Republic of Belarus
and largest city
|Ethnic groups |
1.7% Ukrainians, 4.2% others and unspecified
|Council of the Republic|
|House of Representatives|
from the Soviet Union
|27 July 1990|
|25 August 1991|
|25 December 1991|
|207,595 km2 (80,153 sq mi) (85th)|
• Water (%)
|negligible (2.830 km2)1|
• 2009 census
|45.8/km2 (118.6/sq mi) (142nd)|
|GDP (PPP)||2010 estimate|
• Per capita
|GDP (nominal)||2010 estimate|
• Per capita
|HDI (2011)|| 0.756|
high · 65th
|Currency||Belarusian ruble (BYR)|
|Time zone||UTC+3 (FET)|
|ISO 3166 code||BY|
Belarus (officially called Republic of Belarus) is a country in Eastern Europe. About nine million people live there. Its capital is Minsk. It was part of the Soviet Union until 1991. The president of Belarus has been Alexander Lukashenko since 1994. It is bordered by Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Over forty percent of its 207,600 square kilometres (80,200 sq mi) is forested.
The State is a member of the UN, the CIS, Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Eurasian Economic Community, the Union State of Russia and Belarus (from 2 April 1997), as well as a member of other international organizations.
Until the 20th century, the lands of modern-day Belarus belonged to several countries. These included the Principality of Polotsk, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the Russian Empire. After the Russian Revolution, Belarus became part of the Soviet Union. It was renamed the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR). The borders of Belarus took their modern shape in 1939. Some lands of the Second Polish Republic were added into it after the Soviet invasion of Poland. The nation and its territory were devastated in World War II. Belarus lost about a third of its population and more than half of its economic resources. In 1945 the Belorussian SSR became a founding member of the United Nations, along with the Soviet Union and the Ukrainian SSR.
Over 70% of Belarus's population of 9.49 million live in the urban areas. More than 80% of the population are ethnic Belarusians. Most of the rest are Russians, Poles and Ukrainians. The country has two official languages: Belarusian and Russian. The main religion in the country is Russian Orthodox Christianity. The second most popular, Roman Catholicism, has a much smaller following.
History[change | change source]
Prior to First World War[change | change source]
Both Homo erectus and Neanderthal remains have been found in the region. From 5,000 to 2,000 BCE, Bandkeramik cultures lived here. Cimmerians were in the area by 1,000 BCE. By 500 BCE, Slavs moved in. The Huns and Avars came through around 400–600 CE. They were unable to move the Slavs.
The region that is now Belarus was first settled by Slavic tribes in the 6th century. They came into contact with the Varangians, who were bands of Scandinavian warriors and traders. They formed Kievan Rus' in 862.
When Kievan Rus' ruler Yaroslav I the Wise died, the state split. Later some were added into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Lithuania made a union with Poland. The union ended in 1795. The land of Belarus went to the Russian Empire. The land stayed with Russia until going to the German Empire during World War I.
Since initial independence[change | change source]
Belarus said they were free from Germany on 25 March 1918. They formed the Belarusian People's Republic. Then the Polish–Soviet War started. A part of Belarus under Russian rule became the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1919. Then it added to the Lithuanian–Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. Other lands were divided between Poland and the Soviet Union after the war ended in 1921. The Belorussian SSR became a founding member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922. The western part of modern Belarus stayed part of Poland.
Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. BSSR was the hardest-hit Soviet republic in World War II. During that time, Germany destroyed 209 out of 290 cities in the republic, 85% of the republic's industry, and more than one million buildings. Casualties were between two and three million. The population of Belarus did not come back to its pre-war level until 1971.
Joseph Stalin wanted Belorussian SSR to be more Russian. Russians were sent from other parts of the Soviet Union to be in the government. The use of the Belarusian language was limited. After Stalin's death in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev continued the plan.
Belarus said it was free on 27 July 1990. With the support of the Communist Party, the country's name was changed to the Republic of Belarus on 25 August 1991.
Geography[change | change source]
Belarus is landlocked and mostly flat. It has a lot of marshy land. Many streams and 11,000 lakes are found in Belarus. Three major rivers run through the country: the Neman, the Pripyat, and the Dnieper.
Natural resources include peat deposits, small amounts of oil and natural gas, granite, dolomite (limestone), marl, chalk, sand, gravel, and clay. About 70% of the radiation from neighboring Ukraine's 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster entered Belarusian territory. The farmland continues to be affected by radiation fallout.
Politics[change | change source]
Human rights[change | change source]
Lukashenko has described himself as having an "authoritarian ruling style". Western countries have described Belarus under Lukashenko as a dictatorship. The Council of Europe has stopped Belarus from membership since 1997 for undemocratic voting.
Military[change | change source]
The Armed Forces of Belarus have three branches: the Army, the Air Force, and the Ministry of Defense joint staff. Lieutenant General Yuri Zhadobin heads the Ministry of Defense. Alexander Lukashenko (as president) is Commander-in-Chief.
Divisions[change | change source]
Regions (with administrative centers):
- Brest Region (Brest)
- Gomel Region (Gomel)
- Grodno Region (Grodno)
- Mogilev Region (Mogilev)
- Minsk Region (Minsk)
- Vitebsk Region (Vitebsk)
Special administrative district:
Economy[change | change source]
Most of the Belarusian economy is state-controlled. It has been described as "Soviet-style." The country relies on Russia for some imports, including petroleum. As of 1994, Belarus's main exports included heavy machinery (especially tractors), agricultural products, and energy products.
Demographics[change | change source]
According to 2009 census, the population is 9,503,807. Ethnic Belarusians are 83.7% of Belarus' total population. The next largest ethnic groups are: Russians (8.3%), Poles (3.1%), and Ukrainians (1.7%). Minsk, the nation's capital and largest city, is home to 1,836,808 residents as of 2009. Gomel, with 481,000 people, is the second-largest city and is the capital of the Homiel Voblast. Other large cities are Mogilev (365,100), Vitebsk (342,400), Hrodna (314,800) and Brest (298,300). For other places in Belarus see List of settlements in Belarus.
Culture[change | change source]
Literature[change | change source]
Belarusian literature began with 11th- to 13th-century religious scripture. By the 16th century, Polotsk resident Francysk Skaryna translated the Bible into Belarusian. The modern era of Belarusian literature began in the late 19th century. One important writer was Yanka Kupala. Several poets and authors went into exile after the Nazi occupation of Belarus. They would not return until the 1960s. The last major revival of Belarusian literature was in the 1960s with novels published by Vasil Bykaŭ and Uladzimir Karatkievich.
Music[change | change source]
In the 19th century, Polish composer Stanisław Moniuszko made operas and chamber music pieces while living in Minsk. At the end of the 19th century, major Belarusian cities formed their own opera and ballet companies.
The National Academic Theatre of Ballet, in Minsk, was awarded the Benois de la Dance Prize in 1996 as the top ballet company in the world. Rock music has become more popular in recent years, though the Belarusian government has tried to limit the amount of foreign music aired on the radio. Since 2004, Belarus has been sending artists to the Eurovision Song Contest.
Dress[change | change source]
Cuisine[change | change source]
Belarusian cuisine is mainly vegetables, meat (especially pork), and breads. Foods are usually either slowly cooked or stewed. A typical Belarusian eats a light breakfast and two hearty meals, with dinner being the largest meal of the day. Wheat and rye breads are eaten in Belarus. Rye is more plentiful because conditions are too harsh for growing wheat. To show hospitality, a host will give an offering of bread and salt when greeting a guest or visitor. Popular drinks in Belarus include Russian wheat vodka and kvass, Kvass is a drink made from fermented malted brown bread or rye flour. Kvass may also be added with sliced vegetables to create a cold soup called okroshka.
World Heritage Sites[change | change source]
References[change | change source]
- Constitution of the Republic of Belarus Section 1, Article 17
- 2009 census
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Belarus' Soviet-style economy has been propped up in part by cheap Russian gas and oil and Lukashenko has called for his country to reunite with Russia.Check date values in:
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