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Lithuanian liberals revive idea of holding referendum on dual citizenship

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RULinas Jegelevičius

Still high from windfall in March 1 municipal election, Lithuania’s Liberal Movement fans the flames with an initiative on legalizing dual citizenship in the country.

The muscle-flexing Liberals have proposed holding a binding referendum on dual citizenship alongside parliamentary elections next October.

But some Lithuanian MPs fear the initiative amid the geopolitical tensions might be used against Lithuania by the adversaries when enacted. Other lawmakers suspect the Liberals seek to stay in the limelight and the proposal serves the purpose well.

Liberals aim to see Lithuanians

In the proposed draft, a group of the Seimas’ Liberal MPs suggests recognizing the second part of the Constitution’s Article 12, stating that «with the exception of individual cases provided for by law, no one may be a citizen of both the Republic of Lithuania and another state at the same time», void.

Current Lithuanian legislation allows dual citizenship only for citizens who left the country during the Soviet occupation period during 1940-1990 and also their descendants, but not for people who emigrated after Lithuania restored its independence.

«With this referendum, we are calling for lifting the existing restrictions. The Liberals are in favour of a bigger and wider Lithuania in the whole of the world where there are definitely more than 3 million Lithuanians,» Liberal leader Eligijus Masiulis was quoted as saying in a statement.

Critics, however, insist that citizens must be loyal to one country only and are also concerned that members of ethnic minorities in Lithuania might seek citizenship of foreign countries and that Russia might take advantage of that.

Some prominent Lithuanians perhaps are especially eager to see dual citizenship legalized.

Some big shots risk losing Lithuanian passport

Among them are Lithuanian businessman Aivaras Abromavičius, who was recently appointed to run Ukraine’s Ministry of Economy, and Žydrūnas Ilgauskas, a basketball star player, who has played for NBA and lives in the United States ever since.

Being also citizens of foreign countries they risk being stripped of their Lithuanian passports. The Lithuanian authorities have started the procedures, according to Lithuanian media.

The two cases have rekindled discussions about legalizing dual citizenship with the polls favouring the idea.

However, it is greeted now much less enthusiastically than just several years ago, again, a result of the sour relations with Russia.

Pollster Srinter Tyrimai survey last December showed that 57.3 percent of the surveyed supported the idea of dual citizenship, with 29.1 percent opposing the initiative and with 13.6 percent without a clear opinion on the matter.

«Dual citizenship is more likely to be supported by younger people (19-35 years), over two thirds are in favour of dual citizenship. Most sceptics are to be found among the elder (over 56 years) respondents, people with secondary education and residents of rural areas,» Spinter Tyrimai pollster was quoted as saying by Lithuanian media.

A survey back in 2009 produced even more cheerful results for dual citizenship supporters: over 72 percent were in favour of it.

PM backs proposal

Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius weighed in on the proposal, saying he is «in favour of it» and reasoned a referendum on dual citizenship might be held alongside the forthcoming general elections; he cautioned, however, amendments to citizenship laws should prevent abuse cases.

«Personally, I am in favour of the dual citizenship idea, the referendum, but the laws have to be drafted very responsibly. And also the referendum questions must be formulated very responsibly not to leave legal gaps that might lead to potential abuse,» the prime minister told on Thursday, April 23.

The Liberal Movement’s proposal was scheduled to be put before the Lithuanian Seimas later on this week.

Lithuania loyalty issue

Alvydas Medalinskas, a political analyst, says the Liberals have proposed the initiative because they are «free people».

«That is why they cannot grasp why Lithuanians after moving somewhere else cannot keep up their Lithuanian citizenship. Furthermore, the state foresees possibility for dual citizenship which is an exclusive right of Lithuanian President,» he told BNN.

But as tempting the idea of legalizing dual citizenship is, as much concerning is, especially amid the geopolitical tension, possibility that some unfriendly to us states can try to take advantage of the liberal proposal, he says.

«Everyone obviously understands that I am talking about Russia and thousands of Russians who, under the amendment in Lithuanian Constitution, may seek also Lithuanian citizenship,» he said, adding, «Look, Russia always stokes the sentiment of the supposed defence of Russian compatriots at its close borders. So with Lithuania’s dual citizenship instated, there might be an attempt from Russia to use the card. I hope that Liberals will heed the concerns, as well as the issue of loyalty to Lithuania. This has to be addressed, too».

«An old idea»

Artūras Paulauskas, a Lithuanian MP and deputy chairman of the ruling Labour Party, says the Liberal Movement’s proposal cannot be viewed as some new initiative.

«As a matter of fact, I’ve submitted that kind of proposal a couple of years ago, but it seems that it got stuck in the drawers of Seimas’ Law Committee. I have not heard any response from it until now, unfortunately. Moreover, I had submitted a similar amendment yet back in 2006, if I am not mistaken, but, again, the proposal died out,» the legislator told BNN.

With different opinions on dual citizenship, especially amid the standoff between Russia and West, concerns can be addressed through an appropriate legislative fix, the lawmaker believes.

«Certainly, the Liberal Movement seeks to stay in the limelight after the successful municipal council election in March and the initiative, obviously, plays out well with thousands of families both in Lithuania and abroad,» Paulauskas concluded.

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