I recently read this article in the Japan Times regarding a change in the citizenship law of Canada. While the laws of Canada are of little practical importance to me, I’ve pondered the matter of citizenship somewhat.
First of all, citizenship seems important to Americans. By which I mean USAmericans, but I could imagine that Canadians feel the same since, after all, they look, walk, and talk like Americans. I suppose that if the country you’re born in only has a short history and no common ethnicity, and the common language is the most widely spoken in the world, then citizenship would be a defining characteristic for people of your country.
For most Swedes though, I suspect it’s not that important. Being Swedish, I feel, is more closely associated with speaking Swedish. If you’re born in, say, the US and are a US citizen but live in Sweden and speak near-fluent Swedish, then I most people will probably consider you Swedish. Or if you’re born in some poorer country and have migrated to Sweden, gained citizenship or at least permanent residency and speak good though heavily accented Swedish, I’d still consider you Swedish. You don’t have to eat fermented herring to be Swedish – I sure as hell don’t. I suppose the “Sweden Democrats” would not be as lenient, but the rest of the world’s Swedes are probably more sensible than they are.
I wouldn’t be surprised if I applied for Japanese citizenship good couple of years from now. For the “Japanese” though, me having Japanese citizenship and speaking fluent Japanese, living in Japan and paying the taxes, even eating natto for breakfast, wouldn’t make me “Japanese”. I don’t have a problem with that though. Anyway, it’s clear that being Japanese is very important for the Japanese, but citizenship isn’t an important part of being Japanese – just look for instance at the recent Nobel Prize winner Yoichiro Nambu who was always referred to as “Japanese” in the Japanese media, even though he doesn’t hold Japanese citizenship.
Anyway, back to the article. One thing that hit me was that if citizenship is only automatically bestowed on the first generation of children of Canadians, wouldn’t it be quite easy to manage to not burden your children with any citizenship at all? If two Canadians who were born outside of Canada by Canadian parents had children in a country that doesn’t give citizenship to anyone who happens to be born there, then the kids wouldn’t automatically have any citizenship, right? It would suck not to get a passport (why don’t countries allow people in without a passport anyway? what’s so special about carrying a passport?), but I suppose the possibilities of escaping taxes and bureaucracy would be good.
In the end, I think this citizenship business is taken too seriously. It would make more sense to me if people were citizens of the country in which they live, and it should also be easy for anyone to change citizenship. That would eliminate much of the need for dual/multiple citizenship as well, since you could easily regain your old one if you decided to “move back”.
I’ve read that in order to naturalize as a US citizen you need to answer a couple of questions correctly, and one of them is “What is the most important right granted to US citizens?”, to which the correct answer is “the right to vote”. I have never voted in a political election in my life and I don’t intend to start, so you might correctly infer that that answer sounds pretty stupid to me. I guess the most important right granted to Japanese citizens is that they don’t have to go to the immigration office to renew their “reentry permit” every three years, and the police don’t have the right to demand that they identify themselves without being suspected of a crime.