The Senate has passed a draft law that would make it easier for the children and grandchildren of exiles from Communist Czechoslovakia to obtain Czech citizenship. The bill, which is expected to be signed into law by the president, pertains to descendants of those stripped of their own citizenship prior to 1989. ‘Krajané’ – Czech compatriots and their descendants – have long lobbied for the move, and hundreds are expected to apply.
Granting citizenship to Czechs stripped of it by the Communists has never been particularly controversial, but extending the chance of citizenship for their descendants has been a sticking point for years. In 2012, the lower house of Parliament voted to delete such a provision from the Law on Citizenship, which eventually came into force in 2014.
The upper house’s Commission on Compatriots Abroad initiated the amendment that – after many readings over many years – was finally approved on Thursday.
Critics say the current wording of the law has served to divide families of compatriots, as it has different provisions for those who left the former Czechoslovakia after the communist regime came to power in 1948.
In an earlier round of debate, the chairman of the Commission on Compatriots Abroad, Senator Tomáš Czernin of the opposition TOP 09 party, laid out the case for what he characterised as righting past wrongs and oversights.
“When the law came into force, with the [preferential] option for exiles’ children and grandchildren eliminated, there were quite strong protests from the compatriot community. We received two petitions from our compatriots abroad asking for the Act to be returned to its original form, as presented in the year 2012.
“There were families where some members could have Czech citizenship and others could not. This has divided families, and made it difficult or impossible for them to return home...”
According to the Interior Ministry, which supported such a change already years ago, the change in law will likely lead to hundreds, not thousands, of citizenship applications – not least of which from Venezuela, due to the ongoing political and humanitarian crisis there.
In the past, MPs of various stripes had opposed granting citizenship to people who don’t speak Czech. The far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy party opposes to move arguing it could lead to an influx of social benefits-seekers – a charge that Senator Czernin calls “ridiculous”.
“Citizenship is their right!” he writes in a Facebook post. “These are the descendants of Czech exiles and emigres who did not voluntarily renounce Czechoslovak citizenship; educated people, unafraid of change, who can look after themselves and have always felt a sense of belonging to the Czech Republic.”
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