Dual citizenship is not generally permitted in Slovakia. But this may be about to change.
What is citizenship?
It is a law that recognizes a person as belonging to a country. Citizenship can be passed down by blood (Jus sanguinis), which means that you belong to the country of your parents. Or, by birth-location (Jus soli), which means you are given the citizenship of the territory in which you were born.
Most countries operate on the Jus sanguinis principle. It seems very straight forward, right? However, national boundaries are literally lines drawn in the sand and much less stable and certain than first sight might suggest.
Furthermore, wars, the collapse of empires, the rise of new nations, the search of livelihood and the desire to explore, study or find a mate have complicated the matter. These resulted in the introduction of what may seem like a new concept – that of citizenship by naturalization.
This means a person can also acquire a new citizenship, in addition to the one he received at birth, after having lived in that territory for a period of time, usually ranging from 3 to 8 years.
This is known as dual citizenship. It is a phenomenon that has become common in the pre-COVID era of cheap long-haul flights and general easing of immigration restrictions for coveted ‘green light’ passports, including those of the European Union as well as the New World.
Of course, it might seem that the acquisition of a foreign citizenship, alongside the ensuing notion of dual citizenship, are modern ideas. But, these concepts were already known and practiced in ancient Rome.
The case of Slovakia
Located in the very heart of Europe, Slovakia has historically been at the crossroads of civilizations, empires and ideologies.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, one third of Slovak nationals left their homeland and emigrated abroad. This is still a trend in the 21st century. Slovakia has the largest student diaspora per capita in the EU. The country has a population of 5.5 million and it is estimated that some 1.8 million Slovaks live abroad, including 90,000 Slovaks in the UK and another 800,000 Slovaks in the US, which makes it one of the world’s largest diaspora per capita, second only to Ireland’s.
Despite a long history of migration and the presence of a number of ethnic minorities on its territory, Slovakia does not currently acknowledge dual citizenship. Although this ideological pivot was a relatively recent split.
In fact, dual citizenship was the norm on the territory dating back to the times of Emperor Franz Joseph I – all the way up to 2010, when the then government introduced a radical jump.
Some critics viewed the move as a knee jerk reaction to the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s strategic policy that liberalized access to Hungarian citizenship to Hungarian descendants across the globe. Ethnic Hungarians make up 10% of the population of Slovakia and Hungary’s effort to reclaim its diaspora scattered across the territory of the former Hungarian Kingdom, was received with great suspicion, especially in Slovakia, Ukraine and Romania.
The Slovak government felt like it had to react to what it perceived to be a threat to its national sovereignty. But it inadvertently shot itself in the foot. Blocking access to Hungarian citizenship for ethnic-Hungarians living in Slovakia meant eradicating dual citizenship. As a result, Slovakia’s very large diaspora abroad lost the opportunity to remain Slovak, while being naturalized into a foreign land.
From 2010 onwards, Slovaks had to choose. They could be one or the other, but they could no longer be both.
Reforming the Citizenship Act
Flash forward 11 years later to today. There is a debate on reforming the Citizenship Act, which would once again resurrect dual citizenship in the country. If approved by parliament this month, the reform promises to return what was lost to thousands of Slovaks abroad.
This positive step forward has stirred much controversy both inside and outside the government. This boils down to the “Hungarian question” as the flame of old sentiments and grievances fanned by the recent visit of the Hungarian Foreign Minister to Slovakia, who stated “do not be afraid of dual citizenship”, are still very much present. Keeping in mind, the ‘Hungarian question’ is why the dual-citizenship norm was revoked in the first place.
There is also the fact that Slovakia’s 41-year experience of communism also entrenched certain beliefs and values that are difficult to uproot. A legacy that continues to shape public debate and political mood.
The Iron Curtain physically cut off multiple generations from contact with the West. It was very much the case of ‘you are with us or against us’ when it came to the matter of national allegiance and citizenship. Not to mention the fact that the communist party stripped citizenship and seized the assets of anyone that did dare to leave.
Thirty-two years after the Velvet Revolution and the dissolution of the divide, many people feel uncomfortable about Slovak citizens holding multiple citizenships and national allegiances. How can you be Slovak and also a Brit, a German or American? Or, more sensitively how can you be a loyal citizen of both Slovakia and Hungary?
But does citizenship and belonging to a nation apply only when you live within its borders? Can you only be a ‘Slovak’ if you physically reside in the territory?
In the 19th century and early 20th centuries peoples were leaving because of economic hardship and poverty. Later, Slovaks fled in droves first from fascism, and then from the oppression of the Communist Party that took power in Czechoslovakia in 1948. Some 200,000 people left the country at that time. This was followed by more departures following the Soviet-led occupation of 1968 when half a million citizens became political refugees.
Accession into the EU gave rise to yet another emigration wave that continues to present day as many Slovaks seek education and jobs in the Czech Republic, among other Western European nations. Perhaps, and maybe it will be sooner than later this trend will change, but for now some of Slovakia’s most exceptional people are abroad.
And that is where Slovakia is at the moment. It is a very shortsighted reasoning that costs Slovakia resources, opportunities and most of all – her population. Abandonment, anger and the perceived Hungarian threat aside, there is a bigger question at hand: Do we want to expand or contract as a nation?
Slovakia can choose to incorporate the Slovak diaspora abroad or punish these people for leaving.
Why don’t we instead focus on ourselves and look for ways we can unite with our global diaspora in the name and prosperity of Slovakia. Our most immediate neighbors, the Czechs, the Poles and of course the Hungarians have already done it.