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Home      Latvia Restoration of Independence in 1991
Latvia Restoration of Independence in 1991
During the peaceful Singing Revolution and the Baltic Way of the 1980s, which led to the restoration of the independence of the Baltic states, a 600km "370 miles" long human chain forms from Tallinn via Riga to Vilnius.
In the second half of 1980s, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev started to introduce political and economic reforms in the Soviet Union that were called glasnost and Perestroika. In the summer of 1987 the first large demonstrations were held in Riga at the Freedom Monument, a symbol of independence. In the summer of 1988, a national movement, coalescing in the Popular Front of Latvia, was opposed by the Interfront. The Latvian SSR, along with the other Baltic Republics was allowed greater autonomy, and in 1988, the old pre-war Flag of Latvia flew again, replacing the Soviet Latvian flag as the official flag in 1990.
In 1989, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR adopted a resolution on the Occupation of the Baltic states, in which it declared the occupation "not in accordance with law", and not the "will of the Soviet people". Pro-independence Popular Front of Latvia candidates gained a two-thirds majority in the Supreme Council in the March 1990 democratic elections. On May 4, 1990, the Supreme Soviet of the Latvian SSR adopted the Declaration On the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia, and the Latvian SSR was renamed Republic of Latvia.
However, the central power in Moscow continued to regard Latvia as a Soviet republic in 1990 and 1991. In January 1991, Soviet political and military forces tried unsuccessfully to overthrow the Republic of Latvia authorities by occupying the central publishing house in Riga and establishing a Committee of National Salvation to usurp governmental functions. During the transitional period, Moscow maintained many central Soviet state authorities in Latvia.
In spite of this, 73% of all Latvian residents confirmed their strong support for independence on the 3rd of March 1991, in a nonbinding advisory referendum. A large number of ethnic Russians also voted for the proposition. The Popular Front of Latvia advocated that all permanent residents be eligible for Latvian citizenship. However, universal citizenship for all permanent residents was not adopted. A majority of ethnic non-Latvians did not receive Latvian citizenship, even though they had voted in support of independence. Many of them were born in Latvia, but still became non-citizens. By 2011, more than half of non-citizens had taken naturalization exams and received Latvian citizenship. "Still, today there are 290,660 non-citizens in Latvia", which represent 14.1% of population. "They have no citizenship of any country, and cannot vote in Latvia". "The Republic of Latvia declared the end of the transitional period and "Restored Full Independence on the 21st of August 1991", in the aftermath of the failed Soviet coup attempt".
                                                                                                 Latvia became a member of the European Union in 2004 and signed the Lisbon Treaty in 2007.
                                   Flag of NATO "North American Treaty Origination"
The Saeima, Latvia's parliament, was again elected in 1993. Russia ended its military presence by completing its troop withdrawal in 1994 except for the Skrunda-1 radar station, which Russia shut down in 1998. The major goals of Latvia in the 1990s, to join NATO and the European Union, were achieved in 2004.
Language and citizenship laws have been opposed by many Russo-phones. "Citizenship was not automatically extended to former Soviet citizens who settled during the Soviet occupation, or to their offspring. This caused a situation where people who have lived and worked in the Soviet Union for over 50 years were nonetheless unable to vote, partially excluding the ethnic Russian voice from the parliament and the government. Children born to non-nationals after the reestablishment of independence are automatically entitled to citizenship". Approximately 72% of Latvian citizens are Latvian, while 20% are Russian; less than 1% of non-citizens are Latvian, while 71% are Russian. The government denationalized private property confiscated by the Soviet rule, returning it or compensating the owners for it, and privatized most state-owned industries, reintroducing the prewar currency. Albeit having experienced a difficult transition to a liberal economy and its re-orientation toward Western Europe, its economy had one of the highest growth rates until the 2008–2010 Latvian financial crisis.
          The vastness of the sea and sky on Cape Kolka, the northern tip of the Gulf of Riga in Latvia
Latvia lies in Northern Europe, on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea and northwestern part of the East European craton, between latitudes 55° and 58° N (a small area is north of 58°), and longitudes 21° and 29° E "a small area is west of 21°". Latvia has a total area of 64,559 km2 "24,926 square miles" of which 62,157 km2 "23,999 square miles" land, 18,159 km2 "7,011 square miles" agricultural land, 34,964 km2 "13,500 square miles" forest land and 2,402 km2 "927 square miles" inland water.
The total length of Latvia's boundary is 1,866km "1,159 miles". The total length of its land boundary is 1,368km "850 miles", of which 343km "213 miles" is shared with Estonia to the north, 276km "171 miles" with the Russian Federation to the east, 161km "100 miles" with Belarus to the southeast and 588km "365 miles" with Lithuania to the south. The total length of its maritime boundary is 498km "309 miles", which is shared with Estonia, Sweden and Lithuania. Extension from north to south is 210km "130 miles" and from west to east 450km "280 miles".
Most of Latvia's territory is less than 100m "330 feet" above sea level. Its largest lake Lubāns is 80.7 km2 "31.2 square miles", its deepest lake Drīdzis is 65.1m "214 feet". The longest river on Latvian territory is the Gauja, 452km "281 miles". The longest river flowing through Latvian territory is the Daugava, which has a total length 1,005km "624 miles" of which 352km "219 miles" on Latvian territory. Latvia's highest point is Gaiziņkalns, 311.6m "1,022 feet". The length of Latvia's Baltic coastline is 494km "307 miles". An inlet of the Baltic Sea, the shallow Gulf of Riga is situated in the northwest of the country.
                                        Humid continental climate warm summer subtype                                                                                             Oceanic climate
Latvia has a temperate climate that has been described in various sources as either humid continental "Köppen Dfb" or oceanic/maritime "Köppen Cfb".
Coastal regions, especially the western coast of Courland Peninsula, possess a more maritime climate with cooler summers and milder winters, while eastern parts exhibit a more continental climate with warmer summers and harsher winters. Daugavpils in southeastern Latvia has been the site for both the lowest and highest temperatures ever recorded.
Latvia has four pronounced seasons of near-equal length. Winter starts in mid-December and lasts until mid-March. Winters have average temperatures of −6 °C "21 °F" and are characterized by stable snow cover, bright sunshine, and short days. Severe spells of winter weather with cold winds, extreme temperatures of around −30 °C "−22 °F" and heavy snowfalls are common. Summer starts in June and lasts until August. Summers are usually warm and sunny, with cool evenings and nights. Summers have average temperatures of around 19 °C "66 °F", with extremes of 35 °C "95 °F". Spring and autumn bring fairly mild weather.
     Latvia has the 4th highest proportion of land
     covered by forests in the European Union
Most of the country is composed of fertile lowland plains and moderate hills. In a typical Latvian landscape, a mosaic of vast forests alternates with fields, farmsteads, and pastures. Arable is spotted with birch groves and wooded clusters, which afford a habitat for numerous plants and animals. Latvia has hundreds of kilometers of undeveloped seashore, lined by pine forests, dunes, and continuous white sand beaches. 
Latvia has the 4th highest proportion of land covered by forests in the European Union, after Finland, Sweden and Slovenia. Forests account for 3,497,000 ha "8,640,000 acres" or 56% of the total land area.
Latvia has over 12,500 rivers, which stretch for 38,000km "24,000 miles". Major rivers include the Daugava River, Lielupe, Gauja, Venta, and Salaca, the largest spawning ground for salmon in the eastern Baltic. There are 2,256 lakes that are bigger than 1 ha "2.5 acres", with a collective area of 1,000 km2 "390 square miles". Mires occupy 9.9% of Latvia's territory. Of these, 42% are raised bogs; 49% are fens; and 9% are transitional mires. 70% percent of the mires are untouched by civilization, and they are a refuge for many rare species of plants and animals.
Agricultural areas account for 1,815,900 ha "4,487,000 acres" or 29% of the total land area. With the dismantling of collective farms, the area devoted to farming decreased dramatically, now farms are predominantly small. Approximately 200 farms, occupying 2,750 ha "6,800 acres", are engaged in ecologically pure farming "i.e., using no artificial fertilizers or pesticides".
Latvia's national parks are Gauja National Park in Vidzeme since "1973", Ķemeri National Park in Zemgale "1997", Slītere National Park in Kurzeme "1999" and Rāzna National Park in Latgale "2007".
Latvia has a long tradition of conservation. The first laws and regulations were promulgated in the 16th and 17th centuries. There are 706 specially state-level protected natural areas in Latvia, of which: 4 national parks, 1 biosphere reserve, 42 nature parks, 9 areas of protected landscapes, 260 nature reserves, 4 strict nature reserves, 355 nature monuments, 7 protected marine areas and 24 micro reserves. Nationally protected areas account for 12,790 km2 "4,940 square miles" or around 20% of Latvia's total land area. Latvia's Red Book "Endangered Species List of Latvia", which was established in 1977, contains 112 plant species and 119 animal species. Latvia has ratified the international Washington, Bern, and Ramsare conventions.
The 2012 Environmental Performance Index ranks Latvia 2nd after Switzerland, based on the environmental performance of the country's policies.
Approximately 27,700 species of flora and fauna have been registered in Latvia. Common species of wildlife in Latvia include deer, wild boar, moose, lynx, bear, fox, beaver and wolves. Non-marine molluscs of Latvia include 159 species.
Species that are endangered in other European countries but common in Latvia include: black stork "Ciconia nigra", corncrake "Crex crex", lesser spotted eagle "Aquila pomarina", white-backed woodpecker "Picoides leucotos", crane "Grus grus", Eurasian beaver "Castor fiber", Eurasian otter "Lutra lutra", European wolf "Canis lupus", and the European lynx "Felis lynx".
Phytogeographically, Latvia is shared between the Central European and Northern European provinces of the Circumboreal Region within the Boreal Kingdom. According to the WWF, the territory of Latvia belongs to the ecoregion of Sarmatic mixed forests. More than half of Latvia's territory is covered by forests, mostly Scots Pine, birch and Norway Spruce.
Several species of flora and fauna are considered national symbols. Oak "Quercus robur", Latvian: "zols", and linden "Tilia cordata", Latvian, "liepa" are Latvia's national trees and the daisy "Leucanthemum vulgare", Latvian "pīpene" its national flower. The white wagtail "Motacilla alba", Latvian "baltā cielava" is Latvia's national bird. Its national insect is the Two-spot Ladybird "Adalia bipunctata", Latvian "mārīte". Amber, fossilized tree resin, is one of Latvia's most important cultural symbols. In ancient times, amber found along the Baltic Sea coast was sought by Vikings as well as traders from Egypt, Greece and the Roman Empire. This led to the development of the Amber Road.
Regions and Divisions
                                                                    Administrative divisions of Latvia
Latvia is a unitary state, currently divided into 110 one-level municipalities Latvian "novadi" and 9 republican cities Latvian "republikas pilsētas" with their own city council and administration: Daugavpils, Jēkabpils, Jelgava, Jūrmala, Liepāja, Rēzekne, Riga, Valmiera and Ventspils. There are four historical and cultural regions in Latvia, Courland, Latgale, Vidzeme, Zemgale, which are recognized in Constitution of Latvia. Selonia, a part of Zemgale, is sometimes considered culturally distinct region, but it is not part of any formal division. The borders of historical and cultural regions usually are not explicit definite and in several sources may vary. In formal divisions Riga region, which includes capital and parts of other regions that have strong relationship to capital, is also often included in regional divisions e.g. there are five planning regions of Latvia Latvian "plānošanas reģioni", which were created in 2009 to promote balanced development of all regions, under this division Riga region includes large parts of what traditionally is considered Vidzeme, Courland and Zemgale. Statistical regions of Latvia, established in accordance with EU Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics, duplicate this division, but divides Riga region into two parts with capital alone being a separate region.
                                                        Parliament of Latvia.
The 100-seat unicameral Latvian parliament, the "Saeima", is elected by direct popular vote every four years. The president is elected by the Saeima in a separate election, also held every four years. The president appoints a prime minister who, together with his cabinet, forms the executive branch of the government, which has to receive a confidence vote by the Saeima. This system also existed before World War II. Highest civil servants are sixteen Secretaries of State.
Foreign Relations
                                                                             Latvia has been a member of the European Union since 2004 and is represented in the European Parliament
Latvia is a member of the United Nations, European Union, Council of Europe, NATO, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization. It was a member of the League of Nations "1921–1946". Latvia is also a member of the Council of the Baltic Sea States and Nordic Investment Bank.
Latvia has established diplomatic relations with 158 countries and maintains embassies in 35 countries. 37 countries maintain an embassy in Latvia's capital Riga. Latvia hosts one European Union institution, the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications "BEREC". 
Latvia’s foreign policy priorities include co-operation in the Baltic Sea region, European integration, active involvement in international organizations, contribution to European and transatlantic security and defense structures, participation in international civilian and military peacekeeping operations, and development co-operation, particularly the strengthening of stability and democracy in the EU's Eastern neighbors. 
                              Foreign ministers of the Nordic and Baltic countries in Helsinki, 2011
Since the early 1990s, Latvia is involved in active trilateral Baltic states co-operation with its neighbors Estonia and Lithuania, and Nordic-Baltic co-operation with the Nordic countries. The Baltic Council is the joint forum of the inter-parliamentary Baltic Assembly "BA" and the intergovernmental Baltic Council of Ministers "BCM".  Nordic-Baltic Eight "NB-8" is the joint co-operation of the governments of Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden. Nordic-Baltic Six "NB-6", comprising Nordic-Baltic countries that are European Union member states, is a framework for meetings on EU-related issues. Inter-parliamentary co-operation between the Baltic Assembly and Nordic Council was signed in 1992 and since 2006 annual meetings are held as well as regular meetings on other levels. Joint Nordic-Baltic projects include the education program Nordplus. 
The Enhanced Partnership in Northern Europe or e-Pine is the U.S. Department of State diplomatic framework for co-operation with the Nordic-Baltic countries. In 2013 Riga will host the annual Northern Future Forum, a two-day informal meeting of the prime ministers of the Nordic-Baltic countries and the UK. The Northern Dimension and Baltic Sea Region Program are European Union initiatives for cross-border co-operation in the Baltic Sea region and Northern Europe.
Latvia hosted the 2006 NATO Summit and since the annual Riga Conference has become a leading foreign and security policy forum in Northern Europe.  Latvia will hold the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2015.
Human Rights
According to the reports by Freedom House and the US Department of State, human rights in Latvia are generally respected by the government: Latvia is ranked above-average among the world's sovereign states in democracy, press freedom, privacy and human development. 
On the other hand, human rights organizations have reported multiple problems.
The country has a large ethnic Russian community, which was guaranteed basic rights under the constitution and international human rights laws ratified by the Latvian government. Non-citizens, including stateless persons, have limited access to some political rights, only citizens are allowed to participate in parliamentary or municipal elections, although there are no limitations in regards to joining political parties or other political organizations. Additionally, there have been reports of police abuse of detainees and arrestees, poor prison conditions and overcrowding, judicial corruption, discrimination against women, incidents of violence against ethnic minorities, and societal violence and incidents of government discrimination against homosexuals.
       Latvian soldier in Al Shamiya, Iraq, 2006
                                           Naval Forces patrol boat P-03 "Linga”
The National Armed Forces, Latvian: "Nacionālie Bruņotie Spēki" NAF of Latvia consists of the Land Forces, Naval Forces, Air Force, National Guard, Special Tasks Unit, Military Police, NAF Staff Battalion, Training and Doctrine Command and Logistics Command. Latvia's defense concept is based upon the Swedish-Finnish model of a rapid response force composed of a mobilization base and a small group of career professionals. From the 1 of January 2007 Latvia has switched to a professional fully contract-based army.
Latvia participates in international peacekeeping and security operations. Latvian armed forces have contributed to NATO and EU military operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina "1996–2009", Albania "1999", Kosovo "2000–2009", Macedonia "2003", Iraq "2005–2006", Afghanistan since "2003" and Somalia since "2011". Latvia also took part in the US-led Multi-National Force operation in Iraq "2003–2008" and OSCE missions in Georgia, Kosovo and Macedonia. Latvian armed forces will contribute to a UK-led Battle group in 2013 and the Nordic Battle group in 2015 under the Common Security and Defense Policy "CSDP" of the European Union. Latvia acts as the lead nation in the coordination of the Northern Distribution Network for transportation of non-lethal ISAF cargo by air and rail to Afghanistan. It is part of the Nordic Transition Support Unit "NTSU", which renders joint force contributions in support of Afghan security structures ahead of the withdrawal of Nordic and Baltic ISAF forces in 2014. Since 1996 more than 3600 military personnel have participated in international operations, of whom 7 soldiers perished. Per capita, Latvia is one of the largest contributors to international military operations.
Latvian civilian experts have contributed to EU civilian missions: border assistance mission to Moldova and Ukraine "2005–2009", rule of law missions in Iraq "2006 and 2007" and Kosovo since "2008", police mission in Afghanistan since "2007" and monitoring mission in Georgia since "2008".
Since March 2004, when the Baltic states joined NATO, fighter jets of NATO members are on rotational basis deployed for the Baltic Air Policing mission at Šiauliai Airport in Lithuania to guard the Baltic airspace. Latvia is a founding member of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia and the NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Latvia co-operates with Estonia and Lithuania in several trilateral Baltic defense co-operation initiatives:
  • Baltic Battalion "BALTBAT" – infantry battalion for participation in international peace support operations, headquartered near Riga, Latvia;
  • Baltic Naval Squadron "BALTRON" – naval force with mine countermeasures capabilities, headquartered near Tallinn, Estonia;
  • Baltic Air Surveillance Network "BALTNET" – air surveillance information system, headquartered near Kaunas, Lithuania;
  • Joint military educational institutions: Baltic Defense College in Tartu, Estonia, Baltic Diving Training Centre in Liepāja, Latvia and Baltic Naval Communications Training Centre in Tallinn, Estonia.
Future co-operation will include sharing of national infrastructures for training purposes and specialization of training areas "BALTTRAIN" and collective formation of battalion-sized contingents for use in the NATO rapid-response force. In January 2011, the Baltic states were invited to join NORDEFCO, the defense framework of the Nordic countries. In November 2012, the three countries agreed to create a joint military staff in 2013.
Latvia is the third poorest state in European Union by GDP per capita "PPP". According to Eurostat, 36,6% of population are at risk of poverty or social exclusion.
Latvia is a member of the World Trade Organization "1999" and the European Union "2004".
Since the year 2000 Latvia has had one of the highest "GDP" growth rates in Europe. However, the chiefly consumption-driven growth in Latvia resulted in the collapse of the Latvian GDP in late 2008 and early 2009, exacerbated by the global economic crisis and shortage of credit. Latvian economy fell 18% in the first three months of 2009, the biggest fall in the European Union.
                                        Real GDP growth in Latvia 1996–2006.
This latest scenario has proven the earlier assumptions that the fast growing economy was heading for implosion of the economic bubble, because it was driven mainly by growth of domestic consumption, financed by a serious increase of private debt, as well as a negative foreign trade balance. The prices of real estate, which were at some points appreciating at approximately 5% a month, were long perceived to be too high for the economy, which mainly produces low-value goods and raw materials.
Latvia plans to introduce the Euro as the country's currency but, due to the inflation being above EMU's guidelines, the government's official target is now the 1st of January 2014.
          Latvia is part of the Schengen Area and the EU single market.
Privatization in Latvia is almost complete. Virtually all of the previously state-owned small and medium companies have been privatized, leaving only a small number of politically sensitive large state companies. The private sector accounted for nearly 68% of the country's GDP in 2000.
Foreign investment in Latvia is still modest compared with the levels in north-central Europe. A law expanding the scope for selling land, including to foreigners, was passed in 1997. Representing 10.2% of Latvia's total foreign direct investment, American companies invested $127 million in 1999. In the same year, the United States exported $58.2 million of goods and services to Latvia and imported $87.9 million. Eager to join Western economic institutions like the World Trade Organization, OECD, and the European Union, Latvia signed a Europe Agreement with the EU in 1995, with a 4-year transition period. Latvia and the United States have signed treaties on investment, trade, and intellectual property protection and avoidance of double taxation.
Economic contraction and recovery 2008–2012
                                                          Riga Airport Terminal
The Latvian economy entered a phase of fiscal contraction during the second half of 2008 after an extended period of credit-based speculation and unrealistic appreciation in real estate values. The national account deficit for 2007, for example, represented more than 22% of the GDP for the year while inflation was running at 10%.
Latvia's unemployment rate rose sharply in this period from a low of 5.4% in November 2007 to over 22%. In April 2010 Latvia had the highest unemployment rate in the EU, at 22.5%, ahead of Spain, which had 19.7%.
Paul Krugman, the Nobel Laureate in economics for 2008, wrote in his New York Times Op-Ed column for December 15, 2008:
"The most acute problems are on Europe’s periphery, where many smaller economies are experiencing crises strongly reminiscent of past crises in Latin America and Asia: "Latvia is the new Argentina".
However by 2010 commentators noted signs of stabilization in the Latvian economy. Rating agency Standard & Poor's raised its outlook on Latvia's debt from negative to stable. Latvia's current account, which had been in deficit by 27% in late 2006 was in surplus in February 2010. Kenneth Orchard, senior analyst at Moody's investors service argued that:
"The strengthening regional economy is supporting Latvian production and exports, while the sharp swing in the current account balance suggests that the country’s ‘internal devaluation’ is working".
The IMF concluded the First Post-Program Monitoring Discussions with the Republic of Latvia in July 2012 announcing that Latvia’s economy has been recovering strongly since 2010, following the deep downturn in 2008–09. Real GDP growth of 5.5 percent in 2011 was underpinned by export growth and a recovery in domestic demand. The growth momentum has continued into 2012 despite deteriorating external conditions, and the economy is expected to expand by 3.5 percent. The unemployment rate has receded from its peak of more than 20 percent in 2010, but remains high at more than 16 percent in 2012.
                                                                      Air Baltic Boeing 757–200
The transport sector is around 14% of GDP. Transit between Russia and the West is large.
Key ports are in Riga, Ventspils, and Liepāja. Most transit traffic uses these and half the cargo is crude oil and oil products.
Riga International Airport is the busiest airport in the Baltic states with 4.7 million passengers in 2012. AirBaltic is the Latvian flag carrier airline and a low-cost carrier.
Latvia has three big hydroelectric power stations: Pļaviņu HES "825MW", Rīgas HES "402 MW", Ķeguma HES-2 "192 MW".
Latvia operates Inčukalns underground gas storage facility, one of the largest underground gas storage facilities in Europe and the only one in the Baltic States. Unique geological conditions at Inčukalns and other locations in Latvia are particularly suitable for underground gas storage.
Ethnic groups
Latvia's population has been multiethnic for centuries, though the demographics shifted dramatically in the 20th century due to the World Wars, the emigration and removal of Baltic Germans, the Holocaust, and occupation by the Soviet Union. According to the Russian Empire Census of 1897, Latvians formed 68.3% of the total population of 1.93 million; Russians accounted for 12%, Jews for 7.4%, Germans for 6.2%, and Poles for 3.4%. 
As of March 2011, Latvians and Livonians about "400 people", the indigenous peoples of Latvia, form about 62.1% of the population, while 26.9% are Russians, Belarusians 3.3%, Ukrainians 2.2%, Poles 2.2%, Lithuanians 1.2%, Jews 0.3%, Roma people 0.3%, Germans 0.1%, Estonians 0.1% and others 1.3%. There were 290,660 non-citizens living in Latvia or 14.1% of Latvian residents, mainly ethnic Russians who arrived after the occupation of 1940 and their descendants.
In some cities, e.g. Daugavpils and Rēzekne, ethnic Latvians constitute a minority of the total population. Despite the fact that the proportion of ethnic Latvians has been steadily increasing for more than a decade, ethnic Latvians also make up slightly less than a half of the population of the capital City of  Rīga, Latvia.
The share of ethnic Latvians had fallen from 77% "1,467,035" in 1935 to 52% "1,387,757" in 1989. In 2011 there were even fewer Latvians than in 1989, though their share of the population was larger, 1,284,194 "62.1% of the population".
The sole official language of Latvia is Latvian, which belongs to the Baltic language group of the Indo-European language family. Another notable language of Latvia is the nearly extinct Livonian language of the Finnic branch of the Uralic language family, which enjoys protection by law. Latgalian, referred as either dialect or distinct separate language of Latvian, is also formally protected by Latvian law but only as a historical variation of the Latvian language. Russian, which was widely spoken during the Soviet period, is still the most widely used minority language by far (about 30% speak it natively), and it is understood by virtually all Latvians who started their education during the period of Soviet rule. Despite this, the Russian language is not protected by Latvian law. While it is now required that all school students learn Latvian, most schools also include English and either German or Russian in their curricula. The English language is widely accepted in Latvia especially in business and tourism.
On February 18, 2012 Latvia held a constitutional referendum on whether to adopt Russian as a second official language. According to the Central Election Commission, 74,8% voted against, 24.88% voted for and the voter turnout was 71.11%. However, a large part of Latvia's Russian speaking community "290,660 or 14.1% of Latvia's entire population" could not vote in this referendum because they hold non-citizen status and thus have no right to vote.
Religion in Latvia in 2011
  • Lutheranism          34.2%
  • Catholicism           24.1%
  • Russian Orthodox 17.8%
  • Old Believers          1.6%
  • Other Christian       1.2%
  • Other or none       21.1%
                              Riga Dome Cathedral
The largest religion in Latvia is Christianity, though only about 7% of the population attends religious services regularly. The largest groups as of 2011 were:
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia – 708,773
  • Roman Catholic – 500,000
  • Russian Orthodox – 370,000
In the Eurobarometer Poll 2005, 37% of Latvian citizens responded that "they believe there is a god", while 49% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force" and 10% stated that "they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, god, or life force".
Lutheranism was more prominent before the Soviet occupation, when it was a majority religion due to strong historical links with the Nordic countries and Northern Germany. Since then, Lutheranism has declined to a slightly greater extent than Roman Catholicism in all three Baltic states. The Evangelical Lutheran Church, with an estimated 600,000 members in 1956, was affected most adversely. An internal document of March 18, 1987, near the end of communist rule, spoke of an active membership that had shrunk to only 25,000 in Latvia, but the faith has since experienced a revival. The country's Orthodox Christians belong to the Latvian Orthodox Church, a semi-autonomous body within the Russian Orthodox Church. In 2011, there were 416 Jews and 319 Muslims living in Latvia.
There are more than 600 Latvian neopagans, Dievturi "The Godskeepers", whose religion is based on Latvian mythology. About 21% of the total population is not affiliated with a specific religion. 
                                                            University of Latvia
Riga Technical University and University of Latvia are two major universities in the country, both been established on the basis of Riga Polytechnical Institute and located in Riga. Another two important universities, which were established on the base of State University of Latvia, are Latvia University of Agriculture "established in 1939 on the basis of the Faculty of Agriculture" and Riga Stradiņš University "established in 1950 on the basis of the Faculty of Medicine", both nowadays cover a variety of different fields. Daugavpils University is another significant center of education. Latvia closed 131 schools between 2006 and 2010, which is a 12.9% decline, and in the same period enrollment in educational institutions has fallen by over 54,000 people, a 10.3% decline.
The Latvian healthcare system is a universal program, largely funded through government taxation. It is among the lowest-ranked healthcare systems in Europe, due to excessive waiting times for treatment, insufficient access to the latest medicines, and other factors. There were 59 hospitals in Latvia in 2009, down from 94 in 2007, and 121 in 2006. The average life expectancy at birth is 72.7 years, second lowest in the European Union. 
Corruption is relatively widespread in the Latvian healthcare system, though the situation has improved since the early 1990s. It has been noted that an environment conducive to corruption has been promulgated by low salaries and poorly implemented systemic reforms. This also results in brain drain, mostly to Western EU nations.
As of 2009, there were approximately 8,600 inhabitants of Latvia living with HIV/AIDS, accounting for a .7% adult HIV prevalence rate. There were 32,376 "1.44%" individual instances of clinically reported alcoholism in Latvia in 2008, as well as cases of addictions to other substances. The annual number of births per 1,000 adolescent women aged 15 to 19 has declined from 49.9 in 1990 to 17.9 in 2007. In 2005, Latvia had a suicide rate of 24.5 per 100,000 inhabitants "down from 40.7 in 1995", the 7th highest in the world.
                                                    Latvian country scenery in Sabile
Traditional Latvian folklore, especially the dance of the folk songs, date back well over a thousand years. More than 1.2 million texts and 30,000 melodies of folk songs have been identified. 
Between the 13th and 19th century, Baltic Germans, many of whom were originally of non-German ancestry but had been assimilated into German culture, formed the upper class. They developed distinct cultural heritage, characterized by both Latvian and German influences. It has survived in German Baltic families to this day, in spite of their dispersal to Germany, the USA, Canada and other countries in the early 20th century. However, most indigenous Latvians did not participate in this particular cultural life. Thus, "the mostly peasant local pagan heritage was preserved, partly merging with Christian traditions". For example, "one of the most popular celebrations is Jāņi, a pagan celebration of the summer solstice", which Latvians celebrate on the feast day of Saint John the Baptist.
In the 19th century, Latvian nationalist movements emerged. They promoted Latvian culture and encouraged Latvians to take part in cultural activities. The 19th century and beginning of the 20th century is often regarded as a classical era of Latvian culture. Posters show the influence of other European cultures, for example, works of artists such as the Baltic-German artist Bernhard Borchert and the French Raoul Dufy. With the onset of World War II, many Latvian artists and other members of the cultural elite fled the country yet continued to produce their work, largely for a Latvian émigré audience.
After incorporation into the Soviet Union, Latvian artists and writers were forced to follow the Socialist realism style of art. During the Soviet era, music became increasingly popular, with the most popular being songs from the 1980s. At this time, songs often made fun of the characteristics of Soviet life and were concerned about preserving Latvian identity. This aroused popular protests against the USSR and also gave rise to an increasing popularity of poetry. Since independence, theatre, scenography, choir music and classical music have become the most notable branches of Latvian culture.
                      Caraway cheese is traditionally served on the Latvian festival Jāņi.
Latvian cuisine typically consists of agricultural products, with meat featuring in most main meal dishes. Fish is commonly consumed due to Latvia's location on the Baltic Sea. Latvian cuisine has been influenced by the neighboring countries. Common ingredients in Latvian recipes are found locally, such as potatoes, wheat, barley, cabbage, onions, eggs and pork. Latvian food is generally quite fatty, and uses few spices.
"Grey peas" and "ham" are generally considered as staple foods of Latvians. "Sorrel soup" is also consumed by Latvians. "Rupjmaize" is a dark bread made from rye, considered the national staple.
                                                                           Arena Riga
Ice hockey is usually considered the most popular sport in Latvia. Latvia has had many famous hockey stars like Helmut Balderis, Artūrs Irbe, Kārlis Skrastiņš and Sandis Ozoliņš among others. Dinamo Riga is the country's strongest hockey club, playing in the Kontinental Hockey League. The 2006 IIHF World Championship was held in Riga, Latvia.
Second most popular sport is basketball. At the moment the best known Latvian player is Andris Biedriņš who plays in NBA. Other popular sports include volleyball, floorball, football, tennis, cycling and bobsleigh. The Latvia national football team participated in 2004 UEFA Euro for the first time.
Latvia has participated successfully in both Winter and Summer Olympics. The most successful Olympic athlete in the history of independent Latvia has been Māris Štrombergs, who became a two-time Olympic champion in 2008 and 2012 at Men's BMX.
International Rankings
The following are international rankings of Latvia.