Country information Latvia
at a glance
civilization and culture
AT A GLANCE
64 598 square kilometres
2.23 million (July 2009)
Riga, 719 613 inhabitants (2008)
Latvian (other languages: Russian 37,5 % and Lithuanian)
Gross national product per capita
US$ 17 800 (2008) (PPP)
72,2 years (men: 67 years, women: 77,6 years) (2009)
8,8 per 1000 live births (2009)
Rate of illiteracy
0 % (2007)
Tourism is not as well developed in Latvia as it is in Lithuania and Estonia, but it does have attractive destinations to offer. Riga is famous for its art deco architecture and the historical centre. The modern capital city has a cosmopolitan flair, and is the largest Baltic city with 800 000 inhabitants. There are seaside resorts along the coast, and inland there a many historical towns and villages.
According to UNWTO in the year 2005 approximately 1,1 million guests came into the country and paid 740 million Euro.
Commercial sexual exploitation of children in tourism
Latvia is a source country for people who are trafficked to other countries where they are sexually exploited. Polish, Ukrainian and Israeli trafficking organisations are in control, and they cooperate with local gangs.
Although Latvia mostly hits the headlines because of women and children who are taken to foreign countries to be forced into prostitution, there is also prostitution tourism in the country. According to estimates, some 10 000 children may be subject to sexual exploitation.
HIV / AIDS
According to estimates from UNAIDS and the World Health Organization, at the end of 2007 approximately 10.000 people in Latvia were infected with HIV, including 2.700 women. How many children were infected, could not be estimated. In the same year less than 500 Latvians died following infection with HIV.
Center Against Abuse „Dardedze“
Cieceres street 3a
CULTURE AND CIVILIZATION
The Baltic was one of the last heathen regions in Europe until the end of the 12th century, when Latvia was forcibly Christianised and came under German rule in what was known as Livonia, together with current-day Estonia. Many Livonian towns joined the influential Hanseatic League.
From the mid-16th century the region was divided between Sweden and Poland, but after the Nordic War 1721 all of Latvia came under Russian dominance through until the First World War.
After the Russian Revolution in 1917, Latvia declared its independence, which was ended by the invasion of the Red Army in 1940. Occupied from 1941 until 1944 by the Germans, the country was then recaptured by the Soviets and incorporated in the USSR. Over this period many Latvians were killed, deported and murdered, including all Latvian Jews. But also more than 100 000 Latvians were deported to Siberia, and there was targeted liquidation of intellectuals and members of the upper and middle classes.
The Soviet Union carried out a programme of "Russification" with the goal of making Latvians a minority in their own country.
Latvia became independent in 1991 with the break-up of the Soviet Union, and in 2004 it joined NATO and became a member country of the European Union.
State and society
The Republic of Latvia has a single chamber parliament (Saeima) and is centrally organised. There are a number of small political parties, offering a wide variety of potential coalitions. In the national elections of 2002, the liberal "New Era" party gained a quarter of the seats in parliament, but the ruling coalition broke down in 2004, and was replaced by a three party centre-right minority coalition which is made up of the Greens and Farmers Union, the People's Party and Latvia's Christian First Party.
As a result of the "Russification" in past decades, only 56% of the population are now Latvians, and there is a large Russian population (32%). Other minorities are Belarusians (3.9%), Ukrainians (2.9%), Poles (2.2%) and Lithuanians (1.3%). In particular the large Russian minority gives rise to considerable conflicts. As non-Latvians they are not entitled to take part in elections or to become civil servants, but the naturalisation procedure includes a language test in Latvian, which many of them do not speak.
Songs play an important role in Latvian culture, and Latvia achieved its independence from the Soviet Union in what is known as the "Singing Revolution". The Latvians also have a love of nature, and are active conservationists. The country has the highest overall investment in the environment of all the new member states of the EU.
Despite the generally good economic situation, unemployment remains a problem, particularly for young people. It is intended to tackle this problem by introducing a comprehensive reform of education and vocational training.
Latvia has a very well-developed services sector, which contributes 70% of the gross national product. A further 20% comes from the industrial sector. The economic figures are positive: 7.6 % economic growth, 3.9 % inflation and a budget deficit of 2.5 %. Mechanical engineering is a key sector, along with furniture manufacturing, the textile industry and also deep-sea fishing.