Identity is more important than loyalty to dual citizens

Submitted on 16.2.2017 - 13:00
Johanna Peltoniemi/ Kuva: Jonne Renvall
“Dual citizens should not be stigmatised. Dual citizenship is a complicated issue which should not be simplified,” says researcher Johanna Peltoniemi. Photograph: Jonne Renvall

Johanna Peltoniemi, who is conducting research on Finnish emigrants at the Faculty of Management of the University of Tampere, is astonished by the debate on dual citizenship

A heated debate is currently ongoing on restricting the access of dual citizens to jobs that have to do with national security because of allegations that they would be disloyal to Finland.

Johanna Peltoniemi, who is researching the political participation of Finnish emigrants, is surprised by the talk on loyalty in the case of dual citizens and suspects that the loyalty debate is conducted for political reasons.

“The loyalty card is played in order to criticise dual citizenship. When dual citizenship is talked about on other levels, the talk is usually about identity,” Peltoniemi says.

She has conducted a large survey with Finnish emigrants and asked the respondents about their views on national identity.

“The most frequent observation was that the emigrants have two home countries; in other words two aspects in their identity. They do not take it as a loyalty issue; they just happen to be both Finnish and Swedish, for example. For them, this issue is as simple as that,” Peltoniemi explains.

Emigrants are not
very active voters

Peltoniemi is conducting research for her doctoral dissertation on the identity and political participation of Finnish emigrants. Her dissertation is based on a survey sent to 3,600 emigrants randomly drawn by the Population Register Centre of Finland of whom 1,067 participated in the survey.

The survey was targeted to adult Finnish citizens currently residing in Canada, the United States, Sweden, Germany, United Kingdom and Spain. People living in Russia, a country at the centre of the debate around dual citizenship, were not included in her study.

Peltoniemi’s study is not restricted to only those emigrants who have dual citizenship. About 250,000 Finnish emigrants with the right to vote in national elections in Finland currently reside abroad. It is estimated that even as many as 1.3 million Finnish citizens live abroad; no exact figures exist.

Voting activity among Finnish emigrants is around ten per cent depending on the election. At its highest, the voting percentage has been fourteen per cent. The figure is quite low in international comparison; 25–30 per cent of Swedes living outside Sweden vote whereas the corresponding figure for Italians is as high as forty per cent. Peltoniemi has not calculated the voting activity of dual citizens separately.

A large variety
of dual citizens

According to Peltoniemi, the discussion on dual citizenship is nothing new because its principles have been debated since the 1990s. Dual citizenship was introduced in Finland in 2003. The numbers of dual citizens have increased from 22,000 in 2003 to 96,000 in 2015.

“What is curious about the current debate is that it is limited to people who have dual citizenship in Russia and Finland even though there are many different country combinations among dual citizens, not the least of which are among Finnish emigrants,” Peltoniemi says.

Many other questions are also linked with the just treatment and definition of dual citizens than whether they can be appointed to jobs where they would be working on national security matters.

Peltoniemi lists questions of principle: “Is it all right that the same person can vote in the elections of two countries or that the same person can basically be a prime minister in two countries?”

All in all, Peltoniemi finds dual citizenship a complicated issue.

“A lot of contention and debate would be involved in organising this matter. It is very troubling if we are now about to start ethnic profiling; nobody should be stigmatised because of dual citizenship. It is a very complicated issue but only the aspect of national security is now being highlighted,” Peltoniemi explains.

The meaning of citizenship
has changed

Many researchers have postulated that citizenship in its old sense has lost its meaning and that citizenship no longer corresponds to the demands of the global and mobile world.

“We still largely think about citizenship in the same way as at the time the modern nation states were created; as some form of institutional solidarity. However, people are now really mobile and families have ties to several countries,” Peltoniemi says.

If the institution of state is to exist in the first place, nation states must have a way of identifying their own citizens. However, the current way of defining citizenship is not the only possible definition.

Finns living aboard cannot be placed in the same categories everywhere in the world. For example, Finns living in the United States have ties to Finland because their grandparents or great-grandparents emigrated there about a hundred years ago whereas most Sweden Finns have roots in the mass migration of the 1960s and 1970s. People moved to Germany a little bit later whilst people moving to Spain are the latest larger group of emigrants.

Also the need for applying for dual citizenship varies; the biggest need may be in the United States while having dual citizenship for legal reasons in the European Union is not as important.

Should all Finnish emigrants
form one electoral district?

Nearly 250,000 Finns living abroad have the right to vote in national elections in Finland, which means that they form a political force comparable to Swedish-speaking Finns. Italy, Croatia and France have formed an electoral district for emigrants and the issue has also been discussed in Finland.

“A separate electoral district would be a handy solution, but when half of the emigrants live in Sweden, the question arises of whether the Swedes would get all the votes. Would that lead to representational problems?” Peltoniemi asks.

Another solution would be to form two to four regional electoral districts which would each elect one representative. However, the current trend in Finland is to reduce the number of electoral districts.

The Finnish emigrants who answered Peltoniemi’s survey were not that thrilled about the opportunity of forming their own electoral district. One third of them supported the idea, one third did not think the idea was important and one third did not have an opinion about it.

“The emigrants’ own electoral district would solve the problem of representation at some level. Currently, their votes are spread among the existing districts,” Peltoniemi says.

One solution would be to create a quota for the emigrants’ votes in the Uusimaa electoral district, which is the largest in Finland, or to spread their quota among a couple of electoral districts, which would increase their chances of getting at least one representative elected.

Another alternative would be surrogate representation where one MP would commit to representing all the emigrants. That would ensure the election of at least one spokesperson in the Finnish parliament; however, no direct electoral relationship would be created between voters and representatives in such a case. That is why this solution would largely only have symbolic meaning.

Text: Heikki Laurinolli