Central Europe Online http://www.centraleurope.com/ceo/special/czam.html
November 7, 1997
Czech-American Dual Citizenship Issue Heats Up
by Deirdre Brennan
Since the fall of communism in 1989 the Czech Republic has been working hard to emerge as a leader in Western European integration. For the most part, the country has received high marks for its movement towards a market economy and its implementation of democracy. This is attested to by its recent invitations to begin negotiating membership in both the NATO military alliance and the European Union.
However, as far as the former Soviet-bloc country has come in implementing basic human rights for its citizens, it still has many tangled issues from its past to sort out.
One of these issues is the Czech government's denial of citizenship for thousands of Czech-Americans. Unlike Czechs living in South Africa, Canada, Australia and other countries, who fled from either the Nazi or communist regimes, Czech-Americans are the only group of former Czech nationals being denied the return of their citizenship.
The dual citizenship issue was dragged out from under the rug this week by the Christian Democratic Union - Czech People's Party (KDU-CSL), which announced it is backing the introduction of a dual-citizenship law.
According to KDU-CSL head Miloslav Vyborny, the new law would allow for tens of thousands of Czechs living abroad to take part in elections as well as apply for property restitution.
Although the announcement of the party's support for a dual citizenship bill is the first some people have ever heard of the issue, many Czech-Americans have been tackling it for years.
Jirina Fuchs, volunteer coordinator for the Los Angeles based International Association of Czechs For Dual Citizenship, Restitutions and Voting Rights (IAC), has been lobbying hard to obtain Czech citizenship for the 30,000 Czech-Americans now living in the United States.
She explains that according to a now defunct article in the 1928 Treaty of Naturalization between the United States and Czechoslovakia, all Czechs who fled their homeland, either to escape Nazi persecution or communist oppression, and became naturalized U.S. citizens after May 7, 1957, automatically lost their Czech citizenship.
Fuchs, who began investigating how to reclaim her Czech citizenship after the fall of communism in 1989, initially thought that the obstacle lay with the U.S. side, not the Czechs.
However, after numerous inquiries to the U.S. government, Fuchs found out some startling news. According to a letter she received from the U.S. Office of the Vice President in the spring of 1994, the problem "stems from the Czech, not the U.S. government$B!D(B" The letter goes on to say that the U.S. government is "exploring the best and most efficient way to initiate termination of the (1928) treaty."
This past August the treaty became ineffective in-line with a clause stating that it could be terminated one-year from either party's notice, which the U.S. government gave in September of 1996. However, Fuchs is quick to point out that the treaty is not retroactive and therefore is basically "useless" for exiled Czechs.
Fuchs is not the only one crying foul in the dual-citizenship issue. According to international human rights watchdog the Helsinki Commission, the fact that many Czech-Americans are denied Czech citizenship is in direct conflict with the United Nations International Agreement on Civic and Political Human Rights.
While the Czech Republic, with the support of some key U.S. Senators, clambers to gain support for the country's admission to NATO, the IAC is using the occasion to make itself heard.
In a recent letter to U.S. Senators, U.S. President Bill Clinton and Czech President Vaclav Havel, Fuchs calls attention to three things she would like to see before the U.S. Senate votes to ratify the Czech Republic's NATO membership: the return of Czech citizenship; the right to property restitution for people regardless of their citizenship; and the right for all Czech citizens to take part in elections, even when abroad.
Although she does support the Czech Republic's bid to join NATO, she would like to see its admission postponed until the IAC's demands are met.
"We, the Czech-Americans deprived of all our human rights in our native Czech Republic, all support the Czech entry into NATO," reads the letter. But it goes on to say that that members of the IAC "fully expect (the U.S. Senate) not to guarantee Czech entry into NATO until the Czech government" meets all its demands for dual citizenship, voting and property restitution rights.
Next week Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus travels to Washington to boost Prague's bid for NATO membership. A statement from Klaus' office says " the main aim of the visit is to confirm the position of the Czech Republic as a dependable Central European country which is prepared to fully undertake its responsibilities connected with membership in the North Atlantic alliance."
Although it is unclear whether or not Klaus will address the issue of dual citizenship for his former countrymen, one thing is certain, thousands of Czech-Americans will be watching closely to see if their beloved native land will finally welcome them home.
For more details, see: http://www.columbia.edu/~js322/czech.html