Latvia's law on citizenship adopted on July 22 ten years ago terminated the citizenship of nearly 80,000 of the then 2.5-million population. The luckless persons are former citizens of the Soviet Union who had come to Latvia or were born there after June 17, 1940, and their descendants.
The law ordered their naturalisation, which called for getting the permanent resident status, filing naturalisation request, presenting a list of documents and passing an exam in the Latvian language and history.
The naturalisation process began on February 1, 1995. Since then, nearly 740,000 non-citizens were granted the right to citizenship. Of these, about 178,000 were granted citizenship immediately and several tens of thousands of non-citizens emigrated to the former Soviet republics and foreign states. As of now, there are about 480,000 non-citizens in Latvia, who make up 21% of the country's population.
In the ten years of naturalisation, barely 75,000 permanent residents received Latvian citizenship. Latvian experts say that with this speed, it will take 30-50 years to solve the problem of non-citizens.
Members of left-wing opposition parties and some analysts speak of the unwillingness of most non-citizens to begin the naturalisation process, because they think it is unfair that they had been deprived of citizenship in the country of their permanent residence. Many of them do not speak Latvian well enough to pass the exam and some of them do not have the required 20 Lats (nearly $40) to pay the naturalisation duty.
Leaders of the state naturalisation department explain the slow speed of naturalisation by political reasons. "The problem lies in the political games played by some deputies," said Janis Kahanovic, deputy head of department at the Russian-language Telegraf newspaper published in Riga.
International organisations, including the UN, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, as well as representatives ofthe European Union, which Latvia joined this year, also point to the slow speed of naturalisation in the country. But Latvia's leaders are not ready to give citizenship to permanent residents automatically. President Vaira Vike-Freiberga explained her government's stand by a desire to "make Russians see that the occupation of Latvia was illegal."