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The Perils of Dual Nationality for Politicians

In Turkey and Australia newly-elected politicians risked expulsion from their parliaments for having dual nationality, while Sonia Gandhi faced allegations that her Italian background made her unfit to become India’s leader. Zambia’s former President Kenneth Kaunda was declared stateless. By contrast, Latvia became the second Baltic state to elect an expatriate as President.

Although an increasing number of countries are making provisions for dual nationality, aspiring legislators and political leaders face legal and political challenges to their possession of dual nationality. Unlike ordinary citizens, members of national assemblies are often required to make explicit oaths of allegiance to the country they serve. The suspicion of dual loyalties may therefore be enough to block their entry into politics, as two women in Australia and Turkey discovered. It also gives rival politicians a political weapon, as Sonia Gandhi and Kenneth Kaunda found out.

In Australia, the only Senator from the far-right One Nation party was thrown out of parliament for having dual citizenship. Heather Hill acquired Australian citizenship but did not complete the procedure of relinquishing her British citizenship. Under Australia's constitution, dual nationals cannot sit in the legislature. The High Court ruled that the UK was a 'foreign power' as understood by the constitution.

Hill only took up Australian citizenship a few months before the election, but appears to have been confused about what was involved in renouncing her former citizenship. She had lived in Australia since childhood. One Nation, which opposes Asian immigration to Australia, retained the seat in the Senate and appointed a replacement.

Prime Minister John Howard rejected calls for a referendum on dual citizenship in the wake of Hill's expulsion. The demand came from an organisation supporting the continuation of Australia's status as a monarchy.

Merve Safa Kavakci was stripped of her Turkish citizenship less than a month after her election to parliament and faces expulsion from the legislature. The Cabinet ruled that she had taken out US citizenship without permission. Under the law, Turkish citizens who take out a second citizenship are required to inform the authorities. She acquired US citizenship through her Jordanian-born American ex-husband, a month before the parliamentary elections in April. Whether the loss of citizenship will result in Kavacki losing her seat in parliament is to be decided by the Supreme Election Board. US immigration officials said that they would investigate Kavakci if she takes an oath of allegiance to Turkey. Such an oath would violate the terms of her US citizenship.

Kavacki, a member of the Islamic Virtue Party, had caused controversy when she wore a headscarf to take her oath in parliament. She was forced out of the chamber by hecklers led by Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit. Secular parliamentarians regarded her headscarf as an improper intrusion of religion into politics. Headscarves are banned in government offices, schools and universities. The country's constitution is founded on secularism, but the Virtue Party supports the introduction of Islamic law. The issue of her dual citizenship therefore enabled the government to strike against her party and its principles.

There were demonstrations of support for Kavacki in the eastern Turkish city of Maltya as well as Tehran and Sanaa, Yemen. The rally in Yemen was addressed by the leader of the Islah party, the Islamist opposition group within Yemen's parliament. The Iranian ambassador was summoned to the Turkish foreign ministry to hear the government's angry reaction at demonstrations in Tehran. A wealthy Qatari woman offered Kavakci $137,000 for the scarf.

After the ruling on Kavakci, the authorities began an investigation into another female deputy of the Virtue Party, Oya Akgonenc. A newspaper alleged that she declared herself to be a US citizen in 1987 and was married to a Pakistani-born US citizen.

Sonia Gandhi, leader of the opposition Congress party in India, resigned in reaction to complaints from within her own party that she was a foreigner. Three prominent politicians sent her an open letter stating that she was unsuitable to become Prime Minister because she as not Indian-born. Similar charges had been made by politicians from rival parties. The rebels called for the constitution to be changed to restrict the country's top executive posts to Indian-born citizens. Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee promised to consider the idea.

Gandhi eventually withdrew her resignation, leading commentators to suspect that she had used the affair to increase her control over the party. The three rebels were expelled and the party’s leadership were forced to publicly back her.

Gandhi was born in Italy and in 1968 she married Rajiv Gandhi, son of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Sonia only became an Indian citizen in 1983 when Rajiv was about to become Prime Minister. Rajiv was assassinated in 1991, after which Sonia withdrew from public life until 1998, when she became president of the Congress party. Opinion polls suggest that Gandhi does suffer greatly from being a foreigner although she has not denied rumours that she has not given up her Italian citizenship. India does not allow for dual nationality.

Zambia's High Court finally ruled that former President Kenneth Kaunda was stateless (Traces #1). It ruled that he was not a Zambian citizen because his parents were from Malawi (formerly Nyasaland) and he had renounced his Malawian citizenship without ever becoming a Zambian. Kaunda was President of Zambia for 27 years but has fallen foul of the current President, Frederick Chliuba. Kaunda became liable to arrest as a non-citizen and is hoping that another country will grant him refuge. Malawai has refused to do so.

The Latvian Parliament elected an expatriate from Canada as the country's sixth President, only the second since independence from the USSR. Vaira Vike-Freiberga faced opposition from other candidates. She succeeds Guntis Ulmanis, who served the maximum two terms. She follows Valdas Adamkus, the former US citizen who was elected as Lithuania’s President in January 1998 (Traces #1).

Vike-Frieberga was born in Riga, Latvia in 1937 and spent four years in a German refugee camp having fled from the Red Army. She then attended a French school in Morocco before her family moved to Toronto in 1954. She obtained degrees in English and psychology, and became a professor at the University of Montreal. She was active in Latvian exile politics and community affairs from 1957 onwards, specialising in Latvian folk songs. She returned to Latvia in 1998 to head an institute promoting Latvia around the world. Vike-Freiberga relinquished her Canadian citizenship when it appeared that she might become President. She was nominated by the Social Democratic Party but opposed by the governing party, the Latvian Way.

Lithuania's President Valdas Adamkus appointed a retired US Army colonel to head the country's armed forces. Jonas Kronkaitis, from Washington DC, holds dual citizenship. He was born in Lithuania but fled from Soviet forces in 1944.

Founder of Zambia declared stateless, San Jose Mercury News 1.4.99; Kaunda's Citizenship Deprived by Zambian Govt, Xinhua News 1.4.99; US studying ramifications of Kavakci's citizenship, Turkish Daily News 14.5.99; Turkey strips "headscarf deputy" of citizenship, Agence France Presse English Wire 15.5.99; Turkey summons Iranian ambassador for protest over interference, Agence France Presse English Wire 15.5.99; India's Sonia Gandhi resigns over 'foreigner' slur, Agence France Presse English Wire 17.5.99; MP loses her citizenship over a scarf, Independent 17.5.99; Kavakci loses her Turkish citizenship, Turkish Probe 17.5.99; Rich Qatari woman offers fortune for Turkish deputy's headscarf, Agence France Presse English Wire 19.5.99; Turkey probes second Islamist deputy over US citizenship, Agence France Presse English Wire 20.5.99; BJP may include citizenship issue in poll manifesto, P R Ramesh Economic Times of India 21.5.99; Yemeni women rally for Turkish headscarf MP, Agence France Presse English Wire 23.5.99; Gandhi returns to the helm, Mukund Padmanabhan Vancouver Sun 26.5.99; Ex-U.S. colonel picked to head Lithuanian army, Associated Press 11.6.99; Biography of Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Baltic News Service 17.6.99; Vike-Freiberga only on June 16 received confirmation she is not a Canadian national, Baltic News Service 17.6.99; Latvian Parliament elects Vike-Freiberga for President, Baltic News Service 18.6.99; A Canadian attitude in Latvia, Kate Jaimet Ottawa Citizen 21.6.99; One Nation senator thrown out of parliament because she's British, Agence France Presse English Wire 23.6.99; High Court rules Hill's nation too foreign for our parliament, Kathryn Bice Australia Business Intelligence 24.6.99; PM rejects citizenship referendum, Carina Tan-Van Baren Australian Business Intelligence 25.6.99.


Serbia’s Other Minorities – Hungarians and Roma

The hostilities between NATO and Yugoslavia over Kosovo dragged the other region’s minorities into the conflict. Hungary’s support for NATO caused dilemmas for Serbia’s large Hungarian minority, while the conclusion of the fighting exposed Kosovo’s Roma to reprisals.

According to the latest government figures there were 300,000 ethnic Hungarians in Serbia’s northern province Vojvodina, forming just under a fifth of the population. But a decade of conflict in the region has reduced their presence. As many as 40,000 Hungarians have migrated abroad, and at the same time Vojvodina has seen a large influx of Serbian refugees from Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.

The presence of a large Hungarian minority in Yugoslavia presented the Hungarian government with a dilemma only two weeks after the country formally joined the alliance. At first Prime Minister Viktor Orban refused to allow NATO forces to use the country’s airspace, but later changed his mind. NATO tankers and attack aircraft used Hungarian airfields during the bombing campaign. But the government refused to allow Hungarian troops to be involved, or for NATO to use the country as a staging post for any invasion, which would have to pass through Vojvodina. Opinion polls within Hungary suggested widespread support for the NATO action, despite the possible threat to Vojvodina Hungarians.

Attacks on the Danube by NATO bombers cut trade on the river and damaged Hungary’s economy. Trade was expected to fall by between a third and a half as a result of the warfare. Hungary’s steel industry depends upon the Danube for deliveries of ore. The country also relies upon Russia for oil and gas, supplies which might be jeopardised by the association with NATO.

During the bombing Vojvodina Hungarians fled from Serbia to Hungary, alongside ethnic Serb refugees. It was claimed that the Yugoslav army targeted ethnic Hungarians for conscription into the army. Rumours also spread that Hungarian businesses and churches were being attacked in Vojvodina. Estimates in early May suggested that 5000 - 7000 Serbs had crossed into Hungary. Western embassies in Budapest were surrounded by queues of Serbs anxious to obtain visas to leave the country. No visa is needed to enter Hungary from Yugoslavia. Other Serbs fled to Romania, where there is a small Serbian community near the border region of Timisoara.

As it became clear that the NATO campaign would succeed in its initial objectives, Hungarian politicians on both sides of the border began to speculate on the future for Vojvodina in any peace settlement for the region. Divisions emerged both within Hungary and among the Vojvodina Hungarians.

The leader of the far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party called for the annexation of parts of the Serbian province of Vojvodina after the end of the war. Istvan Csurka claimed that parts of the province with significant ethnic Hungarian populations should return to their ‘motherland’ to redress the injury inflicted on Hungarians by the Treaties of Versailles and Trianon at the end of the First World War. Csurka also claimed that ethnic Hungarians were being driven from their homes to make room for displaced Kosovan Serbians. Csurka’s suggestion was rejected by the chairman of the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians, Jozsef Kasza. He cautioned Csurka that his comments would harm the interests of Serbian Hungarians during a period of warfare. Other Hungarian politicians also condemned the idea.

The official line of the Hungarian government was that Vojvodina should receive ‘limited sovereignty’ as part of any political settlement in the region. No borders should be changed. One model floated inside government was the Bosnian Serb Republic. Before 1991 Vojvodina enjoyed a level of autonomy within Serbia, comparable to the former status of Kosovo. The idea of territorial autonomy was supported by the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians but not the Democratic Community of Vojvodina Hungarians. The latter draws its main support from ethnic Hungarians living outside areas of numerical Hungarian dominance. They support a form of ‘personal autonomy’ or power-sharing, by which ethnic Hungarians would be proportionally represented at all levels of government within the province. Both parties back an extension of minority rights in the country. The majority of Vojvodina’s population are ethnic Serbs, not Hungarians. Some Serbians support regional autonomy as a way of distancing the province from Belgrade.

After meeting with Czech President Vaclav Havel, Orban stated that Vojvodina’s Hungarians should be left to decide on their political future themselves. But reports from ethnic leaders within the province suggested that the Hungarian government was actively involved in drawing up plans for autonomy. Orban won the elections in 1998 partly on the basis of his promise to do more to help Serbia's Hungarians.

Kosovo’s Roma community also found itself caught up in the conflict. Leaders of the community claimed that the Yugoslav army forced Roma to dig graves and carry out menial tasks. The KLA accused them of being collaborators, and appeared to have executed several Roma near the village of Mazgit. When the Yugolsav army and the Serbian security forces withdrew hundreds of Roma tried to flee Kosovo for fear of Albanian retaliation. However, they were often turned back at the border: one report suggested that ninety percent of the refugees sent back into Kosovo were Roma.

The 1991 census counted 35,000 Roma in Kosovo, but other estimates say 50,000. Some speak Serbian and others Albanian. The two communities were separately represented at the Rambouillet talks.

The President of Bulgaria protested to the Belgrade authorities over the arrest of an ethnic Bulgarian leader in Serbia in June. Marko Sukarev was head of the Democratic Union of Bulgarians in Yugoslavia.

Minority under siege, Nick Thorpe The Guardian 1.5.99; Front-Line Hungary Feels Anxiety, John Tagliabue New York Times 2.5.99; Hungarian far-right leader urges Vojvodina poll on returning to Hungary, BBC monitoring international reports 2.5.99; Serb 'tourists' take the Hungarian escape route, Nick Thorpe The Guardian 3.5.99; 'Nobody wants us, the pariahs of Europe', Mirel Bran The Guardian 3.5.99; Minorities wary of Yugo-Army draft, Rick Jervis Prague Post 19.5.99; Hungarian official on "limited sovereignty" for minorities in Yugoslavia, BBC monitoring international reports 31.5.99; Serbia's ethnic Hungarian leader rejects Hungarian far-right leader's call, BBC monitoring international reports 2.6.99; Bulgaria protests ethnic leader's arrest in Serbia, Agence France Presse English Wire 8.6.99; Kosovo Serbs to hurt ethnic Hungarians' political interests, BBC monitoring international reports 16.6.99; After Kosovo's Albanians, fears for ethnic Hungarians in Serbia, Eszter Szamado Agence France Presse 23.6.99; Gypsies find themselves in no man's land, Julian Borger The Guardian 23.6.99; Vojvodina Hungarians Should Decide on Autonomy, World News Connection 25.6.99; Magyars in Serbia - Worried, The Economist 26.6.99; After the War: Hungarians in Serbia press for self-rule, Branislava Milosevic Sunday Telegraph 27.6.99; Used by Serbs, hated by Albanians, Charles M. Sennott Boston Globe 28.6.99; Party reports on intimidation of Vojvodina Hungarians by Kosovo Serbs, BBC monitoring international reports 30.6.99.


 

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