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Lithuanian government has a relook at its citizenship law

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SUZANNE BELLING

PHOTOGRAPH SUPPLIED

 Stefanie de Saude.

According to Stefanie de Saude, a Cape Town immigration and citizenship law specialist, while the Lithuanian law as a rule does not allow dual citizenship, it makes an exception in the case of descendants of Lithuanian citizens who were forced to flee the country between 1919 and 1990.

“If you can show that the Lithuanian citizens fled not for economic reasons, then their descendants within four generations can apply for a reinstatement of citizenship,” she told SA Jewish Report.

She said, however, that in 2013, the Lithuanian Constitutional Court issued a restrictive ruling regarding these citizenship applications, requiring proof that the people who left Lithuania were forced to flee.

The authorities then argued that there had been no serious pogroms in Lithuania between 1919 and 1940, when the Nazis invaded the country, and those Jews who left in that period – many of whom came to South Africa – left because they wanted to leave.

It is estimated that some 80 per cent of the 70 000 South African Jews are of Lithuanian descent.

The result of the court ruling was that many applications were refused. While thousands of applications worldwide are still pending, figures from the Lithuanian migration office show that 10 applications were refused in 2014, 76 in 2015 and 97 so far this year.

According to De Saude, over 1 000 South African Jews have applied since 2013.

The manner in which the court ruling is being implemented has led to a backlash in Lithuania, with widespread condemnation.

Those in favour of allowing more Jews to acquire Lithuanian citizenship have pointed out that anti-Semitism was rife at the time, including business boycotts and Jewish children not being admitted to many schools and universities.

Jews feared for their own lives and the safety of their families.

This meant that Jews were forced to flee the country.

Those opposed to the court ruling ask whether the Jews had not suffered enough, without making it so difficult for them to reclaim ancestral citizenship. The new rules merely added further injustice.

Some unsuccessful applicants are trying to take the decision on review to the court.

Earlier this month, De Saude said, because of the pressure and publicity following the court decision, the Lithuanian parliament appointed a working group to look into amending the law to allow descendants of Lithuanian Jews to qualify for citizenship. This would resolve the current difficulties.

“Jews take this issue personally,” said De Saude. “It is not just Lithuanian citizenship and an EU passport, but denying the applications is a way of saying that their families did not suffer.”

She also pointed to the substantial numbers of South African Jews who visited Lithuania in search of their roots.

“Returning Litvaks (Lithuanians) often make a positive impact on the country’s economy”, with some building up business relations there.

De Saude is optimistic about a positive outcome.

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