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LATVIA


 

 

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Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 9,671 8,406 7,500 94
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 4,070 3,480 3,230 79
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km) 
64,589

Population
2,306,306

Principal 
ethnic groups 
Latvians 52.0%
Russians 34%
Belarusians 4.5%

Capital 
Riga

Currency 
Lats

President
Mrs Vaira 
Vike-Freiberga




Update No: 294- (28/06/05)

The EU spat 
The two 'no's in France and Holland have put the EU into turmoil. Latvia, as it so happens, recently earned its European spurs when its parliament ratified the EU constitution.
Also, more importantly, while other EU countries are wondering about the future of the euro, Latvia in April joined up to the European Exchange-Rate Mechanism (ERM 11), the prelude to full membership in 2007. 
There is no doubt where Latvia is heading - to the West. But, as it so happens, Latvia has more detritus from the Soviet epoch than any other Baltic state. During the Soviet period hundreds of thousands of mostly Slav people were moved to Latvia, bringing the share of ethnic Latvians drastically down from 75% of the pre-war population to little over half following the end of communist rule. Russians predominate in its seven largest cities, notably so in Riga, its capital.
Relations between Latvia and Russia, have long been contentious since the fall of the Soviet Union during the early 1990s. Recently Moscow and Riga have also been involved in a war of words over a border agreement and the two nations have also clashed over the meaning of the end of the Second World War. While the three Baltic States - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - say it was the beginning of the Soviet occupation, Russia denies this, saying they joined the Soviet Union of their own accord, a view that surely only Russians would assert in all earnestness, ignoring the persuasive power of Red Army bayonets.

Minorities accord hots up tensions in Latvia
This all makes inter-ethnic relations a particularly delicate topic. Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga ratified a controversial agreement on minority rights in early June, after a stormy marathon 13-hour session in parliament passed the convention. The Framework Convention on National Minorities was finally passed a decade after it was signed by the nation's parliament with the accord having again exposed tensions in the nation caused by its large Russian population.
The long 13 hours of deliberation by parliament followed unsuccessful attempts by members of a nationalist party to block the agreement. The debate dragged on as members of the nationalist For Fatherland and Freedom party left the committee hearing making it impossible to form a quorum to pass the legislation.
The agreement faced unusual pressure by the government to pass it, and was pushed through two readings in one day, a week ahead of a visit from the OSCE's high commissioner for minorities, Rolf Ekeus. The legislation passed with 64 votes, as some nationalist elements voted against, and the minority parties refrained from participating.
The Kremlin has used the fact that Latvia has not ratified the convention as proof that the government does not respect the rights of its minorities. However, ratification of the framework convention would change little in society.
The document passed with two attached exceptions both dealing with language. One would forbid the use of Russian on street signs, and the other would make Latvian the only language to be used in local government. A declaration was also added stating minorities will only be regarded as citizens.
This is already the situation today in Latvia, and officials say that a return to the Russian language on street signs would remind many of the communist era and ultimately harm the process of integration. "Nothing will change with the ratification of the convention," said Former Integration Minister, Nils Muiznieks, long a proponent of ratifying the conventions. He went on to say that although it was legally binding instrument, it was weakly worded and gave some room for interpretation. Many on all sides of the issue have overstated the importance of the document.
But in a country fraught with internal discord over its minorities, questions like citizenship and language have taken a paramount position in all political discourse.

Russia's Lavrov blasts decision
Indeed, they have taken a paramount place in geopolitical discourse too. Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, described the ratification of the European Union's Convention on National Minorities by the Latvian parliament, which removed certain provisions, as a profanation, Interfax News Agency has reported.
"I think that in many ways, this is the profanation of the obligations that Latvia has allegedly assumed," Lavrov said on May 27th. Lavrov said that the convention was ratified after large sections of it had been removed. "The Latvian authorities said the convention does not apply to non-citizens. Meanwhile, non-citizens suffer the worst from violations of human rights in Latvia," he said. Over 400,000 people "who live in Latvia, who want to live in Latvia and to be loyal citizens, and who voted for Latvia's independence during the referendum, are non-citizens in that country," the foreign minister said. He refers to the mainly older generation Russians who have not been able to qualify for