Former Soviet ballet defector Baryshnikov granted Latvian citizenship

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Former Soviet ballet defector Baryshnikov granted Latvian citizenship

Riga (AFP) – Renowned ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov received his Latvian passport on Thursday, decades after defecting to the United States from the Baltic state while it was occupied by the Soviet Union.

“When the invitation arrived from the Latvian government to take honorary citizenship, I thought what an experience it would be to return to my childhood, no longer as an outsider, but as someone who belonged,” the 69-year-old said at a ceremony in the capital Riga.

The ballet legend spoke in Latvian, which he said he had not used for more than 50 years, hours after lawmakers voted 84 to zero in favour of handing him citizenship. 

Born in Riga, Baryshnikov defected to the United States in 1974 and took American citizenship after rising to become one of the most famous ballet dancers in the world. 

The former star of Russia’s Kirov Ballet and later American Ballet Theatre has also acted, appearing on the hit TV series “Sex and the City”.

In recent years he has renewed ties with his homeland, premiering shows he devised with Latvian theatre director Alvis Hermanis before taking them to Broadway.

After a Latvian politician approached him about the possibility of citizenship, Baryshnikov wrote an application letter saying: “Riga still serves as a place where I find artistic inspiration.”

“If accepted as a citizen I will uphold that honour with conscientiousness and pride,” he added. 

Under normal rules, Baryshnikov would have had to undergo a naturalisation process but the parliament has power to grant citizenship in cases of special merit. 

As Latvia and the US are both NATO member states, dual citizenship is allowed under Latvian law.

Mikhail Baryshnikov defected from the Soviet Union in 1974 and became one of the world’s most famous ballet dancers
Copyright AFP PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU
Mikhail Baryshnikov at a ceremony in Riga received honorary citizenship from ex-Soviet Latvia where he was born
Copyright AFP Ilmars ZNOTINS

 

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