Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 182

Concurrently with the October 3 parliamentary election, Latvia held a referendum on amendments to the citizenship law. In a strong turn-out, and by a margin of 53 percent to 45 (with 2 percent invalid and blank ballots), voters approved the amendments passed by the parliament on June 22, which facilitate the acquisition of Latvian citizenship by the nonnative–mostly Russian–population and its offspring. One amendment abolishes the “naturalization windows” system–that is, length-of-residency qualifications for citizenship. Henceforth, all residents who are not citizens of “another country” (meaning, in most such cases, Russia) may apply for Latvian citizenship immediately. Under the other amendment, children born in Latvia after August 21, 1991, to residents who do not have Latvian or “another country[‘s]” citizenship, are entitled to become Latvian citizens at parental request, without taking a language test (BNS, Radio Riga, October 3, 4. Background in the Monitor, June 23, 25).

Russia, with Western support, had pressed for these changes. Prime Minister Guntars Krasts’ Fatherland and Freedom Party had sought reconsideration of these amendments by putting them to a national referendum. The abolition of naturalization windows was not particularly controversial. However, many are concerned that scrapping the language test for one category of residents–in this case, minors–can invite pressure from Russia, and perhaps even from the West, for naturalization of further categories of the nonnative population without a language test. This would pave the way toward a binational and unstable, rather than an “integrated” Latvia.