Little Enthusiasm for Latvia's Euro Effort

The World

Latvia is on the path to adopt the euro starting in January 2014. The former Soviet republic will ask the European Union to green light the request.

Trouble is, most Latvians don't share their government's enthusiasm and they don't want to give up their own money – the lat.

According to recent polls, only 30 percent of Latvians back the plan to introduce the single currency next year. That leaves some Latvian government officials to worry that the lack of support might prompt the eurozone to withdraw the invitation.

"Most Latvians know we have beautiful money," said Latvian playwright Lelde Stumbre, 60. "Our national currency has always been important to us."

Latvia's currency — lats and santims — was introduced in the early 1920s.

"The money is a symbol of independent Latvia, just like the national anthem, the flag and the language," said Stumbre. She said while growing up under Russian occupation, she felt the rouble was forced on Latvians. When Latvia regained its independence, said Stumbre, it was an important step when the lat was reintroduced into its currency.

1 lat circulation coin with a nesting stork. Stork is one of the most frequent birds in Latvia. (Photo: The Bank of Latvia)

Still, for some who came of age after Soviet times, it's a different story. Niklavs Paegle, 27, said he'd rather have euros in his pocket than lats.

"A lot of us have a completely European dynamic," said Paegle. He lives in Riga but works in London and travels across Europe.

The Latvian government knows it has a lot of work to do to persuade reluctant Latvians to give up their currency.

Many Latvians "don't have a strong sense of belonging to the European Union and they also don't really seem to grasp the concept of it," said Ilze Birzniece, anthropology lecturer at the University of Latvia.

There's also the other issue: The eurozone's financial crisis which many Latvians would just as soon pass on.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.