Staunton, November 27 – The Russian government’s decision to strip former Soviet dissident and rights activist Vladimir Bukovsky of his citizenship, a violation of Russian constitution, is certain to attract international attention. But it is important to note that this illegal action is only the tip of the iceberg of a much larger problem.
Today, Duma deputy Dmitry Gudkov said that the Russian foreign ministry had told him that as Bukovsky’s passport had expired and as the ministry had not found any personal declaration from him requesting an extension, he has “no legal basis for acquiring citizenship of the Russian Federation … without taking up permanent residence on the territory of Russia” (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5476E7C08FF8D).
Not only does this violate paragraph three of the Russian constitution which says no citizen can be deprived of his citizenship, but it puts Bukovsky in a Catch 22 situation: he can’t get a new passport without going to Russia, and Russian officials have refused to accept his documents so he cannot travel there.
Given Bukovsky’s outspoken criticism of Vladimir Putin, it is perhaps not unexpected that Moscow would violate its own constitution and laws in his case, much as Soviet rulers did in the past. But as Elena Lukyanova, a professor at the Higher School of Economics and a member of the Russian Social Chamber, points out, this is part of a broader and more disturbing trend.
In “Novaya gazeta,” she says that what is taking place is “a hidden process of depriving [Russians] of their citizenship,” in violation of the constitution and in violation of Russian laws (novayagazeta.ru/comments/66239.html).
Citizenship, Lukyanova notes, “is the most important indicator of a state, equal to territory and public power.” The combination of these three things “forms the state,” and without each of them a state does not exist. “Everything else is secondary,” including sovereignty which “can be partial or conditional.”
And she cites Ivan Ilin’s observation that “with the disappearance of citizens, the state disappears.” Moreover, the scholar argues that “the experience of the US shows that the holy status of citizenship is the single national idea which can effectively tie together a multi-national and poly-confessional community.”
Citizenship is thus “an inalienable status of an individual” given that it is “in essence one of the foundations of a constitutional order. Only somehow this is not the case in Russia…” Russian pensioners living abroad are required to appear at Russian consulates every year to confirm that they are still alive.
That is insulting enough, but because of the way Russian consular officials behave and the way judges support their decisions, many of these people fall victim to “a hidden process of the deprivation of citizenship.” That happens when their passports expire at the end of five years, and they have to get new ones.
Instead of this being a simple bureaucratic process where the bearer shows his old passport and then is issued a new one in its place, Russian consular officials often ask for other evidence that the applicant is in fact a Russian citizen. If they are not satisfied with this secondary evidence, they refuse to give the applicant a passport.
There are dozens of such cases, Lukyanova says, although no one has exact statistics, but she describes some of the most absurd and dangerous ones. And she argues that thSiis practice is truly inexplicable given that Russia is suffering a demographic decline, something that should make each citizen especially precious to the state.
Since 2002, the population of Russia has declined by 2.2 million, and it is projected to fall below 100 million by the middle of the century. The Russian foreign ministry’s consular department carries 1.5 million Russian citizens abroad on its books, but “in reality, there are many more Russians abroad.” They and their children are at risk of losing their citizenship.
“For a long time already,” she writes, Russians “have been accustomed to the fact that the realization of many paragraphs of the Constitution has been turned upside down and reduced to absurdities. But the deprivation of citizenship in essence is a real disaster,” one that requires changing the behavior of consular officials and justices lest it spread.