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 at the head of a centre-right coalition.

The government has focused on strengthening the economy and dealing with growing concerns about Russia.

The future of his government became uncertain after the pro-Russia Harmony party emerged as the largest bloc in parliament after October 2018 elections, and right-wing populist parties performed well.

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.

1940 - Soviet Union annexes Latvia, along with neighbouring Estonia and Latvia. Mass deportations to Siberia and Central Asia follow.

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

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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