Country profile: Latvia
Situated in northeastern Europe with a coastline along the Baltic Sea, Latvia is geographically the middle of the three former Soviet Baltic republics. It has language links with Lithuania to the south and historical and ecumenical ties with Estonia to the north.
Not much more than a decade after it declared independence following the collapse of the USSR, Latvia was welcomed as a Nato member in late March 2004.
The move came just weeks before a second historic shift for the country in establishing its place in the Western family of nations. It is one of 10 countries set to join the EU in May 2004. These developments would have been extremely hard to imagine in not-so-distant Soviet times.
For centuries Latvia was primarily an agricultural country, with seafaring, fishing and forestry as other important factors in its economy.
Latvia was under foreign dominion from the 13th until the 20th century. After the first world war it declared independence which Russia recognized in 1920.
Two decades later, following a pact between Stalin and Hitler, Soviet troops invaded in 1940 and Latvia was absorbed into the Soviet Union. Nazi forces pushed the Soviets back in 1941 but the Red Army returned in 1944 and remained for half a century.
During the Soviet period which ended in 1991 Latvia underwent heavy industrialisation, and experienced a big influx of immigrants from other parts of the USSR, mainly Russia.
Around a third of the population is Russian-speaking and the rights of this section of society have been a thorny issue since independence. Many ethnic Russians have taken the tests necessary to obtain citizenshp. Many others have not and are without citizenship.
Like its Baltic neighbours, in the 10 years since independence Latvia has made a rapid transformation to embrace the free market. Tough measures have been taken to boost growth while keeping inflation under control.
Population: 2.3 million (UN, 2003)
Major languages: Latvian, Russian
Major religion: Christianity
Life expectancy: 66 years (men), 76 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 lats = 100 santims
Main exports: Timber and wood products, fish and fish products
GNI per capita: US $3,480 (World Bank, 2002)
Internet domain: .lv
International dialling code: + 371