Europe

Latvia country profile

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 regained independence during the demise of the Soviet Union, Latvia was welcomed as an member of the European Union in May 2004. The move came a matter of weeks after it joined Nato.

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

Like its Baltic neighbours, Latvia has made a rapid transition to the free market since the early 1990s.

More than a quarter of the population is primarily Russian-speaking, and Russian propaganda efforts in this community are a cause of concern for the Latvian authorities.

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

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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 100-member parliament.

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

Although generally a ceremonial post, 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 centre-right parties - the agrarian Union of Greens and Farmers and the Unity party - and the more conservative National Alliance party. Together they command a clear majority in parliament.

Mr Kucinskis, of the Union of Greens and Farmers, has continued the policies of the previous government, working to strengthen the economy and deal with growing concerns about Russia.

MEDIA

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

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

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 the Russian Revolution, Latvia fights to establish its independence against the Soviet Russian and German armies.

1920 - Soviet Russia recognises Latvian independence.

1922 - First constitution promulgated.

1940 - Soviet troops occupy Latvia under the terms of the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939. Latvia is incorporated into the Soviet Union, along with neighbouring Estonia and Latvia, after fraudulent elections. Mass deportations of Latvians to Siberia and Central Asia.

1941 - Nazi Germany invades. Some 70,000 Latvian Jews are killed by Nazi death squads and Latvian paramilitary and police units established by the Nazis.

1944 - Soviet Army returns, heralding further waves of deportations and repression of resistance to Soviet rule.

1991 - Independence restored.

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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