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Cut Loose in Europe

Thousands of Moldovans could find themselves stranded after losing Romanian citizenship in a bureaucratic snafu.

by Diana Frumosu 17 March 2017

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I’m Diana, a 23-year-old student enrolled in a master’s program in Italy. After I graduated high school in Moldova, my home country, I decided to continue my studies in Verona. Like many Moldovans, I also have Romanian citizenship, which simplified the admissions procedure for a bachelor’s degree, since that made me a citizen of the European Union (Moldovans now have visa-free travel to the EU, but the country is years away from membership). This is my fifth year of studying in Italy, but in the meantime, I’ve also been on a year-long exchange in Poland, and I’ve worked in Prague for another year, thanks to my Romanian citizenship.

 

Excited to take my final exams in January, I was planning to look for a job in Italy, but a bureaucratic detail has now turned everything upside down. My Romanian passport expired in October and I cannot be issued a new one because I do not have a certificate of Romanian citizenship to prove my status. Theoretically, I am no longer a Romanian citizen – or I have never been one, as some officials say – and my stay in Europe as a Moldovan cannot exceed three months if I don’t have a residence or work permit.

 

Thus, after almost five years of living in Europe, I might be forced to go back home to Moldova or hope that the Czech authorities will issue me a residence permit on the basis of my father’s EU citizenship. And I’m not alone facing this problem. Even though there isn’t an official number, based on the investigations and estimates of Moldova.org, a news and information portal, there are thousands of people in my situation.   

 

IasiIasi, just a few miles from the Moldovan border, is the largest city in eastern Romania. Photo by Argenna/Wikimedia Commons

 

Not only is the issue embittering Moldovans toward the Romanian bureaucracy, but a mess about citizenship harms the image of Romania itself, and is a potential tool for the pro-Russian part of Moldovan society who wants to move closer to the East. Newly inaugurated President Igor Dodon, a socialist known for his pro-Russia stance, has not made it a secret that neither Romania nor the West are on his priority list. 

 

In fact, one of his first acts as head of state was to cancel the Moldovan citizenship of Traian Basescu, president of Romania from 2004 to 2014, on the grounds that it was issued illegally, and that Basescu is promoting the reunification of Moldova and Romania, thus denying the authenticity of Moldovan statehood. And, during a February visit to Russia, Dodon expressed his regret that the Russian Empire did not annex a larger part of Moldova from Romania in 1812: “Had the Russian Empire not stopped at the Prut river, our country would now be whole,” he said.

 

The failure to solve the issue regarding our Romanian citizenship would allow Dodon to say Romania – and, by extension, the European Union – don’t much care about Moldovans, so why should we care about them.

 

Citizens with an Expiration Date 

 

The current problem is a few years in the making. “Since 2015, when discussion about Romania joining the Schengen Area started, Romanian authorities have become extremely cautious regarding identity documents,” Constantin Codreanu, a new Romanian parliamentary deputy, told Moldova.org. One of the results was a legal amendment made in February 2015 that required Moldovan parents applying for Romanian citizenships to attach a separate request for their children.

 

Previously, children were automatically granted citizenship if their parents received it, with no additional procedure or documents required. However, the certificates of citizenship issued to the adults did not include the name and surname of their children. Unfortunately, the authorities decided to apply the new rules retroactively, and without taking into consideration the consequences this bureaucratic revision could have.

 

Accordingly, a new requirement was introduced for the issuance of a passport: citizens that reside abroad are asked to present a certificate of citizenship. All those people from the above-mentioned category cannot be issued a new passport, even though they would have a valid or expired Romanian passport at the time of application, an ID number, and a Romanian-transcribed certificate of birth.  

 

After an increase in the number of cases last year, and after the issue grabbed headlines in Moldova, Oxana Greadcenco, the executive director of Moldova.org, requested a response from some of the institutions and officials involved. The General Directorate for Passports (DGP) from Bucharest replied, saying that an expired passport is not proof of Romanian citizenship. However, the National Authority for Citizenship (ANC) confirmed that this amendment gives too much room for interpretation, and that it challenges the right of these citizens to obtain new identity documents.

 

Some hope for the resolution of the problem appeared last June, when Florin Constantinescu, the co-president of the Common Commission for European Integration of the Parliaments of Romania and Moldova, declared during a visit to Moldova that he will investigate the problem and will find a solution with the relevant ministry, or will propose an emergency ordinance, which gives the government the right to adopt new laws in urgent situations.

 

Later in September, Mihai Ghimpu, leader of the Liberal Party in Moldova and a well-known unionist, sent an open letter to the then prime minister of Romania, Dacian Ciolos, calling for an emergency ordinance. However, there was no progress in the resolution of this issue before the December elections.

 

In the meantime, passports have continued to expire, some have sued the decisions of the DGP, and some have applied for Romanian citizenship.

 

The most dramatic consequences face the Moldovans that arranged their lives abroad as Romanian citizens, and whose passport issues now prevent them from working or studying legally.

 

Somehow, “we’ve all became citizens with an expiration date”, as Victor Girbu, another victim of this bureaucratic chaos, told Moldova.org.

 

Light at the End of the Tunnel?

 

With a new parliament in place after the Romanian elections, things finally seem to be moving. Constantin Codreanu, a Moldovan citizen and member of the Romanian Chamber of Deputies, decided to take the matters into his own hands after being elected chairman of the Commission of the Romanian Communities Living Abroad. In January, Codreanu invited a range of ministries and relevant offices to discuss the issue and find a possible resolution. All those present agreed that the law must be changed to recognize those stranded abroad as Romanian citizens, even if their parents never requested citizenship for them. The Ministry of Justice is supposed to take the next step.

 

But two months later, we are still waiting.

Diana Frumosu is a second-year master’s student of international relations at the University of Bologna, Italy.

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