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The politics and economics of the Soviet Union caused large numbers of people to be transplanted from one region to another, for example:

  • The Crimean Tatars were deported to Central Asia;
  • Ethnic Russians were encouraged to settle in Estonia;
  • Dissidents of all stripes were exiled to Siberia.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, on what basis, then, was citizenship granted or withheld for each of the fifteen new republics?

My reading suggests that, at the time of writing, all the post-Soviet states grant citizenship primarily on the basis of blood (jus sanguinis), and not birthplace (jus soli). That's all well and good, but, for example, there was no independent Kyrgyz state before 1991. Logically, one cannot grant citizenship on the basis of blood, without an existing stock of citizenry from which to start. One could, of course, in the case of Kyrgyzstan, start off by granting citizenship on the basis of ethnicity, but ethnicity is always difficult to nail down precisely. Do you get citizenship on the basis of a Kyrgyz-sounding surname?

I'm especially interested in the case of persons of Russian descent with a connection to Central Asia. What boxes would such a person need to check in order to be granted citizenship of one of the Central Asian republics?

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    The question is interesting, but the supposition about Kirghiz republic is utterly wrong: Kirghizia, officially the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic, was one of the constituent republics of the Soviet Union (USSR) from 1936 to 1991. I suspect that the other supposition about post-Soviet citizenship based mainly on "blood" is also wrong. What does blood mean here: tongue? place of birth of parents? pre-Soviet ancestry? Russian speakers are citizens of all new republics, Ukrainian, Armenian speakers etc of many of them. – cipricus Oct 17 at 16:55
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    it is not your main focus, but some Russians in the Baltic States ended up stateless. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russians_in_Latvia#Citizenship It was not nice, but Latvia had legitimate concerns about property confiscation and redistribution to russians under soviet rule and with the russification policy itself. With time their position softened somewhat, as wiki says. – Luiz Oct 17 at 17:28
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    @cipricus. национальность is literally "nationality". It is an established term in Marxist terminology. It refers to what we would call "ethnicity" and is not the same thing as "citizenship". – fdb Oct 17 at 17:38
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    Racist or not, citizenship by blood is commonplace around the world. – Walter Mitty Oct 17 at 23:40
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    You're asking this on History, but this is very much an ongoing problem, with 6% statelessness in Estonia. – gerrit Oct 18 at 17:04
49

This question gets really complicated really fast. After the breakup, each of the former Soviet republics established its own set of laws, and then these laws were rewritten multiple times. The region also includes half a dozen unrecognized states (Transnistria, Artsakh, Abkhazia, Ossetia, DPR, and LPR) each of them having its own very original definition of citizenship.

I'll try to give a general answer, but if you need to investigate a particular case you should probably ask a much more specific question.

Citizenship in the Soviet Union

USSR had uniform citizenship for all republics and a common passport for all its citizens.

Article 33. Uniform federal citizenship is established for the USSR. Every citizen of a Union Republic is a citizen of the USSR. The grounds and procedure for acquiring or forfeiting Council citizenship are defined by the Law on Citizenship of the USSR. When abroad, citizens of the USSR enjoy the protection and assistance of the Soviet state.
Consitution of Soviet Union, 1977

Republics had to respect the law of the Union and their constitutions usually reflected that:

Статья 31. В соответствии с установленным в СССР единым союзным гражданством каждый гражданин Казахской ССР является гражданином СССР. ... Граждане других союзных республик пользуются на территории Казахской ССР одинаковыми правами с гражданами Казахской ССР.
Article 31. According to uniform union citizenship established in the USSR, every citizen of Kazakh SSR is a citizen of USSR. ... Citizens of other union republics on the territory of Kazakh SSR have the same rights as the citizens of Kazakh SSR.
Constitution of Kazakh SSR, 1978

So, the citizenship of a republic was vaguely defined and didn't mean much. For example, one didn't have to apply for a new passport to migrate from Tajikistan to Lithuania. There were other bureaucratic hurdles, though.

Identity documents in the Soviet Union

The Soviet Union had a concept of residency permits (see, propiska). This means that Soviet people had to notify the authorities and receive an inscription in their passports to be allowed to move to another city, even if both cities are in the same republic. The requirements differed from city to city and could be very complicated at times. As a result, every Soviet citizen had a verified physical address written in their passport.

USSR also issued other types of IDs like birth certificates and employment record books (obligatory for all working people).

Also, the ethnicity (natsional'nost') was recorded in the passport. Some of the former republics still continue to record the ethnicity in official IDs and occasionally this can let someone fast-forward the immigration process.

Citizenship based on residency after the breakup

For the first couple of years after the breakup people continued to use Soviet IDs. It took a couple of years to implement a new legal framework.

Most of the newly independent countries accepted all permanent residents as citizens. To give an example from Central Asia, here's a law enacted in Kazakhstan ( On citizenship of the Republic of Kazakhstan, 1994):

3-бап. Қазақстан Республикасының азаматы болу
Мына адамдар:

  • осы Заң күшіне енгізілген күнге дейін Қазақстан Республикасында тұрақты тұратын;
  • осы Заңға сәйкес Қазақстан Республикасының азаматтығын алған адамдар
    Қазақстан Республикасының азаматтары болып табылады.

Rough unoffiical translation
Article 3. Belonging to the citizenship of the Republic of Kazakhstan
Those people are considered as citizens of Republic of Kazakhstan:

  • people who permanently live in the Republic of Kazakhstan at the day this law is enacted;
  • people who receive the citizenship according to the process established in this law.

So, the proof of residency (propiska) was enough to receive citizenship.

Soviet IDs were in limited use long after that. People were allowed to exchange Soviet passports until 1999 in Kazakhstan and 2004 in Kyrgyzstan (according to Wikipedia at least). I believe Soviet birth certificates can still be used in some exceptional cases (e.g. people who don't have any other kind of ID).

Ethnicity was never the requirement to receive citizenship, but many countries established a fast-forward naturalization process for people returning to their historical homeland.

Estonia and Latvia

As far as I can tell, of all 15 republics, only Estonia and Latvia refused to give citizenship automatically for all their residents. They only recognized people who lived there before the Soviet occupation in 1940.

Article 2. Possession of Latvia citizenship
Citizens of Latvia are:

  1. persons who were citizens of Latvia on June 17, 1940 and their descendants who have registered according to the procedures established by law, except persons who have become citizens (subjects) of another state after May 4, 1990;
  2. persons who have obtained the citizenship of Latvia through naturalization or another manner according to the procedures established by law;
  3. children found within the territory of Latvia whose parents are not known;
  4. children with no parents who live in an orphanage or boarding school in Latvia;
  5. children both of whose parents were citizens of Latvia on the day of birth of such children, regardless of the place of birth of such children.

Law of citizenship, Latvia, 1994

The rest of the residents had to go through a naturalization process to receive citizenship. The Law includes very detailed restrictions (Article 11, e.g. convicted criminals and former Soviet officials are excluded) and regulations (Article 12, e.g. citizen need to have a command of the Latvian language) for naturalization.

Conclusion

All former republics, except Estonia and Latvia, granted citizenship to all permanent residents willing to receive it. The Soviet Union was tracking people, so the residency was easy to establish.

"Ethnicity" (natsional'nost') was also easy to establish because it was written in a passport. I'm putting quotes here because natsional'nost' is a very rough version of ethnicity, e.g. people with multiethnic background didn't have an option to put multiple ethnicities in their documents. Anyway, ethnicity was never a basis or requirement to receive citizenship in former Soviet states. In some cases, ethnicity can help fast forward the immigration process, though.

Persons of Russian descent with a connection to Central Asia needed to have proof of residence to be granted citizenship in Central Asia and/or Russia. With enough dedication, it wasn't and it still isn't hard to receive citizenship in both countries. Cases like these are not unheard of, even in countries where dual citizenship is illegal.

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    Good answer. I think Lithuania did approximately the same as Estonia and Latvia, but can't find sources at the moment. The current law states that citizenship can be restored to people who were citizens before occupation, so possible the other points were also in effect in 1990+. migracija.lt/noriu-tapti-lr-pilie%C4%8Diu1 – Gnudiff Oct 18 at 15:04
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    @Gnudiff This was my first thought as well, but, every source I was able to find confirms that Lithuania didn't go with other Baltic states. Both in 1989 and in 1991 Lithuania granted citizenship to all permanent residents (see 1, 2, 3). Because of this Lithuania doesn't have a population of "non-citizens", unlike Estonia and Latvia. – default locale Oct 18 at 16:18
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    @Gnudiff No, Lithuania offered citizenship to all residents in 1991. The main reason was that Lithuanians were in clear majority, almost 80% of the population, and the biggest minority group (about 10%) were ethnic Poles from Vilna region, which was Polish until 1939. Denying them citizenship could cause unnecessary questions about the status of Vilnius. – jmster Oct 18 at 16:25
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    Follow up question: history.stackexchange.com/questions/61550/… – JonathanReez Oct 19 at 21:48
  • @Gnudiff I hope you don't mind a notification. Can you take a look at a follow-up question? – default locale Oct 19 at 21:53
14

Considering the statement "post-Soviet states grant citizenship primarily on the basis of blood, and not birthplace": the two shouldn't be seen in contradiction in this case. Jus sanguinis means transmittance of citizenship between generations. But as republican citizenship lost its importance after 1978 (see below) the place of birth or residence became very important, even after 1991 .


From this article: Nationality Laws of the Former Soviet Republics:

Traditionally, Soviet law acknowledged two-layers of citizenship. Soviet citizens were at the same time citizens of one of the union republics. Art. 21 of the 1936 Constitution of the URSS and Art. 1 of the 1938 Soviet citizenship law as well as Art. 1 of the new Soviet citizenship law adopted in 1978 incorporate the idea that in the USSR there was a single union citizenship and that each citizen of a Union Republic was also citizen of the USSR. Although necessary for ideological reasons, Republican citizenship had little practical relevance. This explains why the Union Republics did not issue any laws or decrees establishing the criteria for acquisition and loss of their nationality. Scholars have concluded that in the absence of laws, it could be inferred from Soviet practice that permanent (or habitual) residence seemed to be the decisive criteria for acquiring the nationality of a Union Republic.

Kirghizia, officially the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic, was one of the constituent republics of the Soviet Union (USSR) from 1936 to 1991.

Normally, after the disappearance of the Soviet Union and of Soviet citizenship, and with the independence of the previous union-republics, the citizens of each of these became citizens of the respective new independent republics. But, as Soviet-republic citizenship was not that significant per se, residence played a main role in establishing the post-1991 citizenship.

There are some differences between republics, too detailed to discuss here, see link above.


Considering the specific question about the Russian actress born in Kyrgyzstan in the 1960s:

Somebody born there in 1960 would have normally acquired automatically at birth the two-layered citizenship: the Soviet Union and the Soviet Kyrgyz one. The Russian nationality (ethnicity, mother-tongue) was not the criterion of citizenship. But if the parents of the child had other republic-layer citizenship (Russian, Ukrainian), the new-born would have had the same.

On the other hand Russian (Soviet or post-Soviet) citizenship could have been also acquired later in some cases.

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    Sorry, I couldn't find any evidence that "Soviet Kyrghyz citizenship" was a thing. Maybe you're talking about residency (propiska)? – default locale Oct 18 at 0:56
  • @defaultlocale - I have extended the relevant quotation from my source. It explains pretty clearly a transition from a two-level citizenship (before 1938) to a practical situation (after 1978) where the republican citizenship became identified with residence. – cipricus Oct 19 at 12:51
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    @defaultlocale - I agree that forced me to change a bit the scope of my answer. – cipricus Oct 19 at 13:07
  • Thank you, this is better, +1. But I don't think that USSR ever had two-level citizenship. The Constitution of 1924 already mentions federal nationality for four establishing republics.. – default locale Oct 19 at 13:52
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    @defaultlocale - I guess the phrase of 1924 Just one federal nationality is established for the citizens of the member Republics was explicated as the idea that in the USSR there was a single union citizenship and that each citizen of a Union Republic was also citizen of the USSR, as per my source, relating to later law. That clearly means a republican citizenship in some sense. But the formulation is rather confusing, maybe an intentional way of keeping formal republican citizenship while reducing its significance as much as possible. But each republic had its constitution too. – cipricus Oct 19 at 14:41
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I was born in Moldova (one of the former 15 republics of the USSR). After the break of the Soviet Union my parents (one was born in Russia, the other one in Ukraine) obtained the Moldovan citizenship as they lived in Moldova at that time of the break and owned real estate there. I got Moldovan citizenship as I was born in Moldova. Later on my mom got her Russian citizenship as she proved that she was born in Russia before the break of the Soviet Union, and my dad got his Ukrainian citizenship as he proved that he was born in Ukraine also before the break.

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In the Soviet Union every citizen had a "nationality", which was indicated in his or her identity card (internal passport). This could be Russian, or Ukrainian, or Kyrgyz, or Jewish, or any other. In principle, a citizen inherited the nationality of his or her parents; it did not depend on place of residence. If the parents were of different nationalities the children could chose between the two. After the breakup of the SU people retained the nationality indicated in their passport, regardless of where they were living.

Addendum. I reject the "corrections" made to my answer. The Marxist concept of "nationality" is not (completely) identical with "ethnicity".

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    This looks good. Do you have any sources? – K-HB Oct 17 at 13:37
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    @fdb - No matter the nationality, every Soviet citizen was also a citizen of one of the republics. The nationality might have been or not majoritarian in that republic, it was not what determined republic-level citizenship. A Polish national (speaker) might have been Soviet citizen and Russian Soviet Republic citizen (or SR Moldavian, or SR Ukrainian). The SR citizenships were the base for the post-soviet ones. The OP seems confused on the topic. – cipricus Oct 17 at 17:57
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    this "national'nost'" ie ethnicity had nothing whatsoever to do with citizenship i.e. "nationality" as understood in the West. – Genli Ai Oct 17 at 21:52
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    @cipricus using "nationality" to translate "national'nost'" is highly misleading and confusing. we could say "ethnicity"; some decades ago (?) they would say "extraction" or something. – Genli Ai Oct 17 at 21:53
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    @defaultlocale it's not nationality, it's ethnicity. I should have edited all of the occurrences in the post. they all should read "ethnicity". could you do the edit perhaps, please? and yes, this answer's subject matter has absolutely no relevance to the question. it's as if Americans were also registered as "Italian extraction", "Polish", "German", "Scottish", etc. etc. – Genli Ai Oct 18 at 11:42

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