Latvian History

Lativa's history is one of repeated occupation for 800 years. Its central position in European trade routes made it a highly contested region from the 11th century on. The country was controlled by Germany from the 13th to the 16th centuries, then by Poland for the 16th century, and then by Sweden from the early 17th century to the early 18th. The country became part of Russia in 1721.

In 1918, Latvia declared itself an independent state for the first time. This period of Latvian independence was marked by instability—it was immediately followed by a civil war lasting for two years, and then two more decades of political turmoil.


In 1939, the country came under Soviet control, and the next year was occupied by Nazi Germany for the duration of World War II. During this period over 85,000 Latvian Jews and Gypsies were murdered in Nazi concentration camps.

The Soviet Era

Following WWII, the country came under Soviet control. During this period, immigration from other areas of the Soviet Union and forced adoption of Soviet policies changed the culture of Latvia dramatically. Lativans were forced to adopt Soviet farming methods, Russian was officially adopted as the second language, and the Soviet Union based many of its factories in the country, precipitating a shift to manufacturing as a large part of the Latvian economy.


The first protest against Soviet rule in Latvia was in 1987, when 5000 people gathered in the capitol city of Riga. Subsequent demonstrations throughout Latvia followed in the next year. In 1989, two million citizens of the Baltic States created a human chain as a call for independence.

The Popular Front of Latvia (PLF) was gaining support during this time. In 1989 the party voiced their support of Latvian independence. The following year, they won the majority in the Latvian elections. It wouldn't be until August 21, 1991, however, that Latvia would declare its independence. On September 6th, 1991, the Soviet Union recognized Latvia's independence, and a week later Latvia joined the UN.


Today, Latvia has cultural and economic influences from each of the countries involved in its centuries of occupation, but has retained its uniquely Latvian culture. Language is a somewhat contested social issue, but Latvian is the official language of the country. Other languages are widely spoken as well; Russian is the first language for a sizable minority of the population.

Manufacturing and agriculture remain the largest economies in the country. In 2008, the country experienced an economic downturn, but prior to that it had been the fastest-growing economy in Europe. Today, while the country has mostly recovered from the economic contraction, unemployment is still high relative to where it was in 2008. 

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