The tricky business of democracy as a cosmopolitan citizen
March 2013 saw me celebrating the 7th anniversary to my arrival in Germany. What I expected to be somewhat of a short stay turned out to be a longer-haul ordeal; as the financial and social situation in Israel came to a point where my friends took on a 3rd job to make ends meet, I admit to deciding to stay in Europe out of the desire for a better standard of living – Israel had become a relic of my past, Europe seemed to offer me more opportunities, both professional and private.
After I moved to Germany I immediately lost my right to vote for the Israeli parliamentary elections. Only Israeli citizens living inside the country and official government employees abroad are given the right to vote for the Knesset. Losing this privilege pained me for a while – I respected the Israeli part of my identity and my past, and felt that as an Israeli citizen living abroad, it would be reasonable to have been able to participate in the democratic process for a certain amount of time. As years went on and my ties to the country became weaker, I learned to become politically active online without casting a ballot. I still cared (in a parental, yet distanced sort-of-way), but respected the fact that as a non-resident, certain privileges are limited.
That being as it is, my country of residency now and in the foreseeable future is Germany. After seven years of living here, battling the country’s infamous bureaucracy, fighting tooth and nail to be given the privilege to work, dutifully paying taxes, learning the language and contributing the to German economy , I finally received my permanent residency permit this year. This is a cause for celebration, of course, but it begs the question – why am I not allowed to vote in Germany? After spending over seven years as a part of German society and receiving official government documentation that I could, if I so desired, spend the rest of my life here, I am still not allowed to vote in German parliamentary elections.
Like in many countries, the right to participate in the democratic process in Germany is reserved for citizens. In 2015 I’ll be eligible to apply for citizenship, granting me the full rights which accompany the status. Unlike other countries, however, Germany does not accept dual citizenships (except for very few exceptions, when certain criteria is met). This means that to fulfill my desire to vote for German federal elections, I need to give up other citizenships. The gravity of having to make this kind of decision weighs down on me now, several years away. It is true – I am not my passport, and if Israel was any other country I might not have the same reservations. Even as a non-zionist, there’s something to be said about willingly giving up an Israeli citizenship, after dozens of my family members were killed by the Nazis in camps and the remainder made their way to Palestine. The creation of the state of Israel and its declaration of independence from the British Mandate is ingrained in a collective consciousness of which I am inevitably a part.
In contrasting irony, the only country which will, at this time, allow me to participate in the democratic process is the US. I have an American citizenship from birth and am eligible to vote absentee for federal elections. I have not lived in the US since 1990 and have little desire in involving myself in the internal affairs of a country in which I neither live in, nor plan to in the foreseeable future.
I’ve fallen between two stools (a favorite expression of mine) of bureaucracy and faceless legislation and have no option or opportunity to participate in the democratic process in any country to which I can relate, or where I feel my vote would be important. Least of all, in the country in which I actually live.