In the 1200s, Latvia existed as a German colony, thanks to the influx of missionaries, merchants, and knights. But three hundred years later, the region came under the domination of Sweden, followed by Lithuania. In the 18th century, the Russians absorbed Latvia into Peter the Great's empire. Following World War II, Latvia was accorded political independence but that was short-lived as Stalin made the country a republic of the Soviet Union in 1940. As in many of the republics, Soviet rule was repressive and a strong undercurrent of nationalism still existed. In 1988, Latvian was made the country's official language (replacing the hated Russian) and beginning in 1990, Latvia's intention to secede were made openly. The Russians tried to prevent this -- a crackdown by the military was carried out early in 1991 but later that year, independence was declared. Along with other Baltic states, Latvia opted not to sign the agreement that created the Commonwealth of Independent States. In 1995, Latvia was made an associate member of the European Union and applied for formal membership.

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