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Latvia is the middle one of the three "Baltic Republics" along with Estonia and Lithuania, and has shared their modern history of brief independence following World War One before being snapped up by the Soviet Union until independence in 1991. In fact, it wasn't until 1918 that the three of them had clearly delineated borders - for most of their history the area known as Livonia or Courland/Kurland was a vaguely-defined parcel of land passed around between Prussia and the Teutonic Knights, Sweden, and Russia.

Since independence, Latvia has become a popular tourist destination and joined the European Union and plans to join the Euro in 2012 or 2013.

The Latvian flag

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