Don't trust the government's citizenship-stripping policy

Even if depriving dangerous individuals of their citizenship can be right in principle, can we really trust governments to use such a power prudently in practice?

Should British nationals suspected of terrorist offences or other serious international crimes be stripped of their citizenship? The British government thinks so. Over the past ten years, UK governments have passed legislation that makes it easier to strip citizenship from UK dual nationals when the home secretary deems their citizenship to be “not conducive to the public good”.

Now things have taken a more radical turn. In an amendment just passed by parliament, the government intends to extend denaturalisation powers to naturalised citizens even if it would make them stateless. This is no idle threat. No fewer than 37 UK nationals have been stripped of citizenship since the Conservative government came to power in September 2010, a figure that dwarfs the handful of people who lost citizenship when Labour was in power.

The moral case for such powers is easy to summarise. At first glance, it hardly seems right that an individual who threatens to destroy or undermine a society’s basic institutions should continue to enjoy citizenship of that society. If we presume —- as “contractualist” theories of the state would have it —- that the state is analogous to civil society associations, withdrawal of membership seems particularly appropriate. Virtually all organisations, from golf clubs to churches, have a recognised right to kick out members who set themselves at odds with the key principles of the association in question. We have a rich vocabulary to capture such procedures: associations “expel”, “excommunicate”, or “strike off the register” members who threaten their continued existence or basic norms.

The problem is that the state is not like other organisations, because individuals have no choice but to live under the authority and power of a state. If they are deprived of citizenship and made stateless, they continue to be subject to state power but without the basic protections against it offered by citizenship, including security of residence (protection from deportation), political rights, and a host of entitlements and privileges (including access to education and employment) often reserved solely for citizens.

It was for this reason that, in 1954, the US Supreme Court struck down a law which allowed the American government to take away citizenship as a punishment. Judging denaturalisation to be cruel and unusual, the court argued that “the punishment strips the citizen of his status in the national and international political community. His very existence is at the sufferance of the country in which he happens to find himself… [He] has lost the very right to have rights].”

Unequal treatment

Another concern is that laws to strip citizenship often apply only to some citizens. In the UK, for example, only naturalised citizens could lose their citizenship before 2002; after that, only dual nationals could (because only they would not become stateless). This means that under current British law, if a dual national and a single national commit the same offence (or more accurately, are suspected of committing the same offence), only the dual national could lose her citizenship. This kind of differential treatment undermines the fundamental concept of citizenship as a status with no gradations or rankings.

Even the British government accepted this idea when it introduced new denaturalisation legislation in 2002. Ministers argued, albeit somewhat disingenuously, that by making native-born British nationals (with a second citizenship) subject to the same denaturalisation powers as naturalised citizens, they were ensuring the equal treatment of naturalised Britons.

But even if denaturalisation powers were evenly applied to all, they would still be morally questionable. This is because it may be wrong to conceptualise citizenship simply as a “privilege” dependent on good behaviour. Long-term residents of a state (including those who entered illegally as children) have a moral right to be recognised as citizens based on the social ties and connections they have established in the course of their stay. As the political theorist Joseph Carens writes, there is “something deeply wrong in forcing people to leave a place where they have lived for a long time. Most people form their deepest human connections where they live. It becomes home.”

If social connections and ties constitute a reason for admitting people into citizenship, they are also a reason for not taking citizenship away once it has been acquired. We recognise this principle when we punish common criminals, who may well pose a threat to society, without withdrawing their citizenship.

An unjust policy

A different concern is that denaturalisation laws like the ones active in the UK are simply arbitrary, and for that reason unjust. Our legislation does not require that an individual be convicted of a crime in a court of law; indeed, one of the attractions of the current legislation for British governments is that it allows the home secretary to get rid of individuals without going through the difficult process of providing the evidence necessary for criminal conviction. To be sure, there is a statutory right of appeal, but given that most Britons are stripped of their citizenship when outside the UK, the chances for an effective appeal are minimal. Current laws define the grounds for deprivation so broadly that a successful appeal on the merits of a decision is highly unlikely.

If these moral concerns about stripping of citizenship fail to convince, there is one final and compelling reason why we should look askance at this power. Even if depriving dangerous individuals of their citizenship can be right in principle, can we really trust governments to use such a power prudently in practice? I think not.

Since the Conservative government came to power, they have denaturalised more people than any UK government since before World War II, and they now propose to extend powers so that even statelessness is not a bar. Initial government assurances that this power would be used sparingly and constrained by human rights considerations now seem risible. The key question supporters of denaturalisation need to ask is not whether it can in principle be right to strip citizenship (on that there may be room for debate), but whether it is wise to entrust denaturalisation to a government that has not hesitated to broaden the scope of its use

Matthew J. Gibney does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Home secretary Theresa May. Photo: Getty

Matthew J Gibney is Associate Professor of Politics and Forced Migration at University of Oxford.

Calvert 22/Courtesy of the artist, Danila Tkachenko
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Ruin porn: the art world’s awkward obsession with abandoned Soviet architecture

Deserted fairgrounds, disused factories and forgotten military bases may look cool, but are we fetishising the remnants of such a cruel history?

Armenia, where one side of my family is from, was one of the first members of the USSR, annexed by Russia in 1922. A few years ago, when I visited this little country that perches precariously in the south of the Caucasus, I was struck most by its Soviet architecture.

Although its landscape is a hotchpotch of medieval Orthodox churches, a smattering of Persian-era domes, and brutalist concrete, it was the latter that particularly stuck out. From unfelled statues of Stalin to giant tower blocks spelling out the letters “CCCP” from a bird’s-eye view (well, half spelt-out – construction stopped partway through, with the fall of the Soviet Union), I’ve never forgotten it.

Perhaps it was so compelling because such stark physical symbols make recent history all the more tangible. A history still profoundly affecting the country of my ancestors (and all post-Soviet and communist states). But also, it just looked really cool.


Mixed air corps, Mongolia. Photo: Calvert 22/Courtesy of the artist, Eric Losito

It’s a bit passé now to mock the hipster obsession with reclaimed industrial detritus, exposed pipes and bare concrete. An aesthetic – that of a post-industrial wasteland, but a chic one – which has gripped western cities for years, and crept worldwide.

But it could be this tendency to find disused stuff visually intriguing, and a morbid fascination with cruel regimes, which has led to the art world’s obsession with abandoned Soviet architecture. A whole wave of artists and photographers have been poking around the eastern bloc’s architectural graveyard in recent years.

Late last year, we saw the hugely popular disused Soviet bus stop series by photographer Christopher Herwig, echoing photographer Sergey Novikov’s equally absorbing collection of abandoned Soviet cinemas from 2013.

Following Russian filmmaker and photographer Maria Morina’s “Atomic Cities” project four years ago, London-based artist Nadav Kander explored the “aesthetics of destruction” in his exhibition, Dust, in 2014, snapping “radioactive ruins” of secret cities on the border between Kazakhstan and Russia. The same year, Moscow photographers Sasha Mademuaselle and Sergey Kostromin travelled to the disputed region of Abkhazia, capturing fragments of its deserted infrastructure.


Fighter aviation regiment, Mongolia. Photo: Eric Losito
 

And photojournalist Anton Petrus’ now iconic pictures of Chernobyl’s abandoned amusement park have long been an internet favourite, as have numerous haunting images of Pripyet – the city famous for lying deserted following the nuclear disaster.

Jamie Rann, a lecturer in Russian at Oxford University, has written that the quality and technical accomplishment of most of this photography make the style more “ruin erotica” than “ruin porn” (the tag being used by some critics), but argues: “The enormous online popularity of this genre . . . combined with their voyeuristic, almost exploitative feel, certainly has something porny about it.”

The latest exploration of Soviet society’s skeletons can be found at the Power & Architecture season at London’s Calvert 22 Foundation. In an exhibition called Dead Space and Ruins, we see abandoned military bases and formerly mighty monuments, forgotten space ports freezing in the tundra, the ghost of an entire unused, unfinished city in Armenia lying derelict.



The unfinished "ghost city" built in Armenia to house earthquake survivors (water added by artist). Photo: Calvert 22/Courtesy of the artist, Vahram Aghasyan

The works are beautiful, but do they feed in to this zeitgeisty lust for Soviet ruins?

One of its curators, Will Strong, laments this trend. “I was keen that this didn’t become like a kind of ‘ruin lust’, ‘ruin porn’ thing; this slightly buzzwordy term that there is at the moment, this kind of fetishisation of dead space,” he tells me.

“This history is incredibly loaded, and it did not end in 1991. To sort of fetishise it in the very bourgeois western way of, ‘oh yeah, look at all this wonderful Soviet architecture, isn’t it fantastic?’ Obviously a lot of people who lived in that time hated it . . . a lot of people were very miserable under these regimes, so it’s important not to forget that.”


Gym at the Independent Radar Centre of Early Detection, Latvia. Photo: Eric Losito

He adds: “It’s more a point of reflection on how buildings were designed, what their legacy is, what their narrative is, and who the people are who live with that story. This show looks at the aftermaths of when utopia hasn’t been delivered.”

This view is echoed by the Moscow artist, Danila Tkachenko, whose work is featured in the exhibition. “It is rather a metaphor for the future, not the past,” he says. “It represents an image of a possible future. When there is a visualisation of this issue [utopia], it evokes a response in people; they see this utopia in their lives . . . There is disappointment in all utopias.”


The world's largest diesel submarine, in Russia's Samara region. Photo: Calvert 22/Courtesy of the artist, Danila Tkachenko

His Restricted Areas series explores great behemoths of European communism left to lie forgotten in the tundra of remote regions in and around Russia and Kazakhstan: the world’s largest diesel submarine, like a beached whale in the snow; a giant satellite, thatched with antennae, built to communicate with Soviet bases on other planets some day; the deserted flying saucer-like communist headquarters in a region of Bulgaria. The structures hover in blank, white space, making the photos appear black-and-white.


Deserted observatory, Kazakhstan's Almaty region. Photo: Danila Tkachenko
 

Anton Ginzburg is an artist who grew up in St Petersburg in the Eighties as the Soviet Union was disintegrating. He believes studies like his film, Turo, of disused modernist constructions in the post-Soviet bloc, appeal to people’s connection to history. After all, picking through the architectural carcasses of former societies isn’t exactly a new thing:

“Russian culture is still haunted by its Communist past, and constructivist architecture is a decaying shell for its ghosts. It is an active reminder of the recent history,” he reflects. “Perhaps [its appeal] is a mixture of memento mori, with its thrill of beauty and destruction, along with a Romantic tradition of contemplation of Greek and Roman ruins.”

(Anton Ginzburg Turo teaser from Visionaireworld on Vimeo.)

The Power & Architecture season is on at the Calvert 22 Foundation, London, from 10 June-9 October 2016. Entry is free.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.