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Ethnicity, Language, & Religion of Latvia

Ethnicity

Although the majority of the people in Latvia are ethnic Latvians, there is a very large Russian minority, making up nearly a third of the population. Ethnically, the Latvians are similar to both the Lithuanians and their neighbors to the north, the Finns and Estonians.

Language

Latvian (or Lettish) is the only official language of Latvia, but the ethnic Latvians are about the only people who speak this language. Latvian is a Baltic language and is most closely related to Lithuanian; the Baltic languages are much more distantly related to the Slavic languages.

There is a large number of ethnic Russians in Latvia, most of whom don't speak Latvian natively, nor do many learn Latvian as a second language. For this segment of the population Russian is the language of choice and Russian also seems to be the language of communication between groups since many Latvians know Russian, but few Russians know Latvian. Today Russian is becoming less popular as English is taking over as the second language of choice and many young people today speak at least some English.

Religion

Latvia is not a very religious country as over half the population is either atheist or doesn't prescribe to any particular religion. For those that do practice, most ethnic Latvians are Lutheran, while most ethnic Russians are Orthodox.

Lutheranism is a protestant religion that was founded by and named after Martin Luther, who led the Protestant Reformation. Like all Christian and protestant faiths, Lutherans believe there is one God and that His son, Jesus is the savior and forgiver of sins. Lutherans also believe that the Bible, which includes the Old and New Testaments, is the only true word of God. It is generally in the interpretation of the Bible that protestant religions vary and this is true in the case of Lutheranism, which tends to interpret the Bible quite differently from Catholicism, which was the religion Lutheranism separated from.

Orthodoxy is a Christian religion that claims to be the most loyal to the Christian faith and religion as it was described by Jesus and the Gospels in the New Testament. Christianity, including Orthodoxy, was founded after the death of Jesus in about 30-33 AD; various branches of Orthodoxy were officially recognized by governments long before Catholicism was recognized in the Roman Empire.

Orthodoxy and Catholicism have many of the same beliefs; both believe that there is a single God who created everything and a savior, the son of God, Jesus Christ who is the forgiver of sins. However, Orthodoxy is very decentralized so each bishop oversees their local country or region, giving each orthodox country a different leader. In this way, no bishop has more power than any other, meaning the tenants and interpretations of the faith remain relatively unchanged. These beliefs are based on the teachings of the Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testaments, in particular the life and teachings of Jesus, which is found in the gospels (in the New Testament).

This page was last updated: May, 2014