Latvia Travel Information

Mother Earth Travel > Country Index > Latvia > Map Economy History

Biodiversity in Latvia
WWF Latvia The World Wide Fund For Nature in Latvia.

Facts About Latvia

Background: After a brief period of independence between the two World Wars, Latvia was annexed by the USSR in 1940. It reestablished its independence in 1991 following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Although the last Russian troops left in 1994, the status of the Russian minority (some 30% of the population) remains of concern to Moscow. Latvia continues to revamp its economy for eventual integration into various Western European political and economic institutions.
Government type: parliamentary democracy
Capital: Riga
Currency: 1 Latvian lat (LVL) = 100 santims

Geography of Latvia

Location: Eastern Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea, between Estonia and Lithuania
Geographic coordinates: 57 00 N, 25 00 E
total: 64,589 sq km
land: 64,589 sq km
water: 0 sq km
Land boundaries:
total: 1,150 km
border countries: Belarus 141 km, Estonia 339 km, Lithuania 453 km, Russia 217 km
Coastline: 531 km
Maritime claims:
continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: maritime; wet, moderate winters
Terrain: low plain
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Baltic Sea 0 m
highest point: Gaizinkalns 312 m
Natural resources: minimal; amber, peat, limestone, dolomite, hydropower, arable land
Land use:
arable land: 27%
permanent crops: 0%
permanent pastures: 13%
forests and woodland: 46%
other: 14% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 160 sq km (1993 est.)
Environment - current issues: air and water pollution because of a lack of waste conversion equipment; Gulf of Riga and Daugava River heavily polluted; contamination of soil and groundwater with chemicals and petroleum products at military bases
Environment - international agreements:
party to:  Air Pollution, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol
Geography - note: most of the country is composed of fertile, low-lying plains, with some hills in the east.

People of Latvia

Latvians occasionally refer to themselves by the ancient name of "Latviji," 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 strict language law and draft citizenship law have caused many non-citizen 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.

Population: 2,290,237 (July 2005 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years:  16.55%
15-64 years:  68.15% 
65 years and over:  15.3%
Population growth rate: -0.81% 
Birth rate: 8.03 births/1,000 population 
Death rate: 14.8 deaths/1,000 population 
Net migration rate: -1.27 migrant(s)/1,000 population 
Infant mortality rate: 15.34 deaths/1,000 live births 
Life expectancy at birth:
total population:  68.7 years
male:  62.8 years
female:  74.9 years 
Total fertility rate: 1.15 children born/woman 
noun: Latvian(s)
adjective: Latvian
Ethnic groups: Latvian 56.5%, Russian 30.4%, Byelorussian 4.3%, Ukrainian 2.8%, Polish 2.6%, other 3.4%
Religions: Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox
Languages: Lettish (official), Lithuanian, Russian, other
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 100%
male: 100%
female: 99% (1989 est.)

SOURCES: The World Factbook, U.S. Department of State

Mother Earth Travel > Country Index > Latvia > Map Economy History