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Latvia Grants Citizenship To Riga-Born Ballet Legend Baryshnikov

Mikhail Baryshnikov poses with his Latvian passport after he was granted citizenship in Riga on April 27.

Latvia has granted citizenship to Mikhail Baryshnikov, the ballet legend who was born in the Baltic nation when it was part of the Soviet Union but later defected to Canada and eventually became a U.S. citizen.

Latvia’s parliament, the Saeima, said on April 27 that the unanimous decision was made in recognition of Baryshnikov's civic involvement and his "voicing of political beliefs in support of democratic values and human rights."

Baryshnikov was born in Riga in 1948 to ethnic Russian parents. He spent 16 years in Latvia and started ballet lessons at the age of 11.

He joined the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad in 1964, now known as the Mariinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg.

He defected in 1974 while on tour in Canada and moved to the United States a year later.

Baryshnikov returned for the first time to Riga in 1998, after the country gained its independence following the collapse of 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 Baryshnikov said, speaking in Latvian.

As Latvia allows dual citizenship, Baryshnikov will be able to retain his U.S. passport as well.

Based on reporting by AF and AFP