Statesman's Year-Book 1921/Latvia
Latvia, along the southern part of the Baltic littoral, is inhabited chiefly by Letts. As early as the 13th century the Letts fought against the Germans (battle of Durbe, 1260), but in the long run the Germans carried the day, and the state created by the Teutonic Order under the form of a Federal Republic (consisting of Esthonia, Latgale, Livonia, and Courland) lasted until 1560. Eventually, Esthonia passed under the rule of Sweden, Latgale and Livonia under that of Lithuania-Poland, while Piltene and Oesel became Danish. Courland alone retained her independence under the form of a vassal duchy of Lithuania-Poland. In 1621 Livonia was annexed by Sweden, and in 1710 by Russia. In 1772, after the first partition of Poland, Latgale was assigned to Russia, and in 1795 Courland joined Russia. From this time onwards, Latvia was under Russian rule.
In 1917 Lettish public opinion expressed itself in favour of the separate existence of Latvia, and announced its view officially in the Russian Constituent Assembly in January 1918. An organization for establishing the independence of the country was formed, and on November 18, 1918, it proclaimed in Riga the sovereign Free State of Latvia, which was recognised as an independent State by Finland, Belgium, France, Great Britain, Italy, and Japan, on January 26, 1921; by Germany on February 1, and by Denmark, Norway, and Sweden on February 4, 1921.
Constitution and Government.—The present Constituent Assembly, elected on April 17 and 18, 1920, on the basis of universal suffrage for citizens of both sexes, 21 years of age, by equal, direct, and secret vote, and based on proportional representation, consists of 152 members, divided into the following political groups:—Social-Democrats, 58; Labour party, 6; Democrats, 6; Agiarian party of landless peasants, 3; landless peasants and small farmers' party, 2; Latgallen people's party, 1; Union of Farmers, 26; Latgallen peasants' party, 17; Christian farmers party of Latgallen, 6; independent citizens' party, 6; Christian nationalists, 3; Germans, 6; Jews, 6; Russians. 4; Poles. 1.
The Constituent Assembly met on May 1, 1920, and after the resignation of the Provisional Government, a Coalition Government, responsible to the Constituent Assembly, was formed, all parties, with the exception of the Social-Democrats, participating. After the elaboration of the Constitution of the Latvian State, the Constituent Assembly will be replaced by a regular parliament.
The Ministries are those of Interior, Foreign Affairs, Finance, National Defence, Trade and Industry, Public Works, Public Instruction, Agriculture, Justice, Supplies, and the State Controller.
The national flag is made up of horizontal stripes of red, white and red.
Prime Minister.—K. Ulmanis.
Area and Population.—Latvia consists of the former Russian Province of Courland (about 10,435 square miles), four southern districts (Riga, Wenden, Wolmar, Walk) of the former Russian province of Livonia (about 8,715 square miles) and three western districts (Dvinsk, Reshitza, Lutsin) of the former Russian province of Vitebsk (about 5,292 square miles), making a total of about 24,440 square miles, or, including inland lakes, about 25,000 square miles. The total length of the frontier line of Latvia is 1,040 statute miles, with a coast line of 338 statute miles.
The chief towns are Riga (the capital of Latvia), population (1914) 569,100, Libau (90,744), Mitau (46,860), Windau, Wenden, Wolmar, Walk, Daugavpils (Dvinsk).
The census taken on June 15, 1920, showed a population of 1,503,193 in Latvia. Of these 1,416,090 were Latvian citizens, and 87,103 foreigners. Of the Latvian citizens 80.41 per cent. were Letts, 8.86 per cent. Russians, 4.29 per cent. Jews, 3.23 per cent. Germans, 2.19 per cent. Poles, 0.52 per cent. Lithuanians, 0.25 per cent. Esthonians, and 0.25 per cent. other nationalities.
Religion and Instruction.—The majority of the population in Latvia is Protestant, but in Latgale and one district of Courland there are also many Roman Catholics, while in Riga, Windau and south-east of Livonia there are about 200,000 Greek Orthodox Letts. Jews form about 4.29 per cent. of the population. According to a Draft Bill to be presented to the Constituent Assembly there is to be no State Church.
Before the war there were 98 secondary schools in Latvia with 22,600 pupils, or 1 secondary school for every 26,000 inhabitants. The percentage of illiterates, including children under the age of ten years, is 21.5.
Before the war the University of Dorpat served the whole of the former Baltic provinces of Russia, and as Dorpat became an Esthonian institution, the Riga Polytechnic was in 1919 raised to be the Latvian University. The number of students is over 3,000. A Musical Academy has also been reopened in Riga.
Finance.—The Budget for the financial year ending March 31, 1921, is as follows (in millions of Latvian roubles):—
The National Debt of Latvia is as follows:—To United States of America, for the revictualling of the indigent population in 1919, repayable in 1921 2,885,487 dollars; to United States of America, for various stocks, repayable in 1922, 5,000,000 dollars; to Norway, credit tor various goods, repayable with interest in 1926, 6,000,000 crowns; interior loan of 1918, repayable in 15 years, 4,000,000 Latvian roubles; interior loan of 1920, repayable in 59 years, for an amount of 50 millions of Latvian roubles, issue not yet completed; and paper-money issued up to June 30, 1920, on the 900 millions authorised, 517,162,361 Latvian roubles.
Production and Industry.—Latvia is mainly an agricultural country, but an increasing number of people are passing from agricultural to industrial life. At present Latvia can export in large quantities only flax and timber. Before the war the Latvian flax crop averaged about 35,000 tons per annum, but this season (1920–21) only 16,000 tons are estimated to be available for export. Latvian timber lands, State and private, produce annually about 172.5 million cubic feet of timber, mostly redwood, which can be exported to the extent of about 14 per cent. either as logs or sawn goods, or manufactured into furniture, or building material. On July 1, 1920, there were 1,212 industrial enterprises in Latvia, employing about 12,000 hands.
Latvia does not possess any mineral wealth, although brown coal has been found in the country. The extensive peat bogs of Latvia can be utilised for fuel. A scheme is under consideration to harness the waters of the Dvina for generating electricity at the expenditure of 7,000,000 £. When fully equipped the stations will be able to generate 360,000 horse power.
Commerce and Communication.—Latvia possesses about 340 miles of sea-coast; its 3 principal harbours are Riga, Libau, and Windau. Three Russian main lines converge on Latvian ports, viz. the Riga-Tsaritsin line, the Windau-Moscow line, and the Libau-Romni line.
On January 1, 1921, 10 steamboats of 9,003 tons, and 29 sailing vessels of 7,789 tons, making a total of 39 vessels of 16,892 sailing under the Latvian flag.
The Latvian railways in Courland have been altered during the German occupation to the German gauge, while those in Livonia an Latgale retain the Russian gauge. The total length of line is 1,715 miles, of which 516 miles are of Russian gauge, 595 miles of European gauge, and 426 miles of narrow gauge.
Money, Banking, and Currency.—The only legal tender in Latvia are the Latvian roubles, of which up to July 1, 1920, 517,162,361 have been issued.
It is intended to issue a new currency on a gold basis. The unit will be 1 gold Lat, equal to a gold franc, or one twenty-fifth of a gold sovereign. It is also proposed to set up a central banking institution.
The metric system has been established by law, but the old Russian system of weights and measures may be used until January. 1, 1926.
1. Of Latvia in Great Britain.
Chargé d'Affaires ad interim.— G. W. Bisseneck.
There is also a Consulate in London.
2. Of Great Britain in Latvia.
Chief of the Diplomatic Mission.—E. C. Wilton, C.M.G.
Commercial Commissioner in the Baltic States (at Riga).—William Peters.
There are Consular representatives in Riga and Libau.