Estonian Connections with the Citizens and Armed Forces of Foreign States
Arvamus 25 Nov 2014  EWR
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Martin Hurt, RKK/ICDS 24 November 2014
On 6 November 2014, the Government of Estonia decided against granting Estonian citizenship to a former officer in the armed forces of a foreign state. The applicant is said to have submitted a request to be granted Estonian citizenship, but it was discovered during the proceedings that the person had been a commissioned member of the armed forces of a foreign state, from which he had retired.

Pursuant to the Citizenship Act of 1995, Estonian citizenship shall not be granted to a person who has served as a commissioned member of the armed forces of a foreign state or who has been assigned to the reserve forces of such a state or has retired from such forces.

When drafting this law after Estonia regained independence in the early 1990s, legislators were trying to prevent the thousands of commissioned servicemen of the Soviet armed forces, who had no connection to the Estonian state or culture, from having a say in shaping the future of the free Estonia. Naturally, the restriction did not apply to people who were Estonian citizens by birth. If we view this provision of the Citizenship Act only in that context, it can be deemed a reasonable solution. Former commissioned members of the occupying forces could not become citizens of a state that had become independent and, as a result, they could not join active service in the newly restored Defence Forces of Estonia. This is why officers considered disloyal solely due to their Soviet background are not an issue in Estonia today, as is the case in Ukraine, for example.

Estonia has now developed into a democratic, stable state that has been a member of NATO and the European Union for 10 years. Why should we bar a citizen of a foreign state who used to serve in the armed forces of a NATO or EU member state from becoming an Estonian citizen? Would this be a threat to our state and culture?

Moreover, why should we bar a former commissioned member of the armed forces of a NATO or EU member state who becomes an Estonian citizen from joining active service or the reserve forces in the Estonian Defence Forces or the Estonian Defence League?

Many citizens of Finland, Denmark and Sweden fought on the side of Estonia in the Estonian War of Independence. The relevant laws in Estonia would not allow them to fight for Estonia today, unless their country of origin decided to send units of their armed forces to help Estonia.

Even if we disregard the specific case of 6 November, in the long run legislators should consider amending the Citizenship Act so that former commissioned members of the armed forces of NATO and EU member states have the right to become Estonian citizens. Likewise, we should openly discuss the role of foreign volunteers in the military defence of Estonia. The ongoing war in Ukraine shows that there will always be volunteers willing to fight in the armed forces of a foreign state, and it is inevitable that this has both positive and negative aspects.
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