There is much terminological confusion in the study of citizenship statuses and laws. While public international law uses the term nationality to refer to the legal bond between an individual and a sovereign state, several domestic laws use the term citizenship or its equivalent. In some states, a distinction is made between nationality as a status independent of residence and citizenship as a bundle of rights granted only to nationals residing in the territory.
In most European languages, the term nationality can also refer to individual membership in a nation as a cultural, ethnic and historic community rather than a legal entity. Sometimes, nationality is also contrasted with nation when distinguishing dominant national groups from national minorities.
The concept of citizenship, too, has a broad range of meanings that stretch beyond its core as a legal status. In various academic literatures, citizenship presupposes the existence of democratic institutions of government and refers to a bundle of legal or moral rights and obligations or to individual and collective forms of participation in the public realm. While we acknowledge the importance of linking the literatures on citizenship as a legal status to these broader sociological and normative debates, we limit our use of the concept to its legal core meaning.
In the EUDO CITIZENSHIP observatory we generally use the terms citizenship and nationality as synonyms and in the narrow sense of a legal status linking individuals to a territorial political entity. Although this definition also applies to citizenship in territorial entities within states (which is formally recognized as a legal status in some federal constitutions), our observatory limits itself to analysing citizenship at the level of independent states and of the European Union.
The choice of different terms by countries may, however, be significant for interpreting their citizenship traditions and policies. We have therefore asked our network experts to provide us with translations of the terms citizenship and nationality in the official languages of their countries and to explain briefly how these are used in national legislation or public debates.
Click on the name of one of the following countries to see the relevant translation and interpretation of the citizenship/nationality terminology.
Albania – Austria – Armenia – Belarus – Belgium – Bulgaria – Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro – Czech Republic – Denmark – Estonia – Finland – France – Germany – Greece – Hungary – Iceland – Ireland – Italy – Kosovo – Latvia – Lebanon – Lithuania – Liechtenstein – Luxembourg – Macedonia – Malta – Moldova – Morocco – Netherlands – Norway – Poland – Portugal – Romania – Portugal – Slovak Republic – Slovenia – Spain – Sweden – Switzerland – Turkey – United Kingdom
In the Armenian language ‘citizenship’ (քաղաքացիություն ) and ‘nationality’ (ազգություն) are distinct notions. This distinction is also incorporated into the Armenian legislation. The Constitution and the Citizenship Law of Armenia use the term ‘citizenship’ to refer to the legal bond of the individual with the state and to the bundle of rights of citizens. ‘Nationality’ is used to refer to the ethnic origin of the individual.
Austrian law uses the term Staatsbürgerschaft, which refers both to the legal bond between the individual and the state (nationality) as well as the bundle of rights enjoyed by citizens (citizenship). Alternatively, Staatsangehörigkeit may be used to refer only to the legal status of nationality. Unlike some uses of the English term nationality, neither Staatsbürgerschaft nor Staatsangehörigkeit have any ethnic connotations. In public discourse, Nationalität is occasionally used as a synonym for Staatsangehörigkeit but may also refer to belonging to a nation as a cultural or ethnic community.
Shtetas and shtetësi (‘citizen’ and ‘citizenship’) are the legal terms used in Albania to describe the bond between the state (shtet) and an individual. These terms refer only to the legal bond between the state and a person, which establishes mutual rights and obligations, without reference to ethnicity. According to Article 1 (paragraph 1) of the Law on Albanian Citizenship, “The Albanian citizenship is a stable legal relationship which is expressed on the interrelated rights and duties between the physical person and the Albanian state.”
The term shtetas is sometimes used interchangeably with the term qytetar (citizen), where the latter has additional civic and political connotations. The latter term derives from the word qytet (city) and although originally it was used to distinguish city dwellers from the others, the term qytetar now is usually used to describe all legal subjects of the political entity (state).
In the legal terminology in Albania, kombësia (nationality) is used to designate the national belonging of a person, referring only to the ethno/linguistic affiliation and not to a legal tie. The term ‘komb’ (nation) is used to describe a nation as a whole (in ethnic terms), regardless of the state of residence.
Another important distinction is that between shtetas shqiptar (Albanian citizen) and shqiptar (Albanian) where the former refers to persons that have legal bonds with the Albanian state (regardless of the ethnic origin) and the latter usually refers to a person of Albanian ethnic origin.
Similarly to other countries of the former Soviet Union, the Belarusian legislator makes a distinction between the terms ‘citizenship’ and ‘nationality’. Whereas ‘citizenship’ makes reference to the legal bonds of the person with the state; ‘nationality’ is associated with the ethnicity of the person.
The term most commonly used in daily practice in Belgium when implementing the Code of Belgian Nationality, is nationality (nationalité/nationaliteit), and not citizenship. Citoyenneté often implies a reference to voting rights associated with European citizenship. In Flanders, the concept now also refers to the integration policy set up by the provincial government, starting from the early nineties, with a view to giving guidance to newcomers who apply for indefinite residence. In some cases this guidance is not just an offer, but is compulsory. The term used in this context is inburgering, which – when literally translated means ‘the process of becoming a citizen’.
Since after the Second World War Bulgarian legal texts have used the word гражданство (grajdanstvo), which is a direct linguistic equivalent of ‘citizenship’. Before then the word which was used was поданство (podanstvo), which was normally translated into English as ‘nationality’. Yet, поданство rather denoted being ‘subject to the monarch’, a concept which became obsolete with the abolition of the Bulgarian monarchy.
In Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, državljanstvo (citizenship) is a neutral term designating an individual’s link with a state (država) without any reference to ethnicity and is used in all legal documents. Nacionalnost (nationality) or narodnost (from narod, people) refers primarily to someone’s ethnic background. Therefore it is safer to use the term citizenship when one refers to someone’s legal status as citizen of a state instead of the ambiguous term nationality because of its clear ethnic connotations. Citizen could be translated both as državljanin and građanin and citizenship as državljanstvo but also as građanstvo. Very often državljanin and građanin are used as synonyms, although državljanin is primarily legal status whereas građanin has additional civic and political connotations. The same word also describes a resident of a city (grad). When it comes to citizenship, državljanstvo refers only to legal status; građanstvo is again related more to civic and political status and activities of citizens. Additionally, the term građanstvo could also, in a different context, refer to urban population or, nowadays rarely, to the upper urban classes.
In the Czech language, “nationality” can be translated as “státní občanství” (“Staatsbürgerschaft”) or “státní příslušnost” (“Staatsangehörigkeit”) “and citizenship” as “státní občanství” (“Staatsbürgerschaft”).
Legally speaking, “státní příslušnost” is a broader term than “státní občanství” as not only physical persons, but also legal persons and ships do possess “státní příslušnost”. From the semantic point of view, the two words have the same roots as in German. (However, it seems to me that the Czech language uses one term “státní příslušnost” for both the “Staatsangehörigkeit” and the “Staatszugehörigkeit”.)
The Czech nationality law is called “zákon o státním občanství České republiky”.
In the Czech language, the dilemma between the use of “nationality” and “citizenship” does not indeed exist. The term “státní příslušnost” can be used in the context of international or EU law. However, it is always correct to use “státní občanství” if we refer to physical persons.
In a specific context, we can also translate the term “nationality” as “národnost” (“Nationalität”), in which case it refers to an ethnic conception of national identity.
To sum up – the Czech case resembles the German one. It is not surprising. After all, basic elements of the modern Czech (Czechoslovak) statehood were established under the Austro-Hungarian rule.
For the legal bond between an individual and a state four different Danish words are used: ‘indfødsret’, ‘statsborgerret’, ‘statsborgerskab’ and ‘nationalitet’. Generally, the terms are considered synonymous. Still, their occurrence varies according to the context.
The Danish term ‘indfødsret’ is the traditional Danish term for the citizenship/nationality status dating back to the Act on Indfødsret from 1776; the term ‘indfødsret’ can be translated into Latin as ‘ius indigenatus’ and into English as ‘citizenship’ or ‘nationality’. The term ‘indfødsret’ has a clear legal connotation and is the most frequently used term to describe citizenship/nationality in Danish law. Normally, ‘indfødsret’ refers to Danish ‘indfødsret’. The term is used when describing rules for acquisition and loss of citizenship/nationality and rights and obligations conditional on Danish citizenship/nationality. The Danish nationality Act is called ‘Lov om dansk indfødsret’.
The Danish term ‘statsborgerskab’ (which can be translated into Dutch as ‘staatsburgerschap’ and into German as ‘staatsbürgerschaft’) may refer to Danish citizenship/nationality, but more often it is used in legal texts referring to citizenship/nationality as such – whether Danish or not. The term ‘statsborgerskab’ may occur in legal texts, including Danish translations of ratified international conventions etc.
Colloquially Danish ‘statsborgerskab’ and Danish ‘indfødsret’ are alike.
Traditionally, the Danish term ‘statsborgerret’ has been used more often than the term ‘statsborgerskab’. Still today, the term ‘statsborgerret’ is used in many legal texts, among others the Danish Nationality Act, referring to a foreign nationality (foreign ‘statsborgerret’). The term ‘statsborgerret’ is often used in Danish translations of international, European, Nordic and bilateral agreements, treaties and conventions; for instance in Danish, the European Convention on reduction of cases of multiple nationality and military obligations in cases of multiple nationality (1963) is called ‘Konvention om begrænsning af tilfælde af dobbelt statsborgerret og værnepligt for personer med dobbelt statsborgerret’ and the European Convention on Nationality is called ‘Europæisk Konvention om Statsborgerret’.
The Danish term ‘nationalitet’ is normally used to describe an attachment to a particular state, often in legal texts concerning foreign affairs, enterprises, aviation, navigation etc. Furthermore, the term is used in aliens law concerning a person’s origin, identity etc. (for instance in relation to extradition), and in community (based) law, especially concerning prohibition of discrimination on the ground of nationality.
It should be noted that the use of the four mentioned terms is not consistent, and that international texts applying the term ‘nationality’ may be translated differently in one and the same Danish document; illustrative of this is the Danish translation of the Convention of the Nationality of Married Women (1957) where article 15 of the UDHR is translated like this: everyone has the right to a ‘statsborgerskab’; no one shall arbitrarily be deprived of his or her ‘statsborgerret’ or denied the right to change his or her ‘nationalitet’.
Finally, it may be added that a fifth Danish term: ‘medborgerskab’ or ‘aktivt medborgerskab’ is used to denote the activity of being a ‘good citizen’.
In Estonia the term ‘nationality’ (rahvus) refers to ethnic origin only. There is no formal definition of this term in Estonian laws. In practice for most purposes ‘nationality’ of a person is based on his or her self-determination.
The permanent legal link between the state and an individual is described by the term ‘citizenship’ (kodakondsus). Most of relevant issues are covered by the Citizenship Act.
Furthermore, in Estonia the term ‘non-Estonians’ will refer to both citizens and non-citizens of minority ethnic origin. In general, in Estonia the terms ‘an Estonian’, ‘a Russian’ etc are the indication of a person’s ethnic origin.
In the Finnish language, both nationality and citizenship can be translated by one term, ‘kansalaisuus’. This term means a person’s membership in a state and is mainly a legal concept, although it also has a political connotation, as it implies a person’s ability to participate in societal activities. The dichotomy of the English language does not exist in Finnish: ‘kansalaisuus’ is the only possible translation of citizenship and the only possible translation of nationality, when nationality is used as a synonym to citizenship.
On the other hand, contrary to nationality in English, ‘kansalaisuus’ in Finnish has no reference to ethnic origin: the term used in this regard is ‘kansallisuus’, or, when nationality is used as a synonym to nation, ‘kansakunta’ or ‘kansa’, and these terms have nothing to do with citizenship. Since there are so many possible translations of nationality, it is more suitable to translate ‘kansalaisuus’ as citizenship which is more unambiguous in this regard.
In respect of legislative translation, it is noteworthy that the Ministry of the Interior has used both terms in its unofficial English translation of the Act in force: the term used in the sections of the Act is citizenship*, but the name of the Act, ‘kansalaisuuslaki’, has nonetheless been translated as ‘Nationality Act’. Accordingly, names of Finnish acts are translated with the term nationality in this report, although the term used in general is citizenship.
* See e.g. definitions in sect. 2: ‘For the purposes of this Act: 1) citizenship [‘kansalaisuus’] means a legislative bond between an individual and the State defining the individual’s status in the State as well as the basic rights and duties existing between the individual and the State […]’.
In the French context, nationality and citizenship are two distinct notions. Citizenship encompasses the rights and duties of members of the national polity. Nationality describes the modes of incorporation of individuals to this national polity, and the quality of who belongs to the French Republic. Both notions did not appear historically at the same time. A product of eighteenth Century Enlightment, citizenship was a key notion of the French revolution (i.e. the Declaration of the Man and the Citizen), and the 1993 Constitution (that was never implemented) made no distinction between foreigners and French nationals in the definition of citizenship. By contrast, nationality is a more recent category, and became a formal notion in the nineteenth century, pursuant to the rationalisation of the distinction between aliens and nationals that did not exist as such during the Ancien Régime. Nationality is defined by the Civil Code (after the supression of the Nationality Code in 1993). Citizenship is defined by the French Constitution.
If they constitute distinct notions, however, nationality has remained the condition to enter French citizenship. Debates about a possible separation between nationality and citizenship (on the basis of residence conditions) for durably settled migrants have emerged in the 1980s, for local elections (including the right to vote and to be elected). This separation was a proposition by François Mitterrand during the campaign of the 1981 presidential election. It has never been voted, despite a discussion on this matter again in the 2000s. Only EU citizens (art. 8 of the Maastricht Treaty) have gained some political rights of citizenship, with the right to vote to local and European elections. However, restrictions still apply to EU citizens as they are not allowed to run for some responsabilities at the local level, notably because they would hence be acting “in the name of the French people”. The hard conception of national sovereignty as the founding principle of French citizenship prevents from dissociating the access to the rights of the citizen and nationality as a sine qua non condition.
For the legal bond between an individual and a state the German term ‘Staatsangehörigkeit’ is used, which can be translated into English as ‘nationality’. This term nowadays mainly has a legal connotation, though when used in a different sociological context can also be understood as referring to ethnicity or cultural background.
When talking about the legal bond between an individual and a state, one can also refer to the term ‘Staatsbürgerschaft’. It may be translated as “citizenship”. This term, which is used less often, has a somewhat stronger political connotation than the term ‘Staatsangehörigkeit’ and may refer particularly to the substantial democratic rights and obligations related to the legal status. Thus, the concept of “Staatsbürgerschaft” describes the rights towards the State, which are derived from having its “Staatsangehörigkeit”.
The German nationality act is called Staatsangehörigkeitsgesetz and may thus be translated as nationality act.
Greek citizenship law is based on the principle of origin. Ius sanguinis, i.e. the automatic acquisition of the father’s citizenship at birth, irrespective of where the child was born, is already identified in the first article of the Code of Greek Nationality in 1856. The Greek term for citizenship is ithageneia. The term ithageneia is deeply entrenched in Greek history, as it refers to the comprehensive character of the orthodox genos. Differentiating between national and foreigner, the law of Greek citizenship draws, with regard to the individual’s descent, the additional distinction between members of the Greek-Orthodox genos, that is homogenis, and persons of different descent, of another genos, that is allogenis. This additional distinction between the two categories is under continual historical and political negotiation: the most exciting aspects of the history of Greek citizenship are related to this negotiation. In Greece, all combinations of the above-mentioned different meanings are possible. In the firm image of the Greek national homogenis, appears the revealing exception of the national allogenis, which refers to persons belonging to minorities in Greece or to naturalised foreigners. The rule of foreigner allogenis includes the exception of the foreigner homogenis, i.e. the Greek from the diaspora, who is either a member of a Greek minority abroad or an emigrant. The massive migration phenomenon in the country already at the end of the 20the century puts in the top of the agenda the major challenge of amending the citizenship legislation and relevant administrative practices in view of the migrant integration within the country’s political community.
The Greek term for citizenship is ithageneia. The term ithageneia is deeply entrenched in Greek history, as it refers to the comprehensive character of the orthodox genos. Differentiating between national and foreigner, the law of Greek citizenship draws, with regard to the individual’s descent, the additional distinction between members of the Greek-Orthodox genos, that is homogenis, and persons of different descent, of another genos, that is allogenis. This additional distinction between the two categories is under continual historical and political negotiation: the most exciting aspects of the history of Greek citizenship are related to this negotiation. In Greece, all combinations of the above-mentioned different meanings are possible. In the firm image of the Greek national homogenis, appears the revealing exception of the national allogenis, which refers to persons belonging to minorities in Greece or to naturalised foreigners
The Hungarian usage is relatively simple. “Állampolgárság” (citizenship) is a mirror translation of the German term Staatsangehorigkeit. This term refers to the legal tie between the citizen and the state. “Nemzetiség” (nationality) is used to designate the nationality affiliation of a citizen, but nationality in this sense refers only to ethno/linguistic affiliation and not to a legal tie. Most often “nemzetiség” is used to refer to minoritiy nationality status, the term is rarely, if ever used to designate affiliation to the majority nation.
The term ‘citizenship’ can be translated into Icelandic as ríkisborgararéttur. Furthermore, the term ríkisfang is used, but the words ríkisfang and ríkisborgararéttur are synonymous. Ríkisborgararéttur or ‘citizenship’ is, however, the term mainly used in the Citizenship Act no 100/1952, although the term ríkisfang is also used. The title of the act is lög um ríkisborgararétt, or the act on citizenship, and that has been the case since the first statutory act on citizenship in 1919. Therefore, when describing the legal bonds between the state and the individual ríkisborgararéttur would be the most appropriate term, particularly since the latter part of the word ríkisborgararéttur, (i.e.) ‘réttur’ means right, and the first part (‘ríkisborgari’) means citizen. Thus, a direct translation of the word ríkisborgararétturwould be ‘citizen’s right’.
In the Irish Constitution, the individual member of the State is referred to as a “citizen” but the status is referred to as “nationality and citizenship” (náisiúntacht agus saoránacht). From the legal perspective, the two terms relate to different facets of the relationship between the individual and “his” or “her” State. Nationality relates to the external (international) dimension, whereas citizenship relates to the internal (domestic) dimension.
The principal Act is as a consequence entitled the “Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956”. However, “citizenship” is generally used in the headings and the text of the legislation to describe the status. There are statutory provisions for the issue of “certificates of nationality”, the use of the word “nationality” in this context appears to reflect the fact that such certificates may be used as evidence of status in States other than Ireland.
Outside the narrow legal context, the term “citizenship” can also be used in the sense of political membership as well as in the sense of “good” or “active” citizenship.
The term “nationality” has also been used to denote Irish ethnicity (“Irishness”) and the idea of nationality in this respect was clearly extremely important pre-independence. The concept of “Nation” continues to be important in constitutional terms, to describe the collectivity of the Irish people. All citizens are entitled to be part of the Irish Nation.
In Italy, the most common term adopted to define the legal status is ‘cittadinanza’ (citizenship) but ‘nazionalità’ (nationality) can be used alternatively. In the political and academic debate the term ‘cittadinanza’ is mainly used when referring to civil, social and political rights, even if they are given to foreigners, while nationality implies a reference to a common ethnic background.
Shtetas and shtetësi (‘citizen’ and ‘citizenship’) are the legal terms used in Kosovo to describe the bond between the state (shtet) and an individual. These terms refer only to the legal bond between the state and a person, which establishes mutual rights and obligations, without reference to ethnicity. Article 2 (a) of the Law on Citizenship of Kosovo stipulates that “’Citizenship’ shall mean a legal bond between the State of Republic of Kosova and a person which establishes mutual rights and obligations.”
The term shtetas is sometimes used interchangeably with the term qytetar, where the latter has additional civic and political connotation. The latter term derives from the word qytet (city) and although originally it was used to distinguish city dwellers from the others, the term qytetar now is usually used to describe all legal subjects of the political entity (state). The term qytetar (referring to all Kosovar citizens regardless of their ethnic origin) is used widely in the Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo.
In the legal terminology in Kosovo, kombësia (nationality) is used to designate the national belonging of a person, referring only to the ethno/linguistic affiliation and not to a legal tie. The term komb is used to describe a nation as a whole (in ethnic terms), regardless of the state of residence.
The main term used when talking about citizenship and/or nationality is „pilsonība”. It is equivalent to German Staatsangehörigkeit; die Staatsangehörigkeit and French citoyenneté; nationalité. It has both legal and political connotation. The Law on Citizenship in Latvian is „Pilsonības likums”.
Apart from „pilsonība” there are two other terms which are used rarely. The differences are nuanced and not necessarily apparent even for lawyers. The most precise term for nationality is „valstspiederība”. It means that a person belongs to a certain State (valsts – State, piederiba – belonging). It is equivalent for German Nationalität; Volksangehörigkeit; die Nationalität. The term „valstspiederība” is rarely used, mostly in legal academic writings.
Finally, there is term „pavalstniecība” which is synonym to the terms mentioned before. It is an old term meaning that people are servants to a State. The word is used in cases when talking about monarchies.
The term that has come to denote citizenship in Modern Standard Arabic is jinsiyyah. As such, we find references to Lebanese citizenship (al jinsiyyah al lubnaniyyah) in all the most recent regulations of citizenship as well as in literature. The same term or its root appears also to describe acquisition or loss of citizenship (iktisab or sahb al-jinsiyyah), and naturalisation (tajannus). However, the previous designation of citizenship as tabi‘iyyah still features in the fundamental piece of legislation regulating Lebanese citizenship, the Ordinance of the French High Commissioner for Syria and Lebanon nr. 15/s of 19 January 1925. In its etymon, tabi‘iyyah stresses the idea of attachment or affiliation, whereas jinsiyyah the one of belonging to the same group or category (jins). In both cases the reference to the individual “citizen” is quite problematic, and legislative texts prefer the expressions “Lebanese” and “foreigner” to those of “citizen” and “non-citizen”.
In Liechtenstein the legal affiliation to a state is called whether „Staatsbürgerrecht“ or „Landesbürgerrecht“ (both terms are used in law), the legal affiliation to the municipality is called „Gemeindebürgerrecht“. The terms as they are used in Liechtenstein citizenship law do not only express the affiliation to the state and the municipality, but also refer to the rights and duties linked to these affiliations
For the legal bond between an individual and a state the Lithuanian term ‘pilietybė’ is used. This term is, as a rule, translated into English as ‘citizenship’ and not as ‘nationality’. E.g. the official translation of the respective national statute, ‘Pilietybės įstatymas’, is ‘The Law on Citizenship’ and not ‘The Law on Nationality’.
In Lithuanian, the term ‘pilietybė’ has (and always has had) a legal meaning. ‘Citizen’ is ‘pilietis’––the etymology and literal meaning of this word is ‘the resident of the castle’ (‘pilis’). Legally, ‘pilietis’, that is the citizen, is the one who is subject to civic duties such as military service and enjoys civic (political) rights such as electoral rights or the right to join the state civil service etc. However, when it is established in the Constitution and/or laws and/or international instruments such rights may be granted also to non-citizens; e.g., in municipal elections, electoral rights are enjoyed by all permanent residents of the municipality.
The English term ‘citizenship’ is always translated into Lithuanian as ‘pilietybė’, whereas ‘nationality’ is translated, depending on the context, either as ‘pilietybė’ or ‘tautybė’. The latter term means person’s belonging to ‘tauta’––this term is the Lithuanian analogue to ‘nation’, however, it means primarily ‘an ethnic nation’, that is a nation in the ethnic but not in the political sense of the word. Thus, ‘tautybė’ is ‘ethnicity’, or ‘nationality’, in the ethnic sense of this term; in the legal acts, it is used exclusively in this sense. Respectively, ‘tautybė’ would be usually translated, by a typical Lithuanian, as ‘nationality’, however, if one wants to emphasise the ‘ethnic’ meaning of ‘nationality’, it may be translated as ‘ethnicity’ or ‘ethnic background’ or ‘ethnic belonging’ etc.
Consequently, in the Lithuanian usage, is distinguished between the terms ‘lietuvių tauta’, that is ‘Lithuanian nation’ as an ethnic nation comprised from the people of ethnic Lithuanians, and ‘Lietuvos tauta’, literally ‘the nation of Lithuania’, that is ‘Lithuanian nation as a political community’ comprised of all citizens of Lithuania regardless of whether they are of ethnic Lithuanian or ethnic non-Lithuanian background. For instance, ‘lietuviai’, ‘Lithuanians’ (sing. masc.: ‘lietuvis’, sing. fem.: ‘lietuvė’), are ethnic Lithuanians even if they do not have Lithuanian citizenship, and ‘lenkai’, ‘Poles’ (sing. masc.: ‘lenkas’, sing. fem.: ‘lenkė’), are ethnic Poles even if they have Lithuanian citizenship (but those Polish citizens who belong to Lithuanian ethnicity would be still called ‘lietuviai’). Only in the last years this usage started undergoing certain transformation whereas the term ‘lietuviai’ has begun to being used not only in the ethnic but also in political (and legal) context as including all Lithuanian citizens regardless their ethnic background. In this respect, of certain significance was the 1993 address, by the Pope John Paul II, to Lithuanian Poles as to ‘Lithuanians of Polish origin’. Such approach where ‘being a Lithuanian’ involves not only one’s ethnicity but also his or hers belonging to the political community was consolidated in the official constitutional doctrine as elaborated by the Constitutional Court––the official interpreter of 1992 Constitution, whereby it was interpreted that although ‘Lithuanian nation’ is the nucleus of ‘the nation of Lithuania’, legally all citizens shall be treated as equals regardless their ethnicity. On the other hand, the Constitution also allows for distinction between different ethnic backgrounds: under the Constitution, ethnic Lithuanians, wherever they may live and whatever citizenship they may have, are indefeasibly entitled to settling in Lithuania, citizens belonging to ethnic minorities enjoy respective minority rights.
The Lithuanian term ‘pilietybė’ has also one more––albeit much weaker––connotation due to its linguistic proximity to the term ‘pilietiškumas’ which means ‘public spirit’ or ‘civic-mindedness’. In this sense, ‘pilietiškumas’ is related to performance of certain duties or other acts (behaviour) of civic virtue or profession of such attitudes. Thus, one does not have to formally be a citizen (‘būti piliečiu’) in order to show one’s ‘civic-mindedness’ (‘būti pilietišku’––‘to be civic-minded’), that is to perform such acts (behaviour) that shall be considered ‘civic-minded’ (‘pilietiškumo aktas’ or ‘pilietiškas elgesys’). Consequently, those foreign citizens who reside in Lithuania may still show their ‘civic-mindedness’ in their activities beneficial to Lithuania, as well as foreigners of Lithuanian ethnic background who do not have Lithuanian citizenship. The connotation is that being a (Lithuanian) citizen (‘buvimas piliečiu’) encompasses also the moral and political imperative to be ‘a good citizen’ (buvimas pilietišku’). Thus, citizenship (‘pilietybė’) is considered to be a legal, however not only formalistic, bond between the individual and the state (to the extent to which legal notions can be ‘not only formalistic’).
Државјанство-drzhavyanstvo (citizenship) is a neutral term designating an individual’s link with a state (држава-drzhava) without any reference to ethnicity and as such it is used in all legal documents and citizenship-related legislation. Националност-natsionalnost (nationality) primarily refers to someone’s ethnic belonging. Therefore the use of the term “citizenship” when referring to someone’s legal status as citizen of a state is preferable to the ambiguous term “nationality” because of its clear ethnic connotations in all of the South Slavic languages. “Citizen” could be translated both as државјанин-drzhavyanin and граѓанин-gragjanin. Often in legal documents as well as in the Macedonian Constitution државјанин and граѓанин are used as synonyms, although државјанин primarily implies a legal status, whereas граѓанин has additional civic and political connotations. The derivate term from граѓанин (граѓанство) is solely used to refer to an urban population (but with an outdated connotation). The adjectival form (граѓанско) is frequently used, denoting “civil/civic” (as in “civil society”). Граѓанин also describes a resident of a city (град/ grad).
The relevant Maltese legislation uses the terms ‘citizen’ and ‘citizenship’ rather than ‘national’ and ‘nationality’ in describing the bond between Malta and persons of Maltese descent or who have acquired this bond through registration or naturalisation. Thus, the technical legal term is ‘citizenship’ not ‘nationality’. However, nowhere in the legislation is there a definition of any of these terms.
The main legislation is the Maltese Citizenship Act and it regulates the acquisition, deprivation and renunciation of the ‘citizenship’ of Malta. Likewise the Constitution of Malta only speaks of the acquisition of ‘citizenship’ and the rights attached to ‘citizenship’. Although the terms ‘nationals’ and ‘nationality’ are also used in the Immigration Act and the Malta Citizenship Act, they are used in a non-technical and generic way to mean the provenance of a person rather than a status that gives specific legal rights.
The legislation of the Republic of Moldova uses the term ‘cetăţenie’ (citizenship) to describe the legal and political link between an individual and the state, a legal status that generates mutual rights, freedoms and duties between the individual and the state.
For example, Articles 17-18 of the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova on the citizenship of the Republic of Moldova and the protection of Moldovan citizens; the Law No. 1024 of 2 June 2000 on the Citizenship of the Republic of Moldova.
The Romanian word ‘naţionalitate’ (nationality) has a strong ethnical underpinning and remains a highly sensitive issue in Moldova. This situation can be explained as a reminiscence of the legal and political meanings invested in the term ‘nationality’ during the Soviet Union in order to distinguish fifteen ethnicities of the Union republics.
For example: The National Bureau of Statistics of the Republic of Moldova holds data on the resident population of the country by main nationalities (according to population census data), i.e. Jews, Gipsy, Bulgarians, Gagauzs, Ukrainians, etc.
Thus, legislation, policy instruments, political discourse and media in Moldova use the term ‘citizenship’ to characterise the legal tie between the individual and the state, his or her rights and obligations both within the country and abroad.
From an etymological point of view, the explanatory dictionary of the Romanian language discerns ‘cetăţenie’ (citizenship) as the legal condition (situation) of a person who is part of the permanent resident population of a state and who enjoys civil and political rights as well as bears certain duties to that state. While ‘naţionalitate’ (nationality) is the quality of an individual of belonging to a certain nation seen as a community that shares common language, culture, ethnic origin etc.
Nationality, in the meaning of the legal bond between an individual and a state, is expressed in the Arabic language by the word jinsiya, which expresses origin or descent (from jins: sex). Yet, the terminology concerning national belonging is based on watan (the nation), from which stem the adjective wataniy (national), the substantives muwatin (citizen) and muwatana (citizenship). The Moroccan law only refers to jinsiya, and not to muwatana, to express both nationality and citizenship. Also the term naturalisation (tajnis) is based on the word jinsiya and not on muwatana. When referring to a citizen, the law simply refers to a Moroccan person (al-Maghribi).
For the legal bond between an individual and a state the Dutch term ‘nationaliteit’ is used, which can be translated into English as ‘nationality’. This term nowadays mainly has a legal connotation, though when used in a different sociological context can also be understood as referring to ethnicity or cultural background.
When talking about the legal bond between an individual and a state, one can also refer to the term ‘staatsburgerschap’, similar to the German ‘Staatsbürgerschaft’. This term, which is used less often, has a somewhat stronger political connotation than the term ‘nationaliteit’ and may refer particularly to the substantial democratic rights and obligations related to the legal status.
The Dutch term ‘burgerschap’, which can be translated as ‘citizenship’, encompasses a sense of political belonging rather than a legal status and can also be used to denote the activity of being ‘a good citizen’.
The Dutch nationality act is called ‘Rijkswet op het Nederlanderschap’. ‘Rijkswet’ refers to the fact that this is a legal act for the whole Kingdom (‘Koninkrijk’ or, in short, ‘Rijk’) of the Netherlands, including the overseas territories. ‘Nederlanderschap’ refers to the status of being ‘Netherlander’.
The legal bond between an individual and the state is in Norway referred to as ‘Statsborgerskap’, close to the German term ‘Staatsbürgerschaft’. This terms is used strictly as a legal status, with rights and duties attached. The term usually translate into the English ‘citizenship’ or ‘nationality’, although these terms are less specific in usage. The Norwegian term ‘nasjonalitet’ is often used more sociologically – meaning also ethnic or cultural background – but does also occur as a synonym to ‘statsborgerskap’.
More recently two more concepts are used in public discourse on citizenship in Norway: ‘Medborger’, denoting the non-formal aspects like affiliation, belonging, participation as well as ‘being a good citizen’. The usage is however confused, consequently also appearing in the meaning of ‘statsborger’. ‘Samfunnsborger’ is another term introduced as an umbrella over both ‘statsborger’ and ‘medborger’, in order to have a generic concept close to the dual meaning of the English ‘citizen’.
In contrast to other European languages that have two different words to describe, on the one hand, the formal membership of a state and, on the other, the substantial rights and duties of citizens, there is no such distinction in the Polish language and one word ‘obywatelstwo’ is used for both aspects of citizenship. The word nationality is often used to indicate a person’s membership in a national group.
The Portuguese Constitution uses the term ‘citizenship’, instead of ‘nationality’. However, the Portuguese statutory Act is called ‘Nationality Act’, despite the criticism of several scholars regarding the disparity between the statutory terminology and the Constitution (Silva 2004: 96). The term “citizenship” is considered more neutral from a cultural and historical point of view (Silva 2004:19), as the term ‘nationality’ reminds the nationalist philosophy of the New State’s period, which the post-revolutionary Constitution of 1974 aimed to avoid. Some legal scholars also argue that the term ‘nationality’ is less concise (Miranda 2004:99), as it reveals the belonging to a nation, and not to a state. The term ‘citizenship’, therefore, would give more relevance to the public participation in a democratic state.
Furthermore, the exact meaning of these concepts is not the same. Nationality is a broader concept than citizenship, as the legal person and some property (such as ships and aircrafts) can posses a nationality, but the citizenship can only be possessed by people. To a different point of view, though, the citizenship concept can be broader than the concept of nationality, as there are in Portugal some statuses of quasi-citizenship, by which citizenship rights are given to people who don’t have the Portuguese nationality. That would be the case of the nationals of Lusophone countries living in Portugal, who enjoy wide-ranging rights as far as political participation and access to public office are concerned. This movement towards a concept of citizenship that is disengaged from nationality goes beyond special status, as any alien who resides in Portugal has the right to vote and be elected in local government elections, according to Art. 15 (4) of the Constitution, provided that there is reciprocity. Normally, however, the two terms are used synonymously.
In Romania, the modern legal vocabulary of citizenship emulated the French legal model and terminology, employing naţionalitate (nationality) in the sense of state citizenship. The semantic distinction between the terms ‘citizenship’ (meaning state membership) and ‘nationality’ (meaning ‘ethnic origin’) was only introduced in the official legal vocabulary after the Second World War, as part of the Soviet-style institutionalisation of ethnicity. On the one hand, due to its discriminatory use in the Second World War, the expression ‘ethnic origin’ (originea etnică) was purged from the communist political vocabulary. On the other hand, in order to continue to acknowledge the legal existence and legitimate collective rights of various ethnic groups living in the country side by side with the dominant ethnic group, the communist legislation employed the term ‘nationality’ to denote the ethnic origin of a person and not his or her state citizenship, as had previously been the case. To differentiate the new denotation of the term from its previous legal meaning (state citizenship), ‘nationality’ was employed in the communist political language mostly in plural, as ‘co-inhabiting nationalities.’
In the post-communist period, Romanian legislation employs the term naţionalitate alongside the expression ‘origine etnică’ (ethnic origin), and refers to ethnic groups mostly as minorităţi naţionale (national minorities). The term ‘citizenship’ (cetăţenie) is employed to refer to both the legal and participatory dimensions of this institution. The 1991 law on Romanian nationality is thus named “Legea cetăţeniei.” In this paper, I employ the words (state) citizenship and nationality as synonyms.
While modern international law uses the term ‘nationality’ to refer to the legal bond between an individual and a sovereign state, Russian domestic law uses the term ‘citizenship’ (grazdanstvo – гражданство). According to Russian legislation there is striking difference between citizenship (grazdanstvo – гражданство) and nationality (national’nost’ – национальность). In consequence, in the Russian context the term citizenship cannot be used as a synonym for nationality.
The Constitution of the Russian Federation distinguishes between these two legal definitions. Thus, under Article 6 of the Russian Constitution citizenship (grazdanstvo – гражданство) of the Russian Federation shall be acquired and terminated according to federal law; it shall be one and equal, irrespective of the grounds of acquisition (Article 6 (1); a citizen of the Russian Federation may not be deprived of his or her citizenship (grazdanstvo – гражданство) or of the right to change it (Article 6 (3). At the same time, with regard to Article 26 (1) of the Russian Constitution the term ‘nationality’ (national’nost’ – национальность) is associated with the ethnicity of the person: ‘Everyone shall have the right to determine and indicate his nationality (national’nost’ – национальность). No one may be forced to determine and indicate his or her nationality (national’nost’ – национальность).’ As a result, in the Russian language, the term nationality (national’nost’ – национальность) refers to individual membership in a nation (нация) as a cultural, linguistic and historic community.
As in most Slavic countries, there is a distinction between the civic term ‘citizenship’ (občianstvo, which denotes all those who are legally citizens of the Slovak Republic) and the ethnic term ‘nationality’ (národnosť, which refers to a person’s ethnicity).
Državljanstvo can be translated into English as both ‘nationality’ and ‘citizenship’. For legislative translation, the term ‘citizenship’ is more commonly used, it is important to note though that the term ‘nationality’ is also used in the English translation of the Act in force in some Constitutional Court decisions.
Narodnost may also refer to national minorities. In Slovenia, these are constitutionally defined as autochthonous Italian and Hungarian national communities – narodne skupnosti and the Romani community – romska skupnost.
In daily language the term nacionalnost is also used as a synonym for both državljanstvo indicating affiliation to a certain state and narodnost indicating affiliation to a certain ethnic or cultural group.
As a brief note on terminology, it is necessary to point out that the Spanish term used to refer to the concept of “nationality”, understood as the legal bond between an individual and the state, is “nacionalidad”. The Spanish term for citizenship, referring to the full entitlement of political rights is “ciudadanía”. From the legal viewpoint the concept of citizenship therefore is more restricted than nationality. However, in some cases, “citizenship” is used in the legal texts in a less accurate way referring actually to the wider conceptual sphere of “nationality” (e.g. articles 11.3, 13.4, 41 of the Spanish Constitution; article 22.2 of the Spanish Civil Code). From a political or sociological viewpoint, the term “nacionalidad” can also be understood as the different historical-cultural realties integrated within the Spanish national community. In fact, the Spanish Constitution acknowledges the national plural character of the country using the term “nacionalidades” (article 2 of the Spanish Constitution)
In Sweden the term citizenship (medborgarskap) is used to indicate the legal bond between an individual and the state. The term is used both for the legal status of the individual, and for the legal and political consequences of belonging to the state (rights and duties, medborgerliga rättigheter och skyldigheter). Also in international treaties, where the convention text has been translated into Swedish, the term citizenship is normally used.
The term nationality (nationalitet) is, on the other hand, in legal context used primarily to indicate ethnic origin and language affiliation. There is, however, an ambiguity in the term and the difference between citizenship and nationality is not always recognised. In daily language the term nationality is sometimes used as a synonym of citizenship to indicate affiliation to a certain state.
In the largest part of Switzerland, the German-speaking regions, the legal affiliation to a state is called Bürgerrecht (formerly Schweizerbürgerrecht). The use of the term Bürgerrecht in this sense is specific to the German-speaking part of Switzerland. The Bürgerrecht includes a person’s citizenship on the municipal level [German Gemeindebürgerrecht], citizenship on the cantonal level [German: Kantonsbürgerrecht] and citizenship on the state level (German: Staatsbürgerrecht). The term Bürgerrecht does not only refer to the affiliation of the citizen to the three levels of the state (municipality, canton, and state), but also the rights and duties linked to these affiliations. Together with Swiss citizenship (Bürgerrecht), a naturalised person acquires political rights, diplomatic protection, freedom of movement, and protection against extradition and expulsion.
In Turkish, “uyrukluk” and “yurttaslik” are the two terms that can be used to refer to nationality and citizenship. Furthermore, both these terms have their Arabic counterparts in the daily language – “tabiyet” and “vatandaslik” respectively (Aybay, 2003:5). Tabiyet is no longer frequently used.
Yurttaslik (Vatandaslik) and Uyrukluk (Tabiyet), according to Aybay (2003), refer to a legal bond connecting an individual to a state. However, there is a debate whether these two terms have exactly the same meaning. Aybay argues that the confusion, which is also present in other languages, has historical causes.
Uyrukluk is what can be used to refer to nationality whereas yurttaslik/vatandaslik is the counterpart of citizenship in Turkish. The name of the law is Turk Vatandasligi Kanunu and throughout the legal documents citizens of Turkey are referred to as “Turk Vatandasi”.
Vatandaslik cannot be used when referring to legal persons and corporations. In this case uyrukluk is the appropriate term to be used (Aybay, 2003:10).
Reference: Aybay, R. (2003) Vatandaslik Hukuku (Citizenship Law), Istanbul: Aybay Yayinlari
The terms ‘nationality’ and ‘citizenship’ are somewhat ambiguous in general use in the UK, but may have clear legal implications.