Book reviews, Comments, Culture, In Focus

Weaponizing citizenship

Citizenship is still regarded by some as a neutral marker that arrives with birth, an equally bestowed dispensation, an act of inclusion that can be taken for granted.


Photo: Pixabay

Sean Sheehan


Maybe, once up a time, it was like this for everyone; it still is for some people in some countries.

A white person from the Netherlands -unlike someone from Somalia or Palestine- can travel to most parts of the world without giving a second thought to matters of citizenship.

Citizenship is a weapon in policing a boundary that serves to exclude those who are not wanted, often on grounds not of the colour of their passport but of their skin. Sometimes, as with Saudi Arabia, religion is used as a tool of exclusion; in the case of the Baltic states, ethnicity is the chosen method of control; and political beliefs can be  used to take away passports.

Citizens identified as communists had their passports taken away in the United States until well into the twentieth century; the Republic Ireland has the distinction of having deported one of its own citizens, Jimmy Gralton, from his own country because of his socialist convictions.

The significance and ramifications of the ways citizenship as a concept is used and abused are laid out in a small book in a useful Essential Knowledge series from The MIT Press.

The author, Dimitry Kochenov, points out how the EU and the US erect  visa walls to keep out those they do not want while at the same time criticising, on grounds of ‘dignity’ and ‘equality’, Gulf states for their open systems of labour migration.

Meanwhile, thousands die in the Mediterranean, the English Channel and the Arizona desert trying to cross borders for a better life.

Territorial borders are governed by immigration procedures but citizenship borders are a different matter. It is not difficult to enter and settle in Dubai but acquiring citizenship is as difficult as getting Boris Johnson to tell the truth.

With the United States, if you settle there legally, which is no easy task, obtaining naturalization and becoming a citizen is relatively straightforward. Acquiring citizenship for children can be difficult. A child born to a Colombian couple abroad cannot obtain citizenship until asked for by the parents. Samoa is under the sovereignty of the United States but a child born there is not an American citizen.

Latvia has its own category of ‘non-citizens of Latvia’ for about a third of its population, mostly those of Russian, Jewish and Ukrainian ancestry. Citizenship is in a precarious state in neighbouring Estonia for its Russian-speaking minority.

Liberland Citizenship Certificate. Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons License.

“Citizenship has always been racist in essence”, argues Kochenov, a claim supported by the Brexit referendum campaign.

It could not be explicitly stated but many of those who supported Brexit were voting for the exclusion of people on racial grounds. Kochenov finds some hope in human rights legislation to salvage the concept of citizenship but social justice is imperilled by many of the situations he outlines.

“Citizenship” by Dimitry Kochenov is published by The MIT Press

Share it / Compartir:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *