Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 165

The 10,000th person to acquire Latvian citizenship through naturalization received her passport yesterday in a special ceremony. She happens to be an ethnic Bashkir who came to Latvia twenty years ago from Russia, and is married to a local Russian who is a citizen of Latvia. Since the start of Latvia’s naturalization program in 1995, 149,000 resident noncitizens became eligible to apply for citizenship, but barely seven percent of these have exercised their right. The figure belies Russian propaganda accusations that Latvia as a matter of policy bars “Russian-speakers” from citizenship.

The reasons for such disinterest preoccupy and, to some extent, puzzle local and international observers. They cite unwillingness to perform military service, reluctance to learn the unfamiliar Latvian language or fear of failing the language and history tests, unavailability of the dual-citizenship option in Latvia, Soviet nostalgia, sheer lack of incentives to adapt to the new situation, and various other social and psychological factors. Almost 700,000 are resident noncitizens. Most of these are about to become eligible to apply for citizenship owing to the recent cancellation of “naturalization windows” (length-of-residence qualifications for citizenship). (BNS, September 8 and 9; see the Monitor, June 23 and 25)

“Russian-speakers,” most of whom are ethnic Russians, comprise an estimated 40 percent of Latvia’s population as a result of Soviet-era settlement. Most live compactly in Latvia’s six largest cities, in which they form the majority of the population and hardly need to learn the Latvian language in daily life. Latvia’s policy–including the language tests–seeks to achieve social integration on the basis of the Latvian language. Moscow and leftist Russian parties in Latvia aim for a virtually automatic naturalization procedure and for turning Latvia in effect into a bicommunal state.