Latvia, an important trading point historically, has had a series of outside rulers over centuries, akin to its Baltic cousins of Estonia and Lithuania. Like the other two, in 1918 Latvia declared its independence from Germany — only to lose it again to USSR in 1940 and to Nazi invasion 1941-44, when recaptured by the Soviets. Latvia has been independent once more since 1991. Having avoidied major destruction during WWII, the “old town” area of Its capital city, Riga, is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Latvia suffered enormous loss in WWII at the hands of the Nazi occupiers and their Latvian collaborators; already a small population with less than 2 million, 90,000 citizens were murdered — 75,000 of them Jewish. Another 20,000 Jews deported from nearby countries to Latvia were also killed there. Seen here: Riga Ghetto and Holocaust Museum.

Reeling from the trauma of WWII with high loss of life, Latvia was subsequently treated severely by Stalin’s Soviet Union, with local collaborators. Nearly 100,000 ‘dissidents’were sent to gulags in Eastern Siberia, most never to return; many more were killed or tortured. Residents today tell of losing grandparents and others — and of their ongoing distrust of the large Russian minority living in Latvia today. Seen here is an exhibition in memory of those exiled or killed outright, in the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia.

Today Latvia is thriving in its independence, with a booming economy from 1991 until the 2008 global economic crisis from which the country is still recovering. Its people revel in their freedoms and as such have become one of Europe’s more progressive nations; unlike the Eastern European nations formerly of the Soviet bloc that maintain a formal relationship with Russia as part of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Latvia along with its Baltic cousins has aligned firmly with Europe. This is not without its complexities; seen here in Riga is not an independence monument but the Victory Memorial to the Soviet Army — in honor of the Soviet recapture of Latvia from Nazi Germany.

The daily life and customs of Latvia can be seen in the life of its markets. Despite its struggles following the 2008 global economic crisis, life continues at a high quality and Latvian community continues to build from strength to strength. The country shares a good partnership with its Baltic cousins, Estonia and Lithuania, and with the EU as well as the international community. Seen here: Riga Central Market, one of the largest in Europe.

In keeping with its strong quality of life index, Latvia places high value on intellectual as well as artistic pursuit. Investment in future generations, as a primary feature of the country’s sustainability, is well exhibited. Seen here: the gloriously ultra-modern National Library of Latvia in Riga.