Who can decide whether or not they are Estonian and citizens?

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Marina (keskel) pere lugu näitab, kui keeruline on ka ajaloomaterjali põhjal öelda, kes on sünnijärgne Eesti kodanik ja kes mitte. Marina ja tema lapsed (pildil) praegusel juhul igatahes Eesti passile ei kvalifitseerunud. FOTO: erakogu

PHOTO: Erakogu

Meet Marina, born in an Estonian-Russian family in Haapsalu in 1963. She can speak Estonian. Mother of three, grandmother of two. Has lived in St. Petersburg for decades, a citizen of the Russian Federation.

Marina tried to find out some ten years ago whether she could obtain an Estonian passport to return here. Her sister is an Estonian citizen and still lives in Haapsalu. As far as she knows, her deceased grandmother Elisabeth and mother Vera, both former residents of Haapsalu, has also been citizens of Estonia, which would make Marina an Estonian citizen by birth. The Police and Border Guard Board reply came last autumn: marina cannot be issued passport, there is no sufficient evidence of her being a citizen of Estonia.

Marina is amazed. “I’m am dreaming about moving to Estonia. Having a little house… But I do not believe now that it would work out,” she adds.

The story of the family of Marina and her sister Nadezhda, residing in Haapsalu, is as complicated as the history of the Republic of Estonia. Their grandmother Elisabeth Lammertson moved from Tartu to Siberia as a teenager with her family in 1909 or 1910. They lived well in Estonia, but Russia promised an even better live in the Tomsk oblast. Many people left but were disappointed – life was hard in Siberia and they wanted to return.

Ten years later when the Republic of Estonia was proclaimed, the Lammertsons in Siberia wanted the newly independent state to recognize them as citizens. They wanted to return home. And Estonia issued a citizenship certificate complete with photograph to Elisabeth Lammertson. She could now travel to Estonia.

“But grandmother had an unhappy marriage in Siberia,” Marina says. She had an Estonian sweetheart, but the Soviet commissar Mikhail Olshevski also fancied her. “he said that unless you marry me, the Estonians would not be allowed to return home,” Marina recalls the man who became her grandfather.

Olshevski kept his promise and helped the Lammertsons to return to Estonia. Elisabeth’s parents were buried in Estonia near Tartu.

But Elisabeth’s own life is a different matter. There is no written evidence, but according to Marina, her grandmother traveled to Estonia and then returned to Siberia. Apparently because she learned that she was expecting a child who died in 1922.

While in Siberia she began to arrange her return to Estonia. The National Archive has an appeal to the representative of the Republic of Estonia to Russia, written by Elisabeth in 1922, to have her returned home from Russia. She had sold her property in the Vabaduse village in Siberia, opted for Estonia citizenship and planned to become a seamstress in Estonia.

According to Marina, Mikhail and Elisabeth tried to come to Estonia together several times yet succeeded only after the war in 1946 or 1947. Bu that time they had had the daughter Vera, Marina’s mother.

Mikhail and Elisabeth initially moved to Kiviõli, then to Haapsalu. Vera grew up in Haapsalu, was married twice during the Soviet period and had two children – Marina and Nadezhda.

“I was born in Haapsalu. We talked Estonian to grandmother, my mother was a teacher of Estonian,” says Marina, who speaks Estonian quite well despite having lived abroad for decades.

“Grandmother died believing that she had been an Estonian citizen all the time, but now we understand that she never was,” Marina says with amazement. This is what the Police and Border Guard Board letter states.

The Board announced that Elisabeth should have left Russia for Estonia within one year after having received the certificate of citizenship; otherwise she would not have officially become a citizen.

“I still cannot understand how a person can be granted citizenship and a hundred years later they say that we shall withdraw it now. Then who was she?” Marina asks.

Marriage became an obstacle

The Police and Border Guard Board points out yet another obstacle: the Citizenship Act coming in force in 1922 stipulated that “Estonian female citizens marrying a foreign citizen shall considered relieved of their Estonian citizenship unless they announce within two weeks following the date of marriage their decision to retain their Estonian citizenship.”

The Police and Border Guard Board explained to Marina that she had not included in her appeal any proof about where and how her grandmother Elisabeth was married, since the birth certificate of Vera, born in 1936, shows the parents’  last names as Olshevskaja and Olshevski. “Therefore, even if Elisabeth Lammertson was an Estonian citizen, she may have lost her citizenship as a person marrieds to a foreign citizen,” reads the Police and Border Guard Board letter, which Marina received last September.

The Minister for the Interior had some months before  started to track down the family history of Andres Anvelt, the Minister for the Interior. Anvelt’s citizenship. granted through naturalization, was amended as received at birth, although his grandmother, too, left Estonia in 1925 and marked a foreign citizen. “Merely the fact of leaving the country or marrying a foreign citizen cannot automatically result in the loss of citizenship, but it must be documented by the state,” Prime Minister Jüri Ratas explained to the members of parliament. “Since there are no documents or records showing that Andres Anvelt’s grandmother had lost her Estonian citizenship, her children and grandchildren, including Andres Anvelt, are Estonian citizens by birth,” Ratas added.

Reality contradicts words

Ratas refers to the Provisional Government’s final decision regarding the relieving from citizenship. Moreover, the Citizenship Act of 1922 stipulated that a person can be relieved of citizenship only at the person’s own request. The National Archive records do not show that Anvelt’s grandmother had been relieved of citizenship.

“Neither are there any records showing that she had been deprived of citizenship,” Ratas commented the case of Minister Anvelt. Yet the same should apply to Marina’s grandmother. Marina has not found any proof in the archives that her grandmother and grandfather had been officially married in the first place.

Not all Estonians abroad who applied for citizenship reached home within one year after the establishment of the republic, since the Russian state obstructed their departure. Yet Estonia later admitted Estonians who had documents stating, “admitted to citizenship”. Elisabeth returned to Estonia as well as was buried here.

Marina would be probably an Estonian citizen as well if she had not moved to her relatives in St. Petersburg after an unsuccessful year in the University of Tartu. It was in 1883. “Me and my boyfriend were expelled for our great love,” She laughs. The young man was drafted to military service.

“I began to look for documents ten years ago. I asked for help in the consulate, they said that grandmother was an Estonian citizen and it is all right,” Marina recalls. The official process has now reached a dead end and the question whether Marina is an Estonian citizen by birth remains unanswered.

There are others

There are other people who have learned from the Police and Border Guard Board that their ancestors must have lost their Estonian citizenship by marrying aliens.

One of them is Elena, a Russian citizen living in Hungary. She wanted to prove her own and her son’s Estonian citizenship by birth in 2016, but the Police and Border Guard Board did not consider then  citizens. Elena’s story is one of many similar ones. Her ancestors left Estonia for Russia before the republic had been declared but appealed to be considered Estonia  citizens afterwards. Elena’s great-grandmother Elsa received such a certificate, but since she did not leave Russia within a year after receiving it, the Police and Border Guard Board believes that she never became a citizen of Estonia. This is how the Supreme Court interprets the Tartu peace Treaty.

The Police and Border Guard Board also points out that even if Elsa had been a citizen, she must have lost if by marrying a foreign citizen. “Elsa Wallfisch married Jevgeni Gerling in Leningrad on April 27, 1925. Even of Elsa Wallfisch was an Estonian citizen when the marriage was concluded, she was considered relieved of citizenship in accordance with the 1922 Citizenship Act, Article 19, Section 1 – unless Jevgeni Gerling was a n Estonian citizen or Elsa Gerling (Wallfisch) expressed her wish within two weeks to retain her Estonian citizenship,” the Police and Border Guard Board reply reads.

But Postimees also knows of a case of an Israeli citizen, whose Estonian passport was blocked only by the marriage of his Estonian grandmother to an alien. The Police and Border Guard Board informed the Israeli.-residing man, who visited Estonia, that he is not a citizen by birth, since his grandmother had married a Bulgarian citizen in 1928 and thus lost her citizenship. Thus the continued citizenship by birth was interrupted, although the grandmother had been born and brought up in Tartu. The Israeli, a doctor by profession, said that in his opinion this law discriminates against women, since men could marry aliens and retained their citizenship.

Thus the claim by Prime Minister Jüri Ratas that “merely the fact of leaving the country or marrying a foreign citizen cannot automatically result in the loss of citizenship, but it must be recorded by the state.” This is how he explained to the parliament why Andres Anvelt was declared last year an Estonian citizen by birth, although his grandmother had also married an alien and thus lost her citizenship according to the laws in force at that time.

“Since there are no documents or records showing that Andres Anvelt’s grandmother had lost her Estonian citizenship, her children and grandchildren, including Andres Anvelt, are Estonian citizens by birth,” Ratas added.

One wonders whether he would claim the same about citizens of Israel or Russia if they claim Estonian citizenship based on same arguments.

Police and Border Guard Board: marriage means the loss of citizenship

According to Pille Küüt, an official of the Police and Border Guard Board migration office, a person marrying a foreign citizen lost her Estonian citizenship according to the laws in force at that time, unlike the claim of the prime minister.

“The loss of Estonian citizenship was stipulated by the 1922 Citizenship Act, Article 19, Section 1 of which stated that a female Estonian citizen loses automatically her Estonian citizenship by marrying a foreign citizen unless she expresses her wish to remain an Estonian citizen,” Küüt said.

“Thus, if a woman was an Estonian citizen, but married a foreign citizen and did not express her decision to retain her Estonian citizenship, she lost it and her descendants cannot obtain Estonian citizenship by birth” Küüt explained the procedure the Police and Border Guard Board has been using recently.

Küüt added that the Police and Border Guard Board proceeds in its activities from the Tartu Peace Treaty, the 1922 Citizenship Act and other legal acts concerning citizenship which were in force at the corresponding time.

She added that the Tartu Peace Treaty established certain conditions for granting the Estonian citizenship, which had to be met. “If the conditions for receiving citizenship had not been met the individual was not considered a citizen of Estonia and in that case she could not lose her Estonian citizenship,” Küüt explained.

When issuing a document of a citizen of Estonia the Police and Border Guard Board first has to as ascertain whether the person through whom the citizenship is being proven, actually was a citizenship if Estonia and then check whether the ancestor had not given up citizenship or lost it.

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