Milan Makuc no longer had a bed of his own. Some nights he took refuge in the shelter in Piran. Other nights he slept in a local park. Milan had spent all but the first seven years of his life in Slovenia. Slovenia is where Milan was educated, where he made a living, and the place he called home. Yet now in his forties he was destitute and living on the streets.
Milan’s path to homelessness began in 1991 when Slovenia declared its independence from Yugoslavia. Like all Yugoslav nationals at that time, Milan had dual citizenship—he was both a citizen of the Federation as well as one of its six republics, in Milan’s case Croatia, the country in which he was born.
There was no question in Milan’s mind as to his citizenship. He had always considered himself Slovenian. His parents were Slovenian. He made his life in Slovenia. He even joined the Slovenian military to defend his homeland during the ten-day war following the country’s secession. Milan had been a registered resident of Slovenia from the time he was seven years old, and after Slovenia declared its independence he waited to be granted Slovenian citizenship.
Instead, on February 26, 1992, Milan’s name—along with the names of 18,304 other Slovenians—were deleted by the government from its official registry of residents.
From that time forward, Milan and 18,304 others were considered foreigners in their own country and denied social services. In an instant, Milan lost his government job, his health insurance, and 21 years of pension contributions. Without options and with no place to go, Milan became homeless.
Milan tried again and again to obtain Slovene citizenship. After years of unsuccessful attempts, Milan and ten other people took their case to the European Court of Human Rights.
In 2007, the Open Society Justice Initiative submitted comments in the case highlighting the plight of thousands of residents of Slovenia who were unjustly “erased” from the government registry. The Justice Initiative argued that the government's action violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects individuals' right to sustain the personal, social, and economic relations that link them to the society in which they habitually reside. And just this month the Court agreed that it was unlawful for Slovenia to deny permanent residency status to long-term legal residents in the aftermath of state succession, particularly when it left these residents stateless.
But the ruling came too late for Milan Makuc. He passed away in June 2008 and was buried in the cemetery in Piran.
Citizenship is integral to an open society, something Milan and many others like him struggle for throughout their entire lives. Yet for those of us who never have to fight for our citizenship, we never realize the myriad rights that depend on its recognition.