Latvia at a glance

General facts and figures

Official name: Republic of Latvia
Capital city: Riga
Local time: GMT +2
Official language: Latvian
Most common foreign languages: Russian, English, German
Border countries: Belarus 141 km, Estonia 343 km, Lithuania 588 km, Russia 276 km
Coastline: 498 km (Baltic Sea and Gulf of Riga)
Surface Area: total: 64,589 sq km
land: 63,589 sq km
water: 1,000 sq km
Highest point: Gaizina Kalns 312 m
Population: 2.23 million (December 2010 est.)

Brief history of Latvia

House of Blackheads in Old Riga
© Photo: Imans Urtāns/ The Latvian Institute, www.latvia.lv

The present-day territory of Latvia and ancestors of the Latvian people have been subjects of various European powers over the centuries. In the 13th century to 1561, it was the German religious orders. Then Poland conquered the territory in 1562 and occupied it until Sweden took over the land in 1629, ruling until 1721. Then the land passed to Imperial Russia. From 1721 until 1918, the Latvians remained subjects of the Russian Tsar, although they preserved their language, customs, and folklore.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 gave Latvians their opportunity for freedom, and the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed on Nov. 18, 1918. The Republic lasted little more than 20 years. It was occupied by Russian troops in and incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940. German armies occupied the nation from 1941 to 1944. In 1944, Russia again took control of Latvia until 1990 when the Soviet Union started to collapse.

The Republic of Latvia has been continuously recognised as a state by other countries since 1920 despite occupations by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. On August 21, 1991 Latvia declared the restoration of its de facto independence. Latvia has been an official EU Member State since 2004.

Politics

Latvia is a parliamentary democracy. Parliamentary elections take place every four years. The Parliament elects the President and the President appoints a Prime Minister who forms the Cabinet of Ministers or government.

Entertainment, sports and leisure

Brass player
© Photo: Valts Kleins (Foto Banka)
The Latvian Institute, www.latvia.lv

Latvia has a vibrant cultural life. Classical and modern music and dance performances are high quality. Folk music and dance traditions are alive and play a large role in everyday life from teaching children morals at school to nation-wide song and dance festivals held every four years. Latvians are also big fans of contemporary music. Museums cover all sorts of topics and eras. Cinema theatres show films in the original language with subtitles.

Swimming, track and field, basketball, volleyball and fitness are activities you can do at practically every university. Bowling and golf are rapidly gaining popularity with facilities opening around the country. Hockey, football and basketball are the most popular spectator sports. By popular demand, bars set up large screen TVs during championships. When Latvian teams reach international play-offs people may even skip work to watch.

National cuisine

Rye bread
© Photo: Andris Tone/ The Latvian Institute, www.latvia.lv

Latvians enjoy eating - food is the central element of almost any celebration. Traditional food is filling and nourishing, because of the northern climate and the hard work farmers and fishermen were used to do. Meat, fish, potatoes and dairy products are the most popular components of main dish meals. Salads are more often composed of vegetables than of greens, and sour cream or mayonnaise is the preferred dressing.

Contemporary Latvians are still very fond of their traditional dark rye bread and mostly choose food that is in season to get the best flavour and price. Many people enjoy growing their own fruits and vegetables or harvesting wild berries and mushrooms from the forests. Of course, one can find a variety of fruit and vegetables from around the world all through the year at supermarkets.

To find out more go to Latvia.eu website.

See also Practical study info