Facts & Figures
For more information on Latvia, see The Latvian Institute website: www.li.lv
Latvia: a keystone of the 'New Europe'
Latvia is a keystone of Northern Europe's Baltic Seas region. On the world map Latvia can be found in North-Eastern Europe, on the east coast of the Baltic Sea. A country with a language, culture and attitude all its own, yet with a national identity shaped by the surrounding dynamic Northern European region and woven through with diverse historical influences. A country that survived two world wars and 50 years behind the Iron Curtain, in 2011 entered its thrid decade of renewed independence. In 2004 it became a NATO and EU country. In 2014, the country plans to adopt the euro currency if budget and inflation conditions are appropriately met.
Latvia: where is it?
Latvia borders Estonia, Russia, Belarus, and Lithuania. It is situated on a trading crossroads and has long since served as a bridge between Western Europe and Russia. The famous 'route of the Vikings to the Greeks' mentioned in ancient chronicles stretched from Scandinavia through Latvian territory along the Daugava River to the ancient Russian and Byzantine Empire.
The population of Latvia today is around 2.1 million. The ethnic composition is around 62% Latvian and 28% Russian. The diverse ethnic mix of the population of Latvia is largely the result of massive post-war immigration, which resulted in a decline in the share of ethnic Latvians from 77% in 1935 to around 62% today. There are more than 1.5 million ethnic Latvians in the world, and approximately 90% of them live in Latvia. Other Latvians can be found in the USA, Russia, Australia, Canada, the UK and Germany, as well as Brazil, Lithuania, Sweden, Estonia, and Ireland. In fact, there is hardly a country in the world where Latvians have not made their presence felt. Even if you have not yet visited Latvia, you stand a good chance of meeting a Latvian somewhere else. Almost 30,000 people of Latvian descent live in the U.S.
The Latvian language
As one of 250 major languages in the world (spoken by more than 1 million people), the Latvian language is also one of the oldest. Latvian belongs to the Indo-European language family, and together with Lithuanian, forms the Baltic language group, related to, but separate from the Slavic and Germanic language groups. The total number of Latvian speakers in the world exceeds 2 million, and for 1.4 million of them it is their native language.
Latvia's flag: one of the oldest in existence
The Latvian flag is one of the oldest in the world. Written records of the red-white-red Latvian flag have existed since the second half of the 13th century. The distinctive dark red color of the Latvian flag is sometimes referred to, by the rest of the world, as 'Latvian red'.
Latvia: from 2000 BC to 2012 AD
The forefathers of the Latvian people first arrived in the Baltic region in 2000 BC. In the 9th century AD the ancient Balts began to establish specific tribal realms. The territory of modern Latvia was inhabited by four major Baltic tribal cultures - the Couronians, Latgallians, Selonians and Semigallians, and a Finno-Ugric tribe, the Livs. In the 13th century Latvia was invaded by armed Germanic crusaders, who founded Riga and established control over the indigenous people and territory. Over the ensuing centuries, traders and invaders from Germany, Poland, Sweden and Russia established a presence in Latvia, alongside the local Latvian and Liv inhabitants.
In the late 19th century Latvia was politically ruled by Russia and economically controlled by Baltic Germans, yet the majority of Latvia's inhabitants were ethnic Latvians and descendants of the original Baltic and Liv tribes. In November 1918, the Latvian people finally established the Latvian state.
During WW II Latvia suffered three invasions and occupations. As many as 120,000 Latvians were deported to Soviet concentration camps in Siberia, 140,000 fled to the West, and thousands more perished or disappeared in the conflict. During the Soviet occupation between 1940 and 1991, hundreds of thousands of Soviets of various nationalities were brought into Latvia, reducing the indigenous ethnic Latvian population to nearly 50%.
In 1990, the people of Latvia elected a majority of pro-independence deputies to what was then the ruling Soviet parliamentary body, the Supreme Council of Latvia. The new Supreme Council voted to begin the political process of removing Soviet rule and restoring full independence to Latvia. On 21 August 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Latvian Supreme Council adopted a resolution for the full restoration of Latvian independence. The Supreme Council was abolished in late 1992, paving way for the first post-independence Latvian parliament, elected on 5-6 June 1993.
The new 5th Saeima, continuing the link with the pre-war parliaments of Latvia, elected Guntis Ulmanis the new President of the Republic of Latvia in 1993. Re-elected in 1996, President Ulmanis was followed by Dr. Vaira Vike-Freiberga. Dr. Vike-Freiberga was elected as President in 1999 and re-elected for a second term in 2003. Dr. Valdia Zalters assumed office as President on July 8, 2007. At the completion of his term in July 2011, Dr. Valdis Zatlers was succeeded as President of Latvia by Mr. Andris Berzins who took office on July 8, 2011.
In Latvia's parliamentary democracy, the President appoints a Prime Minister (who must be approved by the Saeima) and signs laws into power. Mr. Valdis Dombrovskis is the current Prime Minister of Latvia, now serving his third term following the latest elections in September 2011 for the 11th Saeima.
Latvia: a foreign policy success story
Latvia's foreign policy, like its economic policy, has been one of the success stories of the post Cold War era. Latvia gained EU and NATO membership in 2004, much earlier than expected. Special ties have always existed with the United States, which never recognized the legitimacy of Soviet rule in Latvia following WW II. Latvia's first diplomatic mission in the US was established in 1922 and continued to function in Washington DC throughout the 50 years of Soviet occupation. Full diplomatic ties were renewed in 1991 when President George H.W. Bush was President. Subsequently, Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have sought an active partnership with Latvia, with President Clinton visiting Riga in 1994 with Mrs Hillary Rodham Clinton., and President George W. Bush in 2005 and in 2006.
Latvia in the international arena
Latvia's commitment to global cooperation is reflected in its membership of the WTO, World Bank, IMF,WHO and other international bodies. Latvia has actively participated in NATO and EU-led international operations, including Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzogovina, Kosvo, and Afghanistan. Latvian soldiers are currently deployed with the ISAF in Afganistan. Latvia is steadily expanding its ties with all regions of the global community. It has 35 diplomatic missions around the world, with embassies and trade offices in most countries.
Latvia: after too rapid growth the economy has moved towards a more sustainable recovery during 2011 and 2012
Until 2007, Latvia was one of the most dynamic and fastest
growing economies in all of Europe. Over the period 1995-2007 Latvia's economy grew
by an average of 7.6% per annum. This phenomenal success was in part due to rapid price
and trade liberalization, extensive small and large-scale privatization and rapid
financial sector reform since the early 1990's. Assisted by exuberant foreign investor inflows and in
hindsight loose domestic fiscal policy, during 2005-2007 Latvia was the
fastest growing economy in Europe. In 2008-2009 as the effects of the global
economic slowdown started to impact and global credit crisis hit hard, Latvia’s
growth pace slowed sharply - not a surprising result given the open nature of
the Latvian economy and its dependence on global trade and financial flows.
During 2009 with public sector finances deteriorating
rapidly and credit markets seizing up the government was forced to tighten
fiscal policy (cut spending and raise taxes) in return for emergency support
from the IMF and EU. As a result, the economy shrank -17.7% in 2009 and unemployment rose sharply, reaching 17.4% in Mrach 2010. In 2010 the
economy contracted a further -0.3% after the downturn
bottomed out in the first half of 2010 and the year-on-year growth in GDP
turned positive again in Q3 2010 (after 9 quarters of negative growth).
The recovery continued through 2011, with the GDP growth recovering coming in faster than expected at +5.5%. The key driver in this ongoing recovery was exports and with it improved manufacturing output and competitiveness. At the end of 2011 Latvia concluded its IMF assistance programme. The IMF together with the EU provided Latvia around EUR 4.4 bn of loan moneies during this assistance period (vs. an expected EUR 7.3 bn credit line).
During 2012, Latvia continued to experience better than
expected economic growth, notwithstanding the financial crisis that hit many
countries in Europe. Growth at 5.6% put Latvia in the lead among the
European Union (EU) countries. Exports were the largest contributor to GDP growth in 2012: almost
all main commodity groups experienced export growth in the third quarter which
exceeded that of the imports. Moreover, the economic growth was supported by
rising private consumption due to improvement in the purchasing power of
households. Finally, even though the contribution from investment was
not quite as large as in the previous quarters, it still accounted for a rather
substantial part of GDP growth for the year as a whole
Further development of the Latvian economy will be largely dependent
on the developments in Latvia's main trade partners. In 2013, Latvia's economic growth is expected to decelerate
as a result of weaker export development compared to this year. Nevertheless, the Latvian GDP growth, at around 3-4%,
will once again remain among the fastest in the EU in 2013.
Looking back, from a positive perspective, the sharp
recession experienced in 2008-2010 has helped Latvia to consolidate its
economic position after a long period of very rapid growth, which during the
period 2000-2006 became extremely unbalanced due to rapid government spending,
strong capital inflows from abroad, and excessive private sector credit growth,
which fuelled a property bubble, excessive domestic demand and blow-out in the current
There is evidence that important lessons have been learned
from this bubble growth period and going forward, the painful impact of
2009-2010’s recession will mean more sensible economic and financial management
by both the private and public sector in Latvia. Recent moves by credit ratings
agencies like Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch to upgrade Latvia’s credit rating (currently at BBB) is
a confirmation that a turnaround is now underway. But Latvia's government needs to keep a close eye upon polciy settings to ensure that the recent recovery from the deep recession is sustained.
Latvia: a business hub in the 'New Europe'
With its prime location as a transit hub for east-west trade, Latvia has become one of the most favorable destinations for foreign investment in the 'New Europe'. Sectors attracting investors include manufacturing, forestry and woodworking, metal processing and engineering, textiles, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, logistics and transit, construction and real estate, and information technology.
Latvia and Europe: key trading partners
The European Union accounts for 80% of Latvia's total trade. Latvia's major trading partners include Germany, Sweden, the UK, Russia and neighboring Baltic countries such as Estonia and Lithuania.
Latvia: some of the lowest taxes in Europe
Latvia has one of the lowest tax burdens in Europe: corporate tax rate at a flat 15% and individual taxes at 25%.
Latvia's currency: the lat
From its inception, the Latvian currency, the lat, has been one of the most stable currencies in Europe. In 2005, after joining the EU and developing a strategy to join the European Monetary Union, the lat was pegged to the euro (1 LVL = 0.702804 EUR). The exchange rate vs. the dollar is 1USD = 0.531 LVL (as of 12/31/2012). Latvia plans to join the euro currency group at some stage in the coming years (currently scheduled for January 1, 2014). The Bank of Latvia is responsible for the currency and its powers make it independant from the government in Latvia. It is considered one of the most independant central banks in Europe.For further information about the Latvian currency and monetary policy in Latvia please visit the Bank of Latvia website.
RIX: Latvia's fast growing international airport
RIX - Riga's International Airport - is rapidly emerging as a new strategic hub for international tourist, business and related travel in the Baltic Sea region. Latvia can be reached from the U.S. either direct from JFK or via convenient connections via most European capital cities, including Helsinki, Copenhangen, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Paris, Zurich, Vienna, as well as via London. Riga airport offers flights to 65 destinations in Europe, Russia, the Middle East, and also a direct connection to New York. Over 5.1 million passengers traveled through Riga's airport in 2011, with just under 5 million again in 2012. Riga Airport is also home to Latvia's national carrier, Air Baltic, serving close to 60 destinations from Riga to Scandinavia, Western and Southern Europe, the UK and Ireland, the Mid-East and Central Asia. For further information please visit the Riga Airport website.
Latvia's capital, Riga: The 'Paris of the North'
One hundred years ago Riga was known as the 'Paris of the North'. 800 years young, Riga is now called 'The Second City that Never Sleeps', and the 'Hottest City in the North'. As it moves into the 21st century, Riga is blossoming as a creative centre for the arts once again. Local and visiting art exhibits and the opera, theatre and ballet compete with nightclubs and discos that rock with jazz, blues and the latest electronic fusions of hip hop and dance music. For more information about Riga, please visit the Riga City tourism website (or see the 'Videos of Latvia' section of this website). In 2014 Riga will be the European Capital of Culture. Visit www.riga2014.org for more information on this important year-long event.
Riga: Art Nouveau capital of the world
Riga is architecturally considered to be the Jugendstil capital of the world. Latvian architects are responsible for designing over 60% of the distinctive Art Nouveau style buildings made famous in the early 1900's.
Riga: a UNESCO designated cultural and natural site
Nearly one-third of Latvia's population (747,000) lives in the capital Riga. Riga, the oldest existing medieval city, was founded in 1201. Riga has been included in UNESCO's list of the world's most important cultural and natural sites.
Latvia's National Day
November 18 is Latvia's National Holiday. Latvia's independence was proclaimed in Riga on November 18, 1918.
Latvia: one of the greenest countries in Europe
Latvia's landscape is marked by lowland plains, rolling hills, thousands of rivers and lakes. Forests cover 44 percent of the territory, and most of the countryside is less than 100 meters above sea level.
Latvians: world class performers in New York
World famous Latvian performers like Elina Garanca, Maija Kovaleska, Kristine Opolais, Aleksandrs Antonenko, Mariss Jansons, Gideon Kramers, Andris Nelsons, and Mikhail Baryshnikov have all performed at New York's Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Centre. In 2005 and 2006 the winner for the ING-NYC Marathon was Jelena Prokopcuka, also from Latvia.