Latvia Geography

Latvia Geography and Population

Latvia – geography

Latvia’s landscape is formed by deposits from the last ice age and is predominantly lowland with moraine hills as well as NW-SE tunnel tunnels and hills; only a few places reach the hills 300 m altitude. Between the hills there are many wetlands, rivers and smaller streams; most importantly, Daugava (Western Dvina), an important thoroughfare, is navigable throughout Latvia. Three hydropower plants on the river supply a significant part of the country’s electricity supply. The river divides the country into two parts; to the west lies the hilly peninsula Kurland (Kurzeme) between the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Riga, and north of Daugava lies the hill country Livland(Vidzeme with Gaizinkalns 312 m). Latvia has a 500 km long coastline with wide sandy beaches and dunes. Apart from the great Gulf of Riga, there are only a few natural ports, apart from Riga only Ventspils and Liepāja, both of which are ice-free.

Latvia is at the transition between NW Europe’s coastal climate and Russia’s mainland climate and has summer temperatures slightly above and winter temperatures slightly below the Danish ones. The normal precipitation of 550-800 mm annually corresponds to the conditions in Denmark.

The agricultural area accounts for 38% of the total area (2005). However, the agricultural crisis of the 1990’s has left more and more parts uncultivated (21% in 2002). The forests, almost all of which are state-owned, cover almost half of the country. Latvia has had effective reforestation rules, and the forest area has, as an effect of the collectivization of agriculture, has been rising since World War II. Oak and ash are in many places replaced by pine and spruce. Latvian forestry is relatively highly mechanized, and timber and wood products are an important export commodity. In several Western European countries, there has been interest in the plans to outsource the forests for further commercial use. Large areas of forest are only used very extensively; it has helped to preserve a rich wildlife with both western and northeastern species: wild boar, moose and wolves in addition to a species-rich bird life.


The composition of the population by sex, age and ethnicity is still marked by the consequences of World War II and the industrialization policy after 1945. A significant immigration of predominantly Russians in connection with industrialization changed the ethnic composition so that the Latvian share after 1945 fell from 75% to 52 %, while the Russian share increased from 12% to 34%. In addition, another 6% of other Slavic peoples, Belarusians. Since 1991, the Russian share has been declining, with many Russians emigrating as a result of the changed conditions following Latvia’s independence. In 2005, Latvians made up 58.8% of the population, Russians 28.6%, Belarusians 3.8% and Ukrainians 2.6%. The population fell by 14% from 1990 to 2005, when it amounted to 2.3 million; this is partly due to emigration, partly low birth rates and high mortality rates,

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The geographical distribution of the population is very uneven; almost half live in the industrialized Riga region, while some areas in the western part of the country are very sparsely populated. The Russians live mainly in the cities, and both Riga and Daugavpils have a Russian population majority. After independence, a highly discriminatory nationality law was introduced against the Russian population. Although the laws were modified somewhat, as a result of criticism from the EU, over 60% of the Slavic-speaking population had not yet obtained Latvian citizenship in 1997, and in 2005, almost 20% of the population was still stateless. Many Russians who, due to citizenship laws, are excluded from public positions have entered the private business world, and much of this is now controlled by resident Russians.


Agricultureproduced in 1996 only 40% of the level from 1990. The decline has particularly affected cattle farming, which was previously dominant. The large state and collective farms of the Soviet era are now almost completely privatized; in 1997, 90% of the greatly reduced private production took place. The large decline in animal husbandry is mainly due to a lack of feed. Privatization has led to very small uses; approximately 90% of cattle farms have five or fewer cows, and the average farm size is 20 ha. Latvia’s accession to the EU in 2004 created problems for agriculture. Farmers were disappointed by the low level of agricultural support, and increased demands on agriculture led many to give up the profession. It is expected that agriculture will only play a minor role in the Latvian economy, as the country now competes with other food producers in the region for the same markets.

Fishing. Latvia was one of the most active fishing republics of the Soviet Union, and the Latvian fishing fleet landed 5% of the Union’s total catch. The high seas fleet, which fished in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and accounted for approximately 85% of the catches were hit hard as oil prices approached world market prices. A large part of the fleet was therefore at a standstill in the 1990’s, with significant consequences for the large fishing industry. Fisheries’ share of GDP fell from 3.4% in 1996 to 1.15% in 2003, and the share of exports fell from 9% in 1996 to 3.2% in 2003. In 2003, 14,000 or 1.2% of the country’s labor force engaged in fishing.

Industry.Apart from forests, fuel peat and raw materials for construction, Latvia has no raw materials of importance. However, smaller oil fields have been found and extraction has begun. Despite a shortage of raw materials, Latvia was one of the most industrially developed Soviet republics and was a leader in, among other things, communication and other high technology. For example, every second telephone in the Soviet Union was produced in Latvia. Many of these industries, which had the Soviet common market as a customer, have declined sharply. The most important industry is now the timber industry, which in the period 1996-2005 increased production by more than 100%; timber accounted for 31% of the country’s total exports in 2004. Other important industries are the food industry, which is recovering from the Russian currency crisis in 1998 and since 2001 has increased exports to the CIS countries, and the textile industry, however, that began to decline back in 2005, when rising wages prompted foreign investors to move their business further east. Almost half of all Latvian industry is located in Riga.

Environment. The centrally directed Soviet industrial policy paid little attention to local interests and the environment. As recently as 1992, the first phase of a Riga sewage treatment plant was opened. The strong industrial concentration in the Riga area therefore led to extensive pollution of large and small watercourses and significant air pollution. When the majority of Latvia’s streams, in addition to several Estonian, flow into the Gulf of Riga, it became so polluted that in the late 1980’s the authorities had to discourage bathing in the famous resort town of Jūrmala. With the large decline in production after independence, both in agriculture and industry, pollution has been greatly reduced, but very few environmental investments have been made, and a forthcoming economic recovery will bring back many of the environmental problems.

During the Soviet era, Latvia was a fully integrated part of the planned economy system, and many Latvian companies had a de facto monopoly on the Soviet market. The independence and dissolution of the Union meant a sharp reduction of this market, and during the 1990’s the EU became Latvia’s main market; In 2004, 77% of exports went to the EU-25. However, Russia remains an important trading partner with a share of exports and imports of approximately 8%, and Ventspils is an important shipping port for Russian oil, which at the end of 2005 was hit by a Russian blockade of the oil pipeline from Russia to the city’s oil terminal. Furthermore, liberal Latvian banking laws make Riga an attractive target for Russian capital investments. GDP growth in 2005 was 9.5% compared to 2004.

Latvia – language

The dominant language is Latvian, spoken by approximately 59% of the population (2005); from 1989 it is the country’s only official language. Russian is spoken by approximately 29%. For culture and traditions of Latvia, please check aparentingblog.

Of other languages, Belarusian (about 100,000), Ukrainian (about 80,000), Polish (about 55,000) and Lithuanian (about 35,000) are spoken. In NV, quite a few people still speak lively.

A new language law came into force in 2000; it must strengthen the Latvian language and strengthen the integration of minorities. Since 2004, all schools have had to teach mainly in Latvian, which has provoked protests among the Russian minority. In 2012, a proposal to make Russian the country’s second official language was rejected in a referendum.

Latvia – religion

A fertility cult was replaced by Christianity by Christianity in the 1100-1200’s; German influence has been strong ever since. From the 1520’s, the Reformation took root; after a Catholic push, the Evangelical-Lutheran direction was consolidated under Swedish rule, and the existing confessional boundaries were formed. The subsequent imperial rule changed little for a long time, but Russification became problematic for non-Orthodox.

In the 1900’s. the political upheavals have been catastrophic for Christian communities and especially Jews. From the 1940’s to the 1980’s, Soviet policy in the country had crippling effects. Where before World War II there were approximately 1 mio. (especially Lutheran) Protestant, 1/2 million. Catholics and 300,000 Orthodox, there is in the 1990’s a more than halved Protestantism and a greatly reduced Orthodox Church. Despite difficult adjustment problems, however, there is renewed growth and significance in the church and nationally in general.

Latvia Geography