Latvia

The Republic of Latvia

President: Andris Berzins (2011)

Prime Minister: Laimdota Straujuma (2014)

Land area: 24,903 sq mi (64,500 sq km); total area: 24,938 sq mi (64,589 sq km)

Population (2014 est.): 2,165,165 (growth rate: –0.62%); birth rate: 9.79/1000; infant mortality rate: 7.91/1000; life expectancy: 73.44

Capital and largest city (2011 est.): Riga, 701,000

Monetary unit: euro

National name: Latvijas Republika

Current government officials

Languages: Latvian (official) 56.3%, Russian 33.8%, other 0.6% (includes Polish, Ukrainian, and Belarusian), unspecified 9.4% (2011)

Ethnicity/race: Latvian 61.1%, Russian 26.2%, Belarusian 3.5%, Ukrainian 2.3%, Polish 2.2%, Lithuanian 1.3%, other 3.4% (2013)

Religions: Lutheran 19.6%, Orthodox 15.3%, other Christian 1%, other 0.4%, unspecified 63.7% (2006)

National Holiday: Independence Day, November 18

Literacy: 99.8% (2011 est.)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2013 est.): $38.87 billion; per capita $19,100. Real growth rate: 4%. Inflation: 0.2%. Unemployment: 9.8%. Arable land: 17.96%. Agriculture: grain, sugar beets, potatoes, vegetables; beef, pork, milk, eggs; fish. Labor force: 1.022 million; agriculture 8.8%, industry 24%, services 67.2% (2010 est.). Industries: buses, vans, street and railroad cars; synthetic fibers, agricultural machinery, fertilizers, washing machines, radios, electronics, pharmaceuticals, processed foods, textiles; note—dependent on imports for energy and raw materials. Natural resources: peat, limestone, dolomite, amber, hydropower, wood, arable land. Exports: $12.67 billion (2013 est.): wood and wood products, machinery and equipment, metals, textiles, foodstuffs. Imports: $15.56 billion (2013 est.): machinery and equipment, chemicals, fuels, vehicles. Major trading partners: Germany, Sweden, Lithuania, Estonia, Russia, Finland, Poland, Italy (2011).

Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 501,000 (2012); mobile cellular: 2.31 million (2012). Broadcast media: several national and regional commercial TV stations are foreign-owned, 2 national TV stations are publicly-owned; system supplemented by privately-owned regional and local TV stations; cable and satellite multi-channel TV services with domestic and foreign broadcasts available; publicly-owned broadcaster operates 4 radio networks with dozens of stations throughout the country; dozens of private broadcasters also operate radio stations (2007). Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 359,604 (2012). Internet users: 1.504 million (2009).

Transportation: Railways: total: 2,239 km (2008). Highways: total: 72,440 km; paved: 14,707 km; unpaved: 57,733 km (2010). Waterways: 300 km perennially navigable. Ports and harbors: Riga, Ventspils. Airports: 42 (2032).

International disputes: Russia demands better Latvian treatment of ethnic Russians in Latvia; boundary demarcated with Latvia and Lithuania; the Latvian parliament has not ratified its 1998 maritime boundary treaty with Lithuania, primarily due to concerns over oil exploration rights; as a member state that forms part of the EU's external border, Latvia has implemented the strict Schengen border rules with Russia.

Major sources and definitions

Flag of Latvia

Geography

Latvia borders Estonia in the north, Lithuania in the south, the Baltic Sea with the Gulf of Riga in the west, Russia in the east, and Belarus in the southeast. Latvia is largely a fertile lowland with numerous lakes and hills to the east.

Government

Parliamentary democracy.

History

Baltic tribespeople settled along the Baltic Sea and, lacking a centralized government, fell prey to more powerful peoples. In the 13th century, they were overcome by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, a German order of knights whose mission was to conquer and Christianize the Baltic region. The land became part of the state of Livonia until 1561. Germans composed the ruling class of Livonia and Baltic tribes made up the peasantry. German was the official language of the region.

Poland conquered the territory in 1562 and occupied it until Sweden took over the land in 1629, ruling until 1721. The land then passed to Russia. From 1721 until 1918, the Latvians remained Russian subjects, although they preserved their language, customs, and folklore.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 gave Latvia the opportunity for freedom, and the Latvian republic was proclaimed on Nov. 18, 1918. The republic lasted little more than 20 years. Plagued by political instability, Latvia essentially became a dictatorship under President Karlis Ulmanis. The country was occupied by Russian troops in 1939 and incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940. German armies occupied the nation from 1941 to 1944. Of the 70,000 Jews living in Latvia during World War II, 95% were massacred. In 1944, Russia again took control.

Latvia Declares Independence and Seeks to Protect Its Ethnic Identity

Latvia was one of the most economically well-off and industrialized parts of the Soviet Union. When a coup against Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev failed in 1991, the Baltic nations saw an opportunity to free themselves from Soviet domination and, following the actions of Lithuania and Estonia, Latvia declared its independence on Aug. 21, 1991. Most other nations quickly recognized their independence, and on Sept. 2, 1991, President Bush announced full diplomatic recognition for Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. The Soviet Union recognized Latvia's independence on Sept. 6, and UN membership followed on Sept. 17, 1991.

Because Latvians' ethnic identity had been quashed by foreign rulers throughout its history, the new Latvian republic set up strict citizenship laws, limiting citizenship to ethnic Latvians and to those who had lived in the region before Soviet rule in 1940. This denied about 452,000 of the country's 740,000 ethnic Russians of citizenship. But in 1998, a referendum passed easing the citizenship rules.

In June 2003, President Vike-Freiberga easily won reelection. In Dec. 2004, Aigars Kalvitis became prime minister, forming the twelfth government since Latvia's independence from Russia. The nation became a member of both the EU and NATO in 2004.

Valdis Zatlers, a medical doctor, was elected president by Parliament in May 2007, defeating former constitutional court judge Aivars Endzins.
Political Unrest Grows as the Economy Falters

Prime Minister Kalvitis resigned in Dec. 2007, following a series of widespread protests over his attempts to fire anti corruption investigator Aleksejs Loskutovs.

A series of riots sparked by political grievances and a worsening economy broke out in the capital, Riga, during Jan. 2009. Dozens were injured and more than 100 people were arrested in the violence.

Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis resigned in Feb. 2009, when the Latvian economy began to shrink at an alarming rate, a result of the global financial crisis. His government had become unpopular in 2008, when it was forced to increase taxes and cut public spending after the country's banking system collapsed. Valdis Dombrovskis of the center-right New Era party took over as prime minister in March, leading a six-party coalition government.

Latvia sunk deeper into a financial morass in 2009, with soaring unemployment that reached 22.3% in November—the highest rate in the EU—and heavy debt that prompted the government to implement steep budget cuts and turn to the IMF and the EU for a bailout. Dombrovskis lost his majority in parliament in March 2010 when his largest coalition partner bolted from the government in protest of the austerity measures. He resumed a majority after his coalition won 58.6% of the vote in October 2010 elections. His Unity party took 33 out of 100 seats, and his coalition partner, the Greens and Farmers Union, earned 22 seats.

Dombrovskis Resigns after Supermarket Collapse

Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis resigned on November 27, 2013, days after the roof of a supermarket collapsed in Riga, killing 54 people and wounding dozens. It was the worst disaster in Latvia since the ship Mayakovsky sank in Riga in 1950. State building inspections had been abolished due to budget cuts under the Dombrovskis administration.

In January 2014, President Andris Berzins designated Laimdota Straujuma prime minister. Straujuma had previously served as the minister for agriculture and the secretary of state of the Ministry for Regional Development and Local Government.

See also Encyclopedia: Latvia.
U.S. State Dept. Country Notes: Latvia
Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia www.csb.lv/avidus.cfm .


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