ABOUT LATVIA

GENERAL INFORMATION

Latvia is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe, one of the three Baltic states. It is bordered by Estonia, Lithuania, Russia, Belarus and by a maritime border to the west with Sweden. Latvia has 1,997,500 inhabitants and a territory of 64,589 km2 (24,938 sq mi). The country has a temperate seasonal climate.
Latvia is a democratic parliamentary republic established in 1918. The capital city is Riga, the European Capital of Culture 2014. Latvian is the official language. Latvia is a unitary state, divided into 118 administrative divisions of which 109 are municipalities and 9 are cities. There are five planning regions: Kurzeme, Latgale, Riga, Vidzeme and Zemgale.
Latvians and Livs are the indigenous people of Latvia. Latvian is an Indo-European language; it and Lithuanian are the only two surviving Baltic languages. Despite foreign rule from the 13th to 20th centuries, the Latvian nation maintained its identity throughout the generations via the language and musical traditions. Latvia and Estonia share a long common history. As a consequence of the Soviet occupation both countries are home to a large number of ethnic Russians (26.9% in Latvia and 25.5% in Estonia), some of whom are non-citizens. Latvia is historically predominantly Protestant Lutheran, except for the Latgale region in the southeast, which has historically been predominantly Roman Catholic.
The Republic of Latvia was founded on 18 November 1918. However, its de facto independence was interrupted at the outset of World War II. In 1940, the country was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union, invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany in 1941, and re-occupied by the Soviets in 1944 to form the Latvian SSR for the next fifty years. The peaceful Singing Revolution, starting in 1987, called for Baltic emancipation of Soviet rule. It ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, and Latvia declared the restoration of its de facto independence on 21 August 1991.

Climate

Latvia has a temperate climate that has been described in various sources as either humid continental (Koppen Dfb) or oceanic/maritime(Koppen 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

Environment

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 kilometres of undeveloped seashore—lined by pine forests, dunes, and continuous white sand beaches.
Latvia has the 5th highest proportion of land covered by forests in the European Union, after Sweden, Finland, Estonia 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 38,000 km (24,000 mi). Major rivers include the Daugava River, Lielupe, Gauja, Venta, and Salaca, the largest spawning ground for salmon in the eastern Baltics. There are 2,256 lakes that are bigger than 1 ha (2.5 acres), with a collective area of 1,000 km2 (390 sq mi). 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.

Politics

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.

Economy

Latvia is a member of the World Trade Organization (1999) and the European Union (2004). On 1 January 2014, the Euro became the country's currency, superseding the Lats. According to statistics in late 2013, 45% of the population supported the introduction of the euro, while 52% opposed it. Following the introduction of the Euro, Euro barometer surveys in January 2014 showed support for the Euro to be around 53%, close to the European average.
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, shortage of credit and huge money resources needed for bailout of Parex bank. Latvian economy fell 18% in the first three months of 2009, the biggest fall in the European Union

Demographics

The total fertility rate (TFR) in 2013 was estimated at 1.52 children born/woman, which is lower than the replacement rate of 2.1. In 2012, 45.0% of births were to unmarried women.[134] The life expectancy in 2013 was estimated at 73.19 years (68.13 years male, 78.53 years female)

Language

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 to as either a dialect or a 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 34% speak it at home, including people who are not ethnically Russian).While it is now required that all school students learn Latvian, most schools also include English and either German or Russian in their curricula. English is widely accepted in Latvia, especially in business and tourism. As of 2014 there are 109 schools for minorities that use Russian as the language of instruction for 40% of subjects (the rest 60% of subjects are taught in Latvian), however the Latvian government is planning to completely abolish Russian as a language of instruction by 2018.
On 18 February 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%.[141] However, a large part of Latvia's Russian speaking community (290,660 or 14.1%[citation needed] of Latvia's entire population) could not vote in this referendum because they hold non-citizen status and thus have no right to vote.

Education

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 centre of education. Latvia closed 131 schools between 2006 and 2010, which is a 12.9% decline, and in the same period enrolment in educational institutions has fallen by over 54,000 people, a 10.3% decline.

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