Mart Helme doesn’t want an exception favoring the Abkhazia Estonian

Helen Mihelson
, reporter
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Photo: Eero Vabamaegi / PM/SCANPIX BALTICS

After months-long work the Ministry of the Interior has completed an analysis, which provides concrete solutions for ending the legal confusion around the citizenship of the Abkhazia Estonians. But they promise to share its content with the public only after the politicians have chosen the most suitable solution.

The analysis scheduled to be completed by April was finally ready in the second half of May. The document is an important milestone for solving the confused situation with the Abkhazia Estonians, since it is likely to become the basis for the parliament for amending the law.

Although the analysis is ready and the earlier interior ministers have repeatedly emphasized its importance during the work, the ministry refuses to disclose it to the public. “The recommendations have been submitted to the minister and the stage of political debates has begun. The ministry regrets its inability to provide more information at present”, said Pia Kuusik, the Ministry of the Interior spokesperson a week ago.

“As soon as the decisions based on the analysis have been made, we shall share this information with the public,” Ruth Annus, head of the ministry citizenship and migration policy department, assured once more this week.

A further question about why cannot the ministry reveal the possible solutions before the policy decision, in the interests of a transparent discussion, the spokesperson said: “The choice of solutions is a policy decision which must be made by the coalition partners together, This is why the ministry cannot reveal it before the policy agreement has been made.”

Written down in the coalition agreement

In any case the policy debate cannot wait for long. Solving the legal problem of the Abkhazia Estonians’ citizenship has been included in the government’s recent plan of actions. It is also included as an item in the coalition agreement of the three parties concluded in April.

The coalition’s goal is to find the solution by August and even though the content of the analysis is not known to the public, any potential solution presumes amending the citizenship act.

According to information available to Postimees, one submitted solution recommends including an exception to the act permitting Estonians residing in Abkhazia retain some other county’s citizenship as well.

Minister of the Interior Mart Helme confirmed to the daily that an exception permitting dual citizenship to Abkhazia Estonians. “But this is not yet a made decision. It is an option,” Helme added.

The relevant department head Ruth Annus did not deny it either as we asked whether the claim regarding a possible exception is true.

Different options

“The analysis concerning the Abkhazia Estonians has different options of solution. It is not yet clear which one will be implemented, since the coalition partners have not made the decision yet,” she answered.

If that option should be used, the Estonians residing in Abkhazia would no longer need to make a difficult choice as their home state tells them to choose between Estonian and Russian citizenship. A Russian passport is vitally important for those living in Abkhazia.

“I do not support that exception,” Minister of the Interior Mart Helme said, however. “This may create a precedent and we might see ethnic Estonians from Siberia, Kamchatka and anywhere,” he explained. He would therefore favor a case-by-case approach, where every individual and their citizenship would be judged separately.

“I already have debated that proposal there (the Ministry of the Interior) and have not given my approval to the recommendation, although they tried to convince me that it concerns only a marginal number of people,” Helme said. “Yes, it does, but it crates a precedent”.

The problems with the citizenship of Estonians residing in Abkhazia attracted greater public interest last year whet it appeared that the state refused extending the Estonian passport of Aili Rutto unless she would give up her Russian citizenship. After Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise interfered, Rutto was issued an Estonian passport, but it was only valid for two years. Previous minister of the interior Katri Raik apologized to Rutto and other Abkhazia Estonians.