Latvia on the euro

A young couple in Riga, Latvia, displays euro banknotes they withdrew Wednesday after the country entered the Eurozone. (Aivars Liepins / AFP/Getty Images / January 1, 2014)

Latvia began its new year as the 18th member of the European zone, despite vigorous opposition from many citizens who worry about price increases in 2014.

The ceremony to switch the country officially to euros from its former currency, the lats, occurred on New Year's Day at the headquarters of the state-owned Citadele Bank.

Finance Minister Andris Vilks, who championed the adoption of the euro for Latvia during the global economic crisis, heralded the move as "just the beginning for Latvia," according to Bloomberg.

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"Today is a very important day for Latvia, difficult to imagine three or four years ago," Vilks said, according to Bloomberg.

Latvia, which adopted the euro after nearly a decade as part of the European Union, is seeking further integration with the West in a bid to boost its economic growth. It is the fourth formerly communist country to adopt the euro after Slovakia, Slovenia and Estonia.

Other former Soviet republics such as Ukraine have been at the center of a tug of war between Russia and the West over political and economic influence. Massive protests recently erupted in Ukraine after President Viktor F. Yanukovich backed out from signing wide-ranging political and free-trade accords with the European Union. He later accepted a $15-billion bailout package from Russia.

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Advocates of adopting the euro in Latvia said such a move will attract more foreign investment and boost the country's credit rating. However, a majority of Latvians oppose the move, according to recent opinion polls, citing worries about increased responsibilities as part of the Eurozone and fears of higher prices for goods and services.

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