The culture of Latvia

Latvia's history is important to understanding the culture and cultural issues in Latvia today. The country is a young one; it has experienced eight centuries of occupation with only short periods of independence. Because of this, Latvian culture contains elements of German, Polish, Swedish and Russian cultures.

World War II was a time of great upheaval for the country; it was occupied by Nazi Germany for the majority of the war, during which time one third of Latvians died and around 85,000 Lativan Jews and Gypsies died in Nazi concentration camps. This time radically changed the cultural makeup of the country.

Also important to the cultural landscape of the country is its history of Soviet control post WWII. During these forty-five years, the country was subject to large fluxes of immigration from other Soviet nations, as well as the emigration, death and exile of ethnic Latvians. Today, the country is a mix of traditions from different ethnic backgrounds, and ethnic Latvians make up about 60% of the population, with the most sizable ethnic minorities being Germans, Russians, Polish, and Jewish.


Latvian is the official language of the country, but other languages are widely spoken. Russian is the most common non-official language; around one-third of the population claims Russian as its native tongue. Post-Soviet era, Lativan was for the most part spoken only by ethnic Latvians, but today, thanks to aggressive teaching of Latvian in public schools, the vast majority of citizens speak the official language. Public education is taught in Latvian as well as seven other languages.


The country has been primarily Christian since the arrival of German missionaries in the 12th century. During the Soviet era, practicing of religion was discouraged, but since independence religious institutions have flourished. The largest religious groups in the country are Lutheran, Catholic and Orthodox Christian. However, other religious traditions are on the rise.


Support for the arts has been mixed; during the first period of independence in the early 20th century, government support for the arts was strong. However, during the time of the Soviet occupation and in post-Soviet Latvia, support for the arts has been diminished.

Still, the Latvian arts scene is strong— singing and folklore are two of the oldest cultural traditions in the country, but visual art and theater are also celebrated. Latvian art reflects the many nations that have had influence on its culture.

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