Latvia is situated on the eastern shore of the Baltic sea, sharing borders with Lithuania to the south, Estonia to the north, Russia to the east and Belarus to the southeast.
Territory and population
The area of Latvia totals 64,000 square kilometres with 500 kilometres of coastline. The population is a little less than 2.5 million people, of which 58% are Latvian, 29% are Russian, and 4% Byelorussian. Ukrainians, Poles, Lithuanians, Jews and others reside in Latvia in small numbers.
Population rates within Latvia are low, with nearly half the country living in Riga or its environs. The six largest cities and their population statistics are as follows: Riga (800,000), Daugavpils (117,000), Liepaja (97,000), Jelgava (71,000), Jurmala (59,000) and Ventspils (47,000).
Latvia is divided into four historical regions: Vidzeme, Kurzeme, Latgale and Zemgale. The highest peak is Gaizins Kalns, standing at 311.5 meters. The climate in Latvia is moderate with distinct seasons. Summers are generally warm and short. Autumn and spring are relatively mild and rainy. Winter weather is cold and fluctuates a great deal, with some years snowier and colder than others.
Latvian is the official language of the Republic of Latvia. Russian is often spoken as well. Both English and German are spoken to some degree, with English becoming increasingly common. See also: Latvian Language Tips
Latvia has no official religion. Most of the population is Lutheran, although Catholicism prevails in the east. Russian Orthodox and Old Believer communities in Latvia are rather large. In general Latvian society is tolerant of different religions and open to new religious ideas. Since independence, there has been a small resurgence of neo-paganism, or “Dievturi”, which is based on the pre-Christian religious beliefs existent in ancient Latvia. Although most people do not attend church, spirituality does influence the mood of society.
The Latvian flag is similar to the Austrian flag, but darker in colour. It is made of bands of dark red, white, and dark red (from top to bottom). The white band is narrower than the red ones. The national anthem “Dievs, sveti Latviju!”(God, bless Latvia!) was composed by Karlis Baumanis in the second half of the 19th century. It became the national anthem in 1918. The
Latvian Coat of Arms consists of a shield with a rising sun against a blue background at the top; a red lion against a silver background to the left, and a silver griffin against a red background to the right.
State political system
Latvia is a democratic republic. Currently, 1.8 million residents have the right to vote. However, 480,000 residents continue to bear “alien” passports, and are not entitled to vote in parliamentary or municipal elections. See also: Aliens in Latvia. The Prime Minister is appointed by the President of the Republic and is the head of the government. The President of Latvia is elected by the Parliament for a four year term. The President possesses little real power, but can block some parliamentary decisions.
After the restoration of independence in September 1991, Latvia has sought to join various international organisations. In April of 2004 Latvia became a member of NATO and in May of 2004, a member of the European Union. Latvia is also a member of the WTO.