travel to Russia, which residents would need to give up to attain Estonian citizenship. But many of the stateless residents do not wish to settle permanently in Russia either, resulting in a sort of self-inflicted marginalization that limits a resident's opportunities and right to participate in political life.
"Stateless people should understand that, in exchange for benefits such as visa-free travel to the Russian Federation, which they may not use very often, they lose, to a great degree, the opportunity to cooperate in the shaping of their own future," said Koort.
Holders of grey passports can vote in local elections, but only citizens are eligible to vote in general elections.
Parents who are stateless residents in Estonia can apply for expedited citizenship for their children before they turn 15. Around two-thirds of parents use this service. Adults applying for citizenship must be long-term residents, and must pass the test of knowledge of the Estonian language and a test on the Estonian Constitution.