Latvia regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Situated on the Baltic coast, Latvia is a low-lying country with large forests that supply timber for construction and paper industries. The environment is rich in wildlife. Latvia also produces consumer goods, textiles and machine tools. The country attracts tourists from all over Europe.
Ethnically, the population is 59% Latvian and 29% Russian, and more than a third live in the capital, Riga. Founded in 1201, Riga is the largest city in the three Baltic states with a population of 730,000. Its Freedom Statue is one of the highest monuments in Europe, at just over 141 feet.
The 100-seat unicameral Latvian Parliament, the Saeima , is elected by direct, popular vote every four years. The president is elected by the Parliament, also every four years.
Among the best-known Latvians are the expressionist painter Mark Rothko and the contemporary composer Peteris Vasks.
Characteristic specialities of Latvian cuisine are speķapīrādziņi (bacon pies) and a refreshing, cold sour cream soup.