Dual Citizenship can be a solution, not a problem

I just published a comment with EUDO citizenship blog on dual citizenship for minorities.  Click here for the comment (The full text is below, to see the previous contributions follow link).

Both the Hungarian and the Slovak changes to their respective citizenship laws can hardly be viewed without considerable discomfort: They clearly constitute nationalist and populist moves that seek to re-affirm ethno-national ownership over the state. The idea that citizenship is linked to ethnic identity, irrespective of the place of residence is not only politically troubling, considering the timing before Slovak parliamentary elections, but also in the way Hungary structures itself as a state towards its own minorities. I therefore share the concerns expressed by Rainer Bauböck and Mária Kovács.

At first glance it appears therefore difficult to conceive of potential benefits the amendment to the Hungarian citizenship law might offer. This is even more evident when considering the matter in its broader regional context. As has been mentioned earlier, a large number of European states offer citizenship on the basis of descent or identifying with a particular nation, often with considerable impact on bilateral relations. In addition to Romania and its citizenship offer to citizens of Moldova (based on Moldova having been part of interwar Romania rather than ethnicity, though), all ethnic Macedonians are able to acquire Bulgarian citizenship based a mere declaration (and over 50,000 of them actually have done so), Croats in Bosnia (and according to the numbers also many other Bosnian citizens) have held Croatian citizenship and Serbs outside Serbia (and hypothetically others) can become Serbian citizens by declaring that they consider Serbia as “their state”.

The political and normative problems of these citizenship regimes, some of which Mária Kovács has alluded to, emerge mostly in the country offering access, rather than in the country where minorities with dual citizenship live: Voting rights might bolster populist nationalist political parties and these policies can be understood as defining the countries in question as ethnic democracies with a privileged core ethnic group.

Here, however, our primary concern is with the impact on the country where the minority with kin state citizenship resides.
First, ethnonational citizenship for minorities is often argued to undermine their loyalty towards the state. Compelling as it may seem, this argument does not convince empirically or conceptually. Take the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina. While the vast majority of Croats hold Croatian citizenship, at least until recently only very few Serbs in Bosnia have held Serb citizenship.  Nationalist parties supported by the respective kin states fought for secession during the 1990s. However, support for a common state over secession has been consistently and significantly higher among Bosnian Croats than among Bosnian Serbs. Citizenship of a kin state may be a symbol of limited identification with the country of residence, but it certainly is not the cause for it. As Andrei Stavila has argued, the citizenship offered by a kin state is only partial, even if it includes voting rights. Health care, education and many services, as well as taxation, which define social relations, remain linked to the country of residence – the only exceptions exist in countries with contested sovereignty and parallel systems of service provisions, as in Kosovo.

Second, it is also argued that dual citizenship gives a kin state a free hand to intervene in other countries’ policies towards minorities. One example might appear to be the Russian-Georgian war in 2008 over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia sought to justify its intervention by claiming to protect Russian citizens. Yet, as Peter Spiro has argued elsewhere,  this argument did not gain much credence outside of Russia and there is little reason to believe that Russia would not have invaded had it not generously granted citizenship to inhabitants of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Problems stemming from dual citizenship can emerge if the kin state and the country where the minority resides do not possess a channel of communication to supplement the citizenship link between the minority and its kin state. However, this only suggests that dual citizenship cannot be the only component for arranging the complex relations between minority, kin state and country of residence.

This leaves the political disputes that might arise between states and minorities over dual citizenship, as is the case in Hungary-Slovakia, as a final point of critique. However, ethnically based citizenship is less the source of contention than a trigger or marker thereof, pointing to other unresolved issues. It is telling that the changes to the Hungarian citizenship law did not trigger similar strong responses in other countries with large Hungarian minorities, such as Romania and Serbia. As a result, the offer of citizenship to ethnic Hungarians by the Orban government was certainly ill-timed and intended to provoke rather than to improve relations with Slovakia, but it does not lie at the heart of tensions.

The critique of nationalist politics should therefore not distract from considering possible benefits of dual citizenship for minorities. I would argue that holding also the citizenship of the kin state can actually help to diffuse conflicts.  It lowers by implication the importance of the citizenship of the country of residence. In reducing its significance, it can diminish contestation over this citizenship and lessen the sense of having to rely on the good will of the majority (as the Slovak response appears to confirm). Diffusing and reducing sources of contestation can generally improve interethnic relations in divided societies. Not in the case of Slovakia and Hungary, but in post-conflict countries, the extra citizenship is also a sort of insurance policy, combined with an exit ticket. While one can lament the decline of certain minorities as a result (most prominently of course Germans in Central and Eastern Europe), the ‘exit option’ can provide a sense of security which might otherwise be absent.

In conclusion, one needs to note that the reasons for countries to offer citizenship to their ethnic kin are not always the same reasons motivating those who accept this offer. Many Macedonians who declared themselves to be Bulgarian to receive a passport certainly do not consider themselves Bulgarian but rather saw the passport as a useful way to travel. Similarly, many of 800,000 Bosnian citizens who also hold Croatian passports might just find it easier to leave Bosnia or to know that in case their country might suffer renewed conflict, they will be able to exit. Thus, ethnonationalist policies of countries are quickly subverted and citizenship becomes a practical tool for citizens who have experienced the transience of states and citizenship during their own lifetime.

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