Latvia, officially the Republic of Latvia (Latvian: Latvijas Republika) is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe.
It is bordered to the north by Estonia (343 km), to the south by Lithuania (588 km), to the east by the Russian Federation (276 km), and to the southeast by Belarus (141 km).
Across the Baltic Sea to the west lies Sweden.
The territory of Latvia covers 64,589 km² (24,938 sq mi) 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 Riga.
Latvia has been a member of the United Nations since September 17, 1991; of the European Union since May 1, 2004 and of the NATO 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 Sea.
The Balts established trade routes to Rome 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 Christianisation.
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 Mariana or Livonia.
In 1282, Riga and later the cities of Cēsis, Limbaži, Koknese and Valmiera 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 Ultradunensis (Pārdaugavas hercogiste).
Gotthard Kettler, the last Master of the Order of Livonia, formed the Duchy of Courland.
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 Russia 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 Courland became an autonomous Russian province (the Courland Governorate) in 1795, bringing all of what is now Latvia into the Russian Empire.
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 (Latvian: Jaunlatvieši) 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.
Estonian 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 Union 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, Finland and Estonia 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 Union, granting the Soviets the right to station 25,000 troops on Latvian territory.
On June 16, 1940, Vyacheslav Molotov presented the Latvian representative in Moscow 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.
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 Union.
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 Jelgava, electrotechnical factories in Riga, chemical factories in Daugavpils, Valmiera and Olaine, 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 Monument - 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.
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 naturalised 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 NATO 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.
Republic of Latvia
Flag Coat of arms
Anthem: "God bless Latvia!"
(Latvian: Dievs, svētī Latviju!)
Capital: (and largest city) Riga
C0-0rdinates: 56°57'N 24°6'E
Official languages: Latvian
Government: Parliamentary republic
- President Valdis Zatlers (November 2009)
- Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis (November 2009)
Independence: from Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Germany
- Declared November 18, 1918
- Recognised January 26, 1921
- Soviet occupation August 5, 1940
- Nazi German occupation July 10, 1941
- Soviet re-occupation 1944
- Announced May 4, 1990
- Restored September 6, 1991
EU accession: May 1, 2004
Area: - Total 64,589 km² (124th)
24,938 sq mi
- Water (%) 1.5
- July 2009 estimate 2,231,503  (143rd)
- 2000 ppl census 2,377,383
- Density 34.4/km² (166th) 89.3/sq mi
GDP (PPP): 2009 estimate
- Total $32.346 billion (92nd)
- Per capita $14,306 (51st)
GDP (nominal): 2009 estimate
- Total $24.198 billion (80th)
- Per capita $10,701 (45th)
Gini (2003): 37.7 (medium)
HDI: (2008) ? 0.866 (high) (48th)
Currency: Lats (Ls) (LVL)
Time zone: EET (UTC+2)
- Summer (DST) EEST (UTC+3)
Drives on the: right
Internet TLD: .lv
Calling code: +371
1 Latvia is de jure continuous with its declaration November 18, 1918.
2 Also .eu, shared with other European Union member states.
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For more information about Latvia see Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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This page was retrieved and condensed from (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latvia) November 2009.
All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License (see Copyrights for details).
This information was correct in November 2009. E. & O.E.
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