Latvia Country Profile

Independent for only twenty years, from 1920 to 1940, Latvia became the most industrialized republic in the Soviet Union and only regained its autonomy in 1991, shortly before the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Latvia is located on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea, in northwest Europe, with a territory of 64,610 km2. It is limited to the east with Russia and Belarus, to the north with Estonia and to the south with Lithuania. The capital is Riga, located in the Gulf of the same name.

Physical geography

Latvian territory, flat and of low altitude, presents the highest elevation in the eastern region. The main geographical accidents are hills, lakes and lagoons, formed in the glacial period. The country is crossed by the river Dvina (Daugava), which ends in Riga. The climate is cold oceanic, with annual rainfall of 550-600mm. The characteristic vegetation of Latvia is the mixed forests.


According to, Latvians make up more than fifty percent of the population, still made up of Russians and, to a lesser extent, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Poles and others. The official language is Latvian, which belongs to the Baltic subgroup of the Indo-European language family. Almost the entire population is Christian, with about three quarters of Lutherans and the rest of Catholics. In addition to the capital, the most important cities are Daugavpils, Liepaja and Jelgava.


In the Latvian industry, metallurgy, the production of household appliances, agricultural instruments and machines, and food processing stand out. The agricultural sector specializes in dairy and meat products. The planting of cereals occupies two thirds of the arable land and the forage the rest. Latvia has an adequate communications network of all kinds and has two seaports, Riga and Ventspils, of great commercial importance.

Political institutions

Latvia has been a multi-party parliamentary republic since it separated from the Soviet Union. It has a single legislative body, the Supreme Council, with 100 members elected by direct vote. It is divided into forty administrative districts.


Until the isolation caused by the Slavic expansion in the 7th century, the Latvian territory was occupied by people who had commercial contact with the Mediterranean world. Scandinavians arrived in the region in the 9th century, and for the next two centuries Latvia lived under pressure from the Russians and Swedes. In the 12th century, the Germans began the evangelization of Livonia, the name they gave to the northern region. In the following century, the Order of the Knights of Gladius, which merged in 1237 with the Teutonic Order, subdued all Latvian princes.

In 1561, Latvian territory was subjected to the Polish crown and divided into Courland and Livonia. In 1621 Sweden conquered Riga and, in 1629, most of Livonia. Russian domination began in 1710, with Pedro I the Great, and was completed at the end of the 18th century. Latvian nationalism awoke in the 19th century and intensified in the Russian revolution of 1905. During the first world war, the Germans occupied the country, but after the Bolshevik revolution, Latvia was the object of dispute between Germans and Soviets and nationalist groups. On August 11, 1920, the Soviet Union accepted Karlis Ulmanis’ nationalist government, signed a peace treaty with Latvia and recognized its independence.

In 1940, during the Second World War, the Soviet Army conquered and annexed Latvia. In July 1941, the Germans occupied the Baltic states, taken over by the Red Army in 1944. Since then, Latvia has become one of the 15 Soviet republics. Independence, proclaimed on August 21, 1991, was recognized by Moscow on September 6, 1991.

Latvia Country Profile