State administrators were liquidated and replaced by Soviet cadres, in which 34,250 Latvians were deported or killed. Elections were held with single pro-Soviet candidates listed for many positions; the resulting people's assembly immediately requested admission into the USSR, which was granted by the Soviet Union. Latvia, then a puppet governmentSony VAIO PCG-9Z1L battery, was headed by Augusts Kirhenšteins. Latvia was incorporated into the Soviet Union on August 5, 1940 as The Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic.
The Soviets dealt harshly with their opponents – prior to the German invasion, in the course of less than a year, at least 27,586 persons were arrested; most were deported for cooperation with the German army, and about 945 persons were shotSony VAIO PCG-9131L battery. While under German occupation, Latvia was administered as part of Reichskommissariat Ostland. Latvian paramilitary and Auxiliary Police units established by the occupation authority participated in the Holocaust as well. More than 200,000 Latvian citizens died during World War II, including approximately 75,000 Latvian Jews murdered during the Nazi occupation. Sony VAIO PCG-8161L battery Latvian soldiers fought on both sides of the conflict, including in the Latvian Legion of the Waffen-SS, most of them conscripted by the occupying Nazi and Soviet authorities.
In 1944 when the Soviet military advances reached the area heavy fighting took place in Latvia between German and Soviet troops which ended with another German defeat. During the course of the war, both occupying forces conscripted Latvians into their armies, in this way increasing the loss of the nation's "live resources"Sony VAIO PCG-8152L battery. In 1944, part of the Latvian territory once more came under Soviet control. The Soviets immediately began to reinstate the Soviet system. After the German surrender it became clear that Soviet forces were there to stay, and Latvian national partisans, soon to be joined by German collaborators, began their fight against another occupier – the Soviet Union. Sony VAIO PCG-8141L battery
Reconstruction of shack from Gulag in museum
Anywhere from 120,000 to as many as 300,000 Latvians took refuge from the Soviet army by fleeing to Germany and Sweden. Most sources count 200,000 to 250,000 refugees leaving Latvia, with perhaps as many as 80,000 to 100,000 of them recaptured by the Soviets or, during few months immediately after the end of war, returned by the West. The Soviets reoccupied the country in 1944–1945, and further deportations followed as the country was collectivised and Sovieticised. Sony VAIO PCG-8131L battery
On March 25, 1949, 43,000 rural residents ("kulaks") and Latvian patriots ("nationalists") were deported to Siberia in a sweeping Operation Priboi in all three Baltic states, which was carefully planned and approved in Moscow already on January 29, 1949. Between 136,000 and 190,000 Latvians, depending on the sources, were imprisoned, repressed or deported to Soviet concentration camps (the Gulag) in the post war years, from 1945 to 1952. Some managed to escape arrest and joined the partisansSony VAIO PCG-81312L battery.
In the post-war period, Latvia was driven to adopt Soviet farming methods. Rural areas were forced into collectivisation. An extensive programme to impose bilingualism was initiated in Latvia, limiting the use of Latvian language in official uses in favor of using Russian as the main language. All of the minority schools (Jewish, Polish, Belorussian, Estonian, Lithuanian) were closed down leaving only two media of instructions in the schools: Latvian and Russian. Sony VAIO PCG-81214L batteryAn influx of labourers, administrators, military personnel and their dependents from Russia and other Soviet republics started. By 1959 about 400,000 persons arrived from other Soviet republics and the ethnic Latvian population had fallen to 62%.
Because Latvia had still maintained a well-developed infrastructure and educated specialists it was decided in Moscow that some of the Soviet Union's most advanced manufacturing factories were to be based in LatviaSony VAIO PCG-81115L battery. New industry was created in Latvia, including a major machinery factory RAF in Jelgava, electrotechnical factories in Riga, chemical factories in Daugavpils, Valmiera and Olaine, as well as some food and oil processing plants. However, there were not enough people to operate the newly built factories. In order to expand industrial production, skilled workers were transferred into the republic from all over the Soviet Union, decreasing the proportion of ethnic Latvians in the republicSony VAIO PCG-81114L battery.
The peaceful Singing Revolution and the Baltic Way, a 600 km (370 mi) long human chain from Tallinn via Riga to Vilnius, led to the restoration of the independence of the Baltic states
In the second half of 1980s Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev started to introduce political and economic reforms in the Soviet Union, called glasnost and Perestroika. In the summer of 1987 the first large demonstrations were held in Riga at the Freedom Monument- a symbol of independenceSony VAIO PCG-81113L battery. In the summer of 1988 a national movement, coalescing in the Popular Front of Latvia, was opposed by the Interfront. The Latvian SSR, along with the other Baltic Republics was allowed greater autonomy, and in 1988 the old pre-war Flag of Latvia was allowed to be used, replacing the Soviet Latvian flag as the official flag in 1990.
In 1989, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR adopted a resolution on the "Occupation of the Baltic states"Sony VAIO PCG-7142L battery, in which it declared that the occupation was "not in accordance with law," and not the "will of the Soviet people". Pro-independence Popular Front of Latvia candidates gained a two-thirds majority in the Supreme Council in the March 1990 democratic elections. On May 4, 1990, the Supreme Soviet of the Latvian SSR adopted the Declaration On the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia and the Latvian SSR was renamed Republic of LatviaSony VAIO PCG-7141L battery.
However, the central power in Moscow continued to regard Latvia as Soviet republic in 1990–1991. In January 1991, Soviet political and military forces tried unsuccessfully to overthrow the Republic of Latvia authorities by occupying the central publishing house in Riga and establishing a Committee of National Salvation to usurp governmental functions. During the transitional period Moscow maintained many central Soviet state authorities in LatviaSony VAIO PCG-7142L battery.
In spite of this, 73% of all Latvian residents confirmed their strong support for independence on March 3, 1991, in a nonbinding advisory referendum. A large number of ethnic Russians also voted for the proposition. The Popular Front of Latvia had advocated that all permanent residents be eligible for Latvian citizenship. However, universal citizenship for all permanent residents was not adopted subsequentlySony VAIO PCG-7141L battery; a majority of ethnical non-Latvians did not receive Latvian citizenship even though they had voted in support of independence. Many of them were born in Latvia, but still became non-citizens. Until 2011 more than half of non-citizens have gone through the process of naturalization exams and received Latvian citizenship. Still today there are 290,660 non-citizens of LatviaSony VAIO PCG-71111L battery, which represent 14.1% of population. Those people have no citizenship of any country and cannot vote in Latvia. The Republic of Latvia declared the end of the transitional period and restored full independence on August 21, 1991 in the aftermath of the failed Soviet coup attempt.
Latvia became a member of the European Union in 2004 and signed the Lisbon Treaty in 2007Sony VAIO PCG-61411L battery.
The Saeima, Latvia's parliament, was again elected in 1993, and Russia completed its military withdrawal in 1994. The major goals of Latvia in the 1990s, to join NATO and the European Union, were achieved in 2004.
Language and citizenship laws have been opposed by many Russophones. (Citizenship was not automatically extended to former Soviet citizens who settled during the Soviet occupation or to their subsequent offspringSony VAIO PCG-61112L battery. This resulted in a situation where people who have lived and worked in Latvia for over 50 years were nonetheless unable to vote, which meant that Russian voice was largely excluded from the parliament and the government. Children born to non-nationals after the reestablishment of independence are automatically entitled to citizenship.) Approximately 72% of Latvian citizens are Latvian, while 20% are RussianSony VAIO PCG-61111L battery; less than 1% of non-citizens are Latvian, while 71% are Russian. The government denationalised private property confiscated by the Soviet rule, returning it or compensating the owners for it, and privatised most state-owned industries, reintroducing the prewar currency. Albeit having experienced a difficult transition to a liberal economy and its re-orientation toward Western Europe, its economy had one of the highest growth rates until the 2008–2010 Latvian financial crisisSony VAIO PCG-5T4L battery.
Latvia lies in Northern Europe, on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea
Latvia lies in Northern Europe, on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea and northwestern part of the East European craton, between latitudes 55° and 58° N (a small area is north of 58°), and longitudes 21° and 29° E (a small area is west of 21°). Latvia has a total area of 64,559 km2 (24,926 sq mi) of which 62,157 km2 (23,999 sq mi) land, 18,159 km2 (7,011 sq mi) agricultural land, Sony VAIO PCG-5T3L battery 34,964 km2 (13,500 sq mi) forest land and 2,402 km2 (927 sq mi) inland water.
The total length of Latvia's boundary is 1,866 km (1,159 mi). The total length of its land boundary is 1,368 km (850 mi), of which 343 km (213 mi) is shared with Estonia to the north, 276 km (171 mi) with the Russian Federation to the east, 161 km (100 mi) with Belarus to the southeast and 588 km (365 mi) with Lithuania to the south. The total length of its maritime boundary is 498 km (309 mi), which is shared with Estonia, Sweden and LithuaniaSony VAIO PCG-5T2L battery. Extension from north to south is 210 km (130 mi) and from west to east 450 km (280 mi).
Most of Latvia's territory is less than 100 m (330 ft) above sea level. Its largest lake Lubāns is 80.7 km2 (31.2 sq mi), its deepest lake Drīdzis is 65.1 m (214 ft). The longest river on Latvian territory is the Gauja, 452 km (281 mi). The longest river flowing through Latvian territory is the Daugava, which has a total length 1,005 km (624 mi) of which 352 km (219 mi) on Latvian territorySony VAIO PCG-5S3L battery. Latvia's highest point is Gaiziņkalns, 311.6 m (1,022 ft). The length of Latvia's Baltic coastline is 494 km (307 mi). An inlet of the Baltic Sea, the shallow Gulf of Riga is situated in the northwest of the country.
Coastal regions, especially the western coast of Courland Peninsula, possess a more maritime climate with cooler summers and milder winters, while eastern parts exhibit a more continental climate with warmer summers and harsher winters. Daugavpils in southeastern Latvia has been the site for both the lowest and highest temperatures ever recordedSony VAIO PCG-5S2L battery.
Latvia has four pronounced seasons of near-equal length. Winters, starting in mid-December and lasting till mid-March, have average temperatures of around – 6°C and are characterized by stable snow cover, bright sunshine and short days. Severe spells of winter weather with cold winds, extreme temperatures of around – 30° and heavy snowfalls are common. Summers, starting in June and lasting till August, are usually warm and sunny with cool evenings and nightsSony VAIO PCG-5S1L battery. Summers have average temperatures of around +19°C with extremes of +35°C. The weather in spring and autumn is fairly mild.
Most of the country is composed of fertile lowland plains and moderate hills. A typical Latvian landscape is a mosaic of vast forests alternating with fields, farmsteads, and pastures; amid arable land are birch groves and wooded clusters, which afford a habitat for numerous plants and animals. Latvia has hundreds of kilometres of undeveloped seashore lined by pine forests, dunes, and continuous white sand beachesSony VAIO PCG-5R2L battery.
Latvia has the 4th highest proportion of land covered by forests in the European Union, after Finland, Sweden and Slovenia. Forests account for 3,497,000 ha (8,640,000 acres) or 56% of the total land area.
Latvia has over 12,500 rivers that stretch for 38,000 km (24,000 mi). Major rivers include the Daugava River, Lielupe, Gauja, Venta, and Salaca, the largest spawning ground for salmon in the eastern Baltics. There are 2,256 lakes that are bigger than 1 ha (2.5 acres) Sony VAIO PCG-5R1L battery, with a collective area of 1,000 km2 (390 sq mi). Mires occupy 9.9% of Latvia's territory. Of these, 42% are raised bogs; 49% are fens; and 9% are transitional mires. 70% percent of the mires are untouched by civilisation, and they are a refuge for many rare species of plants and animals.
Utilised agricultural areas account for 1,815,900 ha (4,487,000 acres) or 29% of the total land area. Sony VAIO PCG-5P4L battery With the dismantling of collective farms, the area devoted to farming decreased dramatically – now farms are predominantly small. Approximately 200 farms, occupying 2,750 ha (6,800 acres), are engaged in ecologically pure farming (i.e., using no artificial fertilisers or pesticides).
Latvia's national parks are Gauja National Park in Vidzeme (since 1973), Ķemeri National Park in Zemgale (1997), Slītere National Park in Kurzeme (1999) and Rāzna National Park in Latgale (2007) Sony VAIO PCG-5P2L battery.
Latvia has a long tradition of conservation: the first laws and regulations were promulgated in the 16th and 17th centuries. There are 706 specially state-level protected natural areas in Latvia, of which: 4 national parks, 1 biosphere reserve, 42 nature parks, 9 areas of protected landscapes, 260 nature reserves, 4 strict nature reserves, 355 nature monumentsSony VAIO PCG-5N4L battery, 7 protected marine areas and 24 microreserves. Nationally protected areas account for 12,790 km2 (4,940 sq mi) or around 20% of Latvia's total land area. Latvia's Red Book (Endangered Species List of Latvia), which was established in 1977, contains 112 plant species and 119 animal species. Latvia has ratified the international Washington, Bern, and Ramsare conventions. Sony VAIO PCG-5N2L battery
The 2012 Environmental Performance Index ranks Latvia 2nd after Switzerland, based on the environmental performance of the country's policies.
Approximately 27,700 species of flora and fauna have been registered in Latvia. Common species of wildlife in Latvia include deer, wild boar, moose, lynx, bear, fox, beaver and wolves. Non-marine molluscs of Latvia include 159 speciesSony VAIO PCG-51513L battery.
Species that are endangered in other European countries but common in Latvia include: black stork (Ciconia nigra), corncrake (Crex crex), lesser spotted eagle (Aquila pomarina), white-backed woodpecker (Picoides leucotos), crane (Grus grus), Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber), Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra), European wolf (Canis lupus), and the European lynx (Felis lynx). Sony VAIO PCG-51511L battery
Phytogeographically, Latvia is shared between the Central European and Northern European provinces of the Circumboreal Region within the Boreal Kingdom. According to the WWF, the territory of Latvia belongs to the ecoregion of Sarmatic mixed forests. More than half of Latvia's territory is covered by forests, mostly Scots Pine, birch and Norway Spruce.
Several species of flora and fauna are considered national symbolsSony VAIO PCG-51412L battery. Oak (Quercus robur, Latvian: ozols), and linden (Tilia cordata, Latvian: liepa) are Latvia's national trees and the daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare, Latvian: pīpene) its national flower. The white wagtail (Motacilla alba, Latvian: baltā cielava) is Latvia's national bird. Its national insect is the Two-spot Ladybird (Adalia bipunctata, Latvian: mārīte). Amber, fossilized tree resin, is one of Latvia's most important cultural symbolsSony VAIO PCG-51411L battery. In ancient times, amber found along the Baltic Sea coast was sought by Vikings as well as traders from Egypt, Greece and the Roman Empire. This led to the development of the Amber Road.
See also: List of cities in Latvia, Planning regions of Latvia, and Historical regions of Latvia
Latvia is a unitary state, currently divided into 110 one-level municipalities (Latvian: novadi) and 9 republican cities (Latvian: republikas pilsētas) Sony VAIO PCG-51312L battery with their own city council and administration: Daugavpils, Jēkabpils, Jelgava, Jūrmala, Liepāja, Rēzekne, Riga, Valmiera and Ventspils. There are four historical and cultural regions in Latvia – Courland, Latgalia, Vidzeme, Zemgale. Their borders usually are not explicit definite and in several sources may vary. To promote balanced development of all regions, in 2009 five planning regions of Latvia (Latvian: plānošanas reģioni) were createdSony VAIO PCG-51311L battery:
The 100-seat unicameral Latvian parliament, the Saeima, is elected by direct popular vote every four years. The president is elected by the Saeima in a separate election, also held every four years. The president appoints a prime minister who, together with his cabinet, forms the executive branch of the government, which has to receive a confidence vote by the SaeimaSony VAIO PCG-51211L battery. This system also existed before World War II. Highest civil servants are sixteen Secretaries of State.
Latvia has been a member of the European Union since 2004 and is represented in the European Parliament
U.S. President George W. Bush, Latvian President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga and NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the 2006 NATO Summit in Riga
Latvia is a member of the United Nations, European Union, Council of Europe, NATO, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization. It was a member of the League of Nations (1921–1946) Sony VAIO PCG-41112L battery. Latvia is also a member of the Council of the Baltic Sea States and Nordic Investment Bank.
Latvia has established diplomatic relations with 158 countries and maintains embassies in 35 countries. 37 countries maintain an embassy in Latvia's capital Riga. Latvia hosts one European Union institution, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC).
Latvia’s foreign policy priorities include co-operation in the Baltic Sea region, European integration, active involvement in international organisationsSony VAIO PCG-3A4L battery, contribution to European and transatlantic security and defence structures, participation in international civilian and military peacekeeping operations, and development co-operation, particularly the strengthening of stability and democracy in the EU's Eastern neighbours.
Foreign ministers of the Nordic and Baltic countries in Helsinki, 2011
Since the early 1990s, Latvia is involved in active trilateral Baltic states co-operation with its neighbours Estonia and Lithuania, and Nordic-Baltic co-operation with the Nordic countriesSony VAIO PCG-3A3L battery. The Baltic Council is the joint forum of the interparliamentary Baltic Assembly (BA) and the intergovernmental Baltic Council of Ministers (BCM). Nordic-Baltic Eight (NB-8) is the joint co-operation of the governments of Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden. Nordic-Baltic Six (NB-6), comprising Nordic-Baltic countries that are European Union member states, is a framework for meetings on EU related issuesSony VAIO PCG-3A2L battery. Interparliamentary co-operation between the Baltic Assembly and Nordic Council was signed in 1992 and since 2006 annual meetings are held as well as regular meetings on other levels. Joint Nordic-Baltic projects include the education programme Nordplus.
The Enhanced Partnership in Northern Europe or e-Pine is the U.S. Department of State diplomatic framework for co-operation with the Nordic-Baltic countries. In 2013 Riga will host the annual Northern Future Forum, a two day informal meeting of the prime ministers of the Nordic-Baltic countries and the UK. Sony VAIO PCG-3A1L battery The Northern Dimension and Baltic Sea Region Programme are European Union initiatives for cross-border co-operation in the Baltic Sea region and Northern Europe.
Latvia hosted the 2006 NATO Summit and since the annual Riga Conference has become a leading foreign and security policy forum in Northern Europe. Latvia will hold the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2015Sony VAIO PCG-394L battery.
Human rights in Latvia are generally respected by the government, according to Freedom House and US Department of State. Latvia is ranked above-average among the world's sovereign states in democracy, press freedom, privacy and human development. The country has a large ethnic Russian community, which was guaranteed basic rights under the constitution and international human rights laws ratified by the Latvian governmentSony VAIO PCG-393L battery.
However, human rights organisations have reported multiple problems. Non-citizens – including stateless persons – have limited access to some political rights – only citizens are allowed to participate in parliamentary or municipal elections, although there are no limitations in regards to joining political parties or other political organizations. Also there were problems with police abuse of detainees and arresteesSony VAIO PCG-391L battery, poor prison conditions and overcrowding, judicial corruption, discrimination against women, incidents of violence against ethnic minorities, and societal violence and incidents of government discrimination against homosexuals.
The National Armed Forces (Latvian: Nacionālie Bruņotie Spēki (NAF)) of Latvia consists of the Land Forces, Naval Forces, Air Force, National Guard, Special Tasks Unit, Military Police, NAF Staff Battalion, Training and Doctrine Command and Logistics CommandSony VAIO PCG-384L battery. Latvia's defence concept is based upon the Swedish-Finnish model of a rapid response force composed of a mobilization base and a small group of career professionals. From January 1, 2007 Latvia has switched to a professional fully contract-based army.
Latvia participates in international peacekeeping and security operations. Latvian armed forces have contributed to NATO and EU military operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1996–2009), Albania (1999) Sony VAIO PCG-383L battery, Kosovo (2000–2009), Macedonia (2003), Iraq (2005–2006), Afghanistan (since 2003) and Somalia (since 2011). Latvia also took part in the US-led Multi-National Force operation in Iraq (2003–2008) and OSCE missions in Georgia, Kosovo and Macedonia. Latvian armed forces will contribute to a UK-led Battlegroup in 2013 and the Nordic Battlegroup in 2015 under the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) of the European UnionSony VAIO PCG-382L battery. Latvia acts as the lead nation in the coordination of the Northern Distribution Network for transportation of non-lethal ISAF cargo by air and rail to Afghanistan. It is part of the Nordic Transition Support Unit (NTSU), which renders joint force contributions in support of Afghan security structures ahead of the withdrawal of Nordic and Baltic ISAF forces in 2014. Since 1996 more than 3600 military personnel have participated in international operations, Sony VAIO PCG-381L batteryof whom 7 soldiers perished. Per capita, Latvia is one of the largest contributors to international military operations.
Latvian civilian experts have contributed to EU civilian missions: border assistance mission to Moldova and Ukraine (2005–2009), rule of law missions in Iraq (2006 and 2007) and Kosovo (since 2008), police mission in Afghanistan (since 2007) and monitoring mission in Georgia (since 2008). Sony VAIO PCG-7185L battery
Since March 2004, when the Baltic states joined NATO, fighter jets of NATO members are on rotational basis deployed for the Baltic Air Policing mission at Šiauliai Airport in Lithuania to guard the Baltic airspace. Latvia is a founding member of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia and the NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence in Vilnius, LithuaniaSony VAIO PCG-7184L battery.
Latvia co-operates with Estonia and Lithuania in several trilateral Baltic defence co-operation initiatives:
Baltic Battalion (BALTBAT) – infantry battalion for participation in international peace support operations, headquartered near Riga, Latvia;
Baltic Naval Squadron (BALTRON) – naval force with mine countermeasures capabilities, headquartered near Tallinn, EstoniaSony VAIO PCG-7183L battery;
Baltic Air Surveillance Network (BALTNET) – air surveillance information system, headquartered near Kaunas, Lithuania;
Joint military educational institutions: Baltic Defence College in Tartu, Estonia, Baltic Diving Training Centre in Liepāja, Latvia and Baltic Naval Communications Training Centre in Tallinn, EstoniaSony VAIO PCG-7182L battery.
Future co-operation will include sharing of national infrastructures for training purposes and specialisation of training areas (BALTTRAIN) and collective formation of battalion-sized contingents for use in the NATO rapid-response force. In January 2011, the Baltic states were invited to join NORDEFCO, the defence framework of the Nordic countries. In November 2012, the three countries agreed to create a joint military staff in 2013. Sony VAIO PCG-7181L battery
Latvia is a member of the World Trade Organization (1999) and the European Union (2004).
Since the year 2000 Latvia has had one of the highest (GDP) growth rates in Europe. However, the chiefly consumption-driven growth in Latvia resulted in the collapse of the Latvian GDP in late 2008 and early 2009, exacerbated by the global economic crisis and shortage of credit. Latvian economy fell 18% in the first three months of 2009Sony VAIO PCG-7174L battery, the biggest fall in the European Union. According to Eurostat data, Latvian PPS GDP per capita stood at 56 per cent of the EU average in 2008.
Real GDP growth in Latvia 1996–2006.
This latest scenario has proven the earlier assumptions that the fast growing economy was heading for implosion of the economic bubble, because it was driven mainly by growth of domestic consumption, financed by a serious increase of private debt, as well as a negative foreign trade balanceSony VAIO PCG-7173L battery. The prices of real estate, which were at some points appreciating at approximately 5% a month, were long perceived to be too high for the economy, which mainly produces low-value goods and raw materials.
Latvia plans to introduce the Euro as the country's currency but, due to the inflation being above EMU's guidelines, the government's official target is now January 1, 2014.
Latvia is part of the Schengen Area and the EU single marketSony VAIO PCG-7172L battery.
Privatization in Latvia is almost complete. Virtually all of the previously state-owned small and medium companies have been privatized, leaving only a small number of politically sensitive large state companies. The private sector accounted for nearly 68% of the country's GDP in 2000.
Foreign investment in Latvia is still modest compared with the levels in north-central EuropeSony VAIO PCG-7171L battery. A law expanding the scope for selling land, including to foreigners, was passed in 1997. Representing 10.2% of Latvia's total foreign direct investment, American companies invested $127 million in 1999. In the same year, the United States exported $58.2 million of goods and services to Latvia and imported $87.9 million. Eager to join Western economic institutions like the World Trade Organization, OECD, and the European Union, Latvia signed a Europe Agreement with the EU in 1995—with a 4-year transition periodSony VAIO PCG-7162L battery. Latvia and the United States have signed treaties on investment, trade, and intellectual property protection and avoidance of double taxation.
The Latvian economy entered a phase of fiscal contraction during the second half of 2008 after an extended period of credit-based speculation and unrealistic appreciation in real estate values. The national account deficit for 2007, for example, represented more than 22% of the GDP for the year while inflation was running at 10%.Sony VAIO PCG-7161L battery
Latvia's unemployment rate rose sharply in this period from a low of 5.4% in November 2007 to over 22%. In April 2010 Latvia had the highest unemployment rate in the EU, at 22.5%, ahead of Spain which had 19.7%.
Paul Krugman, the Nobel Laureate in economics for 2008, wrote in his New York Times Op-Ed column for December 15, 2008Sony VAIO PCG-7154L battery:
"The most acute problems are on Europe’s periphery, where many smaller economies are experiencing crises strongly reminiscent of past crises in Latin America and Asia: Latvia is the new Argentina " 
However by 2010 commentators noted signs of stabilisation in the Latvian economy. Rating agency Standard & Poor's raised its outlook on Latvia's debt from negative to stable. Latvia's current account, which had been in deficit by 27% in late 2006 was in surplus in February 2010. Kenneth Orchard, senior analyst at Moody's investors service argued thatSony VAIO PCG-7153L battery:
"The strengthening regional economy is supporting Latvian production and exports, while the sharp swing in the current account balance suggests that the country’s ‘internal devaluation’ is working." 
The IMF concluded the First Post-Program Monitoring Discussions with the Republic of Latvia in July 2012 announcing that Latvia’s economy has been recovering strongly since 2010, following the deep downturn in 2008–09Sony VAIO PCG-7152L battery. Real GDP growth of 5.5 percent in 2011 was underpinned by export growth and a recovery in domestic demand. The growth momentum has continued into 2012 despite deteriorating external conditions, and the economy is expected to expand by 3.5 percent. The unemployment rate has receded from its peak of more than 20 percent in 2010, but remains high at more than 16 percent in 2012.
Main articles: Transportation in Latvia and National Roads in LatviaSony VAIO PCG-7151L battery
The transport sector is around 14% of GDP. Transit between Russia and the West is large.
Key ports are in Riga, Ventspils, and Liepāja. Most transit traffic uses these and half the cargo is crude oil and oil products.
Riga International Airport is the busiest airport in the Baltic States with 5.1 million passengers in 2011.
AirBaltic is the Latvian flag carrier airline and a low-cost carrier.
Latvia has 3 big hydroelectric power stations (Pļaviņu HES (825MW), Rīgas HES (402 MW), Ķeguma HES-2 (192 MW) Sony VAIO PCG-7148L battery.
Latvia also has an underground gas station, which is the 3rd largest underground gas station in Europe and the only underground gas station in the Baltic States. (Inčukalns underground gas station)
Latvia's population has been multiethnic for centuries, though the demographics shifted dramatically in the 20th century due to the World Wars, the emigration and removal of Baltic Germans, the Holocaust, and occupation by the Soviet Union. According to the Russian Empire Census of 1897, Latvians formed 68.3% of the total population of 1.93 million; Russians accounted for 12%, Jews for 7.4%, Germans for 6.2%, and Poles for 3.4%.Sony VPCW21M2E/WI battery
As of March 2011, Latvians and Livonians (about 400 people), the indigenous peoples of Latvia, form about 62.1% of the population, while 26.9% are Russians, Belarusians 3.3%, Ukrainians 2.2%, Poles 2.2%, Lithuanians 1.2%, Jews 0.3%, Roma people 0.3%, Germans 0.1%, Estonians 0.1% and others 1.3%. There were 290,660 non-citizens living in Latvia or 14.1% of Latvian residents, mainly ethnic Russians who arrived after the occupation of 1940 and their descendants. Sony VPCW21C7E battery
In some cities, e.g. Daugavpils and Rēzekne, ethnic Latvians constitute a minority of the total population. Despite the fact that the proportion of ethnic Latvians has been steadily increasing for more than a decade, ethnic Latvians also make up slightly less than a half of the population of the capital city of Latvia – RīgaSony VPCW12S1E/WZ battery.
The share of ethnic Latvians had fallen from 77% (1,467,035) in 1935 to 52% (1,387,757) in 1989. In 2011 there were even fewer Latvians than in 1989, though their share of the population was larger — 1,284,194 (62.1% of the population).
Further information: Language policy in Latvia
The sole official language of Latvia is Latvian, which belongs to the Baltic language group of the Indo-European language family. Another notable language of Latvia is the nearly extinct Livonian language of the Finnic branch of the Uralic language familySony VPCW12S1E/W battery, which enjoys protection by law; Latgalian — referred as either dialect or distinct separate language of Latvian — is also formally protected by Latvian law but only as a historical variation of the Latvian language. Russian, which was widely spoken during the Soviet period, is still the most widely used minority language by far (about 30% speak it natively), and it is understood by virtually all Latvians who started their education during the period of Soviet ruleSony VPCW12S1E/T battery. Despite this, the Russian language is not protected by Latvian law. While it is now required that all school students learn Latvian, most schools also include English and either German or Russian in their curricula. The English language is widely accepted in Latvia especially in business and tourism.
On February 18, 2012 Latvia held a constitutional referendum on whether to adopt Russian as a second official language. Sony VPCW12S1E/P battery According to the Central Election Commission, 74,8% voted against, 24.88% voted for and the voter turnout was 71.11%. However, a large part of Latvia's Russian speaking community (290,660 or 14.1% of Latvia's entire population) could not vote in this referendum because they hold non-citizen status and thus have no right to voteSony VPCW11S1E/W battery.
In the Eurobarometer Poll 2005, 37% of Latvian citizens responded that "they believe there is a god", while 49% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force" and 10% stated that "they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, god, or life force".
Lutheranism was more prominent before the Soviet occupation, when it was a majority religion due to strong historical links with the Nordic countries and Northern GermanySony VPCW11S1E/T battery. Since then, Lutheranism has declined to a slightly greater extent than Roman Catholicism in all three Baltic states. The Evangelical Lutheran Church, with an estimated 600,000 members in 1956, was affected most adversely. An internal document of March 18, 1987, near the end of communist rule, spoke of an active membership that had shrunk to only 25,000 in Latvia, but the faith has since experienced a revival. The country's Orthodox Christians belong to the Latvian Orthodox Church, a semi-autonomous body within the Russian Orthodox Church. In 2011, there were 416 Jews and 319 Muslims living in LatviaSony VPCW11S1E/P battery.
There are more than 600 Latvian neopagans, Dievturi (The Godskeepers), whose religion is based on Latvian mythology. About 21% of the total population is not affiliated with a specific religion.
Riga Technical University and University of Latvia are two major universities in the country, both been established on the basis of Riga Polytechnical Institute and located in Riga. Another two important universitiesSony VPCYA1S1E/B battery, which were established on the base of State University of Latvia, are Latvia University of Agriculture (established in 1939 on the basis of the Faculty of Agriculture) and Riga Stradiņš University (established in 1950 on the basis of the Faculty of Medicine) – both nowadays cover a variety of different fields. Daugavpils University is another significant center of education. Latvia closed 131 schools between 2006 and 2010, which is a 12.9% decline, and in the same period enrollment in educational institutions has fallen by over 54,000 people, a 10.3% declineSony VPCYA1V9E/B battery.
The Latvian healthcare system is a universal program, largely funded through government taxation. It is among the lowest-ranked healthcare systems in Europe, due to excessive waiting times for treatment, insufficient access to the latest medicines, and other factors. There were 59 hospitals in Latvia in 2009, down from 94 in 2007, and 121 in 2006. The average life expectancy at birth is 72.7 years, second lowest in the European Union. Sony VPCYA1V9E/B battery
Corruption is relatively widespread in the Latvian healthcare system, though the situation has improved since the early 1990s. It has been noted that an environment conducive to corruption has been promulgated by low salaries and poorly implemented systemic reforms. This also results in brain drain, mostly to Western EU nationsSony VPCY21S1E/SI battery.
As of 2009, there were approximately 8,600 inhabitants of Latvia living with HIV/AIDS, accounting for a .7% adult HIV prevalence rate. There were 32,376 (1.44%) individual instances of clinically reported alcoholism in Latvia in 2008, as well as cases of addictions to other substances. The annual number of births per 1,000 adolescent women aged 15 to 19 has declined from 49.9 in 1990 to 17.9 in 2007. In 2005, Latvia had a suicide rate of 24.5 per 100,000 inhabitants (down from 40.7 in 1995), the 7th highest in the worldSony VPCY21S1E/L battery.
Traditional Latvian folklore, especially the dance of the folk songs, date back well over a thousand years. More than 1.2 million texts and 30,000 melodies of folk songs have been identified.
Between the 13th and 19th century, Baltic Germans, many of whom were originally of non-German ancestry but had been assimilated into German culture, formed the upper class. They developed distinct cultural heritageSony VPCY21S1E/G battery, characterised by both Latvian and German influences. It has survived in German Baltic families to this day, in spite of their dispersal to Germany, the USA, Canada and other countries in the early 20th century. However, most indigenous Latvians did not participate in this particular cultural life. Thus, the mostly peasant local pagan heritage was preserved, partly merging with Christian traditionsSony VPCY11S1E/S battery, for example in one of the most popular celebrations today which is Jāņi, a pagan celebration of the summer solstice, celebrated on the feast day of St. John the Baptist.
In the 19th century Latvian nationalist movements emerged promoting Latvian culture and encouraging Latvians to take part in cultural activities. The 19th century and beginning of the 20th century is often regarded[by whom?] as a classical era of Latvian culture. Posters show the influence of other European cultures, for example, works of artists such as the Baltic-German artist Bernhard Borchert and the French Raoul Dufy. Sony VPCY11S1E battery With the onset of World War II, many Latvian artists and other members of the cultural elite fled the country yet continued to produce their work, largely for a Latvian émigré audience.
After incorporation into the Soviet Union, Latvian artists and writers were forced to follow the Socialist realism style of art. During the Soviet era, music became increasingly popular, with the most popular being songs from the 1980sSony VPCZ11X9E/B battery. At this time, songs often made fun of the characteristics of Soviet life and were concerned about preserving Latvian identity. This aroused popular protests against the USSR and also gave rise to an increasing popularity of poetry. Since independence, theatre, scenography, choir music and classical music have become the most notable branches of Latvian culture.
eese is traditionally served on the Latvian festival JāņiSony VPCZ11Z9E/B battery.
Latvian cuisine typically consists of agricultural products, with meat featuring in most main meal dishes. Fish is commonly consumed due to Latvia's location on the Baltic Sea. Latvian cuisine has been influenced by the neighbouring countries. Common ingredients in Latvian recipes are found locally, such as potatoes, wheat, barley, cabbage, onions, eggs and pork. Latvian food is generally quite fatty, and uses few spicesSony VPCZ12M9E/B battery.
Grey peas and ham are generally considered as staple foods of Latvians. Sorrel soup is also consumed by Latvians. Rupjmaize is a dark bread made from rye, considered the national staple.
Ice hockey is the most popular sport. Latvia has many famous hockey stars like Helmut Balderis, Artūrs Irbe, Kārlis Skrastiņš, Sandis Ozoliņš. The most famous and most supported Latvian ice hockey club is Dinamo RigaSony VPCZ12X9E/X battery. The 2006 IIHF World Championship was held in Latvia. Second most popular sport is basketball. At the moment the best known Latvian player is Andris Biedriņš who plays in NBA. Other popular sports include volleyball, floorball, football, tennis, cycling and bobsleigh. The Latvia national football team participated in 2004 UEFA Euro for the first time. Latvia has participated successfully in Winter and Summer OlympicsSony VPCZ13V9E battery.