Dual Citizenship in Eastern Europe in the era of European Identity

In Europe, the topic of multiple citizenship was taboo until way after World War II. The attitude towards the subject can be easily illustrated by a statement of the League of Nations: "all persons are entitled to possess one nationality, but one nationality only". Based on this affirmation, the rule was that anyone who gains a second citizenship has to give up the original one, mostly in order to preserve the one person, one vote principle. The spread of globalization somehow eased these rules, as more professionals had to deal with the issue. The EU lets its members decide by themselves whether they allow multiple citizenship or not. 

In Western Europe, double citizenship law tends to focus on the process of integration of new (European or not) residents in the European society, as for example in the case of the Algerian minority in France, or the Turkish minority in Germany. Therefore, the rules are constantly loosened because the global trend requires it: migration is much more widespread, boundaries are slowly vanishing and a "European identity" is increasingly developing - as a consequence, it is difficult to restrain plural citizenship. An eloquent example is Germany's position: the country was strictly committed to single citizenship, but now gradually begins to relax the rules. However, this is only applied for obtaining a second citizenship by a German citizen - it is still difficult to obtain German citizenship. 

In Eastern Europe, on the other hand, the issue of dual citizenship was tackled from a completely different perspective. The post-1989 split and emerging nationalisms have developed a sort of resistance to the case. New nation states wanted recognition, but at the same time, ethnic minorities were trying to fit in and preserve their residence - but not at the expense of their ethnicity. Something had to be done. Some countries moved on and changed their policy according to the new situation on the continent, but it seems that Eastern Europe is not moving with the trend. Many countries, such as Slovakia or Ukraine, are still not flexible enough to handle this problem. 

After the split of Czechoslovakia, the two newborn countries needed special naturalization requirements for Slovaks who wanted to gain Czech citizenship: they need to have 2 years residence and 5 years of clean criminal record. And how is Slovakia handling the minority issues? It does not permit the acquisition of a new citizenship by its citizens. The latest problem with this law was the Hungarian citizenship issue for the 500,000 ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia.

In the summer of 2010, right after the elections and changes in government, when the FIDESZ right-wing party got into power, they immediately passed a law according to which ethnic Hungarians living in annexed territories could claim back their citizenship by naturalization. (This draft bill was rejected by Hungarians in 2004 in a referendum, because of the participation rate was too low (37%) to validate it. Left-wing parties had encouraged the public to reject the idea of giving citizenship to Hungarians abroad, leading them to think that millions will come from abroad to take away the jobs from the mainlanders). The issue is delicate because different generations of Hungarians want to get citizenship for different reasons. For elderly people, it was labor of love, because they had lived in Hungary before Trianon. Getting back their old citizenship meant strengthening their national sentiments and reinforcing their ethnic identity. The youth understand and live in this spirit, but many of them claim to be European or global citizens, so they also apply for a advantages such as the two passports. I find it disappointing that these people, closely linked to Hungary (or others, for example Czechs, Ukrainians in Slovakia) are denied to obtain their second citizenship. 

Perhaps Ukraine has the most negative attitude towards the issue: the first decision after the dissolution of the Soviet Union was that they only accept dual citizenship with countries with whom they signed an agreement contract, and Russia was not part of these - so much for the two million Ukrainians living there. Later, in 1996, dual citizenship was completely banned. Because of this law, the five million Ukrainians working abroad and ethnic minorities like Hungarians and Russians found themselves in a very difficult position.

Poland handles the situation in a more sophisticated way. The country does not legally accept dual citizenship: authorities only recognize the Polish one even if a person has more. Therefore, holding another citizenship is not punishable in itself, but it cannot be used for identification in Poland. It is also prohibited for a Polish citizen to serve in a foreign army.  

Those living in former Yugoslavia had two citizenships, one for the Yugoslav Republic and one for each member state. After the breakup, people lost their member state citizenship if they failed to prove their nationality. In this way, ethnic minorities were deprived of the citizenship of their place of residence and sometimes forced to abandon it. Most of the problems arose from them trying to keep their residence but also stay in touch with the motherland.

Since very recently, in Bosnia Herzegovina, citizens are allowed to take on another citizenship, mostly because until 2012 more than 50,000 people were forced to discard their citizenship to obtain another. Forced, because, according to the 2001 statistics, the unemployment rate in Bosnia is more than 40%. The political elite feared that prohibition would cause resistance. For similar reasons, Slovenia now also allows the dual citizenship. 

Croatia approaches the situation in a more interesting and delicate way: in theory, the country does not accept dual citizenship but in practice they are aware of it and tolerate it. In some cases, with slow bureaucracy, one can even obtain Croatian citizenship. 

Romania is more open-minded in the issue: it grants Romanian citizenship to a massive amount of people in Moldova, and accepts the dual citizenship of the more than two million Hungarians living in Romania, of whom more than 500,000 have obtained it recently. Bulgaria also tolerates and accepts it.

To Vote or Not To Vote?

Whether or not we should interfere with the politics of a country of which we are not residents is a very interesting question. I assume that those who migrate to another country will connect to it more, to a certain extent, than to the long lost homeland. Those who were born in one country but have cultural and historical ties with another one usually find more important the politics of the country they are living in at present. 

It is a very controversial issue, on which there are many different perspectives. Many people do feel that policies of the other country affect them enough to go to the polls, while others seem to find in their vote an opportunity to thank a party for the citizenship they received from it. There are a lot of people who are well-informed enough to feel comfortable voting in both countries. 

In Eastern Europe, the issue of dual citizenship can easily be converted into a political game but it is also an opportunity for ethnic minorities to gain closer ties with the homeland - which I find absolutely necessary. It is also very useful for the integration of immigrants. However, sometimes people are too afraid of people from across their borders to accept them, and sometimes governments cannot understand how important cultural ties are. For those with dual citizenship, it is essential to be open-minded but also well informed when deciding whether or not to vote and in one or both countries.