Jānis Zelmenis

Geography

Latvia is located in northern Europe on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea, between Estonia and Lithuania. It has also borders to the east with Russia and Belarus as well as a maritime border with Sweden. With an area of 64,589 sq km and a population of about 2 million, Latvia is a small European country. Learn more

Latvia is rich in rivers, lakes, forests, and has a 494 km of coastline along the Baltic Sea and Riga Bay. Latvia provides untouched and rich nature together with highly developed modern cities. Woodlands, mostly pine, comprise 41% of the Latvian territory. Apart from peat, dolomite and limestone, natural resources are scarce. Latvia has 531 km of sandy coastline and three main ports: Riga, Liepaja, and Ventspils.  Learn more

Capital

The capital of Latvia is Riga, which was founded in 1201. The city citizens are proud of the restored modern and jugend style building, narrow streets of Old Riga, shadowy parks in the very centre of the city and its unique atmosphere. The value of Riga’s cultural and historical significance has been recognised by the fact that its old city centre has been included in UNESCO’s list of the world’s most important cultural and natural sites. Riga has nearly 900,000 inhabitants (metropolitan area).  Learn more

Administrative division

The Latvian territory is divided into 9 republican cities and 10 municipalities. Nearly one third of Latvia’s population (788 thousand) lives in the capital city Riga. Largest towns and cities: Daugavpils, Jelgava, Jurmala, Liepaja, Ventspils, Rezekne, Valmiera and Jekabpils. Today, 77 towns and cities are located within Latvia’s borders. 23 cities have a population of over 10,000. Learn more

Short history

The forebears of Latvians were still organised under separate tribal chieftains when they were conquered and converted to Christianity in the 13th century by German crusading orders. Subsequently, the territory of modern Latvia passed under Polish and Swedish suzerainty. During the 18th century, following the conclusion of the Great Northern War in 1721 and the final partition of Poland in 1795, the whole Latvian territory became part of the Russian empire. A Latvian national revival began in the middle of the 19th century, and following the collapse of Russia and Germany at the end of World War I, an independent Latvian republic was proclaimed in November 1918. Despite the serious devastation resulting from the World War and the subsequent War of Independence, Latvia recovered rapidly in both economic and cultural terms, and by the end of 1930s had achieved a standard of living comparable with that of Scandinavia at the time. The Latvian constitution (1922) established a democratic parliamentary republic. In 1934, the then prime minister, Karlis Ulmanis, staged a coup d’état, suspending Parliament indefinitely, and became a virtual dictator. In 1936, he also assumed the position of President. In June 1940, under the provisions of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, Latviawas occupied by the USSRand made a Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1941, Latvia was occupied by the German forces, and re-conquered by the USSR in 1944–45. In May 1990, the Latvian parliament reasserted Latvia’s independence. In 1993, new parliamentary and presidential elections were held under the restored 1922 constitution. Latvia became a member of the United Nations in 1991 and signed a free-trade agreement with Estonia and Lithuania in 1993. Latvia joined the EU and NATO in 2004. Learn more

Government and political powers

According to its Constitution (Satversme), Latvia is an independent democratic parliamentary republic. It has a unicameral parliament (Saeima), composed of one hundred members elected by the list system of proportional representation. The President, who is the head of state, is elected by Parliament for a four-year term. The executive power rests with the prime minister, who is appointed by the President, and the Cabinet of Ministers. At present, Andris Berzins is the President of Latvia, and Laimdota Straujuma from the Vienotība (Unity) party is the prime minister. Learn more

Population and language

The official language is Latvian, one of the two surviving members (the other being Lithuanian) of the Baltic branch of the Indo-European language family. Latvian and Russian are commonly spoken languages. English is also widely spoken. Some 56% of the population are ethnic Latvians, and 28% are Russian. No other ethnic group reaches 5% of the population.

Currency

Latvia’s currency is euro.

Time, weights and measures

Latvia uses Eastern European Time, which is two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+2 hours). Every year between March and September, Latvia introduces Daylight Saving Time (GMT+3 hours). Latvia uses the metric system of weights and measures and the Celsius scale of temperature.