Russian turned Estonian patriot denied citizenship

Anneli Ammas
, reporter
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Photo: Repro

Citizenship Act in force over 20 years stops loyal people becoming citizens of Estonia if for mere month they’ve served in any foreign army.

By government decision on Thursday, a former citizen of Russia is not granted Estonian citizenship, his past including a brief stint in foreign armed forces, though in 1989 the man was thrown out of Soviet Army due to democratic views. 

Nine years back Vadim (49), a former journalist turned businessman, at invitation by friends, took his wife and two kids and moved to Estonia from St Petersburg, sensing Putin’s Russia was no longer a place to live free and raise children.   

The tiny Sofia was sent to an Estonian kindergarten, elder daughter Kristina started to attend an Estonian school. With his Estonian partner, Vadim continued the printing business started while in St Petersburg. The family had decided that Estonia was the state they were going to make their home.

Last year, they filled their eight years in Estonia – the deadline to apply for citizenship. Vadim and his wife Elena passed the Estonian language exam; for the children, attending Estonian school, there was not need.

When it comes to the constitution and citizenship act exam, Vadim and elder daughter Kristina did excellent – no misses at all.

Addresses ERSP meeting

Summing it up: a family from Russia fulfilled all requirements to apply for Estonian citizenship, and a year ago filed their applications. 

For starters, Vadim got a reply from Citizenship and Migration Board that there may be the obstacle of his short service in a foreign army. Namely, having obtained deck officer papers, Vadim had worked in 1988–1989 at the Tallinn Miinisadam naval port.

The career in military was cut short, however, as in 1989 the young lieutenant joined Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and acted as its link with Estonian National Independence (ERSP).

And after the young lieutenant addressed, in private clothes, a June meeting of ERSP’s, all it took was a brief conversation in the special department of Tallinn naval base: both Vadim and his friend, a Georgian, were released from the army as «unsuitable for office».

«I went back to St Petersburg and started working as a journalist at an independent newspaper,» recalled Vadim.

Till 2001, the man who wrote about the Forest Brothers and the Setos, and interviewed Lennart Meri twice, felt he could do his part in making Russia a democratic country.

«Then came Putin and journalism as it is supposed to be was cut off,» said Vadim. «I went into business with Estonian partners.»

After a couple of years, he got totally fed up with Russia and, like many of his relatives and friends, Vadim decided to leave. Invited to Estonia by business partners and friends, the family came to Estonia intending to stay for good.

«We like it a lot in Estonia and as we watch Russian news now, my daughter says it’s so good we moved away from there,» said the father.

Grey passport offered

Since this summer, however, the man is a bit sad that Estonian state is not willing to accept him. In spring, he did get confirmation by Citizenship and Migration Board that to their knowledge there should be no obstacles to becoming a citizen of Estonia.

Vadim’s application to then interior minister Ken-Marti Vaher (IRL) was signed by several friends including Eve Pärnaste, Lag­le Parek, Valeri Kalabugin and others. On basis of the favourable certificate by Citizenship and Migration Board, he – and the rest of the family – were in July freed from Russian citizenship. All they had left to do was wait for decision by Estonian government to become citizens of the new homeland.

«By the letter, Vadim had a justified expectation to obtain Estonian citizenship and, on basis of that, he was freed from Russian citizenship,» said his representative, sworn lawyer Andres Alas.

In August, however, Citizenship and Migration Board send a new letter essentially excluding citizenship for Vadim. And now, on Thursday, the government followed suit with a corresponding decision: the answer is no. Luckily, the wife and daughters were not denied so, as citizens of Estonia and the EU they have even visited relatives in London. All Vadim was able to do was wave them off at airport.

Without a citizenship for almost four months, with just the residence permit and driving licence as documents, the man turned Estonian patriot over quarter of a century can’t get what went wrong.

«Yes, I’m offended,» said Vadim while firmly adding this won’t mean being disappointed in Estonia and wanting to leave. «I’m being offered the grey passport but I don’t want that, I want the passport of an Estonian citizen,» he said and promised to have recourse to courts.

Vadim is far from the first one denied citizenship due to military past. Citizenship Act section 21 subsection 1 says citizenship is not granted to an applicant who  has served as a commissioned member of the armed forces of a foreign state or who has been assigned to the reserve forces of such state or has retired from such forces».

«The government has discretionary power here, but this law here imposes a ban wherefore the government’s hands are bound by law,» acknowledged former interior minister Ken-Marti Vaher during whose term in office Vadim was clearly given hope, in March.

Argues the lawyer

Via press secretary, interior ministry said at its current shape Citizenship Act gives the government no discretionary power.

«In its decision, the Government of the Republic was based on Citizenship Act Citizenship Act section 21 subsection 1 says citizenship is not granted to an applicant who  has served as a commissioned member of the armed forces of a foreign state or who has been assigned to the reserve forces of such state or has retired from such forces, as well as to his or her spouse who entered Estonia due to the member of the armed forces being seconded in relation to service, assignment to the reserve or retirement,» was the ministry’s curt reply to inquiry by Postimees.

Vadim’s lawyer says the law needs to be read a bit longer, to where the time and causes to coming to Estonia are cited. It reads: «who entered Estonia due to the member of the armed forces being seconded in relation to service, assignment to the reserve or retirement».

«Vadim’s current stay in Estonia has, pursuant to the spirit of the Citizenship Act, no connection to service as a commissioned member of the armed forces of a foreign state service, and he has a right to become citizen of Estonia,» explained Mr Alas.

«He left Estonia promptly after being demobilised in summer of 1989 and by that his connection to foreign armed forces ceased. He came back to Estonia as a private person and there was no connection whatsoever to him being seconded in relation to service, assignment to the reserve or retirement,» added the lawyer.

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