The case of Minister of the Interior Andres Anvelt, who finds himself in the middle of a citizenship dispute, is a vivid demonstration of trouble his officials are having when it comes to interpreting history.
When Anvelt helped solve the citizenship problem of Ilma Krenstrem, he probably had no idea his own citizenship would become a matter of public scrutiny a year later.
Early last summer, Postimees wrote about Ilma Krenstrem who was sent to an Estonian village in Abkhazia to teach Estonian in the late 1990s and who later, at the age of 76, had to prove to the Estonian state she is indeed its citizen. The woman had applied for a Russian travel passport to be able to have a normal life in the complicated region and visit his children in Estonia without problems. Estonia does not support double citizenship, and the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) told the old lady she would have to give up her Russian citizenship if she wants to keep her Estonian passport.
Officials initiate search
Krenstrem’s ex-husband Ülo Sinisalu has turned to both the interior ministry and the Office of the President but has been told the same thing: because Krenstrem became an Estonian citizen through marriage, there is nothing to be done.
Minister of the Interior Andres Anvelt (SDE) got up to speed on Krenstrem’s case after the article was published and helped make sure her Estonian passport would be extended to allow her to continue teaching in Abkhazia for a few more years.
While the ministry’s communication department claims in its official reply that Krenstrem and Anvelt’s citizenship sagas coincide incidentally, the truth might be something else.
Anvelt met with officials from the citizenship policy department when working on a reply for an inquiry on Krenstrem from an MP. The question was asked by the Reform Party’s Eerik Niiles-Kross and answered by the ministry on June 16 last year.
The minister’s own citizenship he received in naturalization procedure in 1992 came up during Anvelt’s meeting with officials. Anvelt thought he was a citizen by birth and inquired where he could get more information. Officials claim they started looking for Anvelt’s family history following their own initiative after that.
Experienced citizenship matters officer Koidu Mesilane, who took part in the meeting with the minister, said that officials were not ordered to do so. “I cannot imagine a minister giving orders to a rank and file official these days,” Mesilane said. Nevertheless, she turned to the archives.
Because the archives make no mention of Anvelt’s grandmother on his father’s side Alise/Alice Lewald having relinquished Estonian citizenship, Mesilane was convinced the interior minister is a citizen by birth through his father and grandmother. A correction was made to the citizenship database and Anvelt became a citizen by birth.
This correction sparked articles from historians Jaak Valge and Andres Aule.
While an interior ministry official might be convinced of Anvelt’s citizenship by birth, the PPA has come to the opposite conclusion regarding at least one person. That person is Igor Muttik, born in Russia, whose story Postimees printed last year. “I’m an Estonian by birth,” the London professor believes, just like Anvelt.
The PPA told Muttik in August of last year that his grandmother Adelaida was not an Estonian citizen as she married a man named Genrih Muttik, also born in Estonia, in Moscow in 1923.
The marriage of his grandparents, Adelaida and Genrih Muttik, became an obstacle on Igor Muttik’s road to Estonian citizenship. The PPA pointed out that the 1922 citizenship act states that female Estonian citizens will be regarded as having renounced Estonian citizenship if they do not notify the state of desire to remain Estonian citizens after two weeks of marrying a foreigner.
“The marriage certificate of Genrih Muttik and Adelaida Klenner reveals that both were Soviet citizens at the time. Therefore, even if Adelaida Klenner was an Estonian citizen, she might still have lost her citizenship as a woman who married a foreigner,” the PPA told Igor Muttik.
“My grandmother was given citizenship, and there is nothing to suggest it was later taken away,” said the professor who has now given up on Estonian citizenship.
Anvelt’s grandmother also married Soviet Russian citizen Jaan Anvelt in a foreign country. “Alice Lewald left Estonia in 1925 but did not lose Estonian citizenship. Just like it is today, the 1922 citizenship act stipulated that citizenship is lost when a person is released from citizenship,” Mesilane said. She could not find a document to suggest Anvelt’s grandmother had renounced her Estonian citizenship from the National Archives. That was enough to prove the minister is a citizen by birth.
Therefore, officials sport a very different interpretation of history which is something Mesilane admits herself. She said that analyzing documents and the law from a hundred years ago is complicated and getting them to correspond to modern times even harder. This means that no one is willing to say with certainty whether Anvelt really is an Estonian citizen by birth. There are no court precedents on whether Estonian women who have married foreigners have lost their citizenship. It is also not something historians have analyzed at length.
Andres Aule, who has studied the history of Estonians in the Caucasus, wrote in yesterday’s Postimees that the question of Anvelt’s citizenship is not personal grudge, but a matter of the validity of the principles of rule of law.
In light of Muttik’s case, Mesilane finds that the state must treat everyone equally but is convinced a parent marrying a foreigner has not stopped people from qualifying for citizenship by birth.
Officials have been waiting for input from the legislator for some time to put an end to the confusion, but citizenship policy has been a topic that politicians are reluctant to touch for years. The confusion has now hit a politician in whose administrative area this set of problems lies.