(Originally sent to Fukuzawa, ISSHO, and Friends Wed, 27 Nov 1996, revised slightly July 18, 2002.  Articles comparing recent developments for naturalization into other countries added starting from March 2007.)

Fellow Fukuzawans:

One thread that petered out before time and good evidence was: "just how difficult is it to naturalize into Japan?" This is a cornerstone to the "assimilation" theme that so many of us long-termers here hold dear, so let's lay it to rest.

As fate would have it, I ran across a great article in the Daily Yomiuri's "Overseas Newspapers' Weekly Summaries" feature, and it spurred me on to run down to my local equivalent of the INS and inquire about the Japanese requirements for becoming a citizen.

Summaries of both follow. You decide for yourself which country is more difficult to naturalize into.


Source: Daily Yomiuri, Friday Nov 22, 1996, Page 15-16

Originally printed in the Washington Post.


YOU MUST: (after appearing in person at any one of the US's 33 district offices, and meeting with INS interviewers):

1) pay $95

2) have lived in the US for five years (does not indicate consecutive years, and my wife was able to maintain her Green Card status if she appeared stateside once every 2 years to renew)--or three years, if married to a US citizen.

3) be of good moral character (i.e. no felony convictions)

4) be of sound mind (interviewers judge that)

5) speak and understand English (requirement waived if elderly or disabled)

6) pass a test indicating an understanding of American history and ways.

And that seems to be it. Nothing here about financial status, having to change your name, minimum language ability so long as you can understand the interviewer (or are in some way incapacitated). Nothing about blood and soil at all.

But let's talk about the highest-looking hurdle--requirement number 6--the Test. What sort of questions appear on it? Well, each applicant gets a list *in advance* of 100 study questions, and gets asked around 12 of them at random. A passing evaluation goes like this:

"The would-be citizen can make a couple of mistakes, cannot be completely clueless...The whole process takes about 10 minutes...the Test produces a lot of unfounded anxiety...It's not an impossible or difficult thing. We're not trying to trick people. On the other hand, you can't come in and grunt two words and we rubber stamp you." (ibid)

A link to those 100 INS Questions appear here and again at the bottom of this html. Take the test yourself and decide how hard it is.

Now for Japan:


I went down to the local Ministry of Justice (Houmu kyoku) and sat down for an hour with an official. At first, he talked at me as if I were a child, and about very private things. When he started interrogating me about my parents' marital status I interrupted: Hang on. This is immaterial--all I want are the bare bones of what it takes to qualify, not whether or not *I* personally qualify, for citizenship. He nodded, hitched up his politeness level, and gave me the beef:


a) have lived continuously (hiki tsuzuki) at Japanese addresses for five years

b) be over twenty years of age "in terms of mental and legal capacity" (20 sai ijou de honkokuhou ni yotte nouryoku o yuusuru koto)

c) behave well (sokou ga zenryou de aru koto)--and they do check--my dictionary even has the word "sokou chousa" (personal conduct survey) in it

d) demonstrate the means to support your family

e) be willing to relinquish the citizenship of your native country once Japanese citizenship is granted

f) respect the Japanese Constitution (i.e. don't plot against or advocate destroying it, or associate or join a group or political party which does)

(extenuating circumstances for the above considered if the applicant is married or related to a Japanese)

Fine. Most of the above are typical "we don't want just anybody naturalizing" types of conditions, used to weed out candidates in the US as well. But wait, there's more! For Japanese naturalization, you must go through three rounds of paper chase:


In my case, bring in:

1) Birth Certificate (shussei shoumeisho) and Proof of Citizenship (kokuseki shoumeishou)--ask your country if they will give you some proof other than just your passport. Passport will do in a pinch.

2) Overseas family documents: Marriage Certificate of your parents overseas (fubo no kon'in shoumei)--including divorce and remarriage papers. Adoption papers (youshi engumi no shoumei) if you were adopted or had your name legally changed. Papers showing relations to siblings (kyoudai kankei), or lack of siblings if available.

3) Domestic family documents: your own Marriage Certificate, Birth Certificates for children, spouse's ward registration form (koseki touhon) and ID papers (mibun shoumeisho), police records (keisatsu shoumeisho), death certificates (shibou shoumeisho), and your gaikokujin version of your ward registration form.

Why all this information? Because if you become a Japanese, you have to complete a ward registration form (koseki touhon) like any other Japanese, and this sort of information matters. Whether or not you are a bastard child, whether or not you are the eldest son--these things affect your legal standing in this society. Still, if documents are legally unavailable from your country, waivers are possible.

Next, if they say you qualify, go to:


Fill out:

1) Naturalization Permission Application Form (with picture)

2) Outline of your overseas relatives (shinzoku no gaiyou). This includes names and addresses of all members of your immediate family (including those of members that may be inaccessible after divorce).

3) A list of all your addresses since birth (called a "resume"--rireki sho). Note that this is even more thorough than a US govt security check, which would want all your addresses for the past ten years. I asked about transient years--college rooms and dormitories etc--and he said to the best of my memory would be fine.

4) Japanese documents: ward registration forms for all members of your Japanese family as far as the parents stage. Proof of Residence Form (juumin hyou) for your spouse.

5) Your gaijin card with history of where you've lived for the past five years in Japan.

6) An outline of your livelihood (seikei no gaiyou). I forgot to ask for more details on this.

7) Proof of your employment (zaikin shoumeisho)

8) Proof of your earnings (gensen choushuu hyou)

9) Tax records from the local tax office for your family and business (to show you've paid)

10) Records, contracts showing your land ownership and house ownership

11) Snapshots of your family, home, and workplace

Got all that? Now...


Applications take about one year to a year and a half to process (sumo wrestler Konishiki took quite a bit longer than that).

The fee is free (except for the cost of all the documents, which at around 300 yen a pop will add up). Fortunately, it could be worse: there are no taxation stamps (shuunyuu inshi) to buy, and all translations of overseas documents can be done by nonofficial translation agencies, such as yourself.

I then asked about "acculturation requirements"--like the US INS Test--or minimum language ability. The official said that there is no test on Japanese history, culture, and the like. Minimum language ability is about third-grade level (shougakkou sannensei) for reading and writing ability, and basic conversation level would do. I would pass, he said.

However, there must be a demonstrated level of assimilation on my part. Who are my Japanese friends and how many do I have? What kind of house interior do I have? Do I get along with my neighbors? (There are occasions when they come and ask them, he said.) Nonsarcastically, I asked him too quantify a minimum level of "Japanization"--if I had to wear a yukata and geta during off-hours, if I had to be able to eat nattou, if I had imported a Canadian prefab house would I be invalid?, etc.

He laughed (once you make a bureaucrat laugh, magic happens), and said none of that was really necessary. But any inspection of my lifestyle should not inflict upon the officials any sense of incongruity (iwakan), whatever that meant. I guess that if we weren't practicing some American form of suttee or female circumcision with the inspectors looking on, we'd be okay.


If citizenship is granted after a year or two, you will be issued the proper documents for citizenship and passport, and be given a document (in Japanese) to put your seal on (not sign), saying "I give up my American citizenship and take Japanese citizenship exclusively".

Bring your gaijin passbook, inkan, documents, and driver licence, and do what they say. Choose a name in kanji (with legal Japanese readings) and/or kana, and that's it. You are a Japanese citizen. Congratulations. You've burnt your bridges.

However, there is a loophole (for US citizens anyway--can't say for others). Dual citizenship is now possible in the US (I checked with the American authorities), but not in Japan. But there are possiblities:

1) As long as you do not commit treason (serving in another country's armed forces, espionage), you cannot be forced to give up your US citizenship without expressly requesting it in writing. So as long as you do not SIGN anything, a Japanese document is not legally enforcable in the US. Whether or not a seal qualifies is an issue for the lawyers to get rich from.

2) The onus of telling your native country of your naturalization is on you, not on the Japanese government. So after you get your citizenship, you get statement-of-intent forms to send to your former government. Send them off yourself. Once you get an answer back from the US govt revoking your citizenship, take it to your ward office. I said that the US government could take years deliberating over it--won't that affect my Japanese rights and privileges in the interim? No, it would not, the official said.

This is a rather large game to play, but mum's the word.

(2002 Addendum, about this "keeping mum" business:
The author became a Japanese citizen in October 2000. It became clear that as far as the USG and probably most European countries go, they will not squeal and let the GOJ know you have dual nationality. I can't assure you of the same for governments intolerant of their citizens taking out a second passport (Germany, South Korea, China, Viet Nam, etc), so check with your embassy.

Anyway, as long as you live a reasonably quiet life, you can probably hold both. The author,
a rather outspoken activist, was essentially threatened by the US Consulate Sapporo with cats out of bags for pursuing a US-Japan military human-rights issue a little too closely. So he gave up his US passport. However, this is not an indicative case by any means, so I say go for both if you really want to live in Japan permanently.)


So which country do you think has the more difficult procedures for naturalization? Granted, both the US and Japan will do background checks to make sure you are of sound mind and sound finance. The documentation for the Japanese side may seem extreme, but I'm sure that there is a paper chase in the US as well (fill out Form XYZ, fill in Form PDQ) that were not mentioned by the Washington Post. Immigrants, please fill us in if you know.

Besides, this degree of documentation in Japan is not unusual for Japanese--most of the public documents listed above are needed for a goddamn driver's licence! Moreover, the information required for ward registration may be rather thorough (even impossible to get from overseas), but as it is required of all Japanese citizens, that's that. Those are the conceits of the law here.

However, in the US most of these (financial support of spouse, no criminal records, oath of allegiance, etc.) are taken care of at the visa stage . The US conditions listed in the Washington Post article apply at the permanent residency stage (Green Card there, eijuuken here), while in Japan, even with an eijuuken, you've got to show more about yourself: Snapshots of my home and family? Suitably Japanized home? Ability to make friends and get along with the neighbors? Even the Japanese I've talked to are surprised at this degree of Third-Degree.


So let's talk about proclivity. I asked the Japanese official whether or not large numbers of people naturalize every year through Sapporo. He said plenty do (but inexplicably declined to give numbers), and not all of them ethnic Koreans and Chinese. But after peeking at my Japan Almanac (which has no stats for naturalization), I resorted to an independent source to find that 11,146 persons naturalized into Japan in 1994 (see http://www.issho.org/immnat.html).

But in America, things are radically different. Enough people pass the Test and get through the paper chase--over one million this year alone, according to the Post, demonstrating to me, at least, that it's not all that bad. Proof and pudding: according to the above Washington Post article, the equivalent of the TOTAL NUMBER OF ALL FOREIGNERS IN JAPAN (just over one percent of Japan's population) naturalize into the United States recently EVERY YEAR. Or, according to the US Census Bureau, 1300 would-be immigrants every day enter America (Daily Yomiuri, Nov 25, 1996, p.3). That means that America absorbs all of Japan's annual intake of foreigners in just over a week!


This is not a statistic to ignore. Just about *every single American* here reading this html has or has ancestors who went through a version of this process--my Polish great-grandparents in the 1910's, and my British dad in 1972. On the other hand, practically NO Japanese can claim this background, indicating a great deal about assimilation. If you're not born it, you have to claim it. Not all that many do.

But anyway, my point is this: this should all come as no surprise. Obviously, Japan is going to be far behind accepting foreigners legally, given what we know about Japan's history, constant refusal of refugees and active export of illegal immigrants, and social attitudes towards strangers in general. And even more so when compared to the US--the US is the real outlier in the world when it comes to absorbing extranationals. (Anybody else want to give me more information about other countries?)

We all know that. But enough Fukuzawans were questioning whether it is actually easy, or even possible, for a foreigner to take Japanese citizenship. The answer is that it is in fact possible. But it ain't easy.

Dave Aldwinckle (now Arudou Debito)

(on to those 100 INS Questions)

(For more information on naturalization into Japan and the author's naturalization experiences,
click here to go to the Naturalization Section of the Residents Page)


Canada's citizenship laws
Lost in Kafkaland
The Economist Feb 1st 2007 | VANCOUVER

When is a Canadian not a Canadian?

IN THE deathless prose of bureaucracy, it is known as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Adopted after the terrorist attacks of 2001, it requires all returning Americans, as well as citizens of Canada, Mexico and some Caribbean countries, to present a passport when entering the United States by air. Since many such travellers previously got by with a driving licence, it was dreaded by tourism officials in the countries concerned. But when it came into effect earlier this month, all seemed to go smoothly.

Except it didn't for several thousand Canadians who, when they applied for passports, discovered that their own country's bureaucracy had incomprehensibly stripped them of their nationality. Some of them have even become stateless.

Up to 20,000 people may have fallen foul of a little-known provision of the Citizenship Act of 1947. In some cases, their misfortune lies in having been born during the period when Canada did not recognise dual citizenship until the act was amended in 1977. Some are the children of war brides who came to Canada after the second world war. Others are “border babies” born in an American hospital because it was closer to their home than the nearest Canadian town. A third group are children of parents who moved to the United States for work and took out American citizenship. The law states that if any of these Canadians were living outside Canada on their 28th birthday (or 24th in the 1947 act) they would automatically lose their citizenship unless they filled out a form saying they wished to keep it.

One of many who knew nothing of this requirement is Barbara Porteous, a British Columbian born just over the border in Washington state. When she applied for a passport last July she was told she would first have to re-apply for citizenship. This would take three years, involve health and criminal checks and a C$125 ($106) fee. “It just blew me away,” she said. “I've been living here for 46 years and getting the Canadian pension for the past five years.”

Andrew Telegdi, a Liberal MP, dubs those affected “lost Canadians” and says they were deprived of their citizenship without proper notice. He is campaigning to reform the law. But like its Liberal predecessor, the current Conservative administration shows no inclination to do so. Diane Finley, the immigration minister, announced on January 24th that she had directed her department to resolve these cases as quickly as possible. That means about a year, her officials admit. It makes the complex immigration procedures at American airports feel like greased lightning.

Immigration minister downplays issue of lost citizenship, says only 450 cases
Mon Feb 19, 2007 6:49 PM, Courtesy of Yahoo Canada
By Alexander Panetta

OTTAWA (CP) - Fears that there are hundreds of thousands of so-called Lost Canadians unaware that they aren't actually citizens of Canada are exaggerated, Immigration Minister Diane Finley said Monday.

But the minister conceded that hundreds of such cases have been unearthed in the last several weeks amid the flood of passport applications prompted by new U.S. travel guidelines.

The government has already identified 450 people who were unaware that they're not actually Canadian citizens and is processing their files on a case-by-case basis, Finley said.

She said she relied on a rarely used ministerial power and granted instant citizenship to 33 such people.

"That's indeed a far cry from the hundreds of thousands - indeed the millions of cases - we're hearing about in the media," Finley told the House of Commons' citizenship and immigration committee.

But she admitted that there are problems because of archaic provisions in the country's pre-1977 citizenship laws.

Because those older laws have remained in effect for anyone born before 1977, people could unwittingly have lost their Canadian citizenship for a multitude of reasons.

For example, under the 1947 Citizenship Act children born in Canada were considered the property of their father and could automatically lose their status if he did. This applied even in cases where the father left the country for work-related reasons, took up another country's citizenship, and sent his paycheques to the family back in Canada.

Similar stipulations could strip the citizenship of children in border communities born in U.S. hospitals, or children born abroad whose parents failed to register their birth.

Now that the U.S. requires a passport for air travellers, the federal government is being besieged with requests by first-time passport applicants. Many of them are running into a nasty surprise.

"People are suddenly saying, "Oops - I always thought I had Canadian citizenship but I don't," Finley said.

She says her department's public hotline has received 692 inquiries since last month from people worried about the status of their citizenship. Of those, only 17 in fact did not have valid Canadian citizenship.

Finley said an even greater number have simply lost their proof of citizenship.

Liberal MPs on the committee rejected her attempt to downplay the extent of the problem and said continuing hearings will prove the true number is in the high thousands.

Jim Karygiannis cited Statistics Canada figures which he said indicated 50,000 Canadians fall under the category of so-called lost citizens.

"I'm saying to you that StatsCan has more reliable figures than you're giving us," Karygiannis said.

"I'm saying to you that you don't know what you're talking about."

One disenfranchised witness appearing before the committee also challenged Finley's numbers.

Don Chapman said there are 85,000 people like him in the United States alone, and that doesn't count his children who have also been deprived of their Canadian citizenship.

"We have barely started to scratch the surface," Chapman said.

He predicted the situation will get far worse in 2008, when new U.S. passport laws take effect at land border crossings.

"Just wait the next two years. This is an explosion waiting to happen."

Chapman wants to move back home from the U.S., where he has lived since grade school. But he won't do it without his Canadian citizenship and has been fighting with the government to get it back for 30 years.

The 52-year-old airline pilot was born in Vancouver as a seventh-generation Canadian, the self-described descendent of one of the Fathers of Confederation, and son of a Second World War vet.

He lost his citizenship when, as a child, his family moved to the U.S.

"I am very proud of my roots and who I am," he said, wearing a Maple Leaf lapel pin to Monday's committee hearing.

"I would suggest it's time to look forward and correct these laws. We shouldn't go on witch hunts about who is and who isn't a Canadian."

Finley said she's not necessarily opposed to modernizing the Citizenship Act, but said she favours a quicker fix that will address individual cases as they appear.

"My immediate focus is on helping people who are caught up in this situation right now," she said. "Legislative change could take time and affected individuals should not have to wait indefinitely."

Liberal MP Marlene Jennings says recent horror stories have left her worried that perhaps she's not a Canadian citizen, even though she was born in Quebec. Only citizens can sit in Parliament.

"Oh my God, I just realized I might not be because I got married in 1974 in Canada to an Italian citizen and under Italian citizenship law, I automatically got Italian citizenship," she said.

"So I'm going to have to call Immigration and Citizenship back."

Citizenship for sale

Pledge of allegiance
Feb 1st 2007
From The Economist print edition

Buying citizenship is surprisingly easy

WADS of cash, obliging bureaucrats, and an urgent need for fresh travel papers are a connection that in most countries is dealt with by the police. But there is a respectable end to the trade. In most rich countries a hefty investment brings a visa that can eventually turn into a passport: $500,000 typically secures an American “investor visa”. For the British equivalent it is £200,000 ($392,000). But three countries—Austria, and the Caribbean island states of St Kitts and Dominica—have refined the process further, offering citizenship, in effect, for cash.

For the typical respectable applicant, a rich person from a poor country who wants to avoid hassles with visas, it looks tempting. Awarded to foreigners who provide scientific, artistic, cultural or economic benefits (ie, investment), an Austrian passport—which requires neither prior residence in Austria, nor any knowledge of German—allows visa-free entry to 125 countries and territories; St Kitts and Dominica allow entry to more than 50, including Britain (but not America). Compare that to 25 mostly poor countries for Indian passports. Customers may also be people from countries such as America, whose citizenship may expose them either to terrorism, or to the tax authorities.

Austrian officials say their scheme is rarely used (though statistics are secret) and strictly policed. Applicants have to prove they are making an extraordinary contribution to Austrian life and cases are carefully assessed, says an official at the Ministry of Economic Affairs: “It's not just a matter of handing money over and getting citizenship. It's a really tough process.” St Kitts also emphasises the cleanliness of its 24-year-old system, which has accepted fewer than 500 applicants in total. “There have never been any abuses,” says Shawna Lake of the island's government.

But the right advice can oil the wheels even in the most squeaky-clean system. Henley & Partners, a consultancy, offers to “liaise with the various government agencies and ministries, and then prepare and lodge your application”. Informal approvals from the agencies and ministers concerned, it advises, should be gained before the investment is made.

Few would want to impugn the integrity of Austrian officialdom, which issues, Christian Kälin, a lawyer at Henley & Partners, estimates, only a few dozen such passports each year. Caution is particularly advisable given the way that the passport business has gone awry in other countries. Grenada and Belize sold citizenship widely and unwisely in past decades. In Ireland, a scheme under which 107 passports were issued proved in some cases to have enriched a disgraced former prime minister, the late Charles Haughey.

When that was exposed, it embarrassed some new Irishmen. Having joined what was once termed the “Rolls-Royce of passport programmes”, they achieved unwished-for prominence in the press. The late Mahmoud Fustok, a Saudi diplomat with ties to that country's royal family, organised Irish passports for 15 of his relatives. In 1985 he paid Haughey 50,000 Irish pounds (about $100,000 today) for an investment, he later told a judicial inquiry, in a horse whose details he couldn't remember. That's one way of putting it.

Heading for the exit
Jan 30th 2007
From The Economist Intelligence Unit ViewsWire

Record numbers of Moldovans want Romanian citizenship
Romanian officials have reported a surge in recent months in the number of Moldovans applying for Romanian citizenship. By some estimates, up to 800,000 Moldovans have now begun that process. Given a total Moldovan population of only around 3.2m (excluding the break-away region of Transdniestr), this is a worrisome trend—particularly as an estimated 600,000 Moldovans already work abroad. Fears that Moldova could just empty out nevertheless overstate the case: many Moldovans merely see dual citizenship as an insurance policy or as a guarantee of hassle-free travel. However, the citizenship question is symptomatic of larger problems threatening Moldova's state-building efforts.

The willingness of Moldovans to seek Romanian citizenship en masse is at least partly explained by their country's extremely close cultural and linguistic ties with its larger western neighbour. Moldova was even a part of Romania proper during the inter-war years—a history that explains why Moldovans can take out Romanian citizenship, as well as the emotive rhetoric that frequently surrounds the passport issue. Even mainstream political parties in Moldova can be heard talking in terms of "restoring" Romanian citizenship rights, the deprivation of which they feel represents a historical injustice.

Cultural or historical explanations nevertheless only go so far. According to a recent opinion poll, a feeling of "being Romanian" motivates less than 15% of those seeking dual citizenship. Instead, the vast majority of passport seekers are merely expanding their options in the face of poor economic prospects at home. For them, Romania—which is now an EU member, albeit the poorest one—offers far greater hope. Another key consideration for many Moldovans is the potential ability to travel more freely or to simplify their search for temporary employment in the EU.

Numbers unclear
The recent surge in passport applicants nevertheless comes as a surprise, given that Romania's EU accession had long been foreseeable. Two factors appear to explain it—new Romanian measures to simplify application procedures and, somewhat paradoxically, sudden rumours that Romania would toughen citizenship requirements upon EU entry. By September, the Romanian consulate was reporting over 6,000 applications daily, up from the normal daily average of around 50.

It is still unclear how many applications are now in the works. Although some estimates suggest that a total of up to 700,000-800,000 Moldovans have applied for Romanian passports, a recent opinion poll suggests only half that number. The same poll nevertheless also reveals that almost half of all Moldovans are planning to seek Romanian citizenship. Moreover, Romania is likely to help them along: a number of draft bills currently before the Romanian parliament intend to simplify and accelerate the process.

Surge unlikely
Thus even if the more conservative estimates prove true, the number of dual citizens in Moldova is set to increase sharply in coming years. Until now relatively few Moldovans have received Romanian passports, including only 3,000 over the past decade and around 80,000 in the very early 1990s, before Romanian requirements tightened.

But neither Western Europe nor Romania should expect a corresponding surge in Moldovan migrants. For one thing, Romania stands little chance of processing so many applications quickly. Even under the accelerated procedures that were due to be in place by end-2006, less than 20,000 citizenship applications can be processed annually, although this could rise as more resources are devoted to the task and procedures simplified.

Even more importantly, the potential for any surge in migration is reduced by the simple fact that those Moldovans who want to work abroad are most likely already doing so. With roughly 600,000 migrants sending 30% of GDP home in remitted incomes every year, Moldova is possibly already the most remittance-dependent country in the world. Moldovans, it seems, will go abroad with or without Romanian passports.

For the most part, Moldovans have waited neither for the legal cover that a passport can provide, nor have they been dissuaded by the high costs often associated with securing passage to the West. Thus even though Romanian passports can substantially reduce the costs involved, their proliferation will not necessarily be a catalyst for significantly greater migration. In fact, dual citizenship might actually convince some Moldovans to contemplate going home earlier, in the knowledge that they can head out easily again at a later date.

Insurance policy
An additional consideration is that many potential dual citizens are quite happy to remain in Moldova. Recent opinion polls suggest that only around one-fifth of passport applicants actually want to move to Romania, and that the vast majority of would-be Romanian citizens have no intention of leaving Moldova. They seek dual citizenship either as a way around stringent visa requirements or else as a form of insurance.

The widespread desire for some form of insurance is nevertheless a point of serious concern. It suggests that the Moldovan leadership has yet to inspire citizens with any sense of security. Moldovans appear to recognise that potentially unsustainable flows of remittances largely explain the economic growth achieved in recent years. They similarly see that their elites continue to rule for their own benefit and can barely deliver basic services. Not least, the protracted stand-off over the breakaway region of Transdniestr provides Moldovans with a daily reminder of their struggling state-building efforts. Ultimately, the sheer volume of Romanian citizenship applications hints at widespread fears that a stable, prosperous and law-abiding Moldovan state—or at least one that does not fall even further behind its neighbours—is by no means guaranteed.

Vicious circle
Convincing Moldovans not to seek Romanian citizenship is a difficult proposition. One obvious solution is for the EU to accelerate, and even to expand, the long-promised liberalisation of its onerous visa requirements. Ideally, the EU would also give Moldovans a clearer prospect of one day joining the club. However, political concerns will keep the latter possibility off the table indefinitely, while continuing to impede progress on the visa front.

Alternatively, the quality of governance in Moldova needs to increase sufficiently for Moldovans to feel that they no longer need to look elsewhere. The concern, though, is that Moldova is caught in a vicious circle. As long as Moldovans can hitch a ride with Romania, they are unlikely to feel very committed to, or invested in, their own state-building efforts. With voters not clamouring for more effective policies, Moldova's leaders are unlikely to shape up.

Romania's passport policies are nevertheless hardly the root of Moldova's problems. Instead, the proliferation of Romanian passport holders in Moldova is arguably a symptom of the larger problem of insufficient commitment to the notion of a Moldovan state.

Although the overwhelming majority of Moldovans favour the idea of an independent Moldova, they also possess Romanian, Russian, Ukrainian and (perhaps most of all) Soviet identities. This fact has long hampered Moldova's post-Communist transition: in contrast to the experience of the more nationally minded new EU members, Moldovans have lacked even a rudimentary consensus over the need to rejoin Europe or to build a prosperous, independent state. Faced with little pressure from below, Moldovan leaders have seen little need to deliver. Recent trends suggest they are unlikely to be held more to account in the future.



Heading for the land of the free
May 18th 2006 | AMSTERDAM
From The Economist print edition

A noted critic of fundamentalist Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, says she will leave the Netherlands for the United States after a row about her asylum status

SOME Americans believe that Europeans have lost the desire to defend their values against extremists (especially those of the ultra-Muslim variety). The news from the Netherlands this week appears, at first sight, to confirm their fears.

The European career of one of fundamentalist Islam’s best-known critics, a member of the Dutch parliament who was born in Somalia, ended on May 16th with a dramatic but dignified public statement. Faced with the cancellation of her Dutch citizenship because of untruths she told when she sought asylum in 1992, Ayaan Hirsi Ali announced that she would head for the more congenial atmosphere of America. Dutch politics will not be the same without her: she has been a charismatic standard-bearer of the political right. She has also lived with continual death threats ever since her close friend, Theo van Gogh, was murdered in 2004 after making a film (for which she wrote the script) that used graphic images to denounce Islam’s attitude to women.

Her farewell to the Netherlands was delivered with a well-judged mix of emotion and political skill. She said she had entered Dutch politics in 2003 because she wanted to highlight the oppression of immigrant women not just by their host country, but by their own religion and culture. She “wanted politicians to grasp the fact that major aspects of Islamic doctrine and tradition, as practised today, are incompatible with an open society.” Summing up her work, she said she had contributed to a transformation of the Dutch debate on culture and faith, a claim nobody would deny. As she prepares to take up a post with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank, admirers may feel that, for a second time, she is getting asylum from a hostile society.

Yet seen from close up, it is not quite that simple. She was not forced to leave the Netherlands because she had criticised Islam and its treatment of women. What triggered her move—or hastened one that was already planned—was a television documentary that highlighted some awkward facts about her past which were already mostly in the public domain, and had certainly not been denied by her. On arrival in the Netherlands, she lied about her age and name, and gave (as she puts it) a partially fabricated story to boost her asylum claim. But she still insists that she came under duress—fleeing an arranged marriage to a cousin from Canada who made a deal with her father.

In any case, the scandal over the circumstances of her arrival prompted Rita Verdonk, the immigration minister—a fellow member of her centre-right party—to tell her starkly that she must consider herself “not to have received Dutch nationality”. That may not be the same as an instant expulsion order, but it led to Ms Hirsi Ali’s abrupt resignation from parliament. Less than 24 hours after the most famous Dutch immigrant had announced her emigration, parliamentarians of all stripes held an all-night sitting to urge the minister to back off, but it was too late.

In truth, life had been getting harder for Ms Hirsi Ali for some time. Last month, a court ordered her to leave her apartment, at the behest of neighbours who feared for their own safety. Without parliamentary immunity or security guards paid for by the state, her life in the Netherlands could have become very dangerous indeed.

Lying behind Ms Verdonk’s decision are two changes in the Dutch mood since fears over the compatibility of Islam and liberal democracy reached a peak in 2004. On the one hand, voters appear to like the strict, zero-tolerance migration controls which the minister, a candidate for her party’s leadership, has pioneered. On the other hand, more now accept the need for “multiculturalism” of the kind Ms Hirsi Ali abhors as a price for social peace.

Would it be right to conclude, therefore, that Europeans are incorrigible appeasers of fundamentalist Islam? Jonathan Laurence, a professor at Boston College, argues that America may be an easier place than Europe to be either a Muslim or an anti-Muslim. The State Department has scolded France, on civil-liberties grounds, for keeping Muslim headscarves out of schools. When the European Court of Human Rights upheld Turkey’s (even stricter) curbs on the headscarf, that was a disappointment for American libertarians. So Europe can be tough; what it lacks is a robust culture of free speech and free personal behaviour.

Back to the Cover Page

"The Community" Page

Go to the "Residents Page"

Go to the "Activists Page"