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Latvia Information - Page 2
History
People have inhabited Latvia since the end of the last Ice Age; Balt tribes settled in the region around three thousand years ago.

In the early twelfth century German traders took Riga and built a castle to defend the port. By 1230 German crusader knights (Livonian Knights and Teutonic Knights) had conquered all of Latvia. Riga became a member of the German mercantile Hanseatic League in 1282.

Over the centuries Latvia was ruled by foreign powers. As a result of the Livonian War (1558-1583) Latvian territory came under Polish-Lithuanian rule and following the Polish-Swedish War (1600-1629) Vidzeme and Riga became part of Sweden. The Great Northern War (1700-1721) led to Russian occupation of Riga and Vidzeme and, eventually, the whole of Latvia.

After the First World War (1914-18) Latvia declared its independence and in 1920 Soviet Russia finally recognised Latvia's right to exist as a separate republic. However, at the beginning of the Second World War (1939-45) Latvia was annexed to the USSR. In 1941 Germany took control of Latvia but Soviet Russia reclaimed the country in 1944 and Latvia became a Republic of the USSR.

Latvia finally won independence with the break-up of the Soviet Republics at the beginning of the 1990s. Latvia declared independence in 1991 and Russian troops left in 1994.

In December 2002 Latvia took part in EU accession negotiations with nine other countries (Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia). The Accession Treaty was signed on 16 April 2003 with 1 May 2004 the formal entry date. EU enlargement meant the unification of twenty-five countries after over half a century of political division and the "Cold War" which followed World War II.

Economy
Privatisation of state-run businesses began soon after Latvia broke away from the Soviet Union. Latvia joined the World Trade Organization in 1999 and is a full EU Member State.

In 2008 Latvia was badly affected by the global financial crisis; the government sought assistance from the EU and the International Monetary Fund to stabilise its financial system.

Latvia's agricultural sector produces a relatively small percentage of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The services sector is the most important part of the economy in terms of GDP and employment.

Agricultural products include grains, potatoes, sugar beets, vegetables and dairy products. Livestock is reared. There is also a fishing industry.

The manufacturing industry produces buses, vans, railroad cars, agricultural machinery, washing machines, electronics, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, textiles and processed foods and drinks. However Latvia depends on imports for energy and some raw materials are needed for manufacturing.

Latvia is keen to expand its tourist industry and is well placed for the development of ecotourism as much of its natural heritage has been preserved. (2008)

Arts
Well known Latvian artists include Vilhelms Purvitis (1872-1945) and Janis Rozentals (1866-1916).

Latvia's traditional folk songs, a form of poetry called "daina", date back a thousand years. Folk poetry is still performed today.

Janis Plieksans (1865-1929), known as Rainis, was Latvia's most respected late nineteenth and early twentieth century poet.

Famous Latvian composers of the nineteenth and twentieth century include Andrejs Jurjans (1856-1922) and Jazeps Vitols (1863-1948).

Sport
Popular team games in Latvia are basketball, volleyball, ice hockey and football. The national football team qualifed for Euro 2004. Winter sports include skiing and ice-skating.

Holidays
New Year, Christmas, Easter and religious holidays are observed. Other celebration days are the convocation day of the Constituent Assembly of the Republic of Latvia (1st May), Ligo Day (23rd June - midsummer night), St. John's Day (24th June - the summer solstice) and the proclamation of the Republic of Latvia (18th November).

News
News from Latvia is available in Newslink.

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