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The new business of buying and selling citizenship


At Public Books, Max Holleran reviews The Cosmopolites: The Coming of the Global Citizen by Atossa Araxia Abrahamian, a book that traverses the globe to uncover the practice of small, cash-strapped nations selling citizenship to the wealthy elite of other nations like China and Russia. As Holleran explains, this kind of cosmopolitanism promotes the circulation of wealthy individuals and their considerable capital, not the open exchange of culture and ideas that traditional cosmopolitanism advocated. Read an excerpt from the review below, or the entire piece here.

While the Maltese navy patrols the Mediterranean, the island markets its citizenship to those from much farther afield by selling passports to wealthy investors. Originally, Malta’s government envisioned a no-nonsense cash transfer of €650,000 for a Maltese passport, which gives the holder—mostly elites from China, Russia, and the Middle East—the right to live anywhere in the EU. After some protest by the European Commission, this was amended to stipulate that those purchasing citizenship spend one year residing on the Island. Many of the wealthy “new Maltese” simply lease an apartment to fulfill this requirement and start their new lives as EU members in Paris, London, or Frankfurt.

Since the 1980s, there has been a celebration of the concept of cosmopolitanism—the idea that national identity matters less as borders diminish in importance to our daily lives. Today that sentiment seems at best premature, and probably just wrong. Cosmopolitanism is far less a marker of a historical era than it is the emblem of a class group—global elites. Now, by looking to the citizenship-for-sale business, we can better understand cosmopolitanism and put a price tag on it.

In her short new book The Cosmopolites: The Coming of the Global Citizen, New York-based journalist Atossa Araxia Abrahamian investigates how the citizenship business has thrived in an era of growing anxiety over borders. Abrahamian follows the business from conferences on citizenship in Toronto to the Caribbean island countries that first tried out the idea decades ago, and which hope to continue selling passports until their nations disappear into the rising sea. She introduces us to wealthy businessmen who have half-a-dozen passports and want several more, citizenship-for-sale evangelists hoping to score big, and a WWII vet who renounced his citizenship to become a stateless wanderer in postwar Paris. Abrahamian, who is a Swiss-Canadian-Iranian of Russian and Armenian descent, shows why cosmopolitanism should be both cautiously celebrated and simultaneously scrutinized as one face of a coin whose obverse is stateless refugees.

Image of Malta via