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

PROFILE

Geography

Area: 64,100 sq. km. (25,640 sq. miles); about the size of West 
Virginia. 
Cities: Capital--Riga (1989 pop. 910,455); Daugavpils (124,910); Liepaja 
(114,486); Jelgava (74,105); Jurmala (60,600); Ventspils (50,646); 
Rezekne (42,477).
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.).

People

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-- 
99%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--16/1,000. Life expectancy--65 years male, 
75 female. 
Work force (1,405,000 people): Agriculture/Forestry--16%. Industry--30%. 
Trade/Dining--9%. Transport/Communication--7%. Construction--10%. 
Financial--1%. Services, other--27%.

Government

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.

Economy

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 
Services--34%. Miscellaneous--14.7%. 
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.

GEOGRAPHY

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 
contests.

PEOPLE

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-
European family.

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 
Catholic.

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.

HISTORY

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 
rights.

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 
farms.

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 
Russia.

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 
army.

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 
from Russia.

"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 
becoming citizens.

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 
membership.

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, 
Latvia's Way 
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].

ECONOMY

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.

DEFENSE

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 
available.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

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 
Venezuela.

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 
citizenship.

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.

TRAVEL NOTES

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 
harsher winters.

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 
tapwater.

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 
rates.

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 - 
1:00pm.

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. 
(371)782-0046].
 
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