Latvia had not known independence since the 1200s, and yet had managed to keep its culture and its language. In 1918 it declared independence from Russia, and surprisingly was recognised as such within two years; Stalin had different ideas however, made arrangements for spheres of influence with Nazi Germany, then marched in and took it. Hitler was no more minded than Stalin to honour treaties, so in 1941 the Nazis took it back, and in 1944 the Red Army reclaimed it. Under Stalin the country was heavily industrialised, with huge numbers of Russians being moved there, a policy still in place post-Communism and one which the western European powers had long employed – move your own people in as migrants, but still looking to the motherland, and your hold over the country becomes stronger with each generation. Britain and Ireland is the obvious example. To combat the Russian nostalgia for their motherland, a Latvian language-test is in place for all would-be citizens; and you can’t vote or get a passport without being a citizen. High unemployment and a faltering economy remain the country’s biggest challenges.
Definitely the best hand-knitted woolen scarves and gloves and hats and mittens anywhere in Europe, which has to be worth a mark.
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