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History of Latvia

Latvian history goes back to almost 2000 BC, although the modern country was formed due to more recent events. In about 2000 BC the Baltic people arrived in the region and settled what is today Latvia.

In 1190 there was a push from the south to convert the people of Latvia to Christianity, but they had little interest in this religion, which encouraged the Germans to conquer the region in 1201 in order to more successfully convert these people. Despite the people's fight against Christianity, the region thrived as Riga became a major trading post between Russia and Germany as well as an important Baltic Sea port city. Unfortunately, this didn't solve any religious conflicts and the foreign church, merchants, and soldiers constantly fought over power.

In 1561 modern-day Latvia was taken over by Poland and, soon after, Christianity was accepted and became the most common religion in the region. About 70 years later the Swedes took over, converting much of the population to Protestantism and they continued to rule until the early 1700s when the region was transferred to Russian control. Since that point Latvia remained primarily under Russian control until 1991.

At the outbreak of World War II (WWII), the Soviets invaded and took all of Latvia while successfully incorporating the area into the Soviet Union. During the early WWII years the Soviets killed thousands of Latvians and Jews in the region and deported many more. After the war, Latvia became a part of the Soviet Union and the Soviet government flooded the area with Russians in order to collect a loyal base and to oversee factories and collective farms. This was so extreme in Riga that, to this day, nearly half the population of the city is Russian.

In 1989 the Latvians demanded full independence, but the Soviet hostility towards the Latvians continued as they attacked protests taking place. Latvia officially gained full independence in August of 1991. Since then the people and government have argued over ethnic tensions as the nation remains divided; the government refuses to grant citizenship to any ethnic Russian without going through a very difficult and time consuming process. In the government's free time they have worked towards stabilizing their country and in 2004 joined the European Union (EU).

This page was last updated: March, 2013