Foreigners aiming to become Croatian citizens will have to recite solemn pledge



Bruno Konjević / HANZA MEDIA

Illustration: Three types of Croatian passports - Diplomatic, Service and regular

Planned amendments to the Citizenship Act change the criteria for becoming Croatian citizen, but also introduce a new pledge ceremony, to be performed during select public holidays.

"I pledge with my honor, as a Croatian citizen, to comply with the Constitution and the laws, and respect the legal order, culture and customs of the Republic of Croatia." This is the solemn oath a foreigner granted the right to the Croatian citizenship will have to give on the occasion of a specific national holiday in order for the citizenship to be confirmed.

The swearing-in will be organized at least once a year in cities, counties and offices of the competent Croatian authority abroad. Details of the procedure — such as the provisions on which particular officials will be authorized to conduct it, and whether it will be a public act — will be prescribed by the Ministers of Interior and Foreign Affairs in a special rule book.

This is just one of the novelties in the draft of the new Croatian Citizenship Act that the Ministry of the Interior has submitted to public debate.

Demographic imports

One of the main reasons for amending the existing Act, as stated in the introduction to the draft, was the initiative of Prime Minister Andrej Plenković towards a reaffirmation of the Croatian émigrés, with the view to "help resolve the demographic issues through the easier process of obtaining citizenship for [Croats] abroad and Croatian émigrés".

In this context, the children of Croatian émigrés can now request Croatian citizenship if their parents did not do so for them. According to a provision of the draft of the amended law, the émigré status is held by Croatians who left the country before 8 October 1991, that is, before the Sabor adopted the decision to "rescind the state-legal relations with the SFR Yugoslavia". Specifically, a person born abroad with at least one parent who was a Croatian citizen at the time their birth will be eligible for citizenship by the age of 21. The current law sets the age at 18.

The generational limitation for descendants of émigrés and their spouses is to be abolished. Under the existing law, the right to citizenship is limited to the third generation (i.e. grandchildren of Croatian citizens), while the new draft proposes the eligibility for any degree in direct Croatian ancestry. Another proposal is to abolish the condition that a candidate speak Croatian and be familiar with the culture and sociopolitical organization.

Proving eligibility

Members of the Croatian nation who wish to prove their national affiliation with documents, activities in the protection of the rights and interests of the Croatian people, or participation in Croatian cultural and other societies, will be barred from applying for citizenship only in the case of security considerations. Such proof will not be necessary for persons whose parents' affiliation has already been established beyond doubt.

Gaining citizenship will also be easier for foreigners who have started and completed university studies in Croatia, inasmuch as they will no longer have to have proven residence in Croatia for at least 8 years before application. Sufficient will be 18 months upon completion of the study.

The deleted

The problem the draft does not address, but has been raised by Ombudsman Lora Vidović, is the status of persons who have resided in Croatia for a long time, or even since the birth, but nevertheless do not have the citizenship. They are mostly ethnic Romani and Albanians, but some are also members of other ethnic minority groups. The Ombudsman has stressed that main obstacle is the provision stipulating that a person must have the officially established and granted permanent residence in order to be eligible for citizenship. The new draft contains the same, unchanged provision.

As Ombudsman Vidović warned the Ministry of Interior last June, the issue of citizenship for non-Croat persons tied to Croatia by long residence with the returnee status, or by having lived in Croatia their entire lives, has a also been mentioned in reports of the European Commission Against Racism (ECRI). Given that the procedure of acquiring citizenship for non-Croat nationals differs from the procedure for persons of Croat ethnic affiliation — stresses the Ombudsman — the ECRI has called for the necessary measures to be taken to address the problem.