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Republic of Latvia

Capitol: Riga

A short display of coins, struck or used in Latvia

General Information*
*The information on this site is subject to disclaimer  disclaimer

Latvians look like and consider themselves Nordics. However, eastern Latvia has a strong Polish and Russian cultural and linguistic influence.

Latvia is a Baltic Country, a member of NATO and the European Union.

Almost Everything that You Want to Know about Latvia in English and Latvian (Latviski) from: Welcome to Latvia

Embassy of Latvia

Background: "After a brief period of independence between the two World Wars, Latvia was annexed by the USSR in 1940. It reestablished its independence in 1991 following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Although the last Russian troops left in 1994, the status of the Russian minority (some 30% of the population) remains of concern to Moscow. Latvia continues to revamp its economy for eventual integration into various Western European political and economic institutions. "

-- CIA World Factbook

Latvia joined the NATO alliance in 2004. 

Latvia is a member in the European Union, since May of 2004

EU Enlargement - Latvia

Riga This Week - Official City Guide

Location: Eastern Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea, between Estonia and Lithuania

Geographic coordinates: 57 00 N, 25 00 E

Map references: Europe

Area: total: 64,589 sq km
land: 64,589 sq km
water: 0 sq km

Area - comparative: slightly larger than West Virginia

Land boundaries: total: 1,150 km
border countries: Belarus 141 km, Estonia 339 km, Lithuania 453 km, Russia 217 km

Coastline: 531 km

Climate: maritime; wet,  moderate winters

Terrain:  low plain

Natural resources: minimal; amber, peat, limestone, dolomite Latvia lies on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea on the level northwestern part of the rising East European platform. About 98% of the country lies under 200m elevation (640 ft.). The damp climate resembles New England's. With the exception of the coastal plains, the Ice Age divided Latvia into three main regions: the morainic
Western and Eastern uplands and the Middle lowlands. Latvia holds over 12,000 rivers, only 17 of  which are longer than 60 miles, and over 3,000 small lakes, most of which are eutrophic. Woodland, more than half of which is pine, covers 41% of the country. Other than peat, dolomite, and limestone, natural resources are scarce.

Government type: parliamentary democracy

Independence: 6 September 1991 (from Soviet Union)

Population: 2,404,926 (July 2000 est.)

Ethnic groups: Latvian 56.5%, Russian 30.4%, Byelorussian 4.3%, Ukrainian 2.8%, Polish 2.6%, other 3.4%

Religions: Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox

Languages: Lettish (official), Lithuanian, Russian, other

Literacy: total population: 100%

Currency: 1 Latvian lat (LVL) = 100 santims.

Economy: Latvia's transitional economy recovered from the 1998 Russian financial crisis, largely due to the SKELE government's budget stringency and a gradual reorientation of exports toward EU countries, lessening Latvia's trade dependency on Russia. The majority of companies, banks, and real estate have been privatized, although the state still holds sizable stakes in a few large enterprises. Latvia officially joined the World Trade Organization in February 1999. Preparing for EU membership continues as a top foreign policy goal. The current account and internal government deficits remain major concerns, but the government's efforts to increase efficiency in revenue collection may lessen the budget deficit

                       -- CIA World Factbook     Disclaimer

For the latest or more information see CIA World Factbook


Early Latvian History
"Latvians have resided in their present geographical area for more than 2,000 years. Their closest ethnic relatives are the ancient Prussians, the Galinds, the Jatvings, and the Lithuanians. Only the Lithuanians have avoided extinction. All the other peoples were conquered or assimilated by their neighbors, demonstrating one of the realities of history--the ebb and flow of the creation and disappearance of nations. This aspect of history has been taken to heart by Latvians, who regularly use their experience of extinction as a tocsin of potential danger to the survival of their own group. Ironically, Latvians themselves have been in the position of having assimilated another group. The first settlers in the territory of Latvia were Livonians, or "Libiesi." Whereas the Latvians originated from the Indo-European family, the Livonians were akin to the Estonians and the Finns and formed a part of the Finno-Ugric complex of nations. The Livonians were once heavily concentrated in the northern part of Latvia's present-day provinces of Kurzeme and Vidzeme, but today only about 100 individuals retain their ancient language. Livonians have also contributed to the development of a prominent Latvian dialect.

  Until about 1300, the Latvian people lived within half a dozen or so independent and culturally distinct kingdoms.This lack of unity hastened their conquest by German-led crusaders, who brought with them more efficient weaponry, war experience, and technology, including stone and mortar fortifications. During the next 600 years, various parts of the territory of Latvia were taken over by a succession of foreign regimes, including those of Denmark, Prussia, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Sweden, and Russia. In this maelstrom of changing rulers, the descendants of the German conquerors were able to maintain their autonomy and their title to feudal estates by adapting to new circumstances and by offering loyalty to whoever was the dominant power. These Baltic barons formed the bulk of the upper classes and set the tone of the Baltic establishment. Although their dominance over the Latvian serfs has often been justifiably criticized, their profound impact on Latvian cultural and social development can be observed even to this day.

Besides the Baltic barons and other Germans, the greatest impact on the formation of the Latvian nation came from Russia, the giant neighbor that began the conquest of Latvia in 1710 under Peter I (the Great) (r. 1682-1725) and completed the process eighty-five years later. For more than 200 years, Latvians had a unique mixture of elites. The German nobility was dominant in economic, cultural, social, and local political life, and the Russian bureaucracy was in charge of higher politics and administration. Some Latvians aspiring to higher status tried to emulate the Germans, but other Latvians thought that salvation was to be found with the Russians. Indeed, a large part of the Latvian intelligentsia was inspired by alumni of the higher educational institutes of St. Petersburg. Several prominent intellectual leaders agitated for the migration of Latvians to the interior of Russia, where free land was available. Some Latvians adopted the Orthodox faith, Russia's predominant religion.

During the second half of the nineteenth century, Latvians experienced a resurgence of national consciousness. There was an intense development of Latvian culture and a new stress on the need for protecting this culture against the inroads of both Germanization and Russification. A new Latvian-oriented elite appeared and began to press for a larger input by Latvians in the determination of their own local affairs. This period is known as the first Latvian awakening. " 

Current Latvia

The Pursuit of Independence,1987-91 "The national awakening came about in large measure as a result of Gorbachev's loosening of the reins of repression and his public stress on truth and freedom of expression. When open demonstrations started in 1987, Latvians were no longer lacking in social cohesion. The purpose of these "calendar" demonstrations was to publicly commemorate the events of June 13-14, 1941 (the mass deportations of Latvians to the Soviet Union); August 23, 1939 (the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact); and November 18, 1918 (the proclamation of Latvian independence). During the several years leading up to the first demonstrations by Helsinki '86 on June 14, 1987, several groups had labored with missionary zeal to inspire Latvians to work for a number of social and political causes. Latvia has gottten independence on 6 September 1991 (from Soviet Union) "

Physical Environment
"Latvia is traditionally seen as a tiny country. In terms of its population of about 2.6 million, it deserves this designation. Geographically, however, Latvia encompasses 64,589 square kilometers, a size surpassing that of better-known European states such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Denmark.."

-- The Library of Congress  Country Studies  

The Library of Congress/Latvia  ... See Early History


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