“Citizenship is the right to have rights” was famously claimed by Hannah Arendt. Te case of the ‘erased’ of Slovenia sheds new light on this assumption that was supposedly put to rest afer World War II. We lack a comprehensive paradigm for grasping what citizenship means today in and to our societies. My thesis is that there are currently three ways to understand the notion. These different views tend to merge and overlap in the today’s debate, furthering misunderstandings. I will account for different conceptions of the citizenship by looking at the opposite of citizenry. Te political model holds the subject (sujet) in opposition to the citizen (citoyen), entailing problems related to the democratic quality of institutions. Law and jurisprudence look at the citizenship by trying to limit the numerous hard cases arising in the world of migration where the opposite of the citizen is the alien and the stateless. While in social sciences the citizenship is the opposite of the exclusion and represents social membership. Therefore, my aim is to distinguish and clear out these three different semantic areas.
This essay is presented in four sections: First, I briefly recall the case of the ‘erased’ of Slovenia, which presents us with one of the more poignant examples of statelessness in the today’s world, so their status can be easily related to the problems that the aforementioned theoretical shortcomings entail. The ‘erased’ had their residency permits and by extension, civil rights as well, revoked by the Slovene government in the aftermath of the break-up of Yugoslavia. This erasure was ruled to be unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Slovenia but so far it has by and large remained only at that ruling, with little additional legal action, which has prompted complaints from the Ombudsman’s Office and Amnesty International. Tis issue is tied to some of the findings of Hannah Arendt, who claimed that human rights often proved to be ineffective when faced with significant numbers of people who were not citizens of any specific country. Although in the aftermath of WW2 measures to end this situation of statelessness were progressively taken by the international community, there are still cases of a legal vacuum where people could be deprived of their fundamental rights. And as long as human rights remain largely declarative and as long as there is a glaring lack of international agencies of judicial enforcement, we can claim that Arendt’s paradox of human rights has not been yet fully overcome.
The second section focuses on discourse analysis of the citizenship. There is no doubt that the citizenship nowadays represents a much broader subject than it did only a couple of decades ago, however, if anything, this has only caused its meaning to become more vague. Since the late 1990’s scholars have increasingly directed attention towards interdisciplinary perspectives covering the fields of politics, sociology, history and cultural studies that move beyond conventional notions of the citizenship, but the understanding of the citizenship itself often lingers on traditional assessments, characterised by clear-cut disciplinary divides. This disciplinary entrenchment has led to the effect of deepening misunderstandings, and attempts to bridge the divide between various perspectives facing increasing difficulties. So it becomes clear that we lack a comprehensive model for understanding the notion of the ‘citizenship’, and to remedy that, rather than simply asking “what is citizenship?” as that would give no clear answer, we shall ask what is opposed to the citizenship.
I will provide the answer to that question in the third section, where attention is directed to the composition of the three separate semantic areas that are connected to the term “citizenship.” These areas correspond to three separate figures of opposition: Te subject, the alien and the excluded, which form the foundation of three basic dichotomies (citizenship/subjecthood; citizenship/being a foreigner; citizenship/exclusion). And from this we can extract various meanings of the citizenship: in the realm of political science, ’citizenship’ means the ‘non-subject’; in legal science, ‘citizenship’ means the ‘non-alien’; and in social science, ‘citizenship’ means ‘non-exclusion’ from participation in the social network of a group. I shall focus on the structure, content and origin of these dichotomies, and also on the kind of problems they are trying to resolve.
Finally, I will point to an array of questions that the citizenship raises in the today’s complex society. Some of them deal with political rights of the Poles living in the UK, citizenship issues of the Russians in Estonia and the status of the Hungarian ethnic minorities in Romania, Slovakia and Serbia. Furthermore, we may notice an alarming surge of perverse effects that the customary legal perspective has on citizenship such as the increase of cases of statelessness and multiple nationalities, besides new phenomena such as the so-called “legal tourism.” On top of that, Europe is facing an increasing wave of nationalism and social integration issues, which come in wake of the general economic downturn, activism against the Bolkenstein directive and recent jurisprudence of the ECJ in the cases Rüfert, Viking Line and Laval. In light of all this we can conclude that citizenship studies require less ambiguous tools than those prevailing in literature. Te first step towards achieving this is to give up hoping for any understanding of “citizenship” that encompasses all the different meanings mentioned above. Te only way to take them all in is to use a very vague idea of “citizenship” that promotes unsuitable policies and no real solutions. So I suggest that we should rather focus on the tripartition scheme and discourse analysis discussed above, as they can be useful tools for decision makers so as to design as consistent policies as possible, and also for our shedding new light on transnational citizenship building and cross-state handling of status-related issues.
Klub Revus , 2009. Vol. 9, 29-44 p.
political, legal concept of citizenship, sociological concept of citizenship, human rights, the erased of Slovenia, stateless people, statelessness, right to have rights, legal status
Slovenian version transl. by Jernej Ogrin.