Ambassador of Latvia Baiba Braže says her country’s modernity is rooted in ancient traditions
People keep asking me what is Latvia like on its 100th birthday?
In short, Latvia is currently a modern Northern European country with educated people, ancient culture, beautiful nature and a bright future. It is as safe and secure as ever.
A few interesting facts about Latvia and Latvians:
- Among the most multilingual people in Europe – almost everyone is bilingual, and more than 60 per cent trilingual;
- Women and men have had equal rights to vote and be elected from the first day of Latvia’s foundation in 1918;
- The ninth most literate nation in the world. This year, the Baltic States — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania —will be Focus Countries of the London Book Fair;
- Highest proportion of women in managerial positions (53 per cent) in the EU;
- Highest proportion of women among doctoral degree holders (60 per cent) in the world. The majority of graduate, post graduate, doctoral students and scientists in Latvia are women according to the UNESCO;
- Latvian women are the tallest in the world and Latvian men are the fourth tallest, according to an Imperial College of London study;
- The first drone jump; developing drone science; first Computer Vision sports laboratory in Europe; wind tunnels that allow people to fly; amber threads for medical purposes; innovative anti-reflective glass; a unique tricycle that runs on sun batteries; anti-cancer drugs and quantum computing – these are just a few areas where Latvians have been pioneers;
- Among the top 10 countries globally on average internet speed, and among top 20 for mobile internet speed and, naturally, 4G is everywhere in the country.
Latvia by territory is twice as big as the Netherlands, but has only two million inhabitants. 500km of white, clean, sandy beaches and hundreds of clean lakes and rivers provide plenty of space to relax, while carefully managed forests that cover half of our territory ensure proximity of nature and solitude. 23.6 million trees were planted in Latvian forests last year – 10 trees for every inhabitant and one for every tourist that came to Latvia in 2016.
Our capital Riga is one of the biggest cities in Northern Europe and has been named among the 35 beautiful cities you must see before you die by The Telegraph. It dates back to the eleventh century AD, boasts charming sixteenth and seventeenth century Hanseatic-era buildings and some of the finest art nouveau architecture in Europe, while the contemporary architecture has a clear preference for sustainability – wood, stone and glass.
Anyone who visits Latvia for the first time will immediately feel that with its contemporary modernity, plus digital and high-tech achievement, it is also a country steeped in ancient traditions and culture, with one of the oldest Indo-European languages (still related to Sanskrit) spoken on the continent.
Our most popular hobbies are nature and choir singing. There are hundreds of choirs in Latvia, and since 1873 the Song and Dance Festival has taken place every five years, with 12,000 people singing a cappella with great skill, led by just one conductor. This tradition is the reason why Latvia has been able to produce so many world class opera soloists – Elīna Garanča, Kristīne Opolais, Marina Rebeka and Aleksandrs Antoņenko, choirs, musicians and conductors – Andris Nelsons, Mariss Jansons and Gidon Kremer.
It is these ancient roots, resilience and will that empowered us to establish our own democratic republic. The yearning for independence and statehood reached its zenith in 1918, after World War I.
Despite having lost almost half its population during that war, the Latvian nation stubbornly persevered. We successfully ousted the occupying forces of Russia and Germany with the military support of Great Britain, France and Poland – commemorated in the country to this day – and established the Republic of Latvia on 18 November 1918.
From the very first day it was clear what Latvia’s values would be: democracy, freedom, equality. International recognition soon followed in 1921, along with membership of the League of Nations. The Constitution was adopted in 1922 and is still in force today. In 1937, Latvia was one of the most economically advanced countries in Europe with the GDP per capita on a par with Scandinavian countries, Finland, and France.
A dark period of history followed. The collapse of the international order allowed two aggressive regimes – Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union – to divide Europe into spheres of influence, enabling World War II.
Latvia was occupied and its statehood annihilated by the Soviet Union on 17 June 1940 after the Soviet-Nazi Pact (so called Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) dividing Europe was concluded on 23 August 1939. Nazi Germany occupied Latvia on 22 June 1941, and the Soviet Union re-occupied Latvia in October 1944 until 1990. This illegal occupation and annexation was never recognised by the US, the UK, and many other countries. Our embassies in Washington DC and London continued to function and represent Latvian interests throughout the Soviet occupation.
The Baltic peoples’ will for independence and freedom played a crucial role again – this time in bringing down the USSR and re-establishing our democratic republics in 1991. In 2004 we joined where we belonged – the European Union and Nato and have gone from strength to strength since then.
Now more secure than ever before, Latvia is once again flourishing in every respect and looks ahead to the next 100 years with confidence and openness.