Monday, June 27
Укр Eng
Log In Register
12 April, 2013  ▪  ,  Andriy Skumin

Dual Citizenship and Split Identity

As neighbouring states actively offer passports to Ukrainian citizens, the Verkhovna Rada is set to consider a draft law on dual citizenship. The potential threats to Ukraine’s national security are obvious.

MP Lev Myrymsky, leader of the Soyuz (Union) party, registered draft law No. 2308 in the Verkhovna Rada under which Ukrainians would be granted the right to obtain foreign citizenship while keeping their Ukrainian passports. In his words, 5-10% of Ukrainians already have foreign citizenship and “some five million are migrant workers abroad. Many of them receive citizenship there and are forced to renounce their Ukrainian citizenship. Why should the country lose its citizens?” His actions fit into the wider context of operations by pro-Russian forces in Ukraine. For example, the idea of dual citizenship was promoted by Viktor Medvedchuk in January. This came amidst Russian efforts to simplify the naturalization procedure for “fellow countrymen” who are moving to Russia under its settlement programme. The State Duma passed a draft law in its first reading that no longer requires migrants to remain in Russia for five years before they can apply for citizenship. Meanwhile, the settlement programme is being gradually implemented anyway: over 63,000 people officially moved to Russia in 2012—as many as in the last six years combined. No accurate estimate exists for the proportion of Ukrainian citizens with dual citizenship  today. Informed sources that have spoken with The Ukrainian Week point out that the number of people with dual Ukrainian and Russian citizenship in Ukraine is exaggerated, amounting to 70,000-80,000 at most. The primary reason for this is that the Russian bureaucracy is reluctant to recognize dual citizenship. One of the requirements for obtaining a Russian passport is the renunciation of Ukrainian citizenship.


In addition to the Kremlin and pro-Russian forces in Ukraine that have traditionally exploited dual citizenship as an instrument of imperial coercion, Ukraine’s western neighbours have shown increasing readiness to hand out passports to their “former citizens”. These are countries that used to control some Ukrainian lands, incorporated largely as a result of annexation. The Ukrainian Week has written that this strategy permits some Romanian and Hungarian politicians to actively play the card of “a great ethnic space” and parasitize the phantom pains of their nationalist-minded electorates. For example, a book about a war with Ukraine recently became a bestseller in Romania, even though this country failed to protect even the Moldovans, its “fellow countrymen”, in Transnistria. The issue of Hungarians residing in foreign territories that were part of Hungary prior to 1918 remains extremely popular in Hungary. The legislation of these countries includes regulations permitting the naturalization of Ukrainians who lived there under occupation in the interwar period and their descendants. Romania formalized this opportunity back in 1991. In order to acquire Romanian citizenship, a person has to have parents or grandparents who were born or lived in the Romanian territory between 1918 and 1940.

READ ALSO: Attack By Passport

On 26 May 2010, the Hungarian parliament passed the “Law on Citizenship” which simplified the naturalization procedure for Hungarians living in neighbouring countries. Most of them reside in Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine’s Transcarpathia Oblast (12% of the oblast’s total population). When the law began to be implemented in 2011, Hungary’s relations with its neighbours grew tenser. Slovakia’s reaction was the sharpest. Robert Fico, Slovakia’s Prime Minister at the time, even initiated a decision to strip Slovakians officially deemed ‘foreign Hungarians’ of their Slovakian citizenship. Today, up to 80,000-90,000 Ukrainians have received Hungarian passports and another 80,000 have been naturalized as Romanian citizens. This is a fairly large number, considering that they are concentrated in only two regions of Ukraine, Transcarpathia and Chernivtsi oblasts, with a total population of less than 2.2 million.

The Polish authorities do not typically grant citizenship to Ukrainians on a massive scale. Instead, they have been issuing the “Polish Card” to meet the desires of foreigners of Polish background to acquire Polish citizenship. Theoretically, 30,000-32,000 Ukrainians can now claim Polish citizenship, but this number is based primarily on migrant Ukrainian workers legally employed in Poland. In September 2012, a new law took effect that simplified the Polish naturalization procedure and recognized the right to multiple citizenship, including for Ukrainians. Under the new regulations, foreigners who have legally lived in Poland for three years, have stable income and are proficient in Polish are eligible for Polish citizenship.

In Slovakia, the Fico government decided to make it simpler to obtain the status of a foreign Slovak, which opened the door to Slovak citizenship. It initiated an amendment to Law No. 474/2005 regulating the activities of government agencies in supporting Slovaks residing abroad. Under the current revision, a birth certificate of a person or his relatives issued in the Czechoslovakian territory between 1918 and 1938 is sufficient grounds for granting the said status. The older generation of residents in Transcarpathia and the parents of the majority of natives in this area were born precisely in this period. This means that hundreds – not tens – of thousands of Transcarpathian Ukrainians are eligible for the status of “foreign Slovak” with the prospect of obtaining full-fledged Slovak citizenship. Slovak NGOs working through representatives of the Slovak minority in Ukraine have started disseminating letters in which Transcarpathian Ukrainians are urged to send their proposals to the Directorate for Foreign Slovaks. Slovak diplomats have also become extremely loyal to Ukrainian citizens and issued 6,000 multiple-entry visas in January 2013, which is almost twice as many as in December 2012. This pleasant metamorphosis in the attitude toward Ukrainians is absolutely surprising because the migration and visa policies of Slovak consulates regarding Ukrainians were, to put it mildly, very restrictive even in late 2012. The paper processing procedure involved a maddening amount of red tape, for good reason, and essentially sabotaged the practical implementation of intergovernmental agreements on small cross-border movement in Transcarpathia Oblast.

READ ALSO: Russia’s Soft Power Wars

If Ukrainians continue to acquire dual citizenship in neighbouring countries, this will clearly threaten Ukraine’s national security. Especially dangerous are countries that not only actively support their “fellow countrymen” but also cast doubts on Ukraine’s territorial integrity or demand territorial autonomy for areas densely populated with their minorities. Therefore, it is important for the Ukrainian government to work out an official position on these realities. It should involve realistic algorithms for government bodies to follow. For example, a radical way to solve the issue of dual citizenship would be to introduce a clear mechanism for revoking Ukrainian passports in cases of citizens becoming naturalized in a foreign country. This is essentially envisaged by Article 19 of the Law “On Ukrainian Citizenship”, but is the government capable of realizing this policy? Not likely. First, foreign authorities do not provide information about naturalized citizens, citing confidentiality of personal data. Second, Ukraine’s Security Service would have to employ immense resources to identify the thousands of Ukrainians who apply for naturalization abroad. A more realistic scenario in this context would be to require the acquisition of foreign citizenship to be reported to authorities. This means that a Ukrainian who has been naturalized abroad would have to inform a certain Ukrainian government agency. Failure to do so (concealment of foreign citizenship) would entail consequences only in cases determined by law.

First, the law on public service (including law enforcement) should require that only citizens of Ukraine who do not have any foreign citizenship are eligible. This demand must be accompanied by criminal liability for persons concealing foreign citizenship while holding office in a national or local self-government body. Those who have obtained access to state secrets as a result of such concealment must be punished for committing high treason. Second, Ukrainians with foreign citizenship should be legislatively forbidden from running for president or parliament. Again, a violation of this norm must be criminally punishable. Third, a mechanism should be introduced for stripping persons with foreign citizenship of titles to agricultural land through government buyouts. If the owner of a plot of land fails to inform the Ukrainian authorities about having foreign citizenship within a certain term (say, two months), he should be fined and the land confiscated.

READ ALSO: Escape to Romania

Finally, a system of fines for pensioners who receive Ukrainian pensions but have multiple citizenship should be introduced. Therefore, it would be absolutely reasonable for both oppositional and pro-government MPs to jointly sponsor a draft law to react to situations of this kind.


The dangers of dual citizenship: erosion of the nation’s common values and setting the stage for international conflicts

According to their attitudes toward dual citizenship, modern European states can be divided into those in which it is fully permitted (such as Spain and France, countries maintaining links with the populations of their former colonies), permitted under certain conditions (Armenia, Lithuania, Romania, Hungary, Finland and Sweden, where this status is granted largely on an ethnic basis under the conception of a “mother state”) and not recognized (Austria, Denmark, Germany, Belarus, Poland and others). In past decades, some European countries included clauses in their national legislation for the non-recognition of dual citizenship, meaning the non-recognition of its legal consequences.

In the case of Central European countries, positions on dual citizenship are determined by policies to support ethnic fellow countrymen. For example, Slovakia sharply reacted to a new version (adopted in 2010) of the Hungarian law on citizenship and amended its own legislation in May 2010 under which Slovaks are fined and stripped of their Slovak citizenship for the concealment of dual citizenship. At the same time, it launched a campaign to expand the rights of foreign Slovaks in 2012, which is perceived as a step towards liberalizing legislation on Slovak citizenship. Thus, because every state determines its own citizenship regulations, it is nearly impossible to avoid clashes between national legislative norms.

In Ukraine, citizenship is legislatively regulated by the law on citizenship, dated18 January 2001. It was amended in line with the European Convention on Nationality that was signed by Ukraine on 1 July 2003 (except for Chapter VII which concerns military obligations in cases of multiple nationality) and ratified on 20 September 2006. Even though this document fixes the principle of “one nationality”, it does not rule out cases of multiple nationality. According to Ukrainian law, if a person has acquired foreign citizenship, he is recognized only as a citizen of that foreign country in his legal relations with Ukraine. In this way, dual citizenship is not forbidden at present but is merely not recognized: if a Ukrainian has any foreign citizenship, Ukrainian laws are equally applicable to him as to all other Ukrainian citizens.

In Ukraine, political and expert circles voice different, often contradictory opinions on multiple citizenship. Its supporters point to European integration. To achieve this goal, Ukraine needs to be tolerant towards multiple citizenship held by Ukrainians, increase their protection abroad and create legal stimuli to attract migrant workers from other countries. Opponents point to dangers such as the erosion of the nation’s common values, tax evasion, shirking military obligations, evading criminal liability, and preconditions for international conflicts—in particular between neighbouring countries. The presence of national minorities in Ukraine’s territory and, conversely, Ukrainian ethnic groups in neighbouring countries are factors contributing to Ukraine’s potential rapprochement with several Central and Eastern European countries and the strengthening of international partnerships. However, Ukraine must react to the citizenship policies pursued by its neighbours.

Ukraine is faced with addressing the phenomenon of its citizens adopting dual-citizenship in neighbouring states that serve as “ethnic metropolises”, providing active support for their fellow countrymen abroad. In semi-official statements, these nations have also suggested establishing territorial autonomy in neighbouring countries. Ukraine lacks a coherent policy on multiple citizenship or an evaluation of this issue in its relations with neighbouring countries that calls for a more detailed examination of European experience in regulating such issues.

Considering that the institution of dual citizenship is not regulated in Ukraine and that the European Convention on Nationality with its liberal norms extends to its territory, it is advisable to do the following:

·        define in Ukraine’s legislation the essence of the concept of dual (multiple) citizenship and the state’s position on it so that regulating agencies have an unambiguous understanding of the issue;

·        specify a procedure for confirming the acquisition of foreign citizenship;

·        start a political dialogue with the governments of Ukraine’s neighbours to identify attitudes toward multiple citizenship, initiate bilateral and multilateral international treaties with states whose citizenship some Ukrainians are known to have already acquired and regulate the obligations of citizens before their states;

·        accelerate the implementation of the Action Plan for a Visa-Free Regime and a political decision of Ukraine and the EU to this effect, which will potentially reduce the number of citizens wishing to acquire foreign citizenship because the main motivation in some cases is the desire to freely travel in the Schengen Area.

Of course, a higher standard of living in border regions and better employment opportunities with commensurate pay across Ukraine would definitely help to reduce the number of applicants for foreign citizenship. At the same time, Ukraine’s relations with its Central European partners involve a number of issues that require discussion, particularly at the level of public dialogue. These have to do with “foreign citizen” status and dual citizenship, education in the languages of ethnic minorities, development of national culture and ethnic civil society structures, labour, and illegal migration across Ukraine’s western border.

Svitlana Mitriaieva,


Uzhhorod Regional Branch of the National Institute for Strategic Research,


Myroslava Lendel, PhD in Political Science,


Institute for Research on Central Europe,

Uzhhorod National University

Related publications:

Copyright © Ukrainian Week LLC. All rights reserved.
Reprint or other commercial use of the site materials is allowed only with the editorial board permission.
Legal disclaimer Accessibility Privacy policy Terms of use Contact us