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Latvia ( ; ), officially the Republic of Latvia ( ) is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by Estoniamarker (343 km), to the south by Lithuaniamarker (588 km), to the east by the Russian Federationmarker (276 km), and to the southeast by Belarusmarker (141 km). Across the Baltic Seamarker to the west lies Swedenmarker. The territory of Latvia covers and it has a temperate seasonal climate.

The Latvians are Baltic people culturally related to the Estonians and Lithuanians, with the Latvian language having many similarities with Lithuanian, but not with the Estonian language. Today the Latvian and Lithuanian languages are the only surviving members of the Baltic languages of the Indo-European family. The modern name of Latvia is thought to originate from the ancient Latvian name Latvji, which, like the name of Lithuania, may have originated from the river named Latuva.

Latvia is a unitary parliamentary republic and is divided into 118 municipalities (109 novadi and 9 cities). The capital and largest city is Rigamarker. Latvia has been a member of the United Nations since September 17, 1991; of the European Union since May 1, 2004 and of the NATOmarker since March 29, 2004.


The territory of Latvia has been populated since 9000 BC , after the Ice Age glaciers retreated. Around the beginning of the third millennium BC (3000 BC) the proto-Baltic ancestors of the Latvian people settled on the eastern coast of the Baltic Seamarker. The Balts established trade routes to Romemarker and Byzantium, trading local amber for precious metals . By 900 AD, four distinct Baltic tribes inhabited Latvia: Couronians, Latgallians, Selonians, Semigallians (in Latvian: kurši, latgaļi, sēļi and zemgaļi), as well as the Livonians (lībieši) speaking a Finno-Ugric language.

The Medieval period

Although the local people had previous contacts with the outside world for centuries, they were more fully integrated into European society in the 12th century . The first missionaries, sent by the Pope, sailed up the Daugava river by 1180, seeking converts . The local people, however, did not convert so readily as hoped, and strongly opposed their Christianization . German crusaders were sent into Latvia to convert the pagan population by force of arms.

During the 13th century large parts of today's Latvia were conquered by Germans . Together with Southern Estonia these conquered areas formed the country which became known as Terra Marianamarker or Livonia. In 1282, Riga and later the cities of Cēsismarker, Limbažimarker, Koknesemarker and Valmieramarker were included in the Hanseatic League . From this time, Riga became an important point in west-east trading . Riga, being the centre of the eastern Baltic region, formed close cultural contacts with Western Europe .

The Reformation period

The 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries were a time of great changes for the inhabitants of Latvia, notable for the reformation, the collapse of the Livonian state, and time when the Latvian territory was carved up among foreign powers.

After the Livonian War (1558–1583), Livonia (Latvia) fell under Lithuanian and Polish rule . The southern part of Estonia and the northern part of Latvia were ceded to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and formed into the Ducatus Ultradunensismarker (Pārdaugavas hercogiste). Gotthard Kettler, the last Master of the Order of Livonia, formed the Duchy of Courlandmarker . Though the duchy was a vassal state to Poland, it retained a large amount of autonomy and experienced a golden age in the 17th century. Latgale, the easternmost region of Latvia, became a part of Polish Inflanty.

The seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries saw a struggle between Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Sweden and Russiamarker for supremacy in the eastern Baltic. After the Polish-Swedish War (1600–1611) northern Livonia (including Vidzeme) came under Swedish rule. Fighting continued sporadically between Sweden and Poland until the Truce of Altmark in 1629 . In Latvian, the Swedish period is remembered as labie zviedru laiki or the good Swedish times, when serfdom was eased, a network of schools was established for the peasantry, and the power of the regional barons was diminished .

Several important cultural changes occurred during this time. Under Swedish and largely German rule, western Latvia adopted Lutheranism as its main religion . The ancient tribes of the Couronians, Semigallians, Selonians, Livs and northern Latgallians assimilated to form the Latvian people speaking one Latvian language. Meanwhile, largely isolated from the rest of Latvia, southern Latgallians adopted Catholicism as a part of the Polish/Jesuit influence. The native dialect remained distinct, although it acquired many Polish and Russian loanwords .

Latvia in the Russian Empire

The Treaty of Nystad ending the Great Northern War in 1721 gave Vidzeme to Russia (it became part of the Riga Governorate) . The Latgale region remained part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as Inflanty Voivodeship until 1772, when it was incorporated to Russia. The Duchy of Courlandmarker became an autonomous Russian province (the Courland Governorate) in 1795, bringing all of what is now Latvia into the Russian Empiremarker. All three Baltic provinces preserved local rules, official language and self-government called Landtag .

In 1710, the plague reached Riga, where it was active until 1711 and claimed the lives of about half of the population.

The promises Peter the Great made to the Baltic German nobility at the fall of Riga in 1710, confirmed by the Treaty of Nystad and known as "the Capitulations," largely reversed the Swedish reforms . The 18th century was one of the hardest for the peasantry, in which they received near-property status without rights or education . Peasants were commanded to work on the manor lands as many as six days of the week, leaving one day to look after their own farms . The peasants turned to alcohol for their problems, which the local barons faithfully provided, hoping to addict and exploit the peasantry for further economic gain . These times were known as "Šķidrās Maizes laiki" or the days of liquid bread .

The emancipation of the serfs took place in Courland in 1817 and in Vidzeme in 1819 . In practice however, the emancipation was actually advantageous to the landowners and nobility . This was because it dispossessed the peasants of their land without compensation, forcing them to return to work at the estates "of their own free will".

During the 19th century, the social structure changed dramatically . A class of independent farmers established itself after reforms allowed the peasants to repurchase their land, but many landless peasants persisted . There also developed a growing urban proletariat and an increasingly influential Latvian bourgeoisie. The Young Latvians ( ) movement laid the groundwork for nationalism from the middle of the century, many of its leaders looking to the Slavophiles for support against the prevailing German-dominated social order . The rise in use of Latvian language in literature and society became known as the First National Awakening. Russification began in Latgale after the Polish led January Uprising in 1863 and spread to the rest of what is now Latvia by the 1880s . The Young Latvians were largely eclipsed by the New Current, a broad leftist social and political movement, in the 1890s. Popular discontent exploded in the 1905 Revolution, which took on a nationalist character in the Baltic provinces.

Declaration of Independence

World War I devastated the territory of would-be Latvia, along with other western parts of the Russian Empire. Demands for self-determination were at first confined to autonomy, but the Russian 1917 Revolution, treaty with Germany at Brest-Litovsk, and allied armistice with Germany on November 11, 1918 created a power vacuum. People's Council of Latvia proclaimed independence of the new country in Riga on November 18, 1918, Kārlis Ulmanis becoming the head of the provisional government . The War of Independence that followed was part of a general chaotic period of civil and new border wars in Eastern Europe. By the spring of 1919, there were actually three governments — Ulmanis' government; the Soviet Latvian government led by Pēteris Stučka, whose forces, supported by the Red Army, occupied almost all of the country; and the Baltic German government of "Baltic Duchy" headed by Andrievs Niedra and supported by the Baltische Landeswehr and the German Freikorps unit Iron Division. Estonianmarker and Latvian forces defeated the Germans at the Battle of Cēsis in June 1919, and a massive attack by a German and Russian force under Pavel Bermondt-Avalov was repelled in November. Eastern Latvia was cleared of Red Army forces by Latvian and Polish troops in early 1920 .

A freely elected Constituent Assembly was convened on May 1, 1920 and adopted a liberal constitution, the Satversme, in February 1922. This was partly suspended by Ulmanis after his coup in 1934, but reaffirmed in 1990. Since then, it has been amended and is the constitution still in use in Latvia today. With most of Latvia's industrial base evacuated to the interior of Russia in 1915, radical land reform was the central political question for the young state. In 1897, 61.2% of the rural population had been landless; by 1936, that percentage had been reduced to 18%. The extent of cultivated land surpassed the pre-war level already in 1923. Innovation and rising productivity led to rapid growth of economy, but it soon suffered the effects of the Great Depression. Latvia showed signs of economic recovery and the electorate had steadily moved toward the centre during the parliamentary period . Ulmanis staged a bloodless coup on May 15, 1934, establishing a nationalist dictatorship that lasted until 1940 . Revolt against the government was very unlikely however, because during "Ulmaņa Laiki" Latvia experienced one of the highest standards of living in the world.

Latvia in World War II

Early in the morning of August 24, 1939, the Soviet Unionmarker and Nazi Germany signed a 10-year non-aggression pact, called the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. The pact contained a secret protocol, revealed only after Germany's defeat in 1945, according to which the states of Northern and Eastern Europe were divided into German and Soviet "spheres of influence". In the North, Latvia, Finlandmarker and Estoniamarker were assigned to the Soviet sphere. Thereafter, Germany and the Soviet union invaded their respective portions of Poland.

Most of the Baltic Germans left Latvia by agreement between Ulmanis' government and Nazi Germany after the conclusion of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact . On October 5, 1939, Latvia was forced to accept a "mutual assistance" pact with the Soviet Unionmarker, granting the Soviets the right to station 25,000 troops on Latvian territory . On June 16, 1940, Vyacheslav Molotov presented the Latvian representative in Moscowmarker with an ultimatum accusing Latvia of violations of that pact. When international attention was focused on the German invasion of France, Soviet NKVD troops raided border posts in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. State administrators were liquidated and replaced by Soviet cadres, in which 34,250 Latvians were deported or killed. Elections were held with single pro-Soviet candidates listed for many positions, with resulting peoples assembly immediately requested admission into the USSR, which was granted by the Soviet Union. Latvia, then a puppet government, was headed by Augusts Kirhenšteins. Latvia was incorporated into the Soviet Union on August 5, 1940 as Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic.

The Soviets dealt harshly with their opponents – prior to the German invasion, in less than a year, at least 27,586 persons were arrested; most were deported, and about 945 persons were shot . While under German occupation, Latvia was administered as part of Reichskommissariat Ostland. Latvian paramilitary and Auxiliary Police units established by occupation authority participated in the Holocaust as well . More than 200,000 Latvian citizens died during World War II, including approximately 70,000 Latvian Jews murdered during the Nazi occupation . Latvian soldiers fought on both sides of the conflict, including in the Latvian Legion of the Waffen-SS, most of them conscripted by the occupying Nazi and Soviet authorities . Refusal to join the occupying army resulted in imprisonment, threats to relatives, or even death .

Soviet era

In 1944 when the Soviet military advances reached the area heavy fighting took place in Latvia between German and Soviet troops which ended with another German defeat. During the course of the war, both occupying forces conscripted Latvians into their armies, in this way increasing the loss of the nation's "live resources". In 1944, part of the Latvian territory once more came under Soviet control. The Soviets immediately began to reinstate the Soviet system. After the German surrender it become clear that Soviet forces were there to stay, and Latvian national partisans, soon to be joined by German collaborators, began their fight against another occupier – the Soviet Unionmarker . 130,000 took refuge from the Soviet army by fleeing to the Germany and Sweden . The Soviets reoccupied the country in 1944–1945, and further mass deportations followed as the country was forcibly collectivised and Sovieticised . The first post-war years were marked by particularly dismal and sombre events in the fate of the Latvian nation . On March 25, 1949, 43,000 rural residents ("kulaks") and Latvian patriots ("nationalists") were deported to Siberia in a sweeping repressive Operation Priboi in all three Baltic States, which was carefully planned and approved in Moscow already on January 29, 1949.. All together 120,000 Latvian inhabitants were imprisoned or deported to Soviet concentration camps (the Gulag) . Some managed to escape arrest and joined the partisans .

In the post-war period, Latvia was forced to adopt Soviet farming methods and the economic infrastructure developed in the 1920s and 1930s was eradicated . Rural areas were forced into collectivisation. An extensive programme to impose bilingualism was initiated in Latvia, limiting the use of Latvian language in favor of Russian. All of the minority schools (Jewish, Polish, Belorussian, Estonian, Lithuanian) were closed down leaving only two languages of instructions in the schools- Latvian and Russian.. An influx of labourers, administrators, military personnel and their dependents from Russia and other Soviet republics started. By 1959 about 400,000 persons arrived from other Soviet republics and the ethnic Latvian population had fallen to 62%..

During the Khrushchev Thaw, attempts by national communists led by Eduards Berklavs to gain a degree of autonomy for the republic and protect the rapidly deteriorating position of the Latvian language were not successful.

Because Latvia had still maintained a well-developed infrastructure and educated specialists it was decided in Moscow that some of the Soviet Union's most advanced manufacturing factories were to be based in Latvia. New industry was created in Latvia, including a major machinery factory RAF in Jelgavamarker, electrotechnical factories in Rigamarker, chemical factories in Daugavpilsmarker, Valmieramarker and Olainemarker, as well as some food and oil processing plants.. However, there were not enough people to operate the newly built factories . In order to expand industrial production, Russian workers were transferred into the country, noticeably decreasing the proportion of ethnic Latvians .

Restoration of independence

In the second half of 1980s Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev started to introduce political and economic reforms in the Soviet Union, called glasnost and Perestroika. In the summer of 1987 the first large demonstrations were held in Riga at the Freedom Monumentmarker- a symbol of independence. In the summer of 1988 a national movement, coalescing in the Popular Front of Latvia, opposed by the Interfront. The Latvian SSR, along with the other Baltic Republics was allowed greater autonomy, and in 1988 the old pre-war Flag of Latvia was allowed to be used, replacing the Soviet Latvian flag as the official flag in 1990. In 1989, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR adopted a resolution on the "Occupation of the Baltic states", in which it declared that the occupation was "not in accordance with law," and not the "will of the Soviet people". Pro-independence Latvian Popular Front candidates gained a two-thirds majority in the Supreme Council in the March 1990 democratic elections. On May 4, 1990, the Supreme Soviet of the Latvian SSR adopted the Declaration of the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia, Latvian SSR was renamed Republic of Latvia. However, the central power in Moscow continued to regard Latvia as Soviet republic in 1990–1991 . In January 1991, Soviet political and military forces tried unsuccessfully to overthrow the Republic of Latvia authorities by occupying the central publishing house in Riga and establishing a Committee of National Salvation to usurp governmental functions . During the transitional period Moscow maintained many central Soviet state authorities in Latvia.
Barricade in Riga to prevent the Soviet Army from reaching the Latvian Parliament, July 1991
In spite of this, seventy-three percent of all Latvian residents confirmed their strong support for independence on March 3, 1991, in a nonbinding advisory referendum . A large number of ethnic Russians also voted for the proposition . The Latvian Popular Front had advocated for all permanent residents to be eligible for Latvian citizenship. However, universal citizenship for all permanent residents was not adopted subsequently; not all those who had voted in support of independence received citizenship in the new Latvian state and became non-citizens. (The majority of non-citizens have since become naturalized citizens.) The Republic of Latvia declared the end of the transitional period and restored full independence on August 21, 1991 in the aftermath of the failed Soviet coup attempt.

The Saeima, Latvia's parliament, was again elected in 1993, and Russia completed its military withdrawal in 1994. The major goals of Latvia in the 1990s, to join NATOmarker and the European Union, were achieved in 2004.

Language and citizenship laws have been opposed by many Russophones, although a majority have now become citizens . (Citizenship was not automatically extended to former Soviet citizens who settled during the Soviet occupation or to their subsequent offspring. Children born to non-nationals after the reestablishment of independence are automatically entitled to citizenship.) The government denationalised private property confiscated by the Soviet rule, returning it or compensating the owners for it, and privatised most state-owned industries, reintroducing the prewar currency. Albeit having experienced a difficult transition to a liberal economy and its re-orientation toward Western Europe, its economy had one of the highest growth rates. As of July 2008, however, Latvia is one of the poorest countries in the European Union and its population - one of the unhappiest in the world, according to most recent surveys.


Map of Latvia showing cities
Located on the eastern shore of the Baltic Seamarker, Latvia lies on the East European Plain, however in vegetation is much different than the rest of the plain and shares many similarities with the boreal biome. It consists of fertile, low-lying plains, largely covered by forest, mostly pines, the highest point being the Gaiziņkalnsmarker at . Phytogeographically, Latvia is shared between the Central European and Northern European provinces of the Circumboreal Region within the Boreal Kingdom. According to the WWF, the territory of Latvia belongs to the ecoregion of Sarmatic mixed forests. The major rivers include the Daugava, the Lielupe, the Gauja, the Venta, and the Salaca. An inlet of the Baltic Seamarker, the shallow Gulf of Rigamarker is situated in the northwest of the country. Latvia's coastline extends for 531 kilometers.


Common species of wildlife in Latvia include deer, wild boar, moose, lynx, bear, fox, beaver and wolves. Non-marine molluscs of Latvia include 159 species.


The Latvian climate is humid, continental and temperate owing to the maritime influence of the Baltic Sea. Summers are warm, and the weather in spring and autumn fairly mild; however, the winters can be extreme due to the northern location. Precipitation is common throughout the year with the heaviest rainfall in August. During severe spells of winter weather, Latvia is dominated by cold winds from the interior of Russia, and severe snowfalls are very common.

Administrative divisions

Administrative divisions of Latvia
Since 2009 Latvia has one-level municipalities - 9 republican cities (Latvian: republikas pilsētas) and 109 municipalities (Latvian: novadi).

Number Republican city
1. Daugavpilsmarker
2. Jekabpilsmarker
3. Jelgavamarker
4. Jurmalamarker
5. Liepajamarker
6. Rezeknemarker
7. Rigamarker
8. Valmieramarker
9. Ventspilsmarker

There are five historical and cultural regions in Latvia. Their borders usually are not explicit definite and in several sources may vary:

To promote balanced development of all regions, in 2009 five planning regions (Latvian: plānošanas reģioni) were created:
  • Planning region of Riga
  • Planning region of Kurzeme
  • Planning region of Zemgale
  • Planning region of Latgale
  • Planning region of Vidzeme

Government and politics

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 held every four years. The president appoints 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. This system also existed before the Second World War. Highest civil servants are sixteen Secretaries of State.

Foreign relations

Membership in the EU and NATO were major policy goals during the 1990s. In a nation-wide referendum on September 20, 2003, 66.9% of those taking part voted in favour of joining the European Union. Latvia became a member of the European Union on May 1, 2004. Latvia has been a NATOmarker member since March 29, 2004.

The Treaty delimiting the boundary with Russia was signed and ratified in 2007. Under the treaty the Abrene district passed to Russia; talks over maritime boundary disputes with Lithuania are ongoing (the primary concern is oil exploration rights)


Latvia's defense concept is based upon the Swedish-Finnish model of a rapid response force composed of a mobilization base and a small group of career professionals. The armed forces consists of mobile riflemen, an air force, and a navy. Latvia cooperates with Estonia and Lithuania in the joint infantry battalion BALTBAT and naval squadron BALTRON which are available for peacekeeping operations.

As of March 29, 2004, Latvia officially joined NATO. Currently, NATO is involved in the patrolling and protection of the Latvian air space as the Latvian army does not have the means to do so effectively. For this goal a rotating force of four NATO fighters, which comes from different nations and switches at two or three month intervals, is based in Lithuania to cover all three Baltic states (see Baltic Air Policing).


A high rise building

Latvia is a member of the World Trade Organization (1999) and the European Union (2004).

Since the year 2000 Latvia has had one of the highest (GDP) growth rates in Europe. However, the chiefly consumption-driven growth in Latvia resulted in the collapse of the Latvian GDP in late 2008 and early 2009, exacerbated by the global economic crisis and shortage of credit. Latvian economy fell 18% in the first three months of 2009, the biggest fall in the European Union.According to Eurostat data, Latvian PPS GDP per capita stood at 56 per cent of the EU average in 2008.

Real GDP growth in Latvia 1996–2006.

This latest scenario has proven the earlier assumptions that the fast growing economy was heading for implosion of the economic bubble, because it was driven mainly by growth of domestic consumption, financed by a serious increase of private debt, as well as a negative foreign trade balance. The prices of real estate, which were at some points appreciating at approximately 5% a month, were long perceived to be too high for the economy, which mainly produces low-value goods and raw materials. Since 2001, Latvia's chief export has been domestic livestock.

Latvia plans to introduce the Euro as the country's currency but, due to the inflation being above EMU's guidelines, the government's official target is now 1 January 2012. However in October 2007, with inflation above 11%, the head of the National Bank of Latvia suggested that 2013 may be a more realistic date.

Privatisation in Latvia is almost complete. Virtually all of the previously state-owned small and medium companies have been successfully privatized, leaving only a small number of politically sensitive large state companies. Latvian privatization efforts have led to the development of a dynamic and prosperous private sector, which accounted for nearly 68% of GDP in 2000.

Foreign investment in Latvia is still modest compared with the levels in north-central Europe. A law expanding the scope for selling land, including to foreigners, was passed in 1997. Representing 10.2% of Latvia's total foreign direct investment, American companies invested $127 million in 1999. In the same year, the United States exported $58.2 million of goods and services to Latvia and imported $87.9 million. Eager to join Western economic institutions like the World Trade Organization, OECD, and the European Union, Latvia signed a Europe Agreement with the EU in 1995—with a 4-year transition period. Latvia and the United Statesmarker have signed treaties on investment, trade, and intellectual property protection and avoidance of double taxation.

Economic contraction 2008

The Latvian economy entered a phase of fiscal contraction during the second half of 2008 after an extended period of credit-based speculation and unrealistic inflation of real estate values. The national account deficit for 2007, for example, represented more than 22% of the GDP for the year while inflation was running at 10%.

Paul Krugman, the Nobel Laureate in economics for 2008, wrote in his New York Times Op-Ed column for December 15, 2008:

"The most acute problems are on Europe’s periphery, where many smaller economies are experiencing crises strongly reminiscent of past crises in Latin America and Asia: Latvia is the new Argentina "


The transport sector is around 14% of GDP. Transit between Russia and the West is large.

Key ports are in Rigamarker, Ventspilsmarker, and Liepajamarker. Most transit traffic uses these and half the cargo is crude oil and oil products.

Riga International Airportmarker is the largest airport with 3.7 million passengers in 2008.


The University of Latvia is the oldest university in Latvia, having been established on September 28th 1919, and is located in Rigamarker. Daugavpils University is the second largest university. Because of a decreasing population Latvia has closed an average of 13 schools a year since 2006-2009, and in the same period enrollment in educational institutions has fallen by 31,000 persons. The average Latvian leaves school at 15.5 years old (14 for males, 17 for females).


Residents of Latvia by ethnicity
Latvians 59.2% Russians 28.0% Belarusians 3.7% Ukrainians 2.5% Poles 2.4% Lithuanians 1.3% Others 2.9%

Ethnic and cultural diversity

Latvia's population has been multiethnic for centuries, though the demographics shifted dramatically in the twentieth century due to the World Wars, the emigration and removal of Baltic Germans, the Holocaust, and occupation by the Soviet Unionmarker. According to the Russian Empire Census of 1897, the Latvians formed 68.3% of the total population of 1.93 million; Russians accounted for 12%, Jews for 7.4%, Germans for 6.2%, and Poles for 3.4%.

Latvians and Livonians, the indigenous peoples of Latvia, now form about 59.2% of the population; 28% of the inhabitants are Russians , Belorussians 3.7%, Ukrainians 2.5% , Poles 2.4%, Lithuanians 1.3%, Jews 0.5%, Roma people 0.4%, Germans 0.2%, Estonians 0.1% and others 1.7% . Approximately 56% of the ethnic Russians living in Latvia are citizens of Latvia.

In some large cities, e.g. Rigamarker, Daugavpilsmarker and Rēzeknemarker, Russians and other minorities outnumber Latvians. Minorities from other countries such as Belarusmarker, Ukrainemarker, Polandmarker, Lithuaniamarker, etc., also live in Latvia. The share of ethnic Latvians had fallen from 77% (1,467,035) in 1935 to 52% (1,387,757) in 1989. In 2005 there were even fewer Latvians than in 1989, though their share of the population was larger — 1,357,099 (57.% of the inhabitants).

The official language of Latvia is Latvian, which belongs to the Baltic language group of the Indo-European language family. Another notable language of Latvia is the nearly extinct Livonian language of the Baltic-Finnic subbranch of the Uralic language family, which enjoys protection by law; The Latgalian language — a dialect of Latvian — is also protected by Latvian law as a historical variation of the Latvian language. Russian which was widely spoken during the Soviet period, and also during the Russian Imperial periodmarker is by far the most widespread minority language and is also understood by virtually all Latvians who started their education during the Soviet period.


The largest religion is Christianity, although only 7% of population attend religious services regularly. The largest groups in 2006 are:

According to the most recent Eurobarometer Poll 2005, 37% of Latvian citizens responded that "they believe there is a god", whereas 49% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force" and 10% that "they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, god, or life force". Lutheranism was much stronger before the Soviet occupation, when it was a majority religion, but since then Lutheranism in all the Baltic States has declined to a much greater extent than Roman Catholicism has. The country's Orthodox Christians belong to the Latvian Orthodox Church, a semi-autonomous body within the Russian Orthodox Church. There are 182 known Muslims living in Latvia. There are also Jews (9,743 in 2006) in Latvia.

There are more than 600 Latvian neopagans, Dievturi (The Godskeepers), whose religion is based on Latvian mythology. About 40% of the total population is not affiliated with a specific religion.

Culture and arts

Traditional Latvian folklore, especially folk songs are dating back well over a thousand years. More than 1.2 million texts and 30,000 melodies of folk songs have been identified.

Between the thirteenth and nineteenth century, Baltic Germans, many of whom were originally of non-German ancestry but had been assimilated into German culture, formed the upper class. They developed distinct cultural heritage, characterised by both Latvian and German influences. It has survived in German Baltic families to this day, in spite of their dispersal to Germany, the USA, Canada and other countries in the early 20th century. However, most indigenous Latvians did not participate in this particular cultural life. Thus, the mostly peasant local pagan heritage was preserved, partly merging with Christian traditions, for example in one of the most popular celebrations today which is Jāņi, a pagan celebration of the summer solstice, celebrated on the feast day of St. John the Baptist.

In the nineteenth century Latvian nationalist movements emerged promoting Latvian culture and encouraging Latvians to take part in cultural activities. The nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century is often regarded as a classical era of Latvian culture. Posters show the influence of other European cultures, for example, works of artists such as the Baltic-German artist Bernhard Borchert and the French Raoul Dufy. With the onset of World War II, many Latvian artists and other members of the cultural elite fled the country yet continued to produce their work, largely for a Latvian émigré audience.

After incorporation into the USSRmarker, Latvian artists and writers were forced to follow the Socialist realism style of art. During the Soviet era, music became increasingly popular, with the most popular being songs from the 1980s. At this time, songs often made fun of the characteristics of Soviet life and were concerned about preserving Latvian identity. This aroused popular protests against the USSR and also gave rise to an increasing popularity of poetry. Since independence, theatre, scenography, choir music and classical music have become the most notable branches of Latvian culture.

International rankings

Name Year Place Out of # Reference
CIA World FactbookGDP per capita (PPP) 2008 66th 229 [2475]
CIA World Factbooklife expectancy 2008 120th 223 [2476]
World Economic Forum – Enabling Trade Index ranking 2008 43rd 118 [2477]
Yale Universitymarker / Columbia UniversityEnvironmental Performance Index 2008 8th 149 [2478]
The Economist Intelligence Unite-readiness 2008 37th 70 [2479]
The Economist Intelligence UnitGlobal Peace Index 2008 39th 140 [2480]
United States Patent and Trademark Office's list of patents by country 2007 95th 172 [2481]
Save the Children – Mother's Index Rank 2007 25th 141 [2482]
Save the Children – Women's Index Rank 2007 21st 141 [2483]
Save the Children – Children's Index Rank 2007 33rd 141 [2484]
Wall Street Journal / The Heritage FoundationIndex of Economic Freedom 2007 39th 157 [2485]
United NationsHuman Development Index 2008 44th 179 [2486]
World Economic Forum – Global Competitiveness Report 2007–2008 2007 45th 131 [2487]
World Economic Forum – The Global Gender Gap Report 2007 2007 13th 128 [2488]
World BankEase of Doing Business Index 2007–2008 29th 181 [2489]
Reporters Without BordersWorldwide Press Freedom Index 2007 12th 169 [2490]
Transparency InternationalCorruption Perceptions Index 2007 49th 180 [2491]
The Economist Intelligence UnitIndex of Democracy 2007 43rd 167 [2492]
Privacy InternationalPrivacy index (EU and 11 other selected countries) 2006 28th 36 [2493]
New Economics FoundationHappy Planet Index 2006 160th 178 [2494]
The Economist Intelligence UnitQuality-of-life index 2005 66th 111 [2495]
Save the Children – % seats in the national government held by women 2004 23–25th 126 [2496]
World Health Organizationsuicide rates by country (both sexes) 8th 101 [2497]
NationMaster's index of civil and political liberties 17th 140 [2498]

See also



  1. Collector Coin Dedicated to 18th Century Riga. Bank of Latvia.
  2. Text of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, executed August 23, 1939
  3. Wettig, Gerhard, Stalin and the Cold War in Europe, Rowman & Littlefield, Landham, Md, 2008, ISBN 0742555429, page 20–21
  4. Senn, Alfred Erich, Lithuania 1940 : revolution from above, Amsterdam, New York, Rodopi, 2007 ISBN 9789042022256
  5. Strods, Heinrihs; Kott, Matthew (2002). "[The File on Operation 'Priboi': A Re-Assessment of the Mass Deportations of 1949]". Journal of Baltic Studies 33 (1): 1–36.
  6. Constitution of the Republic of Latvia with amendments and revisions (Official english translation) (Retrieved on 24 December 2006)
  7. Latvian GDP Shrank 18% in First Quarter, EU’s Biggest Fall -
  8. BBC NEWS | Business | Latvian economy in rapid decline
  9. Latvia, World Bank
  10. University of Latvia
  11. Education
  12. Education expectancy
  13. Latvia – Population. Source: U.S. Library of Congress.
  14. Welcome to Latvia - Folk Songs


External links

• "Na Łotwie działa ponad 1,2 tys. wspólnot religijnych" (in Polish). Retrieved 2007-07-28.• "Na Łotwie działa ponad 1,2 tys. wspólnot religijnych" (in Polish). Retrieved 2007-07-28.• "Na Łotwie działa ponad 1,2 tys. wspólnot religijnych" (in Polish). Retrieved 2007-07-28.

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