Latvia, Republic of, a country in eastern Europe that was once a part of the Soviet Union. Latvia is bounded by Estonia. Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, the Baltic Sea, and the Gulf of Riga.
|Facts in brief about Latvia|
|Official language: Latvian.|
|Official name: Latvijas Republika (Republic of Latvia).|
|Area: 24,938 mi2. (64,589 km2). Greatest distances—north-south, 170 mi. (270 km); east-west, 280 mi (450 km). Coastline—293 mi (472 km).|
|Elevation: Highest—Gaizina (mountain), 1,020 ft (311 m). Lowest—sea level along the coast.|
|Population: Current estimate—2,267,000; density, 91 persons per mi2 (35 per km2); distribution, 68 percent urban, 32 percent rural. 2000 census—2,377,383.|
|Chief products: Agriculture—barley, dairy cattle, flax, hogs, oats, potatoes, sugar beets. Manufacturing—clothing, processed foods, textiles, transportation equipment, wood products.|
|Flag: Latvia's flag has a white horizontal stripe on a red background. The flag dates back to the 1200's, when it served as a banner in battle for one of the original Latvian tribes. The symbols on Latvia's coat of arms, a rising sun, a red lion, and a silver griffin (mythological creature), represent the three original provinces of Latvia.|
|Money: Basic unit—lat. One hundred santimi equal one lat.|
Glaciers formed most of Latvia's physical features thousands of years ago. Most of the land is flat to gently rolling, and in some areas there are glacial hills, some reaching as much as 1,000 feet (300 m) above sea level. Peat bogs and small glacial lakes dot the land. Sand dunes edge parts of the coast.
Latvia's largest river is the Western Dvina (or Daugava), which flows northwestward from Belarus and empties into the Gulf of Riga. Other sizable rivers include the Gauja, Venta, and Lielupe.
Latvia's climate is tempered by the sea and is moderately continental. Temperatures average about 20° to 23° F. (–7° to –5° C.) in January and 62° to 65° F. (17° to 18° C.) in July. The annual precipitation varies from about 20 to 26 inches (510 to 660 mm), depending on location.
Amber, from the Baltic coast, limestone, peat, sand, and gravel are among Latvia's few mineral resources. Peat is a widely used fuel. Extensive forests, composed chiefly of pines and firs with some hardwoods, yield large amounts of timber. The Western Dvina provides waterpower and a waterway for floating logs to mills. Fish, notably herring, are obtained from the Baltic Sea.
When Latvia was a part of the Soviet Union (1940–91), it had a state and collective farm system. After Latvia achieved independence, the government began to transfer ownership of farms to private groups or individuals. The main crops include oats, barley, rye, flax, sugar beets, potatoes, and crops for fodder. Dairy farming and hog raising are also important.
Manufacturing has become the basis of the economy since the end of World War II. Most raw materials are imported. Major industries include the manufacturing of railway cars and locomotives, electrical goods and machinery, telephone equipment, scientific instruments, chemicals, and textiles. Other industries include shipbuilding, food processing, and the manufacturing of rubber, paper, and wood products. Riga, the capital, is the main industrial center.
Latvia's rail and highway networks are extensive. Riga is a Baltic port and has the nation's largest airport.
Letts, also known as Latvians, a Baltic group, make up slightly more than half of the population. Russians make up nearly all the remainder. Latvian is the principal language; Russian and Lithuanian is also spoken. The Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox churches are the main religious groups.
Education is compulsory, and is free at all levels, including higher education. Nearly all the people are literate. Latvia's largest institution of higher learning is the Latvian State University, at Riga.
During 1940–91 Latvia was a part of the Soviet Union. In 1991 Latvia became independent and established itself as a parliamentary democracy. The Saeima, made up of 100 members, is Latvia's parliament. The Saeima elects the president, who is the head of state, and the prime minister, who is the head of government.