Latvia (Latvian: Latvija), officially the Republic of Latvia (Latvian: Latvijas Republika), is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by Estonia (border length 343 km), to the south by Lithuania (588 km), to the east by the Russian Federation (276 km), to the southeast by Belarus (141 km) HP Pavilion dv6-1103au battery, and shares maritime borders to the west with Sweden. With 2,067,887 inhabitants and a territory of 64,589 km2 (24,938 sq mi) it is one of the least populous and least densely populated countries of the European Union. The capital of Latvia is Riga. The official language is Latvian and the currency is called Lats (Ls). The country has a temperate seasonal climateHP Pavilion dv6-1102tx battery.
The Latvians are a Baltic people, culturally related to the Lithuanians. Together with the Finno-Ugric Livs (or Livonians), the Latvians are the indigenous people of Latvia. Latvian is an Indo-European language and along with Lithuanian the only two surviving members of the Baltic branch. Indigenous minority languages are Latgalian and the nearly extinct Finno-Ugric Livonian languageHP Pavilion dv6-1102tu battery. In terms of geography, territory and population Latvia is the middle of three Baltic states: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Latvia and Estonia share a long common history: historical Livonia, times of German (Teutonic Order), Polish-Lithuanian, Swedish, Russian, Nazi German and Soviet ruleHP Pavilion dv6-1102ax battery, 13th century Christianization and 16th century Protestant Reformation. Both countries are home to a large number of ethnic Russians (26.9% in Latvia and 25.5% in Estonia) of whom some are non-citizens. Latvia is historically predominantly Protestant, except for the region of Latgalia in the southeast which is historically predominantly Roman CatholicHP Pavilion dv6-1102au battery.
Latvia is a unitary parliamentary republic and is divided into 118 administrative divisions of which 109 municipalities and 9 cities. There are five planning regions: Courland (Kurzeme), Latgalia (Latgale), Riga (Rīga), Vidzeme and Zemgale. The Republic of Latvia was founded on November 18, 1918HP Pavilion dv6-1101tx battery. It was occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union between 1940–1941 and 1945–1991 and by Nazi Germany between 1941–1945. The peaceful "Singing Revolution" between 1987 and 1991 and "Baltic Chain" demonstration on August 23, 1989 led to the independence of the Baltic states. Latvia declared the restoration of its de facto independence on August 21, 1991HP Pavilion dv6-1101tu battery.
Latvia is a member of the United Nations, European Union, Council of Europe, NATO, OSCE, IMF and WTO, and is part of the Schengen Area. It was a member of the League of Nations (1921–1946) and the Baltic Free Trade Area (1994–2004). Latvia is also a member of the Council of the Baltic Sea States and Nordic Investment BankHP Pavilion dv6-1101so battery, and is together with Estonia and Lithuania involved in trilateral Baltic States cooperation and Nordic-Baltic cooperation.
After economic stagnation in the early 1990s, Latvia posted Europe-leading GDP growth figures during 1998–2006. In the global financial crisis of 2008–2010 Latvia was the hardest hit of the European Union member states, with a GDP decline of 26.54% in that periodHP Pavilion dv6-1101ax battery. Commentators noted signs of stabilisation in the Latvian economy by 2010, and the state of the economy continued to improve, as Latvia once again became one of the fastest growing economies of the EU in 2011. The United Nations lists Latvia as a country with a Human Development Index (HDI) of "Very High".HP Pavilion dv6-1101au battery
The name Latvija comes from the ancient Latgallians, one of four Indo-European Baltic tribes, who along with Couronians, Selonians and Semigallians formed the ethnic core of today’s Latvian people.
Around the beginning of the third millennium BC (3000 BC), the proto-Baltic ancestors of the Latvian people settled on the eastern coast of the Baltic SeaHP Pavilion dv6-1100sv battery. The Balts established trade routes to Rome and Byzantium, trading local amber for precious metals. By 900 AD, four distinct Baltic tribes inhabited Latvia: Curonians, Latgalians, Selonians, Semigallians (in Latvian: kurši, latgaļi, sēļi and zemgaļi), as well as the Livonians (lībieši) speaking a Finnic languageHP Pavilion dv6-1100ss battery.
The Medieval period
Although the local people had had contact with the outside world for centuries, they were more fully integrated into European society in the 12th century. The first missionaries, sent by the Pope, sailed up the Daugava River in the late 12th century, seeking converts. The local people, however, did not convert to Christianity as readily as hopedHP Pavilion dv6-1100so battery. German crusaders were sent into Latvia to convert the pagan population by force of arms.
In the beginning of the 13th century, large parts of today's Latvia were ruled by Germans. Together with Southern Estonia, these conquered areas formed the crusader state that became known as Terra Mariana or Livonia. In 1282, Riga, and later the cities of Cēsis, LimbažiHP Pavilion dv6-1100es battery, Koknese and Valmiera, were included in the Hanseatic League. Riga became an important point of east-west trading and formed close cultural contacts with Western Europe.
The Reformation period
The 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries were a time of great change for the inhabitants of Latvia, including the reformation, the collapse of the Livonian state, and the time when the Latvian territory was divided up among foreign powersHP Pavilion dv6-1100eo battery.
After the Livonian War (1558–1583), Livonia (Latvia) fell under Polish and Lithuanian rule. The southern part of Estonia and the northern part of Latvia were ceded to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and formed into the Ducatus Ultradunensis (Pārdaugavas hercogiste). Gotthard Kettler, the last Master of the Order of LivoniaHP Pavilion dv6-1099ef battery, formed the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia. Though the duchy was a vassal state to Poland, it retained a considerable degree of autonomy and experienced a golden age in the 17th century. Latgalia, the easternmost region of Latvia, became a part of the Polish district of InflantyHP Pavilion dv6-1090es battery.
The 17th and early 18th centuries saw a struggle between the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Sweden, and Russia for supremacy in the eastern Baltic. After the Polish–Swedish War (1600–1611), northern Livonia (including Vidzeme) came under Swedish rule. Fighting continued sporadically between Sweden and Poland until the Truce of Altmark in 1629HP Pavilion dv6-1090eo battery. In Latvia, the Swedish period is generally remembered as positive; serfdom was eased, a network of schools was established for the peasantry, and the power of the regional barons was diminished.
Several important cultural changes occurred during this time. Under Swedish and largely German rule, western Latvia adopted Lutheranism as its main religion. The ancient tribes of the Couronians, SemigalliansHP Pavilion dv6-1080es battery, Selonians, Livs and northern Latgallians assimilated to form the Latvian people, speaking one Latvian language. Throughout all the centuries, however, no such thing as a Latvian state existed so the borders and definitions of who exactly fell within that group are largely subjective. Meanwhile, largely isolated from the rest of LatviaHP Pavilion dv6-1080eq battery, southern Latgallians adopted Catholicism under Polish/Jesuit influence. The native dialect remained distinct, although it acquired many Polish and Russian loanwords.
Latvia in the Russian Empire
The Capitulation of Estonia and Livonia in 1710 and the Treaty of Nystad, ending the Great Northern War in 1721, gave Vidzeme to Russia (it became part of the Riga Governorate) HP Pavilion dv6-1080el battery. The Latgale region remained part of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth as Inflanty Voivodeship until 1772, when it was incorporated into Russia. The Duchy of Courland and Semigallia became an autonomous Russian province (the Courland Governorate) in 1795, bringing all of what is now Latvia into the Russian EmpireHP Pavilion dv6-1070eo battery. All three Baltic provinces preserved local laws, the local official language and their own parliament, the Landtag.
During the Great Northern War (1700–1721), the Baltic area was once again the scene of great devastation, with Peter the Great's scorched-earth policy, famine, and plague being responsible for catastrophic loss of human life: as much as 40% of the population in Latvian lands were killed. HP Pavilion dv6-1068el batteryIn 1710, the plague reached Riga, where it was active until 1711 and claimed the lives of about half the population.
The promises Peter the Great made to the Baltic German nobility at the fall of Riga in 1710, confirmed by the Treaty of Nystad and known as "the Capitulations", largely reversed the Swedish reformsHP Pavilion dv6-1066el battery.
The emancipation of the serfs took place in Courland in 1817 and in Vidzeme in 1819. In practice, however, the emancipation was actually advantageous to the landowners and nobility, as it dispossessed peasants of their land without compensation, forcing them to return to work at the estates "of their own free will"HP Pavilion dv6-1062el battery.
During the 19th century, the social structure changed dramatically. A class of independent farmers established itself after reforms allowed the peasants to repurchase their land, but many landless peasants remained. There also developed a growing urban proletariat and an increasingly influential Latvian bourgeoisieHP Pavilion dv6-1060ev battery. The Young Latvian (Latvian: Jaunlatvieši) movement laid the groundwork for nationalism from the middle of the century, many of its leaders looking to the Slavophiles for support against the prevailing German-dominated social order. The rise in use of the Latvian language in literature and society became known as the First National AwakeningHP Pavilion dv6-1060es battery. Russification began in Latgale after the Polish led the January Uprising in 1863: this spread to the rest of what is now Latvia by the 1880s. The Young Latvians were largely eclipsed by the New Current, a broad leftist social and political movement, in the 1890s. Popular discontent exploded in the 1905 Russian Revolution, which took a nationalist character in the Baltic provincesHP Pavilion dv6-1060eo battery.
Declaration of Independence
“Poland & The New Baltic States” map from a British atlas in 1920, showing still-undefined borders after the treaties of Brest and Versailles and before the Peace of Riga.
World War I devastated the territory of what would become the state of Latvia, along with other western parts of the Russian Empire. Demands for self-determination were at first confined to autonomyHP Pavilion dv6-1060el battery, but the Russian 1917 Revolution, treaty with Germany at Brest-Litovsk, and allied armistice with Germany on November 11, 1918, created a power vacuum. The People's Council of Latvia proclaimed the independence of the new country in Riga on November 18, 1918, with Kārlis Ulmanis becoming the head of the provisional governmentHP Pavilion dv6-1058el battery.
The War of Independence that followed was part of a general chaotic period of civil and new border wars in Eastern Europe. By the spring of 1919, there were actually three governments — Ulmanis' government; the Soviet Latvian government led by Pēteris Stučka, whose forces, supported by the Red ArmyHP Pavilion dv6-1056el battery, occupied almost all of the country; and the Baltic German government of the United Baltic Duchy, headed by Andrievs Niedra and supported by the Baltische Landeswehr and the German Freikorps unit Iron Division.
Estonian and Latvian forces defeated the Germans at the Battle of Wenden in June 1919, and a massive attack by a predominantly German force — the West Russian Volunteer ArmyHP Pavilion dv6-1055ee battery — under Pavel Bermondt-Avalov was repelled in November. Eastern Latvia was cleared of Red Army forces by Latvian and Polish troops in early 1920 (from the Polish perspective the Battle of Daugavpils was a part of the Polish-Soviet War).
A freely elected Constituent assembly convened on May 1, 1920, and adopted a liberal constitution, the Satversme, in February 1922HP Pavilion dv6-1053cl battery. The constitution was partly suspended by Kārlis Ulmanis after his coup in 1934, but reaffirmed in 1990. Since then, it has been amended and is still in effect in Latvia today. With most of Latvia's industrial base evacuated to the interior of Russia in 1915, radical land reform was the central political question for the young state. In 1897, 61.2% of the rural population had been landlessHP Pavilion dv6-1050us battery; by 1936, that percentage had been reduced to 18%.
By 1923, the extent of cultivated land surpassed the pre-war level. Innovation and rising productivity led to rapid growth of the economy, but it soon suffered from the effects of the Great Depression. Latvia showed signs of economic recovery and the electorate had steadily moved toward the centre during the parliamentary periodHP Pavilion dv6-1050et battery. On May 15, 1934, Ulmanis staged a bloodless coup, establishing a nationalist dictatorship that lasted until 1940. After 1934, Ulmanis established government corporations to buy up private firms with the aim of "Latvianising" the economy.
Latvia in World War II
See also: Soviet occupation of Latvia in 1940, Occupation of Latvia by Nazi Germany, The Holocaust in Latvia, Latvian partisans, and Latvian resistance movementHP Pavilion dv6-1050ep battery
"TWO WORLDS": Anti-Sovietism propaganda board, Latvia, Summer, 1941.
Early in the morning of August 24, 1939, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed a 10-year non-aggression pact, called the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. The pact contained a secret protocol, revealed only after Germany's defeat in 1945HP Pavilion dv6-1050eo battery, according to which the states of Northern and Eastern Europe were divided into German and Soviet "spheres of influence". In the North, Latvia, Finland and Estonia were assigned to the Soviet sphere. Thereafter, Germany and the Soviet union invaded their respective portions of PolandHP Pavilion dv6-1050en battery.
After the conclusion of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, most of the Baltic Germans left Latvia by agreement between Ulmanis' government and Nazi Germany under the Heim ins Reich program. In total 50,000 Baltic Germans left by the deadline of December 1939, with 1,600 remaining to conclude business and 13,000 choosing to remain in LatviaHP Pavilion dv6-1050ei battery. Most of those who remained left for Germany in summer 1940, when a second resettlement scheme was agreed.
On 5 October 1939, Latvia was forced to accept a "mutual assistance" pact with the Soviet Union, granting the Soviets the right to station between 25,000 and 30,000 troops on Latvian territory. After staging border incidents, on 16 June 1940 the government of the USSR handed the Latvian ambassador in Moscow a noteHP Pavilion dv6-1050ef battery, in which Latvia was accused of breaching the articles of the agreement of 5 October 1939, and demands were made for sending in additional Soviet troops and to change the government. The Latvian government capitulated in the face of overwhelming force. On 17 June Soviet troops invaded Latvian territory. In his address by radioHP Pavilion dv6-1046el battery, Kārlis Ulmanis, announced: “Soviet forces are marching into our land this very morning. This is happening with the knowledge and consent of the government, which in turn stems from the amicable relations that exist between Latvia and the Soviet Union. It is, therefore, my wish that the residents of our country also show friendship towards the advancing military unitsHP Pavilion dv6-1045ez battery ... The government has resigned. I shall remain in my place, you remain in yours”. No opposition was shown towards the Soviet forces; on the contrary, part of the population accepted the news of their arrival with enthusiasm, which was heavily exploited by Soviet propaganda. Observing them, the well known Russian lawyer and public figure of LatviaHP Pavilion dv6-1045eo battery, Pyotr Yakobi, wrote: “Taken from the German model, the authoritarian beginning in our country has turned into a government of national bureaucracy, having satisfied a limited circle of citizens, who have adapted themselves to the state pie. Clearly, any hardship is not in vainHP Pavilion dv6-1045ei battery. And so now the down-trodden have raised their voice and demand a return of their rights that have been trampled on ... “. Among those unhappy with the regime of Kārlis Ulmanis were not only the national minorities but also many Latvians who were anxious about the deteriorating economic situation and who had no desire to end up under the rule of Nazi GermanyHP Pavilion dv6-1045ee battery.
The mass killings of 2,749 Jews on the beach near the city of Liepāja, December 1941.
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 positionsHP Pavilion dv6-1044el battery; the resulting people's assembly immediately requested admission into the USSR, which was granted by the Soviet Union. Latvia, then a puppet government, was headed by Augusts Kirhenšteins. Latvia was incorporated into the Soviet Union on August 5, 1940 as The Latvian Soviet Socialist RepublicHP Pavilion dv6-1042el battery.
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 shot. While under German occupationHP Pavilion dv6-1040ez battery, 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 occupationHP Pavilion dv6-1040ev 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.
Main articles: Occupation of Latvia by Soviet Union 1944–1945, Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic, and Stalinism
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 defeatHP Pavilion dv6-1040el battery. 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". 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 stayHP Pavilion dv6-1040ek battery, and Latvian national partisans, soon to be joined by German collaborators, began their fight against another occupier – the Soviet Union.
File:Shack from Gulag — Museum of the Occupation of Latvia.JPG
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 LatviaHP Pavilion dv6-1040ei battery, 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 SovieticisedHP Pavilion dv6-1040ed 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 imprisonedHP Pavilion dv6-1040eb battery, 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 partisans.
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 LatviaHP Pavilion dv6-1038ca battery, 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. An influx of labourers, administrators, military personnel and their dependents from Russia and other Soviet republics startedHP Pavilion dv6-1030us battery. 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 Latvia. New industry was created in Latvia, including a major machinery factory RAF in JelgavaHP Pavilion dv6-1030eq battery, 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 UnionHP Pavilion dv6-1030eo battery, decreasing the proportion of ethnic Latvians in the republic.
Restoration of independence
Barricade in Riga to prevent the Soviet Army from reaching the Latvian Parliament, July 1991.
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 independenceHP Pavilion dv6-1030em 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 1990HP Pavilion dv6-1030ef battery.
In 1989, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR adopted a resolution on the "Occupation of the Baltic states", in which it declared that the occupation was "not in accordance with law," and not the "will of the Soviet people". Pro-independence Popular Front of Latvia candidates gained a two-thirds majority in the Supreme Council in the March 1990 democratic electionsHP Pavilion dv6-1030ed battery. On May 4, 1990, the Supreme Soviet of the Latvian SSR adopted the Declaration On the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia, Latvian SSR was renamed Republic of Latvia.
However, the central power in Moscow continued to regard Latvia as Soviet republic in 1990–1991. In January 1991HP Pavilion dv6-1030ec battery, 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 LatviaHP Pavilion dv6-1030ca 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 citizenshipHP Pavilion dv6-1027ef battery. However, universal citizenship for all permanent residents was not adopted subsequently; majority of ethnical non-latvians did not receive Latvian citizenship even thought they had voted for 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 thought process of naturalization exams and received Latvian citizenship. HP Pavilion dv6-1025ez battery) Still today there are 290,660 non-citizens of Latvia, 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 attemptHP Pavilion dv6-1025ei battery.
Latvia became a member of the European Union in 2004 and signed the Lisbon Treaty in 2007.
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 2004HP Pavilion dv6-1025ef battery.
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 offspring. This resulted in a situation where people who have lived and worked in Latvia for over 50 years were nonetheless unable to voteHP Pavilion dv6-1023em battery, 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 Russian; less than 1% of non-citizens are Latvian, while 71% are Russian. The government denationalised private property confiscated by the Soviet ruleHP Pavilion dv6-1023ef battery, 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 crisis. HP Pavilion dv6-1022el battery
Main article: Geography of Latvia
Map of Latvia before the administrative territorial reform of 2009.
Latvia lies mostly 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°).
Located on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea, Latvia lies on the East European Plain. However, its vegetation is very different from the rest of the plain and shares many similarities with the boreal biomeHP Pavilion dv6-1020et battery. It consists of fertile, low-lying plains, largely covered by forest, mostly pines, the highest point being the Gaiziņkalns at 311.6 m (1,022 ft).
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 forestsHP Pavilion dv6-1020eg battery. The major rivers include the Daugava River, the Lielupe, the Gauja, the Venta, and the Salaca. An inlet of the Baltic Sea, the shallow Gulf of Riga is situated in the northwest of the country. Latvia's coastline extends for 531 kilometres.
Main article: Administrative divisions of Latvia
See also: List of cities in Latvia, Planning regions of Latvia, and Historical regions of LatviaHP Pavilion dv6-1020el battery
Since 2009 Latvia has one-level municipalities – 9 republican cities (Latvian: republikas pilsētas) (Daugavpils, Jēkabpils, Jelgava, Jūrmala, Liepāja, Rēzekne, Riga, Valmiera, Ventspils) and 110 municipalities (Latvian: novadi). 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 varyHP Pavilion dv6-1020ek battery. To promote balanced development of all regions, in 2009 five planning regions of Latvia (Latvian: plānošanas reģioni) were created:
The Latvian climate is humid, continental and temperate owing to the maritime influence of the Baltic Sea. Summers are warm, and the weather in spring and autumn is fairly mild; however, the winters can be extreme due to the northern location. Precipitation is common throughout the year with the heaviest rainfall in JulyHP Pavilion dv6-1020ei battery. During severe spells of winter weather, Latvia is dominated by cold winds from the interior of Russia, and severe snowfalls are very common.
View from atop the tower of Gaizinkalns
Common species of wildlife in Latvia include deer, wild boar, moose, lynx, bear, fox, beaver and wolves. Non-marine molluscs of Latvia include 159 species.
Latvia's national trees are oak (Quercus robur), Latvian: ozols, and linden (Tilia cordata), Latvian: liepa. Oaks and Lindens are considered the national trees of LatviaHP Pavilion dv6-1020ed battery. The oak and the linden tree are characteristic elements of the Latvian landscape. Both trees are still widely used for medical purposes. Medicinal infusions are made of linden blossoms as well as oak bark. Latvian dainas (folk songs) often reflect ethical and moral concepts of earlier times. Amongst other trees, these folk songs most often mention the oak and linden treeHP Pavilion dv6-1020ec batterHP Pavilion dv6-1018el battery. In traditional Latvian folk beliefs and folklore the linden tree is looked upon as a female symbol, but the oak – a male symbol. The nation's reverence for these trees, which in earlier times were considered sacred, can be witnessed, for example, in a landscape where, in the middle of a cultivated field there still remains a lone large, sacred oak or linden treeHP Pavilion dv6-1001et battery.
The White Wagtail is the national bird of Latvia
Latvia's national bird is the White Wagtail (Motacilla alba), Latvian: baltā cielava. This slender and graceful bird is found in Latvia from April till October. The White Wagtail can usually be seen running briskly along the ground, wagging its tail up and down. This bird typically nests in the rafters and eaves of buildings, woodpilesHP Pavilion dv6-1001tx battery, stone piles, and birdhouses. During the winter it migrates to Southern Europe and North Africa. The White Wagtail was affirmed the national bird of Latvia in 1960 by the International Bird Protection Council.
Latvia's national flower is the oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare also known as Chrysanthemum leucanthemum), Latvian: pīpene. In Latvian conditions, the common or wild daisy blossoms from June till SeptemberHP Pavilion dv6-1001xx battery. Daisies are a very popular flower and are often used in flower arrangements or given as gifts.
Latvia's national insect is the Two-spot ladybird (Adalia bipunctata), Latvian: mārīte. The two-spot ladybird is familiar as a useful insect that protects plants from parasites. Although rather slow by nature, it can defend itself wellHP Pavilion dv6-1002tx battery. Due to its appearance and behaviour it is widely known and liked throughout Latvia. The insect's Latvian name – marite – is a synonym for the ancient Latvian goddess Mara, who embodies the power of the earth. The two-spot ladybird was designated the national insect of Latvia by the Entomological Society of LatviaHP Pavilion dv6-1003tx battery.
Main articles: Politics of Latvia, Parliament of Latvia, and Government of Latvia
The 100-seat unicameral Latvian parliament, the Saeima, is elected by direct popular vote every four years. The president is elected by the Saeima in a separate election, also held every four years. The president appoints a prime minister who, together with his cabinet, forms the executive branch of the governmentHP Pavilion dv6-1004tx battery, which has to receive a confidence vote by the Saeima. This system also existed before World War II. Highest civil servants are sixteen Secretaries of State.
Main article: Foreign relations of Latvia
Latvia has a representation in the European parliament since 2004.
Membership in the EU and NATO were major policy goals during the 1990s. In a nation-wide referendum on September 20, 2003, 66.9% of those taking part voted in favour of joining the European Union. Latvia became a member of the European Union on May 1, 2004. Latvia has been a NATO member since March 29, 2004HP Pavilion dv6-1005ea battery.
The Treaty delimiting the boundary with Russia was signed and ratified in 2007. Under the treaty the Abrene district passed to Russia; talks over maritime boundary disputes with Lithuania are ongoing (the primary concern is oil exploration rights).
Main article: Human rights in Latvia
Human rights in Latvia are generally respected by the government, according to Freedom House and US Department of State.HP Pavilion dv6-1005ez battery 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 government. HP Pavilion dv6-1005tx battery
However, human rights organisations have reported multiple problems. Especially non-citizens – including stateless persons – suffer from limited or no access to a broad range of rights, according to UN and Council of Europe bodies. Also there were problems with police abuse of detainees and arresteesHP Pavilion dv6-1006tx 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.
Naval Forces patrol boat P-03 „Linga”
Main article: Military of Latvia
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. The armed forces consist of mobile riflemen, an air force, and a navyHP Pavilion dv6-1007tx battery. Latvia cooperates with Estonia and Lithuania in the joint infantry battalion BALTBAT and naval squadron BALTRON which are available for peacekeeping operations.
As of March 29, 2004, Latvia officially joined NATO. Currently, NATO is involved in the patrolling and protection of the Latvian air space as the Latvian army does not have the means to do so effectively. For this goal a rotating force of four NATO fightersHP Pavilion dv6-1008tx battery, which comes from different nations and switches at two or three month intervals, is based in Lithuania to cover all three Baltic states (see Baltic Air Policing).
Main article: Economy of Latvia
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 creditHP Pavilion dv6-1009el battery. Latvian economy fell 18% in the first three months of 2009, 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 consumptionHP Pavilion dv6-1009tx battery, financed by a serious increase of private debt, as well as a negative foreign trade balance. 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 materialsHP Pavilion dv6-1010ea battery.
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 market.
Privatization in Latvia is almost complete. Virtually all of the previously state-owned small and medium companies have been successfully privatizedHP Pavilion dv6-1010ed battery, leaving only a small number of politically sensitive large state companies. Latvian privatization efforts have led to the development of a dynamic and prosperous private sector, which accounted for nearly 68% of GDP in 2000.
Foreign investment in Latvia is still modest compared with the levels in north-central Europe. A law expanding the scope for selling land, including to foreigners, was passed in 1997HP Pavilion dv6-1010et battery. 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 UnionHP Pavilion dv6-1010tx battery, Latvia signed a Europe Agreement with the EU in 1995—with a 4-year transition period. Latvia and the United States have signed treaties on investment, trade, and intellectual property protection and avoidance of double taxation.
Main article: 2008–2010 Latvian financial crisis
Riga Airport terminal
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 valuesHP Pavilion dv6-1011tx battery. The national account deficit for 2007, for example, represented more than 22% of the GDP for the year while inflation was running at 10%.
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%HP Pavilion dv6-1012tx battery.
Paul Krugman, the Nobel Laureate in economics for 2008, wrote in his New York Times Op-Ed column for December 15, 2008:
"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 " HP Pavilion dv6-1013ea battery
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 thatHP Pavilion dv6-1013tx 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 however warned that tax revenues were likely to be eroded due to price and wage decreases continuing until 2012, adding thatHP Pavilion dv6-1016ez battery:
Air Baltic Boeing 757–200
"The sharp economic downturn is starting to bottom out, but recovery has not yet begun and sizable risks remain."
Main articles: Transportation in Latvia and National Roads in Latvia
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. HP Pavilion dv6-6091nr battery
Riga International Airport is the largest airport with 4.7 million passengers in 2010.
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).
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) HP Pavilion dv6-6090us battery
Main article: Demographics of Latvia
Residents of Latvia by ethnicity
Population of Latvia (in millions) from 1950–2012.
Main articles: Latvian people, Latvian Russians, Latvian Germans, Latvian Jews, Latgalians (modern), and Livonians
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 UnionHP Pavilion dv6-6090sf battery. 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%.
As of March 2011, Latvians and Livonians, the indigenous peoples of Latvia, form about 62.1% of the population; 26.9% of the inhabitants are Russians, Belarusians 3.3%, Ukrainians 2.2%, Poles 2.2%, Lithuanians 1.2%HP Pavilion dv6-6087eg battery, 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.
In some large cities, e.g. Riga, Daugavpils and Rēzekne, Russians and other minorities outnumber Latvians. Minorities from other countries such as BelarusHP Pavilion dv6-6063sf battery, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, etc., also live in Latvia. The share of ethnic Latvians had fallen from 77% (1,467,035) in 1935 to 52% (1,387,757) in 1989. 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) HP Pavilion dv6-6054sf battery.
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 family, which enjoys protection by law; Latgalian —HP Pavilion dv6-6054ef batteryreferred 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 by far the most widely used minority language, and is understood by virtually all Latvians who started their education during the period of Soviet ruleHP Pavilion dv6-6051xx 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 tourismHP Pavilion dv6-6051sf battery.
On 18 February 2012, Latvia hold a referendum on whether to adopt Russian as a second official language. With over 93 percent of ballots counted, 75 percent of voters said they were against Russian as a national language, according to the Central Election Commission results. HP Pavilion dv6-6042sf battery
Main article: Religion in Latvia
The largest religion in Latvia is Christianity, though only about 7% of the population attends religious services regularly. The largest groups as of 2006 were:
Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia – 450,000
Roman Catholic – 430,000
Orthodox – 350,000
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"HP Pavilion dv6-6029tx battery.
Lutheranism was much stronger before the Soviet annexation, when it was a majority religion. Since then, Lutheranism has declined to a much 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 adverselyHP Pavilion dv6-6027tx battery. 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 9,571 Jews and 182 Muslims living in LatviaHP Pavilion dv6-6026tx battery.
There are more than 600 Latvian neopagans, Dievturi (The Godskeepers), whose religion is based on Latvian mythology. About 40% of the total population is not affiliated with a specific religion.
Main article: Education in Latvia
See also: List of universities in Latvia
University of Latvia
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 RigaHP Pavilion dv6-6025tx battery. Another two important universities, 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 covers a variety of different fieldsHP Pavilion dv6-6024tx battery. 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% declineHP Pavilion dv6-6023tx 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 2007HP Pavilion dv6-6022eg battery, and 121 in 2006. The average life expectancy at birth is 72.7 years, second lowest in the European Union.
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. HP Pavilion dv6-6013tu battery  This also results in brain drain, mostly to Western EU nations.
As of 2007, there were approximately 10,000 inhabitants of Latvia living with HIV/AIDS. 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 2007HP Pavilion dv6-6013cl battery. 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 world.
Main article: Culture of Latvia
Latvian country scenery in Sabile
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 identifiedHP Pavilion dv6-6012tu battery.
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 heritage, characterised by both Latvian and German influences. It has survived in German Baltic families to this dayHP Pavilion dv6-6011tu battery, 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 traditions, for example in one of the most popular celebrations today which is JāņiHP Pavilion dv6-6008tx battery, 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 as a classical era of Latvian culture. Posters show the influence of other European culturesHP Pavilion dv6-6008sa battery, for example, works of artists such as the Baltic-German artist Bernhard Borchert and the French Raoul Dufy. 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 audienceHP Pavilion dv6-6008eg battery.
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 1980s. At this time, songs often made fun of the characteristics of Soviet life and were concerned about preserving Latvian identityHP Pavilion dv6-6007tx battery. 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.
Main article: Latvian cuisine
Caraway cheese is traditionally served on the Latvian festival Jāņi.
Latvian cuisine typically consists of agricultural products, with meat featuring in most main meal dishesHP Pavilion dv6-6007sg battery. 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 spicesHP Pavilion dv6-6006ea 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.
Main article: Sport in Latvia
Ice hockey is the most popular sport. Latvia has many famous hockey stars like Helmut Balderis, Artūrs Irbe, Kārlis Skrastiņš, Sandis OzoliņšHP Pavilion dv6-6005sg battery. The most famous and most supported Latvian ice hockey club is Dinamo Riga. The 2006 IIHF World Championship was held in Latvia. Second most popular sport is basketball. The best known Latvian player is Andris Biedriņš who plays in NBA. Other popular sports include floorball, soccer, tennis, cycling and bobsleighHP Pavilion dv6-6005eg battery. The Latvia national football team participated in 2004 UEFA Euro for the first time. Latvia has participated in Winter and Summer Olympics.