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Slovak-Czech dual citizenship law drags

Although a December 1998 decision by the Czech Interior Ministry secures that Slovaks with Czech roots may claim Czech citizenship since January 1, state bureaucrats in Czech district offices refuse to accept applications, saying the decree is not planted on firm legal grounds.
After the January 1993 split of the Czechoslovak federation, the citizens had to choose either Slovak or Czech citizenship. Czechs who chose Slovak citizenship automatically lost their Czech one. So even though the Slovak citizenship law approved in 1993 allowed multiple citizenship for Slovaks, the Czech legislation amended the same year abandoned such a settlement.


Prime Minister Dzurinda (right) greets Czech President Václav Havel.
photo: TASR

Although a December 1998 decision by the Czech Interior Ministry secures that Slovaks with Czech roots may claim Czech citizenship since January 1, state bureaucrats in Czech district offices refuse to accept applications, saying the decree is not planted on firm legal grounds.

After the January 1993 split of the Czechoslovak federation, the citizens had to choose either Slovak or Czech citizenship. Czechs who chose Slovak citizenship automatically lost their Czech one. So even though the Slovak citizenship law approved in 1993 allowed multiple citizenship for Slovaks, the Czech legislation amended the same year abandoned such a settlement.

The change finally came with the leftist cabinet of Czech Prime Minister Miloš Zeman. In December 1998, Interior Minister Václav Grulich issued a directive to all district offices around the Czech Republic to issue certificates of dual citizenship to eligible applicants. Some Czech officials say, however, the decree is not a strong enough tool to circumvent the strict law.

"It's a bit too early to speak about dual citizenship," said Jan Kaše, head of the consular office at the Czech Embassy in Bratislava. Kaše said that bilateral talks took place between the Czech and Slovak Interior Ministries, but details on how the issue of dual citizenship would be dealt with have not yet been specified.

Kaše said that his embassy was collecting applications from Czechs with Slovak citizenship and passing them to local offices throughout the Czech Republic to certify their Czech roots. According to him, up to 50 applicants show up every day at the embassy to claim the citizenship certificate. "So far, we have registered some 400 applications since the beginning of January," Kaše said.

But Czech governmental officials claim the ministry decree created confusion, which could have been avoided by amending the problematic citizenship law. "There's a terrible mess with the applications," said Milan Kříž, Interior Minstry spokesman. Kříž said that the decree was only a preliminary step towards an amendment, but "so far, the cabinet failed to muscle the law through the [Czech] parliament."

Slovak officials said that the problem with multiple citizenship was still pending on the Czech side, and warned that Slovaks who obtained Czech citizenship in 1993 would lose it if they now claimed Slovak citizenship at the Slovak Interior Ministry.

"There's good will on the Slovak side, and the [Czech and Slovak Interior] Ministers set out a clear path, but at the moment we would do such applicants a disservice," said a spokeswoman for the registrar and citizenship department at the Slovak Interior Ministry.

According to Slovak Foreign Ministry statistics, there are approximately 65,000 ethnic Czechs living in Slovakia and over 6,000 applications have already been sent to Czech local administration offices.

Many Czechs doubted the legality of the 1993 law, calling it unconstitutional. Petr Uhl, a former journalist and currently the cabinet's commissioner for human rights, sued the Prague district office for revoking his Czech citizenship after he chose the Slovak one in 1993.

"I was upset with the law, which was isolationist and discriminated against people," said Uhl, adding that he neither lived in Slovakia, nor had Slovak heritage, but he only wanted to provoke Czech state officials to change the arrangement.

In August 1997, the Czech Constitutional Court ruled that Uhl be re-given Czech citizenship. "I got the citizenship, but I'm sorry I didn't prove the illegality of the law," Uhl said.

Uhl's case encouraged numerous Slovak Czechs to apply for dual citizenship, but the wave of applicants was halted in the beginning of 1998 with the decree of then-Interior Minister Cyril Svoboda, which instructed district offices to reject such applications.

Local officials say they were rejecting applications for fear of breaking the law. Václav Plzák, head of internal affairs department at the Zlín district office in the Czech Republic, told the Prague Post weekly, "We've had about five cases in the last three months and we've turned them down. This matter would be much more clear if it were under a new law."

According to Uhl, the Czech government's legislation council is currently reading through the draft law. Uhl said that if there was enough political will, the law could be approved some time in August or September 1999.

The cabinet is also considering that the 350,000-member ethnic Slovak community in the Czech Republic could also be given Czech citizenship by the amended law.

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