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The Republic of Latvia (Latvian: Latvijas Republika) is a country in Northern Europe. Latvia has land borders with its two fellow Baltic statesEstonia to the north and Lithuania to the south — and Russia and Belarus to the east. In the west Latvia shares a maritime border with Sweden. The capital of Latvia, Riga (Latvian: Rīga), is the largest city in the Baltic States.

Latvijas Republika
Flag of Latvia Latvia: Coat of Arms
(National Flag) (Coat of Arms)
National motto: Tēvzemei un Brīvībai
(Latvian: For Fatherland and Freedom)
Official language Latvian
Nationalitates Latvians 58%,
Urlas 30%
Capital and largest city Rīga
President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga
Prime minister Aigars Kalvītis
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 121st
64,589 km²
 - Total (2005)
 - Density
Ranked 137th
 - Declared
 - Recognised
 - Lost
 - Declared
 - Recognised
From Imperial Russia
18 November 1918
11 August 1920
17 June 1940
From Soviet Union
4 May 1990
21 August 1991
 - Total
 - Per capita
2004 estimate
$27,785 million(95th)
Currency Lats (Ls)
Time zone
 - Daylight saving time
National anthem Dievs, svētī Latviju!
Internet TLD .lv
Calling Code +371



Main article: History of Latvia

Known originally as Livonia, the area that now constitutes Latvia was under the influence of the German Sword Brethren (Schwertbrüder) from the 13th century onward until the 16th century, when the institution of Livonia was terminated and sold by the local aristocracy to Poland. During several wars different regions of Latvia were occupied by Poland, Sweden and Russia. However, in the 18th, during the Great Northern War, and later, following the Partitions of Poland, Russia gained control over Latvia and the neighbouring regions.

Riga Hall in the 17th Century
Riga Hall in the 17th Century

With Russia devastated by revolution and World War I, Latvia declared its independence on November 18, 1918. After independence was gained, there still were two years of battles against German militarists, Russian communists and adventurers like Pavel Bermont-Avalov. These two years are called The Struggle for Independence.

During the 1920s and early 1930s, Latvia enjoyed an elected, republican government. Its constitution was adopted on February 15th, 1922. It acknowledged that the people themselves were sovereign, and provided for the proportional election of their representatives by all Latvians of at least 21 years of age. As with most democratic governments, it was a multi-party system, with between 22 and 28 parties, at any given time, holding at least one seat in the parliament, called the Saeima. Governments (parliamentary governments refer to the administration in power as a "government", not to be confused with the formal entity running a given region, also called "government", such as the United States government) were usually organized by coalitions of parties, forming a large enough percentage to control the whole.

This system was overthrown by Prime Minister Kārlis Ulmanis, in a military coup in 1934. Latvia became an authoritarian state. Its independence lasted only briefly, as the Soviet Union occupied and annexed the country on 17 June 1940 in accordance with the Soviet-German agreement (Ribbentrop-Molotov pact) of 1939. Latvians - like most other Europeans - were involved in World War II; it began when the Red Army recruited troops in 1941. After the Soviet Union was pushed out by Nazi Germany a little later, locals were recruited for a "border patrol" and formed a legion in the Waffen SS. Latvians therefore fought for both sides in large numbers.

Except for a brief period of German occupation during World War II (Latvia was a part of Nazi Germany's Reichskommissariat Ostland), Latvia was a full member of the Soviet Union as Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic until the country regained its independence on 21 August 1991. In 2004 the country became a member of both NATO and the European Union.


Map of Latvia with cities
Map of Latvia with cities
Ingrida Udre - unaccepted to be Commissioner for Taxation and Customs Union in 2004
Ingrida Udre - unaccepted to be Commissioner for Taxation and Customs Union in 2004

Main article: Politics of Latvia

The 100-seat unicameral Latvian parliament, the Saeima, is elected by direct, popular vote every four years. The president is elected by the Saeima in a separate election also every four years. The president invites a prime minister who, together with his cabinet, forms the executive branch of the government, which has to receive a confidence vote by the Saeima.

On September 20, 2003, in a nationwide referendum 66.9% of the Latvians voted in favour of joining the European Union. Latvia became a full-fledged member of the European Union on May 1, 2004. Latvia is a NATO member since March 29, 2004.

Some Russian media, both local and in Russia, commonly accuses Latvia of being a fascist state for awarding pensions to those who helped combat the Soviet Union during World War II on the side of Nazi Germany and supposedly oppressing the minorities in Latvia by substituting Latvian-language lessons for Russian-language lessons in Russian schools, setting a requirement of passing a basic Latvian-language exam to get Latvian citizenship for anyone who had no ancestors in Latvia prior to the Second World War. So now approximately 19 per cent of the total population have Latvian Aliens Passports (that is, they have no right to vote during municipal and state elections, are not allowed to work in state institutions, etc.). This many Russians (and their offspring) who moved to Latvia during Soviet times, during which Latvian was being pushed out of public life by Russian, consider unfair. The Latvian government claims that such means are necessary to protect the Latvian language, since due to large numbers of Russians being sent to major cities during Soviet times, they started to make up a majority of inhabitants in Rīga, Liepāja, Daugavpils and other major cities, Russian became the lingua franca there as Latvians had to learn it, while Russians knew Latvian language poorely, although it was taught in Russian schools. Supposedly, the actions by the Latvian government are done to reverse this trend and get Latvian back into the cities. The government is said to demand Russian land. In fact, Latvia has no territorial claims towards Russia, but demands an acknowledgement of the annexiation of the Abrene region to some degree, since this land was previously part of Latvia and detached from it by Russia during Soviet days. At the same time Latvia is considering to require compensation from Russia. A special government commission is already calculating the amount of money to be paid by Russia for the losses Latvia incurred during its incorporation into the Soviet Union.


Daugavpils, 1912
Daugavpils, 1912
Sigulda New Castle, Latvia
Sigulda New Castle, Latvia
Train station at Grobiņa, Latvia
Train station at Grobiņa, Latvia
Doma laukums (main church's square) in Riga
Doma laukums (main church's square) in Riga
Old Believers' church from the front, Rēzekne, Latvia
Old Believers' church from the front, Rēzekne, Latvia
Early 1920s photo of Rezekne
Early 1920s photo of Rezekne
Town Hall Square and "Guild of Blackheads" House, Riga
Town Hall Square and "Guild of Blackheads" House, Riga

Main article: Counties of Latvia

Latvia is divided into 26 counties called rajons. 7 cities have a separate status.


Main article: Geography of Latvia

Large parts of Latvia are covered by forests, and the country has over 12,000 small rivers and over 3,000 lakes. Most of the country consists of fertile, low-lying plains with some hills in the east, the highest point being the Gaiziņkalns at 312 m.

An inlet of the Baltic Sea, the shallow Gulf of Riga is situated in the northwest of the country. The capital city Riga is located on the shores of this inlet, where the Daugava river flows into it. Other major cities include Daugavpils further upriver and Liepāja along the Baltic coast.

The Latvian climate is maritime and temperate in nature, with cool summers and wet, moderate winters.

Latvia is historically and culturally divided in four or five distinct regions, see regions of Latvia.


Main article: Economy of Latvia

Since year 2000 Latvia has had one of the highest GDP growth rates in Europe [1]. In 2004, annual GDP growth was 8.5% and inflation was 6.2%. Unemployment was 8.5% - almost unchanged compared to the previous two years. Privatization is mostly completed, except for some of the large state-owned utilities. Latvia is a member of the World Trade Organisation (1999) and the European Union (2004).


The population is mostly Christian. The majority being Lutheran (556 000, according to 2003 data), with smaller percentages Roman Catholic (430 405) and Eastern Orthodox (350 000). Another religion is Dievturi (The Godkeepers), which has historical roots based on pre-Christian era mythology. There are also Jews (9883 in 2005) in Latvia who are now mainly a remainder from the Soviet Union, as during World War II the Jewish Community (according to the last official census in 1935 there were 93,479 Jews in the country, or approximately 5% of the total population) was annihilated.


Main article: Demographics of Latvia

Latvia's population has been multiethnic for centuries. In 1897 the first official census in this area indicated that Latvians formed 68.3 percent of the total population of 1.93 million; Russians accounted for 12.0 percent, Jews for 7.4 percent, Germans for 6.2 percent, and Poles for 3.4 percent. The remainder were Lithuanians, Estonians, Gypsies, and various other nationalities.

Latvians are the indigenous people of Latvia. Now slightly less than 60% of the population are ethnic Latvians. Almost 29% are Russian which are the largest national minority in Latvia.

In some major Latvian cities (e.g. Daugavpils, Rīga and Rēzekne) Latvians are even outnumbered by Russians and other minorities. Minorities from other countries such as Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania etc. also live in Latvia. The current ethnic mix of the population of Latvia is largely the result of massive immigration during the years of the Soviet occupation, which resulted in a decline of the share of ethnic Latvians from 77% (1,467,035) in 1935 to 52% (1,387,757) in 1989. [2]. In 2005 there are even less Latvians than in 1989 - 1,357,099 (that is 58,8% of total population).


The official language of the Republic of Latvia is Latvian. The Latvian language, like Lithuanian and the extinct Old Prussian language, belongs to the Baltic language group of the Indo-European language family and is neither Germanic nor Slavic. Russian is by far the most widespread minority language, also spoken or at least understood by large sections of non-Russian population. The Latgalian language is widespread in Latgale, though authorities consider it a dialect of Latvian for political reasons.


International rankings

Miscellaneous topics


  • Manufactured the first monoplanes.
  • Invention and production of the minox camera. This is the little "matchbox action" camera that you see in James Bond movies.
  • Manufactures "Blue" microphones, a brand of recording studio microphone that has gained recognition recently in professional recording circles. These mics are most notable for their unique shapes and designs.

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