What Is Latvia?
Latvia is a Northern European country. As of 2019, the Latvian population sits around 1,900,000. Yearly population growth averages around -1.1% (so the Latvian population is decreasing on average each year). This population is roughly 60% Latvian, 25% Russian, with all other ethnic groups under 5%. You can thank the USSR for the relatively high Russian population in Latvia (we’ll get to that). The Latvian population shares about 25,000 square miles (64,500 square kilometers).
Politically, Latvia is a republic, and as such is officially named the Republic of Latvia. For those who want to visit Latvia, you’ll find a lot of nature hanging around, since the nation has a long tradition for conservation. To get an idea of what we mean, the area of nationally protected reservation is a hefty 20% of Latvia’s total area. Latvia ranked 37 in the 2018 Environmental Performance Index. In 2012, they were number 2.
Where Is Latvia? Finding Latvia on a Map
We mentioned earlier that Latvia is a country in Northern Europe. More specifically, Latvia sits comfortably in the Baltic region. Latvia is bordered by Estonia to the north and Lithuania to the south. Respectively, Sweden and Russia make up the western and eastern borders, though the shared border between Sweden and Latvia is a maritime one. Latvia also shares a border with Belarus to the southeast.
Being next to Russia, Latvia’s climate is often described as seasonally temperate. But Latvia also borders bodies of water, so coastal regions see a more maritime climate where the difference between seasons is milder. But on the whole, Latvia’s seasons are well-defined and of roughly equal length. In short, it sounds like a pretty comfortable weather pattern.
Latvia’s history is a pretty messy one, having spent time under the rule of the Swedish, Polish, and the Russians. After WWI, though, Latvia would declare its independence. Between then and the onset of WWII, Latvia would have a little bump in the road with a 1934 coup (the May 15 Coup), installing an authoritarian regime.
Further Reading: What is Authoritarianism?
Once WWII started though, the USSR would forcibly occupy Latvia–but not for long since Nazi Germany would install themselves in 1941. Then the Soviets came back in 1944 for another 45 years. Suffice to say that control over Latvia has passed between hands quite a few times. As we also alluded to earlier, the long periods of Soviet occupation has led to the large population of ethnic Russians residing there. With the Singing Revolution’s conclusion in 1991, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia would get their independence back.
Latvia’s full independence was restored in August of 1991, after a failed Soviet Coup took place. Russia’s military troops would be withdrawn in 1994, and Latvia would join both NATO and the EU in 2004.
Today, Latvia has mostly figured things out, free from the turmoil and occupation that plagued its past. However, even now, some of the aftereffects can still be felt. We mentioned earlier that Latvia still has a high ethnic Russian population, but Latvia’s population is almost 15% “non-citizen”. These non-citizens were citizens of the former USSR, that were left without any formal citizenship after its collapse. This 15% not only doesn’t have citizenship in Latvia, but no citizenship period–which means that less than 85% of Latvia’s population is eligible to vote.
As an aside, Latvia’s only official language is Latvian–along with Lithuanian, it’s one of the only two surviving Baltic languages.
Politically at face value, Latvia respects human rights, ranking high in Democracy, freedom of the press, and individual privacy (according to the US-based Freedom House). However, the 15% non-citizen population hasn’t fared as well, not being granted the same human rights as citizens. Go a little deeper and you’ll find some police abuse, judicial corruption, and discrimination of all varieties.
But if you’re looking to pay the place a visit, Latvia offers a lot of national parks to explore with its fair share of other tourist attractions.
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