Revisiting the link between dual citizenship and democracy

Revisiting the link between dual citizenship and democracy

Revisiting the link between dual citizenship and democracy

Adilia Jilgildina holds a master´s degree in Public Policy from the University of Reading, UK. Her research interests include gender studies, international politics, religious freedom and political philosophy.


The concept of citizenship represents legal status, participation, belonging, and brings about the respect or disrespect for human rights. Today citizenship debates are centered upon whether it opens up more opportunities, such as political participation, legal status, voting rights, or conversely brings additional obligations, and exclusion based on gender, religion, race, ethnicity, etc. These aspects can vary across countries, for example, whereas some societies guarantee the full protection of individual rights to dual citizens, which means full equality, others are unable to ensure this protection.1 Therefore, this article seeks to explore why certain countries tend to be more or less willing to embrace dual citizenship (‘DC’) policies, provided that the nation-state is given all authorities to determine who should qualify for entry. To this end, it will provide cross-country comparisons between immigrant groups so as to reveal the determinants of possible variations in the DC situations, policies and underlying factors across these regions, and will conclude with a number of recommendations on how these inconsistencies could be overcome.


Dual citizenship situation in the post-Soviet states


The examples of post-Soviet states demonstrate some tendency towards discriminating one group of population while favouring the other. As such, some countries such as Poland are skewed towards one population group, showing a little, if no, enthusiasm to extend dual citizenship to immigrants arriving to their country, although encouraging the settlement of their emigrants abroad, which is categorised as asymmetric treatment when emigrants are treated differently and have more privileges than immigrants of the same country.  This demonstrates inequality between citizens and non-citizens in the sense that certain countries tend to privilege its own citizens while excluding immigrants from many aspects of life.2 Another reason behind the reluctance of post-Soviet states to embrace dual citizenship lies in their fears of threat to their territorial integrity and sovereignty, especially where the relations between neighbouring states are complicated, as in the cases of Russia with Ukraine, as well as Kyrgyzstan and Latvia who both inclined to sign DC agreements with non-contiguous and western states rather than its neighbours.


A number of these post-communist states, with exceptions such as Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan and Ukraine, also apply strictly ethnicized and exclusionary practices towards recently arrived new immigrants, ethnic minorities, and those who had no previous connection to the country, in this way, strong family ties and long-term residency were considered the basic criteria for obtaining the DC.3  Some accounts suggest that these countries see themselves as ‘self-defined blood communities’ who tend to exclude newly arrived persons with no blood or historic linkages to the country.4 Nonetheless, Ukraine rather requires that those claiming the DC to be born or long residing on its territory in order to be eligible. The cases of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Tajikistan also demonstrate no discrimination between the co-ethnics and ethnic minorities, rather, a strong division between those who were born on its territory and those who were not, which results from long-lasting conflicts over the territory in these countries.


The less ethnicized policy-making is also influenced by domestic actors, as is the case in Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, having no pressure from ethnic nationalist parties into exercising more nationalist policies towards ethnic minority groups. Russia is a clear example of a country applying both ethnicized and territorial approach by having strictly required Russian cultural affinity and fluency in Russian language.5


Post-communist states also tend to discriminate against immigrants because of the fears that the latter might influence its policies. For example, Russia granted passports to its Russian compatriots who remained to reside in the Baltic states so as to maintain its influence in the region, yet stood away from granting citizenship to non-citizens out of the fears to lose its influential power in the European region. And if the Baltic states do not reconsider its approach to non-citizens leaving them vulnerable, this would open up prospects for Russia to act and intervene for the sake of its compatriots, the same as it did during the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, which might also impact the rest of the European countries.6


Legal context


Under the international law, ethnicized citizenship is not considered discriminatory as long as there is ‘objective and reasonable justification’ for such treatment.7 However, even if under the European Convention on Nationality, the preferential treatment of co-ethnics is seen as a positive discrimination based on ethnicity, this is in fact desirable, as it otherwise might create an issue of statelessness, according to legal experts’ opinion. Therefore, international legal frameworks do not prohibit granting dual citizenship to co-ethnics based on the principles such as avoidance of statelessness and genuine link between a person and the state and no longer pressurize post-communist states to reconsider or abandon ethnicity as a requirement to qualify for DC, as long as these states make sure they avoided statelessness and granted DC to all long-term residents.


Unlike Lithuania, for example, who followed through on both requirements, Latvian and Estonian DC still falls short, favouring only co-ethnics, and thereby excluding the long-term residents and in fact non-Latvian/Estonians. However, these Baltic states were not criticised by the international watchdogs, because even if they privileged co-ethnics, they nonetheless met the criterion of ‘genuine and effective link’. In this way, the post-Soviet states are not considered as having violated the norms of the international law.8


Dual citizenship situation in the Western states


The UN reports have found that dual citizens are not perceived as an evil in the western states anymore, and whilst, however, some of them historically have been less tolerant of DC, they have made significant strides towards more liberal DC policies, yet some countries still continue applying more restrictive policies. The countries such as Australia, Ireland and Lithuania are telling examples, as they seek to strengthen their national identity. Apart from this goal, Hungary and Poland meanwhile seek to strengthen their links with diasporas, therefore their citizenship policies are more inclusionary. Also, across the rest of Europe, strengthening the ties with diasporas and integration of immigrants have resulted in more inclusive citizenship policies in general.


Western countries such as the Netherlands have strengthened its citizenship policies requiring DC status applicants to possess the knowledge of Dutch language.9 Yet the German citizenship law remains the most conservative and restrictive across Europe, with an access to dual citizenship to only EU nationals, and increased German language requirements.10 The United States similarly used to apply such strict language requirement to immigrants in the past, so much as requiring them to abandon their native language, however, current studies reveal that bilingualism and multilingualism are seen as equally acceptable in this country. With the exceptions such as Latvia, Netherlands and Poland, whose policies are restrictive, but on some occasions tolerant resulting from many exceptions in the laws, dual citizenship is both accepted and tolerated in most European countries, as well as Canada and Brazil. The Netherlands’ DC policies require renunciation from previous citizenship from immigrants, whereas only the cases of Poland and Latvia demonstrate discrimination between emigrants and immigrants.11 Considering the recent developments in its domestic law, Latvia and Estonia still continue to exclude its non-descendants of its previous citizens prior to WWII, which fall under the non-citizen’s category, from having access to political rights, economic and employment opportunities, as well as opportunities to learn the local language, which might eventually force them out of the country, most likely to the Russian Federation.12


Legal context


The international law strongly condemns any human rights violations, and a denial or deprivation of a citizenship for national security reasons, or as a countermeasure to terrorism or a threat to state sovereignty, can constitute such a violation. Moreover, most European states can deprive a citizen of their citizenship for the above reasons, which would make them stateless and represent a violation to individual rights, deprive of diplomatic protection in cases of their inability to return to their country of origin and experiencing abuses abroad. Even though this measure is severely criticised under the international law, this would obviously solve the problem of return, however, states should prove that they pursue a legitimate aim so as to protect their country’s vital interests which are so under threat that denationalisation remains the only alternative.13 And as Audrey Macklin noted: “since 2001, states have turned to deportation to resolve threats to national security by displacing the embodied threat to the country of nationality”.14


Influence on citizenship policy-making


Some studies have revealed that international actors can urge the non-accession states’ policy-makers to embrace the international citizenship laws, and promote policy liberalisation in such manner. Recent studies nevertheless found that the citizenship policies in post-Soviet states were influenced by their foreign, domestic policy considerations and bilateral relations rather than the threats of international sanctions. For example, Latvia and Estonia were forced into their citizenship policies liberalisation and were promised the EU-membership in return.15




The cases of post-Soviet states showing the most explicit exclusion of immigrants while favouring other population groups are associated with their fears of threat to sovereignty, national identity, and to some extent, with the external actors’ influence on their citizenship regimes. The discrimination towards the immigrants in western states highly stems from their fears to be influenced by other states, loss of national identity, state sovereignty, and threat of terrorism. Therefore, the restrictive and exclusive citizenship  policies might become more liberal in new democracies, as soon as transition period concludes leaving these countries with less concerns over their sovereignty and borders, and threats coming from minorities.16 In relation to the western states, dual citizenship promotion might be more possible there by granting more voting and political participation rights to the newcomers while making sure that some states will not over-represent their interests in the receiving state.17 Nevertheless, if we accept the dual citizenship as an option to express political interests and control states, would this still mean equality between the mono-citizens and dual citizens who have twice as many political rights as mono-citizens have?



1. Bloemraad, I., Korteweg, A., & Yurdakul, G. (2008). Citizenship and immigration: Multiculturalism, assimilation, and challenges to the nation-state. Annu. Rev. Sociol34, 153-179.


2. Bloemraad, I., Korteweg, A., & Yurdakul, G. (2008). Citizenship and immigration: Multiculturalism, assimilation, and challenges to the nation-state. Annu. Rev. Sociol34, 153-179.


3. Shevel, O. (2017). Citizenship and State Transition. The Oxford Handbook of Citizenship, 407.


4. Liebich, A. (2010). Is there (still) an East-West divide in the conception of citizenship in Europe? A rejoinder. EDITED BY RAINER BAUBÖCK AND ANDRÉ LIEBICH, 23.


5. Shevel, O. (2017). Citizenship and State Transition. The Oxford Handbook of Citizenship, 407.


6. Berenyi, K. (2018) Non-citizenship in the EU: Irrelevant, a driving force for displacement or a pretext for intervention? Accessed 22 November 2018 <>


7. Eva Ersbøll , citing the European Court of Justice ruling in the case of Abdulaziz, Cabales and Balkandali, (Series A, No.94), in Eva Ersbøll, The Principle of Non-Discrimination in Matters Relating to National Law— A Need for Clarification,’ 2nd European Conference on Nationality ‘Challenges to Nation and International Law on Nationality at the Beginning of the New Millennium’ (Strasbourg, 2001), Accessed 22 November 2018 standardset­ting/nationality/Conference%202%20(2001)Proceedings.pdf  


8. Shevel, O. (2017). Citizenship and State Transition. The Oxford Handbook of Citizenship, 407.


9. Bloemraad, I., Korteweg, A., & Yurdakul, G. (2008). Citizenship and immigration: Multiculturalism, assimilation, and challenges to the nation-state. Annu. Rev. Sociol34, 153-179.


10. Gulina, O. (2013). The Dual Citizenship Topic in Germany. Accessed 22 November 2018


11. Blatter, J. (2008). Blatter, J. K., Erdmann, S., & Schwanke, K. (2009). Acceptance of dual citizenship: Empirical data and political contexts.


12. Berenyi, K. (2018) Non-citizenship in the EU: Irrelevant, a driving force for displacement or a pretext for intervention? Accessed 22 November 2018 <>


13. Pinto, M. (2018). The Denationalisation of Foreign Fighters: How European States Expel Unwanted Citizens. King's Student L. Rev.9, 67.


14. Macklin, A. (2015). Kick-off contribution. The Return of Banishment: Do the New Denationalisation Policies Weaken Citizenship, 1-6.


15. Shevel, O. (2017). Citizenship and State Transition. The Oxford Handbook of Citizenship, 407.

16. Shevel, O. (2017). Citizenship and State Transition. The Oxford Handbook of Citizenship, 407.


17. Blatter, J. (2008). Dual citizenship and democracy. Glocal Governance and Democracy, Working Paper Series, (1).

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