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Republic of Latvia

The Republic of Latvia was founded on November 18, 1918. It has been continuously recognised as a sovereign state since 1920 despite occupations and rule by the Soviet Union (1940-1941, 1945-1991) and Nazi Germany (1941-1945). On August 21, 1991 Latvia declared the restoration of its de facto independence, re-established international diplomatic ties, and joined the United Nations. Latvia joined the WTO in 1998 and in 2004 became a member of the European Union and NATO.

The name "Latvija" comes from the ancient Latgallians, one of four Indo-European Baltic tribes, who along with Couronians, Selonians and Semigallians formed the ethnic core of today's Latvian people.

National Symbols
The official state symbols of the Republic of Latvia are the flag, the coat of arms and the national anthem. In addition, the oak tree, amber and the white wagtail are just some of the many natural symbols that appear in Latvian designs and decorations.

The Flag
The crimson-white-crimson flag of Latvia is one of the oldest in the world and dates back to a battle against Estonian tribes near the Latvian town of Cēsis in the 13th century. According to one legend, it originated from a white sheet used to carry a mortally wounded Latvian tribal chief from the battlefield. Soaked with his blood on two sides, his soldiers hoisted the warrior's sheet as a banner as it led them to victory
The National Anthem
"Dievs, svētī Latviju!" ("God bless Latvia!") was officially proclaimed Latvia's national anthem in 1920, but it also played an important role in leading to Latvia's independence in 1918. It was written by Kārlis Baumanis in the second half of the 19th century, at a time when the Latvian people were beginning to openly display strong national sentiments. In fact, it was the first song to use the word ‘Latvia' in a lyric. Discover more >
Other Latvian Symbols
The National Bird, the National Insect, the National Flower, National Trees, Amber, The River of Destiny - The Daugava, Symbol of Independence - Freedom Monument, ‘Jāņi' - the most Latvian national holiday.
The Coat of Arms
Latvia's national coat of arms was established as a symbol of independent statehood after the proclamation of an independent Latvian Republic in 1918. The coat of arms combines traditional heraldic symbols of Latvian national identity with those of historical territorial districts. The sun is a central symbol in Latvian culture, particularly in songs, poetry and art, and here symbolizes Latvian national statehood. Even before achieving independence, a stylized sun was used as a national symbol on uniforms worn by the Latvian Rilfemen who served in the Czarist Russian army during World War I. The 17 rays of the rising sun represented the 17 Latvian-inhabited districts of the Czarist Empire.The three stars above the coat of arms represent the three historical districts (Vidzeme, Latgale and Kurzeme-Zemgale) which formed a united Latvia. These culturally important regions are also symbolized by historic heraldic figures that date back to the early 17th century. The western Latvian regions of Kurzeme and Zemgale are represented by a red lion, a symbol used by the Duke of Kurzeme (Courland) as early as 1569. A silver griffin represents Latvia's eastern regions of Vidzeme and Latgale. This mythological winged creature with an eagle's head first appeared in 1566 when this part of Latvia came under Polish-Lithuanian control. The Latvian national coat of arms was designed by Latvian artist Rihards Zariņš. Latvian law regulates the proper display of the three versions of the coat of arms - large, small enhanced and small -. The Large Coat of Arms The large coat of arms can be used by the State President, Parliament, Prime Minister, Cabinet of Ministers, government ministries, the Supreme Court and Prosecutor General, as well as Latvia's diplomatic and consular missions. The Small Enhanced Coat of ArmsThe small enhanced coat of arms can be used by agencies of the Parliament, Cabinet of Ministers and other institutions under direct or indirect supervision of the government ministries.The Small Coat of ArmsThe small coat of arms can be used by other government institutions, municipal authorities and educational institutions on official documents.

Latvia is the central country of the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and is located in North-eastern Europe on the east coast of the Baltic Sea. Its geographic coordinates are 57°00'N latitude and 25°00'E longitude. It consists of fertile lowland plains and moderate hills, with most of its territory less than 100 metres above sea level. It has an extensive network of rivers, thousands of lakes and hundreds of kilometres of undeveloped seashore lined by pine forests, dunes, and continuous white sand beaches.
64,589 or 24,937 sq.miles.
Kurzeme, Zemgale, Vidzeme, Latgale.
Total national border length:
1,862 km.
Length of Latvia's Baltic coastline:
494 km.
Largest lake:
Lubāns, 80.7
Deepest lake:
Drīdzis, 65.1 metres.
Longest river within Latvian territory:
the Gauja, 452 km.
Largest river to flow through Latvian territory:
the Daugava, total length 1,005 km, of which 352 km within Latvian territory.
Highest point:
Gaiziņkalns, 311.6 metres.
1 km = 0.62 mile; 1 m = 39.37 inches

Cities and Towns
Today, 77 towns and cities are located in the relatively small Republic of Latvia. Latvian cities have undergone diverse changes throughout the centuries. Some of them, like Straupe, Rauna, and Koknese have lost their former glory and status, however, the city of Daugavpils has changed its location. Latvian cities have developed and grown around trade and traffic routes, nowadays, more so around significant manufacturing facilities (Olaine, Aizkraukle). Some former cities have been swallowed up by their larger expanding neighbours, for instance, Gostiņi has joined Pļaviņas, Krustpils has joined Jēkabpils, Grīva has joined Daugavpils.
Today the life of each Latvian city revolves around its own local government, according to the legislation concerning local government passed in 1991. Latvian cities are differentiated by their status: 7 cities of the Republic (Rīga, Daugavpils, Liepāja, Jelgava, Ventspils, Jūrmala and Rēzekne), and regional towns.

Inhabitants and Economy
Today the larger part of Latvia's population resides in city areas - that is 1 540 998 inhabitants or approximately 68 % of the population. Latvian cities differ greatly in size. 21 cities have a population of over 10 000, the largest of these being Rīga (population 717 371), Daugavpils (population 105 958), and Liepāja (population 85 050). However the smallest Latvian towns are Durbe (population 460), Subate (population 1019) and Pāvilosta (population 1150).
The nation's largest and most famous manufacturing concerns like the stock companies "Aldaris", "Laima" and others are concentrated in the cities. Latvia's largest manufacturing centres are in Rīga, Ventspils and Daugavpils. There are 3 significant harbours - in Rīga, Ventspils and in Liepāja. Through these harbours there is movement of Latvian export and import, as well as a large portion of Russian- European transit.

Cultural Life in Latvian Cities
Rīga is the capital of Latvia, and has been visited in previous centuries by many politicians and monarchs. Also many famous scientists and artists such as the enlightened philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder, and the composer Richard Wagner. Today there are professional theatres in Rīga, Liepāja, Valmiera, and Daugavpils. Every regional town has a museum, and in Rīga the museums number more than 50 - the Museum of History and Shipping founded in 1773, being the oldest in the Baltic.
Internationally recognised festivals regularly take place in Rīga, the film festival "Arsenals" (in Rīga), the Middle Ages music festival (in Rīga and Bauska), and the ballet festival (in Rīga). Latvian choirs and folk dance troupes take part in a song and dance festival every 4 years, and have achieved a high level of recognition at Scandinavian song and dance festivals. Jūrmala is a favourite holiday-place in Latvia, well known for its health resorts, which are slowly regaining their former status.

Cultural Heritage in Latvian Cities
Even though there are architectural similarities amongst Latvian cities, each has its own unique charm. Archaeological monuments in some cities are testimony to their former importance. Majestic and attractive castle mounds can be found in Limbaži, Alūksne, and Saldus, in Grobiņa, a unique Scandinavian cemetery and castle mound (600's - 700's). The Middle Ages had introduced stonewalling to Latvian architecture. The first stonewall building to be built in Latvia was the Ikšķile church, in 1185, which still exists today on a small island in the river Daugava. The most important element of the Middle Age town was the castle of its noblemen. Many Latvian towns of the Middle Ages featured stone castles, however the only surviving reconstructed examples remain in Rīga and in Jēkabpils. Ongoing reconstruction of Middle Age castles is taking place in Cēsis, Turaida and Bauska. Smaller remains are to be found in Dobele, Limbaži, Valmiera, Rēzekne and Ludza.
The most impressive baroque castle is to be found in Jelgava, designed and built by Rastrelli. The 200 or so art nouveau structures in Rīga are of exceptional importance to the architecture of this century and it is with good reason that Rīga can be called the art nouveau capital of the world.

Rīga - The Capital
Rīga, the oldest city in Latvia, has developed into an important economic, political and cultural centre since the Middle Ages. When the formation of an independent Latvian Republic occurred in 1918, Rīga became the capital. Today more than half of Latvia's population lives in Rīga, as well as the country's largest manufacturing concerns, as well as central government and administration boards. Amongst the 50 museums to be found in Rīga the oldest and largest are the Museum of History and Shipping, the Museum of Natural Sciences, the Museum of Latvian History, the National Art Gallery, and the Latvian Ethnographic open-air-museum. The National Opera and Latvia's most professional theatres are also situated in Rīga.
Rīga's 800 - year history has left its mark on the face of the city, where Middle Age dwellings and church towers coexist with art nouveau and eclectic architecture. Rīga's parkland boulevard zone and the wooden buildings of the Pārdaugava region emit a unique charm. The value of Rīga's cultural and historical significance has been verified by the fact that its old city centre has been included in UNESCO's list of the world's most important cultural and natural sites.

Ventspils - Harbour in the Baltic Sea
Ventspils is one of the oldest cities in Latvia, first mentioned in documents in 1378. In its very beginnings Ventspils was a harbour city as it also is today. It is one of Latvia's most important harbours through which passes a great deal of shipping transit. In 1996 Ventspils gained free - port status. In 1997, due to intensification of education in regional areas, the Ventspils University was founded, including Economics, Business Management and Translation faculties. The old city centre of Ventspils, with its Middle Age castle and romantic small town buildings, has recently undergone a facelift, and compliments the dynamic city it is today.

Alūksne - the Pearl of Northern Vidzeme
Alūksne is the highest geographically situated town in Latvia - about 200 metres above sea level. Archaeological findings in the settlement on Cepurīte Island in Lake Alūksne, are proof of the area being inhabited in the Stone Ages. Alūksne was first mentioned in historical documents in 1285, but it gained town status only in 1920. The Latgalian Temple Hill, the Livonian castle ruins, and the manor house (1700 - 1800) and Jaunā Pils (New Castle), are testimony to its centuries long history. The Alūksne castle gardens are notable for their artistic value and the complex scenic plan. Church minister Ernest Glueck, who first translated the Bible into the Latvian language, lived and worked in Alūksne. Oak trees that he planted 300 years ago near the church still grow there today, and nearby is the Ernest Glueck Bible Museum, the only one of its kind in Europe.

Latvia's weather features a temperate maritime climate, with mild summers, moderate winters and frequently high levels of humidity and precipitation.
Summer: June - August.
Winter: December - February.
The average temperature
In summer: 15.8°C (in the capital 16.1°C),
In winter: -4.5°C (in the capital -3.8°C).
The warmest month: July,
The coldest month: January.
The average precipitation amount
In summer: 195 mm,
In winter: 116 mm.

Latvians are the indigenous people of Latvia, and the Finno-Ugric Livs (or Livonians) are the only indigenous minority. Latvia's present ethnic mix is largely a result of massive post-war immigration, which resulted in a decline in the share of ethnic Latvians from 77% in 1935 to 52% in 1989.

Latvian Language
Linguistic and cultural diversity is one of the world's greatest strengths and treasures. Among the more than 6 700 languages of the world, there is a language spoken by a nation along the Baltic Sea. It is the Latvian language, the state language of the Republic of Latvia. Latvian is now a modern European language used by Latvians in all walks of life; as the official state language of the Republic of Latvia, it performs the most important sociolinguistic functions in Latvia's multiethnic society. Latvian language is formal European Union language. There are about 1,5 million native speakers in Latvia and about 120,000 abroad Latvian can even be considered a major language - there are only about 200 languages spoken by more than one million people in the world, and Latvian is among them.

Largest Religious Confessions
Evangelic Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and Russian Orthodox. Since the 16th century Reformation, the Lutheran church has played a leading role in Latvia.

Latvia is a democratic, parliamentary republic. Legislative power is in the hands of the single chamber Saeima that has 100 deputies. Parliamentary elections are held every 4 years. The Saeima elects Latvia's head of state, the President, for a period of 4 years. The President signs laws, chooses the Prime Minister (who heads the government) and performs representative functions.

Electoral System
Latvia has proportional representation based on party lists and a 5% vote threshold. There is universal suffrage for Latvian citizens over the age of 18.
European Union, NATO, United Nations Organisation, Council of Europe, World Trade Organisation, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Council of the Baltic Sea States, etc.

Latvian Political System
According to the Constitution (Satversme), Latvia is a parliamentary republic in which the sovereign power belongs to the people, who are represented by a unicameral parliament (Saeima), with 100 members elected in general, equal, direct, secret and proportional elections for a four-year period.
The Saeima, and also the people, have the right to legislate, in accordance with the procedures, and to the extent, provided for by the Constitution.
Draft laws may be submitted to the Saeima by the President, the Cabinet or committees of the Saeima, by not less than five members of the Saeima, or, in accordance with the procedures and in the cases provided for in the Constitution, by one-tenth of the electorate.
The Saeima elects President for a term of four years. The same person must not hold office as President for more than eight consecutive years.
The President represents the State in international relations, appoints the diplomatic representatives of Latvia, and also receives diplomatic representatives of other states. The President implements the decisions of the Saeima concerning the ratification of international agreements (Art.41 of the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia).
The President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Latvia. During wartime, the President appoints a Supreme Commander.
The President has the right to initiate legislation.
The President proclaims laws passed by the Saeima not earlier than the seventh day and not later than the twenty-first day after the law has been adopted. A law comes into force fourteen days after its proclamation unless a different term has been specified in the law.
The candidate for the post of the Prime Minister who is invited by the President invites ministers to form the Government. When the candidate for the post of the Prime Minister submits to the Saeima the list of government ministers and the proposed government activity plan and receives confidence vote by the Saeima, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Ministers start to fulfil their functions and exercise authority.
The Prime Minister determines the general direction of Government's activities and ensures coordinated and purposeful work of the Cabinet of Ministers. The Prime Minister leads the work of the Cabinet of Ministers and is responsible before the Saeima. The Prime Minister chairs Cabinet sittings and meetings of the Committee of the Cabinet of Ministers.

The Prime Minister appoints
State ministers (after confidence vote by the Saeima);
Parliamentary Secretaries of the ministries (according to recommendation by the respective minister);
ministers (after confidence vote by the Saeima);
Deputy Prime Minister;
Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister's Office and advisers to the Prime Minister.
Cabinet of Ministers is a collegial institution, which adopts its decisions at the sittings of the Cabinet of Ministers.
Cabinet of Ministers, within the scope of its competence, considers policy planning documents, external and internal legal acts, and orders of the Cabinet of Ministers, informative statements, national positions and official opinions of the State. Upon approval by the Cabinet of Ministers, all legal acts are published in the official newspaper "Latvijas Vēstnesis".
Ministries are top-level direct administration institutions that develop state policies and that are directly subordinated to a respective Member of the Cabinet of Ministers. There are the State Chancellery, 16 ministries, 2 secretariats of ministers for special assignments (in total, 19 top-level public administration institutions) in Latvia. The Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau also has the status of a top-level institution; it is supervised by the Prime Minister and in charge of development and implementation of state policies for prevention and combating of corruption. 98 institutions are subordinated and 84 institutions - supervised by members of the Government, incl. 30 state agencies. Information about direct administration institutions is publicly available. Database of direct administration institutions is available in the Internet homepage of the Cabinet of Ministers.

Foreign Policy
Latvia joined the European Union and NATO in 2004, and has been an active member both in promoting global security and prosperity, while reducing crises and conflict. Cooperation with its neighbours in the Baltic Sea region is a priority, and development of strategic global ties is a goal.
Riga - the Capital City of Latvia
Latvia's political, economic and culture centre is in Riga, where more than one third of Latvia's population (717 thousand) lives and works. Riga's elegant Old Town and distinctive Art Nouveau architecture serve as a stimulating setting for a vibrant modern business and cultural life. Founded in 1201, this former Hanseatic League member is one of the oldest medieval cities in Europe and has been listed by UNESCO as one of the world's most important cultural and natural sites. As one of the new stars of the dynamic Baltic Sea region, Rīga has hosted a NATO summit, world hockey championship, the Eurovision Song Contest and many other large-scale international events. Rīga's International Airport is one of the fastest growing travel hubs in Europe.
Largest Towns and Cities:
Rīga - 717,000
Daugavpils - 106,000
Liepāja 85,000
Jelgava - 65,000
Jūrmala 55,000
Rēzekne 36,000
Ventspils 43,000
Of the 77 towns and cities in Latvia, 23 cities have a population of over 10,000.

Production Sectors
Information technologies, chemical and pharmaceutical industries, electronics, mechanical engineering, timber and construction, food processing, textiles, fishery and agriculture.

Financial Sector
The Bank of Latvia is the central bank of Latvia and a participant in the European System of Central Banks. Since joining the EU more than 20 commercial banks have been operating in Latvia, offering a full array of banking services. Many banks have established an extensive network of ATM's throughout the country and offer international Internet and mobile banking services.
The countries of the EU remain Latvia's main trading partners (78% in 2007), while trade with CIS countries (12%) continues to expand. Wood and metal products, machinery, electrical equipment and mineral products are Latvia's main exports.
Name: Lats
Code: LVL
Symbol: Ls
Latvia's national currency is the lats consisting of 100 santims. Banknotes have nominal values of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500 lats, while coins have nominal values of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 santims, and 1,2 and 100 lats. The lats was reintroduced in 1993 and has been one of Europe's most stable and secure currencies.

Latvian cooking traditions and eating customs
Latvia is located in a temperate climatic zone with fairly long and cold winters and warm, short summers. Due to the harsh climate and relatively poor soil quality Latvians have always worked hard to provide food for themselves and their families. Food has thus always been assigned great value by Latvians. Bread has a special place in the Latvian consciousness, and respect for it is encouraged from early childhood. Although Latvian cuisine has traditionally been based on agricultural produce, meat also features prominently in the Latvian diet. People living along the 500 km of Latvian coastline have always been involved in fishing, and fish has been an integral part of their diet. Fish are also caught inland, but these freshwater species are considered more of a delicacy, in the same way as crayfish are. Food Preparation Women were the cooks in traditional Latvian homes and responsible for feeding the household three times a day. Longer days in summer meant that people worked for longer, and thus ate four meals a day. At first, food was prepared in clay pots, which were placed in the fire or on the open hearth. Over time, cauldrons hung above the hearth and bread ovens for baking leavened bread became popular. Latvian foods are characteristically bland, without a use of strong spices, and have a reasonably high fat content. As a result of the territory of Latvia being ruled by the German aristocracy for seven centuries, Latvian peasants learned to use new ingredients and to prepare food in different ways. For example, one of the most popular Latvian foods today - sautéed sauerkraut - is a tradition inherited from the Germans.

Many Latvians drink innumerable cups of tea or coffee during the day, usually without milk. Fruit juices or spring water are also drunk. Spring water has now become so popular that it can be found in almost every office. In the last ten years more and more families do not purchase spring water from the shop, but rather collect water for the whole week from natural springs instead. Two of the most popular traditional Latvian drinks today are rūgušpiens (curdled milk with no other additives) and kefīrs (cultured milk). Other popular traditional drinks include kvass (a non-alcoholic drink made from yeast), fresh or fermented birch juice and beer. Beer is a traditional Latvian beverage - it is impossible to imagine ancient or contemporary Latvian celebrations without it. Beer is the most commonly mentioned drink in Latvian folklore, and has innumerable folksongs dedicated to it. In Latvia beer was traditionally brewed from barley and hops. Honey was also often added during the brewing process, and the product was then called medalus (honey beer). Juniper berries or wormwood were also added to give the beer flavour. Today there are many types of beer, which are products of breweries throughout Latvia. The most popular are Aldaris, Cēsu, Piebalgas, Tērvetes, Užavas, Bauskas and Lāčplēša beers. Another special strong alcoholic beverage made in Latvia is Rīga Black Balsam, first made in the 18th century and based on an ancient recipe used by Rigan pharmacists. The ingredients include various herbs, and because of this the liqueur is dark, has a thick consistency, is fragrant and is considered medicinal. Beliefs associated with eating There are many beliefs and customs associated with food and eating in Latvia. One of the most important features of Latvian "eating etiquette" is to offer food to others around you if you yourself are eating. Latvians are enthusiastic bread eaters, and in many homes, when cutting the first slice from a loaf of bread, the end is called a 'farmer's son'. Young women compete to eat this slice, so that they may marry a 'farmer's son' - someone who has their own home and farm. Another belief is that a loaf of bread should be sliced from the fatter end, in order for the eldest daughter to be the first to marry. Today people still hold a number of beliefs about salt. Each Latvian knows that if a food has too much salt added, the cook is in love. If salt is spilled on the table or on the floor, then there will be a quarrel in the house. Sitting down to a meal is a serious business, which requires people to be calm and act with decorum, to demonstrate respect for the food and for those who have worked to put it on the table - the ploughman and the cook. The place of honour is at the head of the table, where the head of the house usually sits. Those who sit at the corner of the table should be afraid of being cursed - that they will not be married for seven years. And everyone knows that if a spoon or fork fall to the ground, a female visitor will arrive, whereas if a knife falls, the visitor will be a male. You are welcome at our table and we wish you Labu apetīti!

Education in Latvia
A brief history of education Latvia is not richly endowed with natural resources, so its future is dependent in very large measure on intellect, which may be regarded as the nation's greatest resource. Latvia's aim could be a society based on knowledge and intellect, preserving the country's historical traditions and rapidly assimilating innovations and intellectual breakthroughs in the world. An important element in the general level of knowledge in the country is the standard of education and science institutions. In this regard, Latvia has an established tradition, which has emerged in the course of the country's complicated history. In the early 13th century, Christian missionaries of German background established the first teaching institutions in the territory of Latvia. In 1211, the Dome School was founded in Riga, regarded as the first school in the territory of Latvia and originally engaged in training the clergy. In the Middle Ages, as elsewhere in Europe, literate people belonged mainly to the clergy and the top aristocracy. From the 13th to the 16th century, German was almost exclusively the language of education in the territory of Latvia. Schools providing Latvian-language education began to develop only in the wake of the Reformation, in the mid- to late 16th century. The task of these schools was to spread literacy among the Latvians, in order to promote knowledge of religious literature. The first textbooks in Latvian were ABC's, the oldest of which were compiled in the 17th century. Humanism developed rapidly in the 18th century, opening up greater opportunities for education in Latvian in all regions of the territory of Latvia. The main subjects were reading and writing. Basic knowledge was also provided in natural science and geography; arithmetic was also taught. Education saw rapid development in the 19th century and particularly in the years of the Latvian National Awakening in the second half of the century, when a stratum of Latvian intellectuals emerged and established itself. From November 18, 1918, with the foundation of an independent Latvian state, the titular nation gained the guaranteed right to obtain all forms of education in Latvian. From the end of 1919 law established free and compulsory primary education for children aged 8 to 14, with pre-school education from age seven. In parallel, the state also promoted the establishment of schools for ethnic minorities, with teaching in the native language of the particular group. Municipal or state authorities maintained all types of schools, and there were private teaching institutions as well. In 1919, the idea of founding a national university, formulated already in the late 19th century, became a reality. On September 28, 1919 the University of Latvia began teaching: the largest centre of higher education, science and culture in Latvia. Overall, in the inter-war period (1918-1940) a modern, unified system of education developed in Latvia, consisting of primary education, secondary education, special secondary education, vocational education and higher education. In general terms, this structure of education is still retained today.
The Higher Education Council allocates a certain number of state-financed study places in each field of studies. Those students who pass their entrance examinations at state higher education institutions, but whose marks are not sufficiently high to grant them state-supported education, can take up studies as fee-paying students. Similarly, fees are charged at all private higher education institutions. Nine-year basic education Basic education in Latvia is compulsory. Children attend school from the year in which they turn seven. Basic education lasts nine years, consisting of four years at elementary school and five years at primary school. During the nine years of basic education, children are taught Latvian language, mathematics, music, visual art, sports, social sciences and domestic science. From the first till sixth year the natural sciences are also given. Pupils can choose ethics or Christian education from first to third grade.
Schools offer four standard educational programs: - comprehensive education, without intensive teaching of any particular subject; - the humanities and social sciences program, placing emphasis on these fields;- the mathematics, natural science and technical science program, with the emphasis on mathematics and natural and/or technical science subjects;- the vocational program, where the general education curriculum emphasizes vocational subjects in particular. Seven subjects are compulsory in all of these programs: Latvian language and literature, mathematics, history, one foreign language, sports, basic information science and basic economics. Each of the four different programs includes additional compulsory subjects, to be taught within the frame of the chosen program. About a quarter of the whole curriculum is completely open to free choice. In order to receive a general secondary education certificate, the pupil must pass the courses making up the chosen program and pass five final examinations, two of which are obligatory throughout the country, with another three chosen by the pupil. In order to ensure equal requirements and evaluation for all secondary school-leavers, from the last years of the 20th century centralized final examinations have been introduced in Latvia. On successful completion of the secondary school curriculum, the pupil receives a general secondary education certificate. In Latvia, most secondary school leavers go on to attend a higher education institution. Only about a quarter end their education at this stage.

Nature and Ecotourism in Latvia
Latvia is among the few countries left in the world where natural ecosystems, largely untouched by man, still thrive in half of its territory. It is a haven for the tourist who seeks to experience a land where nature and tradition have coexisted in harmony from time immemorial. The country that we call Latvia today has long attracted foreigners - at first, invaders of all kinds and later travellers and adventure seekers. For example, since the 1830s the region surrounding the city of Sigulda has been called the "Switzerland of Vidzeme" by German travellers who compared the sandstone banks of the old Gauja River valley with those of the river Elba in Saxony. Unfortunately, in the 20th century Latvia suffered through two world wars, and from 1940 until 1991 it was occupied and isolated behind the Iron Curtain by the Soviet Union. As a result, Latvia has been relegated to a "blank spot" on modern European and world tourist maps. Today, this largely unknown land is waiting to be discovered, ready to be revealed as the colourful mosaic that is Latvia. Nature diversity where else can one find greater diversity? In Latvia you will find primordial wilderness areas characteristic of Scandinavia, a rich cultural heritage comparable to Central Europe and countryside of pastoral serenity. Latvia is a land of diverse terrain where plains alternate with hillocks and river valleys. It is stately forests, broad mires and clear waters. It is meadows, fields, groves, gardens and parks. Together, these features form a unique mosaic that is the landscape of Latvia. It is a haven for the tourist, who loves nature, respects tradition and has an interest in the culture of the local inhabitants. It is a place for those who enjoy social interaction and value the sense of achievement that comes from an active approach to relaxation. The green heart of EuropeIf the territory of Latvia were magically transported to the heart of Western Europe, and the "blank spot" filled with its natural colours, what would be the result? We would see a territory resembling a nature preserve or national park, surrounded by the highly urbanised landscape of modern Europe. Few countries remain in the world where ecosystems are largely untouched by man, where forests, marshes, lakes and rivers have developed over the centuries at their own pace with minimal human interference and where pristine sandy beaches stretch for 200 km, unspoiled by resorts, restaurants or hordes of holidaymakers. Nowhere else in Europe will you find such a large population of the black stork and the lesser-spotted eagle. The density of these rare species is among the largest in Europe. Within 64,589 sq. km of territory, you will find hundreds of wolves and lynxes, 4,000 otters and 100,000 beavers. Two world wars and a brutal communist regime exacted a heavy price on human life throughout Latvia, leaving a present-day population density of 37 inhabits per 1 sq. km. But nature has thrived, filling the gap left by the horrors of war. Between East and West, North and South But Latvia remains where it is - on the east coast of the Baltic Sea, in a transitional climatic zone. The coastal climate of western Latvia modulates into the continental climate of eastern Latvia. It is a natural crossroads for people, flora and fauna. Latvia's geographic position alongside the Baltic Sea has fostered unique conditions where northern-southern and western-eastern vegetation can be found flourishing side by side. Of the 1,304 indigenous flowering plant and fern species in Latvia, several hundred grow on or near Latvia's borders. Similar patterns can be found in the animal kingdom. As a result, almost anywhere you look you will find plant and animal species characteristic of various geographic regions growing in one place. In Latvian forests you can find the typically "western" cross-leaved heath, as well as the "eastern" broad-leaved cinna, the "northern" flying squirrel and the "southern" fat (edible) dormouse.

Latvian forests are located in a mixed forest zone consisting of northern coniferous and southern deciduous trees. You will find a pine forest next to a linden tree forest and a diverse spectrum of other species throughout. Because of the unique climate and terrain, nearly one quarter of Latvia's forests grow on wetlands. Many plant and animal species that can survive only in constant habitats have found a home here. The existence of the wetland forests ensures a high standard of biological diversity. Several of Latvia's forests meet the criteria for a natural forest. Latvia's forests also afford a rich supply of berries, wild strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and loganberries. The berry-picking season lasts from late June until late September. It is also the time for gathering mushrooms. The most popular mushrooms are the edible boletus, orange cap boletus, chanterelles and rusulla. Apart from clearly marked private lands, the wealth of Latvia's forests, berries, mushrooms and hazelnuts is accessible to anyone. The seacoast The Sea and coastal zone, which stretches 497 kilometres along the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Riga, is an important part of the Latvian landscape. Sand dunes of up to 36 metres, sandy beaches, rivers and their estuaries, forests, marshes and lakes form a continuous ecosystem that has developed as a result of the interaction between the land and sea. During the 50-year Soviet occupation, most of the coast was a restricted area because it was considered a frontier zone; thus, commercial and recreational activity within this area was restricted. Today, this zone is still home to picturesque fishing villages that appear to have stepped out of a page in history. The Livs, an ancient Finno-Ugric tribe that lived along the Baltic coast, originally settled these villages. Coastal fishing traditions are an essential part of Latvian culture. A fishing expedition with local fisherman, including preparation of the catch, can be an unforgettable experience. The fragrance of smoked fish is the unmistakable calling card of a coastal fishing village. The small harbours that were neglected during the Soviet era are once again coming to life and await yachtsmen. By sailing from harbour to harbour, it is possible to traverse nearly half of Latvia. Unique natural areas have survived in coastal lowlands, one of these being Pape Lake and its surrounding environment. It is a typical 1,200-ha coastal lake. Rare species of birds, such as the bearded tit, common and little bittern, the corncrake, the hen harrier, the little and spotted crake, nest in the lake and its surroundings. The lake and the nearby Nida mire are important stopovers for bean and white-fronted goose and curlews during migration. The lakeshore boasts one of the few bird-watching towers in Latvia. Every year millions of land-dwelling birds and thousands of migratory bats travel through the strip of dry land between Pape Lake and the Baltic Sea. Mires Compared to other European countries, mires take up a significant proportion of Latvia. 4.9% of Latvia's territory consists of open marshes. About 50% of the mires are largely undisturbed by human activity. Within this territory there are more than 20 protected plant species. At least 15 species of birds that in mires and marshlands, including the crane, golden plover, black grouse, whimbrel, merlin and peregrine. During periods of bird migration, the mires are important resting-places for cranes and geese. There are 10 protected insect species and a rare species of snail. Mires and marshes are also highly valued by berry pickers for the wide range of berries that grow there, including cranberries, cloudberries, cowberries and bilberries. Teiči State Reserve. It covers an area of 19,337 ha and is the largest protected mire in the Baltic. A raised bog covers the larger part of the territory, but there are also 19 lakes, bog pools, mineral soil islands, fens, swamps, and natural meadows. The most intensive peat creation process in Latvia can be observed here. It also has the largest concentration of pre-migratory cranes in Latvia. An ancient Russian village of Russian Old Believers (people who hold to the Russian Orthodox, as well as old pagan, beliefs) still exists on one of the marsh islands. The mire can be entered only in the company of a guide.

Lakes and rivers
Latvia has over 12,500 rivers that stretch for 38,000 kilometres, as well as 2,256 lakes that are bigger than 1 ha, with a collective area of 1,000 sq. km. Eastern Latvia, where many of these lakes are found, is known as "the Land of the Blue Lakes". Nearly all inland waters are pollution-free and ideally suited for swimming and fishing. Although some of Latvia's rivers have had their courses straightened, most large- and medium-sized rivers retain their natural contours. As a result, their banks are home to such now rare European wildlife as otter, beaver and common kingfisher. Latvia is one of the few places in the Baltic Sea region where natural salmon spawning areas still remain. There are plenty of rivers suitable for canoeing and rafting.

Gauja National Park
The Gauja, Latvia's longest river, is extremely popular with tourists because none of its 452 kilometres has been changed from its original course. For 85 kilometres the Gauja flows through an old valley that is the heart of the Gauja National Park. Nowhere else in Latvia will you find so many steep banks, ravines, streams, sandstone and dolomite cliffs, and caves as in the old valley of the Gauja River with its tributaries. Like other national parks in the east of the Baltics, the Gauja National Park includes natural territories relatively untouched by man, as well as historic rural landscapes and important ancient monuments. The park also offers walking trails, observation points, rest areas, well-established camping facilities, car parks, cafes, and various types of tourist cabins, information centres and the services of knowledgeable guides. Rural farms the soul of Latvia is revealed in the typical rural farmyard, where one lives in harmony with nature's laws and rhythms. It is a place where ancient traditions are respected and annual festivals are joyously celebrated. On Jāņi (Summer solstice) the traditional bonfire is lit in almost every farm. Līgotāji (the celebrants of the festival) who, during the day have gathered colourful Jāņu zāles (field flowers), head off in pairs to seek the legendary secret fern blossom that blooms only once a year on this night. The single-family farm is an integral part of the Latvian landscape. Many still look just as they did centuries ago. The Latvian landscape is also unimaginable without its stately old trees; oaks that are several hundred years old can be found in farmyards, as well as in the fields. Here as well, Latvia has become home to 9,000 - 10,000 pairs of white storks. Today, an increasing number of farmers are opening their farms to tourists. More than 140 farms offer bed-and-breakfast services and a variety of leisure activities. A protected nature area Latvia has a long tradition of nature conservation. The first laws and regulations concerning the use of forests were passed as early as the 1500s and 1600s. In the 1800s an effort was made to reforest the Baltic coastal dunes and the Gulf of Riga. In the 1900s proposals for conservation areas were initiated. The first protected area in Latvia was in the Kurzeme region - Moricsala, an island in Usma Lake. At present 8.5% of Latvian natural territories are protected by law. There are 4 state reserves, 3 national parks, 22 nature parks, 211 nature reserves, 6 protected landscape areas, and 1 biosphere reserve. Together, these places make up Latvia's natural heritage; they are ready to offer the keen ecotourist a wealth of experience.

Nature and Environment in Latvia
We can definitely assert that everyone who has visited Latvia will never forget it - not ancient Riga, which has stood on the banks of the River Daugava for 800 years; not the white, sandy beaches; not the green forests; not the many rivers and lakes, hardly touched by civilisation. Latvia is a beautiful, green land with clean air, water, and soil; many tourists from abroad and many environmental experts say that the entire country is one huge nature park. Here are some basic facts about Latvia and its environment: Its total area is 64.6 thousand square kilometres. It has 2,256 lakes larger than 1 ha, whose total area is 1,000 square kilometres (only 35% of the rivers have been wholly or partially meliorated). The Salaca River (length, 95 km; confluence basin, 3,420 square kilometres) is the largest spawning ground for salmon in the eastern Baltics. According to tests in 1998, the water quality in the Salaca and Venta rivers corresponds to the category of good quality salmonid waters. (The Venta River is 346 km long; its confluence basin is 17,600 square kilometres.) According to tests in 1998, the water quality in the Daugava River (length, 1,005 km; confluence basin, 87,900 square kilometres) and the Lielupe River corresponds to the category of good quality cyprinid waters. Agricultural land occupies 39% of Latvia's territory. In the last decade, with the dismantling of collective farms, the area devoted to farming decreased dramatically - now farms are predominantly small. A typical Latvian landscape is a mosaic of vast forests alternating with fields, farmsteads, and pastures; amid arable land are birch groves and wooded clusters, which afford a habitat for numerous plants and animals.

Amber in Latvia
What is the significance of the Latvian word for amber - dzintars? Our choral music is brought to audiences abroad by the Dzintars Choir, and dance is presented by the children's dance ensemble Dzintariņš. The name of our main perfumery company is Dzintars; we love to put Dzintars cheese spread on our bread at breakfast. We all have somebody called Dzintars or Dzintra among our friends - the name is so common among us who live at the shore of Dzintara jūra, the Amber Sea, and who have so many fine songs about amber and the sea that nurtures it. What is this sun-stone caressed by the currents of the Baltic Sea? Amber has a special place among all the precious and semi-precious stones. Unlike other decorative materials, amber absorbs body heat and is comparatively easy to work. This is because amber consists primarily of organic compounds, instead of being formed through the action of inorganic substances. Amber is fossil resin.