Latvia Situated in north-eastern Europe with a coastline along the Baltic Sea, Latvia is geographically the middle of the three former Soviet Baltic republics. It has language links with Lithuania to the south and historical and ecumenical ties with Estonia to the north.
Not much more than a decade after it declared independence following the collapse of the USSR, Latvia was welcomed as an EU member in May 2004. The move came just weeks after it joined Nato. These developments would have been extremely hard to imagine in not-so-distant Soviet times. Riga: Eclectic capital is on Unesco's heritage list
Latvia Tourist Attractions
For centuries Latvia was primarily an agricultural country, with seafaring, fishing and forestry as other important factors in its economy. Latvia was under foreign dominion from the 13th until the 20th century. Marshall Islands
After the first world war it declared independence which Russia recognised in 1920. Two decades later, following a pact between Stalin and Hitler, Soviet troops invaded in 1940 and Latvia was absorbed into the Soviet Union. Nazi forces pushed the Soviets back in 1941 but the Red Army returned in 1944 and remained for half a century.
During the Soviet period, which ended in 1991, Latvia underwent heavy industrialisation, and experienced a big influx of immigrants from other parts of the USSR, mainly Russia. About a quarter of the population is Russian-speaking and the rights of this section of society have been a thorny issue since independence.
Government reforms introduced in 2004 to restrict the use of the Russian language in schools remain controversial. Legislation on citizenship was toughened up in 2006. Candidates who fail a Latvian language test three times will be denied citizenship.
People without citizenship are entitled neither to vote nor to obtain an EU passport. Like its Baltic neighbours, in the 10 years since independence Latvia has made a rapid transformation to embrace the free market.
Full name:Republic of Latvia
Population: 2.3 million (UN, 2007)
Area: 64,589 sq km (24,938 sq miles)
Major languages: Latvian, Russian
Major religion: Christianity
Life expectancy: 67 years (men), 78 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 lats = 100 santims
Main exports: Timber and wood products, fish and fish products
GNI per capita: US $6,760 (World Bank, 2006)
Internet domain: .lv
International dialling code: + 371