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Citizenship is the state of being a citizen of a particular social, political, or national community.

Citizenship status, under social contract theory, carries with it both rights and responsibilities. " Active citizenship" is the philosophy that citizens should work towards the betterment of their community through economic participation, public service, volunteer work, and other such efforts to improve life for all citizens. In this vein, schools in some countries provide citizenship education.

National citizenship

Generally citizenship is seen as the relation between an individual and a particular nation. In ancient Greece, the main political entity was the city-state, and citizens were members of particular city-states. In the past five hundred years, with the rise of the nation-state, citizenship is most closely identified with being a member of a particular nation. To some extent, certain entities cross national boundaries such as trade organizations, non-governmental organizations as well as multi-national corporations, and sometimes the term "citizen of the world" applies in the sense of people having less ties to a particular nation and more of a sense of belonging to the world in general.

Supranational citizenship

In recent years, some intergovernmental organizations have extended the concept and terminology associated with citizenship to the international level, where it is applied to the totality of the citizens of their constituent countries combined. Citizenship at this level is a secondary concept, with rights deriving from national citizenship.

European Union (EU) citizenship

The Maastricht Treaty introduced the concept of citizenship of the European Union. Article 17 (1) of the amended EC Treaty states that

Citizenship of the Union is hereby established. Every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall complement and not replace national citizenship.

The amended EC Treaty establishes certain minimal rights for EU citizens. Article 12 of the amended EC Treaty guarantees a general right of non-discrimination within the scope of the Treaty. Article 18 provides a limited right to free movement and residence in Member States other than that of which the EU citizen is a national. Articles 18-21 and 225 provide certain political rights.

Union citizens have also extensive rights to move in order to exercise economic activity in any of the Member States (Articles 39, 43, 49 EC), which predate the introduction of Union citizenship.

Polis citizenship

The first form of citizenship was based on the way people lived in the ancient Greek times, in small-scale organic communities of the polis. In those days citizenship was not seen as a public matter, separated from the private life of the individual person. The obligations of citizenship were deeply connected into one’s everyday life in the polis. To be truly human, one had to be an active citizen to the community, which Aristotle famously expressed: “To take no part in the running of the community's affairs is to be either a beast or a god!” This form of citizenship was based on obligations of citizens towards the community, rather than rights given to the citizens of the community. This was not a problem because they all had a strong affinity with the polis; their own destiny and the destiny of the community were strongly linked. Also, citizens of the polis saw obligations to the community as an opportunity to be virtuous, it was a source of honour and respect. In Athens, citizens were both ruler and ruled, important political and judicial offices were rotated and all citizens had the right to speak and vote in the political assembly.

However, an important aspect of polis citizenship was exclusivity. Citizenship in ancient Greece and Rome, as well as Medieval cities that practiced polis citizenship, was exclusive and inequality of status was widely accepted. Citizens had a much higher status than non-citizens: Women, slaves or ‘barbarians’. For example, women were seen to be irrational and incapable of political participation (although some, most notably Plato, disagreed). Methods used to determine whether someone could be a citizen or not could be based on wealth (the amount of taxes one paid), political participation, or heritage (both parents had to be born in the polis).

In the Roman Empire, polis citizenship changed form: Citizenship was expanded from small scale communities to the entire empire. Romans realised that granting citizenship to people from all over the empire legitimized Roman rule over conquered areas. Citizenship in the Roman era was no longer a status of political agency; it had been reduced to a judicial safeguard and the expression of rule and law. (See Civis romanus sum.)

Honorary citizenship

Some countries extend "honorary citizenship" to those whom they consider to be especially admirable or worthy of the distinction.

By act of United States Congress and presidential assent, honorary United States citizenship has been awarded to only seven individuals. Honorary Canadian citizenship requires the unanimous approval of Parliament. The only people to ever receive honorary Canadian citizenship are Raoul Wallenberg posthumously in 1985, Nelson Mandela in 2001, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso in 2006, and Aung San Suu Kyi in 2007. In 2002 South Korea awarded honorary citizenship to Dutch football (soccer) coach Guus Hiddink who successfully and unexpectedly took the national team to the semi-finals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Honorary citizenship was also awarded to Hines Ward, a black Korean American football player, in 2006 for his efforts to minimize discrimination in Korea against half-Koreans.

American actress Angelina Jolie received an honorary Cambodian citizenship in 2005 due to her humanitarian efforts. Cricketers Matthew Hayden and Herschelle Gibbs were awarded honorary citizenship of St. Kitts and Nevis in March 2007 due to their record-breaking innings in the 2007 Cricket World Cup.

In Germany the honorary citizenship is awarded by cities, towns and sometimes federal states. The honorary citizenship ends with the death of the honoured, or, in exceptional cases, when it is taken away by the council or parliament of the city, town, or state. In the case of war criminals, all such honours were taken away by "Article VIII, section II, letter i of the directive 38 of the Allied Control Council for Germany" on October 12, 1946 In some cases, honorary citizenship was taken away from members of the former GDR regime, e.g. Erich Honecker, after the collapse of the GDR in 1989/90.

In Ireland, "honorary citizenship" bestowed on a foreigner is in fact full legal citizenship including the right to reside in Ireland, to vote etc.

According to the Chapter II, Article 29, Paragraph 'e)' of the Cuban Constitution, Cuban citizens by birth are those foreigners who, by virtue of their exceptional merits won in the struggles for Cuba’s liberation, were considered Cuban citizens by birth. Che Guevara was made an honorary citizen of Cuba by Fidel Castro for his part in the Cuban Revolution, of which Guevara later renounced in his well known farewell letter.

Historically, many states limited citizenship to only a proportion of their population, thereby creating a citizen class with political rights superior to other sections of the population, but equal with each other. The classical example of a limited citizenry was Athens where slaves, women, and resident foreigners (called metics) were excluded from political rights. The Roman Republic forms another example (see Roman citizenship), and, more recently, the nobility of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had some of the same characteristics.

School subject

Citizenship has been introduced as a compulsory subject of the National Curriculum in state-run schools in England. Some state schools offer an examination in this subject, all state schools have a statutory requirement to report student's progress in Citizenship.

Citizenship is not offered as a normal General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) course in many schools. Only some schools offer this subject as a GCSE course, and this is usually not a compulsory subject. Some schools may even give students an option, whether to study Citizenship or not at GCSE. All 14-16 year-olds must study Citizenship, but there are no exams, few assessments and is quite a different subject.Most advanced students may also study citizenship at the age of 11-12.

In Wales the model used is Personal and Social Education.

Citizenship is not taught as a subject in Scottish schools, however they do teach a subject called "Modern Studies" which covers the social, political and economic study of local, national and international issues.

It is taught in the Republic of Ireland as an exam subject for the Junior Certificate. It is known as Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE).

Responsibilities or duties of citizenship

The legally enforceable duties of citizenship vary depending on one's country, and may include such items as:

  • paying taxes
  • serving on a jury
  • Voting
  • serving in the country's armed forces when called upon
  • obeying the criminal laws enacted by one's government, even while abroad
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