| National motto: Tēvzemei un Brīvībai|
(English: For Fatherland and Freedom)
|Nationalities|| Latvians 58.9%|
(July 2005 est.)
|Capital and largest city||Rīga|
|Prime minister||Aigars Kalvītis|
- % water
| Ranked 121st |
- Total (2005)
| Ranked 137th|
|HDI (2003)||0.836 (48th) – high|
| From Imperial Russia|
November 18, 1918
August 11, 1920
June 17, 1940
From Soviet Union
May 4, 1990
August 21, 1991
| GDP (PPP)
- Per capita
| Time zone
- Daylight saving time
| EET (UTC+2)|
|National anthem||Dievs, svētī Latviju!|
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 century, during the Great Northern War, and later, following the Partitions of Poland, Russia gained control over Latvia and the neighbouring regions.
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, communists and adventurers like Pavel Bermont-Avalov. These two years are called The Struggle for Independence. During the Russian Civil War (1917-1922), Latvians fought on both sides with a significant group supporting the bolsheviks (known as Latvian red riflemen).
During the 1920s and early 1930s, Latvia enjoyed an elected, republican government. Its constitution was adopted on February 15, 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 were usually organized by coalitions of parties, forming a large enough percentage to control the whole.
Latvia became an authoritarian state after a bloodless coup by the Prime Minister Kārlis Ulmanis in 1934, and those judged as enemies of this state were sent to a concentration camp in Liepāja. Ulmanis ruled for several years, eventually dismissing President Alberts Kviesis and adopting the mantle of "Vadonis," (Leader in Latvian) during this time. When the Soviet Union declared an ultimatum demanding that Latvia allows the Soviet Union to enter its forces, Ulmanis agreed to that and did not immediately let the public know that. Soviets entered the country, and Ulmanis resigned from power under their pressure in June 1940, and elections for a new Saeima resulted in a government friendly to the U.S.S.R. This pro-Soviet government, led by Dr. Augusts Kirhenšteins, petitioned for Latvia to re-join the Soviet Union and the country was formally annexed on June 17, 1940.
Shortly thereafter, war broke out in Europe as Germany violated a treaty with the Soviet Union, the (Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) of 1939. The ensuing months would become known in Latvia as Baigais Gads (the Year of Horror). The country endured massive terror, known throughout as The Red Terror. Mass arrests, disappearances, and deportations occurred on the night of 14 June 1941 (a total of 15,424 persons or approximately 0,8 per cent of total population, according to latest figures), a date of infamy respectfully remembered by as "Tautas sēru diena," (National Day of Sorrow). As evidenced throughout Eastern Europe, Latvians were swept up in the winds of World War II. The Soviets conscripted troops in 1941, and after the Soviet Red Army was expelled by the Nazi Wehrmacht the conquering Germans found willing recruits among the survivors. At first an ethnic "order patrol" of Latvian men was established, followed by the creation "border guard" units. As not to violate the "purity laws" of soldiering in the German Wehrmacht Army, brigades of Latvian fighting men would be organized into the 15th and 19th Waffen Grenadier legions of the "Special Forces" Waffen-SS. Latvians ended up fighting on opposing sides during the horrific war, and in large numbers to boot.
While under German occupation, Latvia was administered as Nazi Germany's Reichskommissariat Ostland. Upon the defeat of the Nazis, Latvia reverted to Soviet administration as the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic. The country would eventually experience the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the populace would seize the opportunity to declare independence on August 21, 1991. In 2004, Latvia joined both NATO and the European Union.
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 participants 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.
Latvia has no territorial claims towards Russia, but demands an acknowledgement from Russia of the annexiation of the small part of 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.
Main article: Districts of Latvia
Latvia is divided into 26 districts called rajons. 7 cities (lielpilsētas) 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 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.
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 . 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 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 (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. A little more than 50% of them are citizens of Latvia, others have Latvian aliens passports.
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. . 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 . 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 it is disputable whether this is a language or just a dialect of Latvian language.
main article: Sports in Latvia
Latvia has a professional soccer and hockey league. Latvia's soccer league is named the Latvian football Virsliga.
Latvian hockey team has participated all Ice Hockey World Championships since its entry in group A in 1997, the World Championship takes place in Riga in year 2006. In year 2002 Latvian Ice Hockey team participates the Olympic games for the first time, in Salt Lake city.
- Environmental Sustainability Index 2002 Rank 10 out of all countries
- Reporters Without Borders world-wide press freedom index 2004: Rank 10 out of 167 countries
- Communications in Latvia
- Foreign relations of Latvia
- Holidays in Latvia
- Latvijas Skautu un Gaidu Centrālā Organizācija
- 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 Televīzija
- 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.
- The Cabinet of Ministers
- The Latvian Parliament (Saeima)
- The Latvian President's Chancery
- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- The Statesman's Yearbook
- Images of Latvia
- Latvian Folklore
- latvians.com - Latvia pictures, reference, and perspectives from abroad
- Latvians Online - Online Latvian community, oriented towards Latvians living abroad
- politika.lv Independent public policy website, the largest on-line resource on policy issues of Latvia
- Riga's own Wiki
- The Latvian Institute
- Toronto Zinas - World's only bilingual Latvian e-zine
- Welcome to Latvia - A collection of Latvian links
- Wikitravel guide
- www.viss.lv - Map of Latvia, accommodations, all fully in pictures, decriptions, prices.
- Community Initiative Foundation of Latvia
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