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Latvijas Republika, parliamentary democracy, Baltic states, USSR, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

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Latvia, country in northeastern Europe, nestled between Lithuania and Estonia on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea. Latvia’s picturesque landscape features gently rolling hills and thick forests interspersed with numerous rivers, lakes, and marshes. Ethnic Latvians constitute a slight majority of the population, while Russians make up the largest minority group. In the Latvian language the country’s full name is Latvijas Republika (Republic of Latvia). Riga is Latvia’s capital and largest city, as well as its chief port.

Beginning in the 13th century, Latvia was successively dominated by Germany, Poland, and Russia. Latvia became an independent country in 1918, as did its neighbors Estonia and Lithuania. The three countries became known as the Baltic states. In 1940 the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) forcibly annexed the Baltic states.

Latvia regained its independence in 1991 and reinstated a parliamentary democracy. The country transformed its economy as well, rapidly dismantling the centralized system of the Soviet period in favor of a Western-style, free-market economy. Latvia’s success in implementing these reforms helped it gain full membership in the European Union (EU) in 2004.


For younger readers

Flint, David. The Baltic States. Millbrook, 1992. Historical perspective, for readers in grades 4 to 6.

Latvia: Then and Now. Lerner, 1992. For readers in grades 5 to 8.

Baltic Literature

Ezergailis, Inta. Nostalgia and Beyond: Eleven Latvian Women Writers. University Press of America, 1997.

Kelertas, Violeta, ed. 'Come into My Time': Lithuania in Prose Fiction, 1970-90. University of Illinois Press, 1992.

Moseley, Christopher, ed. From Baltic Shores. Dufour, 1994. Modern short stories.

Pruul, Kajar, and Darlene Reddaway, eds.Trans. Ritva Poom. Estonian Short Stories. Northwestern University Press, 1995.

Rubulis, Aleksis. Baltic Literatures: A Survey of Finnish, Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian Literatures. University of Notre Dame Press, 1970. History and criticism; includes texts in translation.


Bilmanis, Alfred. History of Latvia. Greenwood, 1970. From post-tribal times through the end of World War II; reprint of 1951 edition.

Dreifelds, Juris. Latvia in Transition. Cambridge University Press, 1996. Brief, but well-balanced overview of Latvia.

Iwaskiw, Walter R., ed. Estonia, Latvia, & Lithuania: Country Studies. Library of Congress, 1997. A concise survey of the history, economy, society, and culture of each nation.

Lieven, Anatol. The Baltic revolution: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the path to independence. Yale University Press, 1994. A portrait of the Baltic states and peoples, their history and culture, and a personal report of their struggles since 1989.

Misiunas, Romuald and Rein Taagepera. The Baltic States: Years of Dependence 1940-1990. University of California Press, 1993. A concise and well-documented account of the Soviet period in the Baltic states.

Noble, John. Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania. Lonely Planet, 1997, 2000. Travel guide.

Plakans, Andrejs. Historical Dictionary of Latvia. Scarecrow Press, 1997. A comprehensive reference.

Plakans, Andrejs. The Latvians: A Short History. Hoover Institution Press, 1997. This history of Latvia covers its recently won independence.

Ruggiero, Adriene. The Baltic Countries: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Silver Burdett, 1998. Describes the people, culture, and history of three former Soviet republics.


Taagepera, Rein, B.Sc., M.A., Ph.D. Professor emeritus of Political Science, University of California, Irvine, and University of Tartu, Estonia. Author of Estonia: Return to Independence and other books.

Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation.

Article key phrases:

Latvijas Republika, parliamentary democracy, Baltic states, USSR, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, eastern shore, rolling hills, independent country, European Union, Russians, largest city, reforms, Russia, capital, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, favor, Poland, population, success, century, independence, Beginning, country, lakes, membership

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