Europe

Latvia country profile

  • 11 February 2016
  • From the section Europe
Map of Latvia

Situated in north-eastern Europe with a coastline along the Baltic Sea, Latvia has borders with Estonia, Russia, Belarus and Lithuania. It has linguistic links with Lithuania to the south and historical and religious ties with Estonia to the north.

Not much more than a decade after it declared independence following the collapse of the USSR, Latvia was welcomed as an EU member in May 2004. The move came just weeks after it joined Nato.

For centuries Latvia was primarily an agricultural country, with seafaring, fishing and forestry as other important factors in its economy.

Like its Baltic neighbours, in the decade after independence Latvia made a rapid transformation to embrace the free market.

More than a quarter of the population is Russian-speaking and the rights of this section of society have been a thorny issue since independence.

FACTS

Republic of Latvia

Capital: Riga

  • Population 2.2 million

  • Area Area: 64,589 sq km (24,938 sq miles)

  • Major languages Latvian, Russian

  • Major religion Christianity

  • Life expectancy 69 years (men), 79 years (women)

  • Currency euro

Getty Images

LEADERS

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption President Raimonds Vejonis (left) and Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis

President: Raimonds Vejonis

Raimonds Vejonis was elected in June 2015 after five rounds of voting in Latvia's fractured 100-member parliament.

Mr Vejonis's previous position as defence minister was seen as a possible advantage in dealing with the heightened military and political tension with neighbouring Russia.

Although generally a ceremonial position, Latvia's president can veto legislation, call referendums and has some leeway in nominating the prime minister for parliamentary approval.

Prime minister: Maris Kucinskis

Maris Kucinskis took office in February 2016, having been nominated by the president to replace the outgoing prime minister, Laimdota Straujuma, who resigned.

He heads the same coalition as the previous government: two center-right parties - the agrarian Union of Greens and Farmers and the Unity party - and the conservative National Alliance party. Together they command a clear majority in parliament.

Mr Kucinskis, of the Union of Greens and Farmers, was expected to follow the policies of the previous government, working to strengthen the economy and face down growing concerns over Russia.

MEDIA

Newspapers - all of them privately-owned - reflect a variety of political views. Many titles have suffered declining circulations.

The media operate freely, with few legal restrictions. A law provides prison terms for libel and incitement of racial hatred.

By 2015, around 82% of Latvians were online (Internetworldstats).

TIMELINE

Some key events in the history of Latvia:

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Freedom Monument in Riga commemorates Latvia's struggle for independence between 1917 and 1920

1800s - Latvia is under Russian rule.

1917-20 - Latvian war of independence. After Russian Revolution, Latvia seeks independence but is fought over by Russian and German armies.

1922 - First constitution promulgated.

1940 - Soviet troops invade Latvia following Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939. Latvia incorporated into the Soviet Union along with the other two Baltic republics. Mass deportations of Latvians opposed to Soviet rule.

1941 - Nazi forces invade. Some 75,000 Latvian Jews are killed during the German occupation, many of them by Latvian paramilitary and police units established under the Nazis.

1944 - Red Army returns, presaging more deportations of Latvians and repression of resistance to sovietisation.

1991 - Independence.

2004 - Latvia joins European Union and Nato.

2014 - Latvia joins the eurozone.

Image caption Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union between 1940 and 1991

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