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Latvijas Republika
Republic of Latvia
Flag of Latvia
Coat of arms of Latvia
flag coat of arms
Motto : Latvian Tēvzemei ​​un Brīvībai
"For fatherland and freedom"
Official language Latvian
Capital Riga
Form of government parliamentary republic
Government system parliamentary democracy
Head of state President
Egils Levits
Head of government Prime Minister
Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš
surface 64,589 km²
population 1,934,379 (January 2019)
Population density 30 inhabitants per km²
Population development   −1.07% (2016) per year
gross domestic product
  • Total (nominal)
  • Total ( PPP )
  • GDP / inh. (nominal)
  • GDP / inh. (KKP)
  • $ 34.88 billion ( 99th )
  • $ 57.86 billion ( 107. )
  • 18,032 USD ( 48th )
  • 29,912 USD ( 52. )
Human Development Index   0.854 ( 39th ) (2018)
currency Euro (EUR)
independence November 18, 1918 (declaration)
August 21, 1991 (recovery)
National anthem Dievs, svētī Latviju!
("God bless Latvia!")

Time zone UTC + 2 EET
UTC + 3 EESZ (March to October)
License Plate LV
ISO 3166 LV , LVA, 428
Internet TLD .lv
Telephone code +371
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Latvia ( Latvian Latvija , officially the Republic of Latvia , Latvian Latvijas Republika ) is a state in the Baltic States . As the middle of the three Baltic states , it borders Lithuania in the south, Belarus in the southeast , Russia in the east , Estonia in the north and the Baltic Sea in the west . The capital and largest city ​​of Latvia is Riga .

Since the EU enlargement came into force on May 1, 2004, Latvia has been a member of the European Union and, since January 1, 2014, also part of the euro zone .


Latvia is in the center of the Baltic region. Its allocation is controversial and is influenced not only by geographical criteria but also by historical, cultural and political aspects. The Baltic states are assigned to both Northern Europe and Central Europe , Eastern Europe and Northeastern Europe .

Latvia consists essentially of the four historical regions Kurland (Latvian: Kurzeme ) in the west, Livonia ( Vidzeme ) in the northeast, Semgallen ( Zemgale ) as a narrow strip between Düna ( Daugava ) and the Lithuanian border and Lettgallen ( Latgale ) in the southeast. For the most part it is a wooded moraine hill country with numerous lakes and a long, poorly indented coastal plain . The longest rivers in Latvia are the Daugava and the Gauja (German: Livonian Aa ). The largest lake in Latvia is the Lubāns with 80.7 km², the Dridza lake is the deepest lake in the Baltic countries (65.1 m depth). The capital Riga is also geographically the center of the sparsely populated country. The Gulf of Riga , a bay in the Baltic Sea , is located in the north-west of the country.

The Republic of Latvia has an area of ​​64,589 km² and is therefore somewhat smaller than Bavaria. The country borders in the northeast over a length of 343 km with Estonia , in the east over a length of 276 km with Russia , in the southeast over a length of 161 km with Belarus and in the south over a length of 588 km with Lithuania . The coastline along the Riga Bay in the north and the Baltic Sea in the west is about 498 km; Latvia has maritime borders with Estonia and Lithuania. The average altitude of Latvia is 87  m . The highest mountain is Gaiziņkalns ( Gaising ), 120 km east of Riga, at 311  m .

A total of 2,543 km² is occupied by bodies of water (rivers, lakes, reservoirs). Of the remaining land, around 40%, namely 24,710 km², is used for agriculture and around 46%, namely 28,855 km², is used for forestry.

The Republic of Latvia extends 450 km in an east-west direction and 210 km in a north-south direction.

From 1920 to 1940 the area of ​​Latvia was about 1300 km² larger, as the former New Latgale region around the city of Abrene / Pytalowo came to Latvia as a result of the Latvian-Soviet peace treaty of 1920 . After the occupation by the Soviet Union , this territory was added to the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic . This border change was not reversed after the collapse of the Soviet Union . In order to meet the requirements for joining the EU and NATO , Latvia was forced to hand over New Latgale, formerly mainly inhabited by Latvians, to Russia de jure . The Russian name for the city of Pytalowo probably comes from the historical Latvian place name "Pie Tālavas".


Climate diagram
J F. M. A. M. J J A. S. O N D.
Temperature in ° Cprecipitation in mm
Source: Latvian, Environment, Geology and Meteorology Agency
Average monthly temperatures and rainfall for Riga
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Max. Temperature ( ° C ) −2.3 −1.7 2.7 9.8 16.2 20.1 21.7 21.0 16.3 10.4 3.9 0.3 O 9.9
Min. Temperature (° C) −7.8 −7.6 −4.7 1.0 5.9 10.0 12.3 11.8 8.0 4.0 −0.5 −4.4 O 2.4
Precipitation ( mm ) 34 27 28 41 44 63 85 73 75 60 57 46 Σ 633
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

In Latvia, as in all Baltic states, there is a cool, temperate climate with cold winters below 0 ° C and moderately warm summers between 16 and 17 ° C. In Riga, the annual average temperature is almost 6 ° C, with 600 mm of rainfall. It is wettest in late summer and driest in spring. The sun shines 1800 to 1900 hours a year (ten percent more than in Germany).

The coasts of the Baltic Sea mostly remain ice-free in winter, in August the water temperature reaches up to 17 ° C, on hot summer days near the coast up to 25 ° C.


In addition to deer , roe deer , hares , wild boars and foxes also come elk , wolves , lynx , beaver and bison before. The European brown bear has returned to Latvia in the provinces of Latgale and Vidzeme . For January 2017, it is assumed that there will be a fixed population of twelve animals, mostly living on Latvian territory.

There are 706 state-protected nature areas in Latvia, including four national parks. The smallest but oldest national park with an area of ​​16,145  hectares is the Slītere National Park . It was founded in 1921, during Latvia's first independence. With an area of ​​38,114 hectares, the Ķemeri National Park is the second largest. It was established after Latvia regained independence. Founded in 1997, it is the youngest. The largest national park is the Gauja National Park . It occupies an area of ​​92,261 hectares and was established in 1973 when Latvia was part of the Soviet Union.

The Pape nature reserve is particularly important for migratory birds , where bison, Konik horses and Heck cattle have also been established. Latvia has a long tradition of nature conservation; The first protective provisions existed as early as the 16th century.


According to the Latvian Statistics Office, 17 rivers flow in Latvia, each over 100 km in length. The five longest are listed below:

No. Surname flows into Length in
Latvia (km)
Total length (
1. Gauja (German Livonian Aa ) Riga Bay 452 452
2. Daugava ( Düna ) Riga Bay 352 1005
3. Ogre ( ogre ) Daugava 188 188
4th Venta ( Windau ) Baltic Sea 178 346
5. Iecava ( Eckau ) Lielupe ( Courland Aa ) 136 136


Latvian population since 1920
Population pyramid Latvia 2016

The 2011 Latvian census found a population of approximately 2.068 million people. Due to massive immigration from the Soviet Union in the occupation years from 1944 to 1990, Latvia's population rose from 1.9 million to almost 2.7 million. Since then, the population of Latvia has fallen massively, first due to the withdrawal of the Soviet Army and their family members to Russia, then also due to low birth rates and emigration. It decreased by almost 600,000 people from 1989 to 2011. In 2014, the population fell below two million for the first time and continued to fall until 2017, to 1.95 million people. It is thus at the level of the 1930s. If the trend continues, Latvia's population could decline to around 1.25 million by 2050 , according to the US Census Bureau .

In 2017, the statistics agency Eurostat published new data that show a much more positive trend. Between 2000 and 2014, the birth rate in Latvia rose from 1.25 to 1.65 children per woman, the largest increase in the EU during this period.

Life expectancy in Latvia was 73.9 years between 2010 and 2015 (men: 68.9, women: 78.7).

In addition to the Latvian majority (62.1% of the population) there is a significant Russian minority (26.9%) and smaller groups such as Belarusians (3.3%) and Ukrainians (2.2%), who mostly also speak Russian, as well as Poland (2.2%) and Lithuanians (1.2%) (Population and Housing Census 2011). There are also Estonians , Germans , Roma and Tatars . There are also around 2000 Suiti and around 170 Liven (mainly in Riga and some coastal villages in Courland ).

Latvian population by ethnic origin 1935-2011 in thousands (t Ew.)
year 1935 * 1959 1970 1979 1989 * 2000 * 2005 2011 *
Ethnicity t Ew. % t Ew. % t Ew. % t Ew. % t Ew. % t Ew. % t Ew. % t Ew. %
Latvians 1,467.0 77.0 1,297.9 62.0 1,341.8 56.8 1,344.1 54.0 1,387.8 52.0 1,370.7 57.7 1,357.1 58.8 1,284.2 62.1
Russians 168.3 8.8 556.4 26.6 704.6 29.8 821.5 32.8 905.5 34.0 703.2 29.6 669.7 28.6 556.4 26.9
Jews 93.4 4.9 36.6 1.7 36.7 1.6 28.3 1.1 22.9 0.9 10.3 0.4 9.9 0.4 6.4 0.3
German 62.1 3.3 1.6 0.1 5.4 0.2 3.3 0.1 3.8 0.1 3.5 0.1 3.9 0.2 3.0 0.1
Poland 48.6 2.6 59.8 2.9 63.0 2.7 62.7 2.5 60.4 2.3 59.5 2.5 56.5 2.5 44.7 2.2
Belarusians 26.8 1.4 61.6 2.9 94.7 4.0 111.5 4.5 119.7 4.5 97.1 4.0 88.3 3.8 68.2 3.3
Lithuanians 22.8 1.2 32.4 1.5 40.6 1.7 37.8 1.5 34.6 1.3 33.4 1.4 31.7 1.4 24.4 1.2
Estonians 6.9 0.4 4.6 0.2 4.3 0.2 3.7 0.1 3.3 0.1 2.6 0.1 2.5 0.1 2.0 0.1
Roma 3.8 0.2 4.3 0.2 5.4 0.2 6.1 0.2 7.0 0.3 8.2 0.3 8.5 0.4 6.4 0.3
Ukrainians 1.8 0.1 29.4 1.4 53.5 2.3 66.7 2.7 92.1 3.4 63.6 2.7 59.0 2.6 45.7 2.2
Other 4.2 0.2 1.8 0.1 2.7 0.1 3.8 0.2 29.4 1.0 25.0 1.1 28.4 1.2 26.2 1.3
total 1,905.9 100 2,086.4 100 2,352.7 100 2,489.5 100 2,666.6 100 2,377.4 100 2,306.4 100 2,067.8 100

* Result of the census of the corresponding year

Ethnic minorities and non-citizens

Latvian residents who are non-citizens by ethnicity
(January 1, 2020)
Ethnicity number
Russians 141,939
Belarusians 29,796
Ukrainians 21,491
Poland 7,617
Lithuanians 5,228
Jews 1,829
Others 8,782
All in all 216,682

According to the last census in 2011, almost 38% of the population belong to ethnic minorities. Russians make up the most important minority with around 27% of the total population. The majority of them were immigrants or their descendants between 1940 and 1990. Parts of the Russian minority have lived in Latvia for generations, so Russians made up about 8% of the population (153,000 people) as early as 1897.

Between 1940 and 1990 the ethnic composition of the population changed to the detriment of the Latvians, whose share of the population fell from 77% in 1935 to 52% in 1989. At the same time, the proportion of Russians rose to 34%. The Russian language had a dominant position in Latvia during this period. The central Soviet power promoted the ethnic and cultural Russification of Latvia. After regaining independence, the Russian language was deprived of its official functions and Latvian was the only official language. This posed a problem for the Russian and other minorities, as the majority of them refused or failed to learn the language of the Latvian majority during the Soviet era. Even today, the integration of the Russian-speaking minority into the Latvian state is still a domestic political challenge.

Since the renewal of independence in 1991 and despite joining the EU in 2004, Latvian citizenship is still only granted to those residents who were either Latvian citizens in 1940 (before the Soviet occupation) or who are direct descendants of such persons. Almost all of the immigrants in the meantime, who made up around 30% of the population, were granted non-citizenship status in 1995. On January 1, 2020, the proportion of non-citizens was 10.4% of the population. The non-citizens of Latvia are in fact not stateless. The Latvian state guarantees its non-citizens far more extensive rights than stateless persons under the statelessness agreement of September 28, 1954. With a few restrictions, non-citizens enjoy the same rights as citizens. They receive a passport that guarantees them unrestricted residence and employment rights in Latvia, they can stay in other EU countries for 90 days without a visa. In contrast to citizens, non-citizens can enter Russia without a visa. Non-citizens receive state and consular protection at home and abroad. Besides citizens, they are the only category of residents who have an ex lege right of residence in Latvia. Non-citizens enjoy social protection to the same extent as citizens. The non-citizens are not allowed to exercise some professions relevant to the state security, cannot become civil servants and are excluded from the right to vote or stand for election.

The naturalization procedure ("naturalization"), which has been valid for non-citizens since February 1, 1995, consists of a language test and an examination in Latvian history and constitution . Thus, those applying for naturalization must have a command of the national language and a basic knowledge of the country's culture and history.

Partly out of disinterest (35%), partly because of advanced age (24.9%) or the exams perceived as being too demanding (11.4%), but partly also out of reluctance and opposition to the content of the exam (4.5%) ) some members of the Russian-speaking population groups (besides Russians also Belarusians, Ukrainians, Russian Jews or Tatars) have not been naturalized to this day.

The expansion of the Latvian-language teaching share in the state-funded Latvian schools with Russian as the language of instruction (in the upper level from 54% to 60% from the 2004/05 school year) was carried out by an officially unregistered organization called the "Protection Staff of Russian Schools" and the like. a. instrumentalized under the slogan "Our country - our language". The aim of increasing the Latvian share was, on the one hand, to better integrate the Russian-speaking sections of the population into society and, on the other, to enable Russian-speaking young people to receive further training at the Latvian-speaking universities in the country.

In recent years, warnings from the European Court of Human Rights have led to increased efforts by the state to increase naturalization rates. By joining the EU, the Latvian passport ( freedom of establishment ) has become more attractive for Russian-speakers living in the country. By 2020, 147,259 residents of Latvia were naturalized (as of January 31, 2020). What makes naturalization more difficult is the fact that, unlike citizens, non-citizens do not need a visa to travel to Russia and are on an equal footing with Latvian citizens within the EU.

Another point of contention is the understanding of history by many Russophones, who understand the Second World War in Soviet tradition as the so-called Great Patriotic War , in which the role of the Hitler-Stalin Pact and the events before 1941 are ignored, whereas for the Latvians the invasion of the Reds is ignored Army meant the loss of their own state and a 55-year Soviet occupation. There are also different opinions regarding the assessment of the time of the German occupation. The regular march of the legionaries , during which the veterans of the Latvian SS units is remembered, causes controversy . They are seen by parts of the Latvian population as liberators from the Soviet occupation. The Russian-speaking and Jewish minorities in the country are protesting against this.


Linguistic variety

Latvian , an East Baltic language within the Indo-European language family , is the mother tongue of around two thirds of the population. It is the constitutionally anchored official language in Latvia and one of the twenty-four official languages ​​of the EU . In second place is Russian, which 37% of the population speak as their mother tongue. In 1935, only 8.8% of Latvia's population were of Russian descent. Another important Baltic minority language is modern Latgalian in the eastern parts of the country. It arose from the political separation of Latgale from the rest of Latvia, it is sometimes viewed as a variety of Latvian rather than a separate language. In 2013 the Livic became extinct.

The high proportion of Russian-speaking residents of Latvia is mainly due to the immigration controlled by the government of the USSR during the Soviet occupation (1944–1990/1991) (see table above and section on minorities and non-citizens ). During this time, Russian was declared an official language alongside Latvian, which is why some Latvians still consider it to be an “occupying language”. According to the Latvian Statistics Office, both Latvian and Russian are spoken in everyday life in the capital city of Riga, where around every second inhabitant has been of Russian origin or language since the Soviet era (only 7.86% in 1930, see Riga , Languages ​​section). In Daugavpils , the second largest city, the proportion of Latvians is less than 20%.

Language politics in the present

The official language of Latvia is Latvian . In addition to the Latvian state schools, Latvia also has schools in seven minority languages, thus continuing the tradition of multilingual education policy from the pre-war period. The largest minority language is Russian. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it lost its privileged status and is not given any special legal status today. All submissions to authorities must be submitted in a notarized Latvian translation. Exceptions are medical emergency calls and calls to the police, fire brigade, etc. Latvia is not a party to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages .

The loss of official status for the Russian language in Latvia has occasionally led to social tensions and protests since regaining independence. Many Russian-speaking residents oppose the state's efforts to establish the Latvian language as the main language in public spaces, in part by refusing to learn or use Latvian. However, the integration policy can also achieve significant successes, for example in the knowledge of the Latvian language on the part of Russian speakers. While in 1996 22% of non-Latvians did not understand the Latvian language at all, in 2008 only seven percent said this. In the same year, 57% of non-native speakers reported a good knowledge of the Latvian language (1996: 36%). The most significant changes took place among the younger generation. Of the people between 15 and 34 years of age, 73% stated that they had good knowledge of the Latvian language.

In state Russian-speaking schools, at least 60% of the lessons in grades 10 to 12 in language-relevant subjects are held in Latvian. This is seen by some Russophones as discrimination. After repeated protests and demands that Russian be recognized as the second official language, the Saeima decided to hold a referendum. On February 18, 2012, 74.8% of the population rejected the introduction of Russian as the second official language in a referendum . The non-citizens, who at that time made up about 12% of the population, were not entitled to vote. The controversial referendum was initiated by pro-Russian activist Vladimir Linderman through a signature-collecting campaign. Therefore, the public acknowledgment of the long-time Riga Mayor Nils Ušakovs , who advocated Russian as the second official language, met with incomprehension on the part of the established governing parties and larger sections of the population. On April 2, 2018, President Raimonds Vējonis signed the laws previously passed by Saeima, which provide for the gradual introduction of Latvian as the sole language of instruction in all secondary schools in Latvia by 2021/2022. Russia then threatened sanctions against Latvia.


Since the Reformation , the most important denomination in the western and central parts of Latvia has been the Evangelical Lutheran . The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia includes 250,000 Latvians, of whom only a minority of around 40,000 people profess their church (can be confirmed, pays church dues, takes part in the Lord's Supper). It is directed by Archbishop Jānis Vanags . The Lutheran Church of Latvia, like the Roman Catholic Church, rejects both homosexuality and the ordination of women.

Latgale , located in the east of Latvia, is predominantly Roman Catholic as it is historically connected to Lithuania and Poland . The Suiti are a Catholic minority in the west of the country . Both churches played an important role in the " Singing Revolution " and gained many new members during this time. The Catholic Church in Latvia has around 407,000 residents.

The part of the population of Russian descent is committed to the Russian Orthodox Church. There are up to 400,000 people.

There are Jewish synagogue communities in nine Latvian cities . The number of the Jewish population is about 9,000. Before the Holocaust , Jewish religion and culture played an important role in the area of ​​Latvia.

Around 8,000 Latvians are committed to the Dievturība movement, which is linked to pre-Christian paganism.

In addition, there are up to 6,000 followers of Islam in Latvia, of whom only a small number actually profess to be religious. Most of them are Tatars (~ 2,600) and Azerbaijanis (~ 1,900), plus around 1,000 other ethnic Muslims from the former republics of the USSR and some Muslim immigrants.

More than 40% of the Latvian population are non-denominational.


Baltic tribes in the 12th century

In the 2nd millennium BC The first Indo-European tribes , the forerunners of the later Latvians and Lithuanians , settled in Latvia. They displaced or assimilated the Finngric tribes that had previously lived there . In ancient scriptures the Balts are called Aisti or Aesti .

The settlement areas of the Balts and Livs in the early Middle Ages were split up into numerous small principalities. From 1202 the Latvian minor principalities were conquered by the Order of the Brothers of the Swords, which became part of the Teutonic Order in 1237 . At the same time, the immigration of Germans began. For centuries, the German upper class provided the urban bourgeoisie and the large landowners. In the course of the Reformation, Latvia became Lutheran . Under pressure from the surrounding powers, the territory of the Livonian Confederation became dependent on Poland-Lithuania in the 16th century , which is why parts of Latvia are now Catholic . Up until the 18th century the Baltic states were fought over between Russia, Sweden and Poland . Due to the numerous wars and epidemics in their wake, the population fell considerably. As a result of the Third Partition of Poland , the territory of Latvia was annexed to the Russian Empire in 1795 . While the Baltic Germans were able to retain their privileges and their cultural influence, a largely homogeneous Latvian population had emerged with the assimilation of the Liv people.

First independence

In the 19th century and especially in the beginning of the 20th century, the Latvians began to strive for independence with the young Latvians and the New Current . After the First World War , Latvia declared independence on November 18, 1918 and was able to enforce it in the Latvian War of Independence . In the 1920s, Latvia experienced an economic and cultural boom. In 1922 alone, 300 municipal libraries were opened. In terms of the number of books published (in relation to the number of inhabitants), Latvia was in second place in Europe after Iceland. Beginning in 1920, the Latvian state opened diplomatic missions in many European countries, as well as in China and the United States. On November 7, 1922, the constitution of the Republic of Latvia , which is still valid today, came into force. Latvia also joined the League of Nations . The minority legislation was very tolerant for the time; the state had schools in seven minority languages. After the coup on May 15, 1934 , Kārlis Ulmanis partially suspended the constitution. He ruled the state in an authoritarian manner.

Second World War

Latvia 1920–1940

During the Second World War , Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940 . After rigged elections, parliament applied for integration into the Soviet Union; The Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic was established on the territory of Latvia . Most western states did not recognize Latvia de jure as part of the Soviet Union, but the vast majority of it de facto . During the Soviet occupation, more than 15,000 people or 0.78% of the population were deported to gulags and the so-called special settlements on June 14, 1941 . According to ethnicity, 81.3% of the deportees were Latvians and 11.7% were Jews. 40% of the deportees did not survive the ordeal and died on the way or from the consequences of inhuman work. The death penalty was executed by shooting on 700 people. A year later, Latvia was occupied by the German Empire . During the Nazi occupation, over 70,000 Latvian Jews and 20,000 Jews who had been deported to Latvia from the German Reich and the occupied territories were murdered; also with the participation of local collaborators. About 140,000 Latvians were organized in SS units during the Second World War. Latvian SS units were involved in numerous war crimes. Towards the end of the Second World War, Latvia was conquered by the Red Army and again incorporated into the Soviet Union as the Latvian SSR . Tens of thousands of Latvians were deported under Soviet rule, including more than 42,000 Latvians, mostly women and children, to Siberia in the course of the March 1949 deportations to the Baltic States . The Latvian SSR was exposed to a policy of russification.

Restoration of independence

On May 4, 1990, the Supreme Council of the LSSR decided to "restore independence". However, the parliamentary decision could only become de facto effective with the collapse of the Soviet Union on August 21, 1991. In 2004 the Republic of Latvia became a member of the European Union and joined NATO .


On January 1, 2014, Latvia became the second of the Baltic states to introduce the euro .


On July 1, 2016, she joined the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development .


Egils Levits has been President of the Republic since 2019
The Prime Minister has been
Krišjānis Kariņš since 2019


The Constitution of Latvia (Satversme) represents the basic law of the independent democratic republic of Latvia. In Latvia the modernized constitution of February 15, 1922 applies, which in the meantime, first partially by the authoritarian government of Karlis Ulmanis in 1936, then de facto completely by the Soviet occupation in 1940 has been overridden. After regaining independence on May 4, 1990, the constitution initially came into force partially and on July 6, 1993 in full. Since then, the constitution has been amended several times.

The Constitution of Latvia is one of the oldest still valid constitutions in Europe, it is the sixth oldest valid republican constitution in the world.

Latvia is a parliamentary democracy. The President appoints and dismisses the elected government and represents Latvia to other states. He also acts as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and has the right to initiate legislation, which is used sporadically. He regularly attends meetings of the Cabinet and Parliament ( Saeima ).

Government affairs and the management of the cabinet are incumbent on the Prime Minister , who must be elected by a majority of the 100 MPs.

The cabinet consists of 17 ministries and is chaired by the prime minister; the cabinet also includes the respective state secretaries and the parliamentary group leaders of the ruling parties who, however, have no voting rights. The government of Krišjānis Kariņš took office in January 2019. In the political spectrum, the government coalition can be classified as the center-right.

On November 18, 1918, the Independent Democratic Republic of Latvia was proclaimed by the Council of the People . The Council of the People approved the Law on Elections to the Constituent Assembly and the Law on Civil Rights , which provided that a constituent assembly was to be elected by general, equal, direct, secret ballot. Citizens over 21 who lived in Latvia had the right to vote and stand for election. This introduced women's suffrage at the national level. Similar regulations have been adopted for local elections. Because of the First World War, the elections for the Constituent Assembly could only be held on April 17 and 18, 1920. This introduced universal active and passive suffrage for women and men at the same time in Latvia. Women were also allowed to vote under Soviet administration, and this right was confirmed when independence was restored in 1990.

In the 2019 Democracy Index of the British magazine The Economist, Latvia ranks 38th out of 167 countries and is considered an "incomplete democracy".

Foreign policy

Latvia's foreign policy is oriented towards the West; relations with Russia are rather tense.

At the EU summit on 12./13. December 2002 in Copenhagen discussed and decided the 15 heads of government to admit Lithuania and nine other states to the European Union on May 1, 2004 . In a referendum on September 20, 2003, the Latvian population entitled to vote approved this project with 66.97%. In the course of NATO's eastward expansion , Latvia became a member of NATO in April 2004 . Riga hosted the 2006 NATO Summit, and since then the annual Riga Conference has become a leading forum for Northern Europe's foreign and security policy. The Latvian National Armed Forces ( Latvian Nacionālie bruņotie spēki ) are the military of the Republic of Latvia. According to Article 42 of the Latvian Constitution , the President is its supreme leader. In the event of war, he appoints a commander in chief.

Latvia was a member of the League of Nations from 1921 to 1946 . Today it is a member of the United Nations, the European Union, the Council of Europe , NATO, the OECD ( Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe ), the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization and is part of the Schengen area . Latvia is also a member of the Baltic Sea Council and the Nordic Investment Bank. Since the early 1990s, Latvia has been actively involved in trilateral cooperation with its Baltic neighbors, Estonia and Lithuania, and within the framework of the Nordic-Baltic cooperation with the Nordic countries. The governments of Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden are cooperating within the framework of the Nordic-Baltic Eight ( NB-8 ). The Nordic-Baltic Six ( NB-6 ) consists of all Nordic and Baltic countries that are EU members and is a forum for discussing issues affecting the EU.

Latvia has diplomatic relations with 158 states and embassies in 35 countries, 37 countries have an embassy in Riga. Latvia hosts an EU organization, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications .


Since January 1, 2007, Latvia has had a professional army entirely based on contracts . Latvia participates in international and peacekeeping security operations and has been a member of NATO since 2004 . In 2017, Latvia spent 1.7% of GDP on defense, and in 2018 the defense budget is expected to reach the 2% recommended by NATO.


The courts in Latvia decide

  • 9 district / city courts ( rajona / pilsētas tiesa ) and the district administrative court ( administratīvā rajona tiesa )
  • 5 regional courts ( apgabaltiesa ) and the regional administrative court ( administratīvā apgabaltiesa )
  • the Supreme Court ( Augstākā tiesa )
  • and the Constitutional Court ( Satversmes tiesa ).

State budget

The state budget in 2016 comprised expenditures of the equivalent of 10.10 billion dollars, which was offset by revenue of the equivalent of 9.76 billion dollars, resulting in a budget deficit of 1.2% of economic output. Total government debt was 34.3% of GDP in 2016.

Share of government expenditure (in% of GDP) in the following areas:


The flag is supposed to represent the white, blood-soaked linen cloth in which a Latgall tribal prince was laid to rest. The blood-red stripes of the flag symbolize his arms outstretched in agony, the white line in the middle the place on which the body of the tribal prince lay. As early as the 13th century, the " Livonian Rhyming Chronicle" reported this flag as a war standard of the Latvian and Semgallic tribes.

Administrative division

Political organization of Latvia

Latvia is divided into nine independent cities and 110 districts ( novads ).

49% of the population of Latvia live in the seven largest cities, which with a total territory of 664 km² only take 1% of the country's area. The rest of the population lives in the countryside.

Riga , the capital of Latvia
No. city Residents Area
March 31, 2000 Jan. 1, 2005 Jan. 1, 2015 Jan. 1, 2005
1. Riga (German Riga ) 764,329 731.762 698.086 307
2. Daugavpils ( Dünaburg ) 115.265 110.379 96,792 75
3. Liepāja ( Libau ) 89,448 86,264 78,787 60
4th Jelgava ( Mitau ) 63,652 66,136 61,961 60
5. Jūrmala ( Riga Beach ) 55,718 55,603 57,671 100
6th Ventspils ( Windau ) 43,928 44,017 40.273 45
7th Rēzekne ( Rositten ) 39,233 36,798 31,886 17th
largest cities overall 1,171,573 1,130,959 1,065,438 664
Latvia as a whole 2,377,383 2,304,434 2.160.125 64,598


Latvia is part of the European single market . Together with 18 other EU member states (blue) it forms a monetary union, the euro zone .

Economic data

The growth of the gross domestic product (GDP) in Latvia has always been over six percent since the Russian crisis was overcome (from 2000), especially after joining the EU in 2004 . In 2005 growth was 10.2%. Households and companies, however, also accumulated high debts during the boom years. The GDP in 2017 was 27.03 billion euros. That is 13,900 euros per head of the population (for comparison: Germany 39,600 euros). If one compares the GDP according to purchasing power standards (i.e. according to the purchasing power of one euro) with the EU average (EU-28: 100), Latvia achieved a value of 67 in 2017 (Germany: 124); the value had increased significantly since 2000 (then: 36 ).

According to the World Bank, Latvia ranks 22nd among the most business-friendly countries. In the Global Competitiveness Index , which measures a country's competitiveness, Latvia ranks 49th out of 138 countries (as of 2016/17). In 2017, Latvia was ranked 20th out of 180 countries in the Economic Freedom Index .

The global economic and financial crisis made itself felt in Latvia at the end of 2007. The Latvian government responded with large cuts in government spending and received a capital injection from abroad amounting to a third of gross domestic product (GDP). In 2008 the GDP fell by 4.6%, in 2009 the economy even collapsed by 14.4%. Between 2007 and 2010, the unemployment rate rose from seven to up to 21 percent. The number of employees in the state sector fell by 30 percent and public salaries were cut by 40 percent. The statutory minimum wage has been - since January 1, 2018 - 430 euros per month and 2.48 euros per hour.

GDP growth rates in Latvia compared to the EU and Eurozone
year 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
LatviaLatvia Latvia 10.1 11.0 10.0 −3.5 −14.4 −3.9 6.4 4.0 2.4 1.9 3.0 2.1 4.6 4.8
European UnionEuropean Union European Union 2.2 3.4 3.1 0.5 −4.3 2.1 1.8 −0.4 0.3 1.8 2.3 2.0 2.4 2.0
Euro symbol.svg Eurozone 1.7 3.2 3.0 0.4 −4.4 2.1 1.6 −0.9 −0.3 1.4 2.1 2.0 2.4 1.9

The unemployment rate fell to 11.4% by June 2014. Thanks to a positive overall economic development, it fell to 9.2% by October 2017. According to Eurostat , 21.3% of the population in Latvia were at risk of poverty in 2010 and 27.4% of Latvians lived under considerable material deprivation (EU-27 average: 16.4 and 8.1% respectively).

Latvia is the poorest country in the three Baltic states.


Foreign direct investment totaled 3.1 billion euros by mid-2004. With total investments of 435 million euros (1st quarter 2004; corresponds to 15%), Germany ranks first ahead of Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway and the USA. This position is essentially based on the expansion of Nord / LB also to Latvia (own subsidiary). The following large companies and investors are also active in Latvia:

  • Banking: SEB (S / shares in Unibanka), Hansabanka (EE-SF), Vereins- und Westbank (D)
  • Energy: Ruhrgas / eon and Gazprom (D and RU / shares in Latvijas Gaze), Den Norske Stats (N / Erdöl (Statoil)), Shell (UK-NL / Erdöl), Transneftegaz (RU / Erdöl), Neste (SF / Oil)
  • Real estate and retail: LinstowWarner (N / Immobilien), Preatoni Group (I / u. A. Domina Hotels), Polarbek (USA / Radisson Hotel), Stockmann (SF), Kesko (SF)
  • Telecommunications: TeliaSonera (S / SF, shares in Lattelekom and LMT (mobile communications)), Tele2 (S)
  • various: Rinzai (HKG-SGP / Acot Industries (metal model construction)), SAS (S / DK; shares in Air Baltic)

Young companies and startups

According to the World Bank , Latvia ranks 22nd among the most business-friendly countries in the world. This makes Latvia one of the most attractive countries for new companies. With 72 representatives among the 5000 fastest growing companies in the world, Riga was rated by Inc. business magazine as one of the most successful startup locations in Europe (7th place).

At the end of 2016, the Saeima, the Latvian parliament, passed a startup law that is unique in Europe by a large majority. If a company meets the necessary basic criteria, it can take advantage of significant tax breaks. A recognized startup company pays a maximum of 252 euros in taxes per employee. Further taxes are only due when the salary exceeds 4050 euros. The law came into force on January 1, 2017.

Currency and prices

Until December 31, 2013, the national currency of Latvia was the Lats (international abbreviation LVL ), which was introduced in March 1993 and replaced the Latvian ruble ( Latvijas rublis ), which had been in circulation as a transitional currency for a year. The euro has been in circulation since January 1, 2014.

The price development in Latvia was moderate after an economic depression in 1998/99 ( Russian crisis), but with inflation rates between 2.5 and 3% it always progressed faster than in the neighboring countries Estonia and Lithuania. With accession to the EU, there were considerable fluctuations (e.g. 15% in 2007 and −1.22% in 2010). In 2017 and 2018 the inflation rate was around 3%.

In the context of the international financial crisis that started in 2007 , Latvian citizens were arrested in October 2008 on charges of weakening the national currency through opinions or economic forecasts. But even the suppression of these opinions was of no use: the government intervened several times, albeit unsuccessfully, on the foreign exchange market. Attempts to sell more government bonds at the end of May 2009 also failed. On June 4, 2009, the EU Commission officially asked Latvia to reduce the national deficit, at the time it was even feared that it would go bankrupt . Lower spending was a prerequisite for further IMF loans.

The unemployment rate rose to 18.3% by August 2009, almost tripling the same period last year. Nevertheless, Latvia found a way out of the crisis at the time.

With effect from January 1, 2005, the lats was pegged to the euro at an exchange rate of EUR 1 = LVL 0.702804. The Latvian central bank kept the Lats exchange rate within a range of ± 1% against the euro until the introduction of the euro. According to the company, the Maastricht criteria have been met since 2012. In June 2013 the EU Commission signaled that Latvia would become the 18th member of the euro zone in 2014, and in July the introduction of the euro from January 1, 2014 was finally approved.

Foreign trade

The importance of foreign trade (both exports and imports) for the Latvian economy has increased significantly over the past decade. The country relies on "alliances with successful countries" (Sweden, Russia, Germany).

In 2011, exports totaled around 6 billion lats , and imports around 7.6 billion lats. The deficit in the trade balance is thus 1.6 billion lats. Positive balance sheets for services, direct investment and other transfer payments reduced this deficit in the balance of payments , but remained high.

In 2004, the exchange of goods with the neighboring countries ( Estonia , Lithuania, Russia , Belarus) and with Poland in particular intensified.

  • The main export countries in 2004 were:
  • Main export products:
    • Wood and wood products (over 30% of exports)
    • Metals and metal products (14%)
    • Textiles (11%)


Manufacturing accounts for a quarter of Latvia's GDP. Important industries are:


Latvia generates over a third (38%) of electricity from hydropower, which comes from three hydropower plants on the Daugava . The rest of the self-generated electricity comes from two large combustion power plants near Riga (TEC-1 and TEC-2), which burn natural gas and, if natural gas is not available in emergencies, heavy fuel oil (Masut). Peat is the only primary fuel (besides wood) that Latvia produces itself and accounts for a good fifth of energy from fossil fuels. Oil, natural gas and coal have to be imported in full (mostly from Russia). A small part of the energy demand is covered by imported electricity from Estonia (electricity from oil shale power plants near Narva ). The German company PreussenElektra built a pilot wind farm on the border with Estonia near Ainaži in 1995 , which was followed by a larger project near Liepāja (German: Libau ), but the feed-in of wind energy is negligible. The Latvian energy supplier Latvenergo was involved in the Visaginas nuclear power plant project, which was jointly pursued by the Baltic States and Poland.

In addition to its own energy consumption, Latvia is also an important transit country for energy. Two oil pipelines run from Polatsk in Belarus to Ventspils on the Baltic Sea and one through Latvian territory to Mažeikiai in Lithuania. The operator is the Latvian-Russian joint venture LatRosTrans . The end station of the pipeline, Ventspils, is (still) the largest loading port for crude oil and petroleum products in the Baltic Sea. However, Russia's state-owned oil transport company Transneft , which is also involved in LatRosTrans (see direct investments), has been draining the pipeline for economic policy reasons since 2003 (Transneft explains, however, that the pipeline contains leaks) in order to build its own oil ports in Russia (Primorsk near St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad). The replacement transport by rail could naturally not compensate for this loss.


In 2018, Latvia was ranked 70th out of 160 countries in the Logistics Performance Index , which is compiled by the World Bank and measures the quality of infrastructure.

Rail transport

The state railway company Latvijas Dzelzceļš (LDZ) is so far the only railway company. It operates on the principles of market economy and focuses on the transport of goods to the Latvian ports of Ventspils and Liepāja . In terms of freight transport, Latvia is the country where rail has the highest value in Europe, accounting for 64% of the total traffic volume. Passenger transport by rail has been losing importance for years.

Latvijas Dzelzceļš operates a star-shaped route network with a gauge of 1520 mm towards Riga. In passenger traffic, the S-Bahn- like suburban train traffic in the greater Riga area and the connections via Daugavpils to Russia , Belarus and Lithuania are served. The western Latvian port city of Liepāja has also been connected to the capital Riga by a pair of passenger trains every day since 2007. Since February 15, 2010, the rail connection has only been offered on Friday / Sunday (Riga – Liepāja) or Saturday / Monday (Liepāja – Riga).

The train connection between Germany and Latvia is connected with several changes because of the different gauge.


The entire road network in 2013 comprised around 72,440 km, of which 14,707 km were paved. The Latvian road network is divided into three levels:

  1. The main traffic arteries are formed by 15  main state roads - A1bis A15-, which - like the railway network - are star-shaped towards Riga.
  2. 133 1st-order state roads - to - and - run  between and within the administrative districts of LatviaP1P133
  3. 1489 other connecting roads - V 1 to V 1489 - as 2nd order state roads .

Then there are the inner-city streets as well as field and forest paths and private roads. The state joint-stock company of Latvia State Roads is responsible for maintaining the public roads .

The main state roads are partially developed like a motorway. They are roughly comparable to Germany's federal highways. Private transport is steadily increasing in importance. A large part of the passenger traffic is handled by the bus on a dense and well-frequented network. There is also an extensive line network for international traffic, which also connects most of the major German cities with the Latvian capital Riga.

Latvia has one of the most extensive road networks in Europe. The proportion of state roads is 312 m / km². The proportion of all roads is 1081 m / km².

The bus network is much more closely meshed than the Latvian rail network. It is served by a large number of national bus routes as well as numerous long-distance bus routes to neighboring countries and many EU countries . The most important international bus line operators are Eurolines, Ecolines and Nordeka. The drive from Riga to Berlin takes about 18 hours. Riga can be reached in around 12 to 14 hours by car.

Air traffic

The most important airline is Air Baltic , which mainly flies to destinations in Northern , Central and Western Europe as well as in Russia and the former CIS countries. It is based at Riga Airport , the largest airport in the Baltic States. In the winter season there are 68 flights a week from Riga to Germany, in the summer season 87 flights.


The most important sea ports are Riga , Liepāja and Ventspils . From here, among other things, Russian oil is shipped. There are also ferry connections to Sweden , Denmark and Germany .


Over the past decade, Latvia has ranked 3rd to 10th in various Internet speed rankings worldwide, depending on the measurement method. In 2016, Latvia was ranked 8th between Switzerland and Finland . In terms of the share of fiber optic networks in broadband Internet, Latvia took second place worldwide in 2016, behind Japan, which came first . Nationwide, Latvia has more than 4,500 free WiFi hotspots . 930 of the free Wi-Fi hotspots are offered in the capital Riga, that is three per km².


Final parade of the song festival 2013

Latvia is culturally influenced mainly by northern Europeans. The old towns have the typical elements common in the Hanseatic League . The current Latvian culture also has diverse relationships with Sweden and Finland , but above all with the northern German cultural area.

Latvia is particularly known for its folklore and folk music culture, in which pre-Christian ideas of the old Latvian religion play a central role. Of the typical Dainas - mostly four-line, rhyming songs on all imaginable topics from mythology to the lowlands of everyday life - over a million have now been collected, which should be world class in relation to the population. The collection, systematisation and publication of this oral tradition was started at the end of the 19th century by Krišjānis barons ; his specially made Daina cupboard is now considered a kind of national shrine. Many old, but still alive customs and dainas are entwined around the midsummer festival Jāņi on June 23 and 24, which are national holidays in Latvia .

In Riga (during the Soviet era also in various places in western countries) there is a large song festival every five years , in which several hundred Latvian, exiled Latvian and international choirs take part.

Similarly to Estonia , the city culture and the large estates to the land reform of 1921 and the "Heimrufung" of the German minority in 1939 was the German Reich in German - and thus for centuries and the intelligence of the country. The Jewish minority, which had become increasingly important economically up to the National Socialist occupation in July 1941 , was almost entirely murdered during the Holocaust .


In the 2019 press freedom list published by Reporters Without Borders , Latvia was ranked 24th out of 180 countries.

Five national daily newspapers appear in Latvia , including Diena , Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze and Latvijas Avīze . 76.3% of the population had an Internet connection in 2016 ; the broadband coverage rate was 6.4%. Latvia has a public television and radio broadcaster ( Latvijas Televīzija and Latvijas Radio ).


Sport is very important in Latvia. As early as 1924, the country took part in the Winter Olympics in Chamonix for the first time and continued this independent participation until the occupation by the USSR in 1940. Until then, Latvian athletes had won three medals at the Olympic Games. After regaining independence, the national sports federations formed again, and since then Latvian athletes have won 23 further medals.

Ice hockey is the Latvian national sport . The first ice hockey game on Latvian soil was held in 1909. The 2006 Ice Hockey World Championship took place in Riga. In addition to ice hockey, basketball is also popular. Latvia won the first ever European basketball championship in 1935 , ahead of Spain and Czechoslovakia . In 1939 Latvia was runner-up. In the 2016/17 season, Latvia has two players in the NBA , the strongest basketball league in the world. Women's basketball is also developed at a high level. Football , especially the national team, has only received greater attention since the first European qualification in 2004.

Latvia has its own bobsleigh and racing sledge track in Sigulda . European and world championships take place there regularly. In Bobsleigh and Skeleton Latvian athletes belong to the world elite.

In motorsport , the Grand Prix of Latvia was held in Daugavpils from 2006 to 2009 and 2013 as part of the Individual Speedway World Championship. In August 2014 it took place in the capital Riga . In 2016 the FIA World Rallycross Championship WRX took place in Riga for the first time .

In tennis , Latvia has two WTA world class players in its ranks: Jelena Ostapenko and Anastasia Sevastova . Ostapenko was the first Latvian to win a Grand Slam tournament in June 2017 at the age of almost 20, when she defeated Simona Halep in the final of the French Open in Paris and was fifth in the women's world rankings in March 2018. Sevastova, who like Ostapenko represents Latvia in the Federation Cup, was already in 11th place in the world rankings.


public holidays

According to some researchers and legends, Riga was home to the world's first Christmas tree in 1510 . Others, however, place this invention in Strasbourg in Alsace .

The most important holiday is St John's Day (Jāņi festival) on June 24th, which is celebrated with its eve (Līgo festival) on June 23rd as a two-day midsummer festival. This festival is characterized by numerous traditions. You dance traditional folk dances, weave wreaths of flowers, brew and drink a special beer and eat cheese with it. As soon as the sun goes down on June 23rd, great fires are lit. There is no sleep that night, because that supposedly brings bad luck for the following year, until the next midsummer celebration.

Other official holidays are:

  • New Year (January 1st)
  • Good Friday
  • Easter
  • Labor Day (May 1st)
  • Midsummer Day - Jāņi (Summer Solstice) (June 23 and 24)
  • Restoration of independence 1990 (May 4th)
  • Proclamation of the Republic of Latvia 1918 (National Day) (November 18)
  • Christmas (December 25th and 26th)
  • New Years Eve (December 31st)

The Latvian name days are of great importance . For many Latvians of the older and middle generations, especially in Latgale, their name day is more important than their birthday. On the name day, the family is invited and the “name child” is given presents and sung about - just like on a birthday.

See also


  • C. Grewingk: Geology of Livonia and Courland . Dorpat 1859 (digitized version)
  • Klemens Ludwig: Latvia . (= Beck series. Countries. 882). Beck, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-406-44782-1 .
  • Thomas Schmidt: The political system of Latvia. In: Wolfgang Ismayr : The political systems of Eastern Europe. 3rd, updated and expanded edition. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2010, ISBN 978-3-531-16201-0 , pp. 123-170.
  • Baltic Bibliography. Literature about Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania . Herder Institute, Marburg 1994–, ISSN  1436-4786

Web links

Commons : Latvia  - album containing pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Latvia  - explanations of meanings, origins of words, synonyms, translations
 Wikinews: Latvia  - in the news
Wikisource: Latvia  - Sources and full texts
Wikivoyage: Latvia  - Travel Guide

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Coordinates: 57 °  N , 25 °  E