History and Political System
The Republic of Latvia was founded on November 18, 1918. Latvia was illegally occupied by both the Nazi and the Soviet regimes and reestablished its independence in 1990/91. Latvia de facto lost its independence after WW2 but legally or de iure continued to exist. Latvia celebrated 100 years in 2018.
The Constitution of the Republic of Latvia (Satversme) was adopted in 1922. Latvia is a democratic, secular, unitary parliamentary republic. There are 119 municipalities. The Parliament of Latvia (Saeima) is unicameral and consists of 100 members, elected every 4 years. The Parliament is lead by the Speaker. Every 4 years the Parliament elects the President who is the head of state and the commander in chief. The President names the Prime Minister who forms the government (The Cabinet of Ministers) subject to the approval by the Parliament.
Latvia joined the United Nations in 1991 and the World Trade Organization in 1999. Latvia became a member state of NATO and the European Union in 2004. In 2007, Latvia joined the Schengen area of free movement.
Latvia is an open economy and part of the single largest common market in the world. In 2014, Latvia joined the common European currency - the Euro. In 2016, Latvia joined the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Latvia is among the fastest growing economies in the European Union. Learn more about the Statistics of Latvia.
Territory, population and language
Latvia is neither large nor very small. In terms of territory, Latvia is larger than many European countries such as Croatia, Slovakia, Estonia, Denmark, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Slovenia, Luxembourg and Malta. It's a Northern European country nestled between Estonia and Lithuania on the shore of the Baltic Sea, also known as the Amber Sea. The territory of Latvia (24,900 square miles) is inhabited by ~ 2 million people, which puts Latvia among the smaller European countries in terms of population. The largest ethnic group are Latvians (~ 62%), followed by Russians (~25.4%) and other national minorities such as Ukrainians, Belarusians, Estonians, Lithuanians, Polish and many others. The Latvian language is the sole official language and it is one of the most ancient European languages. Together with Lithuanian, Latvian forms the Baltic branch (neither Germanic, nor Slavic) of the Indo-European group of languages.
Rīga - the capital
Riga, announces itself with a unique and fantastically beautiful silhouette which is sometimes reflected in the Daugava, the largest river of Latvia, but sometimes secretively disappears in the fog. In 2001, Old Riga celebrated its 800th birthday. The Old Town is the most ancient part of Riga and it is also the beginning of Riga -- with the first local inhabitant log building in the 11th century and the first German newcomer stone building in the 13th century. Over the time with much of the old disappearing and the new replacing it, the Old Town has become a part of the modern city where evidence of various centuries alternates in the streets. Riga is the largest of the three Baltic capitals and a regional air travel and logistics hub. Riga is home to ~32% of Latvia's population. Riga is listed by UNESCO as one of the world's most important cultural and architectual sites. Riga is known as the world capital of Art Nouveau/ Jugendstil architecture. Riga is also recognized for its 19th century wooden architecture.
Riga has hosted the Eurovision Song Contest (2003), the NATO Summit (2006), the World Ice Hockey Championship (2006), the World Women's Curling Championship (2013). In 2014, Riga was the European Capital of Culture and also hosted the World Choir Games. In the first half of 2015, Riga was the seat of the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Riga will co-host the World Ice Hockey Championship with Minsk (Belarus) in 2021. Riga is home to the European Union's office of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC).
The variety of Latvia's nature is large. This is determined by its geographical location, the history of its development and the local characteristics. You won't see smoking volcanoes or geysers, cloud-covered mountain tops or boundless plains in Latvia. However, Latvia will surprise you with other generous gifts of Mother Nature. Tree-covered hills alternate with grain-fields and pastures of the flatlands and massive forests. Along picturesque riverbanks the uncovered basic strata form cliffs and crags in which the water has carved caves. Numerous lakes sparkle at the bottom of hills. The forests covering almost half of the territory and waters are full of wildlife.
To sum up, Latvia is one of Europe's great "get away from it all" discoveries and is certainly "best enjoyed slowly". With 12,310 rivers and 3,000 lakes the country has many opportunities for boating and walking and just enjoying the outdoors. There are many small medieval towns, country castles, museums and folk parks to be visited.
- Latvia Travel
- Air Baltic - the national airline
- Latvian Institute
- Countryside travel in Latvia
- Lonely Planet - Latvia
- Another Travel Guide - Latvia
- Maps of Latvia and the Baltic region
- Live Riga
- Riga This Week
- Baltic Connecting
Study and Research in Latvia
The international student population in Latvia is a bit over 10%. The Latvian government each year offers state-funded scholarships to international students and fellowships to researchers and teachers, and scholarships for summer schools. Usually the application deadline is by April. U.S. citizens are eligible to apply. See: Study in Latvia page (administered by the State Education Development Agency within the Ministry of Education and Science of Latvia).