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Independence declared: 4 May 1990

Population: 2.4 million

Capital: Riga

President: Vaira Vike-Freiberga (since 8 July 1999)

 Country profile


Sometimes it seems that life was better before, but then we were young in those days. As far as the collapse of the Soviet Union is concerned, then of course it was good how people lived together as if in a single family, how we could travel freely without visas across a sixth of the world, and we lived in a respected superstate. But today we have other freedoms.

Lyudmila D, 42, pianist and restaurant owner

We used to have a guaranteed pension for everyone, whoever you were. Of course people should have the right to travel abroad, but our social networks have broken down. And the people who suffer most of all are the elderly.

Dmitrii P, 75, pensioner and former teacher

Introduction 4. Lithuania 8. Georgia 12. Uzbekistan
1. Russia 5. Belarus 9. Armenia 13. Tajikistan
2. Estonia 6. Ukraine 10. Azerbaijan 14. Kyrgyzstan
3. Latvia 7. Moldova 11. Turkmenistan 15. Kazakhstan

Anti-USSR protests in Latvia
Most Latvians supported the move to independence

The Baltic states never accepted their forcible annexation by the Soviet Union in 1940, especially because of their experience of independence between the wars. But after decades of immigration, the Latvians had become a minority in their own country.

Calls for independence began as far back as 1986, and two years later Latvia formed a Popular Front, proclaiming “de jure” independence in May 1990.

Moscow at first tried to keep the union together by force: six people were killed when Soviet special forces stormed Riga’s interior ministry in January 1991, and another six were killed during the coup in August 1991.

But within the last 10 years Latvia has made a rapid transformation from a Soviet command economy to a free market, and aims for Nato and EU membership within the next few years. However, it still has a long way to go.

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