/lat"vee euh, laht"-/, n.
a republic in N Europe, on the Baltic, S of Estonia, an independent state 1918-40; annexed by the Soviet Union 1940; regained independence 1991. 2,437,649; 25,395 sq. mi. (63,700 sq. km). Cap.: Riga. Latvian, Latvija /laht"vi yah'/.

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Introduction 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. Geography Latvia
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 water: 1,000 sq km land: 63,589 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
Maritime claims: continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation exclusive economic zone: 200 NM territorial sea: 12 NM
Climate: maritime; wet, moderate winters
Terrain: low plain
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Baltic Sea 0 m highest point: Gaizinkalns 312 m
Natural resources: peat, limestone, dolomite, hydropower, wood, arable land, minimal; amber
Land use: arable land: 29.01% permanent crops: 0.48% other: 70.51% (1998 est.)
Irrigated land: 200 sq km note: land in Latvia is often too wet, and in need of drainage, not irrigation; approximately 16,000 sq km or 85% of agricultural land has been improved by drainage (1998 est.)
Natural hazards: NA Environment - current issues: Latvia's environment has benefited from a shift to service industries after the country regained independence; the main environmental priorities are improvement of drinking water quality and sewage system, household and hazardous waste management, and reduction of air pollution; in 2001, Latvia closed the EU accession negotiation chapter on environment committing to full enforcement of EU environmental directives by 2010 Environment - international party to: Air Pollution,
agreements: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands signed, but not ratified: Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol
Geography - note: most of the country is composed of fertile, low-lying plains, with some hills in the east People Latvia -
Population: 2,366,515 (July 2002 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 15.8% (male 191,116; female 182,692) 15-64 years: 68.6% (male 775,481; female 847,261) 65 years and over: 15.6% (male 120,304; female 249,661) (2002 est.)
Population growth rate: -0.77% (2002 est.)
Birth rate: 8.27 births/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Death rate: 14.74 deaths/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Net migration rate: -1.23 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female under 15 years: 1.05 male(s)/female 15-64 years: 0.92 male(s)/female 65 years and over: 0.48 male(s)/ female total population: 0.85 male(s)/ female (2002 est.)
Infant mortality rate: 14.96 deaths/1,000 live births (2002 est.) Life expectancy at birth: total population: 69 years female: 75.17 years (2002 est.) male: 63.13 years
Total fertility rate: 1.18 children born/woman (2002 est.) HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: 0.12% (2001 est.) HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/ 1,792 (15 January 2002)
HIV/AIDS - deaths: 36 (15 January 2002)
Nationality: noun: Latvian(s) adjective: Latvian
Ethnic groups: Latvian 57.7%, Russian 29.6%, Belarusian 4.1%, Ukrainian 2.7%, Polish 2.5%, Lithuanian 1.4%, other 2%
Religions: Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox
Languages: Latvian (official), Lithuanian, Russian, other
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write total population: 99.8% male: NA% female: NA% Government Latvia -
Country name: conventional long form: Republic of Latvia conventional short form: Latvia local short form: Latvija former: Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic local long form: Latvijas Republika
Government type: parliamentary democracy
Capital: Riga Administrative divisions: 26 counties (singular - rajons) and 7 municipalities*: Aizkraukles Rajons, Aluksnes Rajons, Balvu Rajons, Bauskas Rajons, Cesu Rajons, Daugavpils*, Daugavpils Rajons, Dobeles Rajons, Gulbenes Rajons, Jekabpils Rajons, Jelgava*, Jelgavas Rajons, Jurmala*, Kraslavas Rajons, Kuldigas Rajons, Liepaja*, Liepajas Rajons, Limbazu Rajons, Ludzas Rajons, Madonas Rajons, Ogres Rajons, Preilu Rajons, Rezekne*, Rezeknes Rajons, Riga*, Rigas Rajons, Saldus Rajons, Talsu Rajons, Tukuma Rajons, Valkas Rajons, Valmieras Rajons, Ventspils*, Ventspils Rajons
Independence: 21 August 1991 (from Soviet Union)
National holiday: Independence Day, 18 November (1918); note - 18 November 1918 is the date of independence from Soviet Russia, 21 August 1991 is the date of independence from the Soviet Union
Constitution: the 1991 Constitutional Law which supplements the 1922 constitution, provides for basic rights and freedoms
Legal system: based on civil law system
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal for Latvian citizens
Executive branch: chief of state: President Vaira VIKE-FREIBERGA (since 8 July 1999) head of government: Prime Minister Andris BERZINS (since 5 May 2000) cabinet: Council of Ministers nominated by the prime minister and appointed by the Parliament elections: president elected by Parliament for a four-year term; election last held 17 June 1999 (next to be held by June 2003); prime minister appointed by the president election results: Vaira VIKE- FREIBERGA elected as a compromise candidate in second phase of balloting, second round (after five rounds in first phase failed to produce a clear winner); percent of parliamentary vote - Vaira VIKE- FREIBERGA 53%, Valdis BIRKAVS 20%, Ingrida UDRE 9%
Legislative branch: unicameral Parliament or Saeima (100 seats; members are elected by direct, popular vote to serve four- year terms) elections: last held 3 October 1998 (next to be held NA October 2002) election results: percent of vote by party - People's Party 21%, LC 18%, TSP 14%, TB/LNNK 14%, Social Democrats 13%, New Party 7%; seats by party - People's Party 24, LC 21, TB/LNNK 17, TSP 16, Social Democrats 14, New Party 8
Judicial branch: Supreme Court (judges' appointments are confirmed by Parliament) Political parties and leaders: Anticommunist Union or PA [P. MUCENIEKS]; Christian Democrat Union or LKDS [Talavs JUNDZIS]; Christian People's Party or KTP [Uldis AUGSTKALNS]; Democratic Party "Saimnieks" or DPS [Ziedonis CEVERS, chairman]; For Fatherland and Freedom or TB [Maris GRINBLATS], merged with LNNK; For Human Rights in a United Latvia [Janis JURKANS], a coalition of the People's Harmony Party or TSP, the Latvian Socialist Party or LSP, and the Equal Rights Movement; Green Party or LZP [Olegs BATAREVSKI]; Latvian Liberal Party or LLP [J. DANOSS]; Latvian National Conservative Party or LNNK [Andrejs KRASTINS]; Latvian National Democratic Party or LNDP [A. MALINS]; Latvian Social-Democratic Workers Party (Social Democrats) or LSDWU [Juris BOJARS and Janis ADAMSONS]; Latvian Unity Party or LVP [Alberis KAULS]; Latvia's Way or LC [Andrei PANTELEJEVS]; New Christian Party [Ainars SLESERS]; New Faction [Ingrida UDRE]; New Party [leader NA]; New Times Party [Einars REPSE]; "Our Land" or MZ [M. DAMBEKALNE]; Party of Russian Citizens or LKPP [V. SOROCHIN, V. IVANOV]; People's Party [Andris SKELE]; Political Union of Economists or TPA [Edvins KIDE] Political pressure groups and NA
leaders: International organization BIS, CBSS, CCC, CE, EAPC, EBRD, ECE,
participation: EU (applicant), FAO, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO (correspondent), ITU, NSG, OAS (observer), OPCW, OSCE, PCA, PFP, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UPU, WEU (associate partner), WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTrO Diplomatic representation in the US: chief of mission: Ambassador Aivis RONIS FAX: [1] (202) 726-6785 telephone: [1] (202) 726-8213, 8214 chancery: 4325 17th Street NW, Washington, DC 20011 Diplomatic representation from the chief of mission: Ambassador Brian
US: E. CARLSON embassy: 7 Raina Boulevard, Riga LV- 1510 mailing address: American Embassy Riga, PSC 78, Box Riga, APO AE 09723 telephone: [371] 721-0005 FAX: [371] 782-0047
Flag description: three horizontal bands of maroon (top), white (half-width), and maroon Economy Latvia
Economy - overview: 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. Latvia officially joined the World Trade Organization in February 1999 - the first Baltic state to join - and was invited at the Helsinki EU Summit in December 1999 to begin accession talks in early 2000. Preparing for EU membership over the next few years remains a top foreign policy goal. The high current account deficit remains a major concern.
GDP: purchasing power parity - $18.6 billion (2001 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: 6.3% (2001 est.)
GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $7,800 (2001 est.) GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 5% industry: 24% services: 71% (2000) Population below poverty line: NA% Household income or consumption by lowest 10%: 2.9%
percentage share: highest 10%: 25.9% (1998) Distribution of family income - Gini 32 (1999)
index: Inflation rate (consumer prices): 2.5% (2001)
Labor force: 1.1 million (2001 est.) Labor force - by occupation: agriculture 15%, industry 25%, services 60% (2000 est.)
Unemployment rate: 7.6% (2001 est.)
Budget: revenues: $2.4 billion expenditures: $2.6 billion, including capital expenditures of $NA (2002 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 Industrial production growth rate: 6.4% (2001 est.) Electricity - production: 3.301 billion kWh (2000) Electricity - production by source: fossil fuel: 33.02% hydro: 66.98% other: 0% (2000) nuclear: 0% Electricity - consumption: 5.16 billion kWh (2000)
Electricity - exports: 500 million kWh (2000)
Electricity - imports: 2.59 billion kWh (2000)
Agriculture - products: grain, sugar beets, potatoes, vegetables; beef, pork, milk, eggs; fish
Exports: $2.2 billion (f.o.b., 2001)
Exports - commodities: wood and wood products, machinery and equipment, metals, textiles, foodstuffs
Exports - partners: Germany 17%, UK 16%, Sweden 10%, Lithuania 8% (2001 est.)
Imports: $3.3 billion (f.o.b., 2001)
Imports - commodities: machinery and equipment, chemicals, fuels, vehicles
Imports - partners: Germany 17%, Russia 9%, Lithuania 8%, Finland 8%, Sweden 7% (2001 est.)
Debt - external: $2.6 billion (2000 est.) Economic aid - recipient: $96.2 million (1995)
Currency: Latvian lat (LVL)
Currency code: LVL
Exchange rates: lati per US dollar - 0.6384 (January 2002), 0.628 (2001), 0.607 (2000), 0.585 (1999), 0.590 (1998), 0.581 (1997)
Fiscal year: calendar year Communications Latvia - Telephones - main lines in use: 734,693 (2000) Telephones - mobile cellular: 401,263 (2000)
Telephone system: general assessment: inadequate, but is being modernized to provide an international capability independent of the Moscow international switch; more facilities are being installed for individual use domestic: expansion underway in intercity trunk line connections, rural exchanges, and mobile systems; still many unsatisfied subscriber applications international: international connections are now available via cable and a satellite earth station at Riga, enabling direct connections for most calls (1998) Radio broadcast stations: AM 8, FM 56, shortwave 1 (1998)
Radios: 1.76 million (1997) Television broadcast stations: 44 (plus 31 repeaters) (1995)
Televisions: 1.22 million (1997)
Internet country code: .lv Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 41 (2001)
Internet users: 310,000 (2001) Transportation Latvia -
Railways: total: 2,412 km broad gauge: 2,379 km 1.520-m gauge (271 km electrified) narrow gauge: 33 km 0.750-m gauge (2001)
Highways: total: 59,178 km paved: 22,843 km unpaved: 36,335 km (1998 est.)
Waterways: 300 km (perennially navigable)
Pipelines: crude oil 750 km; refined products 780 km; natural gas 560 km (1992)
Ports and harbors: Liepaja, Riga, Ventspils
Merchant marine: total: 6 ships (1,000 GRT or over) totaling 30,119 GRT/30,572 DWT note: includes some foreign-owned ships registered here as a flag of convenience: Greece 3 (2002 est.) ships by type: cargo 1, petroleum tanker 1, refrigerated cargo 4
Airports: 25 (2001) Airports - with paved runways: total: 13 2,438 to 3,047 m: 7 1,524 to 2,437 m: 1 914 to 1,523 m: 1 under 914 m: 4 (2001) Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 12 2,438 to 3,047 m: 1 1,524 to 2,437 m: 2 914 to 1,523 m: 2 under 914 m: 7 (2001) Military Latvia -
Military branches: Ground Forces, Navy, Air and Air Defense Forces, Border Guard, National Guard Military manpower - military age: 18 years of age (2002 est.) Military manpower - availability: males age 15-49: 591,592 (2002 est.) Military manpower - fit for military males age 15-49: 464,843 (2002 est.)
service: Military manpower - reaching males: 19,114 (2002 est.)
military age annually: Military expenditures - dollar $87 million (FY01)
figure: Military expenditures - percent of 1.2% (FY01)
GDP: Transnational Issues Latvia - Disputes - international: the Russian Duma refuses to ratify boundary delimitation treaty with Latvia; the Latvian Parliament has not ratified its 1998 maritime boundary treaty with Lithuania, primarily due to concerns over oil exploration rights
Illicit drugs: transshipment point for opiates and cannabis from Central and Southwest Asia to Western Europe and Scandinavia and Latin American cocaine and some synthetics from Western Europe to CIS

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officially Republic of Latvia

Country, northeastern Europe, along the shores of the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Riga.

Area: 24,938 sq mi (64,589 sq km). Population (2002 est.): 2,340,000. Capital: Riga. Less than three-fifths of the population are Latvians, or Letts, who speak Latvian, one of two surviving Baltic languages. Ethnic Russians make up about one-third of the population. Languages: Latvian (official), Russian. Religions: Lutheranism, Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy. Currency: lats. The landscape is an undulating plain, with fairly flat lowlands alternating with hills. Latvia is a fully industrialized country. Its leading manufacturing activities are machine building and metal fabrication. Other manufactured goods include ships, transportation equipment, motors, agricultural implements, and textiles. It is a republic with one legislative body; its chief of state is the president, and the head of government is the prime minister. Latvia was settled by the Balts in ancient times. They came under the overlordship of the Varangians, or Vikings, in the 9th century and were later dominated by their German-speaking neighbours to the west, who Christianized Latvia in the 12th–13th centuries. The Knights of the Sword conquered Latvia by 1230 and established German rule. From the mid-16th to the early 18th century, the region was split between Poland and Sweden, but by the end of the 18th century all of Latvia had been annexed by Russia. Latvia declared its independence after the Russian Revolution of 1917. In 1939 it was forced to grant military bases to the Soviet Union, and in 1940 the Soviet Red Army invaded. Held by Nazi Germany (1941–44), the country was recaptured by the Soviets and incorporated into the Soviet Union (the U.S. did not recognize this takeover). With the breakup of the Soviet Union, Latvia gained its independence in 1991. Subsequently, it sought to privatize the economy and build ties with western Europe, as well as improve uneasy relations with Russia.

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▪ 2009

64,589 sq km (24,938 sq mi)
(2008 est.): 2,266,000
Chief of state:
President Valdis Zatlers
Head of government:
Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis

      Domestically 2008 was a year of discontent in Latvia, as evidenced by demonstrations, referenda, and strikes, especially in the autumn. Dissatisfied with the performance of the parliament, the public demanded that the constitution be amended to facilitate the holding of early elections.

      In 2008 Latvia's economy, which had enjoyed a GDP growth of 10.3% in 2007, was indirectly affected by the international financial crises and contracted to a trickle. Though the government of Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis could not curb inflation of 16.5% (compared with 6.5% in 2006 and 10.1% in 2007), prevent the 30–40% rise in the cost of natural gas and electricity, and keep earlier promises to raise pensions and the salaries of medical personnel and the police, it remained in power. By November the economy had contracted so severely that the parliament approved the much-criticized budget for 2009 that had been proposed by Godmanis and asked the IMF for financial assistance. A broader perspective on the country's current concerns was provided by the numerous festivities marking the 90th anniversary of Latvia's proclamation of independence.

      In the realm of foreign affairs, Latvia deplored Russia's invasion of Georgia; Riga increased its assistance to that country and supported the EU's peace-fostering efforts there. The invasion of Georgia also raised security concerns in the Baltic states. Undeterred by Moscow's criticism of Latvia's stand on Georgia and Russia's delays in arranging the visit of Pres. Valdis Zatlers to Moscow, Riga focused on forging specific bilateral agreements with Russia. Latvia remained concerned about Russia's power politics abroad, not only militarily but also economically, as shown by Moscow's use of energy resources to obtain concessions abroad. These factors influenced Latvia to opt for the construction of a new electrical power plant that would use coal and biomass, rather than gas, which would have to be imported from Russia. Energy and trade were also the principal topics on the agenda when President Zatlers made official visits in October to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. Latvians welcomed the news on October 17 that they would enjoy visa-free travel to the U.S.

Dzintra Bungs

▪ 2008

64,589 sq km (24,938 sq mi)
(2007 est.): 2,274,000
Chief of state:
Presidents Vaira Vike-Freiberga and, from July 8, Valdis Zatlers
Head of government:
Prime Ministers Aigars Kalvitis and, from December 20, Ivars Godmanis

      Latvia's foreign relations in 2007 developed along the anticipated lines. The EU extended the Schengen passport-free travel zone to Latvia, and Canada permitted Latvians visa-free travel. Given the unpopularity of the war in Iraq from the outset, the calls to withdraw Latvian peacekeepers swelled in January when two soldiers (killed in Iraq in December 2006) were laid to rest in Riga. In late June, having fulfilled its international mission, the Latvian unit returned home, but more Latvian peacekeepers were later sent to Afghanistan.

      Agreement was finally reached on March 27 on a border treaty with Russia. Having been approved by the respective parliaments, it awaited the initials of the foreign ministers. Though welcomed abroad, the treaty remained controversial in Latvia because it affirmed the borders imposed by the Soviet regime and accepted the seizure of Latvian border counties by the U.S.S.R.; this, in turn, raised questions related to the constitution and adherence to the legal notions central to the reestablishment in 1991 of the independent and democratic Republic of Latvia. The Constitutional Court announced on November 29 that the treaty did not violate the constitution, but it added clarifying commentary that allegedly offended some Russian officials. Nonetheless, on December 18 Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Latvian counterpart, Maris Riekstins, exchanged the ratification documents in Riga and thus completed the formalities.

      Domestically, Latvia experienced the ills of an overheated economy. Though gross domestic product grew by an estimated 11%, the growth was offset by equally high inflation.

      Pres. Vaira Vike-Freiberga stepped down in July because the law did not permit her to serve a third term. Parliamentary support for the government's policies was ensured by strict discipline within the ruling coalition, led by the People's Party, whose nominee, Valdis Zatlers (a surgeon with no political experience) was elected by the parliament as the new president of Latvia.

      In his second term as prime minister, Aigars Kalvitis concentrated on expanding the powers of his office and censured individuals and institutions (including the Anti-Corruption Bureau and its head, Aleksejs Loskutovs) that questioned his government's policies and the practices and finances of the People's Party, which Kalvitis led.

      The gradually declining public confidence in the government, the parliament, and the country's legal system was accelerated by revelations of crime among high-ranking elected officials. Consequently, public confidence in the government and the parliament plummeted, and mass demonstrations took place in October and November. On December 5 Kalvitis and his government resigned. President Zatlers asked Ivars Godmanis, an experienced politician from Latvia's Way (which joined forces with the First Party in the 2006 parliamentary elections) to form a new government representing the five centre-right parties. Unable to persuade the opposition New Era to join his team, Godmanis formed a government from mostly the same ministers who had served in the cabinet of Kalvitis and who represented the same four political parties. The parliament endorsed Godmanis and his cabinet on December 20.

Dzintra Bungs

▪ 2007

64,589 sq km (24,938 sq mi)
(2006 est.): 2,287,000
Chief of state:
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga
Head of government:
Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis

 Latvia confirmed its status as a donor country in February 2006 when it launched a Development Cooperation Policy Program. Assistance was initially directed toward Moldova and Georgia, but there were plans to expand in 2007. Working with the EU, Estonia, and Lithuania, the Latvian government also promoted defense projects in Ukraine, the south Caucasus, and the western Balkans, and Latvians took part in international missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans. Relations with Russia, always frosty, started to thaw somewhat, but ties with Belarus were strained for several months after a Latvian diplomat was falsely accused of disseminating pornography. A Latvian embassy was opened in Japan. On November 28–29 the NATO summit convened in Riga. During the year Latvia welcomed the British and Dutch monarchs and the presidents of five countries, while Latvian Pres.Vaira Vike-Freiberga visited seven countries.

      On October 7 the electorate returned to the parliament the seven parties heretofore represented there; 77 deputies came from centre-right parties and 23 deputies from the centre-left. Aligning itself with the First Party, Latvia's Way made a parliamentary comeback with three candidates. While the elections heralded emerging stability in Latvian politics, they also signaled growing voter alienation; only 61% of the voters participated in these elections, compared with 72% in 2002. At its first session on November 7, the new parliament endorsed the remaining in office of Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis (People's Party) and approved the government he proposed. The new ministers came from four of the five centre-right parties, which thus ensured the government of the support of 59 of the 100 deputies.

      Latvia's economy expanded as GDP growth reached the 2005 growth level of over 10%. As in 2005, the growth benefits were diminished by rising prices, especially in fuel, and inflation exceeded 6%. Consequently, joining the euro zone was postponed until 2010.

Dzintra Bungs

▪ 2006

64,589 sq km (24,938 sq mi)
(2005 est.): 2,299,000
Chief of state:
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga
Head of government:
Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis

      As a full-fledged member of the EU, NATO, and a number of other international organizations, Latvia participated actively in their work in 2005. The Latvian Parliament endorsed the EU constitutional treaty on June 2. On an invitation from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Latvia's Pres. Vaira Vike-Freiberga served as a special envoy for UN reforms. As EU commissioner for energy, Andris Piebalgs dealt with the increasingly complex energy challenges facing Europe. Latvian doctors, policemen, and soldiers served in international missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans. U.S. Pres. George W. Bush visited Riga on May 7, and President Vike-Freiberga was in Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia in October. Latvia opened an embassy in Turkey on April 19.

      Unlike the heads of the other two Baltic States, President Vike-Freiberga accepted an invitation to attend the commemoration on May 9 in Moscow of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. The run-up to the event provided an opportunity for Latvia's leaders to remind the world that the Soviet Union's occupation of the Baltic states had lasted from 1940 until 1991. They welcomed the urging of international organizations that Russia, as the successor state of the U.S.S.R., condemn the occupation of the Baltic States; Russia, however, refused to do so.

      In 2004 Latvia's GDP had increased by 8.5% over 2003 levels. The high growth rate continued into 2005 but was offset by a steadily rising annual inflation rate, anticipated at 6.5% (against 7.3% in 2004). The mounting cost of living, aggravated by a worldwide increase in oil and gas prices, prompted people with low incomes to stage protests and seek employment abroad. Municipal elections were held on March 12. Some politicians and traditionalists protested against Latvia's first gay-pride parade on July 23, while the mainstream of society deplored the sporadic signs of intolerance.

Dzintra Bungs

▪ 2005

64,589 sq km (24,938 sq mi)
(2004 est.): 2,312,000
Chief of state:
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga
Head of government:
Prime Ministers Einars Repse, Indulis Emsis from March 9, and, from December 2, Aigars Kalvitis

      Having joined NATO on March 29 and the European Union on May 1, Latvia in 2004 achieved its main foreign-policy goals since regaining independence. Riga contributed to international missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, and Georgia and generally maintained good relations with the rest of the world.

      Relations with Russia remained a challenge, however. Moscow objected to NATO's patrolling airspace over the Baltic States and insisted that EU enlargement and the new EU-Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement be contingent upon concessions from both the EU and the Baltic States. In April Riga expelled a Russian diplomat suspected of espionage, and Moscow reciprocated in kind. The EU rejected Moscow's accusations that the rights of Russian-speaking minorities in Latvia and Estonia were being violated, especially in education, and by September some 60% of 10th-grade courses in minority-language schools were being taught in Latvian without major problems.

      Indulis Emsis of the Green and Farmers' Party became prime minister in March after the tension-ridden coalition government of Einars Repse (New Era) resigned. People's Party deputies decided not to endorse the 2005 budget, which led to the fall of Emsis's government on October 28. After numerous political machinations, Aigars Kalvitis of the People's Party formed a minority centre-right government.

      Latvia's GDP grew about 8%, and midyear revenues permitted raising the income of some of the neediest members of society. Teachers' salaries, pensions, and child-care payments grew, but not the wages of doctors and nurses, who began a crippling strike on November 1. Latvia remained among the poorest EU countries in terms of GDP per capita (42% of the EU average) and inflation rate (about 7%), but unemployment was at about the EU average of 9%.

Dzintra Bungs

▪ 2004

64,589 sq km (24,938 sq mi)
(2003 est.): 2,324,000
Chief of state:
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga
Head of government:
Prime Minister Einars Repse

      In March 2003 the protocol for Latvia's admission into NATO was signed, as was, a month later, the treaty of accession to the European Union. Latvia was set to become a full-fledged member of both in 2004. Despite an upsurge of “Euroskepticism” earlier in 2003, in the referendum in September 67% of the Latvian electorate endorsed EU membership.

      Contributing to peacekeeping efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans, Latvia enjoyed good relations with international organizations and countries throughout the world. Relations with Russia cooled, however, as Latvia's membership in the EU and NATO drew nearer. Despite complaints from Riga and protests from Russia's largest oil producers, Moscow stuck to the order issued in 2002 to stop the flow of Russian petroleum to the Latvian port of Ventspils for transshipment abroad. Disregarding Moscow's accusations that it was violating the rights of its Russian-speaking population, Latvia continued to prosecute former Soviet officials for crimes against humanity committed during and after World War II. The rhetoric escalated in autumn when, after years of preparation, an education reform was launched in national minority schools; it stipulated instruction in Latvian of 60% of the curriculum of public secondary schools. Formerly teaching was conducted overwhelmingly in Russian.

      Despite the disastrous grain harvest and plummeting revenues from Ventspils, the country's economy grew, which enabled raising pensions and wages in 2003 and increasing the minimum wage on Jan. 1, 2004. Growth of GDP in 2003 was expected to reach the 2002 figure of 6.1%.

      Prime Minister Einars Repse's government was buffeted by tensions derived from its inexperience and inconsistencies, strong-handed leadership, inherent difficulties of harmonizing coalition interests, and sharp criticism from the more experienced opposition parties. Public support for the government and Repse's New Era party faltered but resumed, owing especially to the government's fight against corruption. The reelection in 2003 of the widely respected Vaira Vike-Freiberga to another four-year term as president ensured political stability.

Dzintra Bungs

▪ 2003

64,589 sq km (24,938 sq mi)
(2002 est.): 2,331,000
Chief of state:
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga
Head of government:
Prime Ministers Andris Berzins and, from November 7, Einars Repse

      If the first half of the year 2002 was characterized by stability and preparations for change, then the second half saw those changes, both in Latvia's international status and in its domestic political life, come about. The parliamentary elections in October altered the composition of the Saeima (parliament) and led to the formation of a four-party centre-right coalition government. In November Latvia received the long-awaited invitation to begin membership negotiations with NATO, and in December came the bid to join the European Union.

      Manifesting lack of faith in the ruling parties, the voters returned only 33 of the 100 deputies of the previous parliament. The voter turnout was about 72%. The most conspicuous loser was Latvia's Way, heretofore represented in all of the parliaments and governments since 1993. Despite the popularity of Prime Minister Andris Berzins and other Latvia's Way members, the party received only 4.87% of the ballots cast, just under the 5% minimum for getting into the Saeima. The winners were centre-right newcomers (New Era—26 seats; Green and Farmers' Party—12 seats; and Latvia's First Party—10 seats) and two opposition parties (the left-wing For Human Rights in a United Latvia [FHRUL] of former foreign minister Janis Jurkans—25 seats; and the centre-right People's Party of former prime minister Andris Skele—20 seats). Noteworthy was the success of FHRUL, the strongest left-wing party, which cultivated Latvia's Russian-speaking population and good relations with Moscow.

      The new prime minister, Einars Repse, was a former governor of the Bank of Latvia and the leader of New Era. He and his coalition government sought to maintain Latvia's westward political orientation and prudent economic policies, which had ensured a GNP growth rate of about 5% in 2002.

Dzintra Bungs

▪ 2002

64,589 sq km (24,938 sq mi)
(2001 est.): 2,358,000
Chief of state:
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga
Head of government:
Prime Minister Andris Berzins

      Latvians and foreign visitors joined to celebrate Riga's 800th anniversary in 2001; commemorative cultural events took place throughout the summer. Latvians were buoyant with optimism as the country neared membership in the European Union (EU) and NATO and generally enjoyed fine foreign relations. The economy had recovered, with predictions that the 6.6% growth rate in 2000 would even be exceeded in 2001. Politics, too, seemed to have stabilized, with Prime Minister Andris Berzins's government having held office since May 2000, which set some kind of Latvian record for longevity. The most popular leaders in the country represented the centre-right, but the local elections on March 11 demonstrated the vigour of the left as well.

      In acknowledgment of Latvia's adherence to the principles of human rights and integration of its noncitizens (mostly ethnic Russians), the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly ended its monitoring procedures in the country, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe announced in December that it would close its mission in January 2002. Nonetheless, Russia continued to accuse Latvia of violating the rights of its Russian-speaking population. Latvian diplomatic missions in Russia were targeted for vandalism on the occasions of war-crimes trials against World War II Soviet officers and when young National Bolsheviks from Russia were sentenced for having tried to blow up a church in Riga in November 2000. The Latvian and Russian presidents met in Austria on February 10, but little progress was registered overall on substantive issues such as Russia's not signing the border accords with Latvia, which had been ready since 1997. Squabbling picked up again after Latvia's supportive response to the U.S. call for a worldwide campaign against terrorism. Russia claimed that Latvia was aiding Chechen terrorists, but Latvia countered that the Russians were simply trying to impede Latvia's membership in the EU and NATO._______________________________

Dzintra Bungs

▪ 2001

64,589 sq km (24,938 sq mi)
(July 1, 2000, estimate, based on 2000 census): 2,369,000
Chief of state:
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga
Head of government:
Prime Ministers Andris Skele and, from May 5, Andris Berzins

      The 10th anniversary of the May 4, 1990, declaration on restoring the Republic of Latvia, originally proclaimed in 1918, encouraged both retrospection and contemplation of the future in 2000. The nation continued to examine the period of occupation by the U.S.S.R. and Nazi Germany. International conferences on the Holocaust were held in Riga in February and October. In March a group of Latvian veterans who had fought with the German forces (including the Waffen-SS) against the Soviet occupiers, assembled to lay flowers at the foot of the Monument of Liberty. The Saeima (parliament) rejected a draft law on claiming compensation from Russia for the losses incurred under Soviet occupation. The Simon Wiesenthal Center complained of delays in bringing to trial two Australian citizens of Latvian origin accused of direct involvement in the Holocaust. Russia denounced Latvia's sentencing of Soviet partisans for crimes against humanity and offered them Russian citizenship.

      In November Latvia assumed the rotating presidency of the Council of Europe. Membership negotiations with the European Union and the implementation of NATO's membership action plan progressed well. Russia opposed Latvia's intention to join NATO and claimed that Latvia discriminated against its large Russian-speaking population. The census of March 31 recorded Latvia's population at 2,375,300, or 10.9% less than in 1989. The decline stemmed mainly from the return of Soviet citizens to their homelands and the aging of Latvia's population. The Latvian share of the population rose from 52% to 57.6%, while the Russian portion dropped from 34% to 29.6%.

      Domestic politics were turbulent early in the year as leading public figures had to contend with allegations of corruption, disrespect for the law, and sexual abuse of minors. Prime Minister Andris Skele resigned on April 12 and was succeeded by the popular mayor of Riga, Andris Berzins. The economy continued to recover. Gross domestic product was expected to grow by 5% in 2000, compared with 0.1% in 1999.

Dzintra Bungs

▪ 2000

64,610 sq km (24,946 sq mi)
(1999 est.): 2,428,000
Chief of state:
Presidents Guntis Ulmanis and, from July 8, Vaira Vike-Freiberga
Head of government:
Prime Ministers Vilis Kristopans until July 5 and, from July 16, Andris Skele

      In 1999 Latvia advanced toward its principal foreign policy goals: membership in the European Union and membership in NATO. After the European Commission positively assessed Latvia's progress on meeting the EU membership criteria, in December Latvia was invited to start the EU accession negotiations in 2000. NATO's acknowledgement in April of the Baltic republics as aspiring members encouraged Latvia to accelerate its efforts toward qualifying for membership. Latvian armed forces honed their skills in peacekeeping missions in former Yugoslavia and in NATO's security cooperation programs. The government planned to raise defense spending to the recommended 2% of gross domestic product by 2003. In September Latvia submitted its membership action plan to NATO.

      Latvia's relations with its neighbours were generally good. A maritime border treaty with Lithuania was ratified, but there was no progress on the land border treaty with Russia because of Moscow's inactivity. The Russian State Duma endorsed economic sanctions against Latvia over alleged infringements of the human rights of ethnic Russians; still, the number of ethnic Russians in Latvia choosing Latvian citizenship grew significantly.

      In June Parliament elected a new president, Vaira Vike-Freiberga (see Biographies (Vike-Freiberga, Vaira )), to replace Pres. Guntis Ulmanis, who had served the maximum two terms. Vike-Freiberga sent back to Parliament several laws, including the controversial law that would make the use of Latvian compulsory in public and business affairs (it passed in December). After the resignation of Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans (of the Latvian Way Union) in July, the president asked Andris Skele, leader of the People's Party, to form a new government. Skele drew his support from a coalition of three right-wing parties.

      During the first half of 1999, Latvia's economy declined, largely owing to the ripple effect of the Russian financial crisis of August 1998. The government's austerity measures led to widespread grumbling, especially by pensioners, teachers, and students. By autumn, however, the macroeconomic indicators were improving.

Dzintra Bungs

▪ 1999

      Area: 64,610 sq km (24,946 sq mi)

      Population (1998 est.): 2,445,000

      Capital: Riga

      Chief of state: President Guntis Ulmanis

      Head of government: Prime Ministers Guntars Krasts and, from November 3, Vilis Kristopans

      Elections for a new government, a referendum, the problem of the large Russian minority, and foreign affairs issues dominated the headlines in Latvia in 1998. A new, four-year Parliament consisting of 62 deputies from three right-wing parties and 38 from three left-wing parties was elected in October. Ranking first with 24 deputies was the right-wing People's Party of former prime minister Andris Skele. Aiming for a stable coalition government, Pres. Guntis Ulmanis passed over the controversial Skele and named Vilis Kristopans of the Latvian Way Union as the new prime minister to replace Guntars Krasts, who finished his term with a balanced budget and positive macroeconomic indicators, despite the negative impact of Russia's economic crisis on Latvia.

      Responding to recommendations of the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to accelerate the integration of Russian-speaking residents, in June Parliament amended the citizenship law to ease the naturalization of noncitizens (about 26% of the population) and grant citizenship to children born in Latvia to stateless parents. The amendments were approved in a referendum. In October Parliament added to the constitution a section on human rights to replace a constitutional law of December 1991.

      Relations with Russia declined after demonstrations in March by Russian-speaking retirees over the high cost of living in Riga, the Latvian capital. Russia accused Latvia of gross human rights violations. The commemoration held by Latvian World War II veterans conscripted by Nazi Germany prompted Moscow to conclude that Riga was condoning fascism. Russia's rhetoric and threats of sanctions drew meagre response abroad, however, and subsided as its economy deteriorated. The withdrawal of the Russian troops manning the Soviet-era antimissile radar at Skrunda and the facility's dismantling proceeded quietly and according to schedule.

      In January the U.S.-Baltic Charter was signed. Latvia joined the World Trade Organization in October. In December, however, the European Union did not open accession negotiations with Latvia or the other candidate countries.


▪ 1998

      Area: 64,610 sq km (24,946 sq mi)

      Population (1997 est.): 2,472,000

      Capital: Riga

      Chief of state: President Guntis Ulmanis

      Head of government: Prime Ministers Andris Skele and, from July 28, Guntars Krasts

      Latvia's coalition government experienced difficulties in 1997. Andris Skele, who resigned as prime minister in January when Pres. Guntis Ulmanis criticized his choice for finance minister, was quickly voted back into office. On February 13 Parliament confirmed Skele's new five-party coalition by 70 votes to 17. Skele, an entrepreneur with no political affiliation, was widely credited with having turned Latvia's economy around during his first year in office. He had delivered the country's first balanced budget and instituted other economic reforms, especially in banking, which improved Latvia's relationship with the International Monetary Fund and gained a BBB investment grade rating from Standard and Poor's. The country's gross domestic product was expected to grow 4% in 1997. In July, however, Skele resigned as prime minister following the collapse of his coalition; several high-ranking government officials faced charges of corruption. Guntars Krasts, a former minister of the economy and supporter of free-market reforms, replaced Skele as prime minister.

      Latvia's bid to join the European Union was not accepted in talks that began in September. In addition to improving its administrative systems, Latvia was told that it had to speed up naturalization of minorities, in particular its large number of Russians.

      Latvia received support from a number of Western countries in its quest to become a member of NATO, but all three Baltic states were turned down. Russia remained fiercely opposed to their joining the Western alliance and offered its own security guarantees. Though these were rejected, Prime Minister Krasts declared that more economic cooperation with Russia would be welcome.

      Efforts to privatize the economy continued. For sale were the Latvian Shipping Company and the big utility companies, Latvenergo and Latvia Gas. Russian gas supplier RAO Gazprom and two German companies bought a one-third share in the gas company, the largest privatization to date.

      This article updates Latvia, history of (Latvia).

▪ 1997

      A republic of northern Europe, Latvia is located on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea. Area: 64,610 sq km (24,946 sq mi). Pop. (1996 est.): 2,490,000. Cap.: Riga. Monetary unit: lats, with (Oct. 11, 1996) a free rate of 0.55 lats to U.S. $1 (0.87 lats = £1 sterling). President in 1996, Guntis Ulmanis; prime minister, Andris Skele.

      After the turmoil of the previous year, when the country was shaken by a severe banking crisis and by the indecisive results of the parliamentary elections, 1996 was a year of consolidation for Latvia. The new governing coalition, comprising six parties and headed by Prime Minister Andris Skele, grew in strength during the year but generally avoided dealing with controversial matters. On June 18 the Saeima (parliament) reelected Guntis Ulmanis as Latvia's president. The Constitutional Court held its first session in December.

      Relations with Russia improved slightly. Russian officials complained less frequently concerning the alleged mistreatment of the Russians in Latvia. Toward the end of the year, the Latvian government hinted that it would drop its insistence that Russia recognize the validity of the Treaty of Riga signed in 1920. The Latvian demand was the main obstacle to the signing of a treaty establishing the border between the two countries.

      With active Swedish assistance, Latvia settled a long-standing dispute with Estonia over fishing rights and signed a treaty demarcating the sea border between the two nations on July 12. Relations with Lithuania deteriorated because of a dispute concerning the sea border and oil-drilling rights in the Baltic Sea. (SAULIUS A. GIRNIUS)

      This article updates Latvia, history of (Latvia).

▪ 1996

      A republic of northern Europe, Latvia is on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea. Area: 64,610 sq km (24,946 sq mi). Pop. (1995 est.): 2,515,000. Cap.: Riga. Monetary unit: lats, with (Oct. 6, 1995) a free rate of 0.54 lats to U.S. $1 (0.85 lats = £ 1 sterling). President in 1995, Guntis Ulmanis; chairman of the Saeima (parliament), Anatolijs Gorbunovs; prime ministers, Maris Gailis and, from December 21, Andris Skele.

      Latvia was beset by serious economic problems and internal political disarray in 1995 but made progress in achieving some of its important foreign policy goals. The lack of proper control over commercial banks resulted in the issuance of bad loans that led to the bankruptcies of many commercial banks, including the country's largest, Banka Baltija. The government's failure to collect projected tax revenues resulted in a growing budget deficit that threatened to surpass the limit agreed to with the International Monetary Fund. Compounding the problem, the government issued state treasury bills whose very high interest rates made them overly attractive to banks, which led to a credit shortage for local industries. The privatization of apartment buildings had to be put off until 1996.

      The parliamentary elections on September 30-October 1 did not result in a clear winner; nine parties received between 5% and 16% of the vote. The National Conciliation Bloc (NIB), formed by three leftist parties and a right extremist party, elected the parliament leadership on November 7. The formation of a government was more difficult, for neither the rightist National Bloc (NB) nor the NIB was able to get the majority vote needed to form a Cabinet. To avoid new elections, two leftist parties then joined forces with the NB to elect the nonparty businessman Andris Skele prime minister on December 21.

      After having been admitted to the Council of Europe in February, on June 12 Latvia signed an associate membership agreement with the European Union, and four months later it submitted a formal membership application. Latvian units participated in both naval and ground exercises of NATO's Partnership for Peace program. (SAULIUS A. GIRNIUS)

      This updates the article Latvia, history of (Latvia).

▪ 1995

      A republic of northern Europe, Latvia is on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea. Area: 64,610 sq km (24,946 sq mi). Pop. (1994 est.): 2,551,000. Cap.: Riga. Monetary unit: lats, with (Oct. 7, 1994) a free rate of 0.55 lats to U.S. $1 (0.87 lats = £ 1 sterling). President in 1994, Guntis Ulmanis; chairman of the Saeima (parliament), Anatolijs Gorbunovs; prime ministers, Valdis Birkavs until July 13 and, from September 15, Maris Gailis.

      The internal political situation in Latvia in 1994 was rather turbulent. Prime Minister Valdis Birkavs was forced to resign on July 13 when the Latvian Farmers' Union (LZS) withdrew from its coalition with Latvia's Way in a dispute over import duties on food. After lengthy maneuvering, on September 15 Latvia's Way formed a new governing coalition headed by Maris Gailis. At the same time, the LZS joined three other right-of-centre parliamentary factions (known as the National Bloc) that had made a strong showing in the local elections on May 29—but had been unable to form a new state government in August—and formed a permanent council and secretariat to coordinate policy and have a greater effect on legislation.

      Owing to the tight monetary policy of its central bank, Latvia had the lowest rate of inflation in 1994 among all former Soviet republics. Foreign investments in Latvia increased, but its economy remained dependent upon Russia for supplies of fuel and as its main export market. Economic reforms continued with greater privatization of state property, although budget and foreign-trade deficits remained sources of concern.

      On August 31 Latvia achieved its main immediate foreign policy goal: the official withdrawal of Russian troops from its territory. In turn, Latvia allowed Russia to retain control of its radar station at Skrunda until Aug. 31, 1998 (with an additional 18 months for its dismantling), and granted various rights for Russian military retirees. The main stumbling block to Latvia's membership in the Council of Europe was removed on August 11 with the signing of a citizenship law, amended to remove a restrictive quota system as recommended by various international organizations. Latvia was to join the council in February 1995. Latvia joined NATO's Partnership for Peace program in February and expressed the wish to become a full member of NATO and the European Union. (SAULIUS A. GIRNIUS)

      This updates the article Latvia, history of (Latvia).

▪ 1994

      A republic of northern Europe, Latvia is on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea. Area: 64,610 sq km (24,946 sq mi). Pop. (1993 est.): 2,596,000. Cap.: Riga. Monetary unit: lats (permanent currency introduced March 5, 1993; it became sole legal tender when the Latvian ruble [former transition currency] was phased out October 18), with (Oct. 4, 1993) a free rate of 0.61 lats to U.S. $1 (0.92 lats = £1 sterling). Leadership in 1993: (until July 7-8) chairman of the Supreme Council, Anatolijs Gorbunovs; prime minister, Ivars Godmanis; (after July 7-8) president, Guntis Ulmanis; chairman of the Saeima (parliament), Anatolijs Gorbunovs; prime minister, Valdis Birkavs.

      On June 5-6, 1993, Latvia held its first free elections to the Saeima (parliament) since 1940. Three-fourths of the 100 deputies were right of centre, in part because, with voting limited only to citizens of Latvia on June 17, 1940, and their descendants, about 34% of current residents, primarily Slavs, could not vote. On July 6 the Saeima elected former Supreme Council chairman Anatolijs Gorbunovs its chairman, and on July 7 Latvian Farmers' Union (LZS) candidate Guntis Ulmanis Latvia's president. Latvia's Way and LZS formed a coalition government on July 20, headed by Prime Minister Valdis Birkavs.

      Many of Latvia's domestic and foreign concerns were driven by its demographic situation—only 52% of the population were ethnic Latvians. The Saeima discussed, but did not yet adopt, a citizenship law, a requirement for Latvia's admission into the Council of Europe. Russia had frequently accused Latvia of discrimination against Russian-speaking residents—a charge Latvia officially denied—and tied resolution of the question to the withdrawal of its troops from Latvia. Russia called Latvian demands that all troops leave by the end of 1993 impossible. In November 1993 Russia proposed leaving by September 1994 but only on condition that it retain its radar station at Skrunda for six more years and that social rights be guaranteed for military pensioners. Latvia refused and continued to seek international help to get Russian troops out sooner.

      After successfully reducing inflation by a tight fiscal policy, Latvia introduced its currency, the lats, on March 5. The standard of living had deteriorated. Industrial production continued to decrease in 1993 because of dependence on Russia for fuel and as its main export market. The official rate of unemployment rose to 5.5% but would be significantly higher if hidden unemployment were added. (SAULIUS A. GIRNIUS)

      This updates the article Latvia, history of (Latvia).

* * *

Latvia, flag of   country of northeastern Europe and one of the Baltic (Baltic states) states. Latvia, which was occupied and annexed by the U.S.S.R. (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) in June 1940, declared its independence on Aug. 21, 1991. The U.S.S.R. recognized its sovereignty on September 6, and United Nations membership followed shortly thereafter. Latvia was admitted to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU) in 2004. The capital and chief city is Riga.

 Latvia lies along the shores of the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Riga (Riga, Gulf of), and it is bounded by Estonia to the north, Russia to the east, Belarus to the southeast, and Lithuania to the south.

Relief, drainage, and soils
       Latvia is essentially an undulating plain, with fairly flat lowlands alternating with hills. The eastern part of the country is more elevated, its most prominent feature being the Central Vidzeme Upland, which reaches a maximum elevation of 1,020 feet (311 metres). In the southeast the highest point is Lielais Liepukalns (947 feet [289 metres]), which is part of the Rāzna National Park territory. The Kurzeme (Courland) Upland in the west is divided by the Venta River into western and eastern parts. Between the Central Vidzeme and Latgale uplands in the southeast lies the East Latvian Lowland, partly crossed by moraine ridges that impede drainage. There are numerous peat bogs in this area.

 Latvia contains a multitude of rivers that drain into the Baltic Sea. The largest are the Western Dvina (Western Dvina River), locally called the Daugava (Western Dvina River) (with a total length of 222 miles [357 km] in Latvia), the Gauja (Russian: Gauya), the Venta, and the Lielupe. Amid the hills, many of which are forested, are numerous lakes, some measuring up to about 12 square miles (30 square km). Latvia's soils are predominantly podzolic, though calcareous soils characterize the Semigallia (Zemgale) Plain, located just east of the Eastern Kurzeme Uplands. Swampy soils are found in some areas, particularly the East Latvian Lowland. Erosion is a problem in the more intensely cultivated hilly areas.

      The climate is influenced by the prevailing southwesterly winds coming from the Atlantic. Humidity is high, and the skies are usually cloudy; there are only about 30 to 40 days of sunshine per year. Average precipitation usually exceeds 20 inches (about 500 mm) on the lowlands and may approach or exceed 30 inches (about 760 mm) on the uplands. The frost-free season lasts about 125 to 155 days. Summers are often cool and rainy. The mean temperature in June is in the mid-60s F (about 17 °C), with occasional jumps into the mid-90s F (about 34 °C). Winter sets in slowly and lasts from the middle of December to the middle of March. The mean January temperature ranges from the upper 20s F (near −2 °C) on the coast to the lower 20s F (about −7 °C) in the east. There are occasional extreme temperature drops into the −40s F (about −40 °C).

Plant and animal life
      More than half of Latvia is covered with forests, meadows, pastures, swamps, and wasteland. Forests account for more than one-third of the total area, and about one-tenth of the forests are cultivated. The larger forest tracts are in the northern part of the Kurzeme Peninsula, along the banks of the Western Dvina, and in the northeast, where conifers (pine and spruce) predominate. Of the deciduous species, birch, aspen, and alder are the most prevalent. Meadows are found both in the river valleys and among the hills.

      Latvia's fauna consists of squirrels, foxes, hare, lynx, and badgers. Somewhat less common are ermines and weasels. Conservation measures have resulted in an increase in the number of deer and elk, and beavers have been reintroduced to Latvia. The country's bird population includes the nightingale, oriole, blackbird, woodpecker, owl, grouse, partridge, finch, tomtit, quail, and lark. Storks and herons are usually found in the marshes and meadows.

People (Latvia)

Ethnic groups, languages, and religion
 Before Soviet occupation in 1940, ethnic Latvians constituted about three-fourths of the country's population. Today they make up about three-fifths of the population, and Russians account for about one-third. There are small groups of Belarusians, Ukrainians, Poles, Lithuanians, and others. The official language of Latvia is Latvian (Latvian language); however, nearly one-third of the population speaks Russian. Smaller numbers speak Romany (Romany language), the Indo-Aryan language of the Roma (Gypsies), and Yiddish, a Germanic language. The majority of Latvians adhere to Christianity, mainly Lutheranism, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy. Latvia had a significant Jewish population until 1941, when the Germans invaded the country; most Latvian Jews either fled or were deported to concentration camps. About one-fourth of Latvians consider themselves nonreligious.

Settlement patterns
 Latvia's rural population decreased after World War II, largely because of poor socioeconomic and political conditions, while its urban population increased steadily. By the early 2000s more than two-thirds of the country's population lived in urban areas. Riga is the most populous city, followed by Daugavpils and Liepāja.

Demographic trends
      A major challenge for Latvia in the early 1990s was to offset the aging of its population, a serious problem that had existed even before the country's independence and that was the result largely of birth rates that were not high enough to ensure population replacement. An attempt was also made to increase the percentage of the population made up of ethnic Latvians by encouraging them to have larger families and by instituting stronger immigration controls. However, because of the unstable political and economic situation of the early post-Soviet period, most families postponed having more children. In fact, at the onset of the 21st century, Latvia had the lowest birth rate of the Baltic states as well as one of the lowest life expectancies in all of Europe.

      Industrialization in Latvia began in the latter part of the 19th century, and by the late 20th century the country was the most heavily industrialized of the Baltic states. Substantial economic changes occurred following Latvia's independence in 1991, as the country transitioned to a market economy. Starting in the mid-1990s, the economy diversified, and by the early 21st century most industry in Latvia had been privatized.

Agriculture and fishing
      About one-third of agricultural land in Latvia is used for crop cultivation, and about one-tenth is dedicated to pasture for livestock. Of the crops, grain (mainly rye) is the most important. Wheat, oats, flax, and barley are also significant. Potatoes, onions, carrots, and sugar beets are the main crops produced for export.

       collectivization of agriculture was accomplished, against resistance, in 1947–50. Up to the time of independence, in 1991, there were collective farms (engaged mainly in the cultivation of grain crops and mixed farming) and state farms (usually specializing in the cultivation and processing of a particular crop). Decollectivization became a goal of the newly independent government. During the Soviet period Latvia was a net importer of agricultural products, albeit on a small scale. After independence it was hoped that the privatization of agriculture would lead to higher levels of production and a favourable balance of trade in agricultural commodities, but, as a result of the economic hardships of adjusting to a market economy and of the high cost of equipment required, agriculture contributed only a small percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP) in the early 1990s. By the early 21st century, agriculture had been completely privatized.

      Latvia's fishing industry accounts for only a tiny percentage of the GDP, and fish products for export have decreased in importance. In general, sportfishing has contributed more to Latvia's annual catch from inland waters than has commercial fishing. Much of the catch from the Baltic is consumed domestically as a source of protein, most notably codfish and herring (sprats). The most common species of fish found in inland waters are pike, bream, carp, perch, eel, and lamprey. Some salmon and trout are bred artificially in nurseries and then released into rivers. Crayfish and carp have been raised successfully in ponds.

Resources and power
 The principal mineral resources found in Latvia are sand, dolomite, limestone, gypsum, clay, and peat. Oil has been discovered in the Kurzeme Peninsula, and exploration of reserves has been undertaken. Latvia has hydropower plants on the Western Dvina River. Nonetheless, the country is highly dependent on imported sources of energy. Electric energy is supplied primarily by Estonia and Lithuania, and petroleum products are supplied by Russia and Lithuania. Beginning in the early 21st century, Latvia has attempted to diversify its domestic energy sources to reduce its dependence on foreign supply.

 The production of furniture, foodstuffs, beverages, and textiles had replaced machine building and metal engineering as Latvia's leading manufacturing activities by the late 1990s. The manufacture of chemicals and pharmaceuticals became important in the 21st century.

      Under Soviet rule, Latvia used the Russian ruble as its monetary unit, but by 1993 the country had adopted its own currency, the lats. The Central Bank of the Republic of Latvia is the centre of the banking system. There is a stock exchange in Riga. In the middle of the first decade of the 2000s, foreign direct investment, which came mainly from other EU countries, accounted for about one-third of GDP.

      Latvia's main trading partners are Germany, Lithuania, Estonia, Russia, Poland, and the United Kingdom. Exports include wood and wood products, metals, foodstuffs, and textiles. Latvia imports machinery, oil, foodstuffs, and chemical products.

      By the early 21st century the service sector accounted for the largest percentage of Latvia's GDP and employed about one-fifth of the country's workforce. Latvia's tourist infrastructure, which was virtually nonexistent in the early 1990s, contributed a small percentage to the GDP. Major tourist attractions include the historic centre of Riga, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997; the country's picturesque castles and monasteries; and its coastline and lakes. Improvements were made in the quality of tourist accommodations in the early 2000s, but Latvia's infrastructure was still not fully sufficient to cater to an influx of visitors.

Transportation and telecommunications
      Latvia's favourable geographic location and temperate climate allow for year-round freight transport. Major ports are located in Riga, Ventspils, and Liepāja, and there are several smaller ports located along the coast. An east-west railway corridor allows for the easy passage of freight from inland Latvia out to its main ports. There is an international airport in Riga.

      The telecommunications sector of Latvia is partially nationalized. The number of Internet users increased significantly from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s; however, it is still somewhat lower than the average for the European Union. Cellular phone usage in Latvia is much higher than fixed-line phone usage.

Government and society

Constitutional framework
 The Latvian constitution of 1922 provided for a republic with a president and a unicameral parliament, the Saeima. From 1940 to 1991 Latvia was a republic of the Soviet Union. On Aug. 21, 1991, the Latvian government declared independence, which the Soviet Union recognized shortly thereafter, and the 1922 constitution was restored. Latvia has a unitary form of government. The head of state is the president, who is elected by the Saiema for a four-year term (with a maximum of two consecutive terms) and who plays a largely ceremonial role. The government is headed by a prime minister, who appoints officials of the cabinet and is responsible to the Saiema. The Saiema consists of 100 members, who are elected to four-year terms.

Local government
      Latvia is divided into 26 self-governed rajons (districts). Outside of this structure are seven major cities that are designated republican cities and have their own governments. The districts are further organized into pilsétas (towns), pagasts (rural municipalities), and novads (amalgamated towns and rural municipalities). Each of these local administrative units has its own governing body (a council elected by its citizens). Because the local administrative units are so numerous, many of them lack sufficient staffing and funds, and the Latvian government has attempted to consolidate the country's administrative structure.

      Latvia's judicial system includes district courts, regional courts, and a Supreme Court. Supreme Court justices serve life terms, and judges in the lower courts serve two-year terms. The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Latvia was established in 1994 and began sittings in 1996. Its jurisdiction extends to areas such as ensuring the constitutionality of proposed legislation and of international agreements and ensuring that national laws are in compliance with international agreements. Justices of the constitutional court serve 10-year terms and are confirmed by the Saeima.

Political process
      Suffrage is universal for all Latvian citizens aged 18 and older. However, as part of the government's attempts to preserve and increase the dominance of Latvian culture in the face of the country's large non-ethnic Latvian population, those wishing to become citizens are required to pass a Latvian language test. Until the late 1980s, when several prodemocracy groups united as the Popular Front of Latvia, the Communist Party of Latvia (Latvijas Komunistu Partija; LKP), like its counterparts in the other republics of the Soviet Union, was the only source of political power, under the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The party was dominated by non-Latvians (mainly Russians and other Slavs) and by Russified Latvians who had lived in Russia for large parts of their lives. The power of the Communist Party began to weaken by the late 1980s, and in 1990 Latvia adopted a multiparty system. The Communist Party was outlawed in 1991, and many new and revived parties developed under the Popular Front.

      The legacy of the LKP was widespread distrust of large-scale centralized political parties. Thus, the political landscape in Latvia after independence was complex. The Latvian National Independence Movement, founded in 1988, garnered a measure of popular support, but there were many other parties similarly intent on broadening their membership. Parties espousing liberal philosophies, environmental principles, or particular interests, such as those of the growing number of private farmers, were part of the fast-changing political scene.

      General literacy was achieved in Latvia in the 1890s. Education is free and compulsory until age 16. A 1998 education law ensured that a certain amount of instruction be provided in the Latvian language in the country's minority schools. However, state financing is provided for minority schools that teach classes in Belarusian, Estonian, Hebrew, Lithuanian, Polish, Romany, Russian, and Ukrainian, to preserve each minority's heritage and culture. Notable institutions of higher learning include the University of Latvia (1919), the Latvia University of Agriculture (1939), and Riga Technical University (1990). The Stockholm School of Economics in Riga opened in 1994. The Latvian Academy of Sciences (1946) in Riga is one of the top research institutes in the country.

Cultural life

Cultural milieu
      Because it has been invaded and occupied by neighbouring powers for much of its history, Latvia has had to struggle to preserve its distinctive language, folklore, and customs. The country's loss of political independence in the 13th century effectively halted the development of Latvian culture for centuries. Indeed, it is only since the end of the 19th century that Latvians have been able to openly and actively celebrate their cultural heritage.

Daily life and social customs
      Religious and folkloric festivals, which were banned under Soviet rule, are celebrated again in traditional style. The festivals, complete with dance, music, and song, are usually performed in colourful costumes that are typical of specific regions of the country. The most important annual festival is Jāņi, a midsummer tradition based on an ancient pagan ceremony that celebrates the summer solstice. It is considered bad luck to fall asleep before dawn during Jāņi. Huge bonfires are lit, and special foods and beverages are prepared. Staples of Latvian cuisine include ķimeņu siers (caraway cheese), bacon, berries, potatoes, sausages, soups, and rye bread. Smoked or salted herring is also a common dish. Berry pies and tarts served with sour cream are favourite desserts.

The arts
 The Latvian folk song, or daina, is undoubtedly the heart of Latvian culture. Dainas, which are generally no more than four lines long, tend to be stories of family or love or are related to myths. Andrejs Pumpurs's literary (Latvian literature) epic Lacplesis (1888; Bearslayer) was inspired by the genre, as was the work of Rainis (pseudonym of Jānis Pliekšāns; 1865–1929), who is considered one of the great Latvian poets.

      During the onset of the country's “national cultural awakening” in the mid-19th century, Latvians established their artistic independence, and for the first time an artists' community formed in Riga. An eminent poet of this period was Mikus Krogzemis, who took the pseudonym Auseklis, a god in Latvian mythology. Some of the best-known Latvian painters of that time were Janis Rozentāls and Vilhelms Purvītis, while Andrejs Jurjāns and Jazeps Vītols were highly regarded symphonic composers of the era.

Cultural institutions
      Most of Latvia's major cultural sites are in the capital city of Riga. The Latvian National Symphony Orchestra (1926) and the Latvian National Opera are internationally renowned. The Riga Latvian Theatre was established in 1868, during the so-called Neo-Latvian movement of the 1860s and '70s, when Latvians strove to promote their identity in industry, trade, and the arts. Latvian ballet became prominent in the early 20th century, and the Latvian state ballet opened in 1932 in Riga; among its students were Mikhail Baryshnikov (Baryshnikov, Mikhail) and Alexander Godunov.

      The Latvian Open-Air Ethnographical Museum (1924) is one of the oldest open-air museums in Europe. It includes reproductions of typical 18th-century peasant dwellings, and artisans of all types produce and display their crafts there. The Castle Museum of Bauska, in southern Latvia near the Lithuanian border, is housed in the fortress built in 1443 by the Order of the Brothers of the Sword (Brothers of the Sword, Order of the).

Sports and recreation
 Latvia's climate is conducive to winter sports, and bobsledding, skiing, ice skating, and ice hockey are popular. The Gauja valley is a well-known locale for winter sports. Canoeing on the Gauja and Abava rivers and the lakes in the Latgale region is a national pastime, as is bird-watching in the countryside.

      Latvia made its first Olympic appearance at the 1924 Winter Games in Chamonix, France. After World War II, Latvian athletes competed for the Soviet Olympic team. Latvia competed at the 1992 Olympics as an independent country for the first time since 1936.

Media and publishing
      Prior to independence, the media were state-owned and controlled by the Communist Party, mainly through state censors. Media censorship was abolished in 1989, and much of the media flourished as the economy became more liberalized. Latvia's print media is divided into Latvian- and Russian-language media. The daily Diena (“Day”), launched in 1990, is published in Latvian. The Latvian Telegraph Agency (Latvijas Telegrāfa Aģentūra; LETA) is the national news agency. The country's radio and television outlets mainly air programs in Latvian, Russian, and English; however, according to a 1998 law, at least half of the programming must be of European origin and at least two-fifths must be broadcast in the Latvian language.

Peteris V. Gulyans James H. Bater Aivars Stranga


Early history
      The Latvians constitute a prominent division of the ancient group of peoples known as the Balts (Balt). The first historically documented connection between the Balts and the civilization of the Mediterranean world was based on the ancient amber trade (international trade); according to the Roman historian Tacitus (1st century AD), the Aestii (predecessors of the Old Prussians) developed an important trade with the Roman Empire.

      During the 10th and 11th centuries, Latvian lands were subject to a double pressure: from the east there was Slavic penetration; from the west came the Swedish push toward the shores of Courland.

German rule
      During the time of the Crusades, German—or, more precisely, Saxon—overseas expansion reached the eastern shores of the Baltic. Because the people occupying the coast of Latvia were the Livs, the German invaders called the country Livland, a name rendered in Latin as Livonia. In the mid-12th century, German merchants from Lübeck and Bremen were visiting the estuary of the Western Dvina (Western Dvina River); these visits were followed by the arrival of German missionaries. Meinhard, a monk from Holstein, landed there in 1180 and was named bishop of Ikškile (“one village”) in 1186. The third bishop, Albert of Buxhoevden, with Pope Innocent III's permission, founded the Order of the Brothers of the Sword (Brothers of the Sword, Order of the) in 1202. By the time they merged in 1237 with the Teutonic Order, they had conquered all the Latvian tribal kingdoms.

      After the conquest, the Germans formed a so-called Livonian confederation, which lasted more than three centuries. This feudalistic organization was not a happy one, as its three components—the Teutonic Order, the archbishopric of Riga, and the free city of Riga—were in constant dispute with one another. Moreover, the vulnerability of its land frontiers forced the confederation into frequent foreign wars. However, the Latvians benefited from Riga's joining the Hanseatic League in 1282, as the league's trade brought prosperity. In general, however, the situation of the Latvians under German rule was that of any subject nation. The indigenous nobility was extinguished, apart from a few of its members who changed their allegiance, and the rural population was forced to pay tithes and taxes to their German conquerors and to provide corvée, or statute labour.

Poland-Lithuania, Sweden, and the encroachment of Russia
      In 1561 the Latvian territory was partitioned: Courland, south of the Western Dvina, became an autonomous duchy under the suzerainty of the Lithuanian sovereign, and Livonia north of the river was incorporated into Lithuania. Riga was likewise incorporated into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1581 but was taken by the Swedish king Gustav II Adolf in 1621; Vidzeme, the greater part of Livonia north of the Western Dvina, was ceded to Sweden by the Truce of Altmark (1629), though Latgale, the southeastern area, remained under Lithuanian rule.

      The rulers of the Grand Principality of Moscow (Moscow, Grand Principality of) (Muscovy) had so far failed to reach the Baltic shores of the Latvian country, though Ivan III and Ivan IV (the Terrible) had tried to do so. The Russian tsar Alexis renewed the attempt without success in his wars against Sweden and Poland (1653–67). Finally, however, Peter I (the Great) managed to “break the window” to the Baltic Sea. In the course of the Second Northern War (Northern War, Second), he took Riga from the Swedes in 1710, and at the end of the war he secured Vidzeme from Sweden under the Peace of Nystad (1721). Latgale was annexed by the Russians at the First Partition of Poland (Poland, Partitions of) (1772), and Courland was acquired at the Third Partition (1795). (See Partitions of Poland (Poland, Partitions of).) By the end of the 18th century, therefore, the whole Latvian nation was subject to Russian rule.

Russian domination
      In the period immediately following the Napoleonic Wars (French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars), the Russian tsar Alexander I was induced to grant personal freedom to the peasants (peasant) of Courland in 1817 and to those of Vidzeme in 1819. This did not imply, however, that the peasants had any right to buy the land that their ancestors had tilled for centuries. Consequently, there was unrest in the Latvian lands until the emancipation of the serfs throughout the Russian Empire (1861) brought the right to buy land from the state and from the landlords, who were still mostly German.

      During the last quarter of the 19th century, a national revival surged throughout Latvian territory. Universities and other national institutions were established. The idea of an independent Latvian state was openly discussed during the Russian Revolution of 1905. This revolution, evoked as it was simultaneously by social and by national groups, bore further witness to the strength of the Latvian reaction to the economic and political pressures from German and Russian forces.

      After the Russian Revolution (Russian Revolution of 1917) of 1917, the Latvian National Political Conference of Riga asked for complete political autonomy. On September 3 of that year, however, the German army took Riga. After the Bolshevik coup of November 1917 in Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg), the Latvian People's Council, representing peasant, bourgeois, and socialist groups, proclaimed independence on Nov. 18, 1918, under the leadership of Kārlis Ulmanis (Ulmanis, Kārlis), head of the Latvian Farmers' Union (Latvijas Zemnieku Savienība; LZS). The Soviet (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) government established a communist government for Latvia at Valmiera, headed by Pēteris Stučka. The Red Army, which included Latvian units, captured Riga on Jan. 3, 1919, and the Ulmanis government moved to Liepāja, where it was protected by a British naval squadron. But Liepāja was still occupied by German troops, whom the Allies were counting upon to defend East Prussia and Courland (Kurzeme) against the advancing Red Army. Their commander, Gen. Rüdiger von der Goltz (Goltz, Rüdiger, Count von der), intended to build a German-controlled Latvia and to make it a German base of operation in the war against the Soviets. This intention caused a conflict with the government of independent Latvia supported by the Allies. On May 22, 1919, Goltz captured Riga. Pushing northward, the Germans were stopped near Cēsis by the Estonian army, which included 2,000 Latvians. The British forced the Germans to abandon Riga, to which the Ulmanis government returned in July. In the meantime, the Red Army, finding itself attacked from the north by the Estonians, had withdrawn from Latvia.

      In July the British demanded that the German troops retreat to East Prussia. But Goltz now formed a “West Russian” army, systematically reinforced by units of German volunteers. These forces, headed by an anti-Bolshevik “White Russian” adventurer, Pavel Bermondt-Avalov, were to fight the Red Army, cooperating with the White Russian armies of commanders Aleksandr Vasilyevich Kolchak (Kolchak, Aleksandr Vasilyevich), Anton Ivanovich Denikin (Denikin, Anton Ivanovich), and Nikolay Yudenich (Yudenich, Nikolay), supported by the Allies. But on October 8 Bermondt-Avalov attacked the Latvian troops and occupied the suburbs of Riga south of the river. By November 10, however, the Latvians, aided by the artillery of an Anglo-French naval squadron cooperating with Estonian forces, defeated Goltz's and Bermondt-Avalov's troops, attacked finally also by the Lithuanians. By December 1919 all German troops had abandoned Latvia and Lithuania. Only Latgale remained in Red hands, but it was soon after cleared of Red troops with military assistance from Poland.

      A Latvian constituent assembly, elected in April 1920, met in Riga on May 1, and on August 11 a Latvian-Soviet peace treaty was signed in Riga, under which the Soviet government renounced all claims to Latvia. The Latvian constitution of Feb. 15, 1922, provided for a republic with a president and a unicameral parliament, the Saeima, of 100 members elected for three years.

      The multiplicity of parties in the Saeima (22 in 1922 and 24 in 1931) made it impossible to form a permanent government; nevertheless, Latvia experienced a period of economic growth. One of the most significant achievements was the passage of an agrarian reform bill, which granted land to about 145,000 peasants. Still, democracy had not been instilled in Latvia, and in May 1934 Ulmanis, prime minister for the fourth time since 1918, dissolved the Saeima and all political parties and established authoritarian rule. On April 11, 1936, on the expiration of the second term of office of Pres. Alberts Kviesis, Ulmanis declared himself president.

The Soviet occupation and incorporation
      When World War II started in September 1939, the fate of Latvia had already been decided in the secret protocol of the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of August 23. In October Latvia had to sign a dictated treaty of mutual assistance by which the U.S.S.R. (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) obtained military, naval, and air bases on Latvian territory. On June 17, 1940, Latvia was invaded and occupied by the Red Army. On June 20 the formation of a new government was announced, and the Soviets organized elections in which only one list of candidates was allowed. Meanwhile, President Ulmanis was deported. On July 21 the new Saeima voted for the incorporation of Latvia into the U.S.S.R., and on August 5 the U.S.S.R. accepted this incorporation. After Latvia was annexed into the Soviet Union, a period known as the “year of terror” ensued. In the first year of Soviet occupation about 35,000 Latvians, especially the intelligentsia, were deported to Russia.

      During the German invasion of the U.S.S.R., from July 1941 to October 1944, Latvia was a province of a larger Ostland, which included Estonia, Lithuania, and Belorussia (now Belarus). Many Latvians were recruited into German military units during the Nazi occupation. The Latvian Legion (a unit of the Waffen- SS troops) was formed under German order in 1943, and Latvian males were conscripted. A resistance movement against the German occupation was led by the Central Council of Latvia, with the participation of notable Latvian politicians. During the Nazi occupation of Latvia, about 75,000 Latvian Jews were killed.

Arnold Spekke Kazimierz Maciej Smogorzewski Romuald J. Misiunas
      By 1944 about two-thirds of the country was occupied by the Red Army. The Germans held out in Kurzeme until the end of the war. About 100,000 Latvians fled to Sweden and Germany before the arrival of Soviet forces.

      The first postwar decade proved particularly difficult. The uncompromising effort of the regime to transform the country into a typical Soviet bailiwick compounded the devastation of the war. Severe political repression accompanied radical socioeconomic change. Extreme Russification numbed national cultural life. Several waves of mass deportation—of at least 140,000 people—to northern Russia and Siberia occurred, most notably in 1949 in connection with a campaign to collectivize agriculture. Large-scale immigration from Russia and other parts of the Soviet Union began and continued throughout the postwar period. In just over 40 years the proportion of Latvians in the population dropped from roughly three-fourths to little more than one-half, and the Russian language dominated both public and private life.

      The ruling Communist Party of Latvia in the 1950s was disproportionately composed of immigrants. A concerted effort to nativize the party, especially its ruling cadres, triggered a purge in 1959 of Communist Party high-level officials who were accused of Latvian nationalism. These officials were replaced by First Secretary Arvīds Pelše and his successors Augusts Voss and Boriss Pugo, who remained in positions of power in the party during the following three decades.

      A national renaissance developed in the late 1980s in connection with the Soviet campaigns for glasnost (“openness”) and perestroika (economic and political restructuring). Some of the first opposition organizations included Helsinki-86, a group that sought to secure the basic human rights that had been established in the Helsinki Accords, and the Environmental Protection Club. Mass demonstrations on ecological questions in 1987 were the first nonofficial staged political gatherings in the country in postwar times.

Independence restored
      An opposition Latvian Popular Front emerged in 1988 and won the 1990 elections. On May 4 the legislature passed a declaration to renew independence after a transition period. Soviet efforts to restore the earlier situation culminated in violent incidents in Riga in January 1991. After a failed coup in Moscow in August, the Latvian legislature declared full independence, which was recognized by the Soviet Union on September 6.

      The first post-Soviet elections, in which only pre-1940 citizens and their descendants were permitted to vote, were held in June 1993. The new legislature immediately restored the 1922 constitution. Among the new Latvian government's main concerns were its relations with non-ethnic Latvians (especially Russians), citizenship requirements, and the privatization of the economy. Allegations of discrimination against Russians in Latvia strained Latvian-Russian relations, which Latvia attempted to repair during much of the 1990s.

      Another sensitive political issue that confronted the new government was what to do about the thousands of former Soviet military personnel still stationed within Latvia's borders (estimated at more than 50,000 in 1991). When the Russian armed forces finally withdrew in August 1994, Russia was given the right to station some hundreds of military and civilian employees at the early-warning radar station at Skrunda until 1998. By 1999 Russia had turned over full control of the radar station to Latvia.

      Tensions between Latvia and Russia persisted into the early 21st century, however. Latvia continued to prosecute former Soviet officials for crimes committed during and after World War II. In 2002 Moscow temporarily stopped the flow of petroleum to Latvia in an attempt to gain control over the oil port at Ventspils; in 2004, after Russia opened a new oil port on the Baltic Sea, it again ordered its state-controlled pipeline agency to turn off the pipeline at Ventspils. Moreover, Russia accused Latvia of further violating the rights of its Russian-speaking minority when, in 2003, it was mandated that three-fifths of the public school curriculum be taught in Latvian. A longtime border dispute with Russia was resolved in 2007, helping warm relations between the two countries; however, the treaty remained controversial in Latvia because it affirmed Soviet-imposed boundaries that had incorporated Latvian border counties into the U.S.S.R.

      Following independence, Latvia had quickly reoriented itself politically and economically toward western Europe. It joined the Council of Europe (Europe, Council of) in the 1990s and gained full membership in the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 2004.

Aivars Stranga

Additional Reading

General works
General information on Latvia's physical and human geography is available in a brief illustrated survey by Monika Zile, Latvia, trans. from Russian (1987), from the series of commemorative booklets Socialist Republics of the Soviet Union. More-detailed, though mostly older, studies are found in J. Rutkis (ed.), Latvia: Country and People (1967); Vaira Vikis-Freibergs (ed.), Linguistics and Poetics of Latvian Folk Songs (1989); Rolfs Ekmanis, Latvian Literature Under the Soviets, 1940–1975 (1978); and Gundar J. King, Economic Policies in Occupied Latvia: Manpower Management Study (1965). Vito Vitauts Simanis (ed.), Latvia (1984), is useful as a reference source.

Eduards Dobelis (ed.), Latvia, Past and Present: 1918–1968 (1968); Alfred Bilmanis, Latvia as an Independent State (1947), and A History of Latvia (1951, reprinted 1970); Andrew Ezergailis, The 1917 Revolution in Latvia (1974); and Visvaldis Mangulis, Latvia in the Wars of the 20th Century (1983), provide historical surveys. Ē. Žagars, Socialist Transformations in Latvia, 1940–1941, trans. from Latvian (1978), is a Soviet interpretation of a pivotal historical period. Juris Dreifelds, Latvia in Transition (1998), discusses the formative events that led up to Latvia's passage to independence. Andrew Ezergailis, The Holocaust in Latvia, 1941–1944: The Missing Center (1996), is a comprehensive study of the Holocaust in Latvia.Aivars Stranga

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