Article: Latvia

Latvijas Republika
Republic of Latvia
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Flag Coat of arms
Motto: Latvian: Tēvzemei un Brīvībai
(English: "For Fatherland and Freedom")
Anthem: Dievs, svētī Latviju!
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Capital Riga
56°57′N 24°6′E
Largest city Riga
Official language(s) Latvian
Government Parliamentary democracy
 - President Vaira VÄ«Ä·e-Freiberga
 - Prime Minister Aigars KalvÄ«tis
Independence Latvia considers itself continuous with the first republic 
 - Declared (from Russia) November 1, 1918 
 - Recognized January 26, 1921 
 - Proclaimed (begin secession from Soviet Union) May 4, 1990 
 - Completed August 21, 1991 
Accession to EU May 1, 2004
Area  
 - Total 64,589 km² (124th)
  24,931 sq mi 
 - Water (%) 1.5%
Population  
 - July 2005 est. 2,307,000 (141st)
 - Density 35/km² (166th)
92/sq mi 
GDP (PPP) 2005 estimate
 - Total $29.42 billion (95th)
 - Per capita $12,800 (53rd)
HDI (2003) 0.836 (48th) â€“ high
Currency Lats (Ls) (LVL)
Time zone EET (UTC+2)
 - Summer (DST) EEST (UTC+3)
Internet TLD .lv
Calling code +371

Latvia, officially the Republic of Latvia (Latvian: Latvija or Latvijas Republika), is a country in north-eastern Europe. Latvia has land borders with her two fellow Baltic states — Estonia 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 is Riga (Latvian: Rīga). Latvia has been a member state of the European Union since May 1, 2004.

History

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The neutrality of this section is disputed.
Please see the discussion on the talk page.

Main article: History of Latvia

The proto-Baltic forefathers of the Latvian people have lived on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea since the third millennium BC [1].

At the beginning of this era the territory known today as Latvia became famous as a trading crossroads. The famous "route from the Vikings to the Greeks" mentioned in ancient chronicles stretched from Scandinavia through Latvian territory via the River Daugava to the ancient Russia and Byzantine Empire.

The ancient Balts of this time actively participated in the trading network. Across the European continent, Latvia's coast was known as a place for obtaining amber. Up to and into the Middle Ages amber was more valuable than gold in many places. Latvian amber was known in places as far away as Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. In the 900's A.D., the ancient Balts started to form specific tribal realms. Gradually, four individual Baltic tribal cultures developed: Couronians, Latgallians, Selonians, Semigallians (in Latvian: kurši, latgaļi, sēļi and zemgaļi). The largest of them was the Latgallian tribe, which was the most advanced in its socio-political development. In the 1100s and 1200s, the Couronians maintained a lifestyle of intensive invasions that included looting and pillaging.

On the west coast of the Baltic Sea, they became known as the "Baltic Vikings". But the Selonians and Semgallians, during this time, were known as peace-loving and prosperous farmers.

Because of its strategic geographic location, Latvian territory has always been invaded by other larger nations, and this situation has defined the fate of Latvia and its people.

At the end of the 1100s, Latvia was more often visited by traders from western Europe who set out on trading journeys along Latvia's longest river, the Daugava, to Russia. At the very end of the 12th century, German traders arrived and with them came preachers of the Christian faith who attempted to convert the pagan Baltic and Finno-Ugrian tribes to the Christian faith. The Balts did not willingly convert to the new and different beliefs and practices, and particularly opposed the ritual of christening. News of this reached the Pope in Rome and it was decided that Crusaders would be sent into Latvia to influence the situation.

The Germans founded Riga in 1201, and gradually it became the largest and most beautiful city in the southern part of the Baltic Sea. With the arrival of the German Crusaders, the development of separate tribal realms of ancient Latvias came to an end.

In the 1200s, a confederation of feudal nations developed under German rule that was called Livonia. Livonia included today's Latvia and Estonia. In 1282, Rīga and later Cēsis, Limbaži, Koknese and Valmiera were included in the Northern German Trading Organisation, or the Hanseatic League (Hansa). From this time, Riga became an important point in west-east trading. Rīga, being the centre of the eastern Baltic region, formed close cultural contacts with Western Europe.

The 1500s were a time of great changes for the inhabitants of Latvia, notable for the reformation and the collapse of the Livonian nation. After the Livonian War (1558-1583) today's Latvian territory came under Polish-Lithuanian rule. The Lutheran faith was accepted in Kurzeme, Zemgale and Vidzeme, but the Roman Catholic faith maintained its dominance in Latgale – it remains so to this day.

The 17th and early 18th century saw a struggle between Poland, Sweden and Russia for supremacy in the eastern Baltic. Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden took Riga in 1621, and the larger part of Polish Livonia, including Vidzeme, came under Swedish rule with the Truce of Altmark in 1629.Latvian forces played a key role at the Battle of Zenta against the Ottomans in 1697 AD. The term "Swedish era" (Latvian: zviedru laiki) is still synonymous with beneficent rule; though serfdom was not abolished, it was strictly regulated and a network of schools was established for the peasantry. The Treaty of Nystad ending the Great Northern War in 1721 gave Vidzeme to Russia (it became part of the guberniya of Livland). The Latgale region remained part of Poland as Inflanty until 1772, when it was joined to Russia. In the Duchy of Courland, a German minority of ca. 4% ruled an indigenous majority of 80%. Courland became known as a "paradise of the nobles," though the code granting privileges to the German nobility declared the country a "social paradise." Courland became a Russian province (the guberniya of Courland) in 1795, bringing all of what is now Latvia into Imperial Russia.

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 emancipation of the serfs took place in Courland in 1817 and in Livland in 1819. In practice, the emancipation was actually advantageous to the nobility because it dispossessed the peasants of their land without compensation. At the beginning of the 19th century, 7% of the population was urban, this portion rising to 40% by its close. The population grew from ca. 720 000 persons to almost two million by the end of the century, the proportion of indigenous inhabitants falling from ca. 90% to 68%. The social structure changed dramatically, with a class of independent farmers establishing itself after reforms allowed the peasants to repurchase their land, landless peasants numbering 591 000 in 1897, a growing urban proletariat and an increasingly influential Latvian bourgeoisie. The Young Latvia 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. Russification began in Latgale after the 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.

World War I devastated the country. Demands for self-determination were at first confined to autonomy ("a free Latvia in a free Russia"), but full independence was proclaimed in Riga on November 18, 1918 by the People's Council of Latvia, Kārlis Ulmanis becoming the head of the provisional government. The War of Liberation that followed was a very chaotic period in Latvia's history. By the spring of 1919 there were actually three governments -- Ulmanis' government, which concluded an agreement with the Germans and was supported by Great Britain; the Iskolat led by Pēteris Stučka, which proclaimed an independent Soviet Latvia and whose forces, supported by the Red Army, occupied almost all of the country; and the Baltic German puppet government headed by Andrievs Niedra. 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 Bolshevik forces by Polish, Latvian, and German 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 — suspended by Ulmanis after his coup in 1934 but reaffirmed in 1990 and since amended, this is the constitution still in use in Latvia today. The Satversme declares that power is vested in the people of Latvia (Latvijas tauta -- rather than the Latvian people, latviešu tauta), and minorities received considerable cultural autonomy. 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 1930 that percentage had been reduced to 23.2%. The extent of cultivated land surpassed the pre-war level already in 1923. Innovation and rising productivity led to the GNP per capita approaching Finland's level by 1930, but the economy soon suffered the effects of the Great Depression. Though Latvia showed signs of economic recovery and the electorate had steadily moved toward the center during the parliamentary period, Ulmanis staged a bloodless coup on May 15, 1934, establishing a nationalist dictatorship that lasted until 1940. 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, and on June 17 Soviet forces occupied the country. Rigged elections for a "People's Saeima" were held, and a puppet government headed by Augusts Kirhenšteins led Latvia into the USSR. The annexation was formalized on August 5.

The ensuing months would become known in Latvia as Baigais Gads, the Year of Horror. Mass arrests, disappearances, and deportations culminated on the night of June 14, 1941. Prior to the German invasion, in less than a year, at least 27,586 persons were arrested; most were deported, and ca. 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 actively participated in the Holocaust. 80,000 to 100,000 Latvian citizens were killed during the Nazi occupation, including ca. 70,000 Latvian Jews; ca. 20,000 Jews brought from Central and Eastern Europe were also murdered in Latvia. 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 authorities.

The Soviets reoccupied the country in 1944-45, and further mass deportations followed as the country was forcibly collectivized and Sovietized; 42,975 persons were deported in 1949. An influx of laborers, administrators, military personnel and their dependents from Russia and other Soviet republics meant that the ethnic Latvian population had fallen to 62% by 1959. 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 suppressed. 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". A national movement coalescing in the Popular Front of Latvia took advantage of glasnost under Mikhail Gorbachev, opposed by the Interfront, and on May 4, 1990 the Supreme Soviet of the Latvian SSR adopted the Declaration of the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia, subject to a transition period that came to an end on August 21 1991, after the failure of the August Putsch. The Saeima, Latvia's parliament, was again elected in 1993, and Russia completed its military withdrawal in 1994.

In the 1990s and early 21st century, Latvia focused on "rejoining Europe"; its two major goals, NATO and European Union membership, were achieved in 2004. Controversial language and citizenship laws inscripted by the current regime (Latvian is the sole official language and citizenship was not automatically extended to those who arrived during the Soviet era or their descendants) have been criticised by many international organisations, European Institutions and recently even Latvian opposition. Though many residents are naturalizing since the law was liberalized, almost 18.5% of the inhabitants remain non-citizens today. The government denationalized private property confiscated by the Soviets, returning it or compensating the owners when that was not possible, and privatized most state-owned industries, reintroducing the prewar currency. After a difficult transition to a liberal economy and its re-orientation toward Western Europe, Latvia still has one of the lowest standard of living in the EU, though its economy has one of the highest growth rates.

Politics

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Ingrīda Ūdre - Speaker of Saeima, the Latvian parliament
More information on politics and government of Latvia can be found at the Politics and government of Latvia series.

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 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.

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

Latvia has no territorial claims towards Russia, but demands an acknowledgement from Russia of the annexation of the small part of the Abrene region, since this land was previously part of Latvia and was detached from it by the Soviet Union. At the same time Latvia is considering to require monetary compensation from Russia for the Soviet occupation. A special government commission has calculated the amount of 100 billion USD in losses caused to Latvia by its incorporation into the Soviet Union; however, no official demands yet for Russia to provide compensation have been made by the Latvian government.

Although all discrimination in employment is outlawed (non exhaustible list of grounds similar to that of Article 1 of the 12th Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms), Latvia remains one of the very few EU member states that do not expressly enumerate "sexual orientation" as a ground for unlawful discrimination in its legislation. [1]

Administrative Divisions

Main article: Districts of Latvia

Latvia is divided into 26 districts (rajoni). There are also 7 cities (lielpilsētas) that have a separate status.

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Sigulda New Castle, Latvia
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Train station at Grobiņa, Latvia
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Doma laukums (main church's square) in Riga
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Early 1920s photo of RÄ“zekne
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Town Hall Square and "Guild of Blackheads" House, Riga
  • Aizkraukle District
  • AlÅ«ksne District
  • Balvi District
  • Bauska District
  • CÄ“sis District
  • Daugavpils (city)
  • Daugavpils District
  • Dobele District
  • Gulbene District
  • JÄ“kabpils District
  • Jelgava (city)
  • Jelgava District
  • JÅ«rmala (city)
  • Krāslava District
  • KuldÄ«ga District
  • Liepāja (city)
  • Liepāja District
  • Limbaži District
  • Ludza District
  • Madona District
  • Ogre District
  • Preiļi District
  • RÄ“zekne (city)
  • RÄ“zekne District
  • Riga (city)
  • Riga District
  • Saldus District
  • Talsi District
  • Tukums District
  • Valka District
  • Valmiera District
  • Ventspils (city)
  • Ventspils District
  • Abrene District (1919-1940), the eastern part of which was annexed to Russia in 1944;
    the legal status of the annexed portion is disputed -- the western part of the former district is now in Balvi District.

Geography

Main article: Geography of Latvia

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Map of Latvia with cities

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 1,020 feet (311 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 River Daugava 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.

Economy

Main article: Economy of Latvia

Since year 2000 Latvia has had one of the highest GDP growth rates in Europe [2]. 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 Organization (1999) and the European Union (2004).

The Latvian government aspires to adopt the euro as the country's currency on January 1, 2008, though this has been thrown into doubt recently, and Latvia might not be able to adopt the Euro until 2009 or later.

Religion

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Old Believers' church from the front, RÄ“zekne, Latvia

The population is mostly Christian. The largest group 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 (9,883 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.

Demographics

Main article: Demographics of Latvia

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Daugavpils, 1912

Latvia's population has been multiethnic for centuries, though the demographics shifted dramatically in the 20th century due to the world wars, the repatriation of the Baltic Germans, the Holocaust, and the Soviet occupation.

In 1897 the first official census in this area indicated that 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 %. The remainder were Lithuanians, Estonians, Gypsies, and various other nationalities.

Latvians and Livonians, the indigenous peoples of Latvia, now form c. 60% of the population; 28.5% of the inhabitants are Russian.[3]. Ca. 54% of the ethnic Russians are citizens of Latvia; most of the others are permanent residents with Latvian aliens' passports. Like others who arrived whilst Latvia was annexed by the USSR, and their descendants, they must be naturalized to receive Latvian citizenship. Over 100,000 persons have naturalized in recent years, but 418,440 persons (278,213 of them ethnic Russians) remain non-citizens. Children born to residents after the restoration of independence in 1991 do not require naturalization to obtain citizenship.

In some major cities (e.g. Daugavpils and RÄ“zekne), Russians outnumber Latvians. Minorities from other countries such as Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, 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. [4]. In 2005 there were even fewer Latvians than in 1989, though their share of the population was larger - 1,357,099 (58.8% of the inhabitants).

Language

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. Russian is by far the most widespread minority language, also spoken or at least understood by large sections of the non-Russian population. The Latgalian language is widespread in Latgale (most linguists consider Latgalian a dialect of the Latvian language). Kuronian/Couronian is another Latvian dialect and spoken in Kurzeme, though less popular than Latgalian.

Culture

One of the most striking features of Latvian culture to visitors is the mid-summer festival of Ligo or Jāņi - a celebration of the summer solstice and the feast day of St. John the Baptist. Whilst ostensibly a Christian festival, its pagan roots are unmistakable. Ligo takes place every year on the night between June 23rd and 24th, the shortest night of the year. It is customary for people to go to the countryside for Ligo, traditionally wreaths of leaves and flowers are worn on the head. If a man is named Jānis (John) the wreath will be made of oak leaves. In the early evening of the 23rd, fires are lit around which people will chat, sing and dance until the early hours of the following day. It is considered lucky to jump over these fires. Cheese flavoured with caraway and a drink made from birch sap are traditional fare at Ligo firesides. Throughout the night it is not unusual to see young couples slip quietly off into the woods in search of a non-existent "fern flower"- these liaisons are not considered unseemly nor are they generally remarked upon the next day.

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Great choir sings in Latvian Song and Dance Festival "RÄ«gai 800"

Latvian Song and Dance Festivals have been held since 1873, normally every five years (this schedule was adjusted most recently for "RÄ«ga 800"), and are one of the most important events in Latvian social life - there is even a law to regulate this event [5]. During the festivals exhibitions of photography, art and folk craft also take place. Events and competitions leading up to the event occur througout the period between festivals. The next festival is scheduled for 2008 in Latvia. (Note, the next U.S. festival is scheduled for July 4-9, 2007.) Many people are woken by a singing lady at a quarter to eight in the morning as a mark of free speech for women. Approximately 30,000 people all together participate in the event [6]. Although usually dainas and classical choir songs are sung, recently modern popular songs were incorporated into the repertoire. Most popular songs are from the 1980s when songs that made fun of characteristics of Soviet life and which were concerned about preserving Latvian identity aroused popular protests against the USSR; they also gave rise to an increasing popularity of poetry.

In recent years Riga has seen many tourists. Tourists seeking active night life will enjoy the drinking hours, which are flexible to say the least. However, shops were recently banned from selling alcohol after 10:00.

The country won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2002, and hosted the event on May 24, 2003.

Sports

Main article: Sports in Latvia

Latvia has a professional basketball, football and hockey league. Latvia's football league is named the LMT Virslīga.

The Latvian hockey team has participated in 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics and all Ice Hockey World Championships since its entry in group A in 1997. Its best results were the 7th places in 1997 and 2004 World Championships. Ice Hockey World Championships of 2006 took place in Riga, Latvia.

Latvia also qualified for Euro 2004 in Portugal.

International rankings

  • Environmental Sustainability Index 2005 Rank 15 out of all countries
  • Reporters Without Borders world-wide press freedom index 2005: Rank 16 out of 167 countries

Latvians like their hockey most of all sports. There have been many Latvians in the NHL, such as Sandis Ozolinsh, Arturs Irbe, Karlis Skrastins and Peteris Skudra.

Topics of Interest

  • Communications in Latvia
  • Foreign relations of Latvia
  • Holidays in Latvia
  • List of cities in Latvia
  • Military of Latvia
  • National Roads in Latvia
  • Regions of Latvia
  • Sports in Latvia
  • Tourism in the Baltics
  • Transportation in Latvia
  • History of Russians in Latvia
  • Muslims in Latvia
  • Latvijas TelevÄ«zija
  • Latvian humour
  • List of Museums in Latvia

Accomplishments

  • 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.