A Brief History of Latvia From Ancient to Now
Short History of Latvia: A state of north-eastern Europe, part of the Baltic countries, Latvia is bathed to the west by the Baltic Sea (to the northwest by the Gulf of Riga); it is bordered to the north by Estonia, to the east by Russia and to the south by Belarus and Lithuania.
Latvia is a member of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
The History of Latvia
- Area: 64,000 km2
- Number of inhabitants: 2,050,000 (estimated for 2013)
- Name of inhabitants: Latvian
- Capital: Riga
- Language: Latvian
- Currency: euro
It is a flat country, with a cool climate, partly forested, combining some crops (barley, potato) with livestock (cattle, pigs). In addition to the exploitation of wood (paper), industry is represented by mechanical and electrical constructions. Latvia, which is highly urbanized (Riga concentrates almost a third of the total population), is populated by a small majority of ethnic Latvians and has about a third of Russians. Its integration into the European Union has boosted the economy, which has been severely affected since 2007 by the global crisis.
Located largely in the Western Dvina basin, Latvia occupies a middle position among the other Baltic countries. The average altitude is everywhere less than 300 m, but the detailed topography is rugged by maritime dunes, moraines and numerous lake basins.
“Native” Latvians, descendants of the first occupants of the Baltic shores, accounted for 56% of the country’s population in 1998, with the Russian presence being more pronounced in Latvia than in the other two Baltic States. Two-thirds of the population is urban and more than a third of the inhabitants reside in the capital, Riga. The History of Latvia.
In a humid and cool climate, forests (coniferous and deciduous) cover large areas. Less than 40% of the territory is devoted to agriculture. Practised on natural meadows, livestock farming achieves good results (it represents 90% of agricultural production in value).
The potential of mineral resources is very limited. Dvina’s hydroelectric equipment accounts for 40% of the country’s total electricity consumption. Heavy industry (machine tools, railways), once oriented towards the Soviet market, has suffered greatly from the reorientation towards Western outlets. The country is currently reconverting into light industry and services.
The ports of Liepaja and Ventspils, still free of ice, provide an important transit function for goods from Russia and other CIS countries. Latvia joined the European Union in 2004.
Affected by the international financial crisis, which led to a severe recession, Latvia received assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Union in 2009. The unemployment rate for men then exceeds 20% (double that among young people, many of whom emigrate). The History of Latvia.
Latvia became the eighteenth member of the euro area in 2014. The History of Latvia.
THE LATE CHRISTIANIZATION OF THE COUNTRY
The History of Latvia: A Catholic bishopric was created in 1186 for the benefit of the German monk Meinhard, and an Orthodox bishopric in 1199. In 1201, Bishop Albert of Buxhoeveden founded the city of Riga. He also established the Order of the Sword-Bearer Knights (1202) which, together with that of the Teutonic Knights, completed the Christianization of Latvia during the xiiie century and implants fortresses around which the cities develop.
History of Riga Latvia
The History of Riga Latvia: It was then that the Germanic land group of “Baltic barons” was formed, which reduced the Latvians to servitude and which remained until the beginning of the xxe century under the different dominations that follow one another in Latvia (Polish, Swedish, Russian). The History of Latvia.
Until 1561, Latvia remained subject to the Teutonic Order, which then split the country in two: Livonia became part of Lithuania and Courland formed a duchy given to the last Grand Master of the Livonian Order, Gotthard Kettler, but under Polish suzerainty. Sweden seized the country (capture of Riga, 1621), which switched to the Lutheran religion.
During the xviiie In the century, Russia occupied Livonia (1710). In 1795, the third partition of Poland also gave him Courland. All of Latvia was then under Russian control. The History of Latvia.
ATTEMPTS AT INDEPENDENCE
During the First World War, the Germans successively seized Courland (1915), Riga (1917) and Livonia (1918).
After the German defeat, a National Council proclaimed Latvia’s independence on 18 November 1918. The Soviets attacked, took Riga and established a communist government, while the government of Prime Minister Karlis Ulmanis took refuge in Liepaja under the protection of British naval forces. The German Free Corps of General von der Goltz retook Riga in May 1919 and installed a pro-German government there. In July 1919, Ulmanis, with the help of the Allies, recaptured Riga. In 1920, Latvia was completely evacuated and the Soviets recognized its independence in the Treaty of Riga (August 11).
Having carried out the agrarian reform that liquidated the domination of the Baltic barons, Latvia adopted a democratic Constitution (1922). But chronic political instability provoked Ulmanis’ coup d’état on May 15, 1934. He combines the powers of vadonis (leader), President of the Republic and Prime Minister. The History of Latvia.
THE LATVIAN SOVIET REPUBLIC (1940-1985)
The Brief History of Latvia: As a result of the German-Soviet Pact, Latvia entered the Soviet sphere of influence. On June 16, 1940, the USSR invaded the country, which was proclaimed a Soviet Republic (July 21) and incorporated into the USSR (August 5), while Ulmanis and 35,000 Latvians were deported to Siberia. German troops reoccupied Latvia from 1941 to 1944, but the Soviets entered Riga on 13 October 1944 and re-established the Socialist Republic.
From 1945 to 1985, the Latvian Soviet Republic, occupied and then decimated by the Stalinist purges, seems, seen from abroad, to have become a socialist republic like any other. Despite a surge of “bourgeois nationalism” within the Communist Party in 1959, the country seemed, in the early 1980s, to be on the road to complete Sovietization.
However, national fervor survives in hiding. The year 1985 and the advent of perestroika marked the beginning of the awakening. In a few years, political détente allowed the emergence of a vast and powerful popular, national, democratic and ecologist movement which, in 1988, crystallized in the Latvian Popular Front, rallying most Latvians and many Slavophones. The History of Latvia.
LATVIA AGAIN INDEPENDENT (1991)
PROCLAMATION OF INDEPENDENCE AND FIRST FREE ELECTIONS
The History of Latvia: After the failure of the Moscow putsch and the consequent dislocation of the USSR, it was this Latvian Popular Front that led the country to independence, proclaimed on 21 August 1991. From 1991 to 1993, the country, rather distraught, sought and rebuilt itself under the leadership of the dynamic President of Parliament, Anatolijs Gorbunovs. The History of Latvia.
Following the first free parliamentary elections, held in June 1993, Guntis Ulmanis, a member of the Peasant Party and nephew of former President Karlis Ulmanis, became President of the Republic. He continued the reformist and pro-Western policy initiated by Anatolijs Gorbunovs and obtained the departure of the last Russian troops in August 1994. He was re-elected for a second term in 1996.
MAINTAINING RIGHT-WING POPULISM
In The History of Latvia: Despite an encouraging economic context (the currency is stable and foreign investors are numerous), populist parties continue to play an important role in Latvian political life. As early as 1995, there was already a shift in opinion towards the nationalist right: in the general elections of 1er In October 1995, two populist parties (the Saimnieks party and the People’s Movement for Latvia, the party of Joahims Zīgerists) made a revealing breakthrough.
We note the maintenance in Latvia of an ultra-right-wing sensibility among part of public opinion, leading many former communists to vote for nationalist candidates and demagogues, both out of fear of Moscow and out of disappointment with the West, which had been long awaited.
In the general elections on 3rd October 1998, the parties of the right and the centre, in favour of the market economy and the European Union, confirmed their dominance in the Latvian political landscape. The People’s Party came out ahead with 21% of the vote; this new party was created in May 1998 by Andris Šķēle, Prime Minister from 1995 to 1997, and again from 1999 to 2000. The History of Latvia.
THE HUMAN LEGACY OF THE SOVIET REGIME
In The History of Latvia: With the many arrivals of “migrants” during the Soviet era, Latvia – the most Russified of the three Baltic republics – has 30% Russians (12% in 1935), 4% Belarusians and 3% Ukrainians. Of these minorities, 650,000 people, or 28 per cent of the total population, do not have Latvian citizenship. The History of Latvia.
The Citizenship Act – which was introduced belatedly on 22 July 1994 after three years of debate – makes obtaining citizenship conditional on passing a language and national history examination, which restricts the number of applications for naturalisation (7,170 applications filed in 1995-1996), which are also costly. To remedy this, the authorities decided to issue “non-citizens’ passports”, recognized by neighbouring states. This measure provides some relaxation within the Russian-speaking community. But non-citizens suffer discrimination, especially in employment.
In 1998, Moscow’s threats of economic sanctions prompted the Latvian Parliament to relax the Citizenship Act by adopting an amendment providing for the automatic naturalization of children born in the Republic after August 1991 and the abolition of the age quota system. In response to the recommendations of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), this amendment to the law was adopted by referendum on 3 October 1998. The History of Latvia.
What is at stake in the vote, which is being held at the same time as parliamentary elections in which the nationalists, in power, seem to be in a position of strength, is Latvia’s rapprochement with the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), as well as the normalisation of its relations with Russia. The History of Latvia.
TOWARDS EURO-ATLANTIC INTEGRATION
The History of Latvia: On 17 June 1999, Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, unknown to Latvians and affiliated with no political party, was elected President of the Republic by Parliament, thus becoming the first woman Head of State in Eastern Europe. Despite limited powers (which included the appointment of the Prime Minister), this pro-European quickly gained great popularity (she was easily re-elected for a second term, in 2003) and made every effort to achieve her country’s accession to the European Union and NATO. The History of Latvia.
In a few years, Westernization (especially privatizations) on a forced march profoundly transformed the country. Successive governments (Guntar Krasts [1997-1998], Vilis Krištopans [1998-1999], Andris Šķēle [1999-2000]) are actively preparing the country for accession to the European Union, with which more than 50% of economic exchanges now take place. At the Helsinki Summit in December 1999, Latvia was formally integrated into the process of negotiations on the enlargement of the Union. The History of Latvia.
At the same time, a very fragmented political society (about twenty parties) was set up, which several mergers or alliances simplified very gradually. Six main political blocs thus managed to enter Parliament, but none obtaining a majority of votes, fragile coalitions had to be formed. The History of Latvia.
In place since May 2000, the government led by Andris Bērzīņš (Latvian Way, LC), former mayor of Riga, relies on a coalition of three parties holding 64 of the 100 seats in Parliament: the People’s Party (TP), Latvian Way and the Union for the Fatherland and Freedom (TB/LNNK). The Bērzīņš government enjoys a certain popularity among the population, due to the sustained economic growth. The main opposition party, the Social Democratic Workers’ Party, saw five of its members resign in January 2002 to create a new centre-left party, the Social Democratic Union. The History of Latvia.
CHRONIC POLITICAL INSTABILITY (2002-2009)
EINARS REPŠE AND LATVIA’S ENTRY INTO THE EU AND NATO
The centre-right New Era party (founded in February 2002) of former Central Bank Governor Einars Repše, which supported his country’s entry into the European Union and NATO, won the October 2002 parliamentary elections by winning 26 seats in Parliament. The Coalition for Human Rights in a United Latvia (PCTVL), an alliance of three left-wing parties of the Russian-speaking minority, won 24 seats and now joined the opposition. The History of Latvia.
Appointed Prime Minister by the Latvian President, Repše formed a centre-right coalition government bringing together New Era, the First Party of Latvia (LPP), the Union of Greens and Peasants (ZZS) and the Pro-Patria and Freedom Union/Movement for Latvia’s National Independence (TB/LNNK). For the first time since independence, this coalition managed to stay in power for more than a year.
At the Prague (November 2002) and Copenhagen (December 2002) summits, Latvia was called upon to join NATO (effective March 2004), and the European Union from May 2004. On 21 September 2003, Latvians approve their country’s accession to the EU by a referendum by 67% of the vote. The History of Latvia.
INDULIS EMSIS (FEBRUARY-DECEMBER 2004)
The History of Latvia: Holding only 55 seats in Parliament, the coalition remains very fragile and dissension is growing. Deprived of the support of Latvia’s First Party, Einars Repše resigned in February 2004, bringing with it the fall of his government. Indulis Emsis, vice-president of the Union of Greens and Peasants, is appointed Prime Minister. In March, Parliament approved a minority centre-right coalition government, led by Europe’s first ecologist head of government.
Instability prevails on the political scene and attempts to bring down the government are numerous, whether they come from pro-Russian formations that oppose Latvia’s education policy (the promulgation, on 10 February 2004, of a law obliging schools, including Russian schools, to provide at least 60% of education in the Latvian language, provokes protests from Moscow to the OSCE), or the opposition, and in particular the New Era, which is trying to return to power.
AIGARS KALVĪTIS (DECEMBER 2004-DECEMBER 2007)
The History of Latvia: Closing a campaign focused on minority rights, the first European parliamentary elections on 12th June, marked by a low turnout, are also a sanction for the ruling coalition, of which only the People’s Party manages to win a seat while the TB/LNNK and New Era win 6 out of 9. The History of Latvia.
Following the break-up on 28 October 2004 of the coalition led by I. Emsis, Aigars Kalvītis (People’s Party), appointed Prime Minister by the President, formed a new centre-right coalition, composed of the three member parties of the previous coalition, joined by New Era (the latter’s withdrawal in April 2006, put the coalition in a minority in Parliament without causing the fall of the government). Following the narrow victory of the outgoing government coalition in the october 2006 legislative elections, Kalvītis was reappointed, for the first time since independence, as Prime Minister.
However, this relative and ephemeral stability is not enough to mask the corruption that plagues the country. Moreover, despite spectacular growth, Latvia remains the poorest of the Member States, with a serious demographic decline due to the combination of a low birth rate and high emigration.
Until the end of her term, President V. Vīķe-Freiberga, appearing to be the only true guarantor of the moral order, spared no effort to fight against business and call the Latvian oligarchs to order. The only Baltic Head of State to attend Moscow’s invitation to commemorate the victory of the Red Army in 1945 on 9 May 2005, the Latvian President took this opportunity to recall the fate of the victims of communism. Elected on 31st May by Parliament, Valdis Zatlers, a compromise candidate, succeeds him as President.
Accused of authoritarian drift and under the pressure of major demonstrations, A. Kalvītis resigned in December 2007. His successor, Ivars Godmanis, co-president of Latvia’s First Party – Latvian Way (LPP/LC, a new coalition created in 2006) – also had to give up his post in February 2009 in the face of the repercussions of the international financial crisis. The History of Latvia.
FINANCIAL CRISIS AND POLITICAL RECOMPOSITION (2009-2014)
FIRST DOMBROVSKIS CABINET (MARCH 2009-OCTOBER 2010)
The History of Latvia: With Latvia now on the verge of bankruptcy, MEP and former finance minister Valdis Dombrovskis (New Era) is getting the support of five out of eight parties, his priority task being to negotiate the continuation of the rescue plan put in place by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the EU.
In the European elections of June 2009 – marked by an increase in turnout from 43.3% to 53.7%, the highest rate among the three Baltic countries – the Civic Union list led by former Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete won 24.3% of the vote, a success for this political party member of the government coalition and created by dissidents of the New Era party; but the latter, which won 19.7% of the vote in 2004, won only 6.6%, while the TB/LNNK (conservative right) fell from 29.8% to 7.4% of the vote.
It is the Harmony Centre (Saskaņas centrs), created in 2005 and which has become since the 2006 elections the main force of the (social-democratic) opposition, supported above all, but not exclusively, by the Russian-speaking minority, which achieves a breakthrough by obtaining 19.5% of the vote, followed by the PCTVL, the other Russian-speaking party, more radical and pro-Russian (9.6%).
In the municipal elections held on the same day, the Harmony Centre also won a resounding victory in Riga where it won more than 34% of the vote ahead of the Civic Union (18.9%) and formed a coalition with the LPP/LC (15% of the vote). The outgoing mayor Janis Birks (TB/LNNK defeated in the capital) leaves his place to the leader of the Central Saskanas, Nils Ušakovs.
Despite these results not very favourable to the parties of the ruling coalition, the Parliament – complying with the demands of the EU and the IMF – adopts a very severe programme of budgetary austerity including cuts of 20% in civil service salaries and 10% for pensions before obtaining the release of the second tranche of financial aid.
The economic crisis is prompting parties to reorganize and achieve more government stability. In March 2010, the three main centre-right parties in power, including Nouvelle Ère and the Civic Union, decided to come together in a new coalition, called “Unity”.
The latter came out ahead in the October general elections with more than 31% of the vote and 33 seats ahead of the Harmony Centre (more than 26% and 29 seats), the Union of Greens and Peasants (ZZS, 19.6%, 22 seats), the recent National Alliance Everything for Latvia (VL)-TB/LNNK (nationalist-conservative, created on the eve of the election, 7.6%, 8 seats) and the union “For Latvia” founded in June mainly by the LPP/LC and the TP (7.6%, 8 seats), the PCTVL being eliminated from Parliament with less than 2% of the vote.
SECOND DOMBROVSKIS CABINET (NOVEMBER 2010-JULY 2011)
The History of Latvia: Outgoing Prime Minister V. Dombrovskis then formed a government with the Union of Greens and Peasants, which, also receiving the support without participation of the nationalists of the VL-TB/LNNK alliance, was sworn in by Parliament on 3rd November. But at the call of President Zatlers – who founded under his own name a new “Reform Party” followed by Andris Bērziņš (unrelated to the former Prime Minister from 2000 to 2002) in July 2011 – Latvians voted in June in favour of a dissolution of Parliament which had refused to lift the parliamentary immunity of a deputy prosecuted for corruption.
THIRD DOMBROVSKIS CABINET (OCTOBER 2011-JANUARY 2014)
In The History of Latvia: On 17th September the Centre de l’Harmonie won the election with more than 28% of the vote and 31 seats ahead of the new Reform Party (20.8% of the vote and 22 seats) and Unity (18.8% and 20 seats). Despite this advance, accused of having too close ties with Moscow, he was removed from power and V. Dombrovskis was re-elected in October at the head of a coalition government bringing together Unity, the Reform Party and the National Alliance after an agreement on a new budgetary austerity plan.
Despite the political weight of the Russian-speaking minority, more than 70% of voters voted against granting Russian the status of second official language in a referendum held in February 2012, another defeat for the Harmony party, which for the second time won the mayoralty of Riga in the Municipal Elections of June 2013 ahead of the nationalist-conservatives and Unity. In addition, the “non-citizens” (Nepilsonis still representing about 300,000 people, mostly former Soviet citizens who have not been naturalized, the vast majority ethnically Russian) are trying to make their voices heard at a congress held in March.
In November 2013, acknowledging the responsibility of the public authorities in the collapse of a supermarket that led to the death of about fifty people, the Prime Minister presented his resignation after having exercised power for nearly five years, a record of longevity since the independence of Latvia. Agriculture Minister Laimdota Straujuma succeeded him in January 2014 and formed a new government with the support of a strengthened centre-right coalition.
ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL STABILISATION
In The History of Latvia: Considered a “good student” of the EU, Latvia manages to redress the very critical economic and social situation of 2008-2009. After the severe recession of 2009 (–17.7%), the economy returned to growth from 2011 (5.3%). On the strength of its economic and financial results, which put it on the path to a balanced budget (with a deficit reduced from 9% to 0.9% of GDP at the end of 2013), the country was admitted to the euro area in January 2014.
This improvement, due to the increase in exports and the recovery of investment before that of consumption in 2013, has however taken place at the cost of significant wage cuts, as well as a reduction in certain social spending. While the unemployment rate was reduced from 19.5% in 2010 to around 11% in 2013-2014 (but double that for young people), it remains largely structural, while emigration among 20-39 year-olds has surged since the outbreak of the crisis.
After a Very low turnout in the European elections (30%) unlike in 2009, the general election on 4th October 2014 resulted in the victory of the centre-right coalition in power, but abstention, which has been steadily increasing since independence, continues to increase. If the Harmony party retains its first place, with 23% of the vote and 24 deputies, it retreats compared to the 2011 elections, which could be explained by its pro-Russian positions (its refusal to condemn the annexation of Crimea in particular), while tensions in Ukraine have strengthened national sentiment in the Baltic countries.
Unity (which was joined by the short-lived Reform Party) came in second place (21.9% of the vote and 23 seats) ahead of the Union of Greens and Peasants (ZZS), which regained its 2010 audience (19.5%) and the nationalist right (National Alliance [VL-TB/LNNK]), which also increased its score (16.6%).
Two brand new parties, “Du Cœur pour la Latvia” (centre-left) and the Union of Latvian Regions, entered Parliament with almost 7% of the vote each. Laimdota Straujuma was re-elected as head of a coalition government bringing together Unity, the National Alliance and the ZZS on 4th November. The 1er In January 2015, Latvia holds its first Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
RETURN TO INSTABILITY?
The History of Latvia: Straujuma’s mandate was short-lived, however: weakened and contested within her own party, Unity, the Prime Minister resigned in December 2015, leaving her post to Māris Kučinskis of the ZZS. The History of Latvia.
Rising wages and consumption, the use of European structural funds and a favourable economic environment are contributing to strong economic growth, which reached 4.6% in 2017 and; an estimated 3.7% in 2018. The History of Latvia.
As in Lithuania but to a lesser extent, the country is marked by an ageing population and emigration, which partly explains the decrease in the unemployment rate (8.7% in 2017). Income inequality – which the government wants to reduce through a more redistributive tax reform, which came into force in 2018 – is still very high, while the level of social protection is also one of the lowest in the EU. The share of the population at risk of poverty has decreased since 2011 but remains high compared to the European average.
While the banking system has been shaken since February 2018 by a scandal that led to the indictment of the governor of the Central Bank, suspected of corruption, this half-hearted economic and social situation contributes to Latvians’ mistrust of political elites and partisan quarrels. The Unity party is thus trying to reorganize a forged new alliance with regional formations, called “New Unity”, to run in the October 2018 elections. The History of Latvia.
This election is marked by a drop in turnout, from more than 59% to 54.5%, and by a further decline of the Harmony party which nevertheless retains its first place with 19.8% of the vote and 23 seats. The KPV-LV (Kam pieder valsts? Who owns the country?), an “anti-system” party created in 2016 by Artuss Kaimins, a former actor turned MP and from the ranks of the Union of Latvian Regions, comes in second place with 16 seats and 14.2% of the vote, neck and neck with the New Conservative Party, founded in 2014 (13.5% and 16 seats).
Then comes the liberal alliance “Attīstībai/Par!” (“For Development”), with 12% of the vote and 13 seats, the nationalist alliance VL-TB/LNNK (11% and 13 seats), the ZZS (9.9% and 11 MPs) and New Unity, relegated to seventh place with 6.7% of the vote and 9 seats.
The History of Latvia Timeline
1201 Foundation of the city of Riga.
What is Latvia Famous For?
1. UNESCO sites
In The History of Latvia. The whole city of Riga is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognized for its major role in the Hanseatic League and gaining prosperity from trade with Eastern and Central Europe from the 13th to the 15th century. Even though many of the structures have been destroyed by war or fire, the medieval center still reflects that prosperity. The wooden neo-classical style later moved to Art Nouveau.
2. Latvian Woman Models
Also Read History of Estonia
3. Rivers, Lakes and Waterfalls
Read Also History of Lithuania
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