The marriage escape
Arvamus 23 Oct 2012  EWR
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Ask any happily married couple about their reasons for entering into wedlock, and chances are good, that the idea of escaping from singlehood for money never entered their mind. Love is a many-splendoured thing for such fortunate people. But for others, motivations may be different. For example quite a few Estonians while under Soviet repressive rule chose the avenue of fictitious marriages to be able to emigrate from the clutches of the ESSR and the Soviet Union, so as to live free.

Some Toronto Estonians have met such individuals, who chose that route during the period of Soviet occupation. However, it was more common to form a marriage agreement with a Finnish (German, any willing citizen of a true democracy) national, reach freedom, and then go one’s own way.

A fine example of this is the dissident Jüri Lina, known for his views on Freemasonry, parapsychology, and UFOs, that have seen him labelled as a crackpot conspiracy theorist by many. However, on the topic of fictitious marriages – and how life under the Soviet regime actually was in the 1960s and ‘70s – Lina’s book Öised päevad (Nocturnal days) is a wonderful source, describing the difficulties of using such an escape route and how two-faced the Soviet bureaucratic system actually was. First published in Stockholm in 1983 this book caused a considerable stir in Soviet Estonia at the time. An autobiographical work, which also describes contacts with such independent, freedom-focused thinkers as Enn Tarto, Mart Niklus and Tunne Kelam was published in a revised, expanded Estonian edition in 2005, and merits reading for the focus on dissidents alone, the marriage issue is secondary. Unfortunately, this work has not been translated into English, unlike some other, certain to raise conventional hackles, Lina books.

Öised päevad came to mind after reading in ERR News, Estonia’s state news agency, much like our CBC, about a recent survey which claimed that fictitious marriages, “both detected and suspected, [have] been declining in the EU, but Estonia is bucking the trend.” However, 30 + years after Lina’s exit from the ESSR, motivation is attributed to criminous intent and marriage for profit.

ERR focused on a study carried out by an organization new to these eyes: The Academy of Security Sciences' migration research center and European migration network. It seems that Estonians – no mention of ethnicity, only citizenship; hence some may be Russian-Estonians, or any other nationality - are increasingly entering into such a legal relationship. While the numbers are not large – in 2011 35 people chose this route, up from 10 in 2009 – the migration research organization notes that these days it is about money, not freedom.

The Estonian state news network noted that research center Kert Valdaru believes that the nation should “should pay more attention to the problem as it ties in with organized crime.” Whoulda thunk? Valdaru said that this is a “new line of business for various mafias in France, Poland and Italy,” and that willing participants can “net from 2,400 euros up to 10 times that figure from each fictitious marriage.” Hence Valdaru believes that Estonia should criminalize such arrangements. However, who will police matrimony, especially at a time when Estonians are increasingly living in common-law relationships, and the divorce rate has been increasing since Soviet times?

Currently, according to the ERR article, only France and the Czech Republic have criminalized marriages for profit while Estonia has not seen it necessary to enact such legislation.

There is more to the issue than meets the eye. ERR’s article does not explain why such arrangements are made – who benefits? In Lina’s case, he gained freedom. Are we to believe that Estonians, be they Jüri or Yuri, Katrin or Ekaterina, are marrying gangsters from non EU countries (most obviously Russia) to provide them access to the Union of free democratic European countries? If so, then perhaps Valdaru’s comment, which concludes the ERR story, “to send a preventive message that the state does not tolerate fictitious marriages, Estonia could consider making fictitious marriages punishable,” bears consideration.

However, lacking further information, it seems that this is a tempest in a teapot. The reality of closed borders for some, open to others, on the one hand caused by draconian measures taken by the USA after 9/11, on the other made laxer by the Schengen agreement, a European treaty that provided for the removal of border controls between participating countries is an unfortunate given in our world. Some are simply more equal than others, regardless of citizenship or the noble sounding ideals of the United Nations human rights declarations.

If indeed Russians are abusing Estonia’s citizenship rules for criminal reasons, then Valdaru’s suggestion holds merit. If, on the other hand, people like Lina are escaping repression in Russia, Belarus, or elsewhere through such fictitious agreements of convenience, then the practice is not so reprehensible. In Canada, where arranged marriages between citizens of the country of Indian or other Asian origin sadly are still commonplace, we should not judge too harshly those who seek any way to escape repressive regimes.
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