On Thursday, the Seimas passed amendments to the referendum law, which increases the voting deadline to 10PM and expands the number of voting locations abroad with the aim of increasing voter turnout. Furthermore, the new law establishes an institution, which would perform campaigning when the Seimas declares the referendum. The voting bar to make decisions remains unchanged. The new redaction of the law was prepared by a Seimas workgroup for the dual citizenship referendum, lrt.lt writes.
Audronius Ažubalis
Audronius Ažubalis
© DELFI / Karolina Pansevič

The Seimas has already passed a law that on May 12 and 26, 2019, during the presidential and European Parliament elections in Lithuania, there will also be a mandatory referendum on changing Article 12 of the Constitution. However, the decision was halted after the Seimas itself called on the Constitutional Court, asking to evaluate its decision on organising a referendum with a two-week break. This was the topic of discussion between World Lithuanian Community Commission chairman Rimvydas Baltaduonis and Seimas Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats group member Audronius Ažubalis.

When asked, why he supports the concept of dual citizenship, R. Baltaduonis explains that not just him, but many other expat Lithuanians are forced to relinquish various opportunities in order to maintain Lithuanian citizenship, which he points out is a loss for Lithuania.

"As a scientist, I cannot apply for certain scientific grants, which would enhance my professional capacity, which could then be used for the Lithuanian state.

I return to Lithuania, I lead seminars for Lithuanian lecturers, scientists, I work with policy formation, even in the United States. You can sit down at the decision-making table if you have American citizenship, where matters of importance to Lithuania are resolved, such as the liquified natural gas terminal. While working in the Ministry of Energy, I had a temporary job with scientific research. I saw how citizens with Russian, Iranian, Chinese citizenships, but also American citizenships discuss matters. For example, on the need to provide natural gas for Europe. That we have people, Lithuanians, at those tables is a good thing and if we lose them and no longer have those people at the table, it is a great loss for Lithuania," he states.

However, A. Ažubalis is unconvinced, pointing out that heads of state already have the capacity to allow an individual to obtain the citizenship of a different country while retaining Lithuanian citizens and this is done for special merits. The politician emphasises that citizenship is a sort of mutual commitment between the country and individual and stresses that "Nationality is from God, citizenship is a person's choice."

When queried whether this is his opinion or that of the entire Conservative party, he notes that there are various opinions within the TS-LKD, with some agreeing to his stance and some feeling that citizenship should be granted to all those of Lithuanian origin.

In terms of a two-day referendum duration and the Constitutional Court ruling on such a solution's legality, R. Baltaduonis explains that this would not be a major blow because to his understanding, the Seimas is prepared to try other solutions, which would allow a two-day referendum as was done regarding accession to the European Union.

"Of course, it would be odd if that path was questioned because then entry into the EU is questioned. We would then have to simply do it over two days in sequence. Statistics show that 8% of new voters come to vote in the second round. Knowing this and not lowering the bar, requiring 1.3 million votes in favour – we must put in efforts to have as much of the Lithuanian nation make its say as possible. And our Constitution clearly states that the Lithuanian state is created by the nation and sovereignty belongs to the nation, not just those living in Lithuania, not just those living abroad, not those, who reached something or those, who didn't. It belongs to everyone, the whole nation. And we have to aim for our country to be formed by all the country's people, it is part of our history," R. Baltaduonis remarked.

He points out how J. Basanavičius, who had a Bulgarian citizenship, was the first to sign under the Act of Independence of 1918, how A. Ramanauskas-Vanagas was born in the US state of Connecticut and had an American citizenship. J. Kronkaitis, a former head of the Lithuanian military had both an American and Lithuanian citizenship, but he was the one to form the modern Lithuanian military and helped the country enter NATO. "TO think that we could not, having other citizenships, truly create and continue contributing, regardless of our merits, to the creation of the Lithuanian state, that would simply be unused opportunity," he adds.

The Seimas voted to hold the referendum split in two weeks and almost every MP attending voted in favour, with only four abstentions. A. Ažubalis and a number of others did not attend and later was among those sending an inquiry to the Constitutional Court over the legality of such an arrangement. When queried about this, A. Ažubalis emphasises that the extended voting period was an initiative by the ruling coalition, which gave momentum to the matter and those seeking to halt the move acted in accordance to precedent.

"I am a little confused by something else, when I think of dual citizenship. You stated correctly that the nation creates the state. The nation is formed by the people of that nation. Citizenship is a slightly different institute and a slightly different relation, while nationality, as I said, is God given. The biggest issue is this. US, UK, French, German citizenships – these are not the sort of citizenships where you come to an office and receive it after paying at a checkout, receiving a bill. You have to earn it, you have to prove that you are a loyal citizen, that you pay taxes, that you are of mind to work for your new homeland, that you are a valuable citizen with your abilities, with your being a loyal individual. A number of people choose that path, they do it earnestly despite knowing that they will lose their Lithuanian citizenship in such a case.

In other terms, today their decision was very firm, there is planning to it. Yes, I will live for 5-6 years, I will apply and receive it. You understand, it is the person's choice. It looks odd to me in this case," the politician stated.

A. Ažubalis stresses, "You cannot sit on two chairs, it very rarely ever works. On the other hand, what problem is there to be a patriot and earnestly work for Lithuania despite accepting that country's citizenship and losing your own? If you are a Lithuanian, if you truly feel like one and want to help the country, then let me tell you, it doesn't matter in this case if such a situation happened for you, you chose and became [for example] a US citizen, but you can still bring benefit to Lithuania."

A recent survey showed that 71% of respondents supported dual citizenship, however the move to have the Constitutional Court rule on the timing of the referendum has frozen work related to it, leaving it impossible to campaign for it and explain its necessity, even preventing funding anything related, R. Baltaduonis points out.

"Thus, there will not be enough time to explain for the people, even if there are expectations, everyone would want to talk more, discuss it, to be informed, but this requires money. The government could use budget funding to inform the public because, as you say, 70% support the matter, but would like to know about their duties and rights. This explanation is necessary," the Lithuanian World Community Commission chairman stated.

As a closing remark, A. Ažubalis added that the dual citizenship projects are discriminatory because they portray the existence of two types of Lithuanians, ones who live in "correct" states such Chile and those living in "incorrect" states such as Argentina where they would not have the chance to receive a second citizenship or maintain their own. The politician expresses belief that the project is divisive rather than uniting.

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