U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Latvia, June 1997
Released by the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs, June 30, 1997.
Official Name: Republic of Latvia
Area: 64,100 sq. km. (25,640 sq. miles); about the size of West
Cities: Capital--Riga (1989 pop. 910,455); Daugavpils (124,910); Liepaja
(114,486); Jelgava (74,105); Jurmala (60,600); Ventspils (50,646);
Terrain: Fertile low-lying plains predominate in central Latvia,
highlands in Vidzeme and Latgale to the east, and hilly moraine in the
western Kurzeme region. Forests cover one-third of the country, with
over 3,000 small lakes and numerous bogs.
Land Use: 27% arable land, 13% meadows and pastures, 39% forest and
woodland, 21% other.
Climate: Temperate, with four seasons of almost equal length. January
temperatures average -5oC (23oF); July, 17oC (63oF). Annual
precipitation averages 57 centimeters (23 in.).
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Latvian(s).
Population: 2.5 million.
Growth Rate: -0.6%. Birth Rate: 14/1,000. Death Rate: 13/1,000. Divorce
Rate: 40%. Migration Rate: 4 migrants/1,000.
Density: 105/sq. mile. Urban Dwellers: 71%.
Ethnic groups: Latvian 51.8%, Russians 33.8%, Belorussians 4.5%,
Ukrainians 3.4%, Poles 2.3%.
Religions: Lutheran, Orthodox, Roman Catholic.
State language: Latvian. Russian also is spoken by most people.
Education: Years compulsory--9. By 1989, 60% of the adult populace had
finished high school, and 12% had completed college. Attendance--331,100
students at 943 schools, plus 114,200 university students. Literacy--
Health: Infant mortality rate--16/1,000. Life expectancy--65 years male,
Work force (1,405,000 people): Agriculture/Forestry--16%. Industry--30%.
Trade/Dining--9%. Transport/Communication--7%. Construction--10%.
Financial--1%. Services, other--27%.
Type: Parliamentary democracy.
Constitution: The 1922 constitution, the 1990 declaration of renewal of
independence, and the 1991 "Basic Law for the Period of Transition"
serve until a new constitution is ratified.
Branches: Executive--President (Head of State), elected by Parliament
every 3 years; Prime Minister (Head of Government). Legislative--Saeima
(100-member body). Judicial--Supreme Court.
Administrative regions: 26 "rural" districts and 6 districts in Riga.
Principal Political Factions:
Democratic Party "Saimnieks" (Cevers, Kreituss)--18 seats "Fatherland
and Freedom" (Maris Grinblats)--14 seats Latvia's Way (Gailis, Birkavs,
Pantelejevs)--17 seats Nat'l. Conservatives/Greens (Krastins,
Kirsteins)--08 seats Unity Party (Alberts Kauls)--08 seats Farmers Union
(Pres. Ulmanis, Rozentals) and Christian Democrats (Predele)--07 seats
"For Latvia" (Joachim Siegerist)--16 seats "Harmony" (ex-FM Jurkans,
Vulfsons, Kide)--06 seats Socialists (Stroganovs, Rubiks)--06 seats
Suffrage: 18 years, universal
Government budget: $939 million (social welfare 41%, education 15%,
defense 12%). $73 million deficit.
National holidays: November 18--Independence Day.
Flag: Two horizontal, maroon bands of equal width divided by a white
stripe one-half the width.
GDP: $3.5 billion.
Growth rate: 1%. Inflation rate: 30%. Unemployment: 6.5%.
Average annual wages: $2,230.
Natural resources: peat, limestone, dolomite, gypsum, timber.
Agriculture/Forestry (10% of GDP): Products--cattle, dairy foods,
cereals, potatoes. Cultivable land--1.36 million ha, of which 60% is
arable, 18% meadow, and 13% pasture.
Manufacturing (14.3% of GDP): light electrical equipment and fittings,
textiles and footwear, technological instruments, construction
materials, processed foods. Public Services--11%. Construction--5.3%.
Energy/Water--4.5%. Financial Services--3.5%. Rents--2.7%. Other
Trade: Exports--$1.1 billion: transshipment of crude oil; wood/wood
products 27%; metals 8%, textiles/apparel 14%, machinery/equipment 9%,
food products 11%, chemicals 5%, vehicles 3%. Major markets--Russia 28%,
other CIS 15%, Germany 10%, Sweden 7%. Imports--$1.4 billion: energy
52%, minerals 21%, machinery/equipment 17%, chemicals/plastics 11%, food
products 8%, textiles/apparel 8%, wood/wood products 4%, metals 3%.
Partners--Russia 24%, Germany 13%, Sweden 6.5%, other CIS 6%.
Official exchange rate: One lats (Ls) = 100 santimi. 1 USD = .56Ls.
Between 55.40 and 58.05 latitude and 20.58 and 28.14 longitude, Latvia
lies on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea on the level northwestern
part of the rising East European platform. 98% of the country lies under
200m elevation (640 ft.). The damp climate resembles New England's. With
the exception of the coastal plains, the Ice Age divided Latvia into
three main regions: the morainic Western and Eastern uplands and the
Middle lowlands. Latvia holds over 12,000 rivers, only 17 of which are
longer than 60 miles, and over 3,000 small lakes, most of which are
eutrophic. Woodland, more than half of which is pine, covers 41% of the
country. Other than peat, dolomite and limestone, natural resources are
scarce. Latvia holds 531km (329 mi.) of sandy coastline, and the ports
of Liepaja and Ventspils provide important warm-water harbors for the
Baltic littoral, although the Bay of Riga itself is rather polluted.
Today, Latvia is slightly larger than Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands
and Switzerland. Its strategic location has instigated many wars between
rival powers on its territory. As recently as 1944, the USSR granted
Russia the Abrene region on the Livonian frontier, which Latvia still
Latvians occasionally refer to themselves by the ancient name of
"Latviji," which may have originated from a "Latve" river that
presumably flowed through what is now eastern Latvia. A small Finno-
Ugric tribe known as the Livs settled among the Latvians and modulated
the name to "Latvis," meaning "forest-clearers," which is how medieval
German settlers also referred to these peoples. The German colonizers
changed this name to "Lette" and called their initially small colony
"Livland." The Latin form, "Livonia," gradually referred to the whole of
modern-day Latvia as well as southern Estonia, which had fallen under
German dominion. Latvians and Lithuanians are the only directly
surviving members of the Baltic peoples and languages of the Indo-
Latvians look like, and consider themselves, Nordics, evidenced through
the strong cultural and religious influences gained over centuries
during Germanic and Scandinavian colonization and settlement. Eastern
Latvia (Latgale), however, retains a strong Polish and Russian cultural
and linguistic influence. This highly literate society places strong
emphasis upon education, which is free and compulsory until age 16. Most
Latvians belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church, a sizable minority
are Russian Orthodox, and Eastern Latvia is predominantly Roman
Historically, Latvia always has had a fairly large Russian, Jewish,
German and Polish minority, but postwar emigration, deportations and
Soviet Russification policies from 1939-1989 dropped the percentage of
ethnic Latvians in Latvia from 73% to 52%. In an attempt to preserve the
Latvian language and avoid ethnic Latvians becoming a minority in their
own country, Latvia's strict language law and draft citizenship law have
caused many non-citizen resident Russians concern over their ability to
assimilate, despite Latvian legal guarantees of universal human and
civil rights regardless of citizenship.
Written with the Latin alphabet, Latvian is the language of the Latvian
people and the official language of the country. It is an inflective
language with several analytical forms, three dialects, and German
syntactical influence. The oldest known examples of written Latvian are
from a 1585 catechism. The Soviets imposed the official use of Russian,
so most Latvians speak Russian as a second or first language while the
resident Slavic populace generally speaks Russian as a first language.
Since 9,000 BC ancient peoples of unknown origin had inhabited Latvia,
but by 3,000 BC the ancestors of the Finns had settled the region. A
millennium later, pre-Baltic tribes had arrived and within time evolved
into the Baltic Couranian, Latgallian, Selonian and Semigallian groups.
These tribes eventually formed local governments independently from the
Finno-Ugric Livian tribe until the thirteenth century, when they were
conquered by the Germans, who renamed the territory Livonia.
German sailors shipwrecked on the Daugava River in 1054 had inhabited
the area, which led to increasing German influence. Founded by the
Germanic Bishop Alberth of Livonia in 1201, Riga joined the Hanseatic
League in 1285 and shared important cultural and economic ties to the
rest of Europe. However, the new German nobility enserfed the peasantry
and accorded non-Germanic peoples only limited trading and property
Subsequent wars and treaties ensured Livonia's partition and
colonization for centuries. The Commonwealth's successes during the
Livonian Wars (1558-1583) united the Latvian-populated duchies of
Pardaugava, Kurzeme and Zemgale, but the Polish-Swedish War (1600-1629)
granted Sweden acquisition of Riga and the Duchy of Pardaugava, minus
Latgale, leaving Latvia again split ethnically. In turn, victory over
Sweden in the Great Northern War (1700-1721) gave Russia control over
the Latvian territories. From 1804 onwards, a series of local decrees
gradually weakened the grip of German nobility over peasant society, and
in 1849 a law granted a legal basis for the creation of peasant-owned
Until the 1860s, there still was little sense of a Latvian national
identity, as both serfdom and institutional controls to migration and
social mobility limited the boundaries of the peasants' intellectual and
social geography. The large baronic estates caused a lack of available
farmland for an increasing population, creating a large landless, urban
class comprising about 60% of the population. Also in the face of
stricter Russification policies, the Baltic German clergy and literati
began to take a more benevolent interest in the distinctive language and
culture of the Latvian peasantry. These patrons (with such Lettish names
as Alunans, Barons, Krastins, Kronvalds, Tomsons and Valdemars) soon
formed the Young Latvian Movement, whose aim was to promote the
indigenous language and to publicize and counteract the socio-economic
oppression of Latvians.
By 1901, "Jauna Strava" had evolved into the Latvian Social Democratic
Party. Following the lead of the Austrian Marxists, the LSDP advocated
the transformation of the Russian Empire into a federation of democratic
states (to include Latvia) and the adoption of cultural autonomy policy
for extra-territorial ethnic communities. In 1903, the LSDP split into
the more radically internationalist Latvian Social Democratic Worker's
Party and the more influential Latvian Social Democratic Union (LSDU),
which continued to champion national interests and Latvia's national
self-determination, especially during the failed 1905 Revolution in
The onset of WWI brought German occupation of the western coastal
province of Kurzeme, and Latvians heroically countered the invasion with
the establishment of several regiments of riflemen commanded by Czarist
generals. As a defensive measure, Russia dismantled over 500 local
Latvian industries, along with technological equipment, and relocated
them to central Russia. The sagging military campaign generally
increased Latvian and LSDU support for the Bolsheviks' successful
October Revolution in 1917, in the hopes of a "free Latvia within free
Russia." These circumstances led to the formation of the soviet "Iskolat
Republic" in the unoccupied section of Latvia. In opposition to this
government and to the landed barons' German sympathies stood primarily
the Latvian Provisional National Council and the Riga Democratic Bloc.
These and other political parties formed the Latvian People's Council
which on November 18, 1918 declared Latvia's independence and formed an
The new Latvian army faced rogue elements of the retreating German army
and squared off in civil war against the Soviet Red Army, comprised
greatly of the former Latvian Riflemen. Soviet power resumed in Latvia
one month later on December 17 by order of the Latvian SSR, which
forcefully collectivized all land and nationalized all industries and
property. By May 22, 1919 the resurgent German Army occupied and
devastated Riga for several days. In response, the Latvian army managed
to win a decisive battle over the combined German-Red Army forces and
thereafter consolidated its success on the eastern Latgale front. These
developments led to the dissolution of the Soviet Latvian government on
January 13, 1920 and to a peace treaty between Latvia and Soviet Russia
on August 11 later that year. By September 22, 1921, Latvia was admitted
to the League of Nations.
Having obtained independent statehood in which Latvians were an absolute
majority, the Government headed by Prime Minister Ulmanis declared a
democratic, parliamentary republic. It recognized Latvian as the
official language, granted cultural autonomy to the country's sizeable
minorities, and introduced an electoral system into the Latvian
constitution, which was adopted in 1922. The decade witnessed sweeping
economic reform, as war had devastated Latvian agriculture, and most
Russian factories had been evacuated to Russia. Economic depression
heightened political turmoil, and on May 15, 1934, Prime Minister
Ulmanis dismissed the parliament, banned outspoken and left-wing
political parties and tightened authoritarian state control over Latvian
social life and the economy.
The effects of the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement of 1939
steadily forced Latvia under Soviet influence until August 5, 1940, when
the Soviet Union finally annexed Latvia. On June 14 of the following
year 15,000 Latvian citizens were forcibly deported and a large number
of army officers shot. The subsequent German occupation witnessed the
mobilization of many Latvians into Waffen SS legions, while some
Latvians joined the Red Army and formed resistance groups; others fled
to the West and East. By 1945, Latvia's population dropped by one-third.
After the war, the U.S.S.R. subjected the Latvian republic to a scale of
social and economic reorganization which rapidly transformed the rural
economy to heavy industry, the strongly ethnically Latvian population
into a more multiethnic structure, and the predominantly peasant class
into a fully urbanized industrial worker class. As part of the goal to
more fully integrate Latvia into the Soviet Union, on March 25, 1949
Stalin again deported another 42,000 Latvians and continued to promote
the policy of encouraging Soviet immigration to Latvia. The brief
"Krushchev thaw" of the 1950's ended in 1959, when the Soviets dismissed
Latvian Communist Party and Government leaders on charges of "bourgeois
nationalism" and replaced them with more aggressive hardliners, mostly
"Perestroika" enabled Latvians to pursue a bolder nationalistic program,
particularly through such general issues as environmental protection. In
July 1989, the Latvian Supreme Soviet adopted a "Declaration of
Sovereignty" and amended the Constitution to assert the supremacy of its
laws over those of the USSR. Pro-independence Latvian Popular Front
candidates gained a two-thirds majority in the Supreme Council in the
March, 1990 democratic elections. On May 4, the Council declared its
intention to restore full Latvian independence after a "transitional"
period; three days later, Ivars Godmanis was chosen Council of Ministers
Chairman, or Prime Minister.
In January 1991, Soviet political and military forces tried
unsuccessfully to overthrow the legitimate Latvian authorities by
occupying the central publishing house in Riga and establishing a
"Committee of National Salvation" to usurp governmental functions.
Seventy-three percent of all Latvian residents confirmed their strong
support for independence March 3 in a nonbinding "advisory" referendum.
A large number of ethnic Russians also voted for the proposition.
Latvia claimed de facto independence on August 21, 1991 in the aftermath
of the failed Soviet coup attempt. International recognition, including
the U.S.S.R., followed. The U.S., which had never recognized Latvia's
forcible annexation by the U.S.S.R., resumed full diplomatic relations
with Latvia on September 2.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
The Saeima, a unicameral legislative body, now is the highest organ of
state authority. It initiates and approves legislation sponsored by the
Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has full responsibility and control
over his cabinet, and the President holds a primarily ceremonial role as
Head of State.
In autumn, 1991 Latvia reimplemented significant portions of its 1922
constitution and in spring, 1993 the Government took a census to
determine eligibility for citizenship. After almost three years of
deliberations, Latvia finalized a citizenship and naturalization law in
summer, 1994. By law, those who were Latvian citizens in 1940, and their
descendants, could claim citizenship. Forty-six percent of Latvia's
population is ethnically non-Latvian, yet about 85% of its ethnic Slavs
can pass the residency requirement. Naturalization criteria include a
conversational knowledge of Latvian, a loyalty oath, renunciation of
former citizenship, a ten-year residency requirement and a knowledge of
the Latvian constitution. Dual citizenship is allowed for those who were
forced to leave Latvia during the Soviet occupation and adopted another
citizenship. Convicted criminals, drug addicts, agents of Soviet
intelligence services, and certain other groups also are excluded from
On March 19, 1991 the Supreme Council passed a law explicitly
guaranteeing "equal rights to all nationalities and ethnic groups" and
"guarantees to all permanent residents in the Republic regardless of
their nationality, equal rights to work and wages." The law also
prohibits "any activity directed toward nationality discrimination or
the promotion of national superiority or hatred."
In the June 5-6, 1993 elections wherein over 90% of the electorate
participated, eight of Latvia's twenty-three registered political
parties passed the four percent threshold to enter parliament. The
Popular Front, which spearheaded the drive for independence two years
ago with a 75% majority in the last parliamentary elections in 1990, did
not qualify for representation. The centrist "Latvia's Way" party
received a 33% plurality of votes and joined with the Farmer's Union to
head a center-right wing coalition government.
Led by the opposition National Conservative Party, right-wing
nationalists won a majority of the seats nationwide and also captured
the Riga mayoralty in the May 29, 1994 municipal elections. OSCE and COE
observers pronounced the elections free and fair, and turnout averaged
about 60%. In February 1995, the Council of Europe granted Latvia
Through President Clinton's initiative, on April 30, 1994 Latvian and
Russia signed a troop withdrawal agreement. Russia withdrew its troops
by August 31, 1994, and will maintain several hundred technical
specialists to man an OSCE-monitored phased-array ABM radar station at
Skrunda until the facility is dismantled no later than 1999.
The September 30-October 1, 1995 elections brought forth a deeply
fragmented parliament with nine parties represented and the largest
party commanding only 18 of 100 seats. Attempts to form right-of-center
and leftist governments failed; seven weeks after the election, a broad
coalition government of six of the nine parties was voted into office
under prime minister Andris Skele, a businessman not in parliament. The
publicly popular president, Guntis Ulmanis, has limited constitutional
powers but played a key role in leading the various political forces to
agree finally to this broad coalition. In June, the saeima re-elected
Ulmanis to another three-year term.
Key Government Officials
President--Mr. Guntis Ulmanis, Farmers' Union
Prime Minister--Mr. Andris Skele, Independent
Deputy PM--Mr. Juris Kaksitis, Saimnieks
Deputy PM, Environment Regional Development--Mr. Anatolijs Gobunovs,
Defense--Mr. Andrejs Krastins, LNNK
Foreign Affairs--Mr. Valdis Birkavs, Latvia's Way
Economy--Mr. Guntars Krasts, Fatherland & Freedom
Interior--Mr. Dainis Turlais, Saimnieks
Education & Science--Mr. Juris Celmins, Saimnieks
Agriculture--Mr. Roberts Dilba, Farmers' Union
Transportation--Mr. Vilis Kristopans, Latvia's Way
Welfare--Mr. Vladimirs Makarovs, Fatherland Freedom
Justice--Mr. Dzintars Rasnacs, Fatherland & Freedom
Culture--Mr. Rihards Piks, Farmers' Union
Finance--Mr. Andris Skele
Acting EU Affairs--Mr. Aleksandrs Kirsteins, LNNK
Parliament Chairman--Ms. Ilga Kreituse
Latvia maintains an Embassy in the United States at 4325 17th Street,
Washington DC 20011 [tel: (202)726-8213].
For centuries under Hanseatic and German influence and then during its
inter-war independence, Latvia used its geographic location as an
important East-West commercial and trading center.
Industry served local markets, while timber, paper and agricultural
products supplied Latvia's main exports. Conversely, the years of
Russian and Soviet occupation tended to integrate Latvia's economy to
serve those empires' large internal industrial needs. Comprising 46% of
the populace, ethnic Slavs control about 80% of the economy.
Since reestablishing its independence, Latvia has proceeded with market-
oriented reforms, albeit at a measured pace. Its freely-traded currency,
the lat, was introduced in 1993 and has held steady, or appreciated,
against major world currencies. For the past two years, inflation has
been held under a monthly rate of 2-3%. Latvia's economy had contracted
substantially since 1991: economic output shrank 34% in 1992 and 20% in
1993. Led by recovery in light industry and a boom in the commerce and
finance, the economy appeared to have steadied by late 1994. Modest
growth was forecast for 1995. However, a prolonged banking crisis
involving what had been Latvia's largest commercial bank, set the
economy back in the second half of 1995. The crisis caused the budget
deficit for 1995--and projected deficit for 1996--to grow well beyond
the 2% target recommended by the IMF.
Replacement of the centrally-planned system imposed during the Soviet
period with a structure based on free-market principles has been
occurring spontaneously from below much more than through consistently-
applied structural adjustment. Official statistics tend to understate
the booming private sector, suggesting that the Latvian people and their
economy are doing much better than is reflected statistically. A booming
private sector, especially in trade and services, accounted for about
half of economic activity. Privatization initially proceeded at a good
pace in the rural sector; by mid-1994, more than 50% of Latvia's
farmland was in private hands, the rest in stock or government-owned
companies. In the industrial sector, especially medium and large
enterprises, progress has been slow. The official unemployment figure
has held steady in the 8% range.
Latvia reported a trade surplus of 36.4 million lats in 1993, with
exports of 675.6 million lats and imports of 639.2 million lats. Given
the persistently strong lat, Latvia is expected to record a larger
balance of trade deficit in 1995. Russia remains Latvia's largest trade
partner, accounting for 29% of exports and 28% of imports, mostly
transit trade. Latvia remains heavily dependent upon Russia and the NIS
for about 90 percent of its energy needs. Invisibles flow and net
official transfers were positive in 1994, but outflows of mainly Russian
portfolio investment in 1995 are likely to hurt the final 1995 balance
of payments figure. Direct foreign investment appears to have grown only
modestly since January 1994, when the total figure stood at an estimated
$140 million. The United States remains at or close to the top in direct
foreign investment. Latvia signed a Europe Agreement with the EU in June
1995, with a four-year transition period. In 1995, Latvia signed a
bilateral investment treaty with the United States and is currently
negotiating a double-taxation treaty.
Structural reform has proceeded most rapidly in agriculture and in the
privatization of small enterprises. More than 58,000 private farms have
been established and most remaining collective farms transformed into
private joint stock companies. However, many of Latvia's new farmers are
operating at subsistence levels stemming from a lack of financial
resources and credit. Urban and rural property is being returned to
former owners, but the legal mechanisms for title registration, sale and
mortgaging of real property are not yet fully developed. Other than
privatization of the food processing and dairy industries, the pace of
privatization of large industrial enterprises has been slow. Only about
a dozen of Latvia's largest industrial enterprises have been privatized.
Recovery in light industry and Riga's emergence as a regional financial
and commercial center are offsetting shrinkage of the state-owned
industrial sector and agriculture. Foreign investment in Latvia is still
modest compared with levels in North-Central Europe.
Latvia's defense concept is based upon the Swedish-Finnish model of a
rapid response force composed of a mobilization base and a small group
of career professionals. The armed forces consist of border guards,
mobile riflemen, special units, and an air force and navy whose status
has not fully been determined financially or administratively. The
"zemessardze," or home guard, is an autonomous volunteer paramilitary
organization which also performs traditional national guard duties and
assists the border guards. Special independent Interior Ministry,
intelligence, and civil defense units also exist. Active-duty defense
forces stand at 9,000 men. There is a mandatory one-year draft period of
active duty, and alternative conscription for conscientious objectors is
Latvia became a member of the United Nations on September 18, 1991 and
is a signatory to a number of UN organizations and other international
agreements. It also is a member of the Conference on Security and
Cooperation in Europe and of the North Atlantic Coordinating Council.
Latvia is unaffiliated directly with any political alliance but welcomes
further cooperation and integration with NATO, European Community and
other Western organizations. It also seeks more active participation in
United Nations peacekeeping efforts worldwide.
Latvia maintains embassies in the United States, Belarus, Belgium,
Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Lithuania, Sweden, the
United Kingdom, and Russia. It also operates missions to the United
Nations in New York City and a Consulate General in Australia. Honorary
consuls are located in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Greece,
India, Israel, Italy, Korea, Moldova, Norway, Switzerland, Taiwan, and
Relations with Russia are improving, primarily because Russia withdrew
its troops from Latvia by August 31, 1994, according to a bilateral
agreement signed on April 30 that year.
Latvia has agreed that Russia may continue to operate the Skrunda radar
facility under OSCE supervision strictly for a four-year period. Russia
expresses concern for how Latvia's laws on language and naturalization
may affect Latvia's ethnic Slavs, who comprise 46% of the population. In
turn, Latvia is interested in the welfare of over 210,000 ethnic
Latvians still resident in Russia. Neither country allows for dual
The United States established diplomatic relations with Latvia on July
28, 1922. The U.S. Legation in Riga officially was established November
13, 1922 and served as the headquarters for U.S. representation in the
Baltics during the inter-war era.
The Soviet invasion forced the closure of the legation on September 5,
1940, but Latvian representation in the United States has continued
uninterrupted for over seventy years. The U.S. never recognized the
forcible incorporation of Latvia into the USSR, and views the present
Government of Latvia as a legal continuation of the inter-war republic.
Latvia has enjoyed Most-Favored-Nation (MFN) treatment with the U.S.
since December, 1991. It annually receives approximately $6 million in
humanitarian and medical aid, technical assistance and professional
training, along with about $38 million in feed grain credit from the
U.S. since 1991.
Customs: Latvia does not require visas for citizens of the U.S. and most
Western countries for visits of less than 90 days. Visitors are
encouraged to register at the U.S. Embassy.
Unlimited hard currency, 1 liter of alcohol, 200 cigarettes, and
foodstuffs valued at less than one month's minimum wage (3,000 rubles)
may be imported. $125 worth of goods not regulated by Latvian or
international law requiring special permission may be imported. Export
regulations cover hard currency (in unrestricted amounts) and foodstuffs
worth less than ten monthly minimum wages). Articles purchased in Latvia
for hard currency must be accompanied by a receipt.
Climate and clothing: Latvia's climate enjoys seasons of almost equal
length. Riga and the coast are temperate, with pleasant, cool summers
and damp winters; eastern Latvia is continental, with warmer summers and
Health: Medical care does not meet Western standards and faces severe
shortages of basic medical supplies, including disposable needles,
anesthetics and antibiotics. Recent disruption of energy supplies has
decreased the availability of heat and hot water. Raw fruits and
vegetables are safe to eat, but avoid drinking unpasteurized milk and
Transportation: Several international airlines, including SAS and
Lufthansa, provide service between European cities and Riga Airport.
Train service is available via Moscow, St. Petersburg and
Warsaw/Frankfurt, and a bus line connects the Baltic capitals with
Warsaw. Bus and taxi services within the capital and its environs are
good. Taxis are inexpensive and available at stands or may be ordered by
phone. Rental cars are available. Gasoline prices are reaching market
Telecommunications: Improved telephone and telegraph services are
readily available at standard international rates. Riga is 7 hours ahead
of eastern standard time.
Work week: 40 hours. Most stores and shops are closed on Sunday, open
Monday-Friday from 10:00am - 6:00pm and on Saturday from 9:00am -
National holidays: Businesses and the U.S. Embassy may be closed on the
following Latvian holidays: January 1--New Year's Day; Good Friday;
Easter Sunday; May 1--Labor Day; June 24--Midsummer; November 18--
Independence Day; December 24-26 (Christmas). The U.S. Embassy also will
be closed on U.S. federal holidays.
Tourist attractions: Latvia offers a variety of interesting historical
and architectural monuments, museums, picturesque scenery and places of
interest. Riga features all the appeal of an Old World European capital,
with cathedrals, castles and town walls from the Middle Ages and tree-
lined boulevards. Also of note are Riga's Freedom Monument and its
Outdoor Museum of Ethnography portraying Latvian life through the
centuries. Jurmala's seaside resorts are popular for sandy beaches and
mudbaths. Numerous castle and church ruins as well as lovely national
parks, such as the wildlife refuge in Ligatne, dot the countryside.
Currency, Weights and Measures: The transitional national currency is
convertible with major Western monies, but some vendors still accept
Western cash for purchases. Traveler's checks and some major credit
cards can be used primarily at large banks and Western hotels. Latvia
uses the metric system.
Crime: By U.S. standards, Latvia has a low rate of violent crime.
However, the introduction of a market-oriented economy has resulted in
an increase in street crime, especially at night near major hotels and
restaurants frequented by foreigners. Penalties for possession, use and
dealing in illegal drugs are strict, and convicted offenders can expect
jail sentences and fines.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Larry C. Napper
Political Officer--Douglas Wake
Economic Officer--Constance Phlipot
Administrative Officer--Susan Pazina
Consular Officer--Robert Tatge
AID Director--Howard Handler
Public Affairs Officer--Philip Ives
The U.S. Embassy in Latvia is located at Raina Boulevard 7, Riga [tel.
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