On August 21, 1991, following the failed Soviet putsch, the Latvian Supreme Soviet declared Latvia independent of the Soviet Union, beginning the process of building democracy. Like its two Baltic neighbors, Lithuania and Estonia, Latvia has enjoyed a happier transition to democracy and capitalism than other former Eastern bloc or Soviet republics. While disputes over policy, territorial boundaries, economic policy, and definition of citizenship have been problematic and while Latvia's economy bottomed out in 1992 and 1993, the country has enjoyed relative political calm and recent economic growth.

While it may perhaps be early to talk about a stable, never-changing political system, Latvia's polity has come closer to institutionalization than other post-Soviet states except Estonia.

Culturally Latvia is far from homogeneous--a potential political problem in the past, present, and future. According to official data, "Latvians" (ethnically defined) make up 57.7 percent of the population; Russians are 29.6 percent (a result of migration from other Soviet republics before 1991). The official language is Lettish ("Latvian"); Lithuanian and Russian are prevalent as well.

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2006 Facts On File. This book chapter first appeared in World Encyclopedia of Political Systems and Parties.

Please note that downloads of the book chapter are for private/personal use only.

Purchase online at Infobase Publishing.