Latvia, officially known as the Republic of Latvia, is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. Since Latvia’s independence in 1918, it has been referred to as one of the Baltic states. It is bordered by Estonia to the north, Lithuania to the south, Russia to the east, Belarus to the southeast, and shares a maritime border with Sweden to the west. Latvia has 1,957,200 inhabitants and a territory of 64,589 km2 (24,938 sq mi). Its capital and largest city is Riga; other notable major cities in Latvia are Daugavpils, Liepāja, Jelgava, Valmiera, Ventspils and Jūrmala. The country has a temperate seasonal climate. The Baltic Sea moderates the climate, although the country has four distinct seasons and snowy winters.
After centuries of German, Swedish, Polish-Lithuanian and Russian rule, a rule mainly executed by the Baltic German aristocracy, the Republic of Latvia was established on 18 November 1918 when it broke away from the German empire and declared independence in the aftermath of World War I. However, by the 1930s the country became increasingly autocratic after the coup in 1934 establishing an authoritarian regime under Kārlis Ulmanis. The country’s de facto independence was interrupted at the outset of World War II, beginning with Latvia’s forcible incorporation into the Soviet Union, followed by the invasion and occupation by Germany in 1941, and the re-occupation by the Soviets in 1944 to form the Latvian SSR for the next 45 years. The peaceful Singing Revolution, starting in 1987, called for Baltic emancipation from Soviet rule and condemning the Communist regime’s illegal takeover. It ended with the Declaration on the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia on 4 May 1990 and restoring de facto independence on 21 August 1991.
Latvia is a democratic sovereign state, parliamentary republic. Capital city Riga served as the European Capital of Culture in 2014. Latvian is the official language. Latvia is a unitary state, divided into 119 administrative divisions, of which 110 are municipalities and nine are cities.
Despite foreign rule from the 13th to 20th centuries, the Latvian nation maintained its identity throughout the generations via the language and musical traditions. However, as a consequence of centuries of Russian rule (1710–1918) and later Soviet occupation, 26.9% of the population of Latvia are ethnic Russians, some of whom (10.7% of Latvian residents) have not gained citizenship, leaving them with no citizenship at all.
Latvia is a developed country with an advanced, high-income economy and ranks 37th in the Human Development Index. It performs favorably in measurements of civil liberties, press freedom, internet freedom, democratic governance, living standards, and peacefulness. Latvia is a member of the European Union, Eurozone, NATO, the Council of Europe, the United Nations, CBSS, the IMF, NB8, NIB, OECD, OSCE, and WTO. A full member of the Eurozone, it began using the euro as its currency on 1 January 2014, replacing the Latvian lats.
Riga is the capital of Latvia and is home to 627,487 inhabitants (2020), which is a third of Latvia’s population. Riga is the country’s primate city. It is also the largest city in the three Baltic states and is home to one tenth of the three Baltic states’ combined population. The city lies on the Gulf of Riga at the mouth of the Daugava river where it meets the Baltic Sea. Riga’s territory covers 307.17 km2 (118.60 sq mi).
Riga was founded in 1201. Riga’s historical centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, noted for its Art Nouveau/Jugendstil architecture and 19th century wooden architecture. Riga was the European Capital of Culture in 2014. Riga hosted the 2006 NATO Summit, the Eurovision Song Contest 2003, the 2006 IIHF Men’s World Ice Hockey Championships and the 2013 World Women’s Curling Championship. In 2017, it was named the European Region of Gastronomy.
In 2016, Riga received over 1.4 million visitors. The city is served by Riga International Airport, the largest and busiest airport in the Baltic states. Riga is a member of Eurocities, the Union of the Baltic Cities (UBC) and Union of Capitals of the European Union (UCEU).