Latvia Country Overview

Latvia. The Republic of Latvia is one of the Baltic states. It was an independent republic from the end of World War I until 1940. It is located on the northeastern shore of the Baltic Sea. It is bordered to the north by Estonia, to the east by the Russian Federation, to the southeast by Belarus and to the south by Lithuania. Latvia is divided into five regions: Kurzeme, Latgale, Riga, Vidzeme and Zemgale.


According to, Latvia was occupied by Finns and other Baltic ethnic groups. The latgales, under the Finnish denomination of “letos”, gave their name to the territory. By the 11th century, the Latgales were vassals of the Russian prince of Polostk, a time when they abandoned paganism for Christianity. The Archbishopric of Livonia was established in 1199.

By 1158 the Germans had reached the mouth of the Dvina River. At the end of the 13th century, the Latvians were subdued by the German lords and remained in this condition until well into the last century, when an important Baltic baronial caste and a rural class had been established. Latvia then lived through a period of national flourishing, the center of which was the language itself, and which made the attempts of Tsar Alexander not even to Russify that territory to fail. The Latvians proclaimed their independence in 1918.

The Baltic barons asked the Germans for help, who sent an army to subdue the country. The Riga treaty, in 1920, sealed the independence of Latvia, recognized by the Soviet Union. The government implemented an agrarian reform that ended the hegemony of the Baltic barons, founded on land ownership. In 1922, Latvia adopted a democratic Constitution. The leader of the independent period was the president councilor K. Ulmanis, who responded to the political instability with an alliance with the landowners, assuming the powers of the vadonis (chief), the presidency of the republic and the head of government. In 1939, Latvia signed a mutual assistance pact with the Soviet Union. In january In 1940, Hitler ordered the repatriation of 50 thousand Baltic people of German origin residing in Latvia, while on June 16 of that same year the Latvian territory was occupied by Soviet troops.

During World War II, Latvia was occupied by the Germans between 1941 and 1944. Until the late 1980s, Latvia’s status as a Soviet republic remained unchanged, but with the onset of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika, independence ferments took shape in Latvia and the other Baltic republics.

In 1988 the Latvian Popular Front was formed, led by Janis Jurkans. At the same time, the non-Latvian population created the Interfront anti-sewage movement. Latvian replaced Russian as the country’s official language in 1988. On May 4, 1990, the Supreme Soviet of Latvia declared the formation of an independent republic.

The movement for the independence of Latvia was led by Juris Dobelis. However, with the presence of Soviet troops in the territory, a presidential decree declared that independence was null. But the attempted coup in the Soviet Union in Augustof 1991, precipitated the course of events. The Baltic republics proclaimed their independence on the 21st of that month and on September 6 it was recognized by the countries of the EEC, the United States and the Soviet Union. In mid- September, the three Baltic countries were officially admitted as new members of the United Nations.



The territory of Latvia includes the Curonian peninsula, part of Livonia and Latgalia. It is made up of a plateau in which hills predominate, the maximum height of which does not exceed 311 meters. This formation is interrupted by vast plains, including that of Riga, crossed by the western Dvina rivers, and rich in lakes.

Flora and fauna

40% of the Latvian territory (63,700 km2) is occupied by pine and birch forests. Foxes, wolves, lynxes and brown bears live in these forests. In the forbidden areas, as protected species, are the gray crane and ferns.


54% of the residents are Latvians, 5% Belarusians, 33% Russian and 3% Ukrainian. There is also a Polish minority. 50% of the population is Lutheran, and the second religion in number of practitioners is Roman Catholic. Half of the population is rural and the other half is concentrated in the cities, mostly in Riga.

Latvian territory was occupied in time immemorial by Finno-Ugric tribes and, from the 9th century on, by Latvians. In the 12th century, the country fell under the rule of the Teutonic knightly order and was partially absorbed by Livonia and Courland. The Latvians belong to the group of proto-Baltic peoples who settled on the shores of the sea that bears their name, almost at the same time as the first Slavs.

Following the independence of the three Baltic republics proclaimed the 21 of August of 1991, the high percentage of Russians in Latvia is the source of numerous problems that have a legal framework for resolution. Latvia is the most Russified of the Baltic republics and the managers of the main companies are Russian.

Economic development

Although Latvia lacks fuel and raw materials, the country has managed to develop an economy that relies on an industry supplied by raw materials from other republics of the USSR. Electronics, the production of precision devices and chemistry represent the main supports of Latvian industry. Among the most prominent companies is vef, manufacturer of radio receivers, recorders and automated telephone exchanges.

The Riga wagon factory is the most important company in the country by volume of activity in the field of manufacturing electric trains and diesel locomotives. Industrial robots, computers, minibuses, clothing, furniture and perfumes produced by the Riga manufactures, which until recently supplied the domestic market with one in two motorcycles and one in three washing machines, were sold throughout the Soviet Union. Latvia also exports electricity to neighboring republics.

The Latvian climate is not ideal for intensive farming and its soils are poor, with abundant swamps and rocky areas. Despite this, in the country’s fields, purebred cattle are raised that provide milk and meat, pigs and poultry. In addition to cereals, flax, potatoes and plants are grown for animal fodder. Fishing activities are very active, both on the coasts and in the lakes of the country. The drained swamps produce all the beets consumed by the local sugar industry, two-thirds of the cereals and potatoes, and half of the vegetables.

At the agro-industrial level, dairy farms and logging are very important. Many livestock and poultry complexes, as well as concentrated animal feed factories, are highly automated. The main industrial centers are on the coast. Riga concentrates a basic industrial activity around cement and railway materials, while the city of Liépaia absorbs almost all the steel activity. Along the 500 kilometers of coastline on the Baltic Sea available to Latvia, there are more than 11 fishing cooperatives (kolkhozes), which have their own fleets and cold storage facilities.

Latvia Country Overview