Latvia is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by Estonia (border length 343 km), to the south by Lithuania (588 km), to the east by the Russian Federation (276 km), to the southeast by Belarus (141 km), and shares maritime borders to the west with Sweden.
The country's only natural resources are land and forests, so many raw materials have to be imported. Its industries include electronic goods, farm machinery, fertilizers, processed food, plastics, radios, washing machines and vehicles. Latvia produces only about a tenth of its electricity needs.
The Christianization of Latvia occurred through contact with Germans and Russians. The Orthodox Church arrived before the twelfth century, and the Catholic religion was brought by the knights of the Teutonic order. The Moravians who arrived in Rīga in 1729 and founded a seminary in Valmiera quickly attracted a following.
About 55% of the republic’s residents are Letts, a Baltic people who speak Lettish, a language that is related to Lithuanian. Russians (33%) make up the largest minority group. The population of Latvia is nearly 70% urban.
The climate is influenced by the prevailing southwesterly winds coming from the Atlantic. Humidity is high, and the skies are usually cloudy; there are only about 30 to 40 days of sunshine per year. Average precipitation usually exceeds 20 inches (about 500 mm) on the lowlands and may approach or exceed 30 inches (about 760 mm) on the uplands.
Russia demands better Latvian treatment of ethnic Russians in Latvia. The1998 maritime boundary treaty demarcated with Latvia and Lithuania has not been ratified by the Latvian parliament primarily due to concerns over oil exploration rights.
Latvia and the United States have signed treaties on investment, trade, intellectual property protection, extradition, mutual legal assistance, and avoidance of double taxation. Latvia has enjoyed most-favored-nation treatment with the United States since December 1991. In 2008, Latvia joined the visa waiver program.
The majority of exams are oral. Universities, institutes, and some colleges have entrance exams with many candidates competing for available slots. After an individual has met established criteria and is enrolled as a student, all the exams occur only at the end of the course (semester and at the end of any school, the last exams determine the final grades.
Primary care is provided at large urban health centers, hospital and walk-in emergency facilities, individual and group private practices, rural clinics staffed by midwives and physicians' assistants, and workplace clinics run by large private employers and the military. In 2000 life expectancy was 70 years and the infant mortality rate was 10 per 1000 live births.
Tennis, horseback riding, fishing, hunting, sailing, water sports, and winter sports are available to visitors as well as sky marathon in February, the Sport Festival of Riga in May, and the International Riga Marathon in July. All visitors need passports and visas, except for nationals of the UK, Hungary, Poland and Denmark.
Latvia was admitted to the UN on 17 September 1991. The country is a member of EBRD, ECE, FAO, IAEA, IBRD, the IMF, OSCE, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UPU, WHO, WIPO, and the WTO. Latvia was formally invited to join the EU and NATO in 2002, with accession to each body planned for 2004.