the first residents of present-day Latvia were nomadic
tribes of hunters, fishermen and collectors who emigrated to
the forests of the Baltic coast after the glaciers had
retreated after the last ice age. Around the year 2,000 BCE,
these peoples were displaced by the Baltic peoples who were
Indo-European tribes developing agriculture and permanently
settled in Latvia, Lithaun and eastern Prussia.
Letters are one of the most important branches of the
ancient group of Baltic people who were in contact with the
Roman Empire through their amber trade. This trade peaked
during the first centuries of our era, and was only
interrupted by the Slavs' expansion into Central and Eastern
Europe. The trade and cultural relations of the Baltic
people were now oriented instead to their Scandinavian
The Danes' expansion towards the steppes north of the
Black Sea occurred through the rivers Dvina and Dnieper and
through Latvian territory. In the 10th and 11th centuries,
Swedes and Russians fought over this area, and in the 12th
century German warriors and missionaries arrived on the
Latvian coast inhabited by the Livos, which is why the
Germans called the area Livonia. In 1202, the bishop of the
region - with the permission of Rome - founded the Sword
Order (see Estonia).
Before the order in 1237 was converted to the order of
the Teutons, the Germans had subordinated themselves and
Christianized the Latvian and Estonian tribes. The Teutons
formed the so-called Livonia Confederation, which consisted
of church states, free cities and areas ruled by fighters.
In the middle of the 16th century, the rivalry within
Livonia increased by the expansion of Protestantism and the
dissatisfaction of the peasants.
During the same period, the reliefs benefited from Riga's
participation in the Hansa federation - the German trade
cooperation that created extensive prosperity. Still,
Livonia was treated by the Germans like any other forced
nation. The native nobility was eliminated and the peasants
forced to pay taxes - i.a. through work.
When Russia invaded the region in 1558 to curb the
Polish-Lithuanian expansion, the order fell apart and
Livonia was divided. At the end of the Livonia War in 1583,
Lithaun annexed the area north of the Dvina River, Poland
got the southern part, while Sweden occupied the northern
part of Estonia. In 1621 Sweden occupied Riga and Jelgava.
With the Altmark ceasefire of 1629, the Swedes gained
control of Estonia and the northern part of Latvia.
Political development in the 1990s
During the parliamentary elections in the fall of 1995,
the party picture was unclear: several new parties emerged,
others changed their names or disappeared. The main trend
was to populist. Parties on the outer wings received
increased support, while the center parties were weakened.
The country's difficult economic situation, rapidly
increasing social differences, crime and corruption were the
backdrop for the polarization and political skepticism among
the electorate. The Latvian government's path declined
sharply, while the center-left party Democratic Party
Saimnieks (DPS) became the largest. After lengthy government
negotiations, a broad coalition government was formed.
Businessman Andris Šķēle became prime minister. He had a
background in DPS, but was now party-political independent.
Šķēle had to step down in 1997 due to a series of corruption
scandals, but the same coalition continued in government.
Guntars Krasts from the Fatherland Party became new prime
The 1998 elections brought about major changes in the
National Assembly; both the DPS and the right-wing populist
party lost all their seats. A new center party - the
People's Party (TP), founded by former Prime Minister Šķēle
- received the largest support with 24 seats. But the party
was kept out of government offices. However, a new
government crisis in the summer of 1999 led the Fatherland
Party to enter into a cooperation agreement with the
People's Party, and Šķēle became prime minister again.
Political development in the 2000s
In 1999, President Ulmanis resigned and was succeeded by
Vaira Vike-Freiberga. She became the first female president
in Central and Eastern Europe and was re-elected by a clear
margin in 2003.
One month after the inauguration, President
Vike-Freiberga refused to sign a new language law passed by
the National Assembly. It would make it more difficult to
use Russian in a variety of contexts. But the new president
believed it was in violation of freedom of speech and
information and was supported by the EU, among others.
Nonetheless, linguistic demands were placed on candidates
running for parliamentary elections. The language
requirements were removed from the Election Act in 2002.
In April 2000, Šķēle resigned as prime minister to avoid
being fielded in a vote of confidence. The background was a
dispute over privatization within the government, which had
fielded two governments after the 1998 elections. This
disagreement created major problems between the Liberal
People's Party and the Nationalist Fatherland Party. Andris
Berzins took over as prime minister for a new coalition
government the following month, but he had to step down
after the election in 2002. Then another new party became
the largest; center – right party New Era (26 out of 100
seats). The former Governor of the Central Bank and founder
of the New Era, Einars Repše, became prime minister of a
four-party government. The election result was interpreted
as a settlement with the corruption and public mismanagement
that has characterized Latvia since independence. But this
government also disintegrated.
In 2008, Valdis Zatlers was elected president. The
previous president, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, was throughout his
time as president of Latvia's most popular politician. The
president of Latvia has limited power, but often acts as a
representative figure and advocate.
Prime Minister Godmanis and his coalition government took
over in 2007 after the Kalvitis government, but with the
same coalition structure. The main priority of the Latvian
government has been and is economic growth to reach the EU's
average income level as quickly as possible. The country
faces major challenges in relation to inflation, the budget
deficit and the labor market.