Golden Passports, Citizenship and Identity in Wartime

As a dual citizen hanging out with polyglots, each holding multiple passports, I can attest that identity is a complicated thing. It’s never adequately captured by checkbox lists—from age and gender to race, religion, occupation, or even citizenship. Just take a look across Europe now.

On one corner, Ukrainians are fighting heroically to maintain their distinct national identity against Russia, whose despot denies they have one.

Some of the defenders speak Ukrainian as their first language, others Russian or something else. The elderly used to be citizens of another entity, the Soviet Union. But now their allegiance is to Ukraine.

Right next door is the European Union. It is a confederation that recognizes overlapping and thus ambiguous levels of identity and citizenship, including a European and a national level.

In addition, many of its members have historically been quite relaxed about granting citizenship to outsiders, provided they had money.

In exchange for large investments, these foreigners were given “golden passports”.

The EU never liked these systems and saw them as mechanisms to evade taxes or do other monkey business. That is why it has relied on countries like Bulgaria, Cyprus or Malta to end this practice. Since the attack on Ukraine, the EU has started to crack down. She fears that EU gold passports bestowed on Russian oligarchs or Kremlin cronies – which grant them all the rights of other Europeans – could undermine the sanctions imposed on them.

Last week, a study by the European Parliament suggested that Ireland’s Immigrant Investment Program – which grants residency to non-EEA nationals in exchange for qualifying investments – could be a backdoor for tax avoidance. Ukraine and the EU are bookends on a complex issue.

People acquire multiple citizenships for all sorts of reasons.

In the run-up to Brexit, some Brits remembered an Irish grandmother to get an Irish and, more importantly, an EU passport. Many descendants of German Jews or other victims of National Socialism exercised their right to become German citizens. Every day immigrants are naturalized in many countries.

Other binationals, like myself, fall between jus solis (Latin for “right of the soil”) and jus sanguinis (the “right of the blood”), as creepy as that term may sound now. This means that we automatically received one citizenship through our place of birth and another through our ancestry.

Sometimes these twists of fate are blessings that give people more choices in life. Other times they’re banes, as for so-called “accidental Americans” — those who were born in the US but lost touch with the country as babies or children, and often don’t even speak English.

And yet, because of America’s peculiar tax system – which is based on citizenship rather than residence – they face a nightmare of compliance paperwork and are often barred from financial services in their home country.

However, even at the extreme, citizenship is seldom as problematic as lack thereof.

Millions of people around the world – Palestinians, Rohingya, Kurds and others – are stateless. Their sense of identity is just as strong. But without the right papers, they often live in limbo.

Historically, the idea of ​​citizenship has changed so much that the concept seems almost arbitrary.

It originated in city-states like ancient Athens or Thebes to describe the rights and duties of wealthy non-enslaved men. But during the Middle Ages the term all but disappeared. Identity and reputation were instead based on a person’s feudal class—such as peasantry, clergy, or aristocracy. When the idea of ​​citizenship returned in modern times, it was again based on a covenant between a person and a state. The former were given rights, but also duties.

Even so, citizenship rarely fits well with slippery notions of identity. If you had lived an interesting life in the 20th century, you could have owned papers issued by Austria-Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina — all the while being identified as Serbs, Croats, or something else. Latin Americans, German Turks, French from Algeria. More and more identities in the modern world are hyphenated and therefore complex.

This is true even for people with only one citizenship – especially if they are “Army Brats” or children of expats.

Raised in countries other than the one named on their passport, such ‘third culture children’ tend to hover between contexts, often feeling detached but also displaying unusual flexibility and tolerance. Many feel more at home with other cosmopolitans in a nation than with their own compatriots.

For some people who clearly feel rooted in their country, fluid identities can be provocative.

The multinationals, in turn, resent the taunts of their compatriots who they don’t see as “real” Americans, Germans or whatever.

The reality is that identity and loyalty are highly individual and subjective.

Part of freedom is choosing our communities and allegiances. And part of tolerance is respecting those choices. In the modern world, these choices are sometimes confusing, sometimes clear. Just ask the brave Ukrainians who are fighting for their country right now. Golden Passports, Citizenship and Identity in Wartime

Fry Electronics Team

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