LATVIALOCATION, SIZE, AND EXTENT
FLORA AND FAUNA
ENERGY AND POWER
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
BALANCE OF PAYMENTS
BANKING AND SECURITIES
CUSTOMS AND DUTIES
LIBRARIES AND MUSEUMS
TOURISM, TRAVEL, AND RECREATION
Republic of Latvia
FLAG: The flag consists of a single white horizontal stripe on a maroon field.
ANTHEM: Dievs, svēti Latviju! (God bless Latvia!).
MONETARY UNIT: The lat was introduced as the official currency in May 1993; $1 = Ls1.78571 (or $1 = Ls0.56) as of 2005.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is in force.
HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Good Friday (movable); Midsummer Festival, 23–24 June; National Day, Proclamation of the Republic, 18 November; Christmas, 25–26 December; New Year's Eve, 31 December.
TIME: 2 pm = noon GMT.
Latvia is located in northeastern Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea, between Sweden and Russia. Comparatively, Latvia is slightly larger than the state of West Virginia, with a total area of 64,589 sq km (24,938 sq mi). Latvia shares boundaries with Estonia on the n, Russia on the e, Belarus on the s, Lithuania on the sw, and the Baltic Sea on the w. Latvia's land boundary length totals 1,150 km (713 mi). Its coastline is 531 km (330 mi). Latvia's capital city, Riga, is located near the southern edge of the Gulf of Riga.
The topography of Latvia consists mainly of a central and eastern lowland plains enclosed in areas of uplands consisting of moderate-sized hills. The highest point in the country is Gaizinkalns (312 m/1,024 ft), located near the edge of the Vidzme uplands. The nation's longest river is the Daugava (Dvina); which begins in Russia and passes through both Belarus and Latvia in its course to the Gulf of Riga. The total length of the Daugava is 1,020 km (632 mi).
The country's climate is influenced by geographical location and by its closeness to the North Atlantic Ocean. The average temperature in July is between 16.8°c and 17.6°c (62–64°f). In January the average temperature ranges between–2.8°c and 6.6°c (31–44°f). The rainfall in the country is between 56–79 cm (22–31 in).
Half of Latvia's soil is podzolic humus, which covers about one-third of the country's arable land. Woodlands make up about 47% of the country's territory, with one-half of the forests consisting of pines, birch, and firs. About 10% of the total land area is covered in marshes, swamps, or peat bogs. Species native to Latvia are the wild boar, Eurasian beaver, and brown bear. The Baltic Sea coast is home to a significant population of seals. The routes of migratory birds pass along the Black Sea and over the country. As of 2002, there were at least 83 species of mammals, 216 species of birds, and over 1,150 species of plants throughout the country.
Air and water pollution are among Latvia's most significant environmental concerns and are largely related to a lack of waste treatment facilities. In 2000, the total of carbon dioxide emissions was at 6 million metric tons. Cars and other vehicles account for a majority of the country's air pollution. Acid rain has contributed to the destruction of Latvia's forests. Latvia's water supply is perilously polluted with agricultural chemicals and industrial waste. The Gulf of Riga and the Daugava River are both heavily polluted.
According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included four types of mammals, eight species of birds, three species of fish, and eight species of invertebrates. Threatened species include the black vulture, the asp, the Eurasian beaver, the medicinal leech, the marsh snail, and the Russian desman. In 2003, about 13.4% of the total land area was protected, including six Ramsar wetland sites.
The population of Latvia in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 2,300,000, which placed it at number 138 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 16% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 15% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 84 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 2005–10 was expected to be -0.5%, a rate the government viewed as too low. The country has had low fertility rates since the mid-1990s. The projected population for the year 2025 was 2,156,000. The population density was 36 per sq km (92 per sq mi).
The UN estimated that 68% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that population in urban areas was declining at an annual rate of -0.99%. The capital city, Riga, had a population of 733,000 in that year, and Daugavpils had an estimated of 124,887. There were 75 urban localities, many located on rivers or coastal areas.
Some 250,000 Latvians fled Soviet occupation during World War II, and others were sent to Soviet labor camps. After the war many Russians moved to Latvia.
With independence in 1991, citizenship issues surrounding the large non-Latvian ethnic population became a problem. Only 55% were ethnic Latvians; 32% were Russians; 3.9% Belarussians; and 9.1% other. Immigration from other former Soviet republics came to 4,590 in 1992. A breakthrough came in 1998 when the Citizenship Law was changed, abolishing the annual quota of naturalizations and entitling children born after independence to automatically acquire Latvian citizenship upon request from their parents. A total of 51,778 persons emigrated when Latvia gained independence in 1991; almost all of them went to Russia, Ukraine, or Belarus.
In 2000 there were 613,000 migrants living in Latvia. This amounts to about 25% of the total population. In 2004 noncitizens in Latvia numbered 452,003, and 173 were stateless, all of concern to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In 2005, the net migration rate was an estimated -2.25 migrants per 1,000 population, a change from -8.8 per 1,000 in 1990. The government views the immigration level as too high, but the emigration level as satisfactory.
According to 2002 estimates, the percentage of ethnic Latvians is about 57.7% of the total population. Russians constitute about 29.6% of the population; Belarussians make up 4.1%; Ukrainians account for 2.7%; Poles for 2.5%; Lithuanians for 1.4%; and others 2%. The Romani population is estimated at about 13,000 to 15,000 people. Nearly half the Russians and Ukrainians lived in Riga, where Russians formed a majority of the population. All residents of pre-1940 Latvia and their descendants are citizens. Naturalization requires 16 years' residence and fluency in Latvian.
Latvian (also called Lettish), a Baltic language written in the Roman alphabet, is the official language; it is spoken by about 58.2% of the population. It is highly inflected, with seven noun cases and six verb declensions. The stress is always on the first syllable. There are three dialects. The macron is used for long vowels, and there is a hacek for "h." A cedilla adds the y sound. Education is now available in both Latvian and Russian, the latter of which is spoken by about 37.5% of the population. Lithuania and other languages are spoken by about 4.3% of the population.
After declaring independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, freedom of religion and worship was restored for the first time since 1941. Christianity had arrived in Latvia in the 12th century, and the Reformation made Lutheranism the primary religious persuasion after 1530. Currently the three largest faiths are Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Orthodoxy.
In 2004, the Latvian Justice Ministry had registered more than 1,000 religious congregations, including 308 Lutheran, 264 Roman Catholic, 125 Orthodox, 96 Baptist, 67 Old Believer (a breakaway Orthodox sect dating from the 17th century), 50 Seventh-Day Adventist, 15 Muslim, 13 Jehovah's Witnesses, 13 Methodists, 13 Jewish, 11 Hare Krishna, 5 Buddhist, 4 Mormon, and over 100 others. According to church membership rolls submitted to the Justice Ministry, the Lutheran Church has about 556,000 members, the Roman Catholic Church has about 430,405 members, and the Orthodox Churches have about 350,000 members. There are only about 6,000 Jews in the country.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and this right is generally respected in practice. Though there is no state religion, six religions are recognized by the government as traditional religions: Lutheranism, Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Old Believers, the Baptist Church, and Judaism. All other religions are categorized as "new" religions; these groups have not offered any reports of significant discrimination. Certain Christian holidays are celebrated as national holidays. The New Religions Consultative offers opinions to the government on specific issues. The Ecclesiastical Council offers regular input on issues of common concern.
Latvia's railroad system, as of 2004, consisted of 2,303 km (1,432 mi) of broad and narrow gauge railway that linked the country's port cities with Russia. More than 80% of railway use is for daily commuting. Of the total rail lines in operation, 2,270 km (1,412 mi) was broad gauge, of which 257 km (160 mi) had been electrified. In 2003, there were 69,919 km (43,490 mi) of highways in Latvia, all of which were paved. In that same year, there were 619,081 passengers cars and 125,030 commercial vehicles in use. Maritime ports include Riga, Ventspils, and Liepāja. In 2005, the merchant fleet consisted of 19 ships of 1,000 GRT or more, with a total of 53,153 GRT. Ventspils is the terminus of the 750 km (466 mi) oil pipeline from Polotsk, Belarus. As of 2004, the country also had 300 km (186 mi) of navigable waterways.
In 2004, Latvia had an estimated 50 airports, 23 of which had paved runways as of 2005. The principal airport at Riga has international air links to Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen, and New York, as well as direct flights to Austria, Germany, Israel, Russia, and Belarus. In 2003 about 340,000 passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international airline flights.
Germans, Poles, Swedes, and Russians competed for influence in what is now Latvia from the Middle Ages until the 18th century, when it was incorporated into the Russian Empire. During the 19th century, a Latvian nationalist movement arose which by the early 20th century sought independence. The political chaos in Europe following World War I provided the opportunity for Latvia to break away from Russia's control.
On 18 November 1918, the independent Republic of Latvia was proclaimed. Moscow recognized Latvian independence in the August 1920 Soviet-Latvian treaty, and the new republic joined the League of Nations in 1922. Latvia prospered economically during the 1920s, and began to export dairy and grain products to Europe. During the 1930s, as tensions in Europe escalated, the Soviet government allied itself with the United Kingdom and France, which in July 1939 granted the concession that Soviet troops could move into the Baltic States in case an indirect aggression was made by Germany. Sensing that an alliance between the United Kingdom, France, and the USSR would leave Germany politically and militarily surrounded, the Nazi government decided to reach its own agreement with the Soviet government in August 1939. A secret protocol to the 1939 Nazi-Soviet pact assigned Latvia to the Soviet sphere of influence.
Soviet forces invaded Latvia on 17 June 1940, and Latvia was incorporated into the USSR. Thousands of Latvia's military and law enforcement officials were executed; political and social leaders were imprisoned. Latvian civilians were deported en masse to Soviet camps in Siberia; 15,000 alone were expelled on the night of 14 June 1941. The Soviets, however, lost control of Latvia to the Germans in July 1941, shortly after Hitler launched his attack on the USSR. Soviet forces recaptured Latvia in 1944. During the Teheran Conference of November/December 1943 between US president Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, it was agreed that the USSR would maintain control of the Baltic States, and this agreement was confirmed at the Conference of Yalta in February 1945.
Following World War II, forced collectivization of agriculture began another round of deportations in 1949, bringing the total number of postwar deportees to more than 200,000. The Soviet policy of russification sought to replace Latvian language and culture with those of Russia. Freedom of speech, press, and religion was denied. For most of the 50 years of Soviet rule, political dissent was strictly forbidden.
Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost and perestroika allowed Latvians to voice their long-suppressed desire for national self-determination. In June 1987, an openly anti-Soviet demonstration took place in Riga. In 1988, political activists founded the Latvian National Independence Movement and the Latvian Popular Front (LPF). On 23 August 1989, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Estonians organized a massive demonstration of Baltic solidarity. The LPF united independence forces and gained a majority in the elections for the Latvian Supreme Council in the spring of 1990. On 4 May 1990 provisional independence and a period of transitional rule were proclaimed.
On 21 August 1991—shortly after the failure of a coup against Gorbachev—Latvia proclaimed its full independence. The first postindependence elections for the new Saeima (parliament) were held on 5–6 June 1993. On 30 April 1994, the Latvian and Russian governments signed a series of accords calling for the withdrawal of nearly all Russian armed forces from Latvia by the end of that year. On 12 June 1995, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania signed accords with the EU that were to eventually lead to full membership. A second parliamentary election the same year resulted in a legislature that was strongly divided between pro-Western and pro-Russian contingents. At the end of 1995, Andris Shkele, a former government official and businessman, became prime minister, heading a broad-based coalition cabinet. Shkele, who retained his post until 1997, balanced the budget and sped up economic reform, although his leadership style alienated many other politicians.
The Russian economic decline of 1998 decreased the market for Latvian goods and services, seriously hurting its economy and increasing unemployment. In October of the same year, Shkele's People's Party won a plurality of the vote in new parliamentary elections, but the former prime minister's personal unpopularity resulted in the formation of a minority government by a coalition that opted to exclude him. Latvia elected its first female president in June 1999, when Vaira Vike-Freiberga, a Canadian psychology professor of Latvian birth known for promoting Latvian cultural interests internationally, was chosen as her homeland's new head of state. She was inaugurated on 8 July 1999. One of her first acts as president was to veto new legislation that would have required the use of the Latvian language in government and business communications, thus further disenfranchising Latvia's large Russian-speaking minority, whose rights and status remained a problematical issue for the country as the new century began. In May 2002, Latvia changed its election law to omit a clause requiring parliamentary candidates to be speakers of the Latvian language, a provision seen as discriminatory to Russian speakers. The change was seen to improve Latvia's chances for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
In November 2002, NATO formally invited Latvia, along with six other countries, to become a member. That December, Latvia also received an invitation to join the European Union (EU). Latvia joined NATO and the EU in the spring of 2004.
General elections were held on 5 October 2002, and a new party, the centrist New Era, topped the polls with 23.9% of the votes, taking 26 of the 100 seats in the Saeima. New Era is led by Einars Repse, the former head of the central bank, who managed the country's economy through difficult post-Soviet years; he oversaw the replacement of the currency, from the Russian ruble to the lat, an event that was seen as heralding Latvia's economic revival. Repse was named prime minister, heading a center-right coalition government formed by New Era, Latvia's First Party, the Alliance of Greens and Farmers, and the For Fatherland and Freedom Party. The For Human Rights in a United Latvia party came in second with 18.9% of the vote and 24 seats. Twenty parties competed for seats in parliament in the election. Repse, who campaigned for lower taxes, a pared-down government, and the elimination of corruption, launched a new office in 2003, an "Anti-Absurdity" bureau. Dedicated to help ordinary people fight "the arbitrariness of those in power, the laziness of civil servants, and the lack of order in national and local government," it is a sounding board for a variety of public complaints.
Both Repse and President Vike-Freiberga supported the 2003 US-led military campaign against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. Vike-Freiberga emphasized the need to maintain the trans-Atlantic relationship guaranteeing Latvia's security, and the country's opposition to the rule of dictators who challenge the international community.
The 1990 declaration of provisional independence reinstated the 1922 constitution. From 1990 to 1993, Latvia was in a state of transition and authority was held by the Supreme Council. The new Saeima (parliament) consists of a single chamber with 100 deputies. A party must receive at least 5% of the national vote to hold a seat in parliament. Deputies are elected to a term of four years by citizens over the age of 18.
The executive branch of government is made up of the president, prime minister, and the cabinet. The Saeima elects the president for a four-year term. Executive power lies with the prime minister, who heads the Council of Ministers (cabinet). In June 1999, the Saeima elected Vaira Vike-Freiberga to the presidency. He was reelected in 2003 and will remain in office until the next election, scheduled to take place in June 2007.
Only citizens of Latvia at the time of the 1940 Soviet invasion and their descendants were allowed to vote in the 1993 elections. This meant that an estimated 34% of the country's residents (primarily Russians) were ineligible to vote. A citizenship law passed in June 1944 restricted naturalization to fewer than 2,000 resident aliens a year. On 22 July 1994, bowing to domestic and international pressure, the Saeima amended the citizenship law, eliminating the quota system. Applicants need a minimum of five years of continuous residence, basic knowledge of the Latvian language, history, and constitution, and a legal source of income; they must also take an oath of loyalty to Latvia and renounce any other citizenship. Thus the new citizenship law accelerates the naturalization process for the several hundred thousand Russian-speakers living in Latvia.
The Latvian Popular Front, established in 1988 to unite pro-independence forces, split apart after independence was achieved, giving way to a number of new parties, many defined by their stance on the status of the country's Russian-speaking population. Following the October 1998 elections the 100 seats in the Saeima were distributed as follows: People's Party, 24; Latvian Way Union, 21; Fatherland and Freedom/Latvian National Conservative Party, 17; Popular Harmony Party, 16; Latvian Social Democratic Alliance, 14; and New Party, 8. There were also other political parties not represented in the Saeima.
Following the October 2002 parliamentary elections, New Era, a new party led by former central bank head Einars Repse, won the most seats in the Saeima (26), followed by the For Human Rights in a United Latvia Party with 24, the People's Party with 21, the Alliance of Greens and Farmers with 12, Latvia's First Party with 10, and the For Fatherland and Freedom Party with 7. Repse was named prime minister, leading a coalition of New Era, Latvia's First Party, the Alliance of Greens and Farmers, and the For Fatherland and Freedom Party. The next parliamentary elections were scheduled to take place in October 2006.
Latvia's local governmental structure is divided into two levels. On the first tier are cities, parishes (pagasti ), and newly formed joint municipalities. In addition, there is district government. Citizens who live in the respective territories elect the decision-making bodies of city, parish or joint-municipal governments. These governments delegate representatives to the district governments (counties). As of 2005, there were 7 large municipalities, and 26 administrative counties. The seven large municipalities have dual status as city and regional governments.
A 1991 constitution, which supplements the reinstated 1922 constitution, provides for a number of basic rights and freedoms. The courts have been reorganized along democratic lines. Regional courts were added in 1995 to hear appeals of lower court decisions. There are now district courts, regional courts, a Supreme Court, and the Constitutional Court.
More serious criminal cases are heard before a panel consisting of a judge and two lay assessors. There is a provision for a 12-member jury in capital cases. The judiciary is independent; however, it suffers from a lack of personnel and training. In 1996, a seven-member Constitutional Court was established with power to hear cases at the request of the president, the cabinet, prosecutors, the Supreme Court, local government, or one-third of parliament members. The Constitutional Court may also rule on the constitutionality of legislation or its conformity with Latvia's international obligations.
The Latvian armed forces in 2005 totaled 5,238 active personnel with reserves numbering 11,204. The Army totaled 1,817 active members, followed by the Navy with 685 active personnel and the Air Force with 255 active members. The remaining active manpower was deployed in Administration and Command (1,055), Central Support (782) and 644 among other forces. Army equipment included three main battle tanks, two reconnaissance vehicles, and 124 artillery pieces. The Air Force operated 14 transport and 5 training fixed wing aircraft, and 6 support helicopters. The Navy operated one patrol/coastal vessel, three mine warfare and two logistics/support vessels. Latvia assisted in UN and NATO operations in Bosnia, Serbia-Montenegro, Iraq and Afghanistan. The defense budget for 2005 totaled $278 million.
Latvia was admitted to the United Nations on 17 September 1991 and serves in several specialized agencies, such as UNESCO, FAO, IFC, the World Bank, WHO, and the ILO. The country is a member of the WTO, the Council of Europe, Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the OSCE, and the Council of the Baltic Sea States. Latvia joined the European Union and NATO in 2004. Latvia is an observer in the OAS and a member affiliate of the Western European Union. In environmental cooperation, Latvia is part of the Basel Convention, Conventions on Biological Diversity and Air Pollution, CITES, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea and Climate Change.
Latvia has a relatively well-developed infrastructure and a diversified industrial base, which accounts for about 26% of GDP. Agriculture constitutes approximately 5% of GDP and centers around the cultivation of potatoes, cereals, fodder, and other crops, as well as dairy farming. The largest sector of the economy is the service sector, with wholesale and retail trade, transportation, financial services, communications, and real estate management the most important industries.
Latvia's GDP fell about 30% in 1992 due to a steep decline in industrial exports to Russia. However, by 1994, GDP rose by 2%. A banking crisis caused by the collapse of Latvia's largest bank (as well as some smaller commercial banks) inhibited economic growth in 1995. Difficulties in revenue collection and inadequate control over governmental spending led to a high budget deficit. As a result, GDP fell by 1.6% in 1995. GDP growth improved markedly during the mid- to late-1990s, but it slowed somewhat in 1999, due to the Russian financial crisis of the previous year. By 2001 it stood at 7.7%. Compared to a 960% inflation rate in 1992, inflation was down to 26.3% in 1994, 16% in 1996, and 4.7% in 1998. Unemployment during the early 2000s remained stable between 7–8%.
Since independence was achieved in 1991, Latvia continued with its privatization program and market reforms in the hope of qualifying for EU accession. By mid-2003, 98% of former state-owned industries had been sold, and the private sector accounted for two-thirds of GDP. Latvia joined the WTO in 1999, and was formally invited to join the EU in December 2002, and was accepted as a full member in May 2004. Latvian governments in the early 2000s implemented strict monetary policies and liberal trade policies, attempted to keep budget deficits low, and tried to provide for a more competitive economic environment. Latvia attracted a large amount of foreign direct investment since 1991; Demark was its largest investor. However, investors who shy away from Latvia often do so because of corruption, organized crime, excessive bureaucracy, and a need for regulatory reform.
GDP growth was very strong in 2004, at 8.5%, jumping from 7.5% in 2003, and 6.4% in 2002; in 2005, the economy is expected to grow by 6.0%. This rapid growth was mainly fueled by high domestic demand, which, in turn, was fueled by higher rates of bank lending. Other factors that contributed to the GDP growth were foreign investments, and a dynamic export market. Inflation has remained fairly stable until 2003, but in 2004 it made a slight jump, reaching 6.2%. Unemployment continued to be a problem, hovering around 8.5%.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Latvia's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $29.4 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $12,800. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 7.8%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 5.9%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 4.1% of GDP, industry 26%, and services 69.9%.
According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $171 million or about $74 per capita and accounted for approximately 1.5% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $114 million or about $49 per capita and accounted for approximately 1.0% of the gross national income (GNI).
The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Latvia totaled $6.98 billion or about $3,007 per capita based on a GDP of $11.1 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 0.3%. In 2001 it was estimated that approximately 30% of household consumption was spent on food, 16% on fuel, 6% on health care, and 23% on education.
The 2005 labor force was estimated at 1.11 million workers. Unemployment in that year was estimated at 8.8%. As of 2003, the service sector accounted for 59.2% of those employed, with 27% in industry and the remaining 13.8% in agriculture.
Latvian workers have the legal right to form and join labor unions. As of 2002, about 30% of the labor force was unionized. Unions are generally nonpolitical, have the right to strike (with some limits), are free to affiliate internationally, can bargain collectively, and are mostly free of government interference in their negotiations with employers.
The minimum employment age is 15, and the mandatory maximum workweek is set at 40 hours. Latvian labor regulations also provide workers with four weeks of annual vacation and special assistance to working mothers with small children. Certain minimum standards of labor conditions are defined by law, although they are not effectively enforced. The legal minimum wage was $98 per month in 2002.
As of 2003, out of a total land area of 6,205,000 hectares (15,333,000 acres), about 30% was crop land. Agriculture accounted for about 5% of GDP and engaged around 12% of the labor force in 2003. Agricultural output declined by an annual average of 7% during 1990–2000.
Privatization of agriculture progressed rapidly after 1991. By the beginning of 1993, over 50,000 private farms had been established, and many agricultural facilities were being privatized. Production of primary crops in 2004 (in thousands of tons) included wheat, 530; barley, 275; rye, 100; potatoes, 628.4; rapeseed, 103.6; and dry beans, 0.5.
About 621,000 hectares (1,534,000 acres) of land are meadows and pastures, representing 10% of the total land area. In 2005, there were 371,100 head of cattle, 435,700 pigs, 38,600 sheep, 3,450,000 chickens, and 15,500 horses. In 2005, some 74,650 tons of meat were produced, 80% of which was beef and pork. Milk and egg production in 2005 totaled 790,500 and 32,045 tons, respectively.
Before World War II (1939–45), Latvia was a prominent dairy producer; in the postwar period, the number of cattle, poultry, and pigs rose steeply. Milk production stabilized in 1995, after four years of decreases in dairy cattle and milk production.
The total catch in 2003 was 115,180 tons, down from 416,197 tons in 1991. Nearly all the landings are from marine fishing. Principal species include sprat, herring, sardines, cod, and mackerel. In February 2005, the Latvian government banned the retail sale of salmon caught in the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Riga, due to levels of dioxin detected in tested fish. Fish packing is an important industry in Latvia; in 2003, fisheries exports amounted to nearly $131.9 million.
Latvia's forests and woodlands covered 2.9 million hectares (7 million acres), or approximately 47% of the total land area in 2000 (up from 24.7% in 1923). Before World War II (1939–45), the timber and paper industries accounted for 29% of employment; by 1990, the number had fallen to 9%. In 1939, the timber industry contributed 53.5% to total exports; in 1990, wood and paper exports accounted for 2.2% of total exports. The timber cut in 2004 was 12,419,000 cu m (438 million cu ft), with 8% used as fuel wood. Production amounts in 2004 included: sawn wood, 3,920,000 cu m (138 million cu ft); particleboard and plywood, 394,000 cu m (13.9 million cu ft); and paper and paperboard, 38,000 tons. Exports of forest products amounted to over $1 billion in 2003.
Jaako Poyry Consulting AB (Sweden), a subsidiary of Finland's Jaako Poyry Group, has been doing a study for a new pulp plant in Jēkabpils, financed by the Latvian government and the Swedish International Development Authority. The new plant will have a capacity to produce 350,000 tons of bleached softwood per year, and will require an investment of up to $1 billion.
Latvia was dependent on imports for raw materials. Limestone (for cement) and sand and gravel mines were spread throughout the country. Ceramic clays, dolomite, and gypsum also were produced. Peat (taken from 85 deposits, for fuel) covered approximately 10% of Latvia's territory, with the heaviest concentration in the eastern plains. Tonnage production figures for 2003 were: peat, 1,076,142 metric tons, compared with 1,484,970 metric tons in 2002; and sand and gravel, 1,044,959 metric tons, compared with 761,614 metric tons in 2003. 2004 production figures for cement totaled 295,205 metric tons; gypsum, 159,133 metric tons; and limestone 431,590 metric tons.
Hydroelectric generated power is the source for the bulk of the electric power Latvia produces. In 2002, hydroelectric sources accounted for 63% of the power produced. However, Latvia's heavy reliance upon hydropower, means that in a dry year, the country is estimated to be capable of producing only around 60% of the power it needs. Latvia's power imports come largely from Russia, and other Baltic Sea nations. During 2004, Latvia produced 4.4 billion kWh of electricity, but demand for that year came to 5.5 billion kWh. Latvia's electric power generating capacity in 2004 stood at 2.2 GW.
As of 2004, Latvia has no known reserves of oil or natural gas, and no oil refining capacity. Thus the country must import all required gas and petroleum products, most of which comes from Russia. However, Latvia's territorial waters in the Baltic Sea are thought to contain as many as 300 million barrels of oil. In 2002 Latvia awarded five-year offshore exploration rights to a US-Norwegian joint venture.
In 2004, refined petroleum was consumed at a rate of 47,000 barrels per day, with imports averaging the same amount. Demand for natural gas in 2004 came to 62 billion cu ft, all of which was imported. Although Latvia did have recoverable coal reserves of two million short tons in 2004, there was no production or imports of coal.
Latvia's industrial base has centered mainly on heavy industries such as chemicals and petrochemicals, metal working, and machine building. Major manufactured items include railway carriages, buses, mopeds, washing machines, radios, electronics, and telephone systems. Since 1995, output of buses has fallen, but there has been an increase in the production of transport vehicles and passenger rail cars. Base chemical production has also declined slightly, as demand for household detergents and fibers has fallen. Other important industries include paper, petrochemicals, mechanical engineering, and communications.
Prior to 1998, the food processing sector provided the largest portion of the country's manufacturing output. Following the 1998 economic crisis in Russia, that sector declined, as Latvia depended upon Russia for exports. As of 2002, however, food processing showed potential for growth. In 2001, industry accounted for 26% of GDP, and employed around 25% of the work force. Although some 50 enterprises are excluded from privatization (including ports, the railway company, and the postal service), only a few large state enterprises had not been privatized as of 2002, including the Latvian Shipping Company (Lasco), and the electricity utility company (Latvenergo). Ninety-eight percent of former state-owned enterprises had been sold as of 2002.
By 2004, the participation of the industry in the overall economic output has decreased to 24.8%, while its share in the labor fell to 25%; agriculture made up 4.4% of the GDP, and employed 15% of the labor force; services came in first with 70.8%, and 60% respectively. The industrial production growth rate equaled the GDP growth rate, at 8.5%, hinting that the services sector grew faster, while the agriculture sector lagged behind.
The Latvian Academy of Sciences has divisions of physical and technical sciences and of chemical and biological sciences.
Fifteen research institutes, most attached to the academy, conduct medical, technical, and scientific research. The University of Latvia (founded in 1919) has faculties of physics and mathematics, chemistry, and biology. The Riga Technical University (founded in 1990) has various engineering faculties. Both are in Riga, as are the Latvian Academy of Medicine (founded in 1951), the Riga Aviation University (founded in 1919), and the Stradin Museum of the History of Medicine. The Latvian University of Agriculture (founded in 1939) is located in Jelgava, and the National Botanical Garden is situated in Salaspils.
In 1987–97, science and engineering students accounted for 23% of university enrollment. In 2002, Latvia had 1,478 scientists and engineers and 282 technicians per million people actively engaged in research and development (R&D). For that same year, Latvia's expenditures on R&D totaled $100.082 million, or 0.46% of GDP, with government providing the largest portion at 42.7%, followed by foreign sources at 35.6%. Business provided the remaining 21.7%. High technology exports in 2002 totaled $51 million, or 4% of all manufactured exports.
The traditional, small, privately owned farmer's markets, bakeries, and dairies are still prevalent throughout the country; however, large supermarkets are making their mark in larger cities. Latvia's center of domestic commerce is in Riga. One of the countries first malls opened with major investment from a Finnish department store chain. The most widely demanded domestic services include dressmaking and repair; house construction and repair; and automotive servicing. As of 2002, privatization of previously state-owned companies and industries was nearly complete.
Shops are generally open from 9 or 10 am to 7 or 8 pm.
Like most of the former Soviet republics, Latvia's trade was formerly dominated by the other Soviet states, but it has been relatively successful in achieving a wider range of trade partners. Latvia's major commodity exports include wood (29%), iron and steel (6.3%), textile yarn (5.6%), furniture (4.5%), and fish (1%).
In 2004, Latvia's exports reached $3.6 billion (FOB—Free on Board), while imports grew to $6.0 billion (FOB). Most of the exports went to the United Kingdom (which received 12.8% of total exports), Germany (12%), Sweden (10%), Lithuania (9.1%), Estonia (8%), Russia (6.4%), and Denmark (5.4%). Since domestic demand is predicted to grow slowly in the EU area, Latvian exporters will likely re-orient to faster growing markets, such as Estonia and Russia. Imports included machinery and equipment, chemicals,
|(…) data not available or not significant.|
|Balance on goods||-1,998.0|
|Balance on services||583.0|
|Balance on income||-59.0|
|Direct investment abroad||-32.0|
|Direct investment in Latvia||359.0|
|Portfolio investment assets||-286.0|
|Portfolio investment liabilities||62.0|
|Other investment assets||-666.0|
|Other investment liabilities||1,474.0|
|Net Errors and Omissions||85.0|
|Reserves and Related Items||-80.0|
|(…) data not available or not significant.|
fuels, and vehicles, and mainly came from Germany (13.9%), Lithuania (12.2%), Russia (8.7%), Estonia (7%), Finland (6.3%), Sweden (6.1%), Poland (5.4%), and Belarus (4.8%).
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2002 the purchasing power parity of Latvia's exports was $2.3 billion while imports totaled $3.9 billion resulting in a trade deficit of $1.6 billion.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2001 Latvia had exports of goods totaling $2.22 billion and imports of goods totaling $3.57 billion. The services credit totaled $1.19 billion and debit $692 million.
Exports of goods and services continued to grow in the following years, reaching $4.7 billion in 2003, and $5.1 billion in 2004. Imports followed a similar path, totaling $6.1 billion in 2003, and $6.5 billion in 2004. The resource balance was consequently negative in both years, at around -$1.4 billion. The current account balance was also negative, dropping to -$1 billion in 2003, and -$1.2 billion in 2004. External debt was relatively high, at $10.3 billion in 2004, and an expected $10.8 billion in 2005.
In 1991 banking matters were transferred to the Bank of Latvia from Soviet bank officials. Previously, Latvia had its branch of the Soviet State Bank (Gosbank). The central bank had the authority to issue Latvian rubles and regulate the commercial banking sector. There are many banks in Latvia, including the Baltic Transit Bank, Banka Atmoda, Latgale Stocj Commercial Bank, Latvian Credit Bank, Investment Bank of Latvia, and the Latvian Land Bank.
Latvia effectively exited the ruble zone on 20 July 1992. By early 1993 the Bank of Latvia introduced a national currency, the lat. The lat is now fully convertible for capital and current account purposes.
Latvia's banking sector has proved one of the country's most successful industries and also its most controversial. Riga has developed into an offshore financial center, offering numbered accounts and related services, and drawing in a substantial chunk of flight capital from other former Soviet republics. Owing to fairly liberal banking laws in the early 1990s, a large number of banks (54 as of May 1995) had been established. Subsequently, capital and other requirements have been progressively tightened. For existing banks, the minimum reserve requirements have been raised from Ls100,000 as of 1995 to Ls1.0 million by 31 March 1998. As of April 1995 all banks had to be audited by one of the recognized international accounting firms. The stricter capital regime has led to an inevitable attrition, with 11 banks losing their licenses between 1992 and 1995. Only some 15 banks made profits in 1994 and had adequate reserves. The audits also revealed huge losses at Baltija Bank (Latvia's largest institution, with some 200,000 private depositors), which had been incurred as a result of systematic fraud. Latvian banks suffered heavy losses in 1999 as a result of the Russian financial crisis.
In February 1997, the Bank of Latvia gave its approval to the proposed merger between the Latvian Savings Bank and the United Baltic Bank of Riga. As a result of the merger, the state now owns 75% of shares in the Latvian Savings Bank. The government's plans are to privatize the newly merged entity. Total assets of Latvia's 23 commercial banks were us$5 billion as of June 2001. In recent years, Scandinavian banks have begun acquiring shares in Baltic banks. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand deposits—an aggregate commonly known as M1—were equal to $1.4 billion. In that same year, M2—an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual funds—was $2.5 billion. The money market rate, the rate at which financial institutions lend to one another in the short term, was 5.23%. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 3.5%.
In 1995, the Riga Stock Exchange (RIGSE) listed 17 companies and had a market capitalization of $10 million. As of 2004, a total of 39 companies were listed, with a market capitalization valued at 1.655 billion. In 2004, the RIGSE rose 43.5% from the previous year to 413.6.
All of Latvia's insurers, foreign and domestic, must be licensed by the Superintendent of Insurance. Foreign companies entering the Latvian market will find that licenses are relatively easy to obtain, although each class of insurance offered must be approved by the Superintendent of Insurance. In Latvia, third-party automobile liability insurance is compulsory. In 2003, the value of all direct premiums written totaled $209 million, of which nearly all were accounted for by the nonlife lines, which accounted for $200 million. Latvia's top nonlife insurer in 2003 was Balta, with gross written nonlife premiums of $45.9 million, while Ergo Latvija Dziviba was the country's leading life insurer that year, with gross written life premiums of $5.4 million.
Latvia's structural transition out of the planned economy under communism has occurred more or less spontaneously since independence. As of 2002, the thriving private sector accounted for two-thirds of employment and GDP. Privatization is generally considered to be near-finished; although the government still owns a few key companies, most are in private hands, even the utilities, and the government is working to sell off its ownership of what remains in order to satisfy its commitments to the IMF.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Latvia's central government took in revenues of approximately $5.6 billion and had expenditures of $5.8 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$243 million. Public debt in 2005 amounted to 12% of GDP. Total external debt was $13.2 billion.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2003, the most recent year for which it had data, central government revenues were Ls1,715.5 million and expenditures were Ls1,796.2 million. The value of revenues was us$3,004 million and expenditures us$3,146 million, based on an official exchange rate for 2003 of us$1 = Ls.571 as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 19.3%; defense, 4.5%; public order and safety, 8.1%; economic affairs, 11.8%; housing and community amenities, 1.1%; health, 11.2%; recreation, culture, and religion, 2.4%; education, 6.5%; and social protection, 35.0%.
In 1995 Latvia replaced its profits tax with 25% business income tax (BIT). Under amendments in 2001, the BIT rate was reduced to 22% for 2002, and to 19% for 2003, and as of 2005, stood at 15% which applies to all businesses. Reduced rates for small-enterprises
|Revenue and Grants||1,715.5||100.0%|
|General public services||347.1||19.3%|
|Public order and safety||145.9||8.1%|
|Housing and community amenities||20.6||1.1%|
|Recreational, culture, and religion||43.8||2.4%|
|(…) data not available or not significant.|
was eliminated in 2004. Branches of foreign companies are taxed at the same rate as Latvian companies, but are eligible for the same deductions and allowances. For companies operating in Latvia, capital gains are included in corporate income and are taxed at the corporate rate. There is a 2% withholding tax for nonresident companies on proceeds from the sale of Latvian real estate. The withholding rate on dividends is either 0% or 10% depending upon whether the payer and receiver meet certain guidelines regarding residency. Withholding taxes on various forms of capital income may be reduced or eliminated according to the terms of bilateral double tax prevention agreements. Shipping companies, cargo or passenger, engaged primarily in international commerce, may choose to be taxed according to a tonnage tax introduced in 2002. There are no local taxes.
As of 1995, Latvians pay personal income tax at a flat rate of 25% of taxable income. Taxable income is determined by lump sum deductions, and specific allowances for social security payments, donations to charity, hospitalization and medical expenses, and some school fees. There is also a property tax and a land tax.
The main indirect tax is Latvia's value-added tax (VAT) with a standard rate of 18% for most goods and services. A reduced rate of 5% is applied to medical (including veterinary) and hotel services, and water and waste collection services. A 0% VAT applies to exports. Exempted from the VAT agricultural services, insurance, rent on dwellings, as well as certain financial services and royalties from copyrights. There are also excise taxes levied on luxury products at rates ranging from 10-100%, customs taxes, and stamp taxes.
Latvia imposes a standard 18% VAT on imports. However, certain items qualify for lower rates of 0–9%. Tariff rates depend on both the type of good imported and its origin. Goods from countries with most-favored nation (MFN) status receive lower rates, usually 15% (but up to 45% for agricultural products), while goods from non-MFN countries receive slightly higher rates, usually 20% (but up to 55% for agricultural products).
Latvia has free trade agreements with Sweden, Finland, Norway, Switzerland, and Kyrgyzstan. US products receive MFN status. Latvia has also formed a free trade area with Estonia and Lithuania. In January 1995, a free trade agreement went into effect with the European Union, which reduced tariffs on most industrial products to zero and set a schedule on tariff reductions over a course of five years for certain agricultural products. Latvia joined the World Trade Organization in February 1999.
In November 1991, a foreign investment act was passed permitting joint ventures in the form of either public or private limited companies. Businesses that are at least 30% foreign-owned receive a two-year tax holiday and a 50% tax abatement for the following two years.
At the end of 1995, foreign direct investment (FDI) in Latvia totaled $521 million, based on registered statutory capital. The largest investors were Denmark (26.1%), Russia (19.4%), the United States (13.5%), Germany (6.4%), the United Kingdom (5.2%), and the Netherlands (4.2%). Finland and Sweden were also significant investors. Industry accounted for only 17% of all foreign investment and there were approximately 5,200 firms with a foreign capital share.
FDI inflow into Latvia reached $521 million in 1997, averaging $400 million a year 1996 to 2000, but fell sharply in the global economic downturn of 2001 to less than $201 million. From 1995 to 2001 Latvia stock of FDI nearly quadrupled, reaching $2.3 billion in 2001. In the period 1988 to 1990, Latvia's share of world FDI inflows was almost five times its share of world GDP, but for the period 1998 to 2000, Latvia's share of FDI inflows was only 60% greater than its share of world GDP.
The leading sources of FDI from 1996 to 2001 were the United States (13%), Germany(11%), and Demark (11%). The primary destinations of foreign investment inflow were trade (22%), finance (16%), and business services, especially real estate (16%). The largest foreign affiliate is the telecommunications company Lattelekom SA of Finland. The largest foreign bank invested is Hansabanka SA of Estonia.
As a new member of the EU, Latvia registered an increased inflow of capital from Western Europe in 2004. This trend is expected to temper down in future years however. Also, the relative share of FDI in capital flows will likely go down, which will put an increased burden on domestic banks. Despite this, Latvia remains an attractive market for investments, and the prospects of joining the euro zone works towards the country's favor.
The government began introducing economic reforms in 1990 to effect the transition to a market-driven economy. Individual and family-owned businesses, cooperatives, and privately and publicly held companies are now permitted. The privatization process was simplified with a 1994 law that created the Privatization Agency (PA) and the State Property Fund. Distribution of privatization vouchers was completed by March 1995, with certificates valued at Ls2.8 billion distributed to 2.2 million Latvians.
The privatization program focuses on international tenders and public offerings of shares. By mid-1994, 450 state enterprises had been transferred for privatization. The first international tender of 45 enterprises came in November 1994, followed by 80 more in 1995. Large-scale privatization began in 1996 and continued into the beginning of the 21st century, when privatization was almost complete (with the exception of large state utilities).
In 2001, Latvia negotiated a 20-month, $44-million Stand-By Arrangement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Real GDP growth was strong in 2001–02, led by investment and consumption. Inflation was low during those years. In 2003, per capita GDP stood around 50% above its level in 1995. Latvia's economy in 2003 was regarded as one of the best of the 10 countries slated for EU admission in 2004. The government was taking steps toward achieving a balanced budget by reducing government spending in 2003.
In anticipation of the 2006 election, the government is seeking to exploit the strong revenue growth and increase public spending. In addition, it plans to sell off its share in the Ventspils oil terminal and thus give an extra boost to the overall economic growth. One of the biggest threats to economic expansion is the, recently, growing inflation rate—which could also affect Latvia's prospect of joining the euro zone in 2008. In an attempt to curb inflation the government will likely cut taxes on diesel fuel, and ask the EU to temporary lift the ban over imports of fuel that do not meet EU standards.
Social insurance provides benefits for old age, disability, and survivorship pensions for employees and self-employed persons. The first laws were enacted in 1922, and most recently were updated in 2001. Pensions are funded by contributions from employees and employers in most sectors. Age requirements for pensions are set at 62 for men and 59.5 for women, but is increasing to meet the same standards for men by 2009. The government funds programs to provide for active military personnel, individuals caring for infants, and spouses of diplomatic staff. Sickness and maternity benefits are provided to employed persons, while medical benefits are provided to all permanent residents. A universal program of family allowances exists, as well as workers' compensation and unemployment programs.
Employment discrimination based on gender is legally banned, although women are barred from certain occupations considered dangerous. In practice, women face unequal treatment in terms of both pay and hiring, including discrimination stemming from the cost of legally mandated childbirth benefits if a woman is hired. Sexual harassment is common in the workplace although prohibited by law. Domestic violence is pervasive. As of 2004 there were no shelters for abused or battered women, and few resources exist for victims of sexual assault.
Latvia's main human rights problem in recent years stems from the large number of minorities who were not granted citizenship after independence. These noncitizens, mainly ethnic Russians, do not have clear travel, property, and residency rights. Instances of excessive use of force by security forces were still reported, and prison conditions remained poor.
Primary care is provided at large urban health centers, hospital and walk-in emergency facilities, individual and group private practices, rural clinics staffed by midwives and physicians' assistants, and workplace clinics run by large private employers and the military. Total health care expenditure was estimated at 6.7% of GDP. As of 2004, there were an estimated 291 physicians, 509 nurses, 53 dentists, and 21 nurses per 100,000 people. In the same year, Latvia had 151 hospitals, of which 31 were located in Riga (including all specialized hospitals).
As of 2002, the crude birth rate and overall mortality rate were estimated at 8.3 and 14.7 per 1,000 people respectively. Life expectancy in 2005 was 71.05 years and the infant mortality rate was 9.55 per 1,000 live births. The total fertility rate in 2000 was 1.2 per woman during childbearing years. Immunization rates for one-year-olds were as follows: diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 95%; and measles, 97%. Measles, neonatal tetanus and polio had been almost completely eradicated.
Cardiovascular disease is a major cause of mortality in Latvia, with a rate of nearly 400 per 1,000 people over age 65. The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.60 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 7,600 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 500 deaths from AIDS in 2003.
In the 1990s 165,000 families (one out of five) were registered for new housing. Approximately 200,000 people lived in the 8% of existing housing stock that was in substandard condition. But the government has made some progress in reforms for the housing sector. In 1993, 54% of housing was owned by state and municipalities. In 1999 the majority of property (70%) was privately owned. The government anticipates that by the end of the privatization process about 80% of housing will be private property, while municipalities will maintain only 20% of the housing as low-cost rental or social houses.
At the 2000 census, about 26% of all respondents lived in single-family houses; 68.5% lived in apartments. About 60% of all dwellings were owner occupied. About 52% of the population were living in housing units built in 1970 or earlier. About 43.7% of the population were in dwellings built during the period 1971–95.
Since 1996, the government has signed several agreements with international organizations for funds to improve housing projects. In 2000, the Housing Crediting Program was initiated to promote a new mortgage system.
The modern Latvian educational system is based on the reforms introduced in 1991. Compulsory education lasts for nine years beginning at the age of seven. At this stage, students have a choice between basic vocational school (two or three years), general secondary school (three years), or vocational secondary school (four years, offering a diploma that may fulfill the prerequisite for university studies).
In 2001, about 60% of children between the ages of three and six were enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 86% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 88% of age-eligible students. Nearly all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 14:1 in 2003.
Entrance examinations are a prerequisite for admission into universities. Higher education is offered by both private and public institutions. The state offers free higher education in some areas of specialized study. Latvia has a total of about 34 state-recognized institutions of higher learning, including two major universities: the University of Latvia and the Riga Technical University. In 2003, about 73% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program; with 55% for men and 91% for women. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 99.7%.
As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 5.8% of GDP.
The National Library in Riga holds about 2.1 million volumes; the main library site was designed by Gunnar Birkerts, who was born in Latvia but has an architectural firm in the United States. The Latvian Academic Library in Riga holds 1.2 million books and the University of Latvia holds about two million; both libraries also include large collections of periodicals. The Riga City Library (Bibliotheca Rigensis), established in 1524, was the first public library in the nation. In 2005, there were about 892 public libraries in the nation, including 7 branches of the Latvian Library for the Blind.
The larger museums are located in Riga, including the State Museum of Fine Arts, the History Museum of Latvia, The Latvian Photography Museum, and the Museum of Foreign Art. Riga also hosts the Museum of Natural History; the Riga Film Museum; the State Museum of Art; the Literature, Theater, and Music Museum; the Latvian Sports Museum, and the Latvian War Museum. In 1990, Bauska Castle was converted into a historic museum. The Bauska Art Museum holds over 8,000 works of art by Russian and Western European artists. With the end of the Soviet era, a number of new museums devoted to Latvian culture and history opened in the 1990s, including museums of architecture, photography, telecommunications, Jewish life in Latvia, and a museum chronicling 50 years of Soviet occupation. There are a local history museums in almost every region.
International communications links are via leased connection to the Moscow international gateway switch and the Finnish cellular network. In 2003, there were an estimated 285 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people; about 16,200 people were on a waiting list for telephone service installation. The same year, there were approximately 526 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.
The Committee for Television and Radio controls broadcasting. Domestic and international programming in Latvian, Russian, Swedish, English, and German is broadcast by Latvian Radio. In 1998, there were 8 AM and 56 FM stations. Latvian State Television broadcasts on two channels, and there are several independent television stations with daily broadcasts. Cable and satellite services are available, and foreign broadcasts can also be seen. In 2003, there were an estimated 700 radios and 859 television sets for every 1,000 people. About 176.8 of every 1,000 people were cable subscribers. Also in 2003, there were 188 personal computers for every 1,000 people and 404 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were 80 secure Internet servers in the country in 2004.
Latvia publishes many newspapers, periodicals, and books, in both Latvian and Russian. The most widely read newspapers (with 2002 circulations) are Diena (The Day, 110,000), Sovietskaya Latviya (Soviet Latvia, 71,300), SM Segodna ( a Russian language daily, 65,000), and Riga Balss (The Voice, 56,800). Foreign language newspapers include the weekly Baltic Times in English.
The constitution provides for free speech and a free press, and the government is said to respect these rights in practice. A 1991 Press Law prohibits censorship of the press or other mass media; however, a Law on the Media imposes regulations on the content and language of broadcasts.
Important economic organizations in Latvia include the Latvian Chamber of Commerce, an organization that promotes trade and commerce with its Baltic neighbors, Europe, and The Russian Federation. There are five business and trade organizations including: the Latvia International Commerce Center, Latvian Small Business Association, and the World Latvian Businessmen's Association. The largest trade union in Latvia is the umbrella organization of the Association of Free Trade Unions, founded in 1990.
The Latvian Academy of Sciences promotes public interest and education for all branches of science. Several medical fields have professional associations. There are also several environmental protection and preservation organizations.
National youth organizations include the Student Council of the University of Latvia, United Nations Student Association of Latvia, YMCA/YWCA of Latvia, Junior Chamber, and the Scout and Guide Central Organization of Latvia. There are a wide variety of sports associations represented in the country. National women's organizations include the Women's National League of Latvia and the Latvian Association of University Women.
There are national chapters of the Red Cross Society and Caritas.
With a population of almost one million, Riga is the major tourism center of the Baltic states. Its historic architecture has undergone extensive restoration. The white sand beaches offer sailing and river rafting along with many spas. Latvia boasts 12,310 rivers and 3,000 lakes, which are popular for boating, as well as country castles and medieval towns. Tennis, horseback riding, fishing, hunting, sailing, water sports, and winter sports are available to visitors, as well as a ski marathon in February, the Sport Festival of Riga in May, and the International Riga Marathon in July.
All visitors need passports valid for at least three months after the planned stay. Visas are not required for stays of up to 90 days.
There were 2,469,888 foreign visitors who arrived in Latvia in 2003, an 8% increase from 2002. The 7,618 hotel rooms with 14,983 beds had a 32% occupancy rate. The average length of stay was two nights. Tourist expenditure receipts totaled $271 million.
In 2005, the US Department of State estimated the daily cost of travel in Latvia at $219.
Guntis Ulmanis (b.1939) was president of Latvia from 1993 to 1999. Vaira Vike-Freiberga (b.1937), Latvia's first female president, succeeded him in 1999, and was reelected in 2003. Turis Alumans was Latvia's first poet. He started a school of poetry that produced the poets Krisjanis Barons (1823–1923) and Atis Kronvalds in the 19th century. Romantic literature in the 20th century was symbolized by Janis Rainis's (1865–1929) Fire and Night.
Latvia has no territories or colonies.
Dreifelds, Juris. Latvia in Transition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Eglitis, Daina Stukuls. Imagining the Nation: History, Modernity, and Revolution in Latvia. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002.
Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania: Country Studies. Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army, 1996.
Frucht, Richard (ed.). Eastern Europe: An Introduction to the People, Lands, and Culture. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2005.
Karklins, Rasma. Ethnopolitics and Transition to Democracy: the Collapse of the USSR and Latvia. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.
McElrath, Karen (ed.). HIV and AIDS: A Global View. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002.
Plakans, Andrejs. The Latvians: A Short History. Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University, 1995.
Shafir, Gershon. Immigrants and Nationalists: Ethnic Conflict and Accommodation in Catalonia, the Basque Country, Latvia, and Estonia. Albany: State University of New York, 1995.
Terterov, Marat. Doing Business with Latvia. Sterling, Va.: Kogan Page, 2003.
"Latvia." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations. 2007. Encyclopedia.com. (May 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2586700276.html
"Latvia." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations. 2007. Retrieved May 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2586700276.html
Republic of Latvia
Daugavpils, Jelgava, Liepāja, Ventspils
This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report 1999. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at http://travel.state.gov/ for the most recent information available on travel to this country.
The Republic of LATVIA is one of the former Soviet republics. Latvia's declaration of independence from the former Soviet Union on September 6, 1991, marked the re-establishment of Latvian independence after over 51 years of Soviet domination. On November 18, 1918, Latvia became an independent republic. The Latvians remained an independent people until July 21, 1940, when Latvia was annexed and absorbed into the Soviet Union by Soviet leader Josef Stalin. The annexation of Latvia and the neighboring countries of Estonia and Lithuania was never recognized as legitimate by the United States or many other Western countries. The collapse of the hard-line Communist coup in Moscow in late August 1991, paved the way for Latvia's re-emergence as a free, democratic nation.
Like the other former Soviet republics, Latvia is undergoing the painful transition from a Communist state-run economy to a free-market economy. Latvia retains close trade and economic ties with Estonia, Lithuania, Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. The country also seeks foreign investment and trade links with the United States and other Western nations.
Riga is the capital of Latvia and is located on the Daugava River, just nine miles before it reaches the Baltic Sea. It has a population of 790,608 (1998 estimate).
Founded by Teutonic crusaders in 1201 A.D., by the end of the 13th century it had joined the Hanseatic League and become a major center of commerce in Northern Europe. The Old Town of Riga is its cultural heart and it has retained much of its medieval atmosphere. The old-world architecture ranges from Romanesque and Gothic to Renaissance and baroque and is now undergoing careful renovation. This 80-acre area is comprised of tiny, winding, cobbled streets; churches with tall, medieval spires; richly decorated portals and tile roofs; old guild halls, a 13th century wall, a 14th century castle and an abundance of tiny coffee houses, good restaurants, museums, art galleries and handicraft shops.
Outer Riga, aside from a few Soviet-style buildings in the center (and many dreary bloc-housing developments beyond) is graced with ornate l9th century Jugenstil buildings;extensive wooded park lands and boulevards lined with Dutch lime trees planted in the 19th century.
Its harbor, airport and rail and highway network s all contribute to making Riga a major trade and commercial center for all of the Baltic countries.
All living quarters for staff in Riga have running water, flush toilets, a tub/shower arrangement, electricity, and telephone. Water pressure is often low, and the water is frequently too full of sediment to make tub bathing agreeable. In many parts of Riga, hot water is not always readily available.
Electricity is 220v, 50-cycle, AC. Consider purchasing one or two small transformers in the U.S. before departure for things like answering machines. It may be necessary to adapt your stereos and CD players to 50 cycles.
Most appliance plugs now have 6 mm prongs (Western European style.) However, older outlets in Latvia (pre-1991) take only 4 mm prongs (Russian.) Electric adapters and multiple wall plugs (but not transformers) are available.
A Riga landmark is its central market, which is housed along the Daugava River in five zeppelin hangars that were used by the Germans during World War I. It is one of Europe's largest markets, and the selection, even in winter, is always good. The northern staples of beets, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, celery root, and pumpkin are always available, along with basic herbs, such as parsley and dill. In winter, fresh produce from Western Europe includes cauliflower, tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, and cucumbers. As the weather warms, an abundance of local garden vegetables begins to appear, starting with sorrel, radishes, and peas. In summer, fruits and berries appear at the markets. Leaf lettuce and broccoli are usually available at the larger outdoor markets but not in shops. Spinach, celery, iceberg lettuce, and sweet corn are rarely available. A few imported vegetables, such as the sweet potato, have not yet appeared in Latvia.
Imported fruits are available year round, including apples, oranges, coconuts, and bananas. Pineapples, kiwis, mangoes, lemons, pears, and avocados are usually available at very high prices even by U.S. standards. For locally produced foods, prices are about the same as in the U.S.
The quality of fresh meat varies. All varieties are available year round in the outdoor markets. These include beef, veal, pork, lamb, and chicken (including frozen chicken from Holland and other Western countries).
Locally raised rabbit, duck, turkey, and goose are usually on sale at the central market. (Better quality frozen poultry is occasionally available but expensive.) There is no refrigeration at the markets for meats, so shoppers should be wary in warm months. There is a separate zeppelin hangar for fish. The variety is good. Canned fish products and caviar can be purchased there as well. Cold cuts, smoked sausages, fish, and chicken are a popular quick meal for Latvians; these are easily found in shops all over Riga.
Milk is pasteurized but unrefrigerated. Most foreigners buy long-life shelf milk that comes in several varieties, including 5%, 2%, and 3.2%. Dairy products such as sour cream, fresh cream, cultured sour milk, butter, and cottage cheese are of good quality. Plain yogurt is unavailable, but flavored yogurt is very popular. Be aware of handlers' hygiene when buying in bulk at the markets, especially with dairy products like sour cream and cottage cheese. Local cheese is soft and spoils quickly, but there is good variety. More imported cheeses are beginning to appear. Swiss, roque-fort, and cheddar can be found in a few shops but are quite expensive.
Excellent dark rye, sweet-sour caraway rye, and a coarse white bread, along with a range of pastry items, can be found at the many bread shops, bakeries, and markets. Now hot dog buns and sesame hamburger buns are also available.
Bring baking products such as extracts, brown sugar, cake mixes, marshmallows, corn meal, graham crackers, baking chocolate/chips, and pecans, as these items are either unavailable or difficult to find.
Bring low-fat, low-salt, or sugar-free foods if you prefer them; they are not yet on the market in Riga. Baby foods and pet foods should also be shipped if you have favorite brands.
There is a Ship Chandler's warehouse/shop in the port area of Riga that also sells duty-free goods. Its drawback is that you can never be certain what will be available at any given time. Some months the shop has no stock except cigarettes. Their bestselling items are liquor and wine.
Month by month, more joint venture food and wine shops are springing up in Riga (primarily with goods from Western Europe), with a surprising number of new products. For example, Indonesian prepared sauces are often available (but rarely any Mexican food). Americans who travel regularly to Vilnius or Tallinn often buy food there, as there is a wider (and cheaper) selection of imported foods in these cities. Local prices for liquor and wine are generally comparable to those in the U.S., and variety is good. For instance, it is not difficult to locate an acceptable Bulgarian red wine for about $3 a bottle.
Clothing in Riga is similar to that worn in the northern U.S., although frequently not as casual (except for the universal jeans/sneakers wardrobe of children). Latvians dress quite smartly. In winter, for example, women wear appealing felt-brimmed hats or berets, well-tailored coats, dress boots, leggings, or skirts. You will notice a difference in styles if you visit Scandinavia, where women are more likely to wear parkas and slacks in winter. Include warm winter clothing, a variety of scarves and vests, and silk or thermal underwear for underheated rooms in winter: concert halls, classrooms, movie theaters, and churches. When the heating systems are off, public buildings can also be cold in spring and fall. There are many chilly and rainy days, so raincoats with linings, umbrellas, and waterproof footwear are necessities. The sidewalks in Riga are in poor repair, so have sturdy and waterproof walking shoes.
There are a few joint-venture clothing stores that sell attractive but expensive blouses, sweaters, skirts, suits, and coats. Do not plan on building up a wardrobe here. Clothing in the nearby Scandinavian countries is attractive but, aside from the luck of catching a good sale, usually very expensive.
It is not difficult to find skilled tailors and dressmakers in Riga who can copy just about anything if you have the fabric. Prices are going up but are still reasonable. There is a good store with imported fabric, but prices are very high. Larger shops now accept Visa and MasterCard.
Hand-knit children's hats, scarves, and mittens are inexpensive and attractive. Likewise, these hand-knit items made for men and women are beautifully done, often in striking and imaginative color combinations employing ancient folk patterns. Women's fashion boots and shoes are available, as are exercise shoes, but in limited size selections.
Shoe repair and drycleaning are available and well done. Drycleaning is a bit more expensive than in the U.S.
Invitations that specify "formal" generally require no more than dark suits for men and dressy cocktail dresses, not necessarily long, for women.
Supplies and Services
Do not depend solely on the local economy for supplies, even though stores in Riga are carrying more and more items at equivalent U.S. prices. Bring cosmetics, toiletries, feminine personal supplies, tobacco items, home medicines, drugs, common household needs, and any other conveniences used for housekeeping, household repairs, entertaining, etc. If you are not particular as to brand, you can often find an equivalent (usually German) product (e.g., shampoo, soaps, tampons, aspirin, razor blades). There is a new chain of drugstores (Drogas) in Riga selling these items with a rapidly expanding inventory. Stockmann's Department Store in Helsinki carries durable and attractive household items at much higher prices than in the U.S.
Good cloth is very expensive, so consider buying fabric at sales in the U.S. if you do a lot of sewing. For instance, the fabric for simple bedroom curtains costs about $200 per window. Good fabric for skirts costs about $30 per meter.
Basic services, such as tailoring, dressmaking, shoe repair, drycleaning, beauty-and barbershops, and automobile repair, are available here. The shoe repair services and the joint-venture drycleaners are good. Tailoring and dressmaking are also done with care, and prices are reasonable. The hotels have moderately priced beauty/barber-shops, and there are many others, even less expensive, located in central Riga.
Good domestic help is available in Riga. The employment of domestic help paid by the hour is the easiest to obtain and is adequate. The scheduling of wages and benefits is in a transitional period. Currently, domestic help is extremely inexpensive (in 1999 wages were aboutUS $2 an hour).
There are few areas in Europe where such a variety of religious denominations exist as in the Baltics. Latvia has 278 Lutheran churches, 186 Catholic, 92 Orthodox, 66 Baptist, 54 Old-Believers, 32 Seventh-day Adventist, 25 Pentecostal, 4 Jewish synagogues, 4 Buddhist temples, 2 Methodist churches, and 1 Calvinist. In Riga, there are Catholic and Orthodox monasteries, as well as a Krishna Consciousness Society and an active Church of Latter-day Saints.
Services are either Latvian or Russian (Lutheran church services are in Latvian; Orthodox in Russian; Catholic in Latvian, Russian, and Polish). There is one English speaking service held every Sunday at 10 am in the old Anglican church of Saint Saviour's near Riga Castle in Old Town. The church has an active congregation composed of both Latvians and the growing international community in Riga.
The Catholic church of St. Jacob's, also in Old Town, plans to hold alternating French and English services every Sunday afternoon at 4:30.
The Salvation Army and YMCA are also active in Riga.
The International School of Latvia is located in the coastal resort area of Jurmala, about a half-hour's drive from Riga. There are currently about 130 children enrolled, ages 4 through 18.
There is a half-day preschool for 4-and 5-year-olds, from 8:45 am to 1 pm.
Kindergarten through grade 12 start at 8:45 am and finish at 3:15 pm. Instruction is in English. The school is sponsored by the State Department Office of Overseas Schools. Teachers are certified in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Western Europe, and Latvia. Starting with grade 1, students choose to study either French or German as a foreign language.
Accreditation with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and the European Council of International Schools is pending (October 1999). ISL was authorized to teach the International Baccalaureate Primary Years and Middle Years Programme in 1998/1999.
Extracurricular instruction is offered in art, music, physical education, computers, and Latvian culture.
External testing is available: SAT, TOEFL, PSAT, and SSAT.
Tuition is US$9,500 per pupil a year for grades 6-8, and US$9,000 for Kindergarten through grade 5. There is a one-time registration fee of $1,000 per pupil. The school is expanding rapidly and is planning for an enrollment of 200 within the next few years. The school leases space from the Bulduri Horticultural College. There is an indoor gym, sports hall, swimming pool, and auditorium.
Transportation to and from the school is provided by a private firm that charges $90 per pupil per month. Students must be at least 5 years old to ride the bus. It picks up children at various locations in Riga.
If you wish to arrange a correspondence course, one possibility is through the University of Nebraska. The address is:
The University of Nebraska University Extension Division Lincoln, Nebraska 68508
A complete listing of overseas schools used by American students can be obtained from: The Office of Overseas Schools U.S. Dept. of State Washington, D.C. 20520 703-235-9600. More information is available from the European Council of International Schools, which describes each member school, its fees, enrollment, curriculum, etc. ECIS Executive Secretary 2-8 Loudoun Road London, NW England.
Special Educational Opportunities
Choral singing is popular in Latvia (and of superior quality). Several members of the international community sing in choirs in Riga. Individuals who paint and sculpt have been able to rent studio space at reasonable prices, and, for nominal fees, sit in on drawing and print-making classes at the Riga Academy of Arts.
There are a couple of Western-style commercial gyms that have relatively new weight machines, free weights, aerobics classes, sauna, and massage. Also, small groups do get together to play volleyball, soccer, and softball in the summer. Biking can be dangerous; it is often necessary to navigate heavy traffic. There are no bike lanes. There is a bike trail from the Riga suburbs to Priedane and another to Jurmala, which is quite nice on summer weekdays, when there are fewer baby carriages and dog walkers on it. A bike helmet is a must, but you will attract a lot of attention; Latvians do not wear them.
It is possible to arrange horseback riding, fishing trips, pistol shooting, sailing trips, and hunting expeditions. There is excellent deer, wild boar, and elk hunting in Latvia; and group trips can be organized. Hunting licenses cost $330 ($170 Ls).
A 50-meter indoor pool with two saunas and a weight room belonging to Riga Technical University, located on an island in the Daugava. It is possible to swim there for a nominal fee, but there are no secure lockers. The Radisson Daugava Hotel also has a nice pool and offers monthly or yearly membership for the pool only or in combination with aerobics and weight training. Bird walks and other nature tours can be arranged by local tourist associations.
Billiards and bowling are available at the Seaman's Center and at the Boulinga centers. The Boulinga centers also has a few squash courts. Both facilities can be rented for parties.
Cross-country skiing is popular, and there are many suitable trails. Equipment can be cheaply purchased locally.
Touring and Outdoor Activities
The closest tourist attraction to Riga is the coastal resort area of Jurmala, about half an hour's drive northwest of the city. Its 10-mile stretch of white, sandy beach and pine-covered dunes are a welcome respite from city life. The water can be quite cold and has a high iron content, but it is much cleaner than in Soviet times, and most areas are now considered safe for swimming. The Bay of Riga is very shallow, so the water does warm up, and you can wade out several yards before it gets even chest deep.
The Latvian countryside, with its dense pine and birch forests, rivers and lakes, and gently rolling hills, is especially beautiful in the spring, summer, and early autumn.
There are two 13th-century castles near the medieval town of Sigulda, 52 kilometers from Riga. Called the Latvian Switzerland, Sigulda is the gateway to Gauja National Park, a 920-sq. km. river valley with sandstone caves, steep cliffs, nature reserves, and a winter sports area that includes a world class bobsled run.
One of Latvia's outstanding examples of baroque architecture is the Castle of Rundale (70 km from Riga). It was built by the same architect who built the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. It is located in the Province of Zemgale, an area rich with plains and woods, perfect for biking and car trips.
On the outskirts of Riga, there is an internationally known open-air ethnographic museum on the shores of Lake Juglas. There are more than 90 buildings, including two 16th-century timber churches, a fishing village, windmills, a peasant school, and an old inn that serves Latvian farm cooking: gray peas with bacon, sausages, cheeses, and beer.
Midsummer, which is celebrated on June 23 and June 24, is a very special holiday in Latvia. Called Jani or St. John's Eve, it incorporates many ancient customs as it calls upon the spirits of the home, the fields, and the forests. Special beer is brewed; special cheese is served; wreaths of flowers for women and oak leaves for men are woven; and farm animals and farm buildings are adorned with flowers. Fires are lit on hilltops, as dancing, singing, eating, and drinking go on through the "white night" until sunrise.
There are excellent operas, ballets (Alexander Gudonov and Mikhail Baryshnikov began their careers here), recitals, and concerts in Riga, and tickets are relatively inexpensive. The symphony and opera season runs between October and June, but concerts are held year round. Both amateur and state-sponsored theater are well attended, and some theaters offer earphones for English translations. There is also a permanent circus in Riga.
Folk music is popular, and there is a variety of folk groups-men, women, mixed-some featuring various traditional instruments, some including dance in their repertoires. Choral singing is a specialty of the country, and international song festivals are held every few years in the early summer when tens of thousands of Latvians from all over the world come to sing together.
Besides the open-air museum, there are many art museums in town, along with more diverse collections, such as the pharmaceutical museum, the automobile museum, and the military museum.
The Foreign Literature Library has the largest collection of fiction in English, along with American and British periodicals. The National Library of Latvia receives many English-language magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times, within a few days of publication.
Latvian independent TV presents a complete report of the country's news, sports, and weather in English every evening. The state TV station runs CNN and BBC news every weeknight from 10 pin to midnight. Radio Riga does an English newscast every evening, and another station plays "American top 40" on Sundays and Voice of America daily. There is a weekly English-language 12-page newspaper called the Baltic Times, which provides in-depth and up-to-date information on political, business, and cultural events in all three Baltic countries. It sells for 30 santimes in hotels and in many bookstores and kiosks.
Restaurants in all price ranges can be good in Riga. More are opening each month, and so are bars, discotheques, and casinos.
Spectator sports are offered throughout the year, including soccer, ice hockey, motorcycle racing, basketball, and volleyball.
There is an International Women's Club that holds monthly luncheons and various weekly activities. Volunteer activities are most welcome here as the country struggles out of its painful economic situation. There is a "Friends of the Regional Children's Hospital," which meets regularly and holds an annual charity ball every February.
The city of DAUGAVPILS is located in southeastern Latvia. Daugavpils was founded in the 1270s and was occupied at various times in history by Poland, Russia, and France. The city sustained heavy damage during both World War I and World War II, but has been rebuilt. Daugavpils is home to several industries. These industries produce bicycles, furniture, processed foods, synthetic fibers, and electrical equipment. The city is also a trading center for agricultural and lumber products. Daugavpils is situated 136 miles (219 kilometers) southeast of Riga and is connected to the capital by an extensive railway system. Daugavpils has a population over 128,000.
The southwestern Latvian city of JELGAVA was founded in 1266. This city is one of Latvia's major industrial centers. Among the products manufactured in Jelgava are vegetables, foodstuffs, linen, and agricultural machinery. Jelgava had a population of roughly 75,000.
LIEPĀJA is located in western Latvia on the coast of the Baltic Sea. The city, founded in 1253 by Teutonic Knights, has been occupied at various times in history by Swedes, Poles, Russians, and Germans. Liepāja's location on the Baltic Sea led to the city's development as a major port and naval base. The city sustained major damage during both World War I and World War II. Several manufacturing industries have developed in Liepāja. These industries produce agricultural machinery, canned fish, textiles, tobacco products, linoleum, paints, and iron and steel products. The city's port is an important export center for Latvian agricultural, timber, and leather products. The population of Liepāja in is estimated over 115,000.
The city of VENTSPILS is situated on the Baltic Sea coast, approximately 100 miles (161 kilometers) west-northwest of Riga. Ventspils is a vital Latvian city because its port remains ice-free during the winter. Many products are exported from Ventspils, including lumber, grain, flax, chemicals, and oil. The city's location on the Baltic Sea has led to the emergence of a large fishing and canning industry. Ventspils has a population over 55,000.
Geography and Climate
The Republic of Latvia is situated on the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Riga, bordered by Estonia to the northeast, Russia and Byelorussia to the east and Lithuania to the southwest. Its 25,499 square mile area is about the size of West Virginia in the U.S. and Belgium and the Netherlands combined in Europe. Geographically, grassland and marshy meadows, low hills and rolling plains make up most of the country which has an average elevation of 292 feet above sea level. Pine, oak, and birch forests cover approximately a quarter of the country. Latvia is rich in lakes (more than 5,000) and rivers (almost 1,000). It has a coastline of 307 miles, half lying on the Baltic Sea and half on the Gulf of Riga.
Only three European countries—Estonia, Finland, and Iceland—are further north in their entirety than Latvia which has a latitude of between 55 and 58 and a longitude of between 20 and 28. Winter daylight hours are considerably shorter than in the northern United States. During most of December and January, the sun does not rise until after 9 and sets as early as 3 p.m. On the other hand, to compensate, the longest day of summer lasts almost 18 hours. In spite of its northern location, winter temperatures average only slightly below freezing because of the Baltic Sea and the Gulf Stream. Summer temperatures average around 70. The maritime climate also accounts for the country's frequent cloud cover and considerable rainfall (average per year is approximately 27 inches).
Latvia's population is estimated at 2.6 million. Almost half of the Republic's total population lives in Riga and in other neighboring cities and villages within a distance of 70 kilometers, or 6% of its territory. The capital city, Riga (population 916,000, of which 48% are Russian and 40% Latvian), is the largest Baltic city. It is situated in the middle of the country from east to west and has an active and potentially major international seaport. Because of Latvia's status as an occupied country for 50 years, which included massive deportations of Latvians and immigration of Russians, Latvians comprise only 56% of the country's population. The Russian population is about 33% of the total, with the remainder consisting mostly of Belarusians, Ukrainians, Poles, and Lithuanians.
Since almost one-half of the inhabitants of Latvia do not speak Latvian, a law giving Latvia the status of an official state language was passed in 1989. Most Latvians also speak Russian. During the years of independence prior to Soviet occupation, 55% of Latvians reported their religion as Lutheran, 25% Catholic, 9% Orthodox, 5% Jewish, and the remainder Baptists, Old-Believers, Seventh-day Adventists, and other sects. With the end of state controls, a religious revival is taking place.
The Supreme Council of the Republic of Latvia declared full independence on August 21, 1991, after 50 years of Soviet occupation. Latvia had lost its ancient independence in the 13th century and was ruled successively by Germans, Poles, Swedes, and Russians. In 1918, non-Communist Latvia proclaimed independence, which lasted until the outbreak of World War II. A brief period of Soviet rule was followed by 4 years of German occupation until Latvia was again incorporated into the former Soviet Union in 1944. Tens of thousands of Latvians were deported to Siberia both during and after the war, and Russians and people from other Soviet Republics began migrating to Latvia. In 1987, an independence movement emerged, with independence being granted in August 1991.
The supreme state power is held by the Parliament or the Saeima. Latvia's Chief of State is the President. The Saeima is authorized to accept for trial and decide on any cases of social and state significance. The Council of Ministers, headed by a prime minister, is the highest executive body in the country. It oversees 13 ministries and a variety of state committees and other departments.
Major concerns and priorities of the government include the need for a continuing energy supply. Latvia had been almost totally dependent on the former Soviet Union for oil and gas. Now, with the transition to world market prices, new sources are being sought. Electricity is purchased from Lithuania, which has its own generating plants.
Likewise, improvements in transportation, telecommunications, and environmental pollution control are top priorities. In the area of private-sector development, implementation of a large industrial privatization program and training in business management are major concerns.
Delicate issues remain to be resolved, particularly that of citizenship for the considerable Russian-speaking population. In 1998, the Citizenship Law was amended to allow children of non-citizens born after 1991 to become Latvian citizens automatically-no language test required. And the systems of windows regarding applying for citizenship for older residents was abolished. The applicant, who is born before 1991, must still, however, pass a Latvian competency exam.
Arts, Science, and Education
Folklore has had a strong influence on Latvian culture both because of the population's close ties to the land and also because of the country's late introduction to Christianity (by German crusaders in the 13th century). Many ancient customs, blended with Christian rituals, are still practiced today, and the geometric symbols of mother Earth-the sun, thunder, fate, etc., still appear as design elements in Latvian applied arts.
Because of its long periods of foreign domination, Latvian literature did not come into its own until the mid-19th century. This is when the ancient oral "dainas" were first collected, most notably by Krisjanis Barons, who published almost 36,000 verses over a period of 40 years. Also in this period, the great epic poem "Lacplesis" or The Bear Slayer was written by Andrej S. Pumpurs. Janis Rainis (1865-1929) is widely regarded as the greatest Latvian writer. Imants Ziedonis is perhaps the most famous living Latvian poet who established the Latvian Culture Fund-an organization promoting the development of all Latvian art forms.
Latvia has 10 theaters; most of them are located in Riga. They include a beautifully restored opera house and ballet theater, a Russian theater, a puppet theater, a permanent circus, and many drama theaters. There are 13 movie theaters in Riga: five of these regularly show English-language movies with Latvian and Russian subtitles. There is a philharmonic orchestra and a chamber philharmonic orchestra with concert halls for both. Concerts and recitals are held almost daily. The organ of the Dom Cathedral in Riga's Old Town is one of the largest and best known in the world. Noted organists come regularly from the world over to give concerts there.
Song festivals are a Latvian tradition; choirs and folkdance groups perform year long, and there are occasional international festivals with folksinging and dancing in regional costumes.
A representative collection of classic Latvian painters can be seen at the National Fine Arts Museum, and there are numerous art galleries in Riga exhibiting contemporary Latvian paintings, tapestries, sculpture, and ceramics. There are 20 museums in Riga with a variety of collections, such as the Museum of History and Navigation and the Museum of Natural History. Latvians are avid readers. More than 200 Latvian and Russian newspapers are published in Latvia, as well as numerous magazines and periodicals. The city has 168 public libraries, although they have not been able to purchase new books or periodicals for several years due to underfunding.
The Latvian Academy of Sciences is the most prestigious academic organization and encompasses 14 research institutes. It is now working toward greater contact and cooperation with the West. Research in medicine and technical fields, begun in the years of independence before 1940, continued under the Soviets with internationally acknowledged results in microbiology, polymer mechanics, wood chemistry, semiconductor physics, and medicine. Now these research institutes are undergoing considerable restructuring and revision of priorities.
Education levels in Latvia are relatively high. The educational system is undergoing radical change in curricula after the effect of Soviet occupation on what was a highly developed school system ranging from free and compulsory preschool education to trade and technical schools and universities. There are 16 institutions of higher learning located in Riga. Throughout the country, there are also 55 technical colleges. The Baltic Academic Center, based in Riga, brings in scholars and university administrators from Western Europe and the U.S. to advise and teach during this critical period of transition. Through EU and Swedish funding, a Stockholm School of Economics was established. It offers a 2-year bachelor's degree to Baltic citizens. This success will be expanded with the establishment of the Stockholm Law School, which is slated to open within the next 2 years.
Commerce and Industry
Latvia's economy, which was part of the centrally planned socialist structure of the former Soviet Union since the mid-1940s, is now being transformed to the free market system it had enjoyed between 1918 and 1940. The massive deportation of Latvians and immigration of Russian workers over the last decades now compound the enormous difficulties of implementing economic reforms.
Within the former Soviet Union, Latvia was the most prominent manufacturing center in the Baltics. It produced processed foods, railway cars, electronic components, and light metal goods. Livestock fed on Soviet grain yielded both meat and dairy products.
Latvia has few natural resources, except for amber, timber, peat, and raw materials for construction. It has the largest forested area in the Baltics, but timber resources are threatened by heavy pollution. Another serious environmental problem is water pollution due to chemical dumping in ports, untreated sewage, and extensive use of liquid fertilizers.
The country faced and is still encountering difficulties as trade with Russia collapses, prices soar, and unemployment grows. The material standard of living has declined for the majority of the population since 1991. There is an 18% Value Added Tax (VAT) on all goods and services. Nevertheless, great strides since independence have been achieved. Markets have refocused toward Europe, and the recent economic crisis in Russia has reinvigorated this transition.
On the positive side, agricultural privatization has moved quickly, and the number of private farmers has doubled in the last 2 years. Restitution is almost completed, and now the Government is working toward privatizing residential housing. Small-scale private enterprise is booming, especially in the retail area. Consulting groups are forming rapidly, and services are being developed to respond to business needs. Possibilities for development exist in the areas of communications, banking, the private sector, and transportation (there are three major ports: Riga, Ventspils, and Liepaja). Business ties to both the East and the West are increasing rapidly with the existence already of hundreds of joint ventures and the passage of an open free investment law. In addition, Riga and the Baltic seacoast of Jurmala, in spite of the pollution in the Bay of Riga, hold great potential for becoming major tourist attractions. Improvements in pollution and renovation of the unique architectural character that once made Jurmala one of the top spas in Europe have already reinvigorated this resort area.
Driving in Latvia is on the right side. Generally speaking, roadways are in fairly good repair, although the absence of shoulders occurs frequently in the countryside. Most of the highways are two-lane. In the country, unless a 100-kilometer-an-hour speed limit is posted, the limit is 90 kph. In town, the limit is 50 kph. Aggressive drivers, poorly maintained roads, and drinking have given Latvia one of the highest accident rates in Europe.
In Riga itself, many of the streets are in ill repair, poorly lit, or not lit at all, and it is essential to be on the alert for unmarked potholes and darting pedestrians. Small street signs are affixed to buildings and are not visible at night. Driving in Riga has also become more hazardous and frustrating due to the boom in car ownership. During rush hours, main thoroughfares move at a snail's pace. The increase in the number of cars has also made parking very difficult. Hopefully the parking situation will be alleviated to some extent by the development of parking structures (one outside the train station, one by Jacobs Barracks, and another off of Brivibas).
In the countryside, bicyclists on the highways are a particular hazard, especially at night. They typically wear dark clothes and have no reflectors on their bicycles.
There are several companies selling automobile insurance. Third-party-liability coverage is now available, and the Latvian Government requires third-party insurance of $5,000 no matter what other liability insurance the owner carries.
The cost of theft insurance is high and may not fully cover the value of the vehicle. If the vehicle has both an alarm and an engine/transmission locking system, a deduction in the rate is possible. The insurance industry is a new concept in Latvia; make sure you deal with a reputable company.
Rental cars are available at several agencies for about $70 a day for a late-model car, and $40 for an older car. Volvo, Mitsubishi, Audi, Renault, Toyota, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Ford have dealerships/repair shops in Riga.
Both leaded and unleaded gasoline is sold at local stations. With the growing number of Western gas stations, it is also easy now to purchase 95 and 98 unleaded gasoline. In addition to selling high octane gasoline, Statoil, Neste, and Shell also sell tires and spare parts, and do oil changes and repair work at some of their stations. Statoil and Neste have their own credit cards and also accept MasterCard. Gas is still cheap by European standards; about 32 santimes per liter for 98 octane unleaded gas as of February 1999 (about $2.40 a gallon).
A fire extinguisher and automobile first-aid kit are required by law. Always carry a flashlight, reflective triangle, flares, lug wrench, and jack as well.
Riga has an extensive public transportation network. Buses, trolleys, and trams are all inexpensive by Western standards. They are frequently crowded, and breakdowns are common, but there is an increasing number of new buses and trams donated by the Scandinavian countries. Trolleys, trams, and buses run 24 hours daily, but between midnight and 5 am, routes usually run only one per hour. Tickets can be purchased from the ticket collector on the bus or tram and cost 18 san-times (about 30 cents U.S.). Keep in mind that buses and electric buses require a different ticket than trams.
Taxis are numerous and can be found at one of the many taxi stands. Prices vary, so agree on the fare before departure.
Police cars and vans are grey and white, with a blue light on top and are labeled "Policija." Ambulances are various colors. They frequently do not use sirens but simply a flashing light. Fire trucks are red.
Streets and sidewalks in Riga are hard surfaced but with an abundance of potholes and cracks. Many cobblestone streets, especially in the Old Town, can be extremely slippery when wet.
Trains in Latvia are slow, overcrowded, lacking in food services and occasionally dangerous because of theft. Most highways are hard surfaced, but less-traveled roads are gravel or dirt. Bus schedules are generally reliable, and buses are popular modes of transportation for inter-country to Estonia, Lithuania, and Poland. Be aware that a reservation and a ticket do not always guarantee a seat. For example, Americans have reported standing on buses for the 4-hour trip to Vilnius. It is possible to make private arrangements to rent a car and driver for trips to Lithuania or to Estonia.
A four-lane highway extends to the airport and on to the coastal resort area of Jurmala. There are other four-lane stretches in the country, for example, on the Baltic highway connecting Riga to Lithuania to the west and to Estonia to the east. Frequent encounters with farm machinery and heavy truck traffic can slow progress on the roadways.
Six international airlines service Riga at Riga Airport. Finnair flies to Helsinki three times a week; Lufthansa to Hamburg twice a week and to Frankfurt four times weekly; SAS to Copenhagen and to Stockholm four times weekly; Latavio Airlines to Helsinki twice a week and to Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Frankfurt each three times weekly; Hamburg Airlines to Berlin twice weekly; and Baltic International Airlines to Frankfurt and Dusseldorf four times a week. Air Baltic flies to London four times a week, Frankfurt daily, Stockholm daily (twice a day during the week), to Copenhagen twice a day, and to Helsinki daily Monday through Friday. Riair flies daily to Moscow; Belair flies daily to Kiev. British Air, Swiss Air, and Estonian Air also now service Riga and LOT Airlines and Czech Airlines have several flights a week to various cities via Warsaw and Prague, respectively. A typical fare from Riga to one of these cities is $300 to $400 and occasionally, there are specials to London and Copenhagen and a few other destinations. (1999)
In the past, there has been weekly boat traffic to Stockholm and Norrkoping in Sweden, to Kiel in Germany, and to the Island of Gotland off the east coast of Sweden. There is also now a ferry directly to Stockholm that runs about every other day. These do not run during the winter. You can drive to Tallinn and take the car ferry from there to Helsinki or take the train to Tallinn and ride the hydrofoil across to Helsinki. The hydrofoil makes the trip several times a day and takes less than 90 minutes. The car ferries cross in about 3 hours.
Telephone and Telegraph
Telephone communications within Latvia are fairly reliable. Fax service is also available in several locations in downtown Riga. One page faxed to the U.S. costs about $5. Telex service is also available. The current charge is $1 per 25 words. Cellular phone service can be found all over Riga for about $4 a minute for calls to the U.S. (This is the standard toll for calls to the U.S. from residential/business phones, as well.)
The cost of mailing a letter to the U.S. using Latvian postage is 40 santimes (about 75 cents). Weight allowances are less than the U.S.; if the letter exceeds the limit (about 4 pages) the price jumps to 80 santimes (about $1.50).
There is also registered mail service operating out of the Central Post Office. The cost is double the normal rate, and delivery time is about the same.
DHL Express is also available. The cost of a 150g letter to the U.S. (about 1015 pages) is about $45. Overweight letters are slightly higher. Delivery is 2 days. Free pickup service can be ordered by phoning 7013293 between 9:30 am and 5 pm. Couriers usually arrive within ½ to 2 hours.
UPS is now available as well. Envelopes up to lkg. cost $40 and take 2 business days for delivery. Free pickup is arranged by phoning 222247. UPS service to Latvia from the U.S. is about $60.
Radio and TV
Shortwave VOA and BBC broadcasts can generally be received morning and evening. There are 11 FM stations on Latvian radio that play Western popular and rock music almost around the clock. BBC is also available on FM radio. Cable TV is offered in Riga; it carries CNN, BBC, MTV, Eurosport, Super Channel, etc. Satellite dishes can be purchased in Latvia. Costs are similar to the U.S. U.S. TVs and VCRs will work with transformers. If you wish to watch Latvian TV, purchase a multisystem TV that can handle both PAL and NTSC signals. These are available from a variety of sources, such as the tax-free company of Peter Justesen, which delivers to Riga weekly by truck from Copenhagen. Mixing U.S. and European VCR systems can be tricky, because tapes made in the U.S. often will not play on European systems.
Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals
Local publications are of interest to those with Latvian-and/or Russian-language skills. Besides several regular newspapers, there are specialized publications dealing with literature, the arts, sports, business, fashion, etc. Even those without specialized knowledge of the language might find some of these papers useful for information on entertainment, concerts, sports, movies, theater, and TV programming. There is also a weekly advertising publication entitled Reklama that carries information about items for sale and reasonably priced charter tours to such places as Turkey, Israel, Cyprus, and Greece.
The Baltic Times is a weekly English language newspaper covering news in all three Baltic countries. Single copies are 40 santimes; subscriptions are $40 per year for a private individual in Latvia.
There are two visitor guides (in English) that are published about four times a year: Riga in Your Pocket and Riga This Week. These contain very useful information on dining, entertainment, and transportation.
The daily International Herald Triune, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, and international editions of Time and Newsweek are available at hotels. Four bookstores carry a limited number of books in English. The Soros Foundation bookstore and the newer Janis Roze store have the best selections. Prices are higher than in the U.S. Paperback novels can cost $9.
Health and Medicine
There are English-speaking dentists in Riga. Some have up-to-date Western equipment and have received high recommendations from the diplomatic community. One of these dentists is Canadian.
English-speaking doctors are available who have had some training in the West. Medical facilities are improving. Some are up to Western standards. Helsinki, Stockholm, and Copenhagen are only an hour or two away by plane.
If you take prescription medicine regularly, bring an ample supply with you and use the services of a mail prescription plan.
Some medicines are not readily available in pharmacies, and it can be time consuming to locate particular nonprescription items; however, more and more Western-manufactured drugs are available, and they are occasionally cheaper in Latvia. If you have a favorite brand, you may still want to consider bringing a supply with you.
Drinking water in Riga is sporadically chlorinated. City water has an unusually high iron content resulting from old, low-grade pipes. Tests of a double filtering system have been found to remove most pollutants and heavy metals from the water.
Because of occasional seepage of sewage into the water pipes, there have been outbreaks of typhoid and infectious hepatitis in the past. However, no pathogenic bacteria or viruses have been reported in city water since 1994.
Diphtheria, tuberculosis, and influenza also occur, because of inadequate public cleanliness and food handling techniques. Vaccines for both hepatitis A and B are available. Also make sure your oral typhoid and diphtheria/tetanus boosters are up to date.
It is possible to contract tick-borne encephalitis if you spend any time near forests or even city parks. There is a vaccine available that is strongly recommended. However, this is an Asian/European disease that does not occur in North America, so the vaccine is not available in the U.S.
There are significant numbers of large, aggressive dogs in Latvia, and dog bites are not uncommon, even from leashed animals. Consider rabies preventive vaccine (three injections in the arm). A few cases of AIDS have been reported in Latvia. An extensive public awareness campaign is in progress with a 24-hour hotline.
Colds, flu, and infectious diseases of the respiratory organs are the most common ailments here, especially during the winter months.
All immunizations should be up to date. Bring blood-type records for all family members. The blood bank in Riga has been found to be acceptable in terms of screening and sterility, but the availability of blood products is limited. Infection control in hospitals and clinics is not yet up to Western standards, mostly due to inadequate teaching, supplies, supervision, and time.
The local water does not contain fluoride, so bring a supply of vitamins with fluoride if you have small children. Most Americans use bottled water or distill/filter their own water with a machine to remove metallic and mineral residues.
Prescription eyeglasses and contact lenses can be replaced locally through the joint venture optical companies in Riga.
Bring a copy of your prescription with you. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is common among the local population and affects Americans as well. Depressive symptoms typically occur in the fall when the days become significantly shorter and continue through the winter when there is heavy cloud cover obscuring the sun for weeks at a time. In the summer, the symptoms are reversed: hyperactivity and sleeplessness. Specially marketed high-intensity fluorescent lights reportedly reduce the symptoms. They may also be purchased in Finland.
In winter, many people sustain serious injuries when they slip and fall on Riga's icy sidewalks. There are small cleats for sale in the U.S. that can be easily strapped over boots. These are not available in Latvia and would be a good investment. Remember that you will be doing much outdoor walking here, often while carrying packages. Downtown sidewalks are usually covered with thick sheets of ice during winter, especially in areas around markets and shops.
NOTES FOR TRAVELERS
Passage, Customs and Duties
No special immunizations are required other than hepatitis, due to the high incidence of this disease in Latvia
Lufthansa, SAS, Swiss Air, Austrian Air, British Air, and Finnair all service Riga several times a week.
You can drive from other parts of Europe; however, your vehicle should be in excellent condition, and it is necessary to carry extra gas, since full-service stations can be difficult to locate in some Eastern European countries. Do not count on using credit cards or travelers checks to purchase gas. Gas in Western Europe is as high as $5 a gallon. Winter driving can be hazardous, so it is better to avoid driving at night, since lighting and road conditions are poor in some areas.
A passport valid for at least six months is required. No visa is required for travelers remaining up to 90 days in a half-calendar year (from January to June and from July to December).
Travelers remaining in Latvia for more than 90 days, including 180 day periods that cross over two half-calendar years, must apply for temporary residence. Travelers who plan to remain in Latvia for more than 90 days must apply in-country for temporary residence. For more information, travelers may contact the Latvian Embassy, at 4325 17th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20011, tel: (202) 726-8213. Within Latvia, contact the Ministry of Interior's Citizenship and Immigration Department at Raina bulv. 5, Riga LV 1508, tel. (371) 721-9424 or (371)721-9427, fax: (371) 782-0306. Any traveler to Russia, even in transit, is advised to obtain a Russian visa prior to entry into Latvia. The process of obtaining a visa at the Russian Embassy in Riga can be lengthy, and involve surrender of the passport for an undetermined period of time.
U.S. drivers' licenses are not valid in Latvia, and American tourists must use a valid International Driver's License issued through the AAA. After 6 months, Americans must apply for a Latvian Drivers' License. For specific information on Latvian driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, contact the Latvian Traffic Safety Administration (CSDD), Bauskas Iela 68, Riga LV-1004, tel. (371) 627-437.
Americans living in or residing in Latvia are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Riga and obtain updated information on travel and security within Latvia. The U.S. Embassy is located at Raina Boulevard 7; tel. (371) 703-6200; fax: (371) 782-0047. Consular information and current travel information can also be found on the Embassy Riga home page at http://www.usis.bkc.lv/embassy/
No regulations or quarantines restrict importing cats and dogs. Pet owners should have immunization records, especially rabies vaccination (within 1 year), and health certificate records certified by a veterinarian within 2 weeks of departure. Make sure that international certificates are used. Since most departures transfer in Germany, the certificate should be translated into German if an international certificate is not available. The German and Swedish customs agents are very strict; do not take any chances. Germany requires the pet's health certificate be signed by your vet not more than 10 days before the flight. Sweden requires an animal import license, even to transfer your pet to a connecting flight. Call the respective Embassy or airlines if you have any questions. They can supply international certificate blanks.
Taking a pet from Latvia is subject to new restrictions due to the existence of rabies here. It is necessary to get a yearly rabies vaccination for your pet while it is here and then wait 30 days for a follow-up health inspection and certificate. Only then will you be allowed to take the pet from Latvia.
Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures
The official monetary unit is the lat. Bills are in denominations of 500, 100, 50, 20, 10, and 5. Nominal values of coins are: 2 Ls, 1 L, and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2, and 1 santime. Be aware that the 2 and 1 lat coins resemble U.S. quarters but have values of $4 and $2 respectively. Currently,.58481at=US$1 (as of December 1999).
Banks in Riga do not cash personal checks, but you can set up an account and arrange for a transfer of funds for a fee: usually $10 minimum. Be aware that the banking situation in Latvia is in a state of flux. The largest commercial bank in the Baltics failed in May 1995 and after a period of stability, the Russian financial crisis led to the closure of a few more banks in the fall 1998 and in the spring 1999.
American Express travelers checks are accepted by five local banks for a fee. They cannot be used elsewhere in Latvia. More and more stores and hotels accept Visa, MasterCard, and American Express.
Latvia uses the metric system of weights and measures.
Jan. 1… New Year's Day
May 1…Latvia Labor Day
Nov. 18…LR Proclamation Day
Dec. 25… Christmas Day
Dec. 26…Boxing Day
Dec. 31… New Year's Eve
These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country.
The Baltic States: A Reference Book. Latvian Encyclopedia Publishers, 1991.
Bilmanis, Alfred. Latvia as an Independent State. Latvian Legation: 1947.
Clemens, Walter C. Baltic Independence and Russian Empire. St. Martin's Press, 1991.
Garber, Larry and Eric Bjornlund, eds. The New Democratic Frontier. National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, 1992.
Kalnins, Ingrida, ed. A Guide to the Baltic States. Inroads, Inc: 1990.
Kaslas, Bronis. The Baltic Nations: The Quest for Regional Integration and Political Liberty. Euramerica Press, 1976.
Katz, Zev, ed. Handbook of Major Soviet Nationalities. The Free Press: 1985.
Misiunas, Romuald J. and Rein Taagepera. The Baltic States-the Years of Independence Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania: 1917-1940. C. Hurst and Company, London, and University of California Press, 1974.
Nesaule, Agate. A Woman in Amber. University of Wisconsin Press, 1995.
Rodgers, Mary M. and Streissguth, Tom, eds. Latvia: Then and Now. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Company, 1992.
Smith, Graham, ed. The Nationalities Question in the Soviet Union. Longman, 1990.
Spekke, Arnolds. History of Latvia. M. Goppers, 1951.
Thaden, Edward C. Russification in the Baltic Provinces and Finland, 1855-1914. Princeton University Press, 1981.
Veti Vitauts Simanis, ed. Latvia. The Book Latvia, Inc., 1984.
Williams, Roger, ed. Baltic States: Insight Guides. Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston: 1993.
The Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies publishes a newsletter and a quarterly journal. For more information contact: Business and Subscriptions Executive Office of the AABS 111 Knob Hill Road Hackettstown, New Jersey 07840
"Latvia." Cities of the World. 2002. Encyclopedia.com. (May 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3410700135.html
"Latvia." Cities of the World. 2002. Retrieved May 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3410700135.html
Republic of Latvia
LOCATION AND SIZE.
Located in the Baltic region of Eastern Europe, Latvia is bordered by Estonia (339 kilometers; 211 miles), Russia (217 kilometers; 135 miles), Belarus (141 kilometers; 88 miles), Lithuania (453 kilometers; 281 miles), and the Baltic Sea (531 kilometers; 330 miles). Slightly larger than the state of West Virginia, Latvia has a total area of 64,589 square kilometers (40,136 square miles). Its capital, Riga, is centrally located and lies next to its namesake, the Gulf of Riga.
In July of 2000 the population of Latvia was estimated at 2,404,926, a decrease of 10 percent from the 1989 population of 2,666,567. This decrease is the result of 2 factors. The first is the economic hardships that set in following the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991—of which Latvia had been a reluctant member— and the decision of families to postpone procreation. For the first time since the 1945 flight from the advancing Red Army and the 1949 Soviet deportation of dissident Latvians to Siberia, the total number of deaths outnumbered the total number of births. The second, and more important, factor has to do with the out-migration of Slavs, primarily Russians and Ukrainians. The regained independence of Latvia in 1991 brought a shift in political power from Russian control into Latvian control. New Latvian language requirements for certain employment sectors and the sudden reality of monolingual Russian speakers living in a new "foreign" country spurred a large emigration movement.
In 2000 the birth rate stood at 7.8 births per 1,000 while the death rate stood at 14.88 per 1,000. With a current out migration of 1.32 per 1,000, Latvia's annual population growth rate is-0.84 percent, and the projected population for 2015 is 2.1 million and for 2030 is 2.0 million. With an official unemployment rate of 8.6 percent (unofficial estimates are close to 14 percent), there is no great demand for an immediate increase in the labor force . The below replacement level birth rate may factor into labor shortages should Latvia's productive economy increase significantly. Female life expectancy (74.6 years) is much greater than male life expectancy (62.4 years) and thus among older people women greatly outnumber men. The largest percentage of the population are within their working years, 20 to 64, and a great amount of economic responsibility falls upon them. The dependency ratio (the percentage of the population that are either above or below their productive working years) in 1997 was 49.9 percent. In this same year, the percentage of the population aged 65 and above was at 13.6 percent and is estimated to reach 16.8 percent by 2015. Despite this increase in the percentage of the aged, the dependency ratio is predicted to drop to 45.8 percent by 2015. This is due to the drop in fertility rate, from 2.0 children per mother in 1975 to 1.3 in 1997.
Language and citizenship policies that served as a reprisal against former Russian dominance fostered the out migration of that group, but criticisms from the United Nations and the European Union for such discriminatory practices have caused the Latvian government to soften its citizenship and naturalization policies. In 1989 Latvians comprised only 52 percent of the country's population while Russians constituted 34 percent, with Belorussians, Ukrainians, Poles, and Lithuanians, in respective ranking, making up most of the remainder. Within 6 major municipalities, the Russian population grossly outnumbers the indigenous population, and the former dominance of the Russian language meant that it was impossible for a Latvian to engage in any type of economic activity without the use of Russian. Current conditions have changed and monolingual Russian speakers are faced with very difficult circumstances. In 1996 ethnic Latvians comprised 56.6 percent of the country's population, while the remaining ethnic Russians constituted 30.3 percent. However, 71 percent of the Latvian population are considered citizens while the remaining 29 percent are not, indicating that a significant portion of the ethnic Russian population has been given citizenship. This issue has been a continuing source of contention in the country's politics.
OVERVIEW OF ECONOMY
The economy of Latvia today, which is based on light industry and services, looks optimistically toward the future. But, like the other 2 Baltic States—Estonia and Lithuania—which emerged from the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Latvia suffered severe economic shocks in the first decade of its transition from communist rule and has faced a difficult road during its transition to a market economy.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Latvia experienced a miraculous economic recovery after the ravaging of World War I (1914-18). Agrarian reform provided land for the dispossessed. Many farmsteads formed cooperatives that provided loans and export credits, the currency was stable, there was low inflation , unemployment was not as severe as it was in Western Europe during the Great Depression, and Latvia was able to tuck away 10.6 tons of gold in foreign banks. But this recovery was severely interrupted by World War II, and Latvia's economic processes were quickly altered by the invasion of the Red Army of the Soviet Union. As the Soviet Union took command of the economy, almost all property, including farms, was placed under state control, leading to the 1949 deportation of 40,000 mostly rural occupants. The following decades saw a continual struggle between rational communist reformers and political ideologues attached to Moscow, with the latter habitually prevailing. Though there was an attempt to reorient Latvian industry from its growing reliance on imported raw materials, by 1959 Moscow, the capital of the Soviet Union, over-saw all of Latvian industrialization and economic development. Despite such control, Latvians always remembered their previous economic successes and recognized that they would have been better off if they had remained separate from the Soviet Union.
The Soviet economic system entailed the importation of raw materials, fuel, and workers into Latvia, and the exportation of finished products. But the environment and the social welfare of Latvians suffered under this plan, as they did in all the Soviet republics. Finally, by the late 1980s, Latvia managed to gain greater control of its economy, increasing its share of control of financial activities from 17 to 42 percent by 1990. After the break-up of the Soviet Union, all the republics encountered a severe economic trauma. Rising energy prices and lack of price controls made Western goods too expensive for the markets of the former Soviet Union, and the quality of goods produced in Latvia was too poor to be competitive in Western markets. International trade plummeted, manufacturing slowed, and unemployment and inflation soared.
Economic reforms introduced after the declaration of independence from Russia in 1991 called for a shift in the direction of exports away from Russia and toward the West, a change and stabilization of the currency, and a shift away from heavy industry toward a more service based economy. Privatization —the sale or transfer of state-owned businesses to the private sector —has proved to be one of the most difficult aspects of transition. It was some while before a privatization agency was established. There was not enough domestic capital to successfully purchase large enterprises, and perceived political instability and the prospect of costly retrofitting obsolete production companies hindered the attraction of foreign investment, which in itself was met with resistance as Latvians feared the selling off of its assets. Honoring the claims of previous ownership proved to be a difficult task as well. Claimants feared the high cost of repairs that would be necessary for properties, and the division of collectivized farms was troubled by the unequal value of the land.
The 1998 Russian financial crises affected Latvia, which experienced no growth in gross domestic product (GDP) in 1999. But currently Latvia shows every sign of becoming more involved with trade with the West and the world. It has joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) and has joined talks for accession into the European Union (EU). Major foreign investment in 1999 was directed toward real estate and in the financial sector, while investment in 2000 was directed toward energy and transportation. A 5.4 percent increase in the GDP in 2000, a decline in unemployment, and the stabilization of inflation spell good news for Latvia's bid to enter the EU in 2003.
POLITICS, GOVERNMENT, AND TAXATION
In 1989 the Latvian Supreme Soviet ended the Communist Party's political monopoly , and there was a rise in independent political parties and the opportunities for free elections, something that had not been possible in Latvia since 1940. Results of the first free election saw only 15 of the 201 pro-Soviet deputies reelected. Approximately two-thirds of the new members belonged to the Popular Front of Latvia (LTF), a pro-independence party that formed in 1987. On 4 May 1990, the Supreme Council, or Parliament, adopted a declaration of independence, declared Soviet annexation illegal, and restored articles of the 1922 constitution. On 21 August 1991, after the Soviet coup in Moscow, Latvia declared full independence but failed to enact components of the 4 May 1990 declaration because of questions about the legitimacy of the new government and whether amendments to the 1922 constitution should be permitted. Much of the opposition was due, the critics asserted, to the fact that election had taken place while Latvia was still occupied and that members of the Soviet army had participated and had been allowed to use rules different from the rest of the voting population. It was contended that only those with Latvian citizenship prior to Soviet occupation should be allowed to decide Latvia's future. In the following election in 1993 approximately 25 percent of the permanent residents in Latvia, mostly ethnic Russians, were not allowed to vote.
In Latvia's electoral system 100 representatives are elected for a 3-year period to serve in the Saeima, which then elects a board whose chairman or deputy serves as speaker for the legislature. The Saeima elects a president who also serves for 3 years and is excluded from serving more than 2 terms. The president appoints a prime minister, who then nominates the other cabinet ministers. In their May 1994 elections—the first since independence—a majority of the representatives elected were members of the Latvian National Independence Movement or other nationalist parties. Segments of the Communist Party of Latvia, which had previously dominated, fared very poorly. A host of contending political parties emerged and their particular prominence waxed and waned as various issues became more urgent for Latvia's citizens. For example, a 1994 dispute about tariffs on agricultural imports prompted the Latvian Farmer's Union to withdraw from the ruling coalition and resulting in a collapse of the government. Lativia faced the critical issue of citizenship. The first bill was very restrictive for Russians and other non-Latvians, allowing only 2,000 people to naturalize per year. International as well as domestic pressure caused the Saeima to reconsider and initiate another, less restrictive policy. The revised policy was that the applicant should have lived in Latvia at least 5 years, have adequate knowledge of the country's language, history, and constitution, and have a legal source of income.
Latvia, as with the other Baltic States, has played an interesting role in the continuing geopolitical, suspicion-laden struggle between Russia and the West. Latvia's initial attempts to join with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) were unsuccessful, but efforts toward this end, as well as integration into the EU, continue. Continued strengthening of democratic policies and adherence to economic liberalizing policies has made Latvia's access to these groups favorable, even though Russia continues to express disfavor.
A sizable portion of the state income is derived from value-added tax (VAT), and this tax has been increased up to 18 percent in order to meet state expenditures. To attract foreign investment of capital and to stimulate the economy, certain conditions applied for the exemption of VAT toward foreign investment. The government also sells treasury bills and earns interest on loans to domestic, private, and national enterprises.
INFRASTRUCTURE, POWER, AND COMMUNICATIONS
Latvia possesses 2,406 kilometers (1,495 miles) of railroads that extend toward Russia, Belarussia, and the other Baltic States. Both they and the cars that roll across them are aging and in need of repair. A network of 59,178 kilometers (36,773 miles) of roads, roughly a third of which are paved, allows access to all regions of the country. While private car ownership has risen in that last years, railways and buses transport the majority of commuters.
Major seaports located at Riga, Ventspils, and Liepaja, which remain ice free throughout the year, are superbly linked to both rails and an extensive network of roads, allowing the domestic and international transportation of goods. Latvia, which is dependent on the importation of fuels, also serves as a transit area for outgoing supplies. The port of Ventspils is the terminus for the Volga Urals oil pipeline (which extends into Russia) and can simultaneously accommodate 3 large tankers. The port at Liepaja, the deepest port in the Baltic Sea, was formerly operated for Soviet military purposes and is in need of major modification for commercial purposes. The port at Riga, the busiest in Latvia, is responsible for the greatest movement of trade goods.
Oil and gas are imported into Latvia from Russia and help to fuel industries and the 2 thermal power plants near Riga. In addition, 3 hydroelectric dams along Latvia's largest river, the Daugava, add to the power supply, but still electricity is imported to feed this most industrialized Baltic State.
Privatization has caused a reconstruction in Latvia's telecommunications network. In 1994, 49 percent of the system was sold to a British-Finnish telecommunications consortium and international communications became available at standard international rates. The privatized telecommunications company, Lattelcom, is working toward a fully digitized network by 2012, thus alleviating the problem of unmet demand due to a shortage of lines. In 1997 there were 748,000 main telephone lines in use, and in 1999, 175,348 cellular phones in use.
The years following World War II saw a shift in Latvia's major economic activity from agriculture and toward Soviet-style heavy industry. In 1990, agriculture
|Country||Newspapers||Radios||TV Sets a||Cable subscribers a||Mobile Phones a||Fax Machines a||Personal Computers a||Internet Hosts b||Internet Users b|
|aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.|
|bData are from the Internet Software Consortium (http://www.isc.org) and are per 10,000 people.|
|SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.|
accounted for 20 percent of the GDP while industry comprised almost 43 percent and services—including transportation, communication, and construction—were around 34 percent. The transition toward a market economy, however, has created a definite shift in economic orientation toward the west. By 1998 agriculture contributed only 8 percent of the GDP, while industry contributed 29 percent and services contributed 63 percent. (Employment per sector was last recorded in 1990 at 16 percent in agriculture, 41 percent in industry, and 43 percent in services, but these numbers have likely shifted significantly over the course of the decade.)
In 1993, 33 percent of Latvia's exports were directed toward Western Europe while 48 percent were directed toward the republics of the former Soviet Union. By 1999, exports toward the European Union were at 63 percent while export with the former Soviet Union states was reduced to 12 percent. The export of services has experienced rapid growth—22 percent in the first three-quarters of 2000 alone. These services include information technologies and computer software, international trade banks, and cargo services. As the Latvian economy models itself on the economies of the West, such services will play an even more important role in Latvia's integration into the European Union. These exports have been of great value, providing stability at a moment when external shocks, such as a strengthened dollar and rising oil prices, have hurt the trade balance.
Under Soviet control, once-dominant Latvian agriculture took a back seat to industry. By 1990, the amount of agricultural land in Latvia decreased 32 percent from its 1932 levels. As agriculture was brought under state control, many of the former farms were abandoned and converted to forest. Half of the arable land was used for fodder crops for the cattle and dairy industries that supplied the Soviet Union. About 40 percent of the land was used to grow grain, and the rest was for potatoes, flax, and sugar beets. Meat, dairy products, and crops were shipped to other Soviet republics in exchange for equipment, fuel, and fertilizer. Small private plots and some animal holdings were permitted by the Soviet authorities. These plots served a vital role in supplementing the poor output of the inefficient collective farms. At the end of communist rule much of the country's livestock was held on such plots. When the Soviet system fell apart, however, feed shortages and rising cost of farm equipment created a decline in agricultural production in Latvia.
From 1994 to 1998 there was a general decrease in the production of meat products. Associated with this was a drop in fodder production. The most dramatic decline in livestock was in beef production and the least dramatic was in poultry. Milk production was down slightly while egg production increased. This is likely due to the economic austerity endured and the generally higher costs associated with meat product. Eggs, being a replenishable product, are a more economic form of protein. Production of cereals and potatoes decreased, but sugar beets doubled. This shift makes sense as the resultant sugar could be easily exported and bring in much needed hard currency . Forest products, such as paper and timber, also added to the economy through export. Even though agriculture declined in percentage of GDP in Latvia, it still accounted for 16 percent of the labor force in 2000.
Forests cover 40 percent of Latvian territory, with the majority of them being in the northern areas, which are 50 percent wooded. Over 11 percent of forests are protected, while the remaining forests are mixed between commercial and restricted management. Forest resources are not fully exploited, and if financial resources can be found to develop the industry, the number of annual cuts could be doubled. Local and international environmental organizations, of course, oppose such increased development
Proximity to European markets and the ease and cheapness of transport across the Baltic Sea makes Latvia well situated for delivering goods to market according to EU standards. Cheap labor, a stable currency, membership in the World Trade Organization, and future membership in the EU has made industry an important part of Latvia's development plans.
Manufacturing in Latvia is currently organized around machinery, textiles (especially woolens), food processing, and wood processing. Due to cheap labor and abundant resources, wood processing is the most dynamic sector and possesses the potential for dramatic increase. Latvia produces automobiles, electric rail cars, and consumer goods such as radios and appliances. Steel, cement, wood products, chemicals, and electronics are also manufactured in Latvia's major urban centers. Dependence on imported energy delivered at increased prices injured the industrial sector of Latvia, once the most industrialized of the Soviet Republics, and the service sector has increased in importance. Information technologies (IT) have recently become a rapidly developing area due to changes in the political, business, and technical infrastructure of the country. About 20 percent of total foreign investments is directed at manufacturing.
As of 1999, food products and beverages comprised the largest share of Latvia's manufacturing at 36.4 percent. Wood and wood products, at 17.8 percent in 1999, comprised the second largest share of Latvian manufacturing and increased 14.5 percent from the previous year. Textiles remained important at nearly 6 percent in 1999, and other significant industries in 1999 included the following: publishing and printing (4.7 percent), wear apparel (3.7 percent), chemicals (3.5 percent), metal wares (2.9 percent), and transport vehicles (2.9 percent).
Latvia is the least known of the Baltic states and does not receive much tourism. However, Riga, the largest and most vibrant city in the Baltic States, is the primary tourist destination, offering opportunities for day trips. Tourism by Russians is still present in Latvia, but Western visitors have become more numerous. Latvia's coast supports several beach resorts, but poor water quality in the Baltic Sea has discouraged bathers. In fact, the number of visitors to Latvia has decreased from 2.4 million in 1993 to just 1.7 million in 1999.
Latvia's 2-tiered banking system began in 1988 when its first commercial banks were established. Prior to the break up of the Soviet Union, there were no private banks in any of the Baltic States. Since that time, the banking system, although suffering 2 crises, has developed well and offers a variety of services to its customers. The Central Bank of Latvia was founded in August of 1990. It is an independent bank that has the right to issue the national currency, supervise other banks and credit unions, and control the economy via monetary policy instruments, such as national interest rates. It is independent of the Latvian government and handles foreign currency.
The commercial banking sector is controlled by the Central Bank. The bank crises have struck Latvia since independence. Connected to a large reduction in the number of banks, the first crisis occurred in 1995. The second crisis accompanied the Russian economic collapse of 1998. Since that time, the Latvian banking system has been recovering, and a majority of the banks have ended the year with a profit.
The banking system in Latvia has been almost entirely transferred into private hands, although 70 percent of the ownership and control is with foreign institutions. There are currently 21 banks and 1 foreign bank branch in Latvia. In 12 of these banks, more than 50 percent of assets are owned by foreign shareholders. In 2000 there was a 38 percent increase in the total assets of banks as investment has increased and proved profitable. Cash and capital flow into and out of Latvia faces virtually no restrictions.
The Riga Stock Exchange (RSE), re-established in 1993, is Latvia's only licensed stock exchange. It is owned by 27 shareholders, and the Latvian Ministry of Finance regulates its activities. The shareholders include major Latvian commercial banks, brokerage companies, and the State Real Estate Fund. In June of 1997, the RSE became the first exchange in Eastern Europe to have a Dow Jones Index, meaning that the daily activities are collectively reported in a quantitative fashion to display the rise and falls in the market.
Latvia's geographical position has made it a strategic trading hub for generations, and this benefit continues as an increase in trade between East and West passes across its borders. There has been a significant shift in Latvia's international trade away from the states of the former Soviet Union and toward the EU and other western markets. In 2000, about 68 percent of exports were directed toward the EU. In 1998, Germany was Latvia's single largest tracking partner, with 16 percent of exports and 17 percent of imports. The United Kingdom was the second largest source of exports from Latvia, with 14 percent, followed by Russia with 12 percent, Sweden with 10 percent, and others. Russia was the second largest importer of goods to Latvia, with 12 percent, followed by Finland with 10 percent, and Sweden with 7 percent. About 65 percent of the energy imports come from Russia, but Estonia, with its nuclear reactors and available uranium, also provides electricity to Latvia. The EU is responsible for 45 percent of the imported machinery. All told, Latvia exported US$1.9 billion of goods in 1999 and imported US$2.8 billion in goods in 1998.
The Lat replaced the Latvian ruble in March of 1993. The exchange rate of the Lat has remained relatively stable, which has been crucial to Latvia's development process, for it has meant that confidence among foreign investors has remained high. Initially, following independence from the Soviet Union, Latvia experienced considerable economic difficulty as relations with their former Russian trade partner weakened and Latvian goods were not competitive in the western markets. Inflation was high and the purchasing power of the population fell and remained low. With the exception of the setback of 1998, which was tied to the Russian financial crises, Latvia's economic condition has slowly been improving. As of 2000 the purchasing power had increased 4.2 percent from the previous year. The increase in disposable income , at 8.1 percent, has been greater in urban areas than in rural areas, according to the Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia.
POVERTY AND WEALTH
Political changes and the reintroduction of a free market system in 1991 have forced people who once depended
|Exchange rates: Latvia|
|lats (Ls) per US$1|
|SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].|
|GDP per Capita (US$)|
|SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.|
on the state to struggle independently for their economic survival. For the poorest in Latvia, life is difficult because social services, such as health care, worker's compensation, and pensions, have been dramatically cut. The percentage of Latvia's poorest is higher than well-developed nations, with 21.4 percent living below the poverty line (defined as one-half of the average income). Poverty is highest among rural residents (26 percent) and among families with 3 or more children (44.1 percent), according to a report by Petra Lantz de Bernardis.
A 1999 survey of living conditions in Latvia reported by the Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia revealed, not surprisingly, that those with the lowest degree of education had the least favorable prospects for jobs. However, an advanced education does not necessarily guarantee a high standard of living in contemporary Latvia, nor does a high standard of living necessarily indicate an advanced education. In 1999 the average wage for an individual with a high education was 156 lats while a person with a basic education received 75 lats. In comparison to state and public enterprises, private enterprises more often engage workers without a contract, put them in unfavorable work conditions, and provide no sense of job security for the worker. Of the survey respondents aged 18 and over, 7.2 percent have been robbed of personal belongings from a home or car, 3.6 percent have been threatened with violence, and 3.3 percent have been mugged.
|Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Latvia|
|Survey year: 1998|
|Note: This information refers to income shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita income.|
|SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].|
|Household Consumption in PPP Terms|
|Country||All Food||Clothing and footwear||Fuel and power a||Health care b||Education b||Transport & Communications||Other|
|Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.|
|aExcludes energy used for transport.|
|bIncludes government and private expenditures.|
|SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.|
Many households cannot afford simple amenities. About 11 percent of the households cannot afford education for their children, 16 percent cannot cover emergency medical expenses, 20 percent cannot afford to eat meat or fish at least 3 times a week, 21 percent cannot afford annual dental checkups, 38 percent cannot go out for an evening at the movies or a concert, 38 percent cannot afford to entertain guests, 65 percent cannot afford new clothes, 77 percent cannot afford to replace worn furniture, and 82 percent do not have enough money for a holiday weekend abroad. While nearly half of the survey respondents reported good health, it was found that increased age was accompanied by decreased health. Also, there was a direct correlation between poor economic conditions and reports of ill health.
During Soviet rule, Latvia became the most industrialized and urbanized republic of the Soviet Union. While the importance of industry has deceased since the break-up, urbanization in Latvia remains high, hovering at around 78 percent of the population living in urban centers. The high level of pollution emitted by Latvia's factories contributes to low life expectancy, especially for males. Adding to the danger of shortened lives is a Latvian diet traditionally high in fats, a national aversion to exercise, and a male propensity toward heavy smoking. Nonetheless, the economic hardship caused by the breakup has improved the general health of Latvians and life expectancies are creeping upward.
Females live longer in Latvia but still do not experience economic equality with males. In 1998 the real GDP per capita for females was US$3,330 while for men it was US$4,664, a difference of almost 29 percent. There are more young women in secondary school and more in higher education. This may be due to the need for young men to begin work at an earlier age.
The dominance of service sector and light industries explains the high level of urbanization in Latvia. The city centers, which were previously most Russian, contain all of Latvia's institutions of higher education. The large percentage of Russians remaining in the city and the prohibitive cost of housing for students makes acquisition of a degree difficult for Latvians, who in 1989 were fourth in ethnic groups in Latvia to be enrolled in university.
The total workforce in Latvia in 1997 stood at 1.4 million, with an unemployment rate of 9.6 percent in 1999. As a result of economic conditions, many people are forced to work more than 40 hours per week in order to gain extra income. But simultaneously, many enterprises are unable to pay their employees a full week's wages, forcing employees to work part-time or to take unpaid leave. The legislation of Latvia regards forced holidays and a shortened business week as concealed forms of unemployment.
COUNTRY HISTORY AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
1300. Prior to this date Latvia is composed of half a dozen distinct and independent kingdoms; after 1300, German barons dominate the region and establishe a Germanic culture.
1710. A Russian elite infiltrates the bureaucracy of Latvia under the rule of Peter the Great, challenging the dominance of the Germans.
1850. First Latvian Awakening appears as resistance to Germanic and Russian influences. A Latvian elite begin to develop and push for self-determination in local affairs.
1880. Rapid industrialization of the largely landlocked Russian Empire causes it to incorporate the Baltic States in this process. The Latvian economy develops rapidly, under the direction of Russia, and the third largest port in the Russian empire is created by 1913.
1905. Marxist ideology spreads in the workplaces of Latvia, leading to a crackdown by authorities and the creation of a mass movement against Russian authority and German nobility.
1914. World War I (1914-18) leads to the evacuation of half the Latvian population who flee the invading German army into neighboring countries to the east. The Communist movement gains strength.
1918. Latvia claims independence on 18 November and 2 years later pro-and anti-Communist forces end their hostilities.
1921. Latvia joins the League of Nations and begins a 20 year period of economic progress, later known as the Second Awakening.
1934. Centrist politician Karlis Ulmanis gains power and ends the political instability of the multiple-party parliamentary system. He is later deported from Latvia to a prison camp in Russia by the Soviet authorities and dies in captivity in 1942.
1939. The Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact between Germany and Russia puts Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania under Soviet control.
1939. On 5 October Latvia is coerced into signing the Pact of Defense and Mutual Assistance; 30,000 Soviet troops occupy the country.
1939. In November, Soviets attack Finland, resulting in the Soviet Union being expelled from the League of Nations, along with Latvia.
1940. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin demands that the Baltic State governments be replaced with Soviet officials, leading to the creation of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic on 21 July.
1941. Immediately after the Soviet Union either deports or executes 35,000 Latvian dissidents, a Nazi invasion and 5 year occupation translates into an almost complete annihilation of Latvia's Gypsies and Jews.
1945. The Red Army reoccupies Latvia, and approximately 200,000 refugees flee. About 150,000 survivors settle in the West and engage in a long struggle to free their homeland from occupation.
1953. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin dies, and conditions for Latvian autonomy improve.
1957. Eduards Berklavs, a key figure in the Communist Party of Latvia (CPL), initiates de-Russification policies, i.e. restricted immigration from Russia, requirements that governmental functionaries know Latvian, and diversion of funds toward smaller, local activities rather than grandiose Soviet projects.
1959. Moscow purges Latvian national communists, including Berklavs and reinstitutes economic policies favoring Russia.
1985. Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union ushers in the period of perestroika, a campaign to reform the Communist Party through eased social, economic, and political mechanisms, and glasnost, the liberalization of the media and opportunity for critical discussion for the purpose of improving the system.
1987. Demonstrations for independence begin in Latvia.
1988. The Popular Front of Latvia (LTF) forms and organizes its first congress.
1989. With ever-increasing membership, the LTF becomes a de facto second government and pushes the Latvian Supreme Soviet to accept a declaration of sovereignty and economic independence.
1990. A new parliament, known as the Supreme Council, is formed and votes in favor of a transition to democracy and independence.
1991. Following a failed coup in the Soviet Union, Latvia declares independence on 21 August; Latvia joins the United Nations.
1992. Faced with high prices, problems with privatization, and hyperinflation, Latvia's economy crashes.
1993. A new currency, the Lat, is introduced and becomes the only legal tender by October.
1994. A citizenship bill, severely restricting the naturalization of Russians, is passed but later its restrictions are eased.
The outlook for Latvia in the near and far future is bright. The continued stabilization of its currency, the increase in democratic activities and transparent economic activities, the growing degree of privatization, the liberalized trade policy, and the increasing skills of its workers all mean that unemployment will decline and foreign investment is likely to continue. The current downside to this situation is that poor wages prevent the average citizen from equal participation in the emerging economic system. Also, with minimal capital available to Latvian citizens, much of the country's developing assets will be foreign owned, a condition looked upon by many Latvians as unfavorable. With Latvia's accession into the EU, the situation is likely to improve even more as capital and labor will be able to move across the borders of a united Europe.
In its efforts to enter the EU, Latvia has decreased the distance between itself and the leading Eastern European countries. But Latvian officials are disappointed that a recent progress report on EU accession of Eastern European countries puts them in a lagging category. The report states that Latvia has a "functioning market" that should be able, in the medium term, to cope with the competitive pressures of the EU market. The main tasks for Latvia will be continued privatization and fiscal discipline.
The Nordic States banking group, Nordea, predicts that Latvia will experience significant growth in the near future. The country's pulp mill industry is cited as one of the key factors for this predicted growth. Nordea predicted growth in the GDP in the coming years are as follows: 5.5 percent for 2001, 6 percent for 2002, and 5.3 percent for 2003. One negative aspect mentioned in the report was the possibility of current account deficit expansion if the privatization process should slow. This has been a perceived risk because recent political support for the left-oriented Social Democrats that are threatening the incumbent coalition.
Latvia has no territories or colonies.
Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia. <http://www.csb.lv/ajaunumi.html>. Accessed July 2001.
De Bernardis, Petra Lantz. "Wealth and Poverty in Transition." UNDP: Estonia. <http://www.undp.ee/equity>. Accessed July 2001.
Embassy of Latvia. <http://www.latvia-usa.org/economy.html>. Accessed July 2001.
International Monetary Fund. Latvia: Selected Issues and Statistical Appendix. <http://www.imf.org>. Accessed July 2001.
Iwaskiw, W.R. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania: Country Studies. Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1996.
Latvian Development Agency. Latvia: The Meeting Point of Two Worlds. <http://www.lda.gov.lv>. Accessed July 2001.
Latvijas Banka. <http://www.bank.lv/englishindex.html>. Accessed July 2001.
"News from Latvia." Central Europe Review. <http://www.cereview.org/00/41/latvianews41.html>. Accessed July 2001.
U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2000. <http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html>. Accessed July 2001.
U.S. Department of State. FY 2001 Country Commercial Guide: Latvia. <http://www.state.gov/www/about_state/business/com_guides/2001/index.html>. Accessed July 2001.
Latvian Lat (Ls). One lat equals 100 santimis. There are coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 santimi and 1 and 2 lats, and bank notes of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 500 lats.
Wood and wood products, machinery and equipment, metals, textiles, foodstuffs.
Machinery and equipment, chemicals, fuels.
GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT:
US$9.8 billion (purchasing power parity, 1999 est.).
BALANCE OF TRADE:
Exports: US$1.9 billion (f.o.b., 1999). Imports: US$2.8 billion (f.o.b., 1998).
Carper, Mark. "Latvia." Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies. 2002. Encyclopedia.com. (May 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3410100213.html
Carper, Mark. "Latvia." Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies. 2002. Retrieved May 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3410100213.html
|Official Country Name:||Republic of Latvia|
|Language(s):||Lettish, Lithuanian, Russian|
|Number of Primary Schools:||1,056|
|Compulsory Schooling:||9 years|
|Public Expenditure on Education:||6.3%|
|Foreign Students in National Universities:||850|
|Educational Enrollment:||Primary: 139,925|
|Educational Enrollment Rate:||Primary: 96%|
|Student-Teacher Ratio:||Primary: 14:1|
|Female Enrollment Rate:||Primary: 93%|
History & Background
Since the restoration of independence in 1991, Latvia has had many difficult problems to solve, including those of consolidating a sovereign state, supporting democracy, and transitioning to a market economy. These problems triggered a decline in the economy, a growing unemployment rate, a sharp decrease in the population's purchasing power, and a number of social problems like crime. Geographically, Latvia is the central country of the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) bordering Russia and Belarus. Its area is 64,589 square kilometers (24,937 square miles).
The Republic of Latvia was founded on November 18, 1918. It has been continuously recognized as a state by other countries since 1920, despite its occupation by the Soviet Union (1940-1941, 1945-1991) and Nazi Germany (1941-1945). On August 21, 1991, Latvia declared the restoration of its independence.
Politically, Latvia is a democratic, parliamentary republic. Legislative power resides in a single chamber parliament—the Saeima, consisting of 100 deputies who elect a president. Latvia is a member of the United Nations, Council of Europe, World Trade Organization, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Council of the Baltic Sea States, and Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. Latvia also desires full membership in the European Union and NATO.
Economically, the most prospective production sectors are information technologies, electronics, mechanical engineering, chemical and pharmaceutical industries, wood processing, food processing, and textiles. The Latvian national currency is the lats (LVL). One lats consists of 100 santims.
Culturally, Latvia is ethnically mixed, with a population of 2,372,000 people (57.6 percent Latvian, 29.6 percent Russian, 4.1 percent Belarusian, 2.7 percent Ukrainian, 2.5 percent Polish, 1.4 percent Lithuanian, 0.4 percent Jewish, and 1.7 percent other nationalities). The largest religious denominations are Evangelic Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and Russian Orthodox. Latvian is the official state language.
Riga Polytechnic, founded in 1862, became the first higher education institution in Latvia. The University of Latvia was established on the basis of Riga Polytechnic in 1919 when Latvia became independent from Russia. Contemporary Latvia is still to a large extent resisting Russian influence; this resistance, along with a Western orientation, assists in shaping Latvian educational reforms.
Constitutional & Legal Foundations
In 1995, the Cabinet of Ministers adopted the Latvian Concept of Education as a strategic basis for educational development. This document outlined long-term policies, the direction of education reform, its legal framework, and a research model. According to the Concept, education determines the prospects of societal development and the place of a nation among other cultures.
With limited resources of raw materials and energy, Latvia must look for a competitive edge in the highly educated and qualified population and the intellectual capacity of an economy. The implementation of the Concept with all activities, procedures, terms, desired outcomes, and estimated costs is further described in the National Program of Education and Science. This long-term educational development program allocates a period of ten to fifteen years for a transition.
The Law of Education was adopted in 1991. It provides the main principles, goals, and features for reform in education. According to this law, Latvian residents have the right to an education. The state and the local governments guarantee this right, enabling every individual to acquire the highest possible education. The principal goal of education, as stated in the Latvian Concept of Education and the Law of Education, is to provide conditions for the development and perfection of one's spiritual, creative, physical, and professional abilities.
The main objectives of educational reform in Latvia are to replace centralism with autonomy, to ensure international recognition of Latvian diplomas, and to introduce a Western-type structure of degrees and qualifications. Latvia has introduced twelve years of education, free choice of subjects at the upper secondary school level, and the possibility of establishing private educational institutions at all levels.
The first step in this reform was to conform the Latvian educational system to international ones. With the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) indicators applied to Latvian schools, the system looks like this:
- First level Preschool education
- Primary education (grades 1-4); First level education
- Elementary education (grades 5-9); Second level education,first stage
- Secondary education (grades 10-12); Vocational education/industrial training; Secondary specialized education
- Higher education (tertiary/professional education) Bachelor's and Master's degree courses; Third level
In 1997, the Latvian educational system consisted of 1,147 schools with 384,642 pupils and nearly 47,000 teachers. The state guarantees free secondary (high school) education, and more than 90 percent of Latvian children attend state schools. The Latvian educational system is free, and nine years of education are compulsory.
Primary schools educate pupils from ages 6 or 7 to ages 10 or 11. Elementary schools enroll children from ages 6 to 15 and secondary schools enroll those from ages 6 to 18. Enrollment in preschools is voluntary. All children are registered and, when they reach the age of six, they are required to attend school. Boys and girls study together and are treated equally. Nearly 50 percent of the schools in Latvia teach minority children. If parents and children prefer, they can choose schools where teachers speak various minority languages. These ethnic minority schools or classes are state-financed, and courses in these schools are taught in Belarusian, Estonian, Hebrew, Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian. Latvian is replacing Russian as the language of instruction. In the 1997-1998 academic year, 72 percent of primary school pupils were taught in Latvian, 14 percent in Russian, and 12 percent in both. In 1997-1998 there were also six Polish schools, two Jewish schools, one Ukrainian, one Estonian, and one Lithuanian school. The academic year begins on September 1, or the first working day of September, and ends in June for secondary schools and July for higher education.
The majority of exams are oral. Universities, institutes, and some colleges have entrance exams with many candidates competing for available slots. After an individual has met established criteria and is enrolled as a student, all the exams occur only at the end of the course (semester). At the end of any school, the last exams determine the final grades. Latvia has a 10-point grading system in which 10 and 9 are rarely given (they denote knowledge and skills significantly higher than expected), 8 is excellent, 7 is good, 6 is almost good, 5 is fair, 4 is barely satisfactory (very low pass), 3 is unsatisfactory, and 2 and 1 are never used.
Approximately 90 percent of young people attend state schools, with only 10 percent in private schools. The number of private educational institutions increases every year. In 1996-1997, 39 private schools opened their doors for 2,271 pupils, including 14 preschools (314 pupils), 13 elementary schools (588 pupils), and 12 secondary schools (1,369 pupils). Two of the secondary private schools are secondary specialized schools, and 4 trade schools function as private schools.
Information technology is recognized as an absolute necessity in Latvian schools. However, in the 1997-1998 academic year, only 19 percent of schools had Internet connections, and the ratio was 39 students to 1 computer. On June 13, 1997, the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Latvia and the University of Latvia signed an agreement, "On the Latvian Education Information System," which contained goals for preparing students of primary, secondary schools, and universities for life and work in the information age. Since 1999, after extensive work, schools have become computerized and many are connected to the Internet. With access to electronic mail, database information searches, and libraries, schools and students now participate in various international communication and scientific projects.
Large-scale changes in the structure of education require an enormous effort for development. New curricula, new programs, and new classes require new textbooks and new publications. Unlike the Soviet educational system, the state does not produce or distribute audiovisual materials. Most schools use old and often outdated materials. Moreover, low school budgets make it difficult for schools to purchase teaching materials from private enterprises, and foreign products are too expensive for the municipalities to afford.
With the main goal of integrating Latvia into the European system, the Ministry of Education and Science must:
- compile a list of professions available in Latvia,
- develop laws on mutual recognition of diplomas and qualifications,
- encourage universities to adjust their teaching programs to the European Union (EU) requirements, and
- insure implementation of the law in educational programs.
The Ministry of Education and Science established a special division for integration into Europe and opened the Center for Academic Information that is incorporated into the EU network to coordinate the recognition of academic and professional education diplomas.
Preprimary & Primary Education
In the 1990s, access to preschool education was seriously limited. Many children were unable to enroll in preschools because of the economic crisis. State enterprises, local authorities, and private firms could no longer affordto support their preschools and were forced to close them. Unemployed parents, using childcare allowances, trained their children at home. In less populated areas, the public transportation system was inadequate for transporting children to preschools.
In 1996-1997, about 72,000 children attended 611 preschools. There were 5 private preschools with 202 children enrolled. Preschools also experienced a serious shortage of qualified teachers and support staff.
At the age of 6 or 7, children enter primary school. All schools, regardless of type, provide primary education for all pupils studying in grades 1 to 4. In the 1997-1998 academic year, approximately 100,000 children attended 638 primary schools. With a lack of inspection, control, suitable materials, funds, and curricula that reflect change, preschool and primary education has declined in efficiency and quality. The absence of roads, transportation, employment, and preschools puts children living in the rural areas at a major disadvantage. Often, after primary school, they must leave home to attend a gymnasium, or boarding school.
In the 1990s, the status of the teaching profession continued to deteriorate and preschools of Latvia experienced a serious lack of teachers and staff. Moreover, the centralized system of retraining teachers dissolved. Approximately 20 percent of Latvia's teachers do not have any relevant training, and many others are poorly prepared to deal with the complexity of pedagogical work. All of these factors have caused a decline in the quality of preschool education. Many of the best and most capable teachers leave teaching because of low salaries. In 1996 only about 45 percent of graduates from the pedagogical institutions sought employment in teaching.
More than 9,000 Latvian children suffer from developmental problems and various other disorders. These children (in addition to those having discipline problems) often become repeaters and dropouts. Latvia has 56 special schools and newly opened development centers for these children. Still, there is a lack of special education institutions for children with health, mental, and behavioral problems.
Latvian school names may appear strange to a foreigner, since they are named according to the highest level they teach: primary (1-4), elementary (1-9), secondary (1-12). Pupils attend the same local school, and the name indicates the level of education children can achieve in a particular school. In the 1997-1998 academic year, approximately 159,000 children (44.8 percent) studied at the elementary schools (1-9 grades). The next stage of education is secondary education, for pupils studying from grades 10 to 12. In 1996-1997, secondary schools offered education to 49,000 pupils (13.8 percent of pupils attending schools). Another branch of secondary education are the secondary specialized schools. In 1997-1998, approximately 19,000 children studied in 50 specialized schools. Two secondary specialized schools are private schools.
Finally, because of shortcomings in transportation and long traveling distances, the government provides boarding schools called gymnasiums. Rural gymnasiums have a smaller number of students, but the town gymnasiums are so full that students must study in two shifts.
Former Soviet-type schools had one curriculum for all schools across the union. Today, the curriculum has changed dramatically with new needs, subjects, and credit requirements influencing those changes. Pupils in the final grades in secondary schools can have electives and create their own curriculum.
Teachers control learning results by grading test papers and oral answers. At the end of the quarter (semester) grades are averaged. Exams, written or oral, are given at the end of the year. Examination procedures are also being restructured.
After completion of secondary school, a certificate/diploma is conferred. Those who graduate from vocational education institutions receive a diploma in vocational education or a diploma in secondary specialized education.
Teachers in secondary education schools must be graduates of the pedagogical university or have a Master's degree. In addition to general courses in philosophy, language, and literature, they study education-related courses, such as psychology, history of education, and general educational methodology. They also study the methodology of their specialization subject, such as the teaching of math or a foreign language.
School age children who fail to pass the required exams are repeaters. Those who fail to attend the school are dropouts. According to estimates for school year 1996-1997, there were about 5,000 children in Latvia who did not attend school. Additionally, the number of under-age criminal offenders convicted by the court was growing rapidly.
Vocational education is provided by secondary specialized institutions that may belong to the state or local government, or they may be privately controlled. The Ministry of Education and Science administers 58 vocational institutions; the Ministry of Agriculture, 38; the Ministry of Welfare, 9; and the Ministry of Culture, 15.
Vocational education can be acquired at trade elementary, secondary, or grammar schools. More than 26,000 students receive training in 78 trade schools. Only 4 of these schools are private, while the others are state-funded. Education programs at this level are designed for training skilled workers. The study period ranges from 1 to 4 years, depending on the field of education and the curriculum. Only graduates of trade grammar schools may proceed to higher education because their education program also includes general secondary education curriculum. Graduates of other trade schools who want to proceed to higher education must study a general secondary education curriculum. Approximately 40 percent of elementary school graduates and about 20 percent of secondary school graduates continue their studies at vocational educational establishments. In the 1995-1996 academic year, about 25,000 students studied at vocational education institutions.
Secondary specialized education can be pursued in technical secondary schools, polytechnics, and other educational institutions, including colleges that are authorized to educate and train such specialists. Secondary specialized education programs provide both skills and knowledge in a specific trade as well as in organizing and managing work. Elementary school graduates study from 4 to 5 years in these specialized programs, and secondary school graduates study from 2 to 3 years. These education programs include vocational education and the general secondary education program. Upon completing a secondary specialized program, graduates may apply to an institute of higher education.
Nonformal education in fine arts, performance, sewing, culinary arts, and other skills is provided at schools and clubs. Teachers, parents, or volunteers are normally the leaders of informal groups. Physical education teachers supervise all athletic extra-curricular activities to prepare the school teams for competitions at region, city, and even republic levels.
Since February 14, 1992, the Latvian Academy of Sciences (LAS), has functioned as an association of scientists. In 1994, all former academic institutes were transferred to the formal supervision of the Ministry of Education and Science. LAS is the highest educational authority. In addition to its weight in political decisions, about 50 percent of LAS' full members are professors of Latvia's higher educational institutions.
In 1997-1998, higher education (third level education) was offered at 33 institutions (15 of them private) with a total enrollment of 64,000 students. There are four higher education institutions called Academies, while other educational institutions are called schools and colleges. The higher education programs consist of under-graduate and graduate studies. The first stage, which normally takes 4 years, leads to a Bakalaurs (Bachelor's) diploma. The next stage leads to the Magistrs (Master's) degree that normally takes one and a half to two years. Next step leads to a Doktors (Ph.D. equivalent) degree. The last and the highest educational degree is Habilitets Doktors (Doctor of Sciences), which is required for full professorship. The latter is approximately equal to postdoctoral level in the United States with several distinctive features that differentiate it. This degree is highly honored and influential, and the government sets exceptionally high requirements on those pursuing it. In order to apply for this level degree and/or to enter doctorantura, the candidate must:
- become a distinguished researcher in the field,
- provide a very broad generalization for the field of study,
- patent and implement an important (revolutionary, breakthrough) invention, or
- discover (establish) a new field of research or new science.
Higher education institutions (as well as any other schools in Latvia) can be public, that is, state-funded, or private. The Ministry of Education and Science and other ministries that control educational institutions, including vocational institutions, establish the admission and enrollment procedures, number of attendees, and general admission regulations. Qualifications for admission may vary between different institutions and even between different divisions at the same institution. Certain trades and specialties may have a minimum age requirement and some specific health requirements.
Latvian universities and institutes are divided into divisions according to the subject they teach. Each institution of higher education is headed by a rector, vice-rector, and further administered by the division deans. Enrollment in a university is based on the results of very competitive entrance exams that take place once a year. Teaching styles and techniques may differ greatly. The University of Latvia has a total enrollment of 22,000 students in 68 study programs. The University operates on the semester basis and offers academic programs leading to a four-year Bachelor's degree. At least 50 percent of the subjects must be in the major field of study, 30 to 40 percent in the minor field of study, and the rest taken as electives.
The system of professional education and training for specialists has also declined as a result of economic difficulties and the elimination of former Soviet establishments. Financial constraints reduced the minimum number of conferences and symposia where teachers could exchange their experiences, and professional journals and magazines are often too expensive to order. This all predetermines the decline of a professional training system not only in Latvia, but also in the other Newly Independent States (NIS).
Many years of experience and publications in major scientific journals are required at the Doctor of Sciences level, which has no formal classes or exams. The dissertation (twice as large as the Ph.D. dissertation) is formally and publicly defended in the presence of the scientific council with 10 to 20 specialists at the Doctor of Sciences level. After two to three years of doktorantura, the scholar earns the Doctor of Sciences degree conferred by the Cabinet of Ministers. This Soviet system-based degree is still available in Latvia, and it is required to obtain full professorship. Moreover, with few exceptions, all top administrators (rectors of the universities and colleges, deans of schools, and heads of departments) have the Doctor of Sciences degree. Finally, in order to become a full member of the Academy of Science or the Latvian Council of Science, this degree is a must.
The University of Latvia (as well as some other institutions) invites foreign students to study in Latvia and offers classes for foreigners within the International Students Exchange Program (ISEP) in the Baltic/Latvian Studies Program, which is taught in English. This program offers Latvian literature, anthropology/cultural studies focusing on Latvia, and the history and ecology of Latvia/Baltic region. It also includes a Latvian language course.
Libraries are numerous in Latvia. The Latvian Academic Library is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, founded in 1524 as Bibliotheca Rigensis. The Law Library of the Riga Graduate School of Law is a modern, well-equipped information center of legal sciences with an electronic catalogue, databases, and legal information resources. Goethe Institute, an independent organization representing German culture and language in Latvia, has more than 8,000 items in the library of the institute. One more foreign library is the Library of the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga. It contains the latest publications in business and economics and a weekly, updated electronic catalogue. Many university libraries are equipped with modern technology and have Internet connections.
The highest authority in education in Latvia is the Ministry of Education and Science. It employs about 230 specialists working in several departments, including General Education, Education Strategy, Vocational Education, and centers like the Center of Education Curriculum and Examination, the Center for the Protection of Children's Rights, and the Teacher Education Support Center.
In 1999, 66 million lats (US$1 = 0.6 lats), or about 5.4 percent of the country's budget, was allocated to education, the fifth biggest budget in Latvia. This budget is distributed to local authorities and administrative units that supervise construction/reconstruction of school buildings, the acquisition of equipment, and the publishing of educational materials. The Latvian government regularly lowers the funding for research: from 0.275 percent of the GDP in 1995 to 0.2 percent of the GDP in 2000.
Research is viewed as an essential part of every higher education institution and professorial life. Educational research directed by Habilitets Doktors (Doctor of Pedagogical Sciences) is conducted in numerous educational and other universities by Doktors (Ph.D. in Education, Educational Doctor-Candidate of Pedagogical Sciences). Research activities are funded through the university budgets, grants from abroad, and international foundations.
Nonformal education includes adult education, open universities, and distance education (through television, radio, and the Internet). The Ministry of Education and Science includes the Department of Continuing Education (DCE). The DCE consists of two divisions: the Division of Educational Workers (DEW) and the Division of Adult Education (DAE), which organizes the education and continuing education of teachers and adults.
The DAE is responsible for the legal basis for adult education. It organizes programs and updates educational materials, develops a network of centers, promotes the exchange and spread of information and information technologies, develops the distance education system, and coordinates international cooperation in adult education. During 1995-1996 more than 25 regional adult education centers were established in Latvia.
The teaching profession is not highly respected and has limited authority because the income of teachers is below average. In order to survive and help their families, many teachers seek other career opportunities.
The Division of Educational Workers (DEW) coordinates the education and continuing education of teachers. It creates regulations and documents, organizes the certification of teachers and head teachers, analyzes the continuing professional development needs depending on the demands of the market, as well as composes the state order to universities regarding teacher training. Several private companies offer commercial programs for teachers. Due to lack of funds, however, teachers mainly depend on the state budget and courses organized with state financing.
In 1995 the average wage rate of a preschool teacher was approximately 78.4 percent of the country's average salary and 90.9 percent of the average teacher wage rate in general education.
Latvia is on a path back to Europe; Latvia aims for a quick integration with the Western society. Certainly, the absence of central funding severely hurt educational establishments. The educational system in Latvia is experiencing numerous difficulties that influence the life of pupils, students, teachers, and professors. The quality of education is lower than it was, and this situation, while worsening individual lives, will echo in the coming years causing growth in unemployment, lower revenues, and a rise in crime. Nonetheless, national and ethnic liberation holds the promise that in 10 to 15 years, Latvia, a recognized and notable member of European society, will achieve its goals, and its citizens will succeed in their goals for personal development. With the idea of reintegration with Europe in mind, Latvia created The European Integration Council (EIC). Education is considered a major part of that integration process.
Since 1991, Latvia has participated in international educational projects organized by the Council of Europe, the Educational Committee Council of Europe: Europe at School (since 1995), the European Center for Modern Languages (since 1995), and the Education for European Citizenship (since 1997). Latvia also has been encouraging learning and teaching about the history of the Europe in twentieth century, in-service training programs for teachers, and the "CDCC Teachers Bursaries Scheme" (1996). In addition to language and cultural programs, there are technological and communication projects.
The main issues and problems the Latvian system of education faces are material in nature. In order to function successfully in the future, the system needs monetary assistance. Additionally, the educational system of Latvia is still fighting against Soviet influence; Latvia must reorient its citizens from Soviet ideology to free market ideology.
Another problem is the transition to the Latvian language as a state language. The need for language training and teaching is massive: textbooks, classes, schools, and faster methodologies of teaching are needed. The low level of teacher training is another significant problem. National standards for training and assessing teachers must be adopted to create a nationwide system of assessment and certification for newly trained teachers.
On the way to integration with Europe, Latvia must coordinate its standards, statistical data, and understanding of European education, which requires renaming and retraining. There has been a clear decline in the education figures of the 1990s, and these figures must be converted to the accepted European standard.
Finally, serious reforms need allies. Latvian educators need methods, research, and successes to help future generations flourish. This demonstrates to perspective investors and the Western society that Latvia and its educators are on the right path—the path to the future where they can achieve the goals set forward by the government and Latvian visionaries.
Aleinikov, Andrei G. "First Class Science in the Third World Environment: the Tragedy of Russians." The Third World: On the Brink of the Twenty-First Century. 14th Annual Meeting Association of Third World Studies, October 1996.
——. "Theoretical Foundations of Creative Linguistics." Doctor of Sciences Dissertation, Moscow Military University, 1992.
Bollag, Burton. "For Educators in the Baltic, Overcoming Soviet Legacy Is Harder than Expected." Chronicle of Higher Education 38/10 (October 1991): A40-42.
——. "Baltic Universities Struggle to Modernize their Programs." Chronicle of Higher Education 43/39 (June 1997): A39-40.
——. "Baltic Nations Move to End Soviet-era Separation of Research and Education." Chronicle of Higher Education 43/39 (June 1997): A40.
Dakin, Mary I. Nationalism and Democratization: The Case of Ethnic Russians in Newly Independent Latvia. Washington, DC: National Council for Soviet and East European Research, 1992.
Desruisseaux, P. "Freedom for the Baltics Prompts a Flurry of Academic Contacts." Chronicle of Higher Education 38/12 (November 1991): A43-44.
Dreifelds, Juris. Latvia in Transition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Education in Latvia. Academic Information Centre—Latvia ENIC/NARIC, 1997.
Hennig, Detlef. "Foreign-Language Teaching in the Baltic Republics in the Past and Present." European Education 26/3 (Fall 1994): 49-58.
Karklins, Rasma. Ethnopolitics and Transition to Democracy: The Collapse of the USSR and Latvia. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1994.
Kaza, Juris. "Retired Canadian Professor Takes Latvia's Helmet." Christian Science Monitor 91/154 (July 1999): 7.
"Latvia." ISEP Institutions Web site, 11 April 2001. Available from http://www.isep.org/nus/latvia/.
"Latvia." The Europa World Year Book. London: Europa Publications Limited, 2000.
"Latvia University." Latvijas Universitate Web site, 11 April 2001. Available from http://www.lu.lv.
"Latvian Council of Science." Latvian Council of Science Web site, 11 April 2001. Available from http://www.lu.lv.
Law on Higher Education Establishments. Riga: Latvian Parliament, 1995.
Lieven, Anatol. The Baltic Revolution: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the Path to Independence. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.
Massey, A.T. "International Notes: Latvia Curbs Use of Russian for Instruction." Chronicle of Higher Education 37/44 (July 1991): A30.
"Nations of the World: Latvia." World Almanac & Book of Facts 2001, 1999.
Smith, Gragam. The Baltic States: the National Self-determination of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994.
Titma, M. K. Winners and Losers in the Post-communist Transition: New Evidence from Latvia. Washington, DC: National Council for Eurasian and East European Research, 1999.
West, Richard, and Johanna Crighton. "Examination Reform in Central and Eastern Europe." Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice 6/2 (July 1999): 271-290.
—Andrei G. Aleinikov
Aleinikov, Andrei G.. "Latvia." World Education Encyclopedia. 2001. Encyclopedia.com. (May 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3409700126.html
Aleinikov, Andrei G.. "Latvia." World Education Encyclopedia. 2001. Retrieved May 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3409700126.html
|Official Country Name:||Republic of Latvia|
|Region (Map name):||Europe|
|Language(s):||Latvian or Lettish, Luithuanian, Russian|
|Area:||64,589 sq km|
|GDP:||7,150 (US$ millions)|
|Number of Daily Newspapers:||21|
|Circulation per 1,000:||165|
|Number of Nondaily Newspapers:||59|
|Circulation per 1,000:||305|
|Total Newspaper Ad Receipts:||11.3 (Lats millions)|
|As % of All Ad Expenditures:||37.20|
|Number of Television Stations:||44|
|Number of Television Sets:||1,220,000|
|Television Sets per 1,000:||511.5|
|Number of Cable Subscribers:||184,080|
|Cable Subscribers per 1,000:||76.7|
|Number of Satellite Subscribers:||90,000|
|Satellite Subscribers per 1,000:||37.7|
|Number of Radio Stations:||65|
|Number of Radio Receivers:||1,760,000|
|Radio Receivers per 1,000:||737.9|
|Number of Individuals with Computers:||340,000|
|Computers per 1,000:||142.5|
|Number of Individuals with Internet Access:||150,000|
|Internet Access per 1,000:||62.9|
Background & General Characteristics
Most newspapers in Latvia are less than a decade old, although the first newspaper in Latvian appeared in 1822. Since becoming an independent country, Latvian media enjoys greater freedom than ever before in its history. The government generally respects freedom of speech and expression. As Latvia works to transform its economic and political systems, the major barriers to a free society and independent media are largely of a financial nature. Although newspaper circulation figures are typically small in Latvia, the industry can be characterized as an active one that enjoys a large measure of constitutionally guaranteed freedom. Most press activity occurs in the more populous western region of the country, particularly in the capital of Riga.
The Latvian newspaper market has only existed in its present state for the last decade, since independence in 1991. Until the end of the Soviet period, it was not possible to speak of free, democratic media in Latvia. Beginning in 1985, Gorbachev's policy of glasnost gave newspaper and magazine editors in Latvia and other republics of the Soviet Union some opportunities to publish information on a wider range of formerly proscribed subjects, including crime, illegal drugs, occupational injuries, and environmental issues. An article published in October 1986 in the Latvian literary journal Literatura un Maksla, discussing the environmental impact of a new hydroelectric station that was to be built on the Daugava River, helped to arouse so much public opposition that a decision was made by the Soviet government in 1987 to abandon the project. Subsequently, after the pivotal June 1988 plenum of the Latvian Writers Union, the speeches delivered at this plenum denouncing the Soviet Latvian status quo and demanding greater autonomy for the Latvian republic received nationwide attention when they were published in four successive issues of Literatura un Maksla.
After a brief period of independence between the two World Wars, Latvia was annexed by the USSR in 1940. It reestablished its independence in 1991 following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Although the last Russian troops left in 1994, the status of the Russian minority (some 30 percent of the population) remains of concern to Moscow. Latvia continues to revamp its economy for eventual integration into various Western European political and economic institutions.
Latvian is the official language, however, Russian is spoken by a large number of individuals. The main ethnic groups are Latvian, 56.5 percent; Russian, 30.4 percent; Belarusian, 4.3 percent; Ukrainian, 2.8 percent; Polish, 2.6 percent; and others, 3.4 percent. Ethnic tensions between the non-Slavic majority and the large Russian minority are clearly reflected in the media. The conflict between the two languages stems from more than 50 years of ethnic tension between the republic's Russian and Latvian populations. In 1940, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin moved thousands of Russians into Latvia to gain ethnic control over the region. Although ethnic Latvians made up more than 75 percent of the population in 1939, by 1990 Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians comprised more than 44 percent of the country's population.
Latvia is located in Eastern Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea, between Estonia and Lithuania. On the east it borders Belarus and Russia. The country is slightly larger than West Virginia, and has a population of 2.4 million. Riga is the capital and by far largest city with approximately 795,000 residents.
In 1997 Latvia was the home of 229 newspapers, with total newspaper circulation close to three million. Seventy-two of the papers were published at least three times a week, though only a few of these claimed high circulation. There are no Sunday papers in Latvia. On Saturday a weekend edition is published. Papers published six days a week represent about 60 percent of total daily newspaper circulation. Diena, which is published six times weekly, is the largest daily newspaper in Latvia. In 1999 it had 21.1 percent of Latvia's readership. Diena is an independent newspaper based in Riga with over 352,000 readers, printing approximately 73,000 papers daily. In 1999, Diena began producing a Russian-language spin-off, with content drawn from its own pages. In comparison to Latvian newspapers, it is believed that Russian language publications tend to propagandize to a greater extent. While Diena began in 1990 as a government-funded effort to provide objective information to the public, it is now an independent newspaper that has consistently upped the level of competition in the Latvian market. Rather than rely on the Latvian postal service to deliver newspapers around Riga, it developed it own delivery system.
The second largest newspaper in 1999 was Lauku Avîze with 19.2 percent of the readership and slightly over 72,000 copies circulated. Unlike Diena, Lauku Avîze is only printed three times a week on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Founded in 1988, it is published in Riga but is directed toward predominantly rural readers. It is a combination of political news coverage and commentary as well as advice about agricultural and horticultural activities. After these two papers, news circulation figures drop off significantly. The third largest paper is Panorama Latvil with 6.2 percent of the readership in Latvia. Panorama Latvil, established in 1991, is a Russian daily with a readership of 125,000 and a circulation of 24,000. Cas is another Russian paper with a circulation of about 20,000 copies.
There are three national evening newspapers: Rigas Balss (35,000 copies in Latvian and Russian), Vakara Zinas (13,000 copies in Latvian), and Spogulis (12,000 copies in Latvian). These papers are published six days a week, representing about 20 percent of total daily newspaper circulation. The major regional papers published at least three times a week are: Kurzemes Vards (11,000 copies in Latvian), Zemgales Zinas (10,000 copies in Latvian), and Liesma (9,000 copies in Latvian). The regional papers comprise about 30 percent of the daily audience. In addition to Latvian and Russian newspapers, the Baltic Times is an English language weekly published in Riga.
Most newspapers and magazines in Latvia are privately owned. All major cities publish their own newspapers. There are 14 national and 10 regional dailies. Average circulation per issue for all dailies is 284,000 copies; non-dailies total 509,000 copies. Many of the small towns and rural areas have newspapers that are published between three and six times weekly with circulations between 5 and 25 thousand. Private companies, such as Latvijas Presses Apvieniba, and the joint stock company Diena, control the newspaper distribution system. The state publishes the weekly Likuma Varda and Latvijas Vestnesis, which appear four times a week.
The magazine market is very fragmented. The most popular are women's magazines, while traditional magazine circulation has declined. The specialized magazine sector is not well developed in Latvia. The biggest publishers are Izdevnieciba Santa and Izdevnieciba Baltika, which control 60 percent of the magazine market.
The Latvian newspaper audience is generally well educated and values freedom of expression and a responsible press. With the quickened pace of change in the last decade stemming from the country's move from a Soviet dependency to a free market economy, the desire for news has increased. Between 1990 and 1995, circulation growth was 26 percent, among the highest rate of growth for recorded nations. In Riga, which contains almost 32 percent of Latvia's 2.34 million residents, three Latvian-language morning dailies, two afternoon dailies and a host of specialty publications compete for the attention of readers. Illiteracy is very low in Latvia, in part because all children between 6 and 16 must attend school, and many choose technical and higher education.
Journalists in Latvia are struggling to cast off a half century of Soviet coercion and censorship. Understandably journalism is still in its infancy, with a mixed result. The press corps is estimated to be among the world's youngest and perhaps most inexperienced in the three Baltic nations of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. The press suffers from too few journalists and reporters who are able to put information in context. There have been some reported instances in which owners and editors took payoffs for favorable stories. Tough investigative reporting, which was forbidden under the Soviets, is still difficult to find in Latvian papers.
Economic difficulties greatly affect media outlets in Latvia. For example, the 1995 banking crisis, in which a number of the country's banks went bankrupt, directly affected the financial viability of many media outlets and sharply diminished the advertising market. In 1996, 43 percent of media advertising was in television, followed by newspapers at 35 percent, radio at six percent, magazines at four percent, and outdoor venues and other categories comprising the remaining 10 percent. Although new publications continue to appear, economic difficulties have forced others to close.
Latvia's major industries are buses, vans, street and railroad cars, synthetic fibers, agricultural machinery, fertilizers, washing machines, radios, electronics, pharmaceuticals, processed foods, and textiles.
In the early 1990s, as the transition to a market-oriented economy began and competition intensified, both the circulation and the content of newspapers and magazines changed. Rising production costs caused subscription rates and newsstand prices to increase, and sales declined steadily. Nevertheless, in 1995 Latvia had a daily newspaper circulation rate of 1,377 per 1,000 people, compared with 524 per 1,000 people in Finland, 402 per 1,000 people in Germany, and 250 per 1,000 people in the United States. Though more than 200 newspapers and 180 magazines were in circulation in the late 1990s, the number of newspapers and magazines declined.
The top publishing company is AS Diena, which publishes Diena and Spogulis, as well as five regional newspapers. It is a joint stock company in which 49 percent belongs to Swedish shareholders the Bonnier Group, and 51 percent belongs to local private shareholders. The company has its own printing plant and independent home delivery distribution system in Riga and newsstand retail chain. The national distribution is carried out by the national post office.
The second largest publishing company is AS Preses Nams (publishing Neatkariga RA, Rigas Balss, and Vakara Zinas). It is also a joint stock company. One hundred percent of the company belongs to local private shareholders. The company was established in 1998 through the privatization process of the largest state owned printing plant, which now belongs to the company. This group does not have its own distribution system.
There are no cases of cross ownership. In Latvia there are no government subsidies in the newspaper market, national or local. There are only indirect benefits like 0 percent value added tax (VAT) for newspaper sales, though advertising income is VAT applicable.
The Latvian Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press. According to Article 100, "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to freely receive, keep and distribute information and to express their views. Censorship is prohibited." The government generally respects this right in practice. The 1990 Press Law prohibits censorship of the press or other mass media. But the Law on the Media, revised in October 1998, contains a number of restrictive provisions regulating the content and language of broadcasts. This law states that no less than 51 percent of television broadcasts must be of European origin, of which 40 percent should be in the Latvian language. These provisions, however, are not always implemented.
The Law on Press and other Mass Media prohibits publishing of information that belittles honor and dignity of natural and legal persons and contains libel. A new criminal law allows penalties of up to three years' imprisonment for libel and incitement of racial hatred. Penalties for libel and for incitement to ethnic violence, while intended to reduce ethnic tensions, can have a chilling effect on journalists.
Latvia's Saeima (parliament) ratified the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms on June 4, 1997.
There were several occasions when officials have brought journalists and media organizations to court for libel. In 1998, the former Minister of Economy, Laimonis Strujevics, sued the daily newspaper Diena for alleged defamation. The newspaper had sharply criticized particular decisions of the minister and claimed that, through these decisions, he favored certain economic groups to the detriment of the state's financial interests. The newspaper lost the case in the lower court, but at the beginning of 2002 was appealing the ruling. In general the newspapers serve as watchdogs over government. One problem is that there is no Freedom of Information law to help reporters with access to official documents.
Journalists may legally conceal their sources, but in case of trials, they may be subject to imprisonment if they refuse to disclose such information. Since 1951, a law has permitted editors and publishers to refuse to tell where they received information. Cases of editors being imprisoned for failing to reveal their sources at trials are very rare.
Latvia is a parliamentary democracy. The key indicators of a democratic state have been put in place after 50 years of Soviet domination. One of the key elements of a working democracy is a free press. The media in Latvia are owned by different sources and cover a broad spectrum of opinion and support a wide range of philosophies.
All mass media are subject to preliminary registration at the Ministry of Justice as provided by the Law on Press and other Mass Media. Activities of electronic mass media are subject to licensing. Newspapers do not receive state subsidies. National radio and television, on the other hand, receives a state subsidy equal to 80 percent of its annual budget. The fact that there is no support from government to newspapers has created a significant amount of competition. This competition may act as a driving force to improve, but also forces newspapers to rely more and more on entertainment at the expense of quality journalism.
In general the media is editorially independent and the media's newsgathering function is not affected by government or private owners. Attempts by organized crime to receive special treatment in publications have been publicized in spite of potential threats to personal safety. On a few occasions this has not been the case. When an influential economic group in the port city of Ventspils purchased a media group including the Preses Nams publishing house and several daily newspapers, the political and economic interests of the owners apparently affected news coverage. This situation may produce self-censorship.
Attitude toward Foreign Media
Foreign correspondents have free access to Latvian affairs. However, foreign investment may not exceed 20 percent of the capital in electronic media organizations. A 1994 city ordinance prohibits the sale of ultra-nationalist Russian-language newspapers in Riga.
There are several partnerships between Scandinavian and Baltic countries, including Latvian financial interests. The Baltic News Service (BSN) produces between 500 and 700 news items daily in five languages, including Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Russian, and English. BSN is owned by the leading Finnish and Swedish dailies Kauppalehti and Dagens Industri as well as the Direkt news agency of Sweden and Bridge Telerate of the United States. BSN was founded by a group of Baltic students in Moscow in April 1990 at the height of the Baltic states' struggle for freedom to bring news direct from the three countries to Moscow-based foreign correspondents.
The only press and journalists' organization in Latvia media is the Latvian Journalists Union and Latvian Press Publishers Associations. The union has 500 registered members, 350 of which are considered active members. Women make up approximately 50 percent of the membership of the Journalists Union.
Latvian Radio and Latvian Television are non-profit state enterprises with limited liability. Licenses for broadcasting activities are issued by the National Council of Radio and Television. In the broadcasting sector, the regulation of activities of all radio and TV stations in Latvia, public and private, is within the competence of the National Council of Radio and Television. The Council consists of nine members who are appointed by the Saeima.
Broadcasting is the primary source of information for most Latvians. The country has two state-owned television networks, LTV-1 and LTV-2, and nine major privately owned stations. The private Latvian Independent Television has almost twice as many viewers as LTV-1, its nearest competitor. Satellite television enjoys approximately 10 percent of the total Latvian viewership each week and there are numerous independently owned cable channels.
A large number of independent radio outlets broadcast in both Russian and Latvian. Approximately 10 privately owned radio stations operate in Riga. The major public radio stations are Latvijas Radio 1, with the greatest number of listeners each week; Latvijas Radio 2; and Latvijas Radio 3.
In an effort to improve its quality and ability to compete, Latvian television has introduced a method of budget allocation based partly on a system used at the British Broadcasting Corporation. Managers hope that staff members will respond with greater motivation and creativity.
Electronic News Media
The government does not restrict access to the Internet. Even as computer use and Internet usage increases, online journalism for many newspapers seems only an afterthought. Except for the largest dailies, newspapers in Latvia have been slow to embrace the Internet as a vehicle for communicating with readers. This may improve as the percentage of the population connected to the Internet increases.
Education & TRAINING
Latvian universities have accredited journalism and mass media programs. In addition, the Nordic Journalist Center (NJC) has trained close to 4,500 Russian and Baltic journalists between January 1992 and January 2002 since the demise of the Soviet Union. NJC specialists estimated that activities in the Baltics will soon no longer be necessary. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will be able to undertake the basic and further education of journalists without foreign assistance.
Since the late 1980s when the first independent newspapers appeared, the Latvian press has enjoyed a freer press than at any time in its history. According to Freedom House's annual Survey of Press Freedom, Latvia was rated "Free" in 1991, "Partly Free" in 1992 and 1993, and "Free" in 1994 through 1999. In general, the government has respected freedom of speech and the press. Newspapers published in both Latvian and Russian feature a wide range of criticism and political viewpoints.
By 2000, two major publishing companies owned about 65 percent of the newspaper market. With respect to electronic media the main tendency is towards the acquisition of Latvian broadcasting companies by foreign investors. Scandinavian media groups are taking the lead in this area.
On the whole, the Latvian press appears to have a bright future. The problem of economic viability will continue to be an issue in the twenty-first century. Investigative and more professional reporting will also be likely as the Latvian universities train a new generation of journalists, and journalists gain experience and a firmer understanding of a free and democratic press.
- 1990: Law on Press and other Mass Media passed by parliament, which prohibits censorship of the press or other mass media.
- 1992: Code of Journalism Ethics adopted by Latvian Union of Journalists, presenting media ethics for journalism students and teachers as well as scholars and practitioners.
- 1995: Law on Radio and Television passed by parliament, which requires that no more than 30 percent of private broadcasts may be in languages other than Latvian; in prime time, 40 percent of television broadcasts must be of Latvian and 80 percent of European origin. Moreover, foreign investment may not exceed 20 percent of the capital in electronic media organizations.
- 1997: Ratification of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which includes freedom of expression, and the right to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.
Dreifelds, Juris. Latvia in Transition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
European Codes of Journalism Ethics. Latvia. Adopted at the Conference of the Latvian Union of Journalists on 28 April 1992. Available from www.uta.fi/ethicnet/latvia.html.
European Journalism Center. "The Latvian Media Landscape," 2000. Available from www.ejc.nl/jr/emland/latvia.html.
Garneau, George. "Circulation woes reach beyond U.S." Editor and Publisher. 128 (June 17, 1995): 20-22.
Hickey, Neil. "A Young Press Corps." Columbia Journalism Review. 38 (May 1999): 18-19.
Jarvis, Howard. "Latvia." World Press Freedom Review, 2001. Available from www.freemedia.at/wpfr/latvia.htm.
Karatnycky, Adrian, Alexander Motyl, and Aili Piano. "Nations in Transit 1999-2000: Civil Society, Democracy, and Markets in East Central Europe and Newly Independent States." Freedom House. March 10, 2001. Available from www.freedomhouse.org/research/nitransit/2000/latvia/latvia.htm.
Kerwin, Marie. "Goss press salvaged for Latvia: Newspaper As Bureau's Uldis Grava leads drive to have Indianapolis Newspapers' 1958 Press dismantled and shipped abroad." Editor and Publisher. 125 (January 18, 1992): 16.
Kruminya, Mara. "Economic Reform at Latvian TV: Motivation Is the Key to Quality," Baltic Media Center. Update No. 21. January 1997. Available from www.dkweb.com/bmc/update21/motivati.htm.
"Latvia: County Profile". British Broadcasting Corporation News. March 8, 2002. Available from news2.thdo.bbc.co.uk.
"Latvia—A Country Study". Federal Research Division. Library of Congress, 2000. Available from lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/lvtoc.html.
"Latvia: Press Overview." International Journalists' Network. International Center for Journalists, 2000. Available from www.ijnet.org/Profile/CEENIS/Latvia/media.html.
Mack, Silvija Brizga. "My Sojourn in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia: A Knight International Press Fellowship Report." International Center for Journalists. Washington, D.C., June 15, 1997.
Mass Media Law and Practice (Baltic Edition). "Twenty-two Categories on Mass Media Regulation in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia." 6 (July 1998).
Straumans, Andris. "Latvian Newspapers vie for Web Readers." Latvians Online. June 4, 2001. Available from latviansonline.com//features/feature-prese.shtml.
Sulmane, Ilze. "Ethnic and Political Stereotypes in Latvian and Russian Language Press in Latvia." 15th Nordic Conference on Media and Communication Research. Reykjavik, Iceland, August 11-13, 2001.
UNESCO. "Cultural Activities: Newspapers, Books and Libraries," 1995. Available from www.unesco.org/culture/worldreport/html_eng/table1.htm.
Carol L. Schmid
Schmid, Carol L.. "Latvia." World Press Encyclopedia. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. (May 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3409900122.html
Schmid, Carol L.. "Latvia." World Press Encyclopedia. 2003. Retrieved May 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3409900122.html
ETHNOMYMS: Latvieši, Latvji, Letten, Letts
Identification. Latvians are one of two Baltic ethnolinguistic groups (the other is Lithuanians). Their name for their country is "Latvija" or "Latvijas Republika." Latvians call themselves "Latvieši" or "Latvji."
Location. Latvia spans an area of 64,600 square kilometers and is located between 55°40′23′' and 58°40′23′' N and 20°587′' and 28° 1430" E. The country is more than twice as long between the eastern border and western seashore (450 kilometers) as it is from the northern to the southern border (210 kilometers). On the west and northwest, the country is bounded by the Baltic Sea. On the north, east of the Gulf of Riga, is Estonia. Russia is to the east of Latvia, Belarus to the southeast, and Lithuania to the south. Latvia is located in the central part of the Baltic Sheet, a geological formation underlying Scandinavia and the Russian plain. The terrain is characterized by gently rolling hills. The mean elevation is 89 meters above sea level; 75 percent of the countryside is lower than 120 meters above sea level. The highest hill is Gaizinš, 312 meters.
Latvia has 777 rivers longer than 10 kilometers. Its greatest river, Daugava (Düna), is 1,020 kilometers long, but only 357 kilometers of it flows through the country. Most rivers freeze for two to three-and-a-half months during an average winter. Most of the major rivers flow northward, and floods during the spring thaw are common. There are 2,500 lakes larger than 5 hectares, covering about 1.6 percent of the country's surface. Of these, 16 are greater than 10 square kilometers and represent approximately half of the area covered by lakes. Latvia is located in the turf-podzol soil area.
Climate. The climate is influenced by the Atlantic's Gulf Stream, the Baltic Sea, and the country's latitude. In December, the sun rises 9° to 10° above the horizon, and days are six to seven hours long. In June, the sun rises to 55° and days are seventeen to eighteen hours long. There are four seasons—fall (September to mid-December), winter (mid-December to mid-March), spring (mid-March to the end of May), and summer (June to the end of August). The annual growing season is 200 days, but only July and August are completely frost-free. The climate is warmer, moister, and the growing season 10 days longer in the west than in the east. Eastern Latvia has twice as many days with snow as the western part, 130 and 65 days respectively. The highest temperature recorded is 36° C; the lowest is —42.2° C. January temperatures average between —6.6° C in the east and —2.8° C in the west. July temperatures average between 16.7° C in the west and 17.6° C in the east. Annual precipitation averages between 60 and 80 centimeters, with 20 percent occurring as snow. Precipitation is minimal in February and maximal in August. Because of the predominantly cloudy weather, the country receives only 37 percent of possible sunshine.
Demography. Worldwide there are 1,620,000 Latvians. Of these, 1,388,000 live in Latvia, and some 232,000 reside outside of the country. The largest concentrations of Latvians abroad are in the United States (86,000), the former Soviet Union (71,000), the ten West European countries (30,000), Australia (25,000), and Canada (20,000). Latvians comprise only 52 percent of their country's 2,680,000 population. The largest ethnic minority is the Great Russians (34 percent of the total population). Other minorities (Belarussians, Ukrainians, Poles, Lithuanians, etc.) together constitute H percent of the total. Latvians predominate in rural areas (71.5 percent of rural inhabitants) but account for only 44 percent of the urban population. Latvians make up only 36.5 percent (332,000) of Riga's population; the Great Russians constitute the largest ethnic group in the city (431,000 or 47.3 percent). Only in Ogre (pop. 29,926), the ninth-largest city, do Latvians have a slight majority. In the fourth-largest city, Jelgava (pop. 74,704), Latvians fall just short of a majority (49.7 percent).
The ethnic composition is the result of World War II and postwar population policies. In 1935, 77 percent of the population was Latvian. During World War II, a significant number of Latvia's residents were killed or deported, or left voluntarily. By the war's end, the percentage of Latvians rose to 80 percent. After World War II, the Soviet government recruited immigrants for Latvia. As a result, the proportion of ethnic Latvians decreased to the current level.
Linguistic Affiliation. Latvian, Lithuanian, and the now-extinct Old Prussian make up the Baltic Branch of the Indo-European Language Family, a part of the Nostratic Macro-Family. Latvian uses the Latin alphabet. Spelling of foreign words is modified to reflect Latvian phonemic values. The literary language is based on the dialect spoken in the middle of the country. With the advent of mass media and compulsory universal education, local dialects are disappearing. Most Latvians are bilingual; 68.3 percent of Latvians in Latvia report knowing Russian, and most Latvians residing outside the country are bilingual.
History and Cultural Relations
It is generally held that the ancestors of modern Latvians entered Latvia during the second millennium b.c. They were farmers and raised livestock. Extensive written documents about events and individuals in Latvia begin in the twelfth century. At that time, most of the peoples of Latvia were pagans, and the country was inhabited by four Baltic tribes (Kursi or Courlanders; Latgali, from whom the Latvian ethnonym has been derived; Sēļi; and Zemgaļi) and a Finno-Ugric tribe, the Livs, who, since they were the first indigenous people contacted by Westerners, provided the early name, Livonia, that was used for the Latvian and Estonian area.
Riga was founded by Germans in AD. 1201 as a base for commerce, missionizing, and military conquest. Latvia's thirteenth-century history is one of interactions and wars between the indigenous tribes and the Lithuanians, Poles, Russians, Germans, Catholic ecclesiastical authorities, Germanic crusading orders, and merchants. By 1300 Germans had gained political and economic control over the country by conquest, and the people were converted to Christianity. For the next several centuries Latvia's neighbors (i.e., Lithuanians, Poles, Russians, and, later, Swedes) attempted to annex the country, and the locals resisted these efforts.
In the late sixteenth century, Livonia was partitioned. Only the duchy of Kurland and Zemgale (1562-1795) retained independence under Polish-Lithuanian suzerainty. In 1721 the country was conquered by czarist Russia, although the duchy of Kurland and Zemgale maintained a separate status for a while. Starting in the thirteenth century, rural Latvians were gradually reduced in legal status, until by 1458 most had become serfs. Latvians living in cities retained free status but were not numerous. Legal vestiges of the serf status were abolished in 1861.
On 18 November 1918, as World War I ended, Latvians declared independence. A war of independence was fought against both Germany and Russia. The war against Germany ended with a peace treaty on 15 July 1920, and the war against the Federal Socialist Republic of the Russian Soviets was concluded by a peace treaty on 11 August 1920. By then Latvia had lost 25 percent of its pre-World War I population, 25 percent of its farm buildings were completely or partially destroyed, 29 percent of its arable land lay fallow, and its industry had virtually disappeared. A period of rebuilding followed; by 1940 per-capita income approximated that of Finland, Hungary, and Italy, and Latvia was emerging as a democratic republic with a constitution based on those of France, Germany, and Switzerland.
After an armed coup d'état on 15 May 1934, however, Latvian Prime Minister Kārlis Ulmanis instituted a dictatorship. The German-Soviet nonaggression treaty of 23 August 1939 assigned Latvia to the Soviet sphere of influence. Projecting an uncertain future, the Latvian government transferred its gold reserves to Western banks and issued extraordinary powers to the Latvian minister in London. On 17 June 1940 Latvia was occupied and on 5 August 1940 incorporated into the Soviet Union as the Latvian SSR. The country's economic, political, and social structures were transformed to the Soviet pattern. This culminated on the night of 13-14 June 1941, when 15,600 individuals were deported to labor camps.
On 22 June 1941 Germany attacked the Soviet Union and occupied Latvia until 8 May 1945. The return of Soviet rule to Latvia meant the reimposition of a harsh totalitarian political and economic system with tens of thousands of new political prisoners being sent to the gulag. With the advent of Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika, the Soviet Union began to disintegrate, and on 21 August 1991, the Supreme Council of Latvia declared the Republic of Latvia independent again. On 17 September 1991, Latvia was admitted as a member of the United Nations.
Latvia is on the border of Western European and Russian cultural areas. Between 1200 and 1945, the predominant influences on Latvian culture were Western European. The majority of Latvians were members of religions stemming from the West—Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism. The predominant influences in the fine arts, education, and science were Western. Between 1940 and 1991, the Soviet Union made a determined effort to sever West European ties and to reorient Latvian culture toward the Russian. Literary and scientific works, for example, had to be translated from Russian versions rather than from the original language. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Western orientation is resurgent.
Before World War II, some street villages with associated strip fields could still be found in the east. In the rest of the country, scattered single farms were the norm. The farmstead consisted of separate structures surrounding an open farm yard with the house fronting the road. Beginning on 17 June 1940 private farms were nationalized and confiscated, and state and collective farms were formed. After World War II, new rural settlements with apartment houses and large farm buildings were built. The country has been urbanized; 71 percent of the population lives in cities. Riga (pop. 915,106) is the country's capital and the seat of the Lutheran and Roman Catholic bishops. The next two largest cities—Daugavpils (pop. 126,680) and Liepāja (pop. 114,462)—are barely one-seventh that size. Latvia has three cities with 50,000 to 75,000 inhabitants (Jelgava, Jūrmala, and Ventspils) and twenty-six cities with 5,000 to 43,000 inhabitants. The vast majority of city dwellers live in apartments. Because of the proximity of services, the center of the city is considered to be the most desirable residential area.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Of the total population, 54.7 percent are employed. Of this percentage, three-quarters work in goods production and one-quarter in service. Between 1945 and 1991, Latvia's economy was an integral part of the Soviet Union's. This resulted in relative stagnation of the agricultural sector and overexploitation of forest resources. Industry is dependent on energy, labor, and raw materials imported from elsewhere, and the products manufactured are exported. The industrial sector employs 30.7 percent of all those employed. Heavy industry produces 54 percent of the country's gross national product; light industry, 19 percent; and agricultural and food processing, 25.4 percent. Among industrial products are diesel engines and generators, electrical railroad and street cars, radios, telephone equipment, other electrical and electronic items, pharmaceuticals, and textiles. Of all those employed, 15.1 percent work in agriculture. Farming has been mechanized and requires energy from outside sources. Most land is farmed by large state and collective farms. The private farming sector is just resuming. The agricultural emphasis is on animal husbandry to produce eggs, meat, and milk, and on field crops (e.g., barley, flax, oats, peas, potatoes, rye, sugar beets, and wheat). Economic restructuring according to market principles began in mid-1990, but only 1 percent of the labor force is thus far employed in the nonstate sector. Latvia has very little mineral wealth and no coal, natural gas, or oil. Its economy in the future probably will be based on farming, forestry, light industry, and service.
Trade. There is strife between the people who constituted the power structure under the autocratic Soviet regime with its command economy and those attempting to establish a market economy with private ownership. In order to retain their status and influence, the former struggle to establish a neocolonial situation; the latter attempt to open the economy to private entrepreneurs. Still present is the old Socialist trade network, with government-owned stores and distribution network, and farmers' markets. Simultaneously, newly established private manufacturing and retail establishments vie for resources.
Division of Labor. Legally there is equality between the genders. In fact, men occupy the more prestigious and better-remunerated jobs. Women employed outside the home are still responsible for the "second shift" of family shopping and household chores; they receive little or no help from the men and do without the convenience of modern appliances. There is also an ethnic division of labor. Latvians predominate in agriculture, forestry, printing, and communication; non-Latvians are concentrated in industry (Russians make up more than 41 percent of industrial workers), sea and railroad transportation, and white-collar jobs.
Land Tenure. All real estate was acquired by the Soviet government and was owned by "the people" (i.e., the government). Since 13 June 1991, there has been an effort to return real property to its former owners or their heirs. Private owners' rights over property and duties toward society are in the process of being established.
Kinship, Marriage, and Family
Kinship. The kinship system and terminology are of the Eskimo type. The most common kin unit is the nuclear family, although there are also stem extended families. Kinship beyond the nuclear and small extended family is recognized, but it is not an important principle for organizing society, except that truncated kindreds may assemble for weddings and funerals.
Marriage. In Latvia, the majority (67.8 percent of men and 56 percent of women) of those 16 years of age and older are married. The ideal is a monogamous marriage for life, but many people engage in serial monogamy. In recent years, there have been 10,000 to 11,000 divorces annually. The preferred residence is neolocal, but, owing to a housing shortage, many couples live with their parents. Most families (72.5 percent) consist of members of the same ethnic group.
Domestic Unit. For Latvians in Latvia, the average family size is 3.09. In Latvia, the predominant family type (74.4 percent of all families) is a married couple either with children (55 percent of all families) or without children. One-fifth of these families have another relative, usually a parent of one of the spouses, living with them. Single-parent families are becoming common (the number has increased 20 percent in the past ten years) because of the rising rates of divorce and births to single mothers.
Inheritance. Inheritance is governed by law. Testamentary disposition and an ambilineal inheritance from parents to children, grandchildren, and other lineal descendants is recognized.
Socialization. The family stresses tenderness and a moral code of loyalty to its members, relatives, and friends. The mother is seen as nurturant and affectionate; the father is the disciplinarian. The father is conceptualized as the head of the family, whereas the mother is its heart. Peer groups (for youth) and circles of friends (for adults) stress loyalty, helpfulness, and strong emotional support among their members. The Soviet schools advocated a Communist-oriented "official message"—loyalty and obedience to the state, hard and selfless work—whereas the students stressed loyalty to schoolmates and rivalry against teachers and adults. The official and ubiquitous Soviet government propaganda affected the local population's worldview.
Social Organization. Between 1940 and 1991, the Soviet state severely curtailed the activities and membership of any organization or social unit not directly controlled by it. When Latvia regained independence, many organizations such as the Communist party, Communist youth organizations, and the secret police (KGB) were abolished or collapsed because of a lack of support by their members. New groups are encountering organizational difficulties—small memberships, lack of public awareness regarding their goals and activities, and a lack of leaders with organizational and administrative experience. For the individual, personal relationships are important elements in manipulating the political and economic systems. These connections are marshaled to gain access and to influence people in a position to grant favors.
Political Organization. The political system is in transition from a repressive totalitarian government to a democracy. There is a battle between the old Soviet nomenklatura who used to run the country and nationalistically and democratically inclined people who were barred from positions of authority by the Communist regime. There is no agreement regarding the rights and duties of the various administrative and political bodies and offices or on how their personnel are to be selected. Making the task of building institutions more difficult are the public's distrust of politicians and centralized authorities and skepticism regarding their ability to solve society's problems. There is also the ethnic factor. Latvians perceive a real danger of becoming a minority in their own country and feel they have been abused and have suffered greatly for the past fifty years. The Russians resent the recent changes because these reduce the privileges they had enjoyed as an occupying and dominating nationality in a colonial situation. Most likely what will eventually emerge will be a system consisting of a parliament (probably unicameral), a president, and a government headed by a prime minister.
Social Control. Social control has its formal and informal aspects. Among the family, peer group, and circle of friends, emotional withdrawal and social isolation are common sanctions. Physical violence may occur when psychological pressures do not result in desired behavior. Police and other legal armed forces exist in the country, but their duties are not clear and their competencies overlap. No reliable statistics are available regarding criminal activities.
Conflict. Many wars have touched Latvian territory and caused much destruction and death. Except for the 1918—1920 war for independence, Latvians have not conducted wars since 1300. They have, however, participated in the wars and armies of others. During World War II, both the Soviet and German governments drafted Latvians for their respective militaries. Civilian ethnic relations in Latvia were not characterized by mass physical violence, lynchings, pogroms, or riots. Latvians who did participate in such activities (e.g., crimes against humanity during and after World War II) did so individually or as members of armed units formed by and at the direction of foreign governments.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs and Practices. Religion in Latvia has been politicized, making it difficult to know what the current belief system is. The population was converted by "fire and sword" to Roman Catholicism by a.d. 1300. In the sixteenth century most Latvians converted to Lutheranism. Those living in the part of Latvia incorporated into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, however, remained Catholic. In the nineteenth century, some seeking economic advantage joined the Russian Orthodox church. Between 1940 and 1991, the Communist Soviet government actively opposed religious activities and encouraged atheism. As a result the "mainstream" churches' (i.e., Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and Russian Orthodox) leadership and membership have declined, and their moral and ideational influence has eroded. The culture has become secularized. Many individuals are not so much atheistic as agnostic. One recent development is active proselytizing by charismatic and Pentecostal churches, sects, and cults.
Arts. Production of authentic folk arts and crafts has almost fallen into desuetude. Current production is a commercialized fine art on folk-art themes. This decline applies to the performing arts as well. An important part of Latvian performing arts are song festivals organized in Latvia and other countries with significant Latvian populations. These events feature folk music performed by choirs of hundreds and dances by folk-dance troupes. Because of Russian political domination of the country for the past three centuries, Latvian artists and popular culture have been influenced by the artistic fashions and trends of Russia. But, except for the Soviet period, Latvian fine arts and popular culture have been more oriented toward Western Europe. During the Soviet period, the government promoted propagandistic art and suppressed art styles and artists deemed undesirable. Now Latvians are once again exploring other styles and approaches.
Medicine. The medical-care delivery system consists of clinics, hospitals, sanatoria, and dispensaries and pharmacies staffed by physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, and support staff. Because of the general economic breakdown and lack of resources, however, the medical system is in a state of virtual collapse. Although there seems to be an adequate number of physicians, there is a shortage of trained support staff and a critical lack of medicines, vaccines, equipment, and supplies. Medical workers, too, are trying to make the change from a system that discouraged initiative and forbade private enterprise to one featuring these characteristics. The need for medical services is acute, life expectancy is decreasing, and birth defects are increasing.
Bilmanis, Alfred (1951). A History of Latvia. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Carson, George B., ed. (1956). Latvia: An Area Study. Vols. 1 and 2. New Haven: Human Relations Area Files.
Gimbutas, Marija (1963). The Baits. New York: Frederick A. Praeger.
Liğers, Ziedonis (1954). Etnographie Lettone. Basel: Société Suisse des Traditions Populaires, vol. 35.
Plakans, Andrejs (1984). Kinship in the Past: An Anthropology of European Family Life. New York: B. Blackwell.
Simanis, Vito Vitauts, ed. (1984). Latvia. St. Charles, Ill.: Book Latvia.
Skreija, Andris. "Latvians." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. 1996. Encyclopedia.com. (May 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3458001006.html
Skreija, Andris. "Latvians." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. 1996. Retrieved May 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3458001006.html
Latvia is situated at the ancient waterway from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea via lands inhabited by Eastern Slavs. Because of its location, the territory has, since the twelfth century, been conquered repeatedly—by German crusaders, Russians, Poles, and Swedes. The principal inhabitants of the region—the Balts, one of the ancient Indo-European tribes, and Livs—were oppressed for centuries.
Only in 1918, after World War I, was the independent Republic of Latvia proclaimed. World War II and occupation by the Nazis and then the Soviets interrupted the state's successful development. The latter lasted up to 1990 and left Latvia with enormous share of migrant Slavs from other republics of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)—almost one-third of the population (Demographic Yearbook of Latvia 2000).
The invasions left the population of Latvia mixed by ethnicity and religion. The local tribes were converted to Christianity in the thirteenth century, but the upheavals of history and the influx of migrants resulted in many different denominations. A great proportion of the population are nonbelievers, a number that drastically increased under Soviets, when religion was considered to be incompatible with Communist ideology. In contrast to the regime representatives of different ethnic groups, believers, and nonbelievers remained mutually tolerant.
The diversity of the country's population has lead to a variety of habits and attitudes on family and marital behavior.
Legislation Affecting Families
After fifty years of occupations in Latvia, the Latvian Civil Code (1937) was restored though its norms on family were modernized. Many privileges of the husband were eliminated.
Marriages can be registered at the state's office or the licensed churches of traditional Christian and Jewish denominations, but couples must be divorced by the courts. Persons under eighteen are allowed to marry only with the permission of parents or guardians. Homosexual marriages are not allowed. Both spouses have the right to keep their family name and citizenship, to choose their place of residence and kind of employment, and to manage mutual or personal property. Couples may also sign an additional marital contract on property.
If a couple divorces after they have children, both parents continue to have equal rights and responsibilities. Children born in or out of wedlock have the same public and family rights as those born to married couples. All children born in marriage or with recognized paternity have equal inheritance rights (or half of it in case of a written wish of the late parent regarding his or her property) and are equally responsible for the support of their elderly parents. Paternity of children born out of wedlock may be recognized voluntarily or by court. Orphans are entitled to the state's allowance up to eighteen years of age.
At the end of the twentieth century, the distribution of the Latvian population by gender did not offer favorable prospects for lifelong partnerships for all adults: Among residents, 54 percent are women and 46 percent are men (Demographic Yearbook of Latvia). The proportion of sexes differs significantly by age. Up to thirty-five years of age, the numbers of men and women are close to equal, and each person could have a partner of the opposite gender. Beyond that age, however, the prevalence of women increases proportionally.
Two factors explain the disparity in gender in older groups. In most developed countries, males have shorter life expectancies, but Latvia has one of the greatest differences between males and females: only sixty-five years for newborn boys, compared to seventy-six for girls. World War II and the Stalinist repressions that followed also account for the gap in numbers. The victims were mainly young men, men who were of an age at which they were most likely to marry. In the mid-twentieth century there were only sixty-three men per one hundred women. Due to such disproportion, the distribution of men and women by marital status is uneven. According to the census data in 1989 at above sixteen years old almost 68 percent of men and only 56 percent of women were married, while 7 percent of men and 11 percent of women were divorced, and 3 percent of men and 18 percent of women were widowed. In their thirties, both sexes have the highest marital rate—80 percent of men and 77 of women were married. The shortage of males affected sexual and marital behavior. Extramarital sexual relations became more frequent, and society acquired a more tolerant attitude to those involved. This also delayed the elimination of patriarchal gender roles as women were ready to comply with all the wishes of their husbands in order to prevent the husbands from leaving them for other women.
Political, economic, and demographic obstacles did not prevent people from forming partnerships and families. The number of marriages per thousand of population was nine to ten per year during most of the twentieth century. Only during the 1990s did the marriage rate decrease rapidly, down to four per thousand in 2000. During the 1990s, legal marriages were largely replaced by nonmarital cohabitation. According to the Fertility and Family Surveys of the ECE Region (1998), almost 17 percent of men and 16 percent of women eighteen to fifty years of age agree that marriage is an outdated institution. Women's opinions do not significantly differ by age, but among men, young men are much more likely to agree with this statement.
Among the generations born between 1945 and 1949, only 3 percent of men and 5 percent of women were living in a consensual union in 1999, but in generations born between 1970 and 1975 this proportion rose to 9 percent of men and 11 percent of women (Zvidrins 1999). The percentage of women who had started their first partnership by living with a partner to whom they were not married increased from 25 percent of all who entered any union among the older generations to 51 percent among younger one. Statistics also show a drastic increase in the share of those who entered their first partnerships when they were under twenty years of age. Among the older generations, 34 percent of the women and 13 of the percent of men were in this category. Among the younger generation, the figure was 50 percent of the women and 27 percent of the men (Zvidrins 1999).
The growing popularity of partnerships entered when the parties are young has not led to similar changes of age at marriage. During the Soviet occupation, the percentage of marriages among people under twenty increased to 6 percent among men and 23 percent among women. This trend was determined by two main reasons. Among the massive influx of migrants, the proportion of young people was twice that of the residents. Marriage rates among the young also rose because of the scarcity of contraceptives under the Soviets, which led to so-called forced marriages because of unwanted pregnancies. The average age at first marriage decreased between 1970 and 1990 from twenty-five to twenty-four years for men and from twenty-four to twenty-two years for women. This trend reversed after the collapse of the Soviet system. With the elimination of restrictions on human rights, exchange of information, and other aspects of life, people felt freer to become involved in premarital and nonmarital co-habitation and to delay marriage. At the end of the twentieth century, the average age at which people married had risen to the highest ever observed in Latvia: thirty-two for men and twenty-nine for women in 1999; the average age at first marriage was accordingly twenty-six and twenty-four years. But the proportion of first marriages has constantly decreased, down to 69 percent for men and 70 percent for women in 1999 (Demographic Year Book of Latvia 2000).
The overall marriage rate during the 1990s describes the trends in civil marriages; the number of church marriages was constant. The number of church marriages, as a proportion of the total, rose from 15 to 23 percent during the 1990s. One-fourth of new spouses, who marry in church, are not of the same denomination, a situation that is explained by the diversity of ethnic groups and religions in Latvia. One-fifth of ethnic Latvians, two-fifths of ethnic Russians, and nine-tenths of smaller minorities chose a spouse of another ethnicity (Demographic Yearbook of Latvia 2000). This reflects the aforementioned tolerance to immigrants to the country.
Marriages are not stable in Latvia. Since the mid-twentieth century, the divorce rate increased up to 5 per 1,000 inhabitants a year in the 1980s. Conditions that were common under the Soviet System explain this increase; these conditions include the economic independence of women, particularly high in Latvia, widespread alcoholism among men, poor housing, and the difficulties of everyday life, as well as scarce information on interpersonal communication, family roles, and other factors that influence the success of marriage.
As the divorce rate rose, the length of marriages tended to decrease. One reason for this was the instability of early marriages that had been forced by unwanted pregnancy. This trend changed during the 1990s. The prevalence of marriages after some period of premarital cohabitation and dissolution of some of these relationships before marriage led to a drastic decrease in the number of early divorces (after less than five years of marriage) from 35 percent in the 1980s to 13 percent at the close of the twentieth century. Accordingly, the average duration of a marriage at divorce increased from nine years in 1990 to twelve in 1999.
Because marriages lasted longer before the couples divorced, the percentage of couples with children also increased during the 1990s, from 62 to 67 percent, while the average number of their children remained almost the same—1.5 per couple.
At the end of twentieth century, 88 percent of the Latvian population lived in families. The make-up of families varied, as couples had children at different stages of life. Thus, families consisted of both parents with children under eighteen (32 % of the population); those with older, unmarried children (16%); young couples with no children (those who had left their parental homes in their twenties) and couples whose adult children had moved out (26%); and single-parent families with under-age children (8%). Fourteen percent of population lived in three-generation families, most in rural areas (30%). The proportion of single-parent families and one-person households (12%) corresponded to the high divorce rate and the disparities in gender in the older generations. More than half of those who live alone were older than sixty, and most of them were women (Eglite 2001).
Latvian families are small. The fertility surveys show that most couples want, on average, two children, although this varies slightly by age, sex, ethnicity, or education (1998). This would keep population numbers at steady replacement levels. The actual birth rate, however, does not correspond to the desired birth rate. After some increase between 1985 and 1989, the birth rate dropped in the 1990s—during the transition to a market economy—and in 1999 was two times lower than at the end of the 1980s. This drop happened mainly in civil marriages; the number of births in church marriages remained constant, while the number of extramarital births increased. The share of the latter in total births rose from some 12 percent in the 1980s to 39 percent in 1999 (Demographic Yearbook of Latvia 2000).
The principal reason the drop in birth rates is the low standard of living (Zarina 1995). During the 1990s, 47 percent of the households with one child and 74 percent with three or more children lived under the poverty line (approximately sixty U.S. dollars per member, per month) (Eglite 1999). To prevent a drop in population, the state supports childrearing. Employed mothers are entitled to four months' maternity allowance on full salary and a child's sickness benefit. For each child, if the care-giver does not have full-time employment, families receive a birth grant—a childcare allowance until the child is one and one-half years of age, and a monthly allowance proportional to order of birth up to fifteen years of age. Children also have free and mandatory education until grade nine, and secondary education if they choose (it is not mandatory). The total of these payments, however, does not compensate for the mothers' lost salary.
In contemporary Latvia, attitudes towards gender roles in the family are fluid. Stereotypes of husband as earner and wife as housekeeper are more popular among men than women (Rungule 1997). Younger generations and more educated groups tend to share responsibilities. At the end of the twentieth century 52 percent of men and women in their thirties recognized that there is no distinct leader in their family while 40 percent of men and 31 percent of women thought that the family was headed by the husband (Koroleva 1999).
In reality even employed women still spend almost twice as much time as men on unpaid domestic tasks and more than two times on childcare (Time Use 1998). The quality of family life could be improved by increasing fathers' participation and creating better possibilities to reconcile mothers' employment with childcare.
demographic yearbook of latvia (since 1990 yearly). riga: central statistical bureau of latvia.
eglite, p. (2001). "household composition." in livingconditions in latvia: norbalt—2, ed. e. vaskis. riga: central statistical bureau of latvia.
eglite, p., pavlina, i.; and i. m. markausa. (1999). situation of family in latvia. riga: institute of economics, latvian academy of science.
fertility and family survey in countries of the ece regions, standard country report, latvia. (1998). new york and geneva: united nations.
koroleva, i. (1999). "the views of young people on the role of the man and the woman in the family." in man's role in the family, ed. i. b. zarina. riga: latvian women's studies and information center.
rungule, r. (1997). "the role of parents—fathers and mothers—in the family and in society." in invitation to dialogue: beyond gender (in)equality, ed. i. koroleva. riga: institute of philosophy and sociology, latvian academy of sciences.
time use by the population of latvia. statistical bulletin. (1998). riga: central statistical bureau of latvia, institute of economics, latvian academy of sciences.
zarina, i. b. (1995). "actual and desired family models in latvia." humanities and social sciences. latvia. 2(7):48–61.
zvidrins, p., and ezera, l. (1999). "dynamics and differentiation of cohabitation in latvia." revue baltique 13:71–81.
"Latvia." International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. (May 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3406900270.html
"Latvia." International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family. 2003. Retrieved May 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3406900270.html
ALTERNATE NAMES: Letts
POPULATION: 2.8 million (52 percent are ethnic Latvians)
LANGUAGE: Latvian (Lettish)
1 • INTRODUCTION
Like many peoples, the Latvians have been ruled by foreigners for centuries. Often, these foreigners treated them terribly and tried to destroy their culture. The Latvians have been ruled by the Germans, Swedes, and Poles. Their most brutal foreign rulers by far were the Russians, however. Russia annexed the independent country of Latvia in 1940. They did so for many reasons, but one of the more important reasons was because they needed a port that was not iced over for most of the year. After taking over the country, the Russians began taking ethnic Latvians from their homes and moving them thousands of miles away to Central Asia. Many thousands more were simply killed.
During the first year of the Russian occupation, 35,000 ethnic Latvians and other Latvian citizens (including Jews) were arrested, murdered, or deported. Some 16,000 alone were sent into exile on the nights of June 13 and 14 in 1941. As a result, there are still a few of these exile Latvian communities scattered in the Russian part of Central Asia and Siberia.
Latvian campaigns for democracy and independence did not begin in earnest until October 1988, with the formation of the Popular Front of Latvia. Latvians finally won independence in August 1991 after the collapse of communism and the Soviet government in Moscow.
2 • LOCATION
The population of Latvia is approximately 2.8 million. Of these, 52 percent are ethnic Latvians. About 34 percent are ethnic Russians. At the close of World War II (1939–45), thousands of Latvians fled their homeland to escape the returning Russian troops. There are now many ethnic Latvians and their descendants living in the United States (over 100,000), Australia, and elsewhere.
Latvia is on the Baltic coast and borders Estonia to the north, Lithuania to the south, the Russian Republic to the east, and Belarus (which was part of Poland before World War II) to the southeast. Latvia is slightly larger than the state of West Virginia. The coastline is mostly flat, but inland and eastward the topography becomes hilly, with more forests and lakes. Reznas Lake is the largest of Latvia's 2,300 lakes.
The climate is generally temperate, but with considerable temperature variations. Summer and winter can be intense, but spring and autumn are mild. Precipitation is distributed throughout the year, with the highest amount occurring in August.
3 • LANGUAGE
Modern Latvian shows the influences of former conquerors. Words are taken from Swedish, German, and Russian. There are three main Latvian dialects: Central (which is used as the basis for written Latvian), East, and Livonian. Mainly because of the Russian occupation, only about half of the population in Latvia speaks Latvian today. In 1989 the government made Latvian the official language, requiring it in governmental use.
Latvian first names for males always end in the letter "s." They include names such as Andris, Ivars, Jānis, Kārlis, Vilnis, and Visvaldis. Female first names usually end in the letter "a" and include names like Aina, Laima, Māra, Ausma, Ieva, Ināra, Maija, and Zinta. Examples of everyday Latvian words include Sveicinati! (How do you do?), lūdzu (please), paldies (thank you), and uz redzēšanos (goodbye).
4 • FOLKLORE
Latvian folk songs are popular and are known as dainas. These beautiful verses have been written over many centuries. They are rich in experience, feeling, and folk wisdom. Here is a daina describing the dawn:
Sidrabina gailis dzied
Lai ceļās Saules meita
Zīda diegu šķeterēt.
A silver rooster crows
Beside a golden stream,
To make the Sun's daughter rise
To twine her silken yarn.
Modern dainas are typically philosophical and are revered as Latvian lyric poetry. Efforts to preserve traditional Latvian folklore began late in the nineteenth century, and several volumes of traditional Latvian myths and folk songs were compiled and published. Modern scholars have catalogued more than a million traditional Latvian folk songs.
One of the most famous figures of Latvian myth is Lacplesis the Bear-Slayer. The legend of Lacplesis tells how he could break a bear's jaw with his fist and even get bears to pull his plow. Although Lacplesis wanted to help others, he often did not know his own strength and would end up breaking peoples' tools.
According to legend, Lacplesis was finally defeated by a vicious three-headed monster. The monster's mother told her son that Lacplesis would lose his great strength if his ears were cut off. The battling Lacplesis and the monster plunged into the Daugava River and were swept out to sea.
5 • RELIGION
Christianity spread through Latvia during the ninth through twelfth centuries, with Russian Orthodoxy dominant in the east and Roman Catholicism in the west. Most people in the cities are Lutheran. There are also small communities of other faiths, such as Baptist, Old Believers, Pentecostal, Adventist, and Jewish.
6 • MAJOR HOLIDAYS
Three Christian holidays that have become prominent in Latvian culture are Christmas (December 25 or January 7), Easter (late March or early April), and Whitsuntide (the week of Pentecost in May). At Christmas, Latvians attend church services, decorate spruce trees with ornaments and lights, and exchange presents. Easter traditions include coloring eggs and making decorations from onion skins and herbs. Another popular activity at Easter is to build a swing and swing high, from the traditional belief that such an activity will repel mosquitoes from biting in the summer. Many homes are decorated with birch branches for Whitsuntide. The national holiday of Latvia is on November 18, to commemorate the proclamation of the republic.
Ligo svētki is a traditional midsummer festival that celebrates the summer solstice on June 23 and Jāņi (St John's Day) on June 24. Ligo svētki activities include many old customs that are believed to bring the aid of good spirits into the home, barn, field, and forest. These spirits also protect the crops from witches and devils. It is a night of singing, dancing, lighthearted merriment, and fortune telling. Men, women, and children dress in colorful folk costumes.
Other Latvian traditions include two All Fool's days. One is on April 1 and the other on April 30. Every Latvian also celebrates not only a birthday but a namesake day. For an individual's namesake day, specific male and female first names are assigned to each day on the calendar.
Special Harvest Day (Thanksgiving) is celebrated on the first Sunday in October. There are many other celebrations. Among these are church festivals, district fairs, monthly market days, 4H Club exhibitions, gigantic open air performances of theater plays, dances, and choir songfests. Especially popular is the Dziesmu svētki (Song Festival).
7 • RITES OF PASSAGE
Latvian baptisms are marked by families getting together for a feast. Weddings are celebrated as the most important Latvian rite of passage. They can go on for as long as three days. Owning a car was rare in Latvia throughout the Soviet years (1940–91), so learning to drive as a teenager was not common. However, Latvians could legally only ride a bicycle in the cities with a bicycle driver's license. These were not available until age sixteen. Passports in Latvia are issued at age twenty-one.
8 • RELATIONSHIPS
Handshaking is customary, and most standard European courtesies are observed. Latvians are somewhat reserved and formal in public but are usually very hospitable in private.
9 • LIVING CONDITIONS
Many Latvians enjoy local mineral spas. One of the most famous is in Kemeri, near Riga. The local mineral water and mud have been used for medicinal therapy for almost 300 years.
Since the winters are cold, housing is built accordingly, with firewood as the main source of heat. Government-operated railroads are the primary way for people to get around in Latvia.
10 • FAMILY LIFE
Latvian culture has always emphasized strong family ties. Men have the role of provider and women are homemakers in traditional Latvian culture. The typical family includes two to four children.
11 • CLOTHING
Most Latvians dress in standard European clothes for everyday wear. During folk dances and traditional ceremonies, many women wear the traditional Latvian costume. This consists of a large, colorful, pleated skirt worn with a white blouse and a short, round hat.
12 • FOOD
Traditional Latvian soups include cabbage soup and buckwheat soup. These are usually served with boiled pork, onions, potatoes, and barley. Traditional dishes include grilled pork ribs, smoked fish (including salmon and trout), gray peas (navy beans) with fried fat, and piragi (pastries filled with bacon and onions).
A popular sweet pastry is Alexander Torte, which is filled with raspberries or cranberries. Other popular national dishes include zemnieku brokastis (peasant's breakfast), which is a large omelet with potatoes and mushrooms. Maizes zupe ar putukrejumu is cornbread soup with whipped cream. Skābe putra is a drink made from pearl barley or rye flour and whey. Siļķe, biezpiens ar kartupeļiem un krejumi is a dish made of salt herring, cottage cheese, potatoes, and sour cream.
13 • EDUCATION
Since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the Latvians have thoroughly changed the organizational structure and curricula that were part of the Soviet education system. Primary education lasts for nine years, and secondary education lasts for three years. There are now private as well as public universities available for those who pass entrance exams.
As for Latvians outside the homeland, over half of ethnic Latvians in the United States have a college degree. There are some 600 Latvian scientists and scholars teaching at American universities, and about as many physicians and dentists practicing in the United States.
14 • CULTURAL HERITAGE
Latvian folk history preservation is a popular activity. Several folk dance troupes, such as Ilgi, Skandinieki, and Dandari, are well known for their performances that preserve Latvian heritage. Ballet is popular among Latvians.
The kokle is the most celebrated of the Latvian folk instruments. A small board zither, the kokle is related to a larger family of similar stringed instruments found throughout the Baltic region. The kokle was usually played by men to accompany folk dances. It is now favored by young female ensembles and is also played in large modern orchestras. There are soprano, alto, tenor, and bass models available.
The popular Dziesmu svētki (Song Festival) is an event that occurs every four years. The first Song Festival took place in 1873 with 1,003 singers. By 1938 the event had grown to 16,000 singers with an audience of over 100,000. Latvian Song Festivals are also held every four years in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe.
15 • EMPLOYMENT
The Soviet government controlled the Latvian economy for decades. During this time the Latvians worked with little incentive under a system of price controls and quotas. Since independence, the Latvian government has reformed the system. However, the transition has been difficult for many workers. As a result, many Latvians (especially women) have suffered unemployment in recent years. Latvians not in school can begin working at age sixteen.
16 • SPORTS
Soccer, volleyball, and basketball are popular outdoor activities among Latvians. Latvia has many organized sports clubs and organizations for these and other sports. Bobsled and motor racing are popular spectator sports. Latvian athletes have occasionally won medals at the Olympics.
17 • RECREATION
In 1772 the Riga Opera-Theater house opened. Going to the theater is still popular among Latvians today. Many productions are dramas, but musicals have become popular in recent years. Circuses are also popular, and Riga has had a permanent circus building since 1889.
18 • CRAFTS AND HOBBIES
Interest in folk arts and crafts is expressed through jewelry making, intricate sewing, and embroidering of the traditional Latvian folk dress. Workshops in ceramics, woodworking, and leather craft are also common.
19 • SOCIAL PROBLEMS
As in many other places in the world, there is ethnic tension in Latvia. Latvians and Russians have deep resentments against each other. Major problems have to do with language and with the fact that many Latvians' houses were stolen by Russians. The new Latvian government reinstated Latvian as the official language. They also gave Russians seven years to return stolen property.
In the Soviet era, environmental protection in Latvia did not exist. Air pollution became concentrated in industrialized areas. The rivers and lakes were used as open sewers for sloppy industrial waste-disposal methods. As a result, even the Baltic Sea is not safe for swimming. In many places even the ground water is contaminated.
20 • BIBLIOGRAPHY
American Latvian Association. Latvia: Country, People, Liberty. Rockville, Md.: American Latvian Association, 1976.
The Baltic States. Tallinn, Estonia: Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian Encyclopaedia Publishers, 1991.
Šveics, Vilnis V. How Stalin Got the Baltic States. Jersey City, N.J.: Jersey City State College, 1991.
Embassy of Latvia, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available http://www.seas.gwu.edu/guest/latvia/, 1998.
Latvia Network. [Online] Available http://www.latnet.lv/, 1998.
World Travel Guide. Latvia. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/lv/gen.htm, 1998.l
"Latvians." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. 1999. Encyclopedia.com. (May 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3435900276.html
"Latvians." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. 1999. Retrieved May 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3435900276.html
Latvia (lăt´vēə), Latvian Latvija, officially Republic of Latvia, republic (2011 provisional pop. 2,067,887), 24,590 sq mi (63,688 sq km), north central Europe. It borders on Estonia in the north, Lithuania in the south, the Baltic Sea with the Gulf of Riga in the west, Russia in the east, and Belarus in the southeast. Riga is the capital and largest city.
Land and People
Latvia falls into four historic regions: North of the Western Dvina (Daugava) River are Vidzeme and Latgale, which were parts of Livonia; south of the Dvina are Kurzeme and Zemgale, which belonged to the former duchy of Courland. Latvia is largely a fertile lowland, drained by the Western Dvina, the Venta, the Gauja, and the Lielupe. There are numerous lakes and swamps, and morainic hills rise to the east. In addition to the capital, Liepaja, Daugavpils, Cesis, and Jelgava are the chief cities.
About 58% of the population consists of Letts and of the closely related Latgalians (both widely known as Latvians). About 30% of the people are Russians, and there are Belarusian, Ukrainian, Polish, and Lithuanian minorities. Latvian is the official language; Russian and other languages are also spoken. The predominant religions are Lutheranism, Roman Catholicism, and the Russian Orthodox Church.
After independence (1991), Latvia sought to limit citizenship in order to favor Latvians and other Balts over ethnic Russians and other minorities. In 1998 the laws were eased, granting citizenship to all children born in Latvia after Aug. 21, 1991, and making it easier for Russian-speakers to become naturalized. Nonetheless, about a fifth of all residents remained noncitizens in 2005, and the Latvian language requirement for naturalization was tightened in 2006.
Latvia has transformed its formerly state-run economy, inherited from its years as a Soviet republic, into a market economy. Most government-owned businesses and financial institutions have been privatized, and the country has encouraged foreign investment. Rapid economic growth, however, contributed to an especially sharp contraction during the global recession that began in 2008, resulting by 2010 in the highest unemployment rate in the European Union. The economy has improved since then, but economic inequality remains among the highest in the EU. Dairying and stock raising remain integral to the agricultural sector, which employs almost 15% of the labor force. Grain, sugar beets, potatoes, and vegetables are also important. The nation has valuable timber resources.
Latvia is an important industrial center; industry employs about 20% of the workforce. The nation's industries are extremely diversified and include food processing and the manufacture of buses, vans, street and railroad cars, synthetic fibers, agricultural machinery, fertilizers, electrical appliances, electronics, pharmaceuticals, and textiles. Distilling and shipbuilding are also significant, and tourism has developed as a source of foreign income. Exports include wood and wood products, machinery, metals, textiles, and foodstuffs. Raw materials, equipment, chemicals, fuels, and vehicles are imported. Trade is primarily with Lithuania, Germany, Estonia, and Russia.
Latvia is governed under the constitution of 1922 (restored 1991), as amended. The president, who is the head of state, is elected by parliament for a four-year term; there are no term limits. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is appointed by the president. The unicameral parliament (Saeima) has 100 members who are popularly elected for four-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into 109 municipalities and 9 cities.
The Letts (after whom the country was also called Lettland) were conquered and Christianized by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword in the 13th cent. Their country formed the southern part of Livonia until 1561, when the order disbanded and its grand master became the first duke of Courland, a vassal duchy under Polish suzerainty. In 1629, Sweden conquered Livonia (except for Latgale), which it lost in turn to Russia in 1721. With the first (1772) and third (1795) partitions of Poland, Latgale and Courland also passed to Russia.
The region had been dominated since the time of the Livonian knights by German merchants, settled there by the Hanseatic League, and by a German landowning aristocracy, which reduced the Letts to servitude. Under the Russian regime these German "Baltic barons" retained their power, and German remained the official language until 1885, when it was replaced by Russian. Between 1817 and 1819 the serfs were emancipated, and in the middle of the 19th cent. a national revival began.
By the end of the 19th cent. there was great agricultural and industrial prosperity. In the Russian Revolution of 1905 the Letts played a prominent role, and bloody reprisals were meted out. Latvia was devastated in World War I, but the collapse of Russia and Germany made Latvian independence possible in 1918. Soviet troops and German volunteer bands were expelled. Peace with Russia followed in 1920.
The Latvian constitution of 1922 provided for a democratic republic. The largest land holdings were expropriated. However, there was no political stability, and in 1934 its constituent assembly and political parties were dissolved. In 1936, Karlis Ulmanis became a virtual dictator. Soviet pressure forced Latvia to grant (1939) the USSR several naval and military bases; a subsequent Latvian-German agreement provided for the transfer of the German minority to Germany.
Soviet troops occupied Latvia in 1940, and subsequent elections held under Soviet auspices resulted in the absorption of Latvia into the USSR as a constituent republic. Occupied (1941–44) during World War II by German troops, whom the Latvians supported, it was reconquered by the Soviet Union. In the postwar years, the remaining estates were at first distributed to landless peasants, but soon almost all the land was collectivized. Latvia's resources and industry were nationalized, and a program of industrialization was pursued by the Soviet regime.
In May, 1990, the parliament of Latvia annulled its annexation and reestablished the constitution of 1922. A referendum on independence passed in Mar., 1991. Latvia's independence from the Soviet Union was recognized by the Russian SFSR in August and conceded by the Soviet Union in Sept., 1991. Subsequent relations with Russia have been tense at times; a border treaty with Russia was not ratifed until 2007. In 1993, under the restored 1922 constitution, a new parliament was elected, and Guntis Ulmanis became president. In 1995, a politically independent business executive, Andris Skele, became prime minister. Ulmanis was elected president for a second term in 1996.
Latvia became a member of the United Nations in 1991, and in 1993 signed a free-trade agreement with its fellow Baltic states, Estonia and Lithuania. Virtually all Russian troops left by Aug., 1994. Guntars Krasts became prime minister in 1997; he was succeeded in 1998 by Vilis Kristopans, who formed a center-right coalition government. In 1999 Vaira Vîke-Freiberga was elected president, becoming the first woman to hold such a post in Eastern Europe; she was reelected in 2003. Andris Skele again became prime minister in July, 1999, but resigned in Apr., 2000, after his coalition collapsed in a dispute over privatization. In May, Andris Berzins became prime minister of a four-party coalition.
Elections in Oct., 2002, gave the largest number of seats to the centrist New Era party, whose leader, Einars Repše, became prime minister of a four-party center-right coalition. Charges of mismanagement against Repše caused the coalition to collapse in Feb., 2004, and a three-party center-right minority government, led by Indulis Emsis, was formed. Emsis became the first Green party leader to head a European government, but the coalition government resigned after losing a budget vote in Oct., 2004.
In Dec., 2004, Aigars Kalvitis, of the People's party, became prime minister of a four-party center-right coalition government (a three-party coalition after Apr., 2006). Also in 2004 the country became a member of NATO and the European Union. Kalvitis's coalition won a majority of the seats in parliament in the Oct., 2006, elections, becoming the first coalition to win reelection since Latvia regained its independence in 1991. In May, 2007, Valdis Zatlers, a surgeon who helped found (1988) the proindependence Latvian Popular Front but had little subsequent political experience, was elected president.
Kalvitis resigned in Dec., 2007, under pressure; his government's attempt to remove the country's anticorruption chief led to his resignation. Subsequently, Ivars Godmanis, of the Latvia's First/Latvia's Way party, became prime minister, heading the same coalition; Godmanis also was prime minister in 1990–93. In 2008 Latvia's significant economic problems forced the country to secure a €7.5 billion aid package from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, European Union, and others. The crisis also led to the collapse of Godmanis's government in Feb., 2009; a new five-party, center-right coalition, with Valdis Dombrovskis of the New Era party as prime minister, was formed.
The withdrawal of the People's party from the coalition in Mar., 2010, over economic recovery measures left Dombrovskis with a minority government, but the coalition won a majority in the Oct., 2010, elections and Dombrovskis formed a new coalition government in November. In June, 2011, Andris Berzins, a business executive and politician (not the former prime minister), was elected president; Zatlers failed to win reelection after he accused legislators of being tolerant of corruption and called a referendum on dissolving parliament. The subsequent referendum (July), however, approved the dissolution.
In the election in Sept., 2011, the pro-Russian Harmony won the largest bloc of seats, but needed to form a coalition government with other parties who were reluctant to do so because of policy and ideological differences. Zatlers' Reform party placed second. In October a three-party coalition government, led by Dombrovskis (now of Unity, into which New Era and other parties had merged) and including the Reform and National Alliance (NA) parties but not Harmony, was formed. A referendum that would have made Russian a second official language was rejected by roughly three to one in Feb., 2012.
Dombrovskis's government resigned in Nov., 2013, to take political responsibility in the wake of deadly supermarket roof collapse in Riga. In Jan., 2014, Laimdota Straujuma, an independent, was named to succeed Dombrovskis with the support of the governing coalition and the Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS); she was the first woman to be became prime minister. The country adopted the euro in Jan., 2014. After the Oct., 2014, elections, Straujuma remained as prime minister, heading a coalition formed by Unity, ZZS, and NA; Harmony again won, by a smaller plurality, but lacked the allies to form a government. President Berzins did not seek reelection in 2015, and Defense Minister Raimonds Vejonis, of the ZZS, was elected to succeed him.
See A. Bilmanis, History of Latvia (1970); R. J. Misiunas and R. Taagepera, The Baltic States: Years of Dependence, 1940–1980 (1983).
"Latvia." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2016. Encyclopedia.com. (May 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-Latvia.html
"Latvia." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2016. Retrieved May 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-Latvia.html
Official name: Republic of Latvia
Area: 64,589 square kilometers (24,938 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Gaizinkalns (312 meters/1,024 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 2 p.m. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 210 kilometers (131 miles) from north to south, 450 kilometers (281 miles) from east to west
Land boundaries: 1,150 kilometers (713 miles) total boundary length; Belarus 141 kilometers (88 miles); Estonia 339 kilometers (211 miles); Lithuania 453 kilometers (281 miles); Russia 217 kilometers (135 miles)
Coastline: 531 kilometers (330 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
1 LOCATION AND SIZE
Latvia is located in northeastern Euroh2, east of the Baltic Sea, south of Estonia, north of Lithuania, and west of Russia. Latvia is slightly larger than the state of West Virginia and consists of twenty-six counties.
2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES
Latvia has no territories or dependencies.
Summers in Latvia are generally cool, but winters are mild. The country has a moderate, maritime climate with high precipitation. January temperatures range from -3°C (31°F) in Liepaja, on the western coast, to 7°C (44°F) in Daugavpils in the southeast. In July, they range from 17°C (62°F) in Liepāja to 18°C (64°F) in Daugavpils.
Latvia's coastal climate means the country experiences cloudiness, high humidity, and precipitation most of the year. On average, only 72 days are sunny, 44 days are foggy, and it rains or snows 180 days. Measured in Riga, annual precipitation ranges between 56 and 79 centimeters (22 and 31 inches).
4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS
Along with Estonia and Lithuania, Latvia is one of the Baltic states of northeastern Europe. Its capital, chief seaport, and largest city is Riga, which is found on the shores of the Gulf of Riga, a deep indentation in the country's northern coast. Approximately 75 percent of Latvia is a rolling plain used for farming, part of the vast European Plain. The remaining 25 percent of the country consists of uplands with moderate-sized hills, which are also used for farming.
Continental glaciers formed the Latvian landscape during the Quartenary period and the Pleistocene ice age.
5 OCEANS AND SEAS
Seacoast and Undersea Features
Along the Baltic Sea, the Latvian coastline runs uninterrupted until the Gulf of Riga juts into it on the north, where it forms the Kurzeme Peninsula on the western side.
The Gulf of Riga is shared by Latvia and Estonia. Its north-south measurement is about 145 kilometers (90 miles); from east to west, it ranges from 72 to 129 kilometers (45 to 80 miles).
Sea Inlets and Straits
The western entrance to the Gulf of Riga is the Irben Strait, located between the Kurzeme Peninsula and Estonia's Saaremaa Island.
The Kurzeme Peninsula is located in northwestern Latvia, bordering the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Riga. The Latvian coast runs 531 kilometers (329 miles). It is known as a beautiful coastline, with many sandy beaches.
6 INLAND LAKES
Latvia contains many lakes both large and small, particularly in the southeast. Major lakes include Usma, in the west; Burtnieks, in the north-central area; and Lakes Lubāna and Rāzna in the east.
7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
Latvia's largest river, the Daugava (called the Dvina in neighboring Belarus), is one of the most important rivers of the Baltic region. Starting in Russia, the Daugava flows into Belarus and continues northwest through Latvia, finally emptying into the Gulf of Riga. Its total length is 1,020 kilometers (632 miles).
Lesser Latvian rivers include the Venta, in the west, which has its own 2-meter- (6-feet-) high waterfall; the Lielupe, in central Latvia; the Gauja, in the northeast; and the Aiviekste, in the east.
There are no deserts in Latvia.
9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN
Most of Latvia is low, level terrain, which is part of the European Plain. It is largely suitable for farming, but the heavy annual precipitation means that much of Latvia's agricultural land requires drainage. The most fertile area is the central Zemgale Plain south of Riga. Other lowlands include the Middle and the East Latvian Lowlands, and the coastal lowlands. Large parts of all of these lowlands are covered by forest.
Forty-six percent of Latvia consists of forests and woodlands of pine, spruce, aspen, and birch; lumber and wood products are important Latvian exports. Blueberries, mushrooms, and cranberries grow in abundance on the forest floors. The country supports many thriving species of wildlife, including elk, deer, moose, wild boar, and fox; also wolves, lynx, beaver, otter, black storks, and eagles. The coast has a significant population of seals.
Latvia has three upland regions consisting of hills formed by glacial activity. The Kurzeme Uplands lie in the west, and are split into eastern and western portions by the Venta River. The highest elevation in the country, Gaizinkalns (312 meters/1,023 feet), is found in Vidzeme Uplands, east of the Gulf of Riga. This upland is the largest area that is more than 200 meters (660 feet) above sea level in the Baltic region. Further south and east is the Latgale Upland.
10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES
Latvia has no mountains or volcanoes.
11 CANYONS AND CAVES
There are a few small caves found near Gauja National Park. The country lacks the geological features, such as regions of limestone, necessary for large caves.
12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS
Since Latvia consists mainly of lowlands, there are no significant plateaus in the country.
13 MAN-MADE FEATURES
The Daugava River is an excellent source of hydroelectric power. Dams have formed reservoirs at Kegums, Plavinas, and near Riga.
14 FURTHER READING
Barlas, Robert. Latvia. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2000.
Grabowski, John F. The Baltics. San Diego: Lucent Books, 2001.
Kahn, F. S. Riga and Its Beaches. Ashbourne, UK: Landmark, 2000.
Noble, John. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. London: Lonely Planet, 2000.
Embassy of Latvia. http://site.yahoo.com/vestnieciba/ (accessed April 24, 2003).
Virtual Latvia. http://www.eunet.lv/VT/ (accessed April 24, 2003).
"Latvia." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Physical Geography. 2003. Encyclopedia.com. (May 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3425900156.html
"Latvia." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Physical Geography. 2003. Retrieved May 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3425900156.html
64,589sq km (24,938sq mi)
Latvian 53%, Russian 34%, Belorussian 4%, Ukrainian 3%, Polish 2%, Lithuanian, Jewish
Evangelical Lutheran 55%, Roman Catholic 30%, Russian Orthodix 10%
Lats = 100 santimi
Land and ClimateLatvia consists mainly of flat plains separated by low hills. Small lakes and peat bogs are common, and its highest point is only 311m (1020ft) above sea level. Latvia's main river is the Daugava (Western Dvina). Riga has warm summers, but the winter months (December to March) are sub-zero and the sea often freezes. Moderate rainfall occurs throughout the year, with light snow in winter. Forests cover c.40% of Latvia and c.27% of the land is farmed.
History and PoliticsThe ancestors of most modern Latvians settled in the area c.2000 years ago. Between the 9th and 11th centuries, Vikings attacked the region from the w and Russians invaded from the e. In the 13th century, German intruders took control. From 1561, the area was partitioned between various groups, including Poles, Lithuanians, and Swedes. In 1710, Peter I took Riga and by the end of the 18th century, Latvia was firmly under Russian rule. In 1918, Latvia declared independence, a status confirmed at the Treaty of Versailles (1919). In the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (1939), Germany and the Soviet Union agreed to divide up parts of e Europe. In 1940, Soviet troops invaded Latvia, which became part of the Soviet Union. In 1941, German forces seized Latvia, but Soviet troops returned in 1944. Soviet rule brought rapid industrialization and an influx of many Russian immigrants. In the late 1980s, when the Soviet Union introduced reforms, Latvia's government relaxed communist laws, allowed press and religious freedom, and made Latvian the official language. In 1990 Latvia declared independence, and the Soviet Union recognized the new state in September 1991. In 1993, Latvia held its first multi-party elections. In 1994, it adopted a law restricting the naturalization of non-Latvians, including many Russian settlers. In 1995, Latvia joined the Council of Europe and formally applied to join the European Union (EU). In 1997, Prime Minister Andris Skele of the People's Party resigned following charges of government corruption. In 1999 Vaira Vike-Freiberga was elected president becoming the first female president in Eastern Europe. Andris Berzin became prime minister in 2000 heading a centre-right coalition. In 2004, Latvia joined the European Union.
EconomyLatvia is a lower-middle-income country (2000 GDP per capita, US$7200). It faced many problems transforming from a command economy to a mixed economy. The country lacks natural resources and imports many of the materials needed for manufacturing. Latvia produces only c.10% of the electricity it needs, depending for the rest on Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. Manufactures include electronic goods, farm machinery and fertilizers. Farm exports include beef and dairy products and pork.
"Latvia." World Encyclopedia. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. (May 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O142-Latvia.html
"Latvia." World Encyclopedia. 2005. Retrieved May 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O142-Latvia.html
Latvian or Lettish (lĕt´Ĭsh), a language belonging to the Baltic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Baltic languages). The mother tongue of close to 3 million persons living chiefly in Latvia, Latvian first became that country's official language in 1918, the year in which Latvian independence was won. In the pronunciation of Latvian, stress is placed on the first syllable of a word. Grammatically, both nouns and verbs are highly inflected. Since 1922, Latvian has used the Roman alphabet (supplemented by several diacritical signs) for writing. The oldest surviving texts in Latvian date from the late 16th cent.
See T. G. Fennel and H. A. Gelsen, Grammar of Modern Latvian (1980).
"Latvian." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2016. Encyclopedia.com. (May 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-Latvian.html
"Latvian." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2016. Retrieved May 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-Latvian.html
The people of Latvia are called Latvians. More than half the population trace their ancestry to Latvia. The remainder of the population is Russian, 33 percent; Belarusan, 4 percent; Ukrainian, 3 percent; Polish, 2 percent; and Lithuanian, a little more than 1 percent. For more information on the Polish and Russians, see the chapters on Poland and Russia in Volume 7; on the Belarusans, the chapter on Belarus in Volume 1; and on Ukrainians, the chapter on Ukraine in Volume 9.
"Latvia." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. 1999. Encyclopedia.com. (May 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3435900275.html
"Latvia." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. 1999. Retrieved May 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3435900275.html
Latvija, Latviešu Kultūra, Lettiņi (German; when Latvians use this to refer to themselves, it is always in a tone of caricature or self-depreciation)
Identification. Baltic tribes arrived in what is now Latvia from the Pripet marshes around 1000 b.c.e. These included the Lettgalians, and the term Latvju derives from the peoples and province of Latgale. The most important minority group was the Baltic Germans, who settled there in the thirteenth century. Jews arrived in the seventeenth century. A sizable Russian community moved to the cities, particularly Riga. The polarization of cultural identification in terms of Latvian and Russian is primarily a rural-urban divide.
Location and Geography. Latvia lies on the eastern shores of the Baltic sea, with an area of some 25,100 square miles (65,000 square kilometers). The capital, Rīga, lies at the mouth of the Daugava River. Latvian lands form an extension of the great plains of Russia. Latvia's importance as a mediator between east and west was recognized in 1710, when the capture of Rīga afforded the tsar Peter the Great "a window on the west."
Demography. Urbanization, war, and the Soviet occupation have been the major sources of demographic change. Until the Soviet occupation Latvia was a predominantly rural society. World War II and Soviet occupation brought about massive changes. The German occupation resulted in the extermination of the Jewish population as well as thousands of Latvians. The Soviet occupation led to the loss of 250,000 Latvians through exile and death. At present ethnic Latvians account for 56 percent of the population.
Linguistic Affiliation. Latvian belongs to the Baltic group of languages. Livonian, a Finno-Ugric language is now almost extinct but is experiencing a revival. By the twelfth century a common language was spoken. Russian has had a strong influence on religious vocabulary, while German has influenced the domestic vocabulary.
Written Latvian bore little relationship to the spoken language until 1638. Spelling followed German orthographic traditions until the foundation of an independent state. Russian linguistic influence is also noticeable.
In the nineteenth century most educated Latvians spoke German. In the second half of the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries the educated segments of the population became fluent in Russian. During the Soviet period Russian was a compulsory subject at school. In the post-independence period parents can have their children educated in Latvian or Russian.
Symbolism. Folk songs (dainas ) are the most potent symbol of national identity. These songs construct a vision in which the natural, human, and supernatural worlds are intertwined. Oak and lime trees symbolize men and women. The apple tree is frequently associated with orphanhood, a state that symbolically represents the Latvian nation.
The rural character of the national identity was promoted by the role of landscape in art and literature. An association of Latvian artists founded in 1929 argued "for art with a Latvian content and form," primarily in landscape painting. The result of this cultural policy was to include not only the recently emerged intellegentsia and middle classes but also those who lived in the countryside and worked the land.
The repression of the Soviet period contributed symbols of national identity and introduced new days of commemoration and mourning in the national calendar.
History and Ethnic Relations
Emergence of the Nation. The abolition of serfdom in the Baltic provinces between 1817 and 1861 and the removal of restrictions on residence in 1863 opened up opportunities for travel and education. The second half of the nineteenth century saw an enormous increase in Latvian publications, many of them dealing with nationality issues. The revolutions of 1905 and 1917 channelled the disaffection of the peasantry and led eventually to the founding of the state in 1918.
National Identity. In the second half of the nineteenth century many novels and plays dealt with the hardships of serfdom and helped shape a historically rooted ethnic identity, but national identity was consolidated largely through the collection of folk songs after the 1870s. Many of those songs describe the harshness of German masters and the hardness of work. In the period of independence from 1918 to 1940, farmers were supported by government loans and the redistribution of land, the extension of free schooling, and support for the arts. The undermining of national and cultural identity was a prime goal of the Soviet occupation.
Ethnic Relations. Ethnic relations have been shaped by twentieth-century historical events. The early period of independence was characterized by a tolerance of cultural diversity. The constitution of 1922 safeguarded the rights of all citizens and protected the rights of minorities. The climate became increasingly nationalistic after 1934, and various government policies were introduced to promote Latvian culture.
Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space
Until World War II Latvia was essentially a rural society, with two-thirds of the population living in the countryside. Centuries of serfdom contributed to the longing for one's own piece of land. In the eastern province of Latgale the dominant type of settlement was the village, but in the rest of the country separate individual farms predominated. The establishment of the Ethnographic Museum in 1922 transformed the farmstead into an art form. The farmstead consisted of a set of buildings grouped around a yard: the living dwelling faced the cowshed and the storehouse while the threshing house and steam bath house were set at a further distance. The adjoining farm buildings were often of a similar size and featured a more substantial and elaborate construction. The use of space by farmstead householders changed with the seasons. In winter the occupants would retreat to the warmth of the hearth. In summer, they would disperse to sleep in the various outbuildings.
The growth of the population of Rīga in the late nineteenth century led to a huge expansion in the building of apartment houses whose architectural style expressed the social aspirations and ethnic membership of their owners. With the growth of the urban population, summer houses became popular. Brick was the preferred medium, but wood houses were built in imitation of the rural style. The Soviet occupation after 1940 resulted in the expropriation of property and a dramatic contraction in the entitlement to space. Rural dwellings were expropriated and state-sponsored immigration from the Soviet Union led to the building of high-rise blocks to house the incoming labor force.
Food and Economy
Food in Daily Life. The staples of the diet are rye, wheat, and potatoes. Dairy products are valued for their purity and health-giving qualities. Milk, butter, sour cream, and curd cheese were traditionally highly prized additions to the diet. Pork is the most commonly eaten meat. Smoked fish are particularly popular in Rīga and the coastal areas. A huge variety of bread is available in markets and shops. During the Soviet period the main meal of the day was eaten outside the home in a canteen attached to the workplace or school. The evening meal usually was not cooked and consisted of bread and cheese or sausage and possibly salad. There has been a diversification of foods and eating habits, and pizza and Chinese food have found ready acceptance.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Yeast breads are an essential ingredient of all family celebrations and religious festivities. Birthdays and namedays call for klingeris, a saffron-scented bread made of yeast dough with dried fruits into the shape of a figure eight and decorated with flowers. Christmas and other religious and ceremonial occasions call for home-baked pīrāgi bread parcels stuffed with bacon and onion. Beer and šnabs are drunk. A special cheese made with caraway seeds, jāņa siers, is made expressly for the midsummer solstice festival of Jāņi and drunk with specially brewed beer.
Basic Economy. Historically, the economy was dominated by transit trade and agriculture, although Rīga has been an important seaport and trading center since the Middle Ages. Many peasants lived in isolated farmsteads, but villages and strip landholdings existed in the eastern province of Latgale. Agrarian reform after World War I led to a prevalence of small family farms. During the Soviet occupation, collective and state-run farms dominated this sector, although small family farms were tolerated. Industry was concentrated in urban centers after the nineteenth century, a pattern that continued under Soviet rule.
Land Tenure and Property. Before the formation of the republic in 1918, land ownership was divided between peasant smallholders and the Baltic German nobility. The distribution of land to the peasantry after World War I was reversed under the Soviet occupation as land was collectivized and put under the control of the state.
Major Industries. In the czarist period, Rīga, Liepāja (Libau), and Ventspils (Windau) became major transit centers for trade between Russia and Western Europe. Flax, timber, hides, rye, butter, and eggs moved west in exchange for rubber, steel, and coal. Rīga became a major export and processing center for timber at that time. In the 1920s and 1930s, industry was restructured, with an orientation toward internal resources and markets. Later, rapid industrialization and ubranization caused a major shift in the economy. Since independence, there has been a decline in agriculture and heavy industry and growth in the financial and service sectors.
Classes and Castes. In the nineteenth century, social mobility depended on education and the ability to speak German. The period of independence after World War I led to the formation of a middle class of professionals and businesspeople. Under the Soviet occupation, professional positions were filled primarily by Russian immigrants. Social mobility was linked to ethnicity and membership in the Community Party. Since 1990, although wages have not kept up with inflation, creating new types of poverty, education has remained the route to professional success and high social status.
Government. Under the constitution of 1991, the highest legislative authority is vested in the parliament (saeima ), which includes one hundred members elected in general multiparty elections every four years (before 1998, it was every three years). The parliament elects the president and prime minister. The prime minister is responsible for forming the government, while the president has primarily nominal powers, such as nominating the prime minister, declaring war, and dissolving the parliament. The main power lies with the prime minister and the cabinet of ministers. Only the citizens of Latvia can elect members of parliament and local councils or hold elected positions.
Gender Roles and Statuses
Division of Labor by Gender. Women's employment is primarily in lower-paid occupations, such as teaching, nursing, and culture management. Although employment levels are roughly equal for men and women, men are four times more likely to be employers. Women are under represented in political and legislative institutions. In the home women spend nearly twice as much time on housework as do men. Traditionally, women have been responsible for family maintenance, and this conferred a privileged role on the male members of the household.
The Relative Status of Women and Men. Literacy rates are equivalent between women and men. Half of secondary school graduates are women, and there are more female than male university graduates. The acceptance of gender inequality in the 1990s may be a reaction to the imposed gender equality of the Soviet period. Latvian culture lacks cultural examples of female leadership and entrepreneurship. The image of woman as a caring mother and loyal and supportive wife in folk songs has led to the perception of women as occupying a secondary role in the public field and a primary role in the domestic sphere.
Marriage, Family, and Kinship
Marriage. Traditionally, marriage in the Baltic provinces was virilocal (meaning women moved away from their families to live in the husband's farmstead), and descent was traced patrilineally. The patrilineal kin group (dzimta ) consisted of a man and his brothers and their wives and children. However, the household also contained male and female servants, shepherds, orphans, and foster children. Today, marriage is viewed as the natural outcome of emotional and sexual maturation, and a prolonged single status is stigmatizing for women. In 1998, 37 percent of children were born outside wedlock.
Domestic Unit. Cramped living conditions are both a reason for seeking the independence marriage promises and its consequence, as forced residence with in-laws intensifies the need for space.
Child Rearing and Education. Gentleness in caring for infants and teaching children by example are highly valued. Traditional child-rearing practices emphasize the importance of work and respect for nature. Grandparents play an important part in child care. Until recently early retirement for women allowed grandmothers to look after young children while the mothers worked. Summers in the countryside with grandparents are highly valued.
Higher Education. Higher education traditionally provided an escape from a deeply stigmatized identity. The loss of a familiar social landscape and the financial hardship suffered by the professional classes in the post-Soviet era has led to diminished demand, if not respect, for higher education.
Restrained behavior, including lowered voices and the avoidance of eye contact, is expected in public places. Self-control, particularly with regard to anger, is highly valued. Until the identity of strangers is established, Latvians try to avoid acknowledging the presence of others. Relationships between same-sex friends and family members are characterized by a high degree of intimacy, body contact and the use of affectionate diminutives.
Religious Beliefs. The Christianization of Latvia occurred through contact with Germans and Russians. The Orthodox Church arrived before the twelfth century, and the Catholic religion was brought by the knights of the Teutonic order. The Moravians who arrived in Rīga in 1729 and founded a seminary in Valmiera quickly attracted a following. This movement evoked ecstatic responses and acquired a strong nationalistic streak. Baptists who arrived in the mid-nineteenth century also succeeded in awakening the interest of the indigenous population. The Lutheran and Catholic religions were identified with the oppressive Baltic German presence.
Traces of traditional earlier beliefs have been assimilated within the local understanding of Christianity, and influence everyday attitudes and conversation. The continued celebration of the midsummer solstice Jāņi is a reminder of the power of earlier beliefs and practices and has come to symbolize national identity.
Religious activity was repressed during the period of Soviet occupation, and many ministers were imprisoned. However, funerals and commemorative days of the dead were highly elaborate affairs and came to provide an indirect vehicle for the expression of national sentiment. The post-Soviet era has witnessed a revival of religious practice and the introduction of a large number of new religious movements.
Medicine and Health Care
Soviet Latvia was well provided for in terms of medical and psychiatric care. However, there was an absence of family practitioners, and this led to an extensive use of emergency ambulance services. Post-Soviet attempts to privatize health care have met with resistance. Latvia has a strong tradition of folk remedies and treatments which is undergoing a revival.
Commemorations of the Molotov-Ribbentropl Act (23 August) and forced collectivization under Soviet rule (15 June and 25 March) are now days of national mourning.
The Arts and Humanities
Support for the Arts. During the period of independence the government generously supported visual, literary, and performance arts. Founded exactly two years after the declaration of independence, the Cultural Foundation was established in 1920 to promote and give financial support to the arts; its self-avowed rationale was closely linked to the development of national identity.
During the Soviet period, artists and writers were kept under surveillance and their work was heavily censored. This was done largely through state sponsorship. Artists who were approved by the state were given superior accommodation and the state purchased their work.
During the post-Soviet period, government support of the arts has been severely curtailed. Even the National Opera House, whose restoration has come to symbolize the reemergence of an independent cultural identity, has had difficulty securing funds from the government.
Performance Arts. The first song festival took place in 1872 and involved the coming together of local choirs from different parts of the country. These early festivals played an important role in the emergence of national identity and attracted large numbers. During the Soviet period the festivals were repressed or used as vehicles of propaganda. During the movement toward independence from the Soviet Union, folk songs again became a powerful vehicle of social criticism and national sentiment.
Bunkse, Edmunds Valdemars. "Landscape Symbolism in the Latvian Drive for Independence." Geografiska Notiser 4: 170–178, 1990.
Eglīte, P. and Zariņa, I.B.,eds. Time Use by Gender in Latvia, 1999.
Gimbutas, Marija. The Balts, 1963.
Grosa, Silvija. Art Nouveau Time and Space: The Baltic Countries at the Turn of the Century, 1999.
Hiden, John and P. Salmon. The Baltic Nations and Europe, 1996.
Karklins, Rasma. "Ethnic Integration and School Policies in Latvia." Nationalities Papers 26 (2): 283–302, 1998.
Kundzins, Pauls. Latvju Seta: The Latvian Farmstead, 1974.
Lieven, Anatol. The Baltic Revolution, 1993.
Plakans, Andrejs. "Peasant Farmsteads and Households in the Baltic Littoral, 1797." Comparative Studies in Society and History 17: 2–35, 1975.
——. A Historical Dictionary of Latvia, 1997.
Silins, Janis. Latvijas Maksla 1915-1940, 1990.
Skujenieks, Margers. Atlas Statistique de la Lettonie, 1938.
Skultans, Vieda. The Testimony of Lives: Narrative and Memory in Post Soviet Latvia, 1998.
Svabe, Arveds. Agrarian History of Latvia, 1930.
Vikis-Freibergs, Vaira, ed. Linguistics and Poetics of Latvian Folk Songs, 1998.
—Vieda Skultans and Roberts KĪlis
SKULTANS, VIEDA; K. "Latvia." Countries and Their Cultures. 2001. Encyclopedia.com. (May 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3401700140.html
SKULTANS, VIEDA; K. "Latvia." Countries and Their Cultures. 2001. Retrieved May 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3401700140.html
Lat·vi·an / ˈlatvēən/ • adj. of or relating to Latvia, its people, or its language. • n. 1. a native or citizen of Latvia, or a person of Latvian descent. 2. the Baltic language of Latvia.
"Latvian." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. 2009. Encyclopedia.com. (May 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O999-latvian.html
"Latvian." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. 2009. Retrieved May 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O999-latvian.html
"Latvian." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. 2007. Encyclopedia.com. (May 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O233-Latvian.html
"Latvian." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. 2007. Retrieved May 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O233-Latvian.html
"Latvia." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. 2007. Encyclopedia.com. (May 31, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O233-Latvia.html
"Latvia." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. 2007. Retrieved May 31, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O233-Latvia.html