Forests comprise half of Latvia, which are home to a diverse range of species. Many tiny lakes may be found across the nation, particularly in the south-eastern Latgale area. River valleys may be observed, with parts having sand cliffs on their banks. Because heavy industry ceased to exist a long time ago, most areas are now environmentally pristine.
Latvia is mostly flat, with no high mountains like those seen in the Alps. Gaizinkalns, the highest point in Latvia, rises to 312 meters (1,023 feet) above sea level just west of Madona in central Latvia.
Summer, from June to early September, is the ideal season to visit Latvia since the weather is pleasant (about 15°C to 20°C) and a variety of local cuisine are accessible. While the beginning of December is typically warm, with temperatures above freezing, snowfall may be anticipated in January and February, with temperatures dropping to about -30°C for brief periods of time. The spring and fall seasons are quite warm.
In 2013, the total fertility rate (TFR) was projected to be 1.52 children born per woman, lower below the replacement rate of 2.1. Unmarried women accounted for 45.0 percent of births in 2012. In 2013, the average life expectancy was 73.19 years (68.13 years male, 78.53 years female). Latvia is thought to have the lowest male-to-female ratio in the world, with 0.85 men per female, as of 2015.
Latvia’s population has been multiethnic for millennia, but owing to World Wars I and II, emigration and deportation of Baltic Germans, the Holocaust, and Soviet rule, the demographics changed significantly in the twentieth century. Latvians made up 68.3 percent of the entire population of 1.93 million people, according to the Russian Empire Census of 1897; Russians made up 12%, Jews 7.4 percent, Germans 6.2 percent, and Poles 3.4 percent.
Latvians account for 62.1 percent of the population, with Russians accounting for 26.9%, Belarusians 3.3 percent, Ukrainians 2.2 percent, Poles 2.2 percent, Lithuanians 1.2 percent, Jews 0.3 percent, Romani people 0.3 percent, Germans 0.1 percent, Estonians 0.1 percent, and others 1.3 percent. Livonians, who are said to be Latvia’s first residents, number less than 400 individuals. In Latvia, there were 290,660 non-citizens, or 14.1 percent of the population, mostly ethnic Russians who came following the 1940 occupation and their descendants.
Ethnic Latvians make up a minority of the population in certain cities, such as Daugavpils and Rzekne. Despite the fact that ethnic Latvians have been gradually growing for more than a decade, ethnic Latvians still account for slightly less than half of the population of Riga, Latvia’s capital.
Ethnic Latvians made about 52 percent of the population in 1989, down from 77 percent (1,467,035) in 1935. Even though there were fewer Latvians in 2011 than in 1989, their population proportion was higher – 1,284,194 people (62.1 percent of the population).
Christianity is Latvia’s most popular religion (79%) yet only around 7% of the population attends religious services on a regular basis. As of 2011, the following were the most powerful organizations:
- Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia – 708,773
- Roman Catholic – 500,000
- Russian Orthodox – 370,000
In a 2010 Eurobarometer poll, 38 percent of Latvian people said that “they believe in God,” while 48 percent said “they believe in some kind of spirit or life force,” and 11 percent said “they do not believe in any form of spirit, God, or life force.”
Due to significant historical connections with the Nordic nations and the influence of the Hansa, and Germany in general, Lutheranism was more prevalent before the Soviet rule, when it was a majority religion. In all three Baltic nations, Lutheranism has fallen to a somewhat larger degree than Roman Catholicism since then. With an estimated 600,000 members in 1956, the Evangelical Lutheran Church was the worst hit. On March 18, 1987, towards the end of Soviet control, an internal document said that active membership in Latvia had fallen to just 25,000, although the religion has since enjoyed a resurgence. Furthermore, contemporary Evangelical Protestant denominations are gaining popularity throughout the globe, including in Latvia. The Latvian Orthodox Church, a semi-autonomous entity within the Russian Orthodox Church, is home to the country’s Orthodox Christians. In 2011, Latvia had 416 Jews and 319 Muslims residing there.
Dievturi (The Godskeepers) are a group of about 600 Latvian neopagans whose religion is based on Latvian mythology. Around 21% of the population is unaffiliated with any particular religion.
Latvia is a member of both the World Trade Organization and the European Union, having joined both in 1999. (2004). The Euro replaced the Lats as the country’s currency on January 1, 2014. According to data from late 2013, 45 percent of the public favored the euro’s adoption, while 52 percent opposed it. Eurobarometer polls conducted in January 2014 revealed that support for the Euro was about 53%, which was similar to the European average.
Latvia has had one of the greatest (GDP) growth rates in Europe since 2000. However, Latvia’s mostly consumption-driven development culminated in the country’s GDP collapsing in late 2008 and early 2009, worsened by the global economic crisis, credit shortages, and the massive money resources needed to bail out Parex bank. In the first three months of 2009, the Latvian economy shrank by 18 percent, the most in the European Union.
Because it was driven primarily by growth in domestic consumption, financed by a significant increase in private debt, as well as a negative foreign trade balance, the economic crisis of 2009 confirmed earlier predictions that the fast-growing economy was on the verge of imploding the economic bubble. Real estate prices, which were rising at a rate of around 5% per month at one time, were long thought to be too excessive for an economy that mostly produced low-value products and raw materials.
Latvia’s privatization is almost complete. Almost all formerly state-owned small and medium businesses have been privatized, leaving just a few politically sensitive big state-owned businesses. In 2000, the private sector contributed approximately 68 percent of the country’s GDP.
In comparison to the rest of north-central Europe, foreign investment in Latvia is still low. In 1997, a legislation was enacted that broadened the scope of land sales, including to foreigners. In 1999, American businesses spent $127 million in Latvia, accounting for 10.2 percent of the country’s total foreign direct investment. The United States of America exported $58.2 million in products and services to Latvia in the same year, while importing $87.9 million. Latvia signed a Europe Agreement with the EU in 1995, with a four-year transition period, in order to join Western economic organizations such as the World Trade Organization, the OECD, and the European Union. Latvia and the United States have signed treaties on double taxation avoidance, investment, commerce, and intellectual property protection.
Economic contraction and recovery (2008–12)
After a prolonged period of credit-based speculation and unsustainable increases in real estate prices, the Latvian economy began a period of fiscal recession in the second half of 2008. For example, in 2007, the national account deficit was more than 22% of GDP, with inflation hovering around 10%.
During this time, Latvia’s jobless rate soared from 5.4 percent in November 2007 to nearly 22 percent.
Latvia had the highest unemployment rate in the EU in April 2010, at 22.5 percent, ahead of Spain’s 19.7 percent.
On December 15, 2008, Paul Krugman, the 2008 Nobel Laureate in Economics, stated in his New York Times Op-Ed column:
“The most serious issues are on Europe’s periphery, where a number of smaller countries are facing crises that are eerily similar to those seen in Latin America and Asia in the past: Latvia is the new Argentina. “
By 2010, however, observers had seen indications of economic stabilization in Latvia. Standard & Poor’s changed its assessment of Latvia’s debt from negative to stable. In February 2010, Latvia’s current account, which had been in deficit by 27% since late 2006, was in surplus. According to Kenneth Orchard, a senior analyst of Moody’s Investors Service,
“The growing regional economy is boosting Latvian production and exports, while the dramatic swing in the current account balance indicates that the country’s ‘internal devaluation’ is functioning,” says the report.
In July 2012, the IMF announced the conclusion of the First Post-Program Monitoring Discussions with the Republic of Latvia, stating that the Latvian economy has been recovering well since 2010, after the severe slump in 2008–09. Export expansion and a rebound in domestic demand fueled real GDP growth of 5.5 percent in 2011. Despite worsening external circumstances, the GDP grew by 4.1 percent in 2012 and 2013, and the economy is projected to rise by 4.1 percent in 2014. The unemployment rate has decreased from a high of more than 20% in 2010 to a low of about 9.3% in 2014.