Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 108

The Latvian parliament resolved yesterday to consider the amendments to the citizenship law according to the normal procedure–which involves three readings, as opposed to an accelerated procedure which would have required a final decision yesterday. Following this decision, the parliament took up the amendments in the second reading. With fifty-seven votes in favor, sixteen opposed and twenty-seven abstentions, the parliament adopted–in principle–amendments opening the way to naturalization of children born in Latvia since 1991 to non-citizen families. In the first reading held earlier, the parliament had adopted amendments abolishing the “naturalization windows,” that is, residency requirements for the naturalization of adults.

The decisive third reading will focus on language tests and other qualifications for the acquisition of citizenship by adults and minors. This third reading is now scheduled for June 15, only four days before the parliament’s summer recess. While Prime Minister Guntars Krasts and the coalition government propose to eliminate or lower those qualifications, most deputies of Krast’s Fatherland and Freedom party resist them. President Guntis Ulmanis has announced his intention–should the parliament fail to pass the amendments by June 19–to break the recess and call a special parliamentary session in July. Legislative action will become practically impossible afterward as the country embarks on the campaign for parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for October. (BNS, June 4)

Based on OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stool’s recommendations, the legal changes would facilitate a mass-naturalization of the Russian (“Russian-speaking”) population. That category comprises almost half of Latvia’s total population. Some West European countries and the European Union collectively support the amendments, apparently in the hope of defusing the crisis around Latvia that Moscow initiated on March 3. Moscow now states that it is prepared to “normalize” relations with Latvia, once the country changes its citizenship law. However, there is every indication that Russian pressures on Latvia will continue later over other issues, preeminently over Latvia’s quest to join NATO.