Latvia flag 10 x 15 cm
Latvia; Latvian: Latvija, officially Republic of Latvia (Latvian: Latvijas Republika) is a country in Northern Europe in the Baltic region. It is bordered to the north by Estonia (343 km), to the south by Lithuania (588 km), and to the east both by Belarus (141 km) and the Russian Federation (276 km). Across the Baltic Sea to the west lies Sweden. The territory of Latvia covers 64,589 km² and has a temperate seasonal climate.
The Latvians are a Baltic people culturally related to the Estonians and Lithuanians, with the Latvian language having many similarities with Lithuanian, but not with the Estonian language. Today the Latvian and Lithuanian languages are the only surviving members of the Baltic languages of the Indo-European family. The modern name of Latvia is thought to originate from the ancient Latvian name Latvji, which, like the name of Lithuania, may have originated from the river named Latva or Latuva, which may be today's Lates upe.
Latvia is a unitary democratic parliamentary republic and is divided into 26 districts. The capital and largest city is Riga. Latvia has been a member of the United Nations since 17 September 1991, of the European Union since 1 May 2004 and of NATO since 29 March 2004.
The national flag of Latvia was used by independent Latvia from 1918 until the country was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940. After regaining its independence, Latvia re-adopted on February 27, 1990 the same red-white-red flag. Though officially adopted in 1922, the Latvian flag was in use as early as the 13th century, but its use was suppressed during Soviet rule. The red color is sometimes described as symbolizing the readiness of the Latvians to give the blood from their hearts for freedom and their willingness to defend their liberty. An alternative interpretation, according to one legend, is that a Latvian leader was wounded in battle, and the edge of the white sheet in which he was wrapped were stained by his blood. The white stripe may stand for the sheet that wrapped him. This story is similar to the legend of the origins of the flag of Austria (which see).