Country in N Europe, bounded E by Russia, N by Estonia, N and NW by the Baltic Sea, S by Lithuania, and SE by Belarus.
Parts of the 1922 constitution were restored 1990. They provided for a 210-deputy, popularly elected parliament (Saeima), whose members elect a chair to serve as state president and a prime minister.
The Vikings invaded the area now known as Latvia in the 9th century and the Russians attacked in the 10th century. The invasion of the Teutonic Knights (German crusaders) in the 13th century was resisted in a lengthy struggle, but Latvia eventually came under their control 1230, converted to Christianity, and was governed by them for more than 200 years. By 1562 Poland and Lithuania had taken over most of the country. Sweden conquered the north 1621 and Russia took over control of this area 1710. By 1800 all of Latvia had come under Russian control. The Latvian independence movement began to emerge in the late 1800s and continued to grow in the early 20th century.
struggle for independence
Latvia was partly occupied by the Germans during World War I. The USSR reclaimed control 1917 but was overthrown by Germany Feb 1918, when Latvia declared independence. Soviet rule was restored when Germany withdrew Dec 1918, but Soviet forces were again overthrown by British naval and German forces May–Dec 1919, and democratic rule was established. A coup 1934 replaced the established government. In 1939 a secret German-Soviet agreement assigned Latvia to Soviet rule and in 1940 Latvia was incorporated as a constituent republic of the USSR. During World War II Latvia was again occupied by German forces 1941–44, but the USSR regained control 1944.
As in the other Baltic republics, nationalist dissent grew from 1980, influenced by the Polish example and prompted by an influx of Russian workers and officials. A Latvian Popular Front was established Oct 1988 to campaign for independence and in the same month the prewar flag was readopted and official status given to the Latvian language. In the same year Anatolijs Gorbunovs was elected president. In Jan 1990 the Latvian Communist Party (LCP) broke its links with Moscow and in May Latvia followed the lead taken by Lithuania when it unilaterally declared independence from the USSR, subject to a transitional period for negotiation. A multiparty system emerged, the 1990 March–April elections resulting in a Popular Front government with Ivars Godmanis as prime minister. In Jan 1991 Soviet paratroopers seized key installations in Riga, but withdrew later that month after international protests.
A plebiscite in March 1991 voted in favor of independence. During the coup attempt against President Gorbachev in the USSR, Soviet troops seized the radio and television station in Riga. In response, on 21 Aug 1991, the republic declared its immediate independence and outlawed the CP. This declaration was recognized by the Soviet government and Western nations Sept 1991 and the new state was granted membership in the United Nations. In Feb 1992 US vice president Dan Quayle reopened the US embassy, closed since the Baltic takeover 1940. In March Russia agreed to a pullout of ex-Soviet troops from Latvia, to be completed by 1994. In July 1992 Latvia curbed the rights of non-citizens, prompting Russia to ask the UN for the protection of minorities in that country.
The June 1993 general election produced a coalition government centered around the Latvian Way, led by acting president Anatolijs Gorbunovs, and the Latvian Peasants' Union (LZS). Guntis Ulmanis, leader of the LZS, was elected state president, with Gorbunovs as parliamentary speaker and Valdis Birkavs as prime minister. The new government pledged to continue its program of economic reform, aiming to secure privatization of at least 75% of state enterprises by 1996 while providing strong support for farmers. Birkavs and his government resigned July 1994, and Maris Gailis was appointed premier. The last Russian troops left Latvia Aug 1994.