Latvia is a small country in north eastern Europe. It shares borders with Estonia, Russia, Belarus and Lithuania. The capital city is Riga. Other big cities in Latvia are Daugavpils and Liepāja. Latvia has been an independent country since 1991 and in 2004 the country joined the European Union. The country's currency is the Euro.
Beginning in the 13th century, Latvia was successively dominated by Germany, Poland, and Russia. During the 17th century most of Latvia converted to Lutheran religon which is the most common religion today. Latvia became an independent country in 1918. In 1940 the USSR (Soviet Union) took over Latvia although many western countries continued to recognize Latvia as an independent country and said that the Soviet occupation was illegal (along with that of Lithuania and Estonia). During World War II more than 200,000 Latvians were killed including the majority of the country's Jewish population. Before independence another 200,000 Latvians escaped from the country and up to 200,000 were deported to Siberia to work in the USSR's Gulags. From 1987 to 1991 massive protests in the 3 Baltic countries demanded independence and more civil rights eventually leading to independence. Latvia has been an independent country since 1991 and in 2004 the country joined the European Union.
Soviet Union (USSR) — This was a massive country consisting of Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and many other countries. It was a super power until it ended in 1991
Gulag — Gulags were a system of prison camps built in Siberia in central and eastern Russia during the time of the Soviet Union. Life was very tough in these prisons and most of the prisoners were political prisoners not common criminals
Latvia covers an area of about 63,700 km2 (about 24,600 sq mi). Forests cover 47 percent of the land. Forests are most dense in the north. The country’s forests, meadows, and marshes support many types of animals. Some types of animals include the deer, wild boars, wolves, lynx, beavers, and otters.
Summers are warm and the weather in spring and autumn fairly mild, however, the winters can be extreme due to the northern location. Precipitation is common throughout the year with the heaviest rainfall falling in August. During severe spells of winter weather in Latvia is dominated by cold winds from the interior of Russia and severe snowfalls are common.
The population of Latvia is about 2,259,810. Ethnic Latvians make up about 58 percent of the population. Russians, are the largest minority, representing about 30 percent of the population. Other minorities include Belarusians, Ukrainians, Poles, and Lithuanians. The official language of the republic is Latvian. Ethnic minorities in Latvia often also speak their own native languages such as Russian, Lithuanian, and Polish.
Education in Latvia is free and required from the age of 6 to 15. Latvia has an adult literacy rate of almost 100 percent.
Latvia's capital, Riga, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular tourist destination for people from all around the world. The Latvian National Opera and Latvian National Theatre are popular cultural institutions in Riga. The old town of Riga is considered to be one of Europe's many great ancient town centres with some very old buildings built during different eras. Despite wars and a long period as part of the Soviet Union many of the finest buildings remain in excellent condition. Nowadays Riga is a popular destination for British and German people having Stag Parties (parties which men have before they get married). Cruise ships which visit the Baltic Sea usually call in Riga and the country is a popular weekend break destination for travelers coming from Scandinavia, Estonia and Russia.