Latvia opened up to the market economy and to Europe after the collapse of USSR and the end of its occupation of the country. A member of the European Union since May 1, 2004, Latvia is positioning itself more and more as an economically driven country. Although its size is modest, this Baltic country remains largely unknown despite its economic and fiscal advantages as well as cultural, historical, geographical and natural. Highlighted for its good governance in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, after more than 10 years Latvia is taken as an example for the IMF to follow.
Latvia or the Republic of Latvia is located in Northern Europe. Its unique location right by the Baltic Sea has given birth to the name of its region called “The Baltics”.
The country shares its borders with four : Estonia in the North, Russia in the East, Belarus in the Southeast, and lastly, Lithuania in the South.
The Republic of Latvia comprises of a total of five historical regions which are: Courland (Kurzeme), Zemgale, Vidzeme and Latgale. Following that, it consists of nine republic cities with Riga as the Capital. The Capital is located on the coast of the Gulf of Riga.
Latvia is densely covered in greenery given that more than fifty percent of the country is home to forests. This fact alone makes it the second environmental-friendly and environment-safe country within Europe as of 2019. Other than that, close to ten percent of Latvia is crowded with marshes, swamps, and peatbogs.
Latvia has surged greatly in its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) showing excellent levels of resurgence since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
After the declaration of its second independence in 1991, the country had to convert everything from state-owned to privatised. Latvians economy mostly functions on textiles, processed foods, pharmaceuticals and wood products.
Since 2004, the Republic of Latvia has been a part of the European Union and the NATO. In 2014, the local currency called LATS was switched to Euro. Latvia holds the 19th rank in the Ease of Doing Business Index (2019).
The population of Latvia is relatively small and is not home to a major market specifically. Regardless of that, certain corporations that are running their business there have been successful due to one key advantage the country has: its location. Owing to that, the country has been able to provide access to its immediate neighbours to quite a few resources.
The official language of the country is Latvian. However, most people in the big cities, especially in the capital Riga, are able to speak English fluently. Apart from that, German and Russian, though the latter is predominant, are also spoken quite often and even taught in school.
Education in Latvia is compulsory and free. Compulsory education includes: two years of preschool education and nine years of primary education. After nine years in school a student can pursue studying for three more years in high school. According to a study done in 2010, most Latvian students get their Bachelor’s degree in Latvia and continue their Master studies abroad.
In terms of religious aspects, up until the 12th century all Latvians were pagans. The old pagan traditions are still incorporated into their everyday life and can even be seen today given that many national holidays are celebrated the same way pagans celebrated them.
Christianity was brought to Latvia in the 12th century as well and was the most influential religion until the arrival of Communism during world war two (WW2) during which all religions were banned. Today, most Latvians present themselves as Lutherans or Catholics. A chunk of the population, coming from mixed Russian families, is Orthodox Christian.
The first group of people to live on the land of Latvia were known as the Balts. Be that as it may, in the 9th century Vikings and Varangians started to rule the Baltic land. Though this did not last very long because Germans quickly established a stronger dominance and forcefully Christianized the Balts, who were then pagans.
German lordship over Balts continued for three more centuries. From the 16th century to the 18th century Latvia was divided between Sweden and Poland. At the end of the 18th century Latvia was fully annexed by the Russian Empire. Even at this time, Latvians were still very much influenced by the German rule.
In the early 20th century, Latvian nationalism grew quite rapidly. Latvians wanted to live freely from the Russian Empire. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, Latvia finally declared its independence for the first time on November 18, 1918.
In 1919, Latvia won the Independence war against West Russian Volunteer Army (Bermontian Army). The independence didn’t last for a long time because in 1949 Latvia was invaded by the Red Army and soon became a part of the U.S.S.R.
Shortly after this stream of events, Latvia was invaded by Germany. After world war two (WW2) ended, Latvia was forced to become a part of the U.S.S.R.
In 1990, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Latvian legislature passed a declaration on the renewal of its independence date.
In 1918, the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed, though from 1918 up until 1920 Latvia had to fight a war for its independence, which it did end up winning and following the win it elected Constitutional Assembly.
Latvia is run by Saeima (the Parliament). It is a unicameral parliament that consists of one hundred members who are elected by proportional representation. Every fourth year, on the first Saturday of October, the elections are held. The most recent elections were held in 2018.
As of now, there are about eight political parties in power. The President of the country is elected by Saeima. The Presidential election takes place once in every four years. The current president of the Republic of Latvia is Egils Levits. The government itself is run by the Prime Minister who is responsible for the coordination of work of for the Cabinet of Ministers. The current Prime Minister of Latvia is Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš.
Culture is something that is different for and holds great importance to each nation, Latvia is no different. The country itself is full of incredibly vibrant traditions which are unique to its population.
Food is a big part of the Latvian culture. The most traditional dishes are rye bread, grey peas with meat, cheese with cumin seeds, and a sweet pie that is made of rye dough, a potato and carrot stuffing that is seasoned with cumin. This pie is referred to as “Sklandrausis”.
Latvia has declared itself as “the country that sings” given that it has very well-developed choirs and has even been home to the World Choir Olympic Games. The biggest and most important tradition of Latvia is the Song and Dance festival which happens every four years. It is a massive event that involves up to 30,000 participants. It is included in the UNESCO Intangible Heritage List.
Cost and quality of life
The Capital of the country, Riga, is the most crowded place given that it is considered as one of the safest cities within Northern Europe. The average cost of living in Riga is much lower in comparison with other European countries.
Latvia has one of the fastest internet connections in the world. To get around Riga, the cost of public transport is around 2 EUR one way and groceries cost around 250 to 350 EUR per month.
Given that there are many foreign students coming to Riga, summer is the time when apartments are quickly put on and taken down from the market. On average, a furnished and renovated two-room apartment with a living room, a bedroom, a bathroom and a kitchen will cost somewhere between 400 to 500 EUR per month. The most expensive districts are Old Town, City Center, Quiet Center and Anderjsala. In these districts the prices can be positioned at a much higher scale.