Latvia

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LATVIA

LOCATION, SIZE, AND EXTENT
TOPOGRAPHY
CLIMATE
FLORA AND FAUNA
ENVIRONMENT
POPULATION
MIGRATION
ETHNIC GROUPS
LANGUAGES
RELIGIONS
TRANSPORTATION
HISTORY
GOVERNMENT
POLITICAL PARTIES
LOCAL GOVERNMENT
JUDICIAL SYSTEM
ARMED FORCES
INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION
ECONOMY
INCOME
LABOR
AGRICULTURE
ANIMAL HUSBANDRY
FISHING
FORESTRY
MINING
ENERGY AND POWER
INDUSTRY
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
DOMESTIC TRADE
FOREIGN TRADE
BALANCE OF PAYMENTS
BANKING AND SECURITIES
INSURANCE
PUBLIC FINANCE
TAXATION
CUSTOMS AND DUTIES
FOREIGN INVESTMENT
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
HEALTH
HOUSING
EDUCATION
LIBRARIES AND MUSEUMS
MEDIA
ORGANIZATIONS
TOURISM, TRAVEL, AND RECREATION
FAMOUS LATVIANS
DEPENDENCIES
BIBLIOGRAPHY

Republic of Latvia

Latvijas Republika

CAPITAL: Riga

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, 2324 June; National Day, Proclamation of the Republic, 18 November; Christmas, 2526 December; New Year's Eve, 31 December.

TIME: 2 pm = noon GMT.

LOCATION, SIZE, AND EXTENT

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.

TOPOGRAPHY

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).

CLIMATE

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 (6264°f). In January the average temperature ranges between2.8°c and 6.6°c (3144°f). The rainfall in the country is between 5679 cm (2231 in).

FLORA AND FAUNA

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.

ENVIRONMENT

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.

POPULATION

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 200510 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.

MIGRATION

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.

ETHNIC GROUPS

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.

LANGUAGES

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.

RELIGIONS

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.

TRANSPORTATION

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.

HISTORY

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 1991shortly after the failure of a coup against GorbachevLatvia proclaimed its full independence. The first postindependence elections for the new Saeima (parliament) were held on 56 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.

GOVERNMENT

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.

POLITICAL PARTIES

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.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

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.

JUDICIAL SYSTEM

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.

ARMED FORCES

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.

INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION

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.

ECONOMY

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 78%.

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%.

INCOME

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.

LABOR

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.

AGRICULTURE

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 19902000.

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.

ANIMAL HUSBANDRY

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 (193945), 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.

FISHING

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.

FORESTRY

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 (193945), 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.

MINING

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.

ENERGY AND POWER

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.

INDUSTRY

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.

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

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 198797, 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.

DOMESTIC TRADE

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.

FOREIGN TRADE

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 (FOBFree 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,

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 2,893.7 5,244.0 -2,350.3
United Kingdom 449.9 118.0 331.9
Germany 428.9 842.3 -413.4
Sweden 305.4 328.4 -23.0
Lithuania 237.2 508.1 -270.9
Estonia 190.5 336.5 -146.0
Denmark 173.7 178.9 -5.2
Russia 155.8 455.4 -299.6
Netherlands 93.9 162.5 -68.6
United States 83.8 91.3 -7.5
Finland 77.7 387.5 -309.8
() data not available or not significant.
Current Account -956.0
   Balance on goods -1,998.0
     Imports -5,169.0
     Exports 3,171.0
   Balance on services 583.0
   Balance on income -59.0
   Current transfers 518.0
Capital Account 34.0
Financial Account 917.0
   Direct investment abroad -32.0
   Direct investment in Latvia 359.0
   Portfolio investment assets -286.0
   Portfolio investment liabilities 62.0
   Financial derivatives 6.0
   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%).

BALANCE OF PAYMENTS

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.

BANKING AND SECURITIES

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 depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $1.4 billion. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $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.

INSURANCE

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.

PUBLIC FINANCE

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%.

TAXATION

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%
   Tax revenue 901.4 52.5%
   Social contributions 561.9 32.8%
   Grants 51.1 3.0%
   Other revenue 201.1 11.7%
Expenditures 1,796.2 100.0%
   General public services 347.1 19.3%
   Defense 80.3 4.5%
   Public order and safety 145.9 8.1%
   Economic affairs 211.2 11.8%
   Environmental protection
   Housing and community amenities 20.6 1.1%
   Health 200.8 11.2%
   Recreational, culture, and religion 43.8 2.4%
   Education 117.4 6.5%
   Social protection 629.1 35.0%
() 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.

CUSTOMS AND DUTIES

Latvia imposes a standard 18% VAT on imports. However, certain items qualify for lower rates of 09%. 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.

FOREIGN INVESTMENT

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.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

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 200102, 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 ratewhich 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 DEVELOPMENT

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.

HEALTH

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.

HOUSING

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 197195.

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.

EDUCATION

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.

LIBRARIES AND MUSEUMS

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.

MEDIA

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.

ORGANIZATIONS

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.

TOURISM, TRAVEL, AND RECREATION

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.

FAMOUS LATVIANS

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 (18231923) and Atis Kronvalds in the 19th century. Romantic literature in the 20th century was symbolized by Janis Rainis's (18651929) Fire and Night.

DEPENDENCIES

Latvia has no territories or colonies.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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.

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LATVIA

Republic of Latvia

Major City:
Riga

Other Cities:
Daugavpils, Jelgava, Liepāja, Ventspils

EDITOR'S NOTE

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.

INTRODUCTION

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.

MAJOR CITY

Riga

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.

Utilities

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.

Use 220v irons and other small appliances. These can be purchased locally or ordered from Stockmann's in Helsinki or the export companies in Denmark.

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.

Food

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

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.

Domestic Help

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).

Religious Activities

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.

Education

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.

Sports

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.

Entertainment

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.

OTHER CITIES

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.

COUNTRY PROFILE

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 countriesEstonia, Finland, and Icelandare 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).

Population

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.

Public Institutions

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.

Transportation

Automobiles

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.

Local

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.

Regional

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.

Communications

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.)

Mail

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

Medical Facilities

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.

Community Health

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.

Preventive Measures

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/

Pets

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.

LOCAL HOLIDAYS

Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Mar/Apr.Good Friday*

Mar/Apr.Easter*

Mar/Apr.Easter Monday*

May 1Latvia Labor Day

JuneMidsummer's Eve*

June*Summer Solstice

Nov. 18LR Proclamation Day

Dec. 25 Christmas Day

Dec. 26Boxing Day

Dec. 31 New Year's Eve

*variable

RECOMMENDED READING

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

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Latvia

PROFILE
PEOPLE
HISTORY
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
ECONOMY
DEFENSE
FOREIGN RELATIONS
U.S.-LATVIAN RELATIONS
TRAVEL

Compiled from the August 2007 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:

Republic of Latvia

PROFILE

Geography

Area: 64,589 sq. km. (24,938 sq. mi.); slightly larger than West Virginia.

Cities: (2006) Capital—Riga (727,578). Other cities—Daugavpils (109,482); Liepaja (85,915); Jelgava (66,087); Jurmala (55,602); Ventspils (43,806); Rezekne (36,646).

Terrain: Fertile low-lying plains predominate in central Latvia, highlands in Vidzeme and Latgale to the east, and hilly moraine in the western Kurzeme region. Forests cover one-third of the country, with over 3,000 small lakes and numerous bogs. Although there are more than 12,000 rivers in the country, the only major waterways are the Daugava (Dvina) River, which flows through the center of the country and empties into the Gulf of Riga, and the Gauja River, which rises in the Vidzeme Upland.

Land use: 20% arable land, 8% meadows and pastures, 45% forest and woodland, 27% other.

Climate: Temperate, maritime, with four seasons of almost equal length. Average temperatures in January range from -2.8°C (26.6°F) in the western, coastal town of Liepaja, to -6.6°C (20.1°F) in the inland town of Daugavpils. Mean temperatures for July range from 16.7°C (62.1°F) in Liepaja to 17.6°C (63.7°F) in Daugavpils. Annual precipitation averages 57 centimeters (23 in.).

People

Nationality: Noun and adjective—Latvian(s).

Population: (2006) 2,294,590.

Annual growth rate: (2006) -0.67%. Birth rate—9.24/1,000. Death rate—13.66/1,000. Migration rate—1,900 immigrants, 2,300 emigrants (2005). Net migration rate: (2006) -2.26 migrant(s)/1,000.

Population density: (2006) 35.5/1 sq. km (this figure is far lower in parts of western Latvia). Urban dwellers—68%.

Ethnic groups: (2006) Latvians 59%, Russians 28.5%, Belarusians 3.8%, Ukrainians 2.5%, Poles 2.4%.

Religions: Lutheran (19.9%), Roman Catholic (21.7%), Russian Orthodox (15.2%).

Languages: Latvian (Lettish). Russian also is spoken by most people.

Education: Years compulsory—9. By 1989, 60% of the adult populace had finished high school, and 12% had completed college. Enrollment (2005/2006)—416,221 students in 1, 570 schools (including pre-school establishments) and 131,125 university students. Literacy—99.8%.

Health: Infant mortality rate—9.35/ 1,000 (2006). Life expectancy (2006)—66.08 yrs. male, 76.85 yrs. female.

Work force: (989,000 people) Industry—16.9%; agriculture/forestry—14.9%; trade—14.9%; education—8.9%; transport/communications—8.7%; public administration/ defense—6.9%; construction—6.1%; health care/social welfare—6.1%.

Government

Type: Parliamentary democracy.

Constitution: The law “On the Republic of Latvia Status as a State,” passed by Parliament on August 21, 1991, provided for the reinstatement of the 1922 constitution.

Government branches: Executive—President (head of state), elected by Parliament every 4 years; Prime Minister (head of government). Legislative—Saeima (100-member parliament). Judicial—Supreme Court; Constitutional Court; civil law system.

Political subdivisions: 26 “rural” districts and 6 districts in Riga.

Political parties: People's Party—23 seats, Greens and Farmers—18 seats, New Era—18 Seats, Alliance of Political Organizations (Harmony Center)—17 seats, Latvia's First Party and Latvian/Latvia's Way Union—10 seats, Fatherland and Freedom—8 seats, For Human Rights in United Latvia—6 seats.

Suffrage: universal adult (18 years of age).

National holidays: (2007) 1 January (New Year's Day); 6-9 April (Easter); 1 May (Labor Day); 23-24 June (Midsummer Festival); 18 November (National Day, proclamation of the Republic); 25-26 December (Christmas); 31 December (New Year's Eve).

Economy

GDP: (2006) $16.5 billion.

Annual growth rate: (2006) 11.9%.

Annual inflation rate: (2006) 6.8%.

Unemployment rate: (2006) 6.5%.

Per capita income: (2005) $6,587.

Natural resources: Peat, limestone, dolomite, gypsum, timber.

Agriculture/forestry: (4.0% of GDP) Products—cattle, dairy foods, cereals, potatoes, timber. Land—2.48 million hectares, of which 75% is arable, 25% meadow and pasture.

Industry: (13.1% of GDP) Metal-working, machinery and tools, light electrical equipment and fittings, textiles and footwear, technological instruments, construction materials, processed foods.

Major sectors of the economy: Public services—14.2%; construction—6.3%; energy/water—2.6%; trade—19.9%; transport and communications—15.0%; business services—13.2%; financial services—5.5%; other services—3.9%.

Trade: (2005) Exports—$4.87 billion: wood/wood products 24.8%; metals 13.1%, food/food products (including alcohol and tobacco) 12%, machines 9.3%, mineral products 9.2%, textiles 8.6%. Major markets—Lithuania 11%, Estonia 10.8%, Germany 10.2%, U.K. 10.1%, Russia 7.9%, Sweden 7.8%. Imports—$8.2 billion: energy 15.5%, machinery 19.9%, chemicals 8.4%, food/food products 11.6%, metals 9.2%, vehicles 10.7%. Partners—Germany 14.0%, Lithuania 13.7, Russia 8.5%, Estonia 7.9%, Poland 6.4%, Finland 5.9%, Belarus 5.8%, Sweden 5.1%.

PEOPLE

The behavior of most Latvians reflects the strong cultural and religious influences of centuries-long Germanic and Scandinavian colonization and settlement. They are viewed as self-reliant, independent, persistent, and reserved. Eastern Latvia (Latgale), however, retains a strong Polish and Russian cultural and linguistic influence. This highly literate society places strong emphasis upon education, which is free and compulsory until age 16. The majority of Latvians belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church; a sizable minority is Russian Orthodox, and Eastern Latvia is predominantly Roman Catholic.

Historically, Latvia has always had fairly large Russian, Jewish, German, and Polish minorities, but traumatic wartime events, postwar emigration, deportations, and Soviet Russification policies from 1939 to 1989 reduced the percentage of ethnic Latvians in Latvia from 73% to 52%. In an attempt to preserve the Latvian language and prevent ethnic Latvians from becoming a minority in their own country, Latvia enacted language, education, and citizenship laws which require a working proficiency in the Latvian language in order to become a citizen. Such legislation has caused concern among many non-citizen resident Russians, despite Latvian legal guarantees of universal human and civil rights regardless of citizenship.

Written with the Latin alphabet, Latvian is the language of the Latvian people and the official language of the country. It is an inflective language with several analytical forms, three dialects, and German syntactical influence. The oldest known examples of written Latvian are from a 1585 catechism. Latvians and Lithuanians are the only surviving direct descendents of the Baltic peoples who speak languages of the Indo-European family. While Latvia was a member of the U.S.S.R, Russian was the official language, so many Latvians also speak Russian, and the resident Slavic populace generally speaks Russian as a first language.

HISTORY

By the 10th century, the area that is today Latvia was inhabited by several Baltic tribes who had formed their own local governments. In 1054, German sailors who shipwrecked on the Daugava River inhabited the area, which initiated a period of increasing Germanic influence. The Germans named the territory Livonia. In 1201, Riga, the current capital of Latvia, was founded by the Germanic Bishop Alberth of Livonia; the city joined the Hanseatic League in 1285 and began to form important cultural and economic relationships with the rest of Europe. However, the new German nobility enserfed the indigenous people and accorded them only limited trading and property rights.

Subsequent wars and treaties led to Livonia's partition and colonization for centuries. In 1721 Russia took control over the Latvian territories as a result of its victory over Sweden in the Great Northern War. During this time there was little sense of a Latvian national identity, as both serfdom and institutional controls to migration and social mobility limited the boundaries of the indigenous people's intellectual and social geography. However, in the 1860's, the Young Latvian Movement was formed in order to promote the indigenous language against Russification policies and to publicize and counteract the socioeconomic oppression of Latvians, 60% of whom belonged to the landless, urban class. This growing proletariat became fertile ground for the ideas of western European socialism and supported the creation in 1903 of the Latvian Social Democratic Union (LSDU), which continued to champion national interests and Latvia's national self-determination, especially during the failed 1905 Revolution in Russia.

The onset of World War I brought German occupation of the western coastal province of Kurzeme, which Latvians heroically countered with several regiments of riflemen commanded by Czarist generals. The military campaign generally increased Latvian and LSDU support for the Bolsheviks’ successful October Revolution in 1917, in the hopes of a “free Latvia within free Russia.” These circumstances led to the formation of the Soviet “Iskolat Republic” in the

unoccupied section of Latvia. In opposition to this government and to the landed barons’ German sympathies stood the Latvian Provisional National Council and the Riga Democratic Bloc. These and other political parties formed the Latvian People's Council, which on November 18, 1918 declared Latvia's independence and formed an army. The new Latvian Army won a decisive battle over the combined German-Red Army forces and consolidated that success on the eastern Latgale front. These developments led to the dissolution of the Soviet Latvian government on January 13, 1920 and to a peace treaty between Latvia and Soviet Russia on August 11 later that year. On September 22, 1921, an independent Latvia was admitted to the League of Nations.

The government, headed by Prime Minister Ulmanis, declared a democratic, parliamentary republic. It recognized Latvian as the official language, granted cultural autonomy to the country's sizeable minorities, and introduced an electoral system into the Latvian constitution, which was adopted in 1922. The ensuing decade witnessed sweeping economic reform, as the war had devastated Latvian agriculture, and most Russian factories had been evacuated to Russia. However, economic depression heightened political turmoil, and, on May 15, 1934, the Prime Minister dismissed the Parliament, banned outspoken and left-wing political parties, and tightened authoritarian state control over Latvian social life and the economy.

The German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of 1939 steadily forced Latvia under Soviet influence, culminating in Latvia's annexation by the Soviet Union on August 5, 1940. On June 14 of the following year, 15,000 Latvian citizens were forcibly deported and a large number of army officers shot. The subsequent German occupation witnessed the mobilization of many Latvians into Waffen SS legions, while some Latvians joined the Red Army and formed resistance groups, and others fled to the West and East.

An estimated 70,000, or 89.5%, of Latvian Jews were killed in Latvia under Nazi occupation. Up to one-third of Latvia's pre-war population (approximately 630,000 residents) was lost between 1940 and 1954 due to the Holocaust and the Soviet and Nazi occupations.

After World War II, the U.S.S.R. subjected the Latvian republic to a social and economic reorganization which rapidly changed the rural economy to one based on heavy industry, transformed the predominantly Latvian population into a more multiethnic populace, and converted the peasant class into a fully urbanized industrial worker class. As part of the goal to more fully integrate Latvia into the Soviet Union, Stalin deported another 42,000 Latvians and continued to promote the policy of encouraging Soviet immigration to Latvia.

In July 1989, following the dramatic events in East Germany, the Latvian Supreme Soviet adopted a “Declaration of Sovereignty” and amended the Constitution to assert the supremacy of its laws over those of the U.S.S.R. Candidates from the pro-independence party Latvian Popular Front gained a two-thirds majority in the Supreme Council in the March 1990 democratic elections. On May 4, the Council declared its intention to restore full Latvian independence after a “transitional” period; three days later, a Latvian was chosen Prime Minister. Soviet political and military forces tried unsuccessfully to overthrow the Latvian Government. On August 21, 1991, Latvia claimed de facto independence. International recognition, including that of the U.S.S.R., followed. The United States, which had never recognized Latvia's forcible annexation by the U.S.S.R. and continued to accredit a Latvian Ambassador in Washington, recognized Latvia's renewed independence on September 2. In 2007, the United States and Latvia celebrated 85 years of continuous diplomatic relations.

Since regaining its independence, Latvia has rapidly moved away from the political-economic structures and socio-cultural patterns which underlay the Soviet Union. Through a U.S. initiative, on April 30, 1994, Latvia and Russia signed a troop withdrawal agreement; Russia withdrew the bulk of its troops by August 31 of that year. Except for some large state-owned utilities, Latvia has privatized most sectors of its economy, which has become one of the fastest developing economies in Europe. Latvia has also maintained and strengthened the democratic, parliamentary republic that it revived in 1990.

Internationally, Latvia has accomplished a great deal. It became a member of the United Nations (UN) on September 18, 1991, and is a signatory to a number of UN organizations and other international agreements, including the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank. It is also a member of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and officially became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on March 29, 2004. On May 1, 2004 Latvia joined the European Union (EU).

Since 2004, Latvia has emerged as a significant player in foreign affairs, standing out as a successful post-Soviet transition society. Strong memories of occupation and oppression motivate Latvia to reach out to countries struggling to move beyond authoritarian politics and state-controlled economies. It has worked closely with the U.S. and the EU to promote democracy in Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and Georgia. Latvia also supports pro-market, pro-free-trade policies in European and international organizations. It was the European Union's fastest-growing economy in 2004 through 2006.

Latvia has developed a policy of international security cooperation through participation in crisis management and peacekeeping operations. In 2006, Latvia deployed over 10% of its active duty military to support UN, NATO, and coalition military operations. That percentage is well above the European average in terms of per capita contributions. In 2007, Latvia doubled its participation in the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan to over 70 soldiers and plans a further increase in 2008. Closer to home, Latvia has been active in the Balkans: it supports the NATO mission in Kosovo with peacekeepers, and the European Union Force (EUFOR) mission in Bosnia with liaison officers. In November 2006, Latvia hosted a NATO Summit in its capital, Riga.

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

The highest organ of state authority in Latvia is the Saeima, a unicameral legislative body of 100 members who are elected by direct popular vote to serve four-year terms. The Saeima initiates and approves legislation sponsored by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is the head of government and has full responsibility and control over the Cabinet. The President, who is elected by the Saeima every four years, holds a primarily ceremonial role as head of state, though the President must sign each law into force and has the power to return laws to the Saeima twice for review and revision. The President also has the power to call for a referendum on legislation that the Saeima refuses to change after twice being sent back. In the autumn of 1991 Latvia re-implemented significant portions of its 1922 constitution, and in the spring of 1993 the government took a census to determine eligibility for citizenship. Latvia finalized a citizenship and naturalization law in the summer of 1994, which was further liberalized in 1998. By law, those who were Latvian citizens in 1940 and their descendants (regardless of ethnicity) could claim citizenship. Forty-one percent of Latvia's population is ethnically non-Latvian, yet almost three-fourths of all residents are citizens of Latvia. Requirements for naturalization include a conversational knowledge of Latvian, a loyalty oath, renunciation of former citizenship, 5 years of residency in Latvia, and a basic knowledge of Latvian history. Dual citizenship is allowed for those who were forced to leave Latvia during the Soviet occupation and adopted another citizenship. Convicted criminals, agents of Soviet intelligence services, and certain other groups are excluded from becoming citizens.

On March 19, 1991 the Supreme Council passed a law explicitly guaranteeing “equal rights to all nationalities and ethnic groups” and “to all permanent residents in the Republic regardless of their nationality, equal rights to work and wages.” In addition, the law prohibits “any activity directed toward nationality discrimination or the promotion of national superiority or hatred.”

In the June 5-6, 1993 elections, in which more than 90% of the electorate participated, eight of Latvia's 23 registered political parties passed the 5% threshold to enter parliament. The centrist party Latvia's Way received a 33% plurality of votes and joined the Farmer's Union to head a center-right-wing coalition government.

The September 30-October 1,1995 elections resulted in a deeply fragmented parliament with nine parties represented and the largest party commanding only 18 of 100 seats. Attempts to form right-of-center and leftist governments failed; seven weeks after the election, a broad but fractious coalition government of six of the nine parties was voted into office under Prime Minister Andris Skele, a popular, nonpartisan businessman.

In the 1998 elections, the Latvian party structure began to consolidate, with only six parties obtaining seats in the Saeima. Andris Skele's newly formed People's Party garnered a plurality with 24 seats. Though the election represented a victory for the center-right, personality conflicts and scandals within the two largest right-of-center parties—Latvia's Way and the People's Party—prevented stable coalitions from forming. Two shaky governments quickly collapsed in less than a year. In May 2000, a compromise candidate was found in the Latvia's Way mayor of Riga, Andris Berzins. His four-party coalition lasted until parliamentary elections in October 2002. Those elections left Latvia's Way, for the first time since 1993, with no seats in parliament. The New Era Party, which ran on an anti-corruption platform, gained the most seats and formed a four-party coalition government until the abrupt resignation of the Prime Minister in February 2004 over issues relating to personalities and management of the ruling coalition.

In 1999, the Saeima elected Vaira Vike-Freiberga, a compromise candidate with no party affiliation, to the presidency. Though born in Riga in 1937, she settled in Canada during the years of the Soviet occupation, becoming a well-respected academic on the subject of Latvian culture and psychology. Following her election, she became one of the most popular political figures in Latvia. She was overwhelmingly re-elected by parliament for another four-year term in June 2003. She was also credited with bringing Latvia to the world's stage and serving as an important check on the ruling coalitions.

With the tacit support of leftist parties, a minority government led by Greens and Farmers Union leader Indulis Emsis took office on March 9, 2004. The new government focused on smoothing Latvia's entry into NATO and the European Union, which took place in the first half of 2004. The government collapsed on October 28, 2004 after parliament voted against the 2005 budget. A new coalition government, led by Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis, took office on December 2, 2004 and was reelected on October 7, 2006. These last election results marked the first time that an incumbent administration has won re-election in the history of independent Latvia.

In 2007, the Saeima elected Valdis Zatlers, another candidate with no political affiliation, to the presidency. An orthopedic surgeon by trade, Zatlers was the director of the Latvian Traumatology and Orthopedics Center until his election and has no prior political experience. When his start was clouded by charges that he had accepted supplemental payments for medical services on which he did not pay taxes, he complied with investigations and paid back taxes as directed by the State Revenue Service.

Latvia's flag consists of two horizontal, maroon bands of equal width, divided by a white stripe one-half the width. The national holiday is November 18, Independence Day, which marks Latvia's 1918 independence.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 2/1/2008

Pres.: Valdis ZATLERS

Prime Min.: Ivars GODMANIS

Min. of Agriculture: Martins ROZE

Min. for Children & Families: Ainars BASTIKS

Min. of Culture: Helena DEMAKOVA

Min. of Defense: Vinets VELDRE

Min. of Economics: Kaspars GERHARDS

Min. of Education & Science: Tatjana KOKE

Min. of Environment: Raimonds VEJONIS

Min. of Finance: Atis SLAKTERIS

Min. of Foreign Affairs: Maris RIEKSTINS

Min. of Health: Ivars EGLITIS

Min. of Interior: Mareks SEGLINS

Min. of Justice: Gaidis BERZINS

Min. of Regional Development & Local Govts.: Edgars ZALANS

Min. for Special Assignments for Admin. of European Union Funds: Normunds BROKS

Min. for Special Assignments for E-Govt. Affairs: Ina GUDELE

Min. for Special Assignments for Society Integration Affairs: Oskars KASTENS

Min. of Transport: Ainars SLESERS

Min. of Welfare: Iveta PURNE

Governor, Bank of Latvia: Ilmars RIMSEVICS

Ambassador to the US: Andrejs PILDEGOVICS

Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Solveiga SILKALNA

Latvia maintains an embassy in the United States at 2306 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington DC 20008 [tel: (202) 328-2840].

ECONOMY

For centuries under Hanseatic and German influence and then during its inter-war independence, Latvia used its geographic location as an important East-West commercial and trading center. Industry served local markets, while timber, paper, and agricultural products supplied Latvia's main exports. The years of Soviet occupation tended to integrate Latvia's economy into the U.S.S.R. in order to serve that empire's large internal industrial needs. Since reestablishing its independence, Latvia has proceeded with market-oriented reforms. Its freely traded currency, the Lat, was introduced in 1993 and has held steady or appreciated against major world currencies. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has noted that Latvia's economic performance the past several years has been among the best of the EU accession countries. Real per capita GDP has roughly doubled compared to its 1995 level. GDP grew by close to 11% in 2006 and annual growth rates of 6-8% in the medium term are predicted by the Latvian Government. Inflation, however, has remained high, at 6-7%, since 2004, following a period from 1999 to 2003 when Latvian inflation rates were at 3% or below. The increase in inflation has delayed prospects of introducing the Euro currency in Latvia. At the same time, Latvia's current account deficit (ranging from 12% to 14% of GDP over the past 3 years) remains one of the key vulnerabilities of the Latvian economy.

Independence forced Latvia into a precarious position regarding its energy supply. With the exception of peat and timber, Latvia had no significant domestic energy resources and received 93% of its imported energy from Soviet republics. Latvia has sought ways to diversify its energy sources and to increase energy conservation. In August 2001, the Keg-ums hydroelectric power plant was reopened, contributing to Latvia's ability to supply 25% of its energy that year. Furthermore, in June 2002 the European Investment Bank loaned Latvenergo, a state-owned energy supply group, 80 million Euros to modernize its generation and distribution of electricity and thermal energy. Latvia is also looking to regional cooperation arrangements to diversify its energy supplies. With the other Baltic states, it plans to create an electricity network able to operate independently of its Russian counterpart. It is planning major infrastructure projects to provide energy supplies via Scandinavia, and it is working with Estonia, Lithuania and Poland to build a new nuclear power station in Ignalina, Lithuania.

Privatization in Latvia is effectively complete. All of the previously state-owned small and medium enterprises have been privatized, leaving in state hands the electric utility, the Latvian railway company, and the Latvian postal system, as well as state shares in several politically sensitive concerns. Despite the lack of transparency of the early stages of the privatization process and certain difficulties in privatization of some of the largest companies, Latvian privatization efforts have led to the development of a dynamic and prosperous private sector, which accounts for approximately 70% of the country's GDP.

In the last few years, Latvia has implemented many positive reforms in the business sphere (ranking 24th worldwide on the ease of doing business there, according to the World Bank Doing Business 2007 report). Most reforms deal with licensing, taxes, and business closures. In the 2005/2006 period, Latvia made it easier for businesses to comply with building requirements and reduced the number of licenses and permits required. In addition, Latvia launched an electronic tax filing system and improved the regulation of bankruptcy administrators in order to reduce corruption.

Foreign investment in Latvia remains high, as both Western and Eastern investors are trying to establish a foothold in the new EU member state as well as to take advantage of Latvia's stable macroeconomic environment, central location in the region, and cheap labor. Representing 5.8% of Latvia's total foreign direct investment (FDI), the U.S. FDI stock in Latvia stood at nearly $420 million at the end of 2006, according to the Bank of Latvia's most recent available figures. In 2005, U.S. goods and services accounted for 1.0% of Latvia's total imports, while exports to the United States accounted for 2.7% of Latvia's total exports. Latvia has been a member of the World Trade Organization since 1999. Latvia and the United States have signed treaties on investment, trade, intellectual property protection, and avoidance of double taxation.

In the long term, continued high economic growth in Latvia will depend on further improvements to the business environment, particularly the drive to reduce corruption and strengthen the rule of law, and on Latvia's ability to use the opportunities presented by EU membership.

DEFENSE

Latvia's defense concept is based upon four basic pillars: collective defense as a member of NATO, professionalization of the armed forces, support and coordination with civil society, and international military cooperation. The armed forces consist of the land forces brigade with one deployable battalion, an air force focused on air surveillance and search and rescue, and naval forces focused on coastal surveillance, assertion of sovereignty, mine countermeasures, search and rescue, and environmental protection. The land forces, air force, and navy comprise approximately 7,000 personnel. There is also a “zemessardze,” or home guard, an autonomous 13,890 man-strong volunteer reserve organization which performs traditional national-guard duties such as crisis response and support for military operations. The Latvian National Armed Forces became fully professional in November 2006. Defense spending has risen in recent years, and the government has committed 2% of its GDP to defense spending through 2013.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

After regaining its independence, Latvia began to work at reintegrating into the West. In 1991, Latvia joined the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and became a member of the United Nations (UN). It is party to a number of UN organizations as well as other international agreements including the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank. Since 2004, Latvia has been an active member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU).

Latvia has emerged as a significant international player, courageously supporting peace and democracy world-wide. Per capita, it is one of the largest contributors to international military operations. It has deployed troops to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans. It also works closely with the U.S. and the EU to support and promote democracy in the former Soviet Union states of Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and Georgia. A testament to the close relationship between the U.S, and Latvia is the fact that President Bush has visited the country twice, the second time to attend the NATO Summit held in Riga on November 28-29, 2006.

Russia has expressed concern over how Latvia's language and naturalization laws affect Latvia's Russian-speaking population. Russians comprised 28.5% of the population in 2006. In turn, Latvia is interested in the welfare of ethnic Latvians still residing in Russia. Latvia and Russia signed a border treaty agreement in March 2007. It has been ratified by the Latvian side but awaits ratification by the Russian State Duma. Latvia maintains embassies in the United States, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Canada, the People's Republic of China, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and Uzbekistan. It also operates missions to the United Nations in New York City and Geneva, the European Council, the European Union, the Chemical Weapons Nonproliferation Organization, NATO, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the World Trade Organization, and the UN Council on Food and Agriculture. Latvia has a Consulate General in Russia; Consulates in Belarus and Russia; Honorary Consulates General in Australia, Cyprus, India, Israel, and Norway; and Honorary Consulates in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Mexico, Moldova, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, and Venezuela.

U.S.-LATVIAN RELATIONS

The United States established diplomatic relations with Latvia on July 28, 1922. The U.S. Legation in Riga was officially established on November 13, 1922 and served as the head-quarters for U.S. representation in the Baltics during the interwar era. The Soviet invasion forced the closure of the legation on September 5, 1940, but Latvian representation in the United States has continued uninterrupted for 85 years. The United States never recognized the forcible incorporation of Latvia into the U.S.S.R. and views the present Government of Latvia as a legal continuation of the interwar republic. Latvia and the United States have signed treaties on investment, trade, intellectual property protection, extradition, mutual legal assistance, and avoidance of double taxation. Latvia has enjoyed most-favored-nation treatment with the United States since December 1991.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

Last Updated: 2/19/2008

RIGA (E) 7 Raina Blvd., Riga LV-1510 Latvia, APO/FPO PSC 78 Box R, APO/AE 09723, +371-6703-6200, Fax +371-6782-0047, Workweek: M-F/0830-1700, Website: http://riga.usembassy.gov.

DCM OMS:Sydnee H. Hall
AMB OMS:Sheila Jefferson
MGT:Eric R. Kettner
POL ECO:Tamir G. Waser
AMB:Catherine Todd Bailey
CON:Stephen Frahm
DCM:Stuart Seldowitz
PAO:William Bellis
COM:Thomas L. Johnston
GSO:Dwayne Cline
RSO:Jeffrey Lefler
AFSA:Joseph Babb
CLO:Juli Briskman
DAO:Ltc. David Holahan, Ltcol, Usmc
EEO:Stephen Frahm
IMO:Tad Pollard
IRS:Susan Stanley
ISO:Tad Pollard
ISSO:Tad Pollard
MLO:Eric Phillipson, Ltc, Usa

TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet

August 29, 2007

Country Description: Latvia is a stable democracy experiencing rapid economic growth. Most tourist facilities found in a western European city are available in the capital city of Riga. However, some of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries are not yet available in other parts of the country.

Entry Requirements: Latvian law requires that visitors present a passport that is valid for at least three months after their planned stay (for example, if a visitor plans to stay for one month, then a passport valid for four months is required). Individuals who arrive at Latvia's borders who do not meet this requirement are generally denied entry to the country. American citizens do not need a visa to travel to Latvia for business or pleasure for up to 90 days. That 90-day period begins with entry to any of the “Schengen group” countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and Sweden. Multiple visits to Schengen countries may not exceed 90 days in any 6 month period. 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. All travelers must have a valid insurance policy, covering medical expenses while in Latvia. Repatriation costs, including funeral and disposition of remains costs also have to be covered by the policy. In addition, upon entering or exiting the country, travelers must declare cash in excess of 10,000 euros to Latvian customs. For more information, travelers may contact the Latvian Embassy, at 2306 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel. (202) 328-2840, fax (202) 328-2860. See also http://www.latvia-usa.org. Within Latvia, contact the Ministry of Interiors Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs at Raina bulv. 5, Riga, LV 1508. tel. (371)721-9664 or (371) 721-9645, fax: (371)782-0306, http://www.ocma.gov.lv/ or Foreign Service Center at Alunana iela 1, Riga LV 1050, tel: (371)721-9655. Any traveler to Russia, even in transit, is advised to obtain a 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. Visit the Embassy of Latvia web site at http://www.latvia-usa.org for the most current visa informatio

Note: Although European Union regulations require that non-EU visitors obtain a stamp in their passport upon initial entry to a Schengen country, many borders are not staffed with officers carrying out this function. If an American citizen wishes to ensure that his or her entry is properly documented, it may be necessary to request a stamp at an official point of entry. Under local law, travelers with-out a stamp in their passport may be questioned and asked to document the length of their stay in Schengen countries at the time of departure or at any other point during their visit, and could face possible fines or other repercussions if unable to do so.

Safety and Security: Civil unrest is not a problem in Riga. Nonetheless, in the past, Riga has seen large, peaceful demonstrations related to internal political issues. While demonstrations have been peaceful, American citizens are nevertheless cautioned to avoid any large public demonstrations. There have been no incidents of terrorism directed toward American interests. Incidents of anti-Americanism are rare. However, instances of racially motivated verbal harassment, and on occasion, physical assaults on non-Caucasian foreigners, have occurred in Riga. There have also been reports of non-Caucasian foreigners being subjected to extra scrutiny by security guards in shops and malls in Riga. Additionally, individuals displaying alternative lifestyles have experienced harassment.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution Travel Alert, Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts can be found. Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.

Crime: Crime in Riga is generally non-violent. The majority of non-violent crime tends toward acts of pick-pocketing, identity theft, and personal scams. However, there have been instances of serious violent assaults and robberies. Street crime is a serious problem, particularly for tourists. In addition to pickpockets in all public areas, there are numerous scam artists targeting foreigners in the tourist pubs and restaurants. There have been a number of reports recently of foreign tourists being exorbitant prices for drinks in bars. Some have then been assaulted or forced to withdraw money from an ATM to pay the bill. You can avoid situations like this by ensuring that you check the price of drinks before ordering, pay for one round at a time and seek recommendations for bars from trustworthy sources.There have also been a few cases of tourists and residents being drugged in bars and restaurants and then taken outside or to their residences and robbed. In any public area, one should always be alert, particularly to being surrounded by two or more people at once. It is not uncommon for groups of pickpockets to attempt to overwhelm their victim. Gangs of professional pickpockets are specifically targeting foreigners, particularly those carrying backpacks. In addition, Riga has one of the highest rates of car theft in the world.

Internet crime is a growing concern in Latvia. Common fraudulent schemes involve both Internet auction sites and Internet job search sites. In the first scam, criminals offer valuable items for sale at low prices on Internet auctions and request that payments be sent by wire transfer to a bank in Latvia or through a fraudulent escrow site that they have created themselves. In this scheme, the money passes through a bank in Latvia and is quickly withdrawn by ATM or transferred to a bank in another country. It is very difficult in these cases to discover the identities of the account holders or recover the funds. The second common scam involves identity theft through false job offers. In this scheme, a company claiming to be located in Latvia, but which has a non-existent address, offers the victim employment as a U.S.—based agent or freight forwarder. When the victim responds to the job offer, commonly posted on one of several popular Internet job sites, a Social Security Number and other identifying information needed for the identity theft is required under the guise of conducting a background check.

Instances of racially motivated verbal harassment and, on occasion, physical assaults on non-Caucasian foreigners, have occurred in Riga. There have also been reports of non-Cauca-sian foreigners being subjected to extra scrutiny by security guards in shops and malls in Riga.

Information for Victims of Crime: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy or Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Medical Facilities and Health Information: Medical care in Latvia is steadily improving, but remains limited in several important respects. There are a few private clinics with medical supplies and services, including disposable needles and basic modern diagnostics, which are nearly equal to Western Europe or U.S. standards. However, because of the lack of equipment and resources, most major invasive procedures or surgeries in Latvia are not recommended. Hospital services have shown good progress but are still not equal to Western standards. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Most, but not all, antibiotics and prescription medications are available but as they are generally produced in Europe or Latvia, they often have different names and instructions are usually not printed in English. Diphtheria, hepatitis and tick-borne encephalitis are present. According to the World Health Organization, tuberculosis is a significant problem in Latvia, with 9% of all cases being multi-drug resistant. State ambulance service for emergencies is available by dialing 112 anywhere in Latvia. However, response time is poor in rural areas. Air ambulance service is available for medical evacuations. In general, private air ambulance services are very expensive and require advance payment before the patient is transported.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC's web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel. Further health information for travelers is available at www.who.int/ith.

Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Latvia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Foreign visitors to Latvia planning to operate a motor vehicle are required to obtain an International Driving Permit. These may be obtained through the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance for a small fee. A U.S. state driver's license is not sufficient. These requirements apply to those operating rental cars as well, whether or not the rental company chooses to enforce the requirement as a condition of rental. Individuals driving without an International Driving Permit may have their vehicle confiscated by the police. Americans resident in Latvia for more than six months are required to apply for a Latvian driver's license.

Upon receipt of a Latvian driver's license, American citizens are required to surrender their US driver's license to the Latvian authorities. The licenses are then returned to their respective states of issuance. For more information, visit the Latvian Road and Traffic Safety Department at http://www.csdd.lv.

Latvia has one of the highest rates of automobile accidents and fatalities in Europe. While recent reports show a decrease in the number of traffic accident fatalities, there are still a number of hazards to watch out for. Drivers should be alert for pedestrians and slow moving vehicles in traffic. Additionally, violation of traffic rules is common, and it is not unusual to be overtaken by other automobiles traveling at high speeds, even in crowed urban areas. Drivers do not always yield to pedestrians, even at marked intersections. During winter, most major roads are cleared of snow. However, drivers should be alert for fog, snow, and ice while driving. Driving while intoxicated is a very serous offense and carries heavy penalties. Local authorities use roadblocks and Breathalyzer tests as enforcement tools. Drivers and pedestrians should be alert to the possibility of drunk drivers and drunken pedestrians wandering on the road. Drivers must use their headlights at all times. Speed limits are usually 50 km/hr in the city and 90 km/hr on the highways. Public transportation is generally considered safe, but travelers are encouraged to select well-marked taxis. Emergency services are fair but improving; response time may be especially slow in traffic or in rural settings. Dial 112 for ambulance service.

Visit the web site of Latvia's national tourist office online at http://latviatourism.lv/info.php and the national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.csdd.lv.

Aviation Safety Oversight: As there is no direct commercial air service between the United States and Latvia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Latvia, Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov.

Special Circumstances: Banks and currency exchange counters may refuse to accept U.S. currency that is crumpled, torn, discolored or defaced (even small pen stokes, hand written numbers and letters are considered defacing). If such notes are accepted for exchange, an additional processing fee, based on the size of the transaction, may be charged. ATMs are widely available in Riga and in major towns. For security purposes, it is recommended that visitors use ATMs located inside major hotels or shopping malls, versus those located on the street, in high-volume tourist areas. Telephone connections with the United States are reliable. However, 1-800 numbers cannot be accessed from Latvia. Please check with your long distance carrier before departure to see if they offer service in Latvia. Local Internet cafes offer computer access, and fax machines are widely available.

Latvian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Latvia of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, medications, business equipment, drugs, etc. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Latvia in Washington or one of the Latvian consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements at http://www.latvia-usa.org.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Latvian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Latvia are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Children's Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website at http://travel.state.gov/family.

Registration and Embassy and Consulate Locations: Americans living or traveling in Latvia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy of Consulate through the State Department's travel registration web site, http://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Latvia. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy is located at 7 Raina Blvd. Riga, LV-1510, and may be reached by dialing +371-703-6200. The fax number for the Consular American Citizen Services section is+371-781-4088. The U.S. Embassy web site is http://riga.usembassy.gov.

International Adoption

September 2007

The information in this section has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.

Disclaimer: The information in this flyer relating to the legal requirements of Latvia is based on public sources and current understanding and is provided for general information only. This flyer also reflects U.S. immigration law, including regulations and interpretation which were current as of the publishing of this flyer. It should not, however, be taken as legally authoritative. Questions involving foreign and U.S. immigration laws and legal interpretation should be addressed to qualified foreign and/or U.S. legal counsel.

Please Note: Public opposition in Latvia to the adoption of Latvian children by foreigners has contributed to a reluctance to reform international adoption procedures, which currently require several extended trips by adoptive parents to Latvia to complete all the requirements.

Patterns of Immigration: Please review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.

Adoption Authority: The Ministry for Children and Family Affairs is responsible for administering inter-country adoptions. Foreigners interested in adopting a Latvian child should express their interest by writing to the ministry at the following address:

Ministry for Children and Family
Affairs
Basteja Blvd. 14 (3 rd floor)
Riga, LV 1050
Latvia
Tel. (371) 735-6497
Fax. (371) 735-6464
E-mail: [email protected]
http://www.bm.gov.lv/eng/adoption/
(English language page)

Eligibility Requirements for Adoptive Parents: Both single individuals and married couples are eligible to adopt.

Residency Requirements: Parent-child relationship requirement: Latvian adoption law requires that a parent-child relationship be established before the final court decision can be made at the town or city court having jurisdiction over the child. It leaves to each orphan court to decide on a case-by-case basis the period of time required to establish the parent-child relationship. The interpretation of the child-parent relationship among courts may differ. Adoptive parents are advised that orphan courts may require them to take care of the adoptive children and share a household in Latvia for some time period, not exceeding six months.

Time Frame: The time needed to complete an adoption in Latvia from beginning to end varies depending on the age of the adoptive child. Very few newborns and younger children are available for international adoption and prospective adoptive parents may wait several years. Adoptions involving children between eight and ten years of age can take less than a year, as there are currently many more children in that age range eligible for international adoption.

Adoption Agencies and Attorneys: The U.S. Embassy in Riga has a list of agencies and attorneys known to work with Americans seeking to adopt in Latvia. Neither the U.S. Embassy nor the Department of State can vouch for the efficiency or professionalism of any agent, facilitator, or interpreter.

Prospective adoptive parents are advised to fully research any adoption agency or facilitator they plan to use for adoption services. For U.S.-based agencies, it is suggested that prospective adoptive parents contact the Better Business Bureau and/or the licensing office of the appropriate state government agency in the U.S. state where the agency is located or licensed.

Adoption Fees: There are no Latvian government fees for adoption services in Latvia. However, prospective adoptive parents should be prepared to cover fees related to the translation and certification of documents and the processing of new civil and travel documents for the adopted child. Parents should also be prepared to pay the immigrant visa fee ($380) and the fee for basic medical exam ($100 for applicants over 15 and $70 for applicants below 15).

Adoption Procedures: Foreign adoption is allowed if the orphan court having jurisdiction over child's place of residence has established that placement with a Latvian family cannot be secured. Orphan courts in Latvia carry out functions similar to those of social workers in the United States. The main purpose of the orphan court session in the context of international adoption is to establish that such an adoption will be in the child's interest and that the required parent-child relationship has been established.

Foreign prospective adoptive parents are required to file adoption applications with the Ministry for Children and Family Affairs, which reviews all applications and determines whether the applicant meets the requirements of the law. If the judgment is favorable, the Ministry provides the prospective parents with information on children who are available for adoption.

After the prospective parents choose a child, the Ministry issues them permission to meet the child. The permission and the adoptive parent's passport must be presented to the orphanage director (or other care-taking facility) before the family is introduced to the child. The prospective adoptive parents are then given ten days to decide if they are willing to start taking care of the child. It is up to the local orphan court to decide how long the parents will have to care for the child.

The Ministry is informed after the adoptive family has cared for the child for the required time period and the orphan court has established that the adoption would (or would not) be in the child's interests. The Ministry then prepares an adoption approval (or rejection) statement for submission to the town or city court responsible for the final adoption decree. The Minister's adoption permission is valid for three months.

Current law provides for a twenty-day period for the final court decree to become effective. Once the final court decree becomes effective, the adoptive parent(s) can apply for the child's immigrant visa. As of October 1, 2007, immigrant visa applications for adopted children can be filed with the U.S. Embassy in Riga.

Like many countries, Latvia has a post-adoption reporting/monitoring requirement. Specifically, if after the adoption the adoptive parents and the child continue to reside in Latvia, the orphan court having jurisdiction over the child's place of residence will monitor the adopted child's well being for the first two years after the adoption's finalization. If the adoptive parents and the child reside overseas, the Ministry requires post placement reports on the adopted child for two years after the adoption (one a year). The reports should be conducted by appropriate child welfare officials in the state where the child resides. They must be translated into Latvian and forwarded to the Ministry for Children and Family Affairs under apostille.

Required Documents: All prospective adoptive parents must apply for adoption in Latvia by submitting to the Ministry the following documents (in duplicate) in the original, accompanied by an official Latvian translation:

  • Application including information about the reasons for adoption as well as information about the sex, age range, and religion of the child (children) they are interested in adopting;
  • A copy of the parents’ marriage certificate, if applicable, under apostille;
  • A copy of any divorce decree (if applicable), under apostille;
  • A statement about the housing for the family (i.e., size, location, type of residence);
  • An autobiography (curriculum vitae);
  • Medical statements regarding the health of the family (hereditary illnesses, if any, and any specific illnesses);
  • A home study, under apostille, conducted by a U.S. state adoption agency or a private organization licensed to perform such studies;
  • A police clearance statement under apostille.

Embassy of Latvia
2306 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20008
Tel: 202-328-2840
Fax: 202-328-2860
E-mail: [email protected]

Latvia also has honorary consulates in Los Angeles, Houston, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Buffalo, and Florida.

U.S. Immigration Requirements: Prospective adoptive parents are strongly encouraged to consult the USCIS publication M-249, The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adoptive Children, as well as the Department of State publication, International Adoptions. Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at http://travel.state.gov/family.

Embassy of the United States
7 Raina Boulevard
Riga, LV-1510, Latvia
Tel: 371-703-6200; fax: 371-781-4088
http://www.usembassy.lv/
E-mail: [email protected]

Additional Information: Specific questions about intercountry adoption in Latvia may be addressed to the U.S. Embassy in Latvia. General questions regarding intercountry adoption may be addressed to the Office of Children's Issues, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/CI, SA-29, 4th Floor, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818, toll-free Tel: 1-888-407-4747.

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LATVIA

Republic of Latvia

Latvijas Republika

COUNTRY OVERVIEW

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.

POPULATION.

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 1991of 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 StatesEstonia and Lithuaniawhich 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 electionsthe first since independencea 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.

ECONOMIC SECTORS

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

Communications
Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Latvia 247 710 492 58.0 68 N/A N/A 50.86 105
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.7 74,100
Russia 105 418 420 78.5 5 0.4 40.6 13.06 2,700
Lithuania 93 513 459 67.5 72 1.7 54.0 30.45 103
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 servicesincluding transportation, communication, and constructionwere 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 growth22 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.

AGRICULTURE

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

INDUSTRY

MANUFACTURING.

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).

SERVICES

TOURISM.

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.

FINANCIAL SERVICES.

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.

INTERNATIONAL TRADE

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.

MONEY

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$1
Jan 2001 0.614
2000 0.607
1999 0.585
1998 0.590
1997 0.581
1996 0.551
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].
GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Latvia 2,382 2,797 3,210 3,703 2,328
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Russia 2,555 3,654 3,463 3,668 2,138
Lithuania N/A N/A N/A 3,191 2,197
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
Lowest 10% 2.9
Lowest 20% 7.6
Second 20% 12.9
Third 20% 17.1
Fourth 20% 22.1
Highest 20% 40.3
Highest 10% 25.9
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
Latvia 30 5 16 6 23 11 10
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
Russia 28 11 16 7 15 8 16
Lithuania 33 5 13 4 27 9 8
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.

WORKING CONDITIONS

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.

FUTURE TRENDS

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.

DEPENDENCIES

Latvia has no territories or colonies.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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.

Mark Carper

CAPITAL:

Riga.

MONETARY UNIT:

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.

CHIEF EXPORTS:

Wood and wood products, machinery and equipment, metals, textiles, foodstuffs.

CHIEF IMPORTS:

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).

views updated

Latvia

Compiled from the January 2007 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:
Republic of Latvia

PROFILE

PEOPLE

HISTORY

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

ECONOMY

DEFENSE

FOREIGN RELATIONS

U.S.-LATVIAN RELATIONS

TRAVEL

PROFILE

Geography

Area: 64,589 sq. km. (24,938 sq. mi.); slightly larger than West Virginia.

Cities: (2006) Capital—Riga (727,578). Other cities—Daugavpils (109,482); Liepaja (85,915); Jelgava (66,087); Jurmala (55,602); Ventspils (43,806); Rezekne (36,646).

Terrain: Fertile low-lying plains predominate in central Latvia, highlands in Vidzeme and Latgale to the east, and hilly moraine in the western Kurzeme region. Forests cover one-third of the country, with over 3,000 small lakes and numerous bogs. Although there are more than 12,000 rivers in the country, the only major waterways are the Daugava (Dvina) River, which flows through the center of the country and empties into the Gulf of Rîga, and the Gauja River, which rises in the Vidzeme Upland.

Land use: 20% arable land, 8% meadows and pastures, 45% forest and woodland, 27% other.

Climate: Temperate, maritime, with four seasons of almost equal length. Average temperatures in January range from 2.8°C (26.6°F) in the western, coastal town of Liepaja, to 6.6°C (20.1°F) in the inland town of Daugavpils. Mean temperatures for July range from 16.7°C (62.1°F) in Liepaja to 17.6°C (63.7°F) in Daugavpils. Annual precipitation averages 57 centimeters (23 in.).

People

Nationality: Noun and adjective—Latvian(s).

Population: (2006) 2,294,590.

Annual growth rate: (2006) -0.67%. Birth rate—9.24/1,000. Death rate—13.66/1,000. Migration rate—1,900 immigrants, 2,300 emigrants (2005). Net migration rate: (2006) -2.26 migrant(s)/1,000.

Density: (2006) 35.5/1 sq. km (2006) (this figure is far lower in parts of western Latvia). Urban dwellers—68%.

Major ethnic groups: (2006) Latvians 59%, Russians 28.5%, Belarusians 3.8%, Ukrainians 2.5%, Poles 2.4%.

Religions: Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox. No official figures are available on denomination size. A significant number of Latvians are thought to be non-believers.

Languages: Latvian (Lettish). Russian also is spoken by most people.

Education: Years compulsory—9. By 1989, 60% of the adult populace had finished high school, and 12% had completed college. Enrollment (2005/2006)—416,221 students in 1, 570 schools (including pre-school establishments) and 131,125 university students. Literacy—99.8%.

Health: Infant mortality rate—9.35/1,000 (2006). Life expectancy (2006)—66.08 yrs. male, 76.85 yrs. female.

Work force: (989,000 people) Industry—16.9%; agriculture/forestry—14.9%; trade—14.9%; education—8.9%; transport/communications—8.7%; public administration/defense—6.9%; construction—6.1%; healthcare/social welfare—6.1%.

Government

Type: Parliamentary democracy.

Constitution: The law “On the Republic of Latvia Status as a State,” passed by Parliament on August 21, 1991, provided for the reinstatement of the 1922 constitution.

Government branches: Executive—President (head of state), elected by Parliament every 4 years; Prime Minister (head of government). Legislative—Saeima (100-member parliament). Judicial—Supreme Court.

Political subdivisions: 26 “rural” districts and 6 districts in Riga.

Political parties: People’s Party—23 seats, Greens and Farmers—18 seats, New Era—18 Seats, Alliance of Political Organizations (Harmony Center)—17 seats, Latvia’s First Party and Latvian /Latvia’s Way Union—10 seats, Fatherland and Freedom—8 seats, For Human Rights in United Latvia—6 seats.

Suffrage: universal adult (18 years of age).

National holidays: (2007) 1 January (New Year’s Day); 6-9 April (Easter); 1 May (Labor Day); 23-24 June (Midsummer Festival); 18 November (National Day, proclamation of the Republic); 25-26 December (Christmas); 31 December (New Year’s Eve).

Economy

GDP: (2005) $15.11 billion.

Annual growth rate: (2005) 10.2%. Annual inflation rate: (2005) 7.0%.

Unemployment rate: (2005) 7.2%. Per capita Income: (2005) $6,587.

Natural resources: Peat, limestone, dolomite, gypsum, timber. Agriculture/forestry (4.0% of GDP) Products—cattle, dairy foods, cereals, potatoes, timber. Land—2.48 million hectares, of which 75% is arable, 25% meadow and pasture.

Industry: (13.1% of GDP) Metal-working, machinery and tools, light electrical equipment and fittings, textiles and footwear, technological instruments, construction materials, processed foods.

Major sectors of the economy: Public services—14.2%; construction—6.3%; energy/water—2.6%; trade—19.9%; transport and communications—15.0%; business services—13.2%; financial services—5.5%; other services—3.9%.

Trade: (2005) Exports—$4.87 billion: wood/wood products 24.8%; metals 13.1%, food/food products (including alcohol and tobacco) 12%, machines 9.3%, mineral products 9.2%, textiles 8.6%. Major markets—Lithuania 11%, Estonia 10.8%, Germany 10.2%, U.K. 10.1%, Russia 7.9%, Sweden 7.8%. Imports—$8.2 billion: energy 15.5%, machinery 19.9%, chemicals 8.4%, food/food products 11.6%, metals 9.2%, vehicles 10.7%. Partners—Germany 14.0%, Lithuania 13.7, Russia 8.5%, Estonia 7.9%, Poland 6.4%, Finland 5.9%, Belarus 5.8%, Sweden 5.1%.

PEOPLE

The behavior of most Latvians reflects the strong cultural and religious influences of centuries-long Germanic and Scandinavian colonization and settlement. They are viewed as self-reliant, independent, persistent, and reserved. Eastern Latvia (Latgale), however, retains a strong Polish and Russian cultural and linguistic influence. This highly literate society places strong emphasis upon education, which is free and compulsory until age 16. Latvians are very tolerant of various religious denominations; in some cases, congregations from two or even three denominations make use of a single church. The majority of Latvians belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church; a sizable minority is Russian Orthodox, and Eastern Latvia is predominantly Roman Catholic.

Historically, Latvia has always had fairly large Russian, Jewish, German, and Polish minorities, but post-war emigration, deportations, and Soviet Russification policies from 1939 to 1989 reduced the percentage of ethnic Latvians in Latvia from 73% to 52%. In an attempt to preserve the Latvian language and prevent ethnic Latvians from becoming a minority in their own country, Latvia enacted language, education, and citizenship laws which require capability in the Latvian language in order to become a citizen. Such legislation has caused concern among many non-citizen resident Russians, despite Latvian legal guarantees of universal human and civil rights regardless of citizenship.

Written with the Latin alphabet, Latvian is the language of the Latvian people and the official language of the country. It is an inflective language with several analytical forms, three dialects, and German syntactical influence. The oldest known examples of written Latvian are from a 1585 catechism. Latvians and Lithuanians are the only surviving direct descendents of the Baltic peoples who speak languages of the Indo-European family. While Latvia was a member of the U.S.S.R, Russian was the official language, so most Latvians also speak Russian, and the resident Slavic populace generally speaks Russian as a first language.

HISTORY

By the 10th century, the area that is today Latvia was inhabited by several Baltic tribes who had formed their own local governments. In 1054, German sailors who shipwrecked on the Daugava River inhabited the area, which initiated a period of increasing Germanic influence. The Germans named the territory Livonia. In 1201, Riga, the current capital of Latvia, was founded by the Germanic Bishop Alberth of Livonia; the city joined the Hanseatic League in 1285 and began to form important cultural and economic relationships with the rest of Europe. However, the new German nobility enserfed the indigenous people and accorded them only limited trading and property rights.

Subsequent wars and treaties led to Livonia’s partition and colonization for centuries. In 1721 Russia took control over the Latvian territories as a result of its victory over Sweden in the Great Northern War. During this time there was little sense of a Latvian national identity, as both serfdom and institutional controls to migration and social mobility limited the boundaries of the indigenous people’s intellectual and social geography. However, in the 1860’s, the Young Latvian Movement was formed in order to promote the indigenous language against Russification policies and to publicize and counteract the socioeconomic oppression of Latvians, 60% of whom belonged to the landless, urban class. This growing proletariat became fertile ground for the ideas of western European socialism and supported the creation in 1903 of the Latvian Social Democratic Union (LSDU), which continued to champion national interests and Latvia’s national self-determination, especially during the failed 1905 Revolution in Russia.

The onset of World War I brought German occupation of the western coastal province of Kurzeme, which Latvians heroically countered with several regiments of riflemen commanded by Czarist generals. The military campaign generally increased

Latvian and LSDU support for the Bolsheviks’ successful October Revolution in 1917, in the hopes of a “free Latvia within free Russia.” These circumstances led to the formation of the Soviet “Iskolat Republic” in the unoccupied section of Latvia. In opposition to this government and to the landed barons’ German sympathies stood the Latvian Provisional National Council and the Riga Democratic Bloc. These and other political parties formed the Latvian People’s Council, which on November 18, 1918 declared Latvia’s independence and formed an army. The new Latvian Army won a decisive battle over the combined German-Red Army forces and consolidated that success on the eastern Latgale front. These developments led to the dissolution of the Soviet Latvian government on January 13, 1920 and to a peace treaty between Latvia and Soviet Russia on August 11 later that year. On September 22, 1921, an independent Latvia was admitted to the League of Nations.

The government, headed by Prime Minister Ulmanis, declared a democratic, parliamentary republic. It recognized Latvian as the official language, granted cultural autonomy to the country’s sizeable minorities, and introduced an electoral system into the Latvian constitution, which was adopted in 1922. The ensuing decade witnessed sweeping economic reform, as the war had devastated Latvian agriculture, and most Russian factories had been evacuated to Russia. However, economic depression heightened political turmoil, and, on May 15, 1934, the Prime Minister dismissed the Parliament, banned outspoken and left-wing political parties, and tightened authoritarian state control over Latvian social life and the economy.

The German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of 1939 steadily forced Latvia under Soviet influence, culminating in Latvia’s annexation by the Soviet Union on August 5, 1940. On June 14 of the following year, 15,000 Latvian citizens were forcibly deported and a large number of army officers shot. The subsequent German occupation witnessed the mobilization of many Latvians into Waffen SS legions, while some Latvians joined the Red Army and formed resistance groups, and others fled to the West and East. By 1945, Latvia’s population had decreased by one-third.

After World War II, the U.S.S.R. subjected the Latvian republic to a social and economic reorganization which rapidly changed the rural economy to one based on heavy industry, transformed the predominantly Latvian population into a more multiethnic populace, and converted the peasant class into a fully urbanized industrial worker class. As part of the goal to more fully integrate Latvia into the Soviet Union, Stalin deported another 42,000 Latvians and continued to promote the policy of encouraging Soviet immigration to Latvia.

In July 1989, following the dramatic events in East Germany, the Latvian Supreme Soviet adopted a “Declaration of Sovereignty” and amended the Constitution to assert the supremacy of its laws over those of the U.S.S.R. Candidates from the pro-independence party Latvian Popular Front gained a two-thirds majority in the Supreme Council in the March 1990 democratic elections. On May 4, the Council declared its intention to restore full Latvian independence after a “transitional” period; three days later, a Latvian was chosen Prime Minister. Soviet political and military forces tried unsuccessfully to overthrow the Latvian government. On August 21, 1991, Latvia claimed de facto independence. International recognition, including that of the U.S.S.R., followed. The United States, which had never recognized Latvia’s forcible annexation by the U.S.S.R., resumed full diplomatic relations with Latvia on September 2.

Since regaining its independence, Latvia has rapidly moved away from the political-economic structures and socio-cultural patterns which under-lay the Soviet Union. Through a U.S. initiative, on April 30, 1994, Latvia and Russia signed a troop withdrawal agreement; Russia withdrew the bulk of its troops by August 31 of that year. Except for some large state-owned utilities, Latvia has privatized most sectors of its economy, which has become one of the fastest developing economies in Europe. Latvia has also maintained and strengthened the democratic, parliamentary republic that it revived in 1990.

Internationally, Latvia has accomplished a great deal. It became a member of the United Nations (UN) on September 18, 1991, and is a signatory to a number of UN organizations and other international agreements, including the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank. It is also a member of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and officially became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on March 29, 2004. On May 1, 2004 Latvia joined the European Union (EU).

Since 2004, Latvia has emerged as a significant player in foreign affairs, standing out as a successful post-Soviet transition society. Strong memories of occupation and oppression motivate Latvia to reach out to countries struggling to move beyond authoritarian politics and state-controlled economies. It has worked closely with the U.S. and the EU to promote democracy in Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and Georgia. Latvia also supports pro-market, pro-free-trade policies in European and international organizations. It was the European Union’s fastest growing economy in 2004 and 2005, and the European Commission forecast that it would be so again in 2006.

Latvia has developed a policy of international security cooperation through participation in crisis management and peacekeeping operations. In 2006, Latvia deployed over 10% of its active duty military to support UN, NATO, and coalition military operations. That percentage is well above the European average in terms of per capita contributions.

In 2007, Latvia expects to nearly double its participation in the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. It has also authorized the continued deployment of Latvian soldiers in Iraq through 2007. Closer to home, Latvia has been active in the Balkans: it supports the NATO mission in Kosovo with peacekeepers, and the European Union Force (EUFOR) mission in Bosnia with liaison officers. In November 2006, Latvia hosted a NATO Summit in its capital, Riga.

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

The highest organ of state authority in Latvia is the Saeima, a unicameral legislative body of 100 members who are elected by direct popular vote to serve four-year terms. The Saeima initiates and approves legislation sponsored by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is the head of government and has full responsibility and control over the Cabinet. The President, who is elected by the Saeima every four years, holds a primarily ceremonial role as head of state.

In the autumn of 1991 Latvia re-implemented significant portions of its 1922 constitution, and in the spring of 1993 the government took a census to determine eligibility for citizenship. Latvia finalized a citizenship and naturalization law in the summer of 1994, which was further liberalized in 1998. By law, those who were Latvian citizens in 1940 and their descendants (regardless of ethnicity) could claim citizenship. Forty-one percent of Latvia’s population is ethnically non-Latvian, yet almost three-fourths of all residents are citizens of Latvia. Requirements for naturalization include a conversational knowledge of Latvian, a loyalty oath, renunciation of former citizenship, 5 years of residency in Latvia, and a basic knowledge of Latvian history. Dual citizenship is allowed for those who were forced to leave Latvia during the Soviet occupation and adopted another citizenship. Convicted criminals, agents of Soviet intelligence services, and certain other groups are excluded from becoming citizens.

On March 19, 1991 the Supreme Council passed a law explicitly guaranteeing “equal rights to all nationalities and ethnic groups” and “to all permanent residents in the Republic regardless of their nationality, equal rights to work and wages.” In addition, the law prohibits “any activity directed toward nationality discrimination or the promotion of national superiority or hatred.”

In the June 5-6, 1993 elections, in which more than 90% of the electorate participated, eight of Latvia’s 23 registered political parties passed the 5% threshold to enter parliament. The centrist party Latvia’s Way received a 33% plurality of votes and joined the Farmer’s Union to head a center-right-wing coalition government.

The September 30-October 1,1995 elections resulted in a deeply fragmented parliament with nine parties represented and the largest party commanding only 18 of 100 seats. Attempts to form right-of-center and leftist governments failed; seven weeks after the election, a broad but fractious coalition government of six of the nine parties was voted into office under Prime Minister Andris Skele, a popular, nonpartisan businessman.

In the 1998 elections, the Latvian party structure began to consolidate, with only six parties obtaining seats in the Saeima. Andris Skele’s newly formed People’s Party garnered a plurality with 24 seats. Though the election represented a victory for the center-right, personality conflicts and scandals within the two largest right-of-center parties—Latvia’s Way and the People’s Party—prevented stable coalitions from forming. Two shaky governments quickly collapsed in less than a year. In May 2000, a compromise candidate was found in the Latvia’s Way mayor of Riga, Andris Berzins. His four-party coalition lasted until parliamentary elections in October 2002. Those elections left Latvia’s Way, for the first time since 1993, with no seats in parliament. The New Era Party, which ran on an anti-corruption platform, gained the most seats and formed a four-party coalition government until the abrupt resignation of the Prime Minister in February 2004 over issues relating to personalities and management of the ruling coalition.

With the tacit support of leftist parties, a minority government led by Greens and Farmers Union leader Indulis Emsis took office on March 9, 2004. The new government focused on smoothing Latvia’s entry into NATO and the European Union, which took place in the first half of 2004. The government collapsed on October 28, 2004 after parliament voted against the 2005 budget. A new coalition government, led by Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis, took office on December 2, 2004 and was reelected on October 7, 2006. These last election results mark the first time that an incumbent administration has won re-election since Latvia’s independence from the Soviet Union.

In 1999, the Saeima elected Vaira Vike-Freiberga, a compromise candidate with no party affiliation, to the presidency. Though born in Riga in 1937, she settled in Canada during the years of the Soviet occupation, becoming a well-respected academic on the subject of Latvian culture and psychology. Since her election, she has become one of the most popular political figures in Latvia. She was overwhelmingly re-elected by parliament for another four-year term in June 2003.

Latvia’s flag consists of two horizontal, maroon bands of equal width, divided by a white stripe one-half the width. The nati onal holiday is November 18, Independence Day.

Principal Government Officials

President: Vaira VIKE-FREIBERGA

Prime Minister: Aigars KALVITIS

Min. of Agriculture: Martins ROZE

Min. for Children & Families: Ainars BASTIKS

Min. of Culture: Helena DEMAKOVA

Min. of Defense: Atis SLAKTERIS

Min. of Economics: Jurijs STRODS

Min. of Education & Science: Baiba RIVZA

Min. of Environment: Raimonds VEJONIS

Min. of Finance: Oskars SPURDZINS

Min. of Foreign Affairs: Artis PABRIKS

Min. of Health: Gundars BERZINS

Min. of Interior: Ivars GODMANIS

Min. of Justice: Gaidis BERZINS

Min. of Regional Development & Local Governments: Aigars STOKENBERGS

Min. for Special Assignments for Administration of European Union Funds: Normunds BROKS

Min. for Special Assignments for E-Government Affairs: Ina GUDELE

Min. for Special Assignments for Society Integration Affairs: Oskars KASTENS

Min. of Transport: Ainars SLESERS

Min. of Welfare: Dagnija STAKE

Governor, Bank of Latvia: Ilmars RIMSEVICS

Ambassador to the US: Maris RIEKSTINS

Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Solveiga SILKALNA

Latvia maintains an embassy in the United States at 2306 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington DC 20008 [tel: (202) 328-2840].

ECONOMY

For centuries under Hanseatic and German influence and then during its inter-war independence, Latvia used its geographic location as an important East-West commercial and trading center. Industry served local markets, while timber, paper, and agricultural products supplied Latvia’s main exports. The years of Soviet occupation tended to integrate Latvia’s economy into the U.S.S.R. in order to serve that empire’s large internal industrial needs. Since reestablishing its independence, Latvia has proceeded with market-oriented reforms. Its freely traded currency, the Lat, was introduced in 1993 and has held steady or appreciated against major world currencies. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has noted that Latvia’s economic performance the past several years has been among the best of the EU accession countries. Real per capita GDP has roughly doubled compared to its 1995 level. GDP grew by close to 11% in 2006 and annual growth rates of 6-8% in the medium term are predicted by the Latvian government. Inflation, however, has remained high, at 6-7%, since 2004, following a period from 1999 to 2003 when Latvian inflation rates were at 3% or below. The increase in inflation has delayed prospects of introducing the Euro currency in Latvia. At the same time, Latvia’s current account deficit (ranging from 12% to 14% of GDP over the past 3 years) remains one of the key vulnerabilities of the Latvian economy.

Independence forced Latvia into a precarious position regarding its energy supply. With the exception of peat and timber, Latvia had no significant domestic energy resources and received 93% of its imported energy from Soviet republics. With the goal of increasing its security, Latvia has been devising ways to diversify its energy sources and to increase energy conservation. In August 2001, the Kegums hydroelectric power plant was reopened, contributing to Latvia’s ability to supply 25% of its energy that year. Furthermore, in June 2002 the European Investment Bank loaned Latvenergo, a state-owned energy supply group, 80 million Euros to modernize its generation and distribution of electricity and thermal energy. Latvia is also looking to regional cooperation arrangements to diversify its energy supplies. With the other Baltic states, it plans to create an electricity network able to operate independently of its Russian counterpart. It is planning major infrastructure projects to provide energy supplies via Scandinavia, and it is working with Estonia, Lithuania and Poland to build a new nuclear power station in Ignalina, Lithuania.

Privatization in Latvia is almost complete. All of the previously state-owned small and medium enterprises have been privatized, leaving in state hands the electric utility, the Latvian railway company, and the Latvian postal system, as well as state shares in several politically sensitive concerns. Despite the lack of transparency of the early stages of the privatization process and certain difficulties in privatization of some of the largest companies, Latvian privatization efforts have led to the development of a dynamic and prosperous private sector, which accounts for approximately 70% of the country’s GDP.

In the last few years, Latvia has implemented many positive reforms in the business sphere (ranking 24th worldwide on the ease of doing business there, according to the World Bank Doing Business 2007 report). Most reforms deal with licensing, taxes, and business closures. In the 2005/2006 period, Latvia made it easier for businesses to comply with building requirements and reduced the number of licenses and permits required. In addition, Latvia launched an electronic tax filing system and improved the regulation of bankruptcy administrators in order to reduce corruption.

Foreign investment in Latvia remains high, as both Western and Eastern investors are trying to establish a foothold in the new EU member state as well as to take advantage of Latvia’s stable macroeconomic environment, central location in the region, and cheap labor. Representing 5.8% of Latvia’s total foreign direct investment, the U.S. FDI stock in Latvia stood at $359 million at the end of the 2nd quarter of 2006. In 2005, U.S. goods and services accounted for 1.0% of Latvia’s total imports, while exports to the United States accounted for 2.7% of Latvia’s total exports. Latvia has been a member of the World Trade Organization since 1999. Latvia and the United States have signed treaties on investment, trade, intellectual property protection, and avoidance of double taxation.

In the long term, continued high economic growth in Latvia will depend on further improvements to the business environment, particularly the drive to reduce corruption and strengthen the rule of law, and on Latvia’s ability to use the opportunities presented by EU membership.

DEFENSE

Latvia’s defense concept is based upon four basic pillars: collective defense as a member of NATO, professionalization of the armed forces, support and coordination with civil society, and international military cooperation. The armed forces consist of the land forces brigade with one deployable battalion, an air force focused on air surveillance and search and rescue, and naval forces focused on costal surveillance, assertion of sovereignty, mine countermeasures, search and rescue, and environmental protection. The land forces, air force, and navy comprise approximately 7,000 personnel. There is also a “zemessardze,” or home guard, an autonomous 13,890-man-strong volunteer reserve organization which performs traditional national-guard duties such as crisis response and support for military operations. The Latvian National Armed Forces became fully professional in November 2006. Defense spending has risen in recent years, and the government has committed 2% of its GDP to defense spending through 2013.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

After regaining its independence, Latvia began to work at reintegrating into the West. In 1991, Latvia joined the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and became a member of the United Nations (UN). It is party to a number of UN organizations as well as other international agreements including the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank. Since 2004, Latvia has been an active member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU).

Latvia has emerged as a significant international player, courageously supporting peace and democracy world-wide. Per capita, it is one of the largest contributors to international military operations. It has deployed troops to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans. It also works closely with the U.S. and the EU to support and promote democracy in the former Soviet Union states of Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and Georgia. A testament to the close relationship between the U.S, and Latvia is the fact that President Bush has visited the country twice, the second time to attend the NATO Summit held in Riga on November 28-29, 2006.

Russia has expressed concern over how Latvia’s language and naturalization laws affect Latvia’s Russian-speaking population. Russians comprised 28.5% of the population in 2006. In turn, Latvia is interested in the welfare of ethnic Latvians still residing in Russia.

Latvia maintains embassies in the United States, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Canada, the People’s Republic of China, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and Uzbekistan. It also operates missions to the United Nations in New York City and Geneva, the European Council, the European Union, the Chemical Weapons Nonproliferation Organization, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the World Trade Organization, and the UN Council on Food and Agriculture. It is also represented at NATO.

Latvia has a Consulate General in Russia; Consulates in Belarus and Russia; Honorary Consulates General in Australia, Cyprus, India, Israel, and Norway; and Honorary Consulates in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Mexico, Mold-ova, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, and Venezuela.

U.S.-LATVIAN RELATIONS

The United States established diplomatic relations with Latvia on July 28, 1922. The U.S. Legation in Riga was officially established on November 13, 1922 and served as the headquarters for U.S. representation in the Baltics during the interwar era. The Soviet invasion forced the closure of the legation on September 5, 1940, but Latvian representation in the United States has continued uninterrupted for more than 80 years. The United States never recognized the forcible incorporation of Latvia into the U.S.S.R. and views the present Government of Latvia as a legal continuation of the interwar republic.

Latvia and the United States have signed treaties on investment, trade, intellectual property protection, and avoidance of double taxation. Latvia has enjoyed most-favored-nation treatment with the United States since December 1991.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

RIGA (E) Address: 7 Raina Blvd., Riga LV-1510 Latvia; APO/FPO: PSC 78 Box R, APO AE 09723; Phone: +371-703-6200; Fax: +371-782-0047; Workweek: M-F/0830-1700; Website: http://www.usembassy.lv.

AMB:Catherine Todd Bailey
AMB OMS:Sheila Jefferson
DCM:Philip Antweiller
DCM OMS:Sydnee H. Hall
POL/ECO:Tamir G. Waser
COM:Thomas L. Johnston
CON:Stephen Frahm
MGT:Mary Teirlynck
AFSA:Alan Knabe
CLO:Margaret K. Catt
CUS:Ronald R. Kresock
DAO:David Holahan
EEO:James W. Bayer
GSO:Dwayne Cline
ICASS Chair:Michael S. Catt
IMO:Alan J. Knabe
IRS:Susan Stanley
ISO:James W. Bayer
ISSO:Alan Knabe
MLO:Eric Phillipson
PAO:Raymond Stephens
RSO:Vida Gecas

Last Updated: 12/19/2006

TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet : February 7, 2007

Country Description: Latvia is a stable democracy experiencing rapid economic growth. Most tourist facilities found in a western European city are available in the capital city of Riga. However, some of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries are not yet available in other parts of the country.

Exit/Entry Requirements: Latvian law requires that visitors present a passport that is valid for at least three months after their planned stay. For example, if a visitor plans to stay for one month, then a passport valid for four months is required. Individuals who arrive at Latvia’s borders who do not meet this requirement are generally denied entry to the country. 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.

All travelers must have a valid insurance policy, covering medical expenses while in Latvia. Repatriation costs, including funeral and disposition of remains costs also have to be covered by the policy. In addition, upon entering or exiting the country, travelers must declare cash in excess of 10,000 euros to Latvian customs.

For more information, travelers may contact the Latvian Embassy, at 2306 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, tel. (202)328-2840, fax no. (202) 328-2860. See also http://www.latvia-usa.org. Within Latvia, contact the Ministry of Interiors’ Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs at Raina bulv. 5, Riga, LV 1508. tel. (371)721-9664 or (371) 721-9645, fax: (371)782-0306, http://www.ocma.gov.lv/ or Foreign Service Center at Alunana iela 1, Riga LV 1050, tel: (371)721-9655. Any traveler to Russia, even in transit, is advised to obtain a 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. See our Foreign Entry Requirements brochure for more information on Latvia and other countries. Visit the Embassy of Latvia web site at http://www.Latvia-usa.org for the most current visa information.

Safety and Security: Civil unrest is not a problem in Riga. Nonetheless, in the past, Riga has seen large, peaceful demonstrations related to internal political issues. While demonstrations have been peaceful, American citizens are nevertheless cautioned to avoid any large public demonstrations. There have been no incidents of terrorism directed toward American interests. Incidents of anti-Americanism are rare. However, instances of racially motivated verbal harassment, and on occasion, physical assaults on non-Caucasian foreigners, have occurred in Riga. There have also been reports of non-Caucasian foreigners being subjected to extra scrutiny by security guards in shops and malls in Riga. Additionally, individuals advocating alternative lifestyles have experienced harassment.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s Internet web site, where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements can be found. Up to date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or, for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Crime: Crime in Riga is generally non-violent. The majority of non-violent crime tends toward acts of pick pocketing, identity theft, and personal scams. However, there have been instances of serious violent assaults and robberies. Street crime is a serious problem, particularly for tourists. In additional to falling prey to pickpockets in all public areas, there are numerous scam artists targeting foreigners in the tourist pubs and restaurants. There have been a number of reports recently of foreign tourists being charged exorbitant prices for drinks in bars. Some have then been assaulted or forced to withdraw money from an ATM to pay the bill. Travelers should check the price of drinks before ordering, pay for one round at a time and seek recommendations for bars from trustworthy sources. There have also been a few cases of tourists and residents being drugged in bars and restaurants and then taken outside or to their residences and robbed. In any public area, one should always be alert, particularly to being surrounded by two or more people at once. It is not uncommon for groups of pickpockets to attempt to overwhelm their victim. Gangs of professional pickpockets are specifically targeting foreigners, particularly those carrying back-packs. In addition, Riga has one of the highest rates of car theft in the world.

Internet crime is a growing concern in Latvia. Common fraudulent schemes involve both Internet auction sites and Internet job search sites. In the first scam, criminals offer valuable items for sale at low prices on Internet auctions and request that payments be sent by wire transfer to a bank in Latvia or through a fraudulent escrow site that they have created themselves. In this scheme, the money passes through a bank in Latvia and is quickly withdrawn by ATM or transferred to a bank in another country. It is very difficult in these cases to discover the identities of the account holders or recover the funds.

Another common scam involves identity theft through false job offers. In this scheme, a company claiming to be located in Latvia, but which has a non-existent address, offers the victim employment as a U.S. – based agent or freight forwarder. When the victim responds to the job offer, commonly posted on one of several popular internet job sites, a Social Security Number and other identifying information needed for the identity theft is required under the guise of conducting a background check.

Information for Victims of Crime: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy or Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Medical Facilities and Health Information: Medical care in Latvia is steadily improving, but remains limited in several important respects. There are a few private clinics with medical supplies and services, including disposable needles and basic modern diagnostics, which are nearly equal to Western Europe or U.S. standards. However, because of the lack of equipment and resources, most major invasive procedures or surgeries in Latvia are not recommended. Hospital services have shown good progress but are still not equal to Western standards. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Most, but not all, antibiotics and prescription medications are available but as they are generally produced in Europe or Latvia, they often have different names and instructions are usually not printed in English. Diphtheria, hepatitis and tick-borne encephalitis are present. According to the World Health Organization, tuberculosis is a significant problem in Latvia, with 9% of all cases being multi-drug resistant. State ambulance service for emergencies is available by dialing 112 anywhere in Latvia. However, response time is poor in rural areas. Air ambulance service is available for medical evacuations. In general, private air ambulance services are very expensive and require advance payment before the patient is transported.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Latvia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Foreign visitors to Latvia planning to operate a motor vehicle are required to obtain an International Driving Permit. These may be obtained through the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance for a small fee. A U.S. state driver’s license is not sufficient. These requirements apply to those operating rental cars as well, whether or not the rental company chooses to enforce the requirement as a condition of rental. Individuals driving without an International Driving Permit may have their vehicle confiscated by the police. Americans resident in Latvia for more than six months are required to apply for a Latvian driver’s license. Upon receipt of a Latvian driver’s license, American citizens are required to surrender their U.S. driver’s license to the Latvian authorities. The licenses are then returned to their respective states of issuance. For more information, visit the Latvian Road and Traffic Safety Department at http://www.csdd.lv.

Latvia has one of the highest rates of automobile accidents and fatalities in Europe. While recent reports show a decrease in the number of traffic accident fatalities, there are still a number of hazards to watch out for. Drivers should be alert for pedestrians and slow moving vehicles in traffic. Additionally, violation of traffic rules is common and it is not unusual to be overtaken by other automobiles traveling at high speeds, even in crowed urban areas. Drivers do not always yield to pedestrians, even at marked intersections. During winter, most major roads are cleared of snow. However, drivers should be alert for fog, snow, and ice while driving. Driving while intoxicated is a very serous offense and carries heavy penalties. Local authorities use roadblocks and Breathalyzer tests as enforcement tools. Drivers and pedestrians should be alert to the possibility of drunk drivers and drunken pedestrians wandering on the road. Drivers must use their headlights at all times. Speed limits are usually 50 km/hr in the city and 90 km/hr on the highways. Public transportation is generally considered safe, but travelers are encouraged to select well-marked taxis. Emergency services are fair but improving; response time may be especially slow in traffic or in rural settings. Dial 112 for ambulance service.

Visit the website of Latvia’s national tourist office at http://latviatourism.lv/info.php and the national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.csdd.lv/.

Aviation Safety Oversight: As there is no direct commercial air service between the United States and Latvia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Latvia’s Civil Aviation authority for compliance with ICAO international aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s Internet website at www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

Special Circumstances: Banks and currency exchange counters may refuse to accept U.S. currency that is crumpled, torn, discolored or defaced (even small pen strokes, hand written numbers and letters are considered defacing). If such notes are accepted for exchange, an additional processing fee, based on the size of the transaction, may be charged. ATMs are widely available in Riga and in major towns. For security purposes, it is recommended that visitors use ATMs located inside major hotels or shopping malls, versus ATM machines located on the street, in high volume tourist areas. Telephone connections with the United States are reliable. However, 1-800 numbers cannot be accessed from Latvia. Please check with our long distance carrier before departure to see if they offer service in Latvia. Local Internet cafés offer computer access, and fax machines are widely available.

Latvian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Latvia of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, medications, business equipment, drugs, etc. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Latvia in Washington or one of the Latvian consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements at http://www.latvia-usa.org.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Latvian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Latvia are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Children’s Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues website at http://travel.state.gov/family/family_1732.html.

Registration/Embassy and Consulate Locations: Americans living or traveling in Latvia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy of Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Latvia.

Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.

The U.S. Embassy is located at 7 Raina Blvd. Riga, LV-1510, and may be reached by dialing +371-703-6200. The fax number for the Consular American Citizen Services section is+371-781-4088. You can find us on the web at http://www.usembassy.lv.

International Adoption

March 2006

The information below has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family.

Disclaimer: The information in this flyer relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is based on public sources and current understanding. Questions involving foreign and U.S. immigration laws and legal interpretation should be addressed respectively to qualified foreign or U.S. legal counsel.

Please Note: From time to time, Latvia revises its laws pertaining to adoption process, including inter-country adoption. Please check with the U.S. Embassy in Latvia at [email protected] for the most current information.

Latvia requires that a parent-child relationship be established before the final adoption court decision can be made. Adoptive parents may have to share a household with the adoptive child for up to six months to demonstrate an established relationship. In most cases thus far, the courts have decided that the required relationship can be established within several weeks. The U.S. Embassy in Riga prepares the I-604 form (“Report of Orphan Investigation”). However, the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, Poland interviews all Latvian immigrant visa applicants, including adopted children.

Latvia requires two years of post-adoption reports on the adopted child (one a year) to be conducted by a licensed social worker in the child’s new country of residence.

Patterns of Immigration: Please review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family.

Adoption Authority: The Ministry for Family and Children’s Rights (Ministry) is responsible for administering intercountry adoptions. Foreigners interested in adopting a Latvian child should express their interest by writing to the ministry at the following address:

Ministry for Family and Children’s Rights
Basteja Blvd. 14 (3 rd floor)
Riga, LV 1050
Latvia
Tel. (371) 735-6497
Fax. (371) 735-6464
E-mail: [email protected]
http://www.bm.gov.lv/eng/outoffamily_care/adoption/
(English language page)

Eligibility Requirements for Adoptive Parents: Both single individuals and married couples are eligible to adopt.

Residential Requirements: Parent-child relationship requirement: Latvian adoption law requires that a parent-child relationship be established before the final court decision can be made at the town or city court having jurisdiction over the child. It leaves to each orphan court to decide on a case-by-case basis how long it will take to establish the parent-child relationship. The interpretation of the child-parent relationship among courts might differ. Adoptive parents are advised that orphan courts may require them to take care of the adoptive children and share a household in Latvia for some time period, not exceeding six months, as determined by the orphan court.

Time Frame: The timeneeded to complete an adoption in Latvia from beginning to end varies depending on the age of the adoptive child. There are very few newborn and younger children in need of permanent family placement and thus very few available for international adoption. Some parents wait several years to adopt an eligible child. Adoptions involving children between five and ten years of age can take less than a year, as there are currently many more children in that age range eligible for international adoption.

Adoption Agencies and Attorneys: The U.S. Embassy in Riga has a list of agencies and attorneys known to work with Americans seeking to adopt in Latvia. Neither the U.S. Embassy nor the Department of State can vouch for the efficiency or professionalism of any agent, facilitator, or interpreter.

Adoption Fees: There are no Latvian government fees for adoption services in Latvia. However, prospective adoptive parents should be prepared to cover fees related to the translation and certification of documents and the processing of new civil and travel documents for the adopted child.

Adoption Procedures: Foreign adoption is allowed if the orphan court having jurisdiction over child’s place of residence has established that placement with a Latvian family cannot be ensured. Foreign prospective adoptive parents are required to file adoption applications with the Ministry for Family and Children’s Rights, which reviews all applications and determines whether or not the applicant meets the requirements of the law. If the judgment is favorable, the Ministry provides the prospective parents with information on children who are available for adoption.

After the prospective parents choose a child, the Ministry issues them permission to meet the child. The permission and the adoptive parent’s passport have to be presented to the orphanage director (or other caretaking facility) before the family is acquainted with the child. The prospective adoptive parents are given ten days to decide if they are willing to start taking care of the child. It is up to the local orphan court to decide how long the parents will have to take care of the child.

After the adoptive family has taken care of the child for the required time period and the orphan court has established that the adoption would (or would not) be in the child’s interests, the Ministry is informed. The Ministry then prepares an adoption approval (or rejection) statement for submission to the town or city court responsible for the final adoption decree. The Minister’s adoption permission is valid for three months.

Once the final court decree becomes effective, the adoptive parent(s) can travel to Warsaw, Poland for the child’s U.S. immigrant visa interview.

Like many countries, Latvia has a post-adoption reporting/monitoring requirement. Specifically, the orphan court having jurisdiction over the child’s new place of residency will monitor the adopted child’s well being for the first two years after the finalization of the adoption. The Ministry requires post placement reports on the adopted child for two years after the adoption (one a year). The reports should be to be conducted by appropriate child welfare officials in the state where the child resides. They must be translated in Latvian and forwarded to the Latvian Ministry of Family and Children’s Rights under apostille.

Documentary Requirements: All prospective adoptive parents must apply for adoption in Latvia by submitting to the Ministry the following documents (in duplicate) in the original, accompanied by an official Latvian translation:

  • Application including information about reasons for adoption as well as information about the sex, age range, and religion of the child (children) they are interested in adopting;
  • A copy of the parents’ marriage certificate, if applicable, under apostille (Please see further information below about authentication of documents);
  • A copy of any divorce decree (if applicable), under apostille;
  • A statement about the housing for the family (i.e., size, location, type of residence);
  • An autobiography (curriculum vitae);
  • Medical statements regarding the health of the family (hereditary illnesses, if any, and any specific illnesses);
  • A home study, under apostille, conducted by a U.S. state adoption agency or a private organization licensed to perform such studies. Home studies must be current in order to for the adoption application to considered. Continuations of home study approval should be forwarded to the Ministry for applications to remain valid;
  • A police clearance statement under apostille.

Embassy of Latvia:
4325 17th Street, N. W.
Washington, DC 20011
Tel: 202- 726-6757
Fax: 202- 726-6785
Email: [email protected]_USA.org
www.latvia-usa.org
Latvia also has honorary consulates in Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Houston.

U.S. Immigration Requirements: Prospective adopting parents are strongly encouraged to consult U.S. CIS publication M-249, The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adopting Children, as well as the Department of State publication, International Adoptions. Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family.

U.S. Embassy in Latvia:
American Embassy
7 Raina Boulevard
Riga, LV-1510, Latvia
Tel: 371-703-6200; fax: 371-781-4088
http://www.usembassy.lv/
E-mail: [email protected]

Additional Information: Specific questions about intercountry adoption in Latvia may be addressed to the U.S. Embassy Riga. General questions regarding intercountry adoption may be addressed to the Office of Children’s Issues, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/CI, SA-29, 4 th Floor, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818, toll-free Tel: 1-888-407-4747.

views updated

LATVIA

Compiled from the May 2005 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:
Republic of Latvia


PROFILE

Geography

Area:

64,100 sq. km. (25,640 sq. mi.); about the size of West Virginia.

Cities (2002):

Capital—Riga (739,232). Other cities—Daugavpils (112,609); Liepaja (86,985); Jelgava (65,754); Jurmala (55,156); Ventspils (44,010); Rezekne (37,777).

Terrain:

Fertile low-lying plains predominate in central Latvia, highlands in Vidzeme and Latgale to the east, and hilly moraine in the western Kurzeme region. Forests cover one-third of the country, with over 3,000 small lakes and numerous bogs.

Land use:

20% arable land, 8% meadows and pastures, 45% forest and woodland, 26.7% other.

Climate:

Temperate, with four seasons of almost equal length. January temperatures average -5ºC (23ºF); July 17ºC (63ºF). Annual precipitation averages 57 centimeters (23 in.).

People

Nationality:

Noun and adjective—Latvian(s).

Population:

2,331,480. Growth rate: -0.6%. Birth rate—8.6/1,000. Death rate—13.9/1,000. Divorce rate—2.5/1,000. Migration rate—1,500 immigrants, 3,300 emigrants. Density—36.4/1 km2. Urban dwellers—68.9%.

Major ethnic groups:

Latvian 58.5%, Russians 29%, Belarusians 3.9%, Ukrainians 2.6%, Poles 2.5%.

Religion:

Lutheran, Orthodox, Roman Catholic.

State language:

Latvian. Russian also is spoken by most people.

Education:

Years compulsory—9. By 1989, 60% of the adult populace had finished high school, and 12% had completed college. Attendance—408,000 students in 1,057 schools and 90,000 university students. Literacy—99%.

Health:

Infant mortality rate—9.8/1,000. Life expectancy—65.4 yrs. male, 76.8 yrs. female.

Work force (989,000 people):

Industry—16.9%; agriculture/forestry—14.9%; trade—14.9%; education—8.9%; transport/communications—8.7%; public administration/defense—6.9%; construction—6.1%; healthcare/social welfare—6.1%.

Government

Type:

Parliamentary democracy.

Constitution:

The law "On the Republic of Latvia Status as a State," passed by Parliament on August 21, 1991, provided for the reinstatement of the 1922 constitution.

Branches:

Executive—President (head of state), elected by Parliament every 4 years; Prime Minister (head of government). Legislative—Saeima (100-member body). Judicial—Supreme Court. Administrative regions: 26 "rural" districts and 6 districts in Riga.

Principal political factions:

New Era—24 seats, People's Party—20 seats, Latvia's First Party—14 seats, Farmers and Greens—12 seats, National Harmony Party—9 seats, Fatherland and Freedom—7 seats, For Human Rights in United Latvia—6 seats, Latvia's Socialist Party—5 seats; there are three independent members.

Suffrage:

18 years universal.

Economy (2002 data)

GDP:

$8.41 billion.

Growth rate:

6.1%.

Inflation rate:

1.9%.

Unemployment:

8.5%.

Average annual wages:

$3,359.

Natural resources:

Peat, limestone, dolomite, gypsum, timber.

Agriculture/forestry (4.5% of GDP):

Products—cattle, dairy foods, cereals, potatoes. Cultivable land—2.48 million hectares, of which 75% is arable, 25% meadow and pasture.

Manufacturing (14.8% of GDP):

Light electrical equipment and fittings, textiles and footwear, technological instruments, construction materials, processed foods. Public services—15%; construction—6.1%; energy/water—3.6%; trade—19.9%; transport and communications—14.5%; business services—11.1%; financial services—4.6%; other services—5.5%.

Trade:

Exports—$2.28 billion: wood/wood products 33.6%; metals 13.2%, textiles 12.8%, machines 6.5%, food/food products 7.1. Major markets—Germany 15.5%, U.K. 14.6%, Sweden 10.5%, Lithuania 8.4%, Estonia 6.0%. Imports—$4.04 billion: energy 9.7%, machinery 21.3%, chemicals 10.4%, food/food products 21.8%, metals 8.4%, vehicles 9.8%. Partners—Germany 17.2%, Lithuania 9.8%, Russia 8.8%, Finland 8%, Sweden 6.4%.


GEOGRAPHY

Between 55.40 and 58.05 latitude and 20.58 and 28.14 longitude, Latvia lies on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea on the level northwestern part of the rising East European platform. About 98% of the country lies under 200m elevation (640 ft.). The damp climate resembles New England's. With the exception of the coastal plains, the Ice Age divided Latvia into three main regions: the morainic Western and Eastern uplands and the Middle lowlands. Latvia holds over 12,000 rivers, only 17 of which are longer than 60 miles, and over 3,000 small lakes, most of which are eutrophic. Woodland, more than half of which is pine, covers 41% of the country. Other than peat, dolomite, and limestone, natural resources are scarce. Latvia holds 531km (329 mi.) of sandy coastline, and the ports of Liepaja and Ventspils provide important warm-water harbors for the Baltic littoral, although the Bay of Riga itself is rather polluted.

Today, Latvia is slightly larger than Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Its strategic location has instigated many wars between rival powers on its territory. As recently as 1944, the U.S.S.R. granted Russia the Abrene region on the Livonian frontier.


PEOPLE

Latvians occasionally refer to themselves by the ancient name of "Latvji," which may have originated from a "Latve" river that presumably flowed through what is now eastern Latvia. A small Finno-Ugric tribe known as the Livs settled among the Latvians and modulated the name to "Latvis," meaning "forest-clearers," which is how medieval German settlers also referred to these peoples. The German colonizers changed this name to "Lette" and called their initially small colony "Livland." The Latin form, "Livonia," gradually referred to the whole of modern-day Latvia as well as southern Estonia, which had fallen under German dominion. Latvians and Lithuanians are the only directly surviving members of the Baltic peoples and languages of the Indo-European family.

Latvians look like and consider themselves Nordics, evidenced through the strong cultural and religious influences gained over centuries during Germanic and Scandinavian colonization and settlement. Eastern Latvia (Latgale), however, retains a strong Polish and Russian cultural and linguistic influence. This highly literate society places strong emphasis upon education, which is free and compulsory until age 16. Most Latvians belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church; a sizable minority are Russian Orthodox, and Eastern Latvia is predominantly Roman Catholic.

Historically, Latvia always has had a fairly large Russian, Jewish, German, and Polish minority, but postwar emigration, deportations, and Soviet Russification policies from 1939-89 dropped the percentage of ethnic Latvians in Latvia from 73% to 52%. In an attempt to preserve the Latvian language and avoid ethnic Latvians becoming a minority in their own country, Latvia's language law, education law, and citizenship law have caused many noncitizen resident Russians concern over their ability to assimilate, despite Latvian legal guarantees of universal human and civil rights regardless of citizenship.

Written with the Latin alphabet, Latvian is the language of the Latvian people and the official language of the country. It is an inflective language with several analytical forms, three dialects, and German syntactical influence. The oldest known examples of written Latvian are from a 1585 catechism. The Soviets imposed the official use of Russian, so most Latvians speak Russian as a second or first language while the resident Slavic populace generally speaks Russian as a first language.


HISTORY

Since 9,000 BC ancient peoples of unknown origin had inhabited Latvia, but by 3,000 BC the ancestors of the Finns had settled the region. A millennium later, pre-Baltic tribes had arrived and within time evolved into the Baltic Couranian, Latgallian, Selonian, and Semigallian groups. These tribes eventually formed local governments independently from the Finno-Ugric Livian tribe until the 13th century when they were conquered by the Germans, who renamed the territory Livonia.

German sailors shipwrecked on the Daugava River in 1054 had inhabited the area, which led to increasing German influence. Founded by the Germanic Bishop Alberth of Livonia in 1201, Riga joined the Hanseatic League in 1285 and shared important cultural and economic ties to the rest of Europe. However, the new German nobility enserfed the peasantry and accorded non-Germanic peoples only limited trading and property rights.

Subsequent wars and treaties ensured Livonia's partition and colonization for centuries. The Common-wealth's successes during the Livonian Wars (1558-83) united the Latvian-populated duchies of Pardaugava, Kurzeme, and Zemgale, but the Polish-Swedish War (1600-29) granted Sweden acquisition of Riga and the Duchy of Pardaugava, minus Latgale, leaving Latvia again split ethnically. In turn, victory over Sweden in the Great Northern War (1700-21) gave Russia control over the Latvian territories. From 1804 onward, a series of local decrees gradually

weakened the grip of German nobility over peasant society, and in 1849 a law granted a legal basis for the creation of peasant-owned farms.

Until the 1860s, there still was little sense of a Latvian national identity, as both serfdom and institutional controls to migration and social mobility limited the boundaries of the peasants' intellectual and social geography. The large baronic estates caused a lack of available farmland for an increasing population, creating a large landless, urban class comprising about 60% of the population. Also in the face of stricter Russification policies, the Baltic German clergy and literati began to take a more benevolent interest in the distinctive language and culture of the Latvian peasantry. These patrons—with such Lettish names as Alunans, Barons, Krastins, Kronvalds, Tomsons, and Valdemars—soon formed the Young Latvian Movement, whose aim was to promote the indigenous language and to publicize and counteract the socioeconomic oppression of Latvians.

By 1901, "Jauna Strava" had evolved into the Latvian Social Democratic Party. Following the lead of the Austrian Marxists, the LSDP advocated the transformation of the Russian Empire into a federation of democratic states (to include Latvia) and the adoption of cultural autonomy policy for extraterritorial ethnic communities. In 1903, the LSDP split into the more radically internationalist Latvian Social Democratic Worker's Party and the more influential Latvian Social Democratic Union (LSDU), which continued to champion national interests and Latvia's national self-determination, especially during the failed 1905 Revolution in Russia.

The onset of WWI brought German occupation of the western coastal province of Kurzeme, and Latvians heroically countered the invasion with the establishment of several regiments of riflemen commanded by Czarist generals. As a defensive measure, Russia dismantled more than 500 local Latvian industries, along with technological equipment, and relocated them to central Russia. The sagging military campaign generally increased Latvian and LSDU support for the Bolsheviks' successful October Revolution in 1917, in the hopes of a "free Latvia within free Russia." These circumstances led to the formation of the Soviet "Iskolat Republic" in the unoccupied section of Latvia. In opposition to this government and to the landed barons' German sympathies stood primarily the Latvian Provisional National Council and the Riga Democratic Bloc. These and other political parties formed the Latvian People's Council which on November 18, 1918 declared Latvia's independence and formed an army.

The new Latvian Army faced rogue elements of the retreating German Army and squared off in civil war against the Soviet Red Army, comprised greatly of the former Latvian Riflemen. Soviet power resumed in Latvia one month later on December 17 by order of the Latvian SSR, which forcefully collectivized all land and nationalized all industries and property. By May 22, 1919, the resurgent German Army occupied and devastated Riga for several days. In response, the Latvian Army managed to win a decisive battle over the combined German-Red Army forces and thereafter consolidated its success on the eastern Latgale front. These developments led to the dissolution of the Soviet Latvian government on January 13, 1920, and to a peace treaty between Latvia and Soviet Russia on August 11 later that year. By September 22, 1921, Latvia was admitted to the League of Nations.

Having obtained independent state-hood in which Latvians were an absolute majority, the government headed by Prime Minister Ulmanis declared a democratic, parliamentary republic. It recognized Latvian as the official language, granted cultural autonomy to the country's sizeable minorities, and introduced an electoral system into the Latvian constitution, which was adopted in 1922. The decade witnessed sweeping economic reform, as war had devastated Latvian agriculture, and most Russian factories had been evacuated to Russia. Economic depression heightened political turmoil, and on May 15, 1934, Prime Minister Ulmanis dismissed the parliament, banned outspoken and left-wing political parties, and tightened authoritarian state control over Latvian social life and the economy.

The effects of the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement of 1939 steadily forced Latvia under Soviet influence until August 5, 1940, when the Soviet Union finally annexed Latvia. On June 14 of the following year, 15,000 Latvian citizens were forcibly deported and a large number of army officers shot. The subsequent German occupation witnessed the mobilization of many Latvians into Waffen SS legions, while some Latvians joined the Red Army and formed resistance groups; others fled to the West and East. By 1945, Latvia's population dropped by one-third.

After the war, the U.S.S.R. subjected the Latvian republic to a scale of social and economic reorganization which rapidly transformed the rural economy to heavy industry, the strongly ethnically Latvian population into a more multiethnic structure, and the predominantly peasant class into a fully urbanized industrial worker class. As part of the goal to more fully integrate Latvia into the Soviet Union, on March 25, 1949, Stalin again deported another 42,000 Latvians and continued to promote the policy of encouraging Soviet immigration to Latvia. The brief "Krushchev thaw" of the 1950s ended in 1959, when the Soviets dismissed Latvian Communist Party and government leaders on charges of "bourgeois nationalism" and replaced them with more aggressive hardliners, mostly from Russia.

"Perestroika" enabled Latvians to pursue a bolder nationalistic program, particularly through such general issues as environmental protection. In July 1989, the Latvian Supreme Soviet adopted a "Declaration of Sovereignty" and amended the Constitution to assert the supremacy of its laws over those of the U.S.S.R. Pro-independence Latvian Popular Front candidates gained a two-thirds majority in the Supreme Council in the March 1990 democratic elections. On May 4, the Council declared its intention to restore full Latvian independence after a "transitional" period; 3 days later, Ivars Godmanis was chosen Council of Ministers Chairman, or Prime Minister.

In January 1991, Soviet political and military forces tried unsuccessfully to overthrow the legitimate Latvian authorities by occupying the central publishing house in Riga and establishing a "Committee of National Salvation" to usurp governmental functions. Seventy-three percent of all Latvian residents confirmed their strong support for independence March 3 in a nonbinding "advisory" referendum. A large number of ethnic Russians also voted for the proposition.

Latvia claimed de facto independence on August 21, 1991 in the aftermath of the failed Soviet coup attempt. International recognition, including the U.S.S.R., followed. The United States, which had never recognized Latvia's forcible annexation by the U.S.S.R., resumed full diplomatic relations with Latvia on September 2.


GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

The Saeima, a unicameral legislative body, now is the highest organ of state authority. It initiates and approves legislation sponsored by the Prime Minister. The prime minister has full responsibility and control over his cabinet, and the president holds a primarily ceremonial role as head of state.

In autumn 1991 Latvia reimplemented significant portions of its 1922 constitution, and in spring 1993 the government took a census to determine eligibility for citizenship. After almost 3 years of deliberations, Latvia finalized a citizenship and naturalization law in summer 1994, which was further liberalized in 1998. By law, those who were Latvian citizens in 1940, and their descendants (regardless of ethnicity), could claim citizenship. Forty-one percent of Latvia's population is ethnically non-Latvian, yet almost three-fourths of all residents are citizens of Latvia Naturalization criteria include a conversational knowledge of Latvian, a loyalty oath, renunciation of former citizenship, a 5-year residency requirement, and a basic knowledge of the Latvian history. Dual citizenship is allowed for those who were forced to leave Latvia during the Soviet occupation and adopted another citizenship. Convicted criminals, agents of Soviet intelligence services, and certain other groups also are excluded from becoming citizens.

On March 19, 1991 the Supreme Council passed a law explicitly guaranteeing "equal rights to all nationalities and ethnic groups" and "guarantees to all permanent residents in the Republic regardless of their nationality, equal rights to work and wages." The law also prohibits "any activity directed toward nationality discrimination or the promotion of national superiority or hatred."

In the June 5-6, 1993 elections wherein more than 90% of the electorate participated, eight of Latvia's 23 registered political parties passed the 5% threshold to enter parliament. The Popular Front, which spearheaded the drive for independence with a 75% majority in the parliamentary elections in 1990, did not qualify for representation. The centrist "Latvia's Way" party received a 33% plurality of votes and joined with the Farmer's Union to head a center-right wing coalition government.

Through a U.S. initiative, on April 30, 1994 Latvia and Russia signed a troop withdrawal agreement. Russia withdrew its troops by August 31, 1994, and maintained several hundred technical specialists to staff an OSCE-monitored phased-array ABM radar station at Skrunda until the facility was destroyed in 1995.

The September 30-October 1, 1995 elections brought forth a deeply fragmented parliament with nine parties represented and the largest party commanding only 18 of 100 seats. Attempts to form right-of-center and leftist governments failed; 7 weeks after the election, a broad but fractious coalition government of six of the nine parties was voted into office under Prime Minister Andris Skele, a widely popular, nonpartisan businessman.

In the 1998 elections, the Latvian party structure began to consolidate with only six parties obtaining seats in the Saeima. Andris Skele's newly formed People's Party garnered a plurality with 24 seats. Though the election represented a victory for the center-right, personality conflicts and scandals within the two largest right of center parties—Latvia's Way and the People's Party—prevented stable coalitions from forming. Two shaky governments under Vilis Kristopans and Andris Skele quickly collapsed in less than a year. In May 2000, a compromise candidate was found in the form of Andris Berzins, the then Latvia's Way mayor of Riga. His four-party coalition lasted until parliamentary elections in October 2002. Those elections left Latvia's Way, for the first time since 1993, with no seats in parliament. Einars Repse's New Era Party, which ran on an anti-corruption platform, gained the most seats, and Repse headed a four-party coalition government until his abrupt resignation in February 2004 over issues relating to personalities and management of the ruling coalition.

A minority government led by Greens and Farmers Union leader Indulis Emsis, including the People's Party and the First Party and with the tacit support of leftist parties, took office on March 9, 2004. The new government was focused on smoothing Latvia's entry into NATO and the European Union. Latvia officially became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on March 29, 2004 after depositing its instruments of treaty ratification in Washington, DC. Latvia joined the European Union on May 1, 2004. Prime Minister Emsis's government collapsed on October 28, 2004 after parliament voted against the 2005 budget. A new coalition government, led Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis, took office on December 2, 2004.

In 1999, the Saeima elected Vaira Vike-Freiberga, a compromise candidate with no party affiliation, to the presidency. Though born in Riga in 1937, she settled in Canada during the years of the Soviet occupation, becoming a well-respected academic in the subject of Latvian culture and psychology. Since her election, she has become one of the most popular political figures in Latvia. She was overwhelming re-elected by parliament for another 4-year term in June 2003.

Latvia's flag consists of two horizontal, maroon bands of equal width, divided by a white stripe one-half the width. The national holiday is November 18, Independence Day.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 1/5/2006

President: Vaira VIKE-FREIBERGA
Prime Minister: Aigars KALVITIS
Min. of Agriculture: Martins ROZE
Min. for Children & Families: Ainars BASTIKS
Min. of Culture: Helena DEMAKOVA
Min. of Defense: Linda MURNIECE
Min. of Economy: Krisjanis KARINS
Min. of Education & Science: Ina DRUVIETE
Min. of Environment: Raimonds VEJONIS
Min. of Finance: Oskars SPURDZINS
Min. of Foreign Affairs: Artis PABRIKS
Min. of Health: Gundars BERZINS
Min. of Interior: Eriks JEKABSONS
Min. of Justice: Solvita ABOLTINA
Min. of Regional Development & Local Government: Maris KUCINSKIS
Min. for Social Integration: Ainars LATKOVSKIS
Min. for Special Assignment for E-Government: Janis REIRS
Min. of Transport: Ainars SLESERS
Min. of Welfare: Dagnija STAKE
Pres., Central Bank of Latvia: Ilmars RIMSEVICS
Ambassador to the US: Maris RIEKSTINS
Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Gints JEFERMANIS

Latvia maintains an embassy in the United States at 4325 - 17th Street, NW, Washington DC 20011 [tel: (202) 726-8213].


ECONOMY

For centuries under Hanseatic and German influence and then during its inter-war independence, Latvia used its geographic location as an important East-West commercial and trading center. Industry served local markets, while timber, paper, and agricultural products supplied Latvia's main exports. Conversely, the years of Russian and Soviet occupation tended to integrate Latvia's economy to serve those empires' large internal industrial needs. Since reestablishing its independence, Latvia has proceeded with market-oriented reforms. Its freely traded currency, the Lat, was introduced in 1993 and has held steady, or appreciated, against major world currencies. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has noted that Latvia's economic performance the past several years had been among the best of the European Union (EU) accession countries. Real per capita GDP has grown by more than 50% compared to its 1995 level, while inflation has remained close to or below 3% since 1998. The government expects annual growth rates of about 6% in medium term. At the same time, current account deficit (ranging from 7% to 10% in the past 3 years) remains one of the key vulnerabilities of the Latvian economy. In addition, Latvian fiscal discipline deteriorated considerably at the end of 2002, when budget deficit rose to 2.7% of GDP, well above the government's target figure. However, the government's effort to improve tax administration, to fight gray economy, and to reintroduce strict budget discipline led to an improvement in the fiscal situation in the first 9 months of 2003.

Privatization in Latvia is almost complete. Virtually all of the previously state-owned small and medium companies have been privatized, leaving in state hands the electric utility, the Latvian railway company, and the Latvian postal system, as well as state shares in several politically sensitive enterprises. Despite the lack of transparency of the early stages of the privatization process, and certain difficulties in privatization of some of the largest companies, Latvian privatization efforts have led to the development of a dynamic and prosperous private sector, which accounted for 70% of GDP in 2002.

Foreign investment in Latvia remains high, as both Western and Eastern investors are trying to establish a foothold in the new EU member state, as well as to take advantage of Latvia's stable macroeconomic environment, central location in the region, and cheap labor. Representing 7.1% of Latvia's total foreign direct investment, the U.S. FDI stock in Latvia stood at $184 million at the end of 2002. In the same year, U.S. goods and services accounted for 1.6% of Latvia's total imports, while exports to the United States accounted for 4.2% of Latvia's total exports. Latvia is a member of the World Trade Organization since 1999. Latvia and the United States have signed treaties on investment, trade, and intellectual property protection and avoidance of double taxation.

In the long term, continued high economic growth in Latvia will depend on further improvements of the business environment, particularly successful drive to reduce corruption and strengthen the rule of law, and on Latvia's ability to use the opportunities presented by EU membership.


DEFENSE

Latvia's defense concept is based upon four basic pillars—collective defense as a member of NATO, professionalization of the armed forces, support and coordination with civil society, and international military cooperation. The armed forces consist of the land forces brigade with one deployable battalion, an air force focused on air surveillance and search and rescue, and naval forces focused on costal surveillance, assertion of sovereignty, mine countermeasures, and search and rescue. The land forces, navy, and air force comprise approximately 7,000 personnel. The "zemessardze," or home guard, is an autonomous 13,890-man-strong volunteer reserve organization which performs traditional national guard duties such as crisis response and support to military operations. There is a mandatory 1-year draft period of active duty, and alternative conscription for conscientious objectors is available. The Latvian National Armed Forces will be fully professional by the beginning of 2007. Defense spending has risen in recent years, and the government has committed 2% of its GDP for defense spending through 2008.


FOREIGN RELATIONS

Latvia became a member of the United Nations on September 18, 1991, and is a signatory to a number of UN organizations and other international agreements, including COE, IAEA, CERCO, ICES, ICAO, IAEA, UNESCO, UNICEF, IMF, and WB/EBRD. It also is a member of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and of the North Atlantic Coordinating Council. Latvia officially became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on March 29, 2004 after depositing its instruments of treaty ratification in Washington, DC. Latvia officially joined the European Union on May 1, 2004.

Latvia maintains embassies in the United States, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Canada, the People's Republic of China, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and Uzbekistan. It also operates missions to the United Nations in New York City and Geneva, the European Council, and non-member representation to the EU, Chemical Weapons Nonproliferation Organization, the OSCE, World Trade Organization, and the UN Council on Food and Agriculture. It also is represented at NATO.

Latvia has a Consulate General in Russia; Consulates in Belarus and Russia; Honorary Consulates General in Australia, Cyprus, India, Israel, and Norway; and Honorary Consulates in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Mexico, Mold-ova, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, and Venezuela.

Russia expresses concern for how Latvia's language and naturalization laws affect Latvia's Russian-speaking population. Russians comprised 29% of the population in 2003. In turn, Latvia is interested in the welfare of ethnic Latvians still residing in Russia.


U.S.-LATVIAN RELATIONS

The United States established diplomatic relations with Latvia on July 28, 1922. The U.S. Legation in Riga officially was established November 13, 1922, and served as the headquarters for U.S. representation in the Baltics during the interwar era. The Soviet invasion forced the closure of the legation on September 5, 1940, but Latvian representation in the United States has continued uninterrupted for more than 70 years. The United States never recognized the forcible incorporation of Latvia into the U.S.S.R. and views the present Government of Latvia as a legal continuation of the interwar republic. Latvia has enjoyed most-favored-nation treatment with the United States since December 1991.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

RIGA (E) Address: 7 Raina Blvd., Riga LV-1510 Latvia; APO/FPO: PSC 78 Box R, APO AE 09723; Phone: +371-703-6200; Fax: +371-782-0047; Workweek: M-F/0830-1700; Website: http://www.usembassy.lv.

AMB:Catherine Todd Bailey
AMB OMS:Sheila Jefferson
DCM:Philip Antweiller
DCM OMS:Ruth Whiteford
POL:Tamir G. Waser
CON:Landon Taylor
MGT:Mary Teirlynck
AFSA:Alan Knabe
CLO:Margaret K. Catt
CUS:Dale Wisely
DAO:Dianne Leigh Sumner
ECO:Mark Draper
EEO:Harold E. Zappia
GSO:Harold E. Zappia
ICASS Chair:Michael Brogan
IMO:Alan J. Knabe
ISO:James W. Bayer
ISSO:Alan Knabe
MLO:Michael Brogan
PAO:Timothy Moore
RSO:Vida Gecas
State ICASS:Mark Draper
Last Updated: 12/29/2005

TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet

December 29, 2005

Country Description:

Latvia is a stable democracy experiencing rapid economic growth. Most tourist facilities found in a western European city are available in the capital city of Riga. However, many of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries are not yet available in other parts of the country.

Entry/Exit Requirements:

A passport valid for at least three months after the planned stay in Latvia 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. A valid insurance policy, covering medical expenses while in Latvia, has to be presented when requesting the residency permit. Repatriation costs, including funeral and disposition of remains costs also have to be covered by the policy. For more information, travelers may contact the Latvian Embassy, at 4325 17th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20011, tel: (202) 726-8213, see also http://www.latviausa.org. 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, http://www.pmlp.gov.lv or Foreigners Service Center at Alunana iela 1, Riga, LV 1050, tel: (371-721-9639, fax: (371)-721-9655. 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. Visit the Embassy of Latvia web site at http://www.Latvia-usa.org for the most current visa information.

Safety and Security:

Civil unrest is not a problem in Riga. Nonetheless, in the past, Riga has seen large, peaceful demonstrations related to internal political issues. While demonstrations have been peaceful, American citizens are nevertheless cautioned to avoid any large, public demonstrations. There have been no incidents of terrorism directed toward American interests. Incidents of anti-Americanism are rare.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov where the current Travel Warnings and Public Announcements, including the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Crime:

Crime in Riga is generally non-violent, although there have been infrequent instances of serious violent assaults. Street crime is a serious problem, particularly for tourists. In addition to falling prey to pickpockets in all public areas, there have been cases of tourists and residents being drugged in bars and restaurants and then taken outside or to their residences and robbed. In any public area, one should always be alert to being surrounded by two or more people at once. It is not uncommon for groups of juvenile pickpockets to attempt to overwhelm their victim. Gangs of professional pick-pockets are specifically targeting foreigners, particularly women with zipper-type bags. In addition, Riga has one of the highest rates of car theft in the world.

Internet crime is a growing concern in Latvia. Common fraudulent schemes involve both Internet auction sites and Internet job search sites. In the first scam, criminals offer valuable items for sale at low prices on Internet auctions and request that payments are sent by wire transfer to a bank in Latvia or through a fraudulent escrow site that they have created themselves. In this scheme the money passes through a bank in Latvia and is quickly withdrawn by ATM or transferred to a bank in another country. It is very difficult in these cases to discover the identities of the account holders or recover the funds.

The second common scam involves identity theft through false job offers. In this scheme, a company claiming to be located in Latvia, but which has a non-existing address, offers the victim employment as a U.S. - based agent or freight forwarder. When the victim responds to the job offer, commonly posted on one of several popular internet job sites, a Social Security number and other identifying information-needed for the identity theft- is required under the guise of conducting a background check.

Instances of racially motivated verbal abuse of, and, on occasion, physical assaults on non-Caucasian foreigners have occurred in Riga. There have also been reports of non-Caucasian foreigners being subjected to extra scrutiny by security guards in shops and malls in Riga.

Information for Victims of Crime:

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Medical Facilities and Health Information:

Medical care in Latvia is steadily improving, but remains limited in several important respects. There are a few private clinics with medical supplies and services, including disposable needles and basic modern diagnostics, which are nearly equal to Western Europe or U.S. standards. However, because of the lack of equipment and resources, most major invasive procedures or surgeries in Latvia are not recommended. Hospital services have shown good progress but are still not equal to Western standards. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Most, but not all, antibiotics and prescription medications are available but as they are generally produced in Europe or Latvia, they often have different names and instructions are usually not printed in English. Diphtheria, hepatitis and tick-borne encephalitis are evident. According to the World Health Organization, tuberculosis is a significant problem in Latvia, with 9% of all cases being multi-drug resistant. State ambulance service for emergencies is available by dialing 112 anywhere in Latvia. However, quick response is poor in rural areas. Air ambulance service is available for medical evacuations. In general, private air ambulance services are very expensive.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

Medical Insurance:

The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions:

Foreign visitors to Latvia planning to operate a motor vehicle are required to obtain an International Driving Permit. These may be obtained through the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance for a small fee. A U.S. state driver's license is not sufficient. Individuals driving without an International Driving Permit may have their vehicle confiscated by the police.

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Latvia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in every circumstance or location.

Latvia has one of the highest rates of automobile accidents and fatalities in Europe. While recent reports show a decrease in the number of traffic accident fatalities, there are still a number of hazards to watch out for. Drivers should be alert for pedestrians and slow moving vehicles in traffic. Additionally, violation of traffic rules is common and it is not unusual to be overtaken by other automobiles traveling at high speed, even in crowded urban areas. Drivers do not always yield to pedestrians, even at marked intersections. During winter, most major roads are cleared of snow. However, drivers should be alert for fog, snow, and ice while driving. Driving while intoxicated is a very serious offense and carries heavy penalties. Local authorities use roadblocks and Breathalyzer tests as enforcement tools. Drivers and pedestrians should be alert to the possibility of drunk drivers and drunken pedestrians wandering onto the road. Drivers must use their headlights at all times. Speed limits are usually 50 km/hr in the city and 90 km/hr on the highways. Public transportation is generally considered safe, but travelers are encouraged to select well-marked taxis. Emergency services are fair but improving (see section on Medical Facilities above); response time may be especially slow in traffic or in rural settings. Dial 112 for ambulance service..

Visit the website of the Latvia's national tourist office at http://latviatourism.lv/info.php and the national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.csdd.lv/.

Aviation Safety Oversight:

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Latvia's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with ICAO international aviation safety standards.

Special Circumstances:

Banks and currency exchange counters may refuse to accept U.S. currency that is crumpled, torn, discolored or defaced (even small pen strokes, hand written numbers and letters are considered defacing). If such notes are accepted for exchange, an additional processing fee, based on the size of the transaction, may be charged. ATMs are widely available in Riga and in major towns. Telephone connections with the United States are reliable. However, 1-800 numbers cannot be accessed from Latvia. Please check with your long distance carrier before departure to see if they offer service in Latvia. Local Internet cafes offer computer access, and fax machines are widely available.

Latvian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Latvia of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, medications, business equipment, drugs, etc. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Latvia in Washington or one of Latvian consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements at http://www.latvia-usa.org.

Criminal Penalties:

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Latvia's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Latvia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Children's Issues:

For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website at http://www.travel.state.gov/family/family_1732.html.

Registration/Embassy Location:

Americans living or traveling in Latvia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Latvia. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at 7 Raina Blvd. Riga, LV-1510, and may be reached by dialing +371-781-6200. The fax number for the consular American Citizen Services section is +371-781-4088. You can find us on the web at http://www.usembassy.lv.

International Adoption

January 2006

The information below has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family.

Disclaimer:

The information in this flyer relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is based on public sources and our current understanding. Questions involving foreign and U.S. immigration laws and legal interpretation should be addressed respectively to qualified foreign or U.S. legal counsel.

Please Note:

From time to time, Latvia revises its laws pertaining to adoption process, including international adoption. Please check with the U.S. Embassy in Latvia for the most current information. Their email address is: contact the Consular Section: [email protected]

On March 11, 2003, the Cabinet of Ministers of Latvia revised the Adoption Law delegating the adoption supervision function to the Ministry for Family and Children's Rights and requiring that a parent-child relationship be established before the final adoption court decision can be made. Although local courts are authorized to demand that adoptive parents share a household with the adoptive child for up to six months to establish the relationship, in most cases thus far, the courts have decided that the required relationship can be established within several weeks. See also information below about residential requirements.

There is some popular opposition in Latvia to the adoption of Latvian children by foreigners. This has contributed to a reluctance to reform international adoption procedures, which entail several extended trips by adoptive parents to Latvia to complete all requirements.

The American Embassy in Riga is responsible for preparing the I-604, Report of Orphan Investigation. However, the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland is responsible for the issuance of all immigrant visas for applicants from Latvia, including adopted children.

Patterns of Immigration of Adopted Orphans to the U.S.:

Recent U.S. immigrant visa statistics reflect the following pattern for visa issuance to orphans:

Fiscal Year: Number of Immigrant Visas Issued
FY 2004: 15
FY 2003: 15
FY 2002: 33
FY 2001: 28
FY 2000: 25

Adoption Authority in Latvia:

The Ministry for Family and Children's Rights (Ministry) is responsible for administering inter-country adoptions.

Foreigners interested in adopting a Latvian child should express their interest in writing to the ministry at the following address:

Ministry for Family and Children's Rights
Basteja Blvd. 14 (3rd floor)
Riga, LV 1050
Latvia
Tel. (371) 735-6497
Fax. (371) 735-6464
E-mail: [email protected]
http://www.bm.gov.lv

Eligibility Requirements for Adoptive Parents:

Both single individuals and married couples are eligible to adopt.

Residential Requirements:

Parent-child relationship requirement: Latvian adoption law requires that a parent-child relationship be established before the final court decision can be made at the town or city court having jurisdiction over the child. It leaves to each orphan court to decide on a case-by-case basis how long it will take to establish the parent-child relationship. The interpretation of the child-parent relationship among courts might differ. Adoptive parents are advised that orphan courts may require them to take care of the adoptive children and share a household in Latvia for some time period, not exceeding six months, as determined by the orphan court.

Time Frame:

The time needed to complete an adoption in Latvia from beginning to end varies depending on the age of the adoptive child. There are very few newborn and younger children in need of a permanent family placement who are available for international adoption. Some parents wait several years to adopt an eligible child. Adoptions involving children between five and ten years of age can take less than a year, as there currently are many more older children eligible for international adoption.

Adoption Agencies and Attorneys:

The U.S. Embassy in Riga has a list of agencies and attorneys known to work with Americans seeking to adopt in Latvia. Neither the U.S. Embassy nor the Department of State can vouch for the efficiency or professionalism of any agent, facilitator, or interpreter.

Adoption Fees in Latvia:

There are no Latvian government fees for adoption services in Latvia. However, adoptive parents should be prepared to cover fees related to translation and certification of documents and processing of new civil and travel documents for the adopted child.

Adoption Procedures:

Foreign adoption is allowed if the orphan court having jurisdiction over child's place of residence has established that the child's upbringing in a family environment in Latvia cannot be ensured. Foreign adoptive parents are required to file adoption applications with the Ministry for Family and Children's Rights, which reviews all applications and determines whether or not the applicant meets the requirements of the law. If the judgment is favorable, the Ministry provides adoptive parents with information on children who are available for adoption. After a child is chosen, the Ministry issues permission for the adoptive parents to meet the child. The permission and the adoptive parent's passport have to be presented to the orphanage Director (or other care-taking facility) before the family is acquainted with the child. The adoptive parents are given ten days to decide if they are willing to start taking care of the child. It is up to the responsible orphan court to decide how long the parents will have to take care of the child. After the adoptive family has taken care of the child for the required time period and the orphan court has established that the adoption would (or would not) be in the child's interests, the Ministry is informed. The Ministry then prepares an adoption approval (or rejection) statement for submission to the Latvian Minister of Justice. The Justice Minister's adoption permission is valid for three months, and has to be submitted, with other documentation pertaining to the adoption, to the town or city court responsible for the final adoption decree. Current law provides for a twenty-day period for the final court decree to become effective. After the final court decree becomes effective, the adoptive parent(s) can travel to Warsaw, Poland for the child's U.S. immigrant visa interview. It is a requirement that for two years after the adoption, the orphan court having jurisdiction over the child's new place of residency will monitor the adopted child's well being. It has not been decided yet how the Latvian government will monitor the child's well being in the adoptive family residing abroad. The Ministry has suggested that adoptive families address this question to Ministry officials who will advise them on this issue.

Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at travel.state.gov/family.

Documents Required for Adoption in Latvia:

All prospective parents must apply for adoption in Latvia by submitting the following documents (in duplicate) in the original, accompanied by an official Latvian translation to the Ministry:

  • Application including information about reasons for adoption as well as information about the sex, age range, and religion of the child (children) you are interested in adopting;
  • A copy of your marriage certificate, under apostille (Please see further information about authentication of documents.);
  • A copy of divorce decree (if applicable), under apostille;
  • A statement about the dwelling space of the family (i.e., size, location, type of residence);
  • An autobiography (curriculum vitae);
  • Medical statements regarding the health of the family (hereditary illnesses, if any, and any specific illnesses);
  • A home study, under apostille, conducted by a U.S. state adoption agency or a private organization licensed to perform such studies.

Note:

Adoption agents are allowed to represent parents. They can do the required translations, and file adoption applications at the Ministry. However, under the current law the adoptive parents are required to personally file applications at orphan courts and participate in the orphan court and final court sessions.

Authenticating U.S. Documents to be Used Abroad:

All U.S. documents submitted to the Latvian government/court must be authenticated. Visit the State Department website at travel.state.gov for additional information about authentication procedures.

Latvian Embassy and Consulates in the United States:

Embassy of Latvia
4325 17th Street, N. W.
Washington, DC 20011
Tel: 202-726-6757
Fax: 202-726-6785
Email: [email protected]_USA.org
www.latvia-usa.org

Latvia also has honorary consulates in Los Angeles, California; Cleveland, Ohio; Houston, Texas. Adoptive parents should also check local phone book for contact information.

U.S. Immigration Requirements:

Please see the International Adoption section of this book for more details and review current reports online at travel.state.gov/family.

U.S. Embassy in Latvia:

The Consular Section is located at:
American Embassy
7 Raina Boulevard
Riga, LV-1510, Latvia
Tel: 371-703-6200;
fax: 371-781-4088
http://www.usembassy.lv/
E-mail: [email protected]

Polish Visas for Latvian Orphans:

Immigrant visa processing for all Latvian residents, including adopted children, is conducted in Warsaw, Poland. Children traveling to Poland on their Latvian resident alien passports need to apply for a visa to Poland at the Polish embassy in Riga.

Embassy of Poland
Visa Section
Mednieku 6B
Riga, LV-1010
Tel: 371-7031500
Fax: 371-7031549

Additional Information:

Specific questions about adoption in a particular country may be addressed to the U.S. Embassy in that country. General questions regarding international adoption may be addressed to the Office of Children's Issues, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/CI, SA-29, 4th Floor, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818, toll-free Tel: 1-888-404-4747.

views updated

LATVIA

Compiled from the December 2004 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.

Official Name:
Republic of Latvia


PROFILE

Geography

Area: 64,100 sq. km. (25,640 sq. mi.); about the size of West Virginia.

Cities: (2002) Capital—Riga (739,232). Other cities—Daugavpils (112,609); Liepaja (86,985); Jelgava (65,754); Jurmala (55,156); Ventspils (44,010); Rezekne (37,777).

Terrain: Fertile low-lying plains predominate in central Latvia, highlands in Vidzeme and Latgale to the east, and hilly moraine in the western Kurzeme region. Forests cover one-third of the country, with over 3,000 small lakes and numerous bogs.

Land use: 20% arable land, 8% meadows and pastures, 45% forest and woodland, 26.7% other.

Climate: Temperate, with four seasons of almost equal length. January temperatures average −5ºC (23ºF); July 17ºC (63ºF). Annual precipitation averages 57 centimeters (23 in.).

People

Nationality: Noun and adjective—Latvian(s).

Population: 2,331,480.

Growth rate: −0.6%. Birth rate—8.6/1,000. Death rate—13.9/1,000. Divorce rate—2.5/1,000. Migration rate—1,500 immigrants, 3,300 emigrants. Density—36.4/1 km2. Urban dwellers—68.9%.

Ethnic groups: Latvian 58.5%, Russians 29%, Belarusians 3.9%, Ukrainians 2.6%, Poles 2.5%.

Religions: Lutheran, Orthodox, Roman Catholic.

State language: Latvian. Russian also is spoken by most people.

Education: Years compulsory—9. By 1989, 60% of the adult populace had finished high school, and 12% had completed college. Attendance—408,000 students in 1,057 schools and 90,000 university students. Literacy—99%.

Health: Infant mortality rate—9.8/1,000. Life expectancy—65.4 yrs. male, 76.8 yrs. female.

Work force: (989,000 people) Industry—16.9%; agriculture/forestry—14.9%; trade—14.9%; education—8.9%; transport/communications—8.7%; public administration/defense—6.9%; construction—6.1%; healthcare/social welfare—6.1%.

Government

Type: Parliamentary democracy.

Constitution: The law "On the Republic of Latvia Status as a State," passed by Parliament on August 21, 1991, provided for the reinstatement of the 1922 constitution.

Branches: Executive—President (head of state), elected by Parliament every 4 years; Prime Minister (head of government). Legislative—Saeima (100-member body). Judicial—Supreme Court. Administrative subdivisions: 26 "rural" districts and 6 districts in Riga.

Political parties: New Era—24 seats, People's Party—20 seats, Latvia's First Party—14 seats, Farmers and Greens—12 seats, National Harmony Party—9 seats, Fatherland and Freedom—7 seats, For Human Rights in United Latvia—6 seats, Latvia's Socialist Party—5 seats; there are three independent members.

Suffrage: 18 years universal.

Economy (2002 data)

GDP: $8.41 billion.

Growth rate: 6.1%.

Inflation rate: 1.9%.

Unemployment: 8.5%.

Average annual wages: $3,359.

Natural resources: Peat, limestone, dolomite, gypsum, timber.

Agriculture/forestry: (4.5% of GDP) Products—cattle, dairy foods, cereals, potatoes. Cultivable land—2.48 million hectares, of which 75% is arable, 25% meadow and pasture.

Manufacturing: (14.8% of GDP) Light electrical equipment and fittings, textiles and footwear, technological instruments, construction materials, processed foods.

Public services: 15%; construction—6.1%; energy/water—3.6%; trade—19.9%; transport and communications—14.5%; business services—11.1%; financial services—4.6%; other services—5.5%.

Trade: Exports—$2.28 billion: wood/wood products 33.6%; metals 13.2%, textiles 12.8%, machines 6.5%, food/food products 7.1. Major markets—Germany 15.5%, U.K. 14.6%, Sweden 10.5%, Lithuania 8.4%, Estonia 6.0%. Imports—$4.04 billion: energy 9.7%, machinery 21.3%, chemicals 10.4%, food/food products 21.8%, metals 8.4%, vehicles 9.8%. Partners—Germany 17.2%, Lithuania 9.8%, Russia 8.8%, Finland 8%, Sweden 6.4%.


GEOGRAPHY

Between 55.40 and 58.05 latitude and 20.58 and 28.14 longitude, Latvia lies on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea on the level northwestern part of the rising East European platform. About 98% of the country lies under 200m elevation (640 ft.). The damp climate resembles New England's. With the exception of the coastal plains, the Ice Age divided Latvia into three main regions: the morainic Western and Eastern uplands and the Middle lowlands. Latvia holds over 12,000 rivers, only 17 of which are longer than 60 miles, and over 3,000 small lakes, most of which are eutrophic. Woodland, more than half of which is pine, covers 41% of the country. Other than peat, dolomite, and limestone, natural resources are scarce. Latvia holds 531km (329 mi.) of sandy coastline, and the ports of Liepaja and Ventspils provide important warm-water harbors for the Baltic littoral, although the Bay of Riga itself is rather polluted.

Today, Latvia is slightly larger than Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Its strategic location has instigated many wars between rival powers on its territory. As recently as 1944, the U.S.S.R. granted Russia the Abrene region on the Livonian frontier.


PEOPLE

Latvians occasionally refer to themselves by the ancient name of "Latvji," which may have originated from a "Latve" river that presumably flowed through what is now eastern Latvia. A small Finno-Ugric tribe known as the Livs settled among the Latvians and modulated the name to "Latvis," meaning "forest-clearers," which is how medieval German settlers also referred to these peoples. The German colonizers changed this name to "Lette" and called their initially small colony "Livland." The Latin form, "Livonia," gradually referred to the whole of modern-day Latvia as well as southern Estonia, which had fallen under German dominion. Latvians and Lithuanians are the only directly surviving members of the Baltic peoples and languages of the Indo-European family.

Latvians look like and consider themselves Nordics, evidenced through the strong cultural and religious influences gained over centuries during Germanic and Scandinavian colonization and settlement. Eastern Latvia (Latgale), however, retains a strong Polish and Russian cultural and linguistic influence. This highly literate society places strong emphasis upon education, which is free and compulsory until age 16. Most Latvians belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church; a sizable minority are Russian Orthodox, and Eastern Latvia is predominantly Roman Catholic.

Historically, Latvia always has had a fairly large Russian, Jewish, German, and Polish minority, but postwar emigration, deportations, and Soviet Russification policies from 1939-89 dropped the percentage of ethnic Latvians in Latvia from 73% to 52%. In an attempt to preserve the Latvian language and avoid ethnic Latvians becoming a minority in their own country, Latvia's language law, education law, and citizenship law have caused many noncitizen resident Russians concern over their ability to assimilate, despite Latvian legal guarantees of universal human and civil rights regardless of citizenship.

Written with the Latin alphabet, Latvian is the language of the Latvian people and the official language of the country. It is an inflective language with several analytical forms, three dialects, and German syntactical influence. The oldest known examples of written Latvian are from a 1585 catechism. The Soviets imposed the official use of Russian, so most Latvians speak Russian as a second or first language while the resident Slavic populace generally speaks Russian as a first language.


HISTORY

Since 9,000 BC ancient peoples of unknown origin had inhabited Latvia, but by 3,000 BC the ancestors of the Finns had settled the region. A millennium later, pre-Baltic tribes had arrived and within time evolved into the Baltic Couranian, Latgallian, Selonian, and Semigallian groups. These tribes eventually formed local governments independently from the Finno-Ugric Livian tribe until the 13th century when they were conquered by the Germans, who renamed the territory Livonia.

German sailors shipwrecked on the Daugava River in 1054 had inhabited the area, which led to increasing German influence. Founded by the Germanic Bishop Alberth of Livonia in 1201, Riga joined the Hanseatic League in 1285 and shared important cultural and economic ties to the rest of Europe. However, the new German nobility enserfed the peasantry and accorded non-Germanic peoples only limited trading and property rights.

Subsequent wars and treaties ensured Livonia's partition and colonization for centuries. The Commonwealth's successes during the Livonian Wars (1558-83) united the Latvian-populated duchies of Pardaugava, Kurzeme, and Zemgale, but the Polish-Swedish War (1600-29) granted Sweden acquisition of Riga and the Duchy of Pardaugava, minus Latgale, leaving Latvia again split ethnically. In turn, victory over Sweden in the Great Northern War (1700-21) gave Russia control over the Latvian territories. From 1804 onward, a series of local decrees

gradually weakened the grip of German nobility over peasant society, and in 1849 a law granted a legal basis for the creation of peasantowned farms.

Until the 1860s, there still was little sense of a Latvian national identity, as both serfdom and institutional controls to migration and social mobility limited the boundaries of the peasants' intellectual and social geography. The large baronic estates caused a lack of available farmland for an increasing population, creating a large landless, urban class comprising about 60% of the population. Also in the face of stricter Russification policies, the Baltic German clergy and literati began to take a more benevolent interest in the distinctive language and culture of the Latvian peasantry. These patrons—with such Lettish names as Alunans, Barons, Krastins, Kronvalds, Tomsons, and Valdemars—soon formed the Young Latvian Movement, whose aim was to promote the indigenous language and to publicize and counteract the socioeconomic oppression of Latvians.

By 1901, "Jauna Strava" had evolved into the Latvian Social Democratic Party. Following the lead of the Austrian Marxists, the LSDP advocated the transformation of the Russian Empire into a federation of democratic states (to include Latvia) and the adoption of cultural autonomy policy for extraterritorial ethnic communities. In 1903, the LSDP split into the more radically internationalist Latvian Social Democratic Worker's Party and the more influential Latvian Social Democratic Union (LSDU), which continued to champion national interests and Latvia's national self-determination, especially during the failed 1905 Revolution in Russia.

The onset of WWI brought German occupation of the western coastal province of Kurzeme, and Latvians heroically countered the invasion with the establishment of several regiments of riflemen commanded by Czarist generals. As a defensive measure, Russia dismantled more than 500 local Latvian industries, along with technological equipment, and relocated them to central Russia. The sagging military campaign generally increased Latvian and LSDU support for the Bolsheviks' successful October Revolution in 1917, in the hopes of a "free Latvia within free Russia." These circumstances led to the formation of the Soviet "Iskolat Republic" in the unoccupied section of Latvia. In opposition to this government and to the landed barons' German sympathies stood primarily the Latvian Provisional National Council and the Riga Democratic Bloc. These and other political parties formed the Latvian People's Council which on November 18, 1918 declared Latvia's independence and formed an army.

The new Latvian Army faced rogue elements of the retreating German Army and squared off in civil war against the Soviet Red Army, comprised greatly of the former Latvian Riflemen. Soviet power resumed in Latvia one month later on December 17 by order of the Latvian SSR, which forcefully collectivized all land and nationalized all industries and property. By May 22, 1919, the resurgent German Army occupied and devastated Riga for several days. In response, the Latvian Army managed to win a decisive battle over the combined German-Red Army forces and thereafter consolidated its success on the eastern Latgale front. These developments led to the dissolution of the Soviet Latvian government on January 13, 1920, and to a peace treaty between Latvia and Soviet Russia on August 11 later that year. By September 22, 1921, Latvia was admitted to the League of Nations.

Having obtained independent statehood in which Latvians were an absolute majority, the government headed by Prime Minister Ulmanis declared a democratic, parliamentary republic. It recognized Latvian as the official language, granted cultural autonomy to the country's sizeable minorities, and introduced an electoral system into the Latvian constitution, which was adopted in 1922. The decade witnessed sweeping economic reform, as war had devastated Latvian agriculture, and most Russian factories had been evacuated to Russia. Economic depression heightened political turmoil, and on May 15, 1934, Prime Minister Ulmanis dismissed the parliament, banned outspoken and leftwing political parties, and tightened authoritarian state control over Latvian social life and the economy.

The effects of the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement of 1939 steadily forced Latvia under Soviet influence until August 5, 1940, when the Soviet Union finally annexed Latvia. On June 14 of the following year, 15,000 Latvian citizens were forcibly deported and a large number of army officers shot. The subsequent German occupation witnessed the mobilization of many Latvians into Waffen SS legions, while some Latvians joined the Red Army and formed resistance groups; others fled to the West and East. By 1945, Latvia's population dropped by one-third.

After the war, the U.S.S.R. subjected the Latvian republic to a scale of social and economic reorganization which rapidly transformed the rural economy to heavy industry, the strongly ethnically Latvian population into a more multiethnic structure, and the predominantly peasant class into a fully urbanized industrial worker class. As part of the goal to more fully integrate Latvia into the Soviet Union, on March 25, 1949, Stalin again deported another 42,000 Latvians and continued to promote the policy of encouraging Soviet immigration to Latvia. The brief "Krushchev thaw" of the 1950s ended in 1959, when the Soviets dismissed Latvian Communist Party and government leaders on charges of "bourgeois nationalism" and replaced them with more aggressive hardliners, mostly from Russia.

"Perestroika" enabled Latvians to pursue a bolder nationalistic program, particularly through such general issues as environmental protection. In July 1989, the Latvian Supreme Soviet adopted a "Declaration of Sovereignty" and amended the Constitution to assert the supremacy of its laws over those of the U.S.S.R. Pro-independence Latvian Popular Front candidates gained a two-thirds majority in the Supreme Council in the March 1990 democratic elections. On May 4, the Council declared its intention to restore full Latvian independence after a "transitional" period; 3 days later, Ivars Godmanis was chosen Council of Ministers Chairman, or Prime Minister.

In January 1991, Soviet political and military forces tried unsuccessfully to overthrow the legitimate Latvian authorities by occupying the central publishing house in Riga and establishing a "Committee of National Salvation" to usurp governmental functions. Seventy-three percent of all Latvian residents confirmed their strong support for independence March 3 in a nonbinding "advisory" referendum. A large number of ethnic Russians also voted for the proposition.

Latvia claimed de facto independence on August 21, 1991 in the aftermath of the failed Soviet coup attempt. International recognition, including the U.S.S.R., followed. The United States, which had never recognized Latvia's forcible annexation by the U.S.S.R., resumed full diplomatic relations with Latvia on September 2.


GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

The Saeima, a unicameral legislative body, now is the highest organ of state authority. It initiates and approves legislation sponsored by the Prime Minister. The prime minister has full responsibility and control over his cabinet, and the president holds a primarily ceremonial role as head of state.

In autumn 1991 Latvia reimplemented significant portions of its 1922 constitution, and in spring 1993 the government took a census to determine eligibility for citizenship. After almost 3 years of deliberations, Latvia finalized a citizenship and naturalization law in summer 1994, which was further liberalized in 1998. By law, those who were Latvian citizens in 1940, and their descendants (regardless of ethnicity), could claim citizenship. Forty-one percent of Latvia's population is ethnically non-Latvian, yet almost three-fourths of all residents are citizens of Latvia Naturalization criteria include a conversational knowledge of Latvian, a loyalty oath, renunciation of former citizenship, a 5-year residency requirement, and a basic knowledge of the Latvian history. Dual citizenship is allowed for those who were forced to leave Latvia during the Soviet occupation and adopted another citizenship. Convicted criminals, agents of Soviet intelligence services, and certain other groups also are excluded from becoming citizens.

On March 19, 1991 the Supreme Council passed a law explicitly guaranteeing "equal rights to all nationalities and ethnic groups" and "guarantees to all permanent residents in the Republic regardless of their nationality, equal rights to work and wages." The law also prohibits "any activity directed toward nationality discrimination or the promotion of national superiority or hatred."

In the June 5-6, 1993 elections wherein more than 90% of the electorate participated, eight of Latvia's 23 registered political parties passed the 5% threshold to enter parliament. The Popular Front, which spearheaded the drive for independence with a 75% majority in the parliamentary elections in 1990, did not qualify for representation. The centrist "Latvia's Way" party received a 33% plurality of votes and joined with the Farmer's Union to head a center-right wing coalition government.

Through a U.S. initiative, on April 30, 1994 Latvia and Russia signed a troop withdrawal agreement. Russia withdrew its troops by August 31, 1994, and maintained several hundred technical specialists to staff an OSCE-monitored phased-array ABM radar station at Skrunda until the facility was destroyed in 1995.

The September 30-October 1, 1995 elections brought forth a deeply fragmented parliament with nine parties represented and the largest party commanding only 18 of 100 seats. Attempts to form right-of-center and leftist governments failed; 7 weeks after the election, a broad but fractious coalition government of six of the nine parties was voted into office under Prime Minister Andris Skele, a widely popular, nonpartisan businessman.

In the 1998 elections, the Latvian party structure began to consolidate with only six parties obtaining seats in the Saeima. Andris Skele's newly formed People's Party garnered a plurality with 24 seats. Though the election represented a victory for the center-right, personality conflicts and scandals within the two largest right of center parties—Latvia's Way and the People's Party—prevented stable coalitions from forming. Two shaky governments under Vilis Kristopans and Andris Skele quickly collapsed in less than a year. In May 2000, a compromise candidate was found in the form of Andris Berzins, the then Latvia's Way mayor of Riga. His fourparty coalition lasted until parliamentary elections in October 2002. Those elections left Latvia's Way, for the first time since 1993, with no seats in parliament. Einars Repse's New Era Party, which ran on an anticorruption platform, gained the most seats, and Repse headed a four-party coalition government until his abrupt resignation in February 2004 over issues relating to personalities and management of the ruling coalition.

A minority government led by Greens and Farmers Union leader Indulis Emsis, including the People's Party and the First Party and with the tacit support of leftist parties, took office on March 9, 2004. The new government was focused on smoothing Latvia's entry into NATO and the European Union. Latvia officially became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on March 29, 2004 after depositing its instruments of treaty ratification in Washington, DC. Latvia joined the European Union on May 1, 2004. Prime Minister Emsis's government collapsed on October 28, 2004 after parliament voted against the 2005 budget. A new coalition government, led Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis, took office on December 2, 2004.

In 1999, the Saeima elected Vaira Vike-Freiberga, a compromise candidate with no party affiliation, to the presidency. Though born in Riga in 1937, she settled in Canada during the years of the Soviet occupation, becoming a well-respected academic in the subject of Latvian culture and psychology. Since her election, she has become one of the most popular political figures in Latvia. She was overwhelming re-elected by parliament for another 4-year term in June 2003.

Latvia's flag consists of two horizontal, maroon bands of equal width, divided by a white stripe one-half the width. The national holiday is November 18, Independence Day.

Principal Government Officials

Last Updated: 12/14/04

President: Vike-Freiberga , Vaira
Prime Minister: Kalvitis , Aigars
Min. of Agriculture: Roze , Martins
Min. for Children & Families: Bastiks , Ainars
Min. of Culture: Demakova , Helena
Min. of Defense: Repse , Einars
Min. of Economy: Karins , Krisjanis
Min. of Education & Science: Druviete , Ina
Min. of Environment: Vejonis , Raimonds
Min. of Finance: Spurdzins , Oskars
Min. of Foreign Affairs: Pabriks , Artis
Min. of Health: Berzins , Gundars
Min. of Interior: Jekabsons , Eriks
Min. of Justice: Aboltina , Solvita
Min. of Regional Development & Local Government: Kucinskis , Maris
Min. for Social Integration: Latkovskis , Ainars
Min. for Special Assignment for E Government: Reirs , Janis
Min. of Transport: Slesers , Ainars
Min. of Welfare: Stake , Dagnija
Pres., Central Bank of Latvia: Rimsevics , Ilmars
Ambassador to the US: Riekstins , Maris
Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Jegermanis , Gints

Latvia maintains an embassy in the United States at 4325—17th Street, NW, Washington DC 20011 [tel: (202) 726-8213].


ECONOMY

For centuries under Hanseatic and German influence and then during its inter-war independence, Latvia used its geographic location as an important East-West commercial and trading center. Industry served local markets, while timber, paper, and agricultural products supplied Latvia's main exports. Conversely, the years of Russian and Soviet occupation tended to integrate Latvia's economy to serve those empires' large internal industrial needs. Since reestablishing its independence, Latvia has proceeded with market-oriented reforms. Its freely traded currency, the Lat, was introduced in 1993 and has held steady, or appreciated, against major world currencies. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has noted that Latvia's economic performance the past several years had been among the best of the European Union (EU) accession countries. Real per capita GDP has grown by more than 50% compared to its 1995 level, while inflation has remained close to or below 3% since 1998. The government expects annual growth rates of about 6% in medium term. At the same time, current account deficit (ranging from 7% to 10% in the past 3 years) remains one of the key vulnerabilities of the Latvian economy. In addition, Latvian fiscal discipline deteriorated considerably at the end of 2002, when budget deficit rose to 2.7% of GDP, well above the government's target figure. However, the government's effort to improve tax administration, to fight gray economy, and to reintroduce strict budget discipline led to an improvement in the fiscal situation in the first 9 months of 2003.

Privatization in Latvia is almost complete. Virtually all of the previously state-owned small and medium companies have been privatized, leaving in state hands the electric utility, the Latvian railway company, and the Latvian postal system, as well as state shares in several politically sensitive enterprises. Despite the lack of transparency of the early stages of the privatization process, and certain difficulties in privatization of some of the largest companies, Latvian privatization efforts have led to the development of a dynamic and prosperous private sector, which accounted for 70% of GDP in 2002.

Foreign investment in Latvia remains high, as both Western and Eastern investors are trying to establish a foothold in the new EU member state, as well as to take advantage of Latvia's stable macroeconomic environment, central location in the region, and cheap labor. Representing 7.1% of Latvia's total foreign direct investment, the U.S. FDI stock in Latvia stood at $184 million at the end of 2002. In the same year, U.S. goods and services accounted for 1.6% of Latvia's total imports, while exports to the United States accounted for 4.2% of Latvia's total exports. Latvia is a member of the World Trade Organization since 1999. Latvia and the United States have signed treaties on investment, trade, and intellectual property protection and avoidance of double taxation.

In the long term, continued high economic growth in Latvia will depend on further improvements of the business environment, particularly successful drive to reduce corruption and strengthen the rule of law, and on Latvia's ability to use the opportunities presented by EU membership.


DEFENSE

Latvia's defense concept is based upon four basic pillars—collective defense as a member of NATO, professionalization of the armed forces, support and coordination with civil society, and international military cooperation. The armed forces consist of the land forces brigade with one deployable battalion, an air force focused on air surveillance and search and rescue, and naval forces focused on costal surveillance, assertion of sovereignty, mine countermeasures, and search and rescue. The land forces, navy, and air force comprise approximately 7,000 personnel. The "zemessardze," or home guard, is an autonomous 13,890-man-strong volunteer reserve organization which performs traditional national guard duties such as crisis response and support to military operations. There is a mandatory 1-year draft period of active duty, and alternative conscription for conscientious objectors is available. The Latvian National Armed Forces will be fully professional by the beginning of 2007. Defense spending has risen in recent years, and the government has committed 2% of its GDP for defense spending through 2008.


FOREIGN RELATIONS

Latvia became a member of the United Nations on September 18, 1991, and is a signatory to a number of UN organizations and other international agreements, including COE, IAEA, CERCO, ICES, ICAO, IAEA, UNESCO, UNICEF, IMF, and WB/EBRD. It also is a member of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and of the North Atlantic Coordinating Council. Latvia officially became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on March 29, 2004 after depositing its instruments of treaty ratification in Washington, DC. Latvia officially joined the European Union on May 1, 2004.

Latvia maintains embassies in the United States, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Canada, the People's Republic of China, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and Uzbekistan. It also operates missions to the United Nations in New York City and Geneva, the European Council, and non-member representation to the EU, Chemical Weapons Nonproliferation Organization, the OSCE, World Trade Organization, and the UN Council on Food and Agriculture. It also is represented at NATO.

Latvia has a Consulate General in Russia; Consulates in Belarus and Russia; Honorary Consulates General in Australia, Cyprus, India, Israel, and Norway; and Honorary Consulates in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Mexico, Moldova, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, and Venezuela.

Russia expresses concern for how Latvia's language and naturalization laws affect Latvia's Russian-speaking population. Russians comprised 29% of the population in 2003. In turn, Latvia is interested in the welfare of ethnic Latvians still residing in Russia.


U.S.-LATVIAN RELATIONS

The United States established diplomatic relations with Latvia on July 28, 1922. The U.S. Legation in Riga officially was established November 13, 1922, and served as the headquarters for U.S. representation in the Baltics during the interwar era. The Soviet invasion forced the closure of the legation on September 5, 1940, but Latvian representation in the United States has continued uninterrupted for more than 70 years. The United States never recognized the forcible incorporation of Latvia into the U.S.S.R. and views the present Government of Latvia as a legal continuation of the interwar republic. Latvia has enjoyed most-favored-nation treatment with the United States since December 1991.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

RIGA (E) Address: 7 Raina Blvd., Riga LV-1510 Latvia; APO/FPO: PSC 78 Box R, APO AE 09723; Phone: +371-703-6200; Fax: +371-782-0047; Workweek: M–F/0830-1700; Website: http://www.usembassy.lv

AMB:Catherine Todd Bailey
DCM:Richard Norland
POL:Frank Collins
CON:Landon Taylor
MGT:Mary Teirlynck
AFSA:Harold E. Zappia
CLO:Elizabeth Smith
CUS:Ronald E. Smith
DAO:Dianne Leigh Sumner
ECO:Mark Draper
GSO:Harold E. Zappia
ICASS Chair:Ronald E. Smith
IMO:Alan J. Knabe
ISSO:David Kish
MLO:Michael Brogan
PAO:Victoria Sloan
RSO:Michael Brown
State ICASS:Frank Collins
Last Updated: 1/31/2005

TRAVEL

Consular Information Sheet

December 23, 2004

Country Description: Latvia is a stable democracy experiencing rapid economic growth. Most tourist facilities found in a western European city are available in Riga, the capital. However, many of the goods and services taken for granted in other countries are not yet available outside Riga.

Entry/Exit Requirements: A passport valid for at least three months after the planned stay in Latvia 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. A valid insurance policy, covering medical expenses while in Latvia, has to be presented when requesting the residency permit. Repatriation costs, including funeral and disposition of remains costs also have to be covered by the policy. For more information, travelers may contact the Latvian Embassy, at 4325 17 th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20011, tel: (202) 726-8213, see also http://www.latviausa.org. 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, http://www.pmlp.gov.lv. or Foreigners Service Center at Alunana iela 1, Riga, LV 1050, tel: (371)-721-9639, fax: (371)-721-9655. 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. See our Foreign Entry Requirements brochure for more information on Name of Country and other countries. Visit the Embassy of Latvia web site for the most current visa information.

Safety and Security: Civil unrest is not a problem in Riga. However, Riga has seen a half dozen large, peaceful demonstrations last year related to internal political issues. While demonstrations have been peaceful, American citizens are nevertheless cautioned to avoid any large, public demonstrations. There have been no incidents of terrorism directed toward American interests. Incidents of anti-Americanism are rare.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements can be found. Up-to-date information of safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-317-472-2328. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

Crime: Crime in Riga is generally non-violent, although there have been infrequent instances of serious violent assaults. Street crime is a serious problem, particularly for tourists. In addition to falling prey to pickpockets in all public areas, there have been cases of tourists and residents being drugged in bars and restaurants and then taken outside or to their residences and robbed. In any public area, one should always be alert to being surrounded by two or more people at once. It is not uncommon for groups of juvenile pickpockets to attempt to overwhelm their victim. In addition, Riga has one of the highest rates of car theft in the world.

Internet crime is a growing concern in Latvia. Common fraudulent schemes involve both Internet auction sites and Internet job search sites. In the first scam, criminals offer valuable items for sale at low prices on Internet auctions and request that payment be sent by wire transfer to a bank in Latvia or though a fraudulent escrow site that they have created themselves. In this scheme the money passes through a bank in Latvia and is quickly withdrawn by ATM or transferred to a bank in another country. It is very difficult in these cases to discover the identities of the account holders or recover the funds.

The second common scam involves identity theft through false job offers. In this scheme, a company claiming to be located in Latvia, but which has a non-existent address, offers the victim employment as a U.S.-based agent or freight forwarder. When the victim responds to the job offer, commonly posted on one of several popular internet job sites, a Social Security number and other identifying information – needed for the identity theft – is required under the guise of conducting a background check.

Information for Victims of Crime: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. See our information on Victims of Crime at http://travel.state.gov/travel/brochure_victim_assistance.html.

Medical Facilities and Health Information: Medical care in Latvia is steadily improving, but it remains limited in several important respects. There are a few private clinics with medical supplies and services, including disposable needles and basic modern diagnostics, which are nearly equal to Western Europe or U.S. standards. However, any major invasive procedures or surgeries in Latvia are not recommended because of lack of equipment and resources. Hospital services are not equal to Western standards. Most, but not all, antibiotics and prescription medications are available but as they are generally produced in Europe or Russia, they often have different names and instructions are usually not printed in English. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Diphtheria, hepatitis and tick-borne encephalitis are widespread. According to the World Health Organization, tuberculosis is a significant problem in Latvia, with 9% of all cases being multi-drug resistant. State ambulance service for emergencies is available by dialing 112 anywhere in Latvia. However, quick response is poor in rural areas. Air ambulance service is available for medical evacuations. In general, private air ambulance services are very expensive.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.

Traffic Safety and Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Latvia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Latvia has one of the highest rates of automobile accidents and fatalities in Europe. Drivers should be alert for pedestrians and slow moving vehicles in traffic. Violation of traffic rules is common and it is not unusual to be overtaken by other automobiles, traveling at high speed, even in crowded urban areas. Drivers do not always yield to pedestrians, even at marked intersections. During winter, most major roads are cleared of snow. However, drivers should be alert for fog, snow, and ice while driving. Driving while intoxicated is a very serious offense and carries heavy penalties. Local authorities use roadblocks and Breathalyzer tests as enforcement tools. Drivers and pedestrians should be alert to the possibility of drunk drivers and drunken pedestrians wandering onto the road. Drivers must use their headlights at all times day and night. Speed limits are usually 50 km/hr in the city and 90 km/hr on the highways. Public transportation is generally considered safe, but travelers are encouraged to select well-marked taxis. Emergency services are fair and improving (see section on Medical Facilities above), but response may be especially slow in traffic or in rural settings. Dial 112 for ambulance service. U.S. driving licenses are not valid in Latvia and American tourists must possess a valid international driving permit, which can be obtained in the United States from the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance. For more information about road safety and traffic regulations in Latvia, please visit the website of the Latvian Road Safety Administration http://www.csdd.lv/en/index.htm.

Aviation Safety Oversight: Although direct commercial air service between Latvia and the United States has just begun, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Latvia's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with ICAO international aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/index.cfm.

Special Circumstances: Banks and currency exchange counters may refuse to accept U.S. currency that is crumpled, torn, discolored or defaced (even small pen strokes, hand written numbers and letters are considered defacing). If such notes are accepted for exchange, an additional processing fee, based on the size of the transaction, may be charged. ATMs are widely available in Riga and in other major towns. Telephone connections with the United States are reliable. However, 1-800 numbers cannot be accessed from Latvia. Please check with your long distance carrier before departure to see if they offer service in Latvia. Local Internet cafes offer computer access, and fax machines are widely available.

Latvian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Latvia of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, medications, business equipment, drugs etc. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Latvia in Washington or one of Latvian consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements at http://www.latvia-usa.org.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offences. Persons violating Latvian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Latvia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.

Children's Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website at http://travel.state.gov/family/index.html.

Registration/Embassy Location: Americans living or traveling in Latvia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Latvia. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at 7 Raina Blvd. Riga, LV-1510, and may be reached by dialing +371-703-6200. The fax number for the consular American Citizen Services section is +371-781-4088. You can find us on the web at http://www.usembassy.lv.

International Adoption

January 2005

The information below has been edited from a report of the State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Overseas Citizens Services. For more information, please read the International Adoption section of this book and review current reports online at www.travel.state.gov/family

Disclaimer: The following is intended as a very general guide to assist U.S. citizens who plan to adopt a child in Latvia and apply for an immigrant visa for the child to come to the United States. Questions involving foreign and U.S. immigration laws and legal interpretation should be addressed respectively to qualified foreign or U.S. legal counsel.

Please Note: Latvia periodically revises its laws pertaining to adoption process, including international adoption. Please check with the U.S. Embassy in Latvia for the most current information.

Adoption procedures in Latvia entail several extended trips by adoptive parents to Latvia to complete all requirements.

The American Embassy in Riga is responsible for preparing the I-604, Report of Orphan Investigation. However, the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland is responsible for the issuance of all immigrant visas for applicants from Latvia, including adopted children.

Patterns of Immigration of Adopted Orphans to the U.S.: Recent U.S. immigrant visa statistics reflect the following pattern for visa issuance to orphans

Fiscal Year: Number of Immigrant Visas Issued
FY 2003: 15
FY 2002: 33
FY 2001: 28
FY 2000: 25
FY 1999: 28

Adoption Authority in Latvia: The Ministry for Family and Children's Rights (Ministry) is responsible for administering intercountry adoptions. Foreigners interested in adopting a Latvian child should express their interest in writing to the ministry at the following address:

Ministry for Family and Children's Rights
Basteja Blvd. 14 (3rd floor)
Riga, LV 1050, Latvia
Tel. (371) 735 6497;
Fax. (371) 735 6464
E-mail: [email protected]
http://www.bm.gov.lv

Eligibility Requirements for Adoptive Parents: Both single individuals and married couples are eligible to adopt.

Residential Requirements: parent-child relationship requirement: Latvian Adoption Law requires that a parent-child relationship be established before the final decision can be made by the town or city court having jurisdiction over the child. It leaves to each orphan court to decide on a case-by-case basis how long it will take to establish the parent-child relationship. The interpretation of the childparent relationship among courts differs. Adoptive parents are advised that orphan courts can require them to take care of the adoptive children and share a household in Latvia for a time period, not exceeding six months, as set by the orphan court.

Time Frame: The time needed to complete adoption in Latvia from beginning to end varies depending on the age of the adopted child. There are very few newborn and younger children available for international adoption, and it can take several years before a child can be located and adoption completed. If a request is made to adopt a child from five to ten years of age the adoption process can take less than a year, as there currently are many older children available for international adoption.

Adoption Agencies and Attorneys: The U.S. Embassy in Riga has a list of agencies and attorneys known to work in Latvia. Neither the U.S. Embassy nor the Department of State can vouch for the efficiency or professionalism of any agent, facilitator, or interpreter.

Adoption Fees in Latvia: There are no government fees for adoption services in Latvia. However, adoptive parents should be prepared to cover fees related to translation and certification of documents and processing of new civil and travel documents for the adopted child.

Adoption Procedures: Foreign adoption is allowed if the orphan court having jurisdiction over child's place of residence has established that the child's upbringing in a family environment in Latvia cannot be ensured. Foreign adoptive parents are required to file adoption applications with the Ministry that reviews all applications and determines whether or not the applicant meets the requirements of the law. If the judgment is favorable, the Ministry provides adoptive parents with information on children who are available for adoption. After a child is chosen, the Ministry issues permission for the adoptive parents to meet the child. The permission and the adoptive parent's passport have to be presented to the orphanage Director (or other care-taking facility) before the family is acquainted with the child. The adoptive parents are given ten days to decide if they are willing to start taking care of the child. It is up to the responsible orphan court to decide how long time the parents will have to take care of the child. After the adoptive family has taken care of the child for the required time period and the orphan court has established that the adoption would (or would not) be in the child's interests, the Ministry is informed. The Ministry then prepares an adoption approval (or rejection) statement for submission to the Latvian Minister of Justice. The Justice Minister's adoption permission is valid for three months, and must be submitted, with other documentation pertaining to the adoption, to the town or city court responsible for the final adoption decree. Current law provides for a twenty-day period for the final court decree to become effective. After the final court decree becomes effective, the adoptive parent(s) can travel to Warsaw, Poland for the child's U.S. immigrant visa interview.

It is a requirement that for two years after the adoption, the orphan court having jurisdiction over the child's new place of residency will monitor the adopted child's well being. It has not been decided yet how the Latvian government will monitor the child's well being in the adoptive family residing abroad. The Ministry has suggested that adoptive families address this question to Ministry officials who will advise them on this issue.

Documents Required for Adoption in Latvia: All prospective parents must apply for adoption in Latvia by submitting the following documents (in duplicate) in the original, accompanied by an official Latvian translation to the Ministry:

  • Application including information about reasons for adoption as well as information about the sex, age range, and religion of the child (children) you are interested in adopting
  • A copy of your marriage certificate, under apostille (Please see further information about authentication of documents.).
  • A copy of divorce decree (if applicable), under apostille.
  • A statement about the dwelling space of the family (i.e., size, location, type of residence).
  • An autobiography (curriculum vitae).
  • Medical statements regarding the health of the family (hereditary illnesses, if any, and any specific illnesses).
  • A home study, under apostille, conducted by a state adoption agency or a private organization licensed to perform such studies.

Authenticating U.S. Documents To Be Used Abroad: All U.S. documents submitted to the Latvian government/court must be authenticated. Prospective adopting parents should contact the Secretary of State of the state where documents originated from for instructions and fees for authenticating documents. Please visit our Web site at travel.state.gov for additional information about authentication procedures.

Latvian Embassy and Consulates in the United States:
Embassy of Latvia
4325 17th Street, N. W.
Washington, DC 20011
Tel: 202-726-6757; Fax: 202-726-6785
Email: [email protected]_USA.org
www.latvia-usa.org

Latvia also has honorary consulates in Los Angeles, California; Cleveland, Ohio; and Houston, Texas.

Polish Visas for Latvian Orphans: Immigrant visa processing for all Latvian residents, including adopted children, is conducted in Warsaw, Poland. Children traveling to Poland on their Latvian resident alien passports need to apply for a visa to Poland at Polish embassy in Riga.

Embassy of Poland
Visa Section
Mednieku 6B
Riga, LV-1010
Tel: 371-7031500; Fax: 371-7031549

Applying for an Immigrant Visa at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, Poland: Three business days notice is required to schedule an immigrant visa interview at U.S. embassy in Warsaw. It is suggested that prospective adoptive parents contact the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw and request their standard information packet:

American Embassy, Consular Section
IV Unit/Adoptions
Ul. Piekna 12
00-540 Warsaw, Poland
Tel: 011-48-22-628-3041
Consular Section
fax: 011-48-22-627-7434
E-mail: [email protected]
General e-mail inquiries:
[email protected]
http://www.usinfo.pl/

Additional Information: Specific questions about adoption in a particular country may be addressed to the U.S. Embassy in that country. General questions regarding international adoption may be addressed to the Office of Children's Issues, U.S. Department of State, CA/OCS/CI, SA-29, 4 th Floor, 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818, tollfree Tel: 1-888-404-4747.

views updated

LATVIA

Compiled from the October 2003 Background Note and supplemented with additional information from the State Department and the editors of this volume. See the introduction to this set for explanatory notes.


Official Name:
Republic of Latvia


PROFILE
GEOGRAPHY
PEOPLE
HISTORY
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
ECONOMY
DEFENSE
FOREIGN RELATIONS
U.S.-LATVIAN RELATIONS
TRAVEL


PROFILE


Geography

Area: 64,100 sq. km. (25,640 sq. mi.); about the size of West Virginia.

Cities: (2002) Capital—Riga (739,232). Other cities—Daugavpils (112,609); Liepaja (86,985); Jelgava (65,754); Jurmala (55,156); Ventspils (44,010); Rezekne (37,777).

Terrain: Fertile low-lying plains predominate in central Latvia, highlands in Vidzeme and Latgale to the east, and hilly moraine in the western Kurzeme region. Forests cover one-third of the country, with over 3,000 small lakes and numerous bogs.

Land use: 20% arable land, 8% meadows and pastures, 45% forest and woodland, 26.7% other.

Climate: Temperate, with four seasons of almost equal length. January temperatures average -5°C (23°F); July 17°C (63°F). Annual precipitation averages 57 centimeters (23 in.).


People

Nationality: Noun and adjective—Latvian(s).

Population: 2,331,480.

Growth rate: -0.6%. Birth rate—8.6/1,000. Death rate—13.9/1,000. Divorce rate—2.5/1,000. Migration rate —1,500 immigrants, 3, 300 emigrants. Density—36.4/1 km2. Urban dwellers—68.9%.

Major ethnic groups: Latvian 58.5%, Russians 29%, Belarusians 3.9%, Ukrainians 2.6%, Poles 2.5%.

Religions: Lutheran, Orthodox, Roman Catholic.

State language: Latvian. Russian also is spoken by most people.

Education: Years compulsory—9. By 1989, 60% of the adult populace had finished high school, and 12% had completed college. Attendance—408,000 students in 1,057 schools and 90,000 university students. Literacy—99%.

Health: Infant mortality rate—9.8/1,000. Life expectancy—65.4 yrs. male, 76.8 yrs. female.

Work force: (989,000 people) Industry—16.9%; agriculture/forestry—14.9%; trade—14.9%; education—8.9%; transport/communications—8.7%; public administration/defense—6.9%; construction—6.1%; healthcare/social welfare—6.1%.


Government

Type: Parliamentary democracy.

Constitution: The law "On the Republic of Latvia Status as a State," passed by Parliament on August 21, 1991, provided for the reinstatement of the 1922 constitution.

Branches: Executive—President (head of state), elected by Parliament every 4 years; Prime Minister (head of government). Legislative—Saeima (100-member body). Judicial—Supreme Court.

Administrative regions: 26 "rural" districts and 6 districts in Riga.

Principal political factions: New Era (Einars Repse) 26 seats; Latvia's First Party (Eriks Jekabsons)10 seats; Union of Greens and Farmers (Augusts Brigmanis, Indulis Emsis)12 seats; Fatherland and Freedom (Maris Grinblats) 7 seats; National Harmony Party (Janis Jurkans)15 seats; People's Party (Atis Slakteris) 20 seats; Socialist Party (Aleksandr Golubov) 5 seats, For Human Rights in a United Latvia (Yakov Pliner) 5 seats.

Suffrage: 18 years universal.


Economy (2002 data)

GDP: $8,405.6 million.

Growth rate: 6.1%.

Inflation rate: 1.9%.

Unemployment: 8.5%.

Average annual wages: $3,359.

Natural resources: Peat, limestone, dolomite, gypsum, timber.

Agriculture/forestry: (4.5% of GDP) Products—cattle, dairy foods, cereals, potatoes. Cultivable land—2.48 million hectares, of which 75% is arable, 25% meadow and pasture.

Manufacturing: (14.8% of GDP) Light electrical equipment and fittings, textiles and footwear, technological instruments, construction materials, processed foods. Public services—15%; construction—6.1%; energy/water—3.6%; trade—19.9%; transport and communications—14.5%; business services—11.1%; financial services—4.6%; other services—5.5%.

Trade: Exports—$2,279.6 million: wood/wood products 33.6%; metals 13.2%, textiles 12. 8%, machines 6.5%, food/food products 7.1. Major markets—Germany 15.5%, U.K. 14.6%, Sweden 10.5%, Lithuania 8.4%, Estonia 6.0%. Imports—$4041. 1 million: energy 9.7%, machinery 21.3%, chemicals 10.4%, food/food products 21.8%, metals 8.4%, vehicles 9.8%. Partners—Germany 17.2%, Lithuania 9.8%, Russia 8.8%, Finland 8%, Sweden 6.4%.




GEOGRAPHY

Between 55.40 and 58.05 latitude and 20.58 and 28.14 longitude, Latvia lies on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea on the level northwestern part of the rising East European platform. About 98% of the country lies under 200m elevation (640 ft.). The damp climate resembles New England's. With the exception of the coastal plains, the Ice Age divided Latvia into three main regions: the morainic Western and Eastern uplands and the Middle lowlands. Latvia holds over 12,000 rivers, only 17 of which are longer than 60 miles, and over 3,000 small lakes, most of which are eutrophic. Woodland, more than half of which is pine, covers 41% of the country. Other than peat, dolomite, and limestone, natural resources are scarce. Latvia holds 531km (329 mi.) of sandy coastline, and the ports of Liepaja and Ventspils provide important warm-water harbors for the Baltic littoral, although the Bay of Riga itself is rather polluted.


Today, Latvia is slightly larger than Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Its strategic location has instigated many wars between rival powers on its territory. As recently as 1944, the U.S.S.R. granted Russia the Abrene region on the Livonian frontier.


PEOPLE

Latvians occasionally refer to themselves by the ancient name of "Latvji," which may have originated from a "Latve" river that presumably flowed through what is now eastern Latvia. A small Finno-Ugric tribe known as the Livs settled among the Latvians and modulated the name to "Latvis," meaning "forest-clearers," which is how medieval German settlers also referred to these peoples. The German colonizers changed this name to "Lette" and called their initially small colony "Liv land." The Latin form, "Livonia," gradually referred to the whole of modern-day Latvia as well as southern Estonia, which had fallen under German dominion. Latvians and Lithuanians are the only directly surviving members of the Baltic peoples and languages of the Indo-European family.


Latvians look like and consider themselves Nordics, evidenced through the strong cultural and religious influences gained over centuries during Germanic and Scandinavian colonization and settlement. Eastern Latvia (Latgale), however, retains a strong Polish and Russian cultural and linguistic influence. This highly literate society places strong emphasis upon education, which is free and compulsory until age 16. Most Latvians belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church; a sizable minority are Russian Orthodox, and Eastern Latvia is predominantly Roman Catholic.


Historically, Latvia always has had a fairly large Russian, Jewish, German, and Polish minority, but postwar emigration, deportations, and Soviet Russification policies from 1939-89 dropped the percentage of ethnic Latvians in Latvia from 73% to 52%. In an attempt to preserve the Latvian language and avoid ethnic Latvians becoming a minority in their own country, Latvia's language law, education law, and citizenship law have caused many noncitizen resident Russians concern over their ability to assimilate, despite Latvian legal guarantees of universal human and civil rights regardless of citizenship.

Written with the Latin alphabet, Latvian is the language of the Latvian people and the official language of the country. It is an inflective language with several analytical forms, three dialects, and German syntactical influence. The oldest known examples of written Latvian are from a 1585 catechism. The Soviets imposed the official use of Russian, so most Latvians speak Russian as a second or first language while the resident Slavic populace generally speaks Russian as a first language.




HISTORY

Since 9,000 BC ancient peoples of unknown origin had inhabited Latvia, but by 3,000 BC the ancestors of the Finns had settled the region. A millennium later, pre-Baltic tribes had arrived and within time evolved into the Baltic Couranian, Latgallian, Selonian, and Semigallian groups. These tribes eventually formed local governments independently from the Finno-Ugric Livian tribe until the 13th century when they were conquered by the Germans, who renamed the territory Livonia.


German sailors shipwrecked on the Daugava River in 1054 had inhabited the area, which led to increasing German influence. Founded by the Germanic Bishop Alberth of Livonia in 1201, Riga joined the Hanseatic League in 1285 and shared important cultural and economicties to the rest of Europe. However, the new German nobility enserfed the peasantry and accorded non-Germanic peoples only limited trading and property rights.


Subsequent wars and treaties ensured Livonia's partition and colonization for centuries. The Common-wealth's successes during the Livonian Wars (1558-83) united the Latvian-populated duchies of Pardaugava, Kurzeme, and Zemgale, but the Polish-Swedish War (1600-29) granted Sweden acquisition of Riga and the Duchy of Pardaugava, minus Latgale, leaving Latvia again split ethnically. In turn, victory over Sweden in the Great Northern War (1700-21) gave Russia control over the Latvian territories. From 1804 onward, a series of local decrees gradually weakened the grip of German nobility over peasant society, and in 1849 a law granted a legal basis for the creation of peasant-owned farms.


Until the 1860s, there still was little sense of a Latvian national identity, as both serfdom and institutional controls to migration and social mobility limited the boundaries of the peasants' intellectual and social geography. The large baronic estates caused a lack of available farmland for an increasing population, creating a large landless, urban class comprising about 60% of the population. Also in the face of stricter Russification policies, the Baltic German clergy and literati began to take a more benevolent interest in the distinctive language and culture of the Latvian peasantry. These patrons—with such Lettish names as Alunans, Barons, Krastins, Kronvalds, Tomsons, and Valdemars—soon formed the Young Latvian Movement, whose aim was to promote the indigenous language and to publicize and counteract the socioeconomic oppression of Latvians.

By 1901, "Jauna Strava" had evolved into the Latvian Social Democratic Party. Following the lead of the Austrian Marxists, the LSDP advocated the transformation of the Russian Empire into a federation of democratic states (to include Latvia) and the adoption of cultural autonomy policy for extraterritorial ethnic communities. In 1903, the LSDP split into the more radically internationalist Latvian Social Democratic Worker's Party and the more influential Latvian Social Democratic Union (LSDU), which continued to champion national interests and Latvia's national self-determination, especially during the failed 1905 Revolution in Russia.

The onset of WWI brought German occupation of the western coastal province of Kurzeme, and Latvians heroically countered the invasion with the establishment of several regiments of riflemen commanded by Czarist generals. As a defensive measure, Russia dismantled more than 500 local Latvian industries, along with technological equipment, and relocated them to central Russia. The sagging military campaign generally increased Latvian and LSDU support for the Bolsheviks' successful October Revolution in 1917, in the hopes of a "free Latvia with in free Russia." These circumstances led to the formation of the Soviet "Iskolat Republic" in the unoccupied section of Latvia. In opposition to this government and to the landed barons' German sympathies stood primarily the Latvian Provisional National Council and the Riga Democratic Bloc. These and other political parties formed the Latvian People's Council which on November 18, 1918 declared Latvia's independence and formed an army.


The new Latvian Army faced rogue elements of the retreating German Army and squared off in civil war against the Soviet Red Army, comprised greatly of the former Latvian Riflemen. Soviet power resumed in Latvia one month later on December 17 by order of the Latvian SSR, which forcefully collectivized all land and nationalized all industries and property. By May 22, 1919, the resurgent German Army occupied and devastated Riga for several days. In response, the Latvian Army managed to win a decisive battle over the combined German-Red Army forces and thereafter consolidated its success on the eastern Latgale front. These developments led to the dissolution of the Soviet Latvian government on January 13, 1920, and to a peace treaty between Latvia and Soviet Russia on August 11 later that year. By September 22, 1921, Latvia was admitted to the League of Nations.


Having obtained independent statehood in which Latvians were an absolute majority, the government headed by Prime Minister Ulmanis declared a democratic, parliamentary republic. It recognized Latvian as the official language, granted cultural autonomy to the country's sizeable minorities, and introduced an electoral system into the Latvian constitution, which was adopted in 1922. The decade witnessed sweeping economic reform, as war had devastated Latvian agriculture, and most Russian factories had been evacuated to Russia. Economic depression heightened political turmoil, and on May 15, 1934, Prime Minister Ulmanis dismissed the parliament, banned outspoken and left-wing political parties, and tightened authoritari an state control over Latvian social life and the economy.

The effects of the infamous Molotov-Ribbent rop agreement of 1939 steadily forced Latvia under Soviet influence until August 5, 1940, when the Soviet Union finally annexed Latvia. On June 14 of the following year, 15,000 Latvian citizens were forcibly deported and a large number of army officers shot. The subsequent German occupation witnessed the mobilization of many Latvians into Waffen SS legions, while some Latvians joined the Red Army and formed resistance groups; others fled to the West and East. By 1945, Latvia's population dropped by one-third.


After the war, the U.S.S.R. subjected the Latvian republic to a scale of social and economic reorganization which rapidly transformed the rural economy to heavy industry, the strongly ethnically Latvian population into a more multiethnic structure, and the predominantly peasant class into a fully urbanized industrial worker class. As part of the goal to more fully integrate Latvia into the Soviet Union, on March 25, 1949, Stalin again deported another 42,000 Latvians and continued to promote the policy of encouraging Soviet immigration to Latvia. The brief "Krushchev thaw" of the 1950s ended in 1959, when the Soviets dismissed Latvian Communist Party and government leaders on charges of "bourgeois nationalism" and replaced them with more aggressive hardliners, mostly from Russia.


"Perestroika" enabled Latvians to pursue a bolder nationalistic program, particularly through such general issues as environmental protection. In July 1989, the Latvian Supreme Soviet adopted a "Declaration of Sovereignty" and amended the Constitution to assert the supremacy of its laws over those of the U.S.S.R. Pro-independence Latvian Popular Front candidates gained a two-thirds majority in the Supreme Council in the March 1990 democratic elections. On May 4, the Council declared its intention to restore full Latvian independence after a "transitional" period; 3 days later, Ivars Godmanis was chosen Council of Ministers Chairman, or Prime Minister.

In January 1991, Soviet political and military forces tried unsuccessfully to overthrow the legitimate Latvian authorities by occupying the central publishing house in Riga and establishing a "Committee of National Salvation" to usurp governmental functions. Seventy-three percent of all Latvian residents confirmed their strong support for independence March 3 in a nonbinding "advisory" referendum. A large number of ethnic Russians also voted for the proposition.


Latvia claimed de facto independence on August 21, 1991 in the aftermath of the failed Soviet coup attempt. International recognition, including the U.S.S.R., followed. The United States, which had never recognized Latvia's forcible annexation by the U.S.S.R., resumed full diplomatic relations with Latvia on September 2.




GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

The Saeima, a unicameral legislative body, now is the highest organ of state authority. It initiates and approves legislation sponsored by the Prime Minister. The prime minister has full responsibility and control over his cabinet, and the president holds a primarily ceremonial role as head of state.


In autumn 1991 Latvia reimplemented significant portions of its 1922 constitution, and in spring 1993 the government took a census to determine eligibility for citizenship. After almost 3 years of deliberations, Latvia finalized a citizenship and naturalization law in summer 1994, which was further liberalized in 1998. By law, those who were Latvian citizens in 1940, and their descendants (regardless of ethnicity), could claim citizenship. Forty-one percent of Latvia's population is ethnically non-Latvian, yet almost three-fourths of all residents are citizens of Latvia Naturalization criteria include a conversational knowledge of Latvian, a loyalty oath, renunciation of former citizenship, a 5-year residency requirement, and a basic knowledge of the Latvian history. Dual citizenship is allowed for those who were forced to leave Latvia during the Soviet occupation and adopted another citizenship. Convicted criminals, agents of Soviet intelligence services, and certain other groups also are excluded from becoming citizens.


On March 19, 1991 the Supreme Council passed a law explicitly guaranteeing "equal rights to all nationalities and ethnic groups " and "guarantees to all permanent residents in the Republic regardless of their nationality, equal rights to work and wages." The law also prohibits "any activity directed toward nationality discrimination or the promotion of national superiority or hatred."


In the June 5-6, 1993 elections wherein more than 90% of the electorate participated, eight of Latvia's 23 registered political parties passed the 5% threshold to enter parliament. The Popular Front, which spearheaded the drive for independence 2 years ago with a 75% majority in the last parliamentary elections in 1990, did not qualify for representation. The centrist "Latvia's Way" party received a 33% plurality of votes and joined with the Farmer's Union to head a center-right wing coalition government.


Through President Clinton's initiative, on April 30, 1994 Latvia and Russia signed a troop withdrawal agreement. Russia with drew it stroops by August 31, 1994, and maintained several hundred technical specialists to staff an OSCE-monitored phased-array ABM radar station at Skrunda until the facility was destroyed in 1995.


The September 30-October 1, 1995 elections brought forth a deeply fragmented parliament with nine parties represented and the largest party commanding only 18 of 100 seats. Attempts to form right-of-center and leftist governments failed; 7 weeks after the election, a broad but fractious coalition government of six of the nine parties was voted into office under Prime Minister Andris Skele, a widely popular, non partisan businessman.


In the 1998 elections, the Latvian party structure began to consolidate with only six parties obtaining seats in the Saeima. Andris Skele's newly formed People's Party garnered a plurality with 24 seats. Though the election represented a victory for the center-right, personality conflicts and scandals within the two largest right of center parties—Latvia's Way and the People's Party—prevented stable coalitions from forming. Two shaky governments under Vilis Kristopans and Andris Skele quickly collapsed in less than a year. In May 2000, a compromise candidate was found in the form of Andris Berzins, the then Latvia's Way mayor of Riga. His four-party coalition lasted until parliamentary elections in October 2002. Those elections left Latvia's Way, for the first time since 1993, with no seats in parliament. Einars Repse's New Era Party, which ran on an anti-corruption platform, gained the most seats, and Repse heads the current four-party coalition government.


In 1999, the Saeima elected Vair Vike-Freiberga, a compromise candidate with no party affiliation, to the presidency. Though born in Riga in 1937, she settled in Canada during the years of the Soviet occupation, becoming a well-respected academic in the subject of Latvian culture and psychology. Since her election, she has become one of the most popular political figures in Latvia. She was overwhelming re-elected by parliament for another 4-year term in June 2003.


Latvia's flag consists of two horizontal, maroon bands of equal width, divided by a white stripe one-half the width. The national holiday is November 18, Independence Day.

Principal Government Officials
Last Updated: 4/10/03


President: Vike-Freiberga, Vaira

Prime Minister: Repse, Einars

Deputy Prime Minister: Slesers, Ainars

Min. of Agriculture: Roze, Martins

Min. of Culture: Ribena, Inguna

Min. of Defense: Kristovskis, Girts Valdis

Min. of Economy: Lujans, Juris

Min. of Education & Science: Sadurskis, Karlis

Min. of Environment Protection & Regional Development: Vejonis, Raimonds

Min. for European Integration: Muiznieks, Nils

Min. for Family & Children's Affairs: Bastiks, Ainars

Min. of Finance: Dombrovskis, Valdis

Min. of Foreign Affairs: Kalniete, Sandra

Min. of Interior: Gulbis, Maris

Min. of Justice: Aksenoks, Aivars

Min. for Special Task on Child & Family Affairs: Bastiks, Ainars

Min. for Special Task on Health Care: Circena, Ingrida

Min. for Special Task on Regional Development & Local Govt. Affairs: Gaters, Ivars

Min. for Special Task on Social Integration Affairs:

Min. of Transport: Zile, Roberts

Min. of Welfare: Stake, Dagnija

Pres., Central Bank of Latvia: Rimsevics, Ilmars

Ambassador to the US: Ronis, Aivis

Permanent Representative to the UN, New York: Jegermanis, Gints



Latvia maintains an embassy in the United States at 4325 - 17th Street, NW, Washington DC 20011 [tel: (202) 726-8213].




ECONOMY

For centuries under Hanseatic and German influence and then during its inter-war independence, Latvia used its geographic location as an important East-West commercial and trading center. Industry served local markets, while timber, paper, and agricultural products supplied Latvia's main exports. Conversely, the years of Russian and Soviet occupation tended to integrate Latvia's economy to serve those empires' large internal industrial needs. Since reestablishing its independence, Latvia has proceeded with market-oriented reforms. Its freely traded currency, the Lat, was introduced in 1993 and has held steady, or appreciated, against major world currencies. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has noted that Latvia's economic performance the past several years had been among the best of the European Union (EU) accession countries. Real per capita GDP has grown by more than 50% compared to its 1995 level, while inflation has remained close to or below 3% since 1998. The government expects annual growth rates of about 6% in medium term. At the same time, current account deficit (ranging from 7% to 10% in the past 3 years) remains one of the key vulner-abilities of the Latvian economy. In addition, Latvian fiscal discipline deteriorated considerably at the end of 2002, when budget deficit rose to 2.7% of GDP, well above the government's target figure. However, the government's effort to improve tax administration, to fight gray economy, and to reintroduce strict budget discipline has lead to an improvement in the fiscal situation in the first 9 months of 2003.


Privatization in Latvia is almost complete. Virtually all of the previously state-owned small and medium companies have been privatized, leaving in state hands the electric utility, the Latvian railway company, and the Latvian postal system, as well as state shares in several politically sensitive enterprises. Despite the lack of transparency of the early stages of the privatization process, and certain difficulties in privatization of some of the largest companies, Latvian privatization efforts have led to the development of a dynamic and prosperous private sector, which accounted for 70% of GDP in 2002.


Foreign investment in Latvia remains high, as both Western and Eastern investors are trying to establish a foothold in a soon-to-be EU member state, as well as to take advantage of Latvia's stable macroeconomic environment, central location in the region, and cheap labor. Representing 7.1% of Latvia's total foreign direct investment, the U.S. FDI stock in Latvia stood at $184 million at the end of 2002. In the same year, U.S. goods and services accounted for 1.6% of Latvia's total imports, while exports to the United States accounted for 4.2% of Latvia's total exports. Latvia is a member of the World Trade Organization since 1999. Latvia and the United States have signed treaties on investment, trade, and intellectual property protection and avoidance of double taxation.

In the long term, continued high economic growth in Latvia will depend on further improvements of the business environment, particularly successful drive to reduce corruption and strengthen the rule of law, and on Latvia's ability to use the opportunities presented by EU membership.




DEFENSE

Latvia's defense concept is based upon the Swedish-Finnish model of a rapid response force composed of a mobilization base and a small group of career professionals. The armed forces consist of mobile riflemen, an air force, and a navy. The army, navy, and air force comprise 5,864 personnel. The "zemessardze," or home guard, is an autonomous 13,890 man-strong volunteer paramilitary organization which also performs traditional national guard duties. There is a mandatory 1-year draft period of active duty, and alternative conscription for conscientious objectors is available. Defense spending has risen in recent years, and the government has committed 2% of its GDP for defense spending through 2008.




FOREIGN RELATIONS

Latvia became a member of the United Nations on September 18, 1991, and is a signatory to a number of UN organizations and other international agreements, including COE, IAEA, CERCO, ICES, ICAO, IAEA, UNESCO, UNICEF, IMF, and WB/EBRD. It al so is a member of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and of the North Atlantic Coordinating Council. Latvia will officially join NATO and the European Union in May 2004.

Latvia maintains embassies in the United States, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Canada, the People's Republic of China, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and Uzbekistan. It also operates missions to the United Nations in New York City and Geneva, the European Council, and non-member representation to the EU, Chemical Weapons Nonproliferation Organization, the OSCE, NATO, World Trade Organization, and the UN Council on Food and Agriculture.


Latvia has a Consulate General in Russia; Consulates in Belarus and Russia; Honorary Consulates General in Australia, Cyprus, India, Israel, and Norway; and Honorary Consulates in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Mexico, Moldova, Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, and Venezuela.


Russia expresses concern for how Latvia's language and naturalization laws effect Latvia's Russian-speaking population. Russians comprise 29% of the population in 2003. In turn, Latvia is interested in the welfare of ethnic Latvians still residing in Russia.


U.S.-LATVIAN RELATIONS

The United States established diplomatic relations with Latvia on July 28, 1922. The U.S. Legation in Riga officially was established November 13, 1922, and served as the headquarters for U.S. representation in the Baltics during the interwar era. The Soviet invasion forced the closure of the legation on September 5, 1940, but Latvian representation in the United States has continued uninterrupted for more than 70 years. The United States never recognized the forcible incorporation of Latvia into the U.S.S.R. and views the present Government of Latvia as a legal continuation of the interwar republic. Latvia has enjoyed most-favored-nation treatment with the United States since December 1991.


Principal U.S. Embassy Officials

Riga (E), Raina Boulevard 7, LV-1510, Riga, Latvia • PSC 78, Box Riga, APO AE 09723, Tel [371] 703-6200, Fax 782-0047. PAO Tel 721-6478, Fax 782-0077; MLT Tel 732-6299, Fax 783-0222; Med Unit Fax 782-0049; CON recording 782-0045.

AMB: Brian E. Carlson
AMB OMS: Marguerite Hill
DCM: Tracey Jacobson
DCM OMS: Sharon O'Neal
POL/ECO: Bruce D. Rogers
ECO/COM: Anne L. Chick
COM: Karen S. Pilmanis
CON: Karen E. Martin
MGT: John C. Lamson
GSO: Jonathan Schools
ORA: William Pennington
IRM: Paul J. Wright
PAO: Victoria Sloan
DOJ: Mark J. McKeon
PC: Coralie J. Turbitt
RSO: Leroy M. Bowers
AGR: Lana Bennett (res. Stockholm)
FAA: Dennis Cooper (res. Brussels)
DAO: LTC Jeffrey M. Seng, USMC
ODC: MAJ Charles Cox
EST: Paul Stephenson (res. Copenhagen)
MLT: COL Gery W. Kosel
IRS: Margaret J. Lullo (res. Berlin)
DEA: Arthur L. Kersey (res. Copenhagen)

Last Modified: Wednesday, September 24, 2003




TRAVEL


Consular Information Sheet
May 20, 2003


Country Description: Latvia is a stable democracy experiencing rapid economic growth. Most tourist facilities found in a Western European city are available in Riga, the capital. However, many of the services taken for granted in other countries are not yet available outside Riga.


Entry Requirements: 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. Beginning May 1, 2003, all travelers to Latvia must present evidence of a valid health insurance policy that guarantees any health-related expenses will be covered during the traveler's stay in Latvia. For more information, travelers may contact the Latvian Embassy, at 4325 17th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20011, tel. (202) 726-8213, website http://www.latviausa.org. Within Latvia, please contact the Citizenship and Immigration Department at Raina bulv. 5, Riga, LV 1508, tel. (371) 721-9424 or (371) 721-9427, fax (371) 782-0306, http://www.pid.gov.lv. Any traveler to Russia, even in transit, is advised to obtain a Russian visa before 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.

In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian if not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.


Dual Nationality: In addition to being subject to all Latvian laws affecting U.S. citizens, dual nationals may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on Latvian citizens. Whether or not a person with United States citizenship would also be considered a Latvian citizen is a legal question dependent upon an individual's date and place of birth and the nationality of both parents. For additional information, please consult the Latvian Citizenship and Immigration Department, Raina bulv. 5, Riga, LV 1050, tel. 371-721-9424, http://www.pid.gov.lv or see the Consular Affairs home page on the Internet at http://travel.state.gov for our Dual Nationality flyer.


Safety and Security: Civil unrest is not a problem in Riga, and there have been no incidents of terrorism directed toward American interests. Incidents of anti-Americanism are rare. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet website at http://travel.state.gov where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements can be found.


The Overseas Citizens Services call center at 1-888-407-4747 can answer general inquiries on safety and security overseas. This number is available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p. m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). Callers who are unable to use toll-free numbers, such as those calling from overseas, may obtain information and assistance during these hours by calling 1-317-472-2328.


Crime: Crime in Latvia is generally non-violent, although there have been cases of serious assaults. Street crime is a serious problem, particularly for tourists. In addition to falling prey to pickpockets in all public areas, there have been cases of tourists and residents being drugged in bars and restaurants and then taken outside or to their residences and robbed. In any public are a, one should always be alert to being surrounded by two or more people at once. It is not uncommon for groups of juvenile pickpockets to attempt to overwhelm their victim. In addition, Riga has one of the highest rates of car theft in the world.


Internet crime is a growing concern in Latvia. Common fraudulent schemes involve both Internet auction sites and Internet job search sites. In the first scam, criminals offer valuable items for sale at low prices on Internet auctions and request that payment be sent by wire transfer to a bank in Latvia or through a fraudulent escrow site that they have created themselves. In this scheme the money passes through a bank in Latvia and is quickly withdrawn by ATM or transferred to a bank in another country. It is very difficult in these cases to discover the identities of the account holders or recover the funds.


The second common scam involves identity theft through false job offers. In this scheme, a company claiming to be located in Latvia, but which has a non-existent address, offers the victim employment as a U.S. -based agent or freight forwarder. When the victim responds to the job offer, commonly posted on one of several popular internet job sites, a Social Security number and other identifying information – needed for the identity theft - is requested under the guise of conducting a background check.


The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, to contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, "A Safe Trip Abroad," for ways to promote a trouble-free journey. The pamphlet is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/index.html, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.


Medical Facilities: Medical care in Latvia is steadily improving, but it remains limited in several important respects. There are a few private clinics with medical supplies and services, including disposable needles and basic modern diagnostics, which are nearly equal to Western Europe or U.S. standards. However, any major invasive procedures or surgeries in Latvia are not recommended because of lack of equipment and resources. Hospital services are not equal to Western standards. Most, but not all, antibiotics and prescription medications are available, but as they are generally European or Russian produced, they often have different names, and labels are usually not printed in English. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Diphtheria, hepatitis and tick-borne encephalitis are widespread. According to the World Health Organization, tuberculosis is a significant problem in Latvia, with 9% of all cases being multi-drug resistant. State ambulance service for emergencies is available by dialing 03 anywhere in Latvia. However, response is poor in rural areas. Air ambulance service is available for medical evacuations. In general, private air ambulance services are very expensive.

Medical Insurance: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas including emergency services such as medical evacuations.


When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties. When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.


Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, "Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad," available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: (202) 647-3000.


Other Health Information: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's website at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.


Traffic Safety/Road Conditions: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Latvia is provided for general reference only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:


Safety of Public Transportation: Good
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Rural Road Condition/Maintenance: Fair
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Fair


Latvia has one of the highest per capita rates of automobile accidents and fatalities in Europe. Drivers should be alert to pedestrians and slow moving vehicles in traffic. Violation of traffic rules is common and it is not unusual to be overtaken by other automobiles, traveling at high speed, even in crowded urban areas. Drivers do not always yield to pedestrians, even at marked intersections. During winter, most major roads are cleared of snow. However, drivers should be alert for fog, snow, and ice while driving. Driving while intoxicated is a very serious offense and carries heavy penalties. Local authorities use roadblocks and Breathalyzer tests as enforcement tools. Drivers and pedestrians should be alert to the possibility of drunk drivers and drunken pedestrians wandering onto the road. Drivers must use their headlights at all times day and night. U.S. driving licenses are not valid in Latvia, and American tourists must possess a valid international driving permit, which can be obtained in the United States from the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance.

For more information about road safety and traffic regulations in Latvia, please visit the website of the Latvian Road Safety Administration at http://www.csdd.lv/en/Index.htm. For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, please see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html. For specific information about Latvian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact the Latvian Road Safety Administration or the Latvia Tourist Board at 4 Pils Square, Riga, Latvia, LV 1050, tel. and fax: 371-722-9945, or via the Internet at http://www.latviatourism.lv.


Aviation Safety Oversight: As there is no direct commercial air service by local carriers at present, or economic authority to operate such service, between the U.S. and Latvia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Latvia's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA's Internet website at http://www.intl.faa.gov.


The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact DOD at (618) 229-4801.


Customs Regulations: Latvian customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Latvia of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, medications, business equipment, drugs, etc. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Latvia in Washington, D.C. or one of Latvia's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protectio ns available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Latvian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Latvia are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.


Special Circumstances: Banks and currency exchange counters may refuse to accept U.S. currency that is crumpled, torn, discolored or defaced (even small pen strokes, hand written numbers and letters are considered defacing). If such notes are accepted for exchange, an additional processing fee, based on the size of the transaction, may be charged. ATMs are widely available in Riga and in other major towns. Telephone connections with the United States are reliable. However, 1-800 numbers cannot be accessed from Latvia. Please check with your long distance carrier before departure to see if they offer service in Latvia. Local Internet cafes offer computer access, and fax machines are widely available.


Children's Issues: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone the Overseas Citizens Services call center at 1-888-407-4747. The OCS call center can answer general inquiries regarding international adoptions and will forward calls to the appropriate country officer in the Bureau of Consular Affairs. This number is available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). Callers who are unable to use toll-free numbers, such as those calling from overseas, may obtain information and assistance during these hours by calling 1-317-472-2328.

Registration/Embassy Location: 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) 781-4088. Consular information and current travel information can also be found on the Embassy Riga home page at http://www.usembassy.lv.

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Latvia

Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of Latvia
Region: Europe
Population: 2,404,926
Language(s): Lettish, Lithuanian, Russian
Literacy Rate: 100%
Academic Year: September-May
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
  Secondary: 239,318
  Higher: 56,187
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 96%
  Secondary: 84%
  Higher: 33%
Teachers: Primary: 10,357
  Secondary: 29,852
  Higher: 4,486
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 14:1
  Secondary: 8:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 93%
  Secondary: 85%
  Higher: 40%

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 parliamentthe 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.


Educational SystemOverview


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.


Secondary Education

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.


Higher Education

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

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.


Teaching Profession

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.


Summary

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 paththe path to the future where they can achieve the goals set forward by the government and Latvian visionaries.


Bibliography

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.

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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.

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Karklins, Rasma. Ethnopolitics and Transition to Democracy: The Collapse of the USSR and Latvia. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1994.

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Andrei G. Aleinikov

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Latvians

ETHNOMYMS: Latvieši, Latvji, Letten, Letts


Orientation

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°4023' and 58°4023' 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 seasonsfall (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 WestLutheranism 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.


Settlements

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 citiesDaugavpils (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.


Economy

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 workwhereas 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.


Sociopolitical Organization

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 difficultiessmall 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 19181920 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.

Bibliography

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.

ANDRIS SKREIJA