Alli Rutto to get an Estonian passport (1)

Helen Mihelson
, reporter
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Photo: Birgit Püve

Several months and several rejections later, Abkhazia resident Alli Rutto has reason to be pleased – officials have thought of a way to renew her expired passport. Her son can pick up Rutto’s passport this week.

“I apologize to Mrs. Rutto and other Estonians who were caught by altered administrative practice,” Minister of the Interior Katri Raik said yesterday, after it became clear Rutto would be given an Estonian passport. The document will be issued for two years.

This provides Rutto two years to give up her Russian citizenship in favor of an Estonian one as the Estonian citizenship act does not prescribe the possibility of double citizenship.

Changes that would make it possible for Rutto and others like her to retain both citizenships are being discussed. It is impossible to live in Abkhazia without a Russian passport.

The discussion is still in the early stages. Raik said yesterday that her predecessor Andres Anvelt’s amendment will be put on hold. “The citizenship topic deserves thorough discussion, so let us give the legislator time to consider the matter and allow for a public debate of how to modernize the citizenship act,” the interior minister added.

Temporary solution

When Alli’s son Arnold heard the news, he immediately sent his mother and SMS. Arnold Rutto also managed to talk to his father on the phone that evening. While the decision is a positive one for the Rutto family, they realize it is a temporary solution. “I agree with the minister in that we need a debate. I very much hope a solution will be found,” Arnold Rutto said.

He added that it would be a major blow to the Estonian community in Abkhazia if his parents were forced to move to Estonia two years from now for lack of a solution. “They are helping a lot of people older than they are whose children have moved to Estonia or elsewhere. They bring them food and medicines from the city. It would hurt the community if they left,” Rutto said.

Even though the ministry said the decision applies to everyone given an Estonian passport in 2003-2015 but later told they were deemed citizens by birth mistakenly after administrative practice changed, the Police and Border Guard (PPA) was more specific.

“Every case will be looked at separately and solved individually,” said Kristiina Raidla-Puhm, head of the PPA’s citizenship and international protection bureau.

Rollercoaster ride

This means that people will not qualify for temporary passports automatically. Raidla-Puhm said that the police are working a few dozen cases similar to that of Alli Rutto.

For the Rutto family, life has resembled a rollercoaster ride in the past few days. On Friday, Arnold Rutto celebrated 13 years in Estonia. That very day, he was told by the interior ministry that he, his sister, her children and their parents who live in Abkhazia were deemed Estonian citizens by birth mistakenly years ago. That is the conclusion drawn by the ministry after working through a legal analysis on opting for citizenship by University of Tartu researchers.

A ray of hope appeared before the day was out. Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise sent a letter to Director of the PPA Elmar Vaher in which she concluded that Alli Rutto needs to be issued a passport irrespective of citizenship debates. Rutto’s passport expired on November 22, and the PPA did not issue her a new one. Officials said that Rutto cannot be issued a new passport until it becomes clear whether the citizenship act will be amended.

“People who have been found to be citizens by birth and issued passports cannot be victimized,” Madise wrote on Friday.

Whether it was the justice chancellor’s statement or whether a solution had been found inside the ministry, Alli Rutto’s passport problem was solved. What will happen with the citizenship of the descendants of people who opted for Estonian citizenship will likely become clearer in the coming months.