About Those ‘Non-Citizens’

by Andrew Stuttaford

I put up a post the other day about signs that Moscow might be preparing to use the position of Estonia’s ethnic Russian minority as a device to put pressure on a small country of which the very existence is an affront to some Russian nationalists and which has for years been on the wrong end of Kremlin propaganda.

As I noted, large numbers of Estonia’s Russians have either become naturalized Estonians or have opted for Russian citizens, but some 6.5 percent of the population remain of “undetermined citizenship” a status, I argued, that they hold, for the most part, “by choice”.

In an article first published by the Estonian Embassy in Washington (and now reproduced in Estonian World), Estonian politician Mart Nutt goes into more detail:

A so-called grey passport (for persons with undetermined citizenship) is granted to a person who has not applied for Estonian citizenship, but who also does not have any other citizenship. This problem was not created by Estonia, but by Russia, when it decided to leave former citizens of the Soviet Union living abroad without Russian citizenship by way of its Citizenship Act of 1992. For various reasons, there are currently about 80 000 people in this situation. The majority of Russians living in Estonia have either Estonian or Russian citizenship. People with undetermined citizenship have travel documents, residence permits, the right to equal treatment and access to social services, as well as the right to vote in local elections, just as all long-term legal residents of Estonia.

Estonia’s undeniable wish is for people using grey passports to apply for Estonian citizenship. Language proficiency is not a serious obstacle since using the Estonian language at an elementary level is as easy as using basic English in everyday communication. Some users of grey passports are not motivated to apply for citizenship since they can travel visa-free within the EU and to Russia with their grey passports, while Estonian citizens have to apply for a visa to travel to Russia.

That may understate the difficulty faced by an adult trying to learn Estonian (generally agreed, if not by Finns, Estonians and other Finno-Ugric peoples, to be a ‘difficult’ language), but the travel point is well worth noting…

The Corner

The one and only.