Belarus

Belarus

Overview
Belarus officially the Republic of Belarus, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

, bordered clockwise by Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 to the northeast, Ukraine
Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

 to the south, Poland
Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

 to the west, and Lithuania
Lithuania
Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...

 and Latvia
Latvia
Latvia , officially the Republic of Latvia , is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by Estonia , to the south by Lithuania , to the east by the Russian Federation , to the southeast by Belarus and shares maritime borders to the west with Sweden...

 to the northwest. Its capital is Minsk
Minsk
- Ecological situation :The ecological situation is monitored by Republican Center of Radioactive and Environmental Control .During 2003–2008 the overall weight of contaminants increased from 186,000 to 247,400 tons. The change of gas as industrial fuel to mazut for financial reasons has worsened...

; other major cities include Brest
Brest, Belarus
Brest , formerly also Brest-on-the-Bug and Brest-Litovsk , is a city in Belarus at the border with Poland opposite the city of Terespol, where the Bug River and Mukhavets rivers meet...

, Grodno (Hrodna)
Hrodna
Grodno or Hrodna , is a city in Belarus. It is located on the Neman River , close to the borders of Poland and Lithuania . It has 327,540 inhabitants...

, Gomel (Homiel), Mogilev (Mahilyow)
Mogilev
Mogilev is a city in eastern Belarus, about 76 km from the border with Russia's Smolensk Oblast and 105 km from the border with Russia's Bryansk Oblast. It has more than 367,788 inhabitants...

 and Vitebsk (Vitsebsk)
Vitebsk
Vitebsk, also known as Viciebsk or Vitsyebsk , is a city in Belarus, near the border with Russia. The capital of the Vitebsk Oblast, in 2004 it had 342,381 inhabitants, making it the country's fourth largest city...

. Over forty percent of its 207600 square kilometres (80,154.8 sq mi) is forested, and its strongest economic sectors are agriculture and manufacturing
Manufacturing
Manufacturing is the use of machines, tools and labor to produce goods for use or sale. The term may refer to a range of human activity, from handicraft to high tech, but is most commonly applied to industrial production, in which raw materials are transformed into finished goods on a large scale...

.

Until the 20th century, the lands of modern day Belarus belonged to several countries, including the Principality of Polotsk, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Grand Duchy of Lithuania
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a European state from the 12th /13th century until 1569 and then as a constituent part of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1791 when Constitution of May 3, 1791 abolished it in favor of unitary state. It was founded by the Lithuanians, one of the polytheistic...

, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

.
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Timeline

1863   The January Uprising breaks out in Poland, Lithuania and Belarus. The aim of the national movement is to regain Polish-Lithuanian-Ruthenian Commonwealth from occupation by Russia.

1942   World War II: In response to news of its coming liquidation, Dov Lopatyn leads an uprising in the Ghetto of Lakhva, in present-day Belarus.

1943   World War II: the entire population of Khatyn in Belarus is burnt alive by German occupation forces.

1990   The Supreme Soviet of the Belarusian Soviet Republic declares independence of Belarus from the Soviet Union. Until 1996 the day is celebrated as the Independence Day of Belarus; after a referendum held that year the celebration of independence is moved to June 3.

1991   Belarus declares its independence from the Soviet Union

1991   The leaders of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine sign an agreement dissolving the Soviet Union and establishing the Commonwealth of Independent States.

2006   Protesters demanding a new election in Belarus, following the rigged Belarusian presidential election, 2006, clash with riot police. Opposition leader Aleksander Kozulin is among several protesters arrested.

 
Encyclopedia
Belarus officially the Republic of Belarus, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

, bordered clockwise by Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 to the northeast, Ukraine
Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

 to the south, Poland
Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

 to the west, and Lithuania
Lithuania
Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...

 and Latvia
Latvia
Latvia , officially the Republic of Latvia , is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by Estonia , to the south by Lithuania , to the east by the Russian Federation , to the southeast by Belarus and shares maritime borders to the west with Sweden...

 to the northwest. Its capital is Minsk
Minsk
- Ecological situation :The ecological situation is monitored by Republican Center of Radioactive and Environmental Control .During 2003–2008 the overall weight of contaminants increased from 186,000 to 247,400 tons. The change of gas as industrial fuel to mazut for financial reasons has worsened...

; other major cities include Brest
Brest, Belarus
Brest , formerly also Brest-on-the-Bug and Brest-Litovsk , is a city in Belarus at the border with Poland opposite the city of Terespol, where the Bug River and Mukhavets rivers meet...

, Grodno (Hrodna)
Hrodna
Grodno or Hrodna , is a city in Belarus. It is located on the Neman River , close to the borders of Poland and Lithuania . It has 327,540 inhabitants...

, Gomel (Homiel), Mogilev (Mahilyow)
Mogilev
Mogilev is a city in eastern Belarus, about 76 km from the border with Russia's Smolensk Oblast and 105 km from the border with Russia's Bryansk Oblast. It has more than 367,788 inhabitants...

 and Vitebsk (Vitsebsk)
Vitebsk
Vitebsk, also known as Viciebsk or Vitsyebsk , is a city in Belarus, near the border with Russia. The capital of the Vitebsk Oblast, in 2004 it had 342,381 inhabitants, making it the country's fourth largest city...

. Over forty percent of its 207600 square kilometres (80,154.8 sq mi) is forested, and its strongest economic sectors are agriculture and manufacturing
Manufacturing
Manufacturing is the use of machines, tools and labor to produce goods for use or sale. The term may refer to a range of human activity, from handicraft to high tech, but is most commonly applied to industrial production, in which raw materials are transformed into finished goods on a large scale...

.

Until the 20th century, the lands of modern day Belarus belonged to several countries, including the Principality of Polotsk, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Grand Duchy of Lithuania
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a European state from the 12th /13th century until 1569 and then as a constituent part of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1791 when Constitution of May 3, 1791 abolished it in favor of unitary state. It was founded by the Lithuanians, one of the polytheistic...

, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

. As a result of the Russian Revolution, Belarus became a founding constituent republic of the Soviet Union
Republics of the Soviet Union
The Republics of the Soviet Union or the Union Republics of the Soviet Union were ethnically-based administrative units that were subordinated directly to the Government of the Soviet Union...

 and was renamed as the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. The borders of Belarus took their modern shape in 1939 when lands that were part of the Second Polish Republic
Second Polish Republic
The Second Polish Republic, Second Commonwealth of Poland or interwar Poland refers to Poland between the two world wars; a period in Polish history in which Poland was restored as an independent state. Officially known as the Republic of Poland or the Commonwealth of Poland , the Polish state was...

 were incorporated into after the Soviet invasion of Poland
Soviet invasion of Poland
Soviet invasion of Poland can refer to:* the second phase of the Polish-Soviet War of 1920 when Soviet armies marched on Warsaw, Poland* Soviet invasion of Poland of 1939 when Soviet Union allied with Nazi Germany attacked Second Polish Republic...

. The nation and its territory were devastated in World War II, during which Belarus lost about a third of its population and more than half of its economic resources. The republic was redeveloped in the post-war years. In 1945 the Belorussian SSR became a founding member of the UN, along with the Soviet Union and the Ukrainian SSR
Ukrainian SSR
The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic or in short, the Ukrainian SSR was a sovereign Soviet Socialist state and one of the fifteen constituent republics of the Soviet Union lasting from its inception in 1922 to the breakup in 1991...

.

The parliament of the republic declared the sovereignty
Sovereignty
Sovereignty is the quality of having supreme, independent authority over a geographic area, such as a territory. It can be found in a power to rule and make law that rests on a political fact for which no purely legal explanation can be provided...

 of Belarus on 1990, and during the dissolution of the Soviet Union
Dissolution of the Soviet Union
The dissolution of the Soviet Union was the disintegration of the federal political structures and central government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , resulting in the independence of all fifteen republics of the Soviet Union between March 11, 1990 and December 25, 1991...

, Belarus declared independence on 1991. Alexander Lukashenko
Alexander Lukashenko
Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko has been serving as the President of Belarus since 20 July 1994. Before his career as a politician, Lukashenko worked as director of a state-owned agricultural farm. Under Lukashenko's rule, Belarus has come to be viewed as a state whose conduct is out of line...

 has been the country's president since 1994. Under his lead and despite objections from Western governments, Soviet-era policies, such as state ownership of the economy
Planned economy
A planned economy is an economic system in which decisions regarding production and investment are embodied in a plan formulated by a central authority, usually by a government agency...

 have been continued. According to some organizations and countries, elections have been unfair, and political opponents have been violently suppressed. In 2000, Belarus and Russia signed a treaty for greater cooperation, with some hints of forming a Union State.

Most of Belarus's population of 9.49 million reside in the urban areas surrounding Minsk
Minsk
- Ecological situation :The ecological situation is monitored by Republican Center of Radioactive and Environmental Control .During 2003–2008 the overall weight of contaminants increased from 186,000 to 247,400 tons. The change of gas as industrial fuel to mazut for financial reasons has worsened...

 and other oblast
Administrative divisions of Belarus
At the top level of administration, the Eastern European country of Belarus is divided into six voblasts and the city of Minsk, which has a special status being the capital of Belarus...

 (regional) capitals. More than 80% of the population are native Belarusians, with sizable minorities of Russians, Poles
Poles
thumb|right|180px|The state flag of [[Poland]] as used by Polish government and diplomatic authoritiesThe Polish people, or Poles , are a nation indigenous to Poland. They are united by the Polish language, which belongs to the historical Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages of Central Europe...

 and Ukrainians
Ukrainians
Ukrainians are an East Slavic ethnic group native to Ukraine, which is the sixth-largest nation in Europe. The Constitution of Ukraine applies the term 'Ukrainians' to all its citizens...

. Since a referendum in 1995, the country has had two official languages: Belarusian
Belarusian language
The Belarusian language , sometimes referred to as White Russian or White Ruthenian, is the language of the Belarusian people...

 and Russian
Russian language
Russian is a Slavic language used primarily in Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Turkmenistan and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics...

. The Constitution of Belarus
Constitution of Belarus
The Constitution of the Republic of Belarus is the ultimate law of Belarus. Adopted in 1994, three years after the country declared its independence from the Soviet Union, this formal document establishes the framework of the Belarusian state and government and enumerates the rights and freedoms...

 does not declare an official religion, although the primary religion in the country is Russian Orthodox Christianity
Russian Orthodox Church
The Russian Orthodox Church or, alternatively, the Moscow Patriarchate The ROC is often said to be the largest of the Eastern Orthodox churches in the world; including all the autocephalous churches under its umbrella, its adherents number over 150 million worldwide—about half of the 300 million...

. The second most popular, Roman Catholicism
Roman Catholicism in Belarus
The Roman Catholic Church in Belarus is part of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope and curia in Rome.The first Latin Rite diocese in Belarus was established in Turaŭ between 1008 and 1013....

, has a much smaller following by comparison, but both Orthodox and Catholic Christmas and Easter are officially celebrated as national holidays. Belarus also has the highest Human Development Index
Human Development Index
The Human Development Index is a composite statistic used to rank countries by level of "human development" and separate "very high human development", "high human development", "medium human development", and "low human development" countries...

 among members of the Commonwealth of Independent States
Commonwealth of Independent States
The Commonwealth of Independent States is a regional organization whose participating countries are former Soviet Republics, formed during the breakup of the Soviet Union....

.

Etymology


The name "Belarus" corresponds literally with the term "White Ruthenia" (White Rus'). There are several claims to where the origin of the name "White Rus'" came from. An ethno-religious theory suggests that the name used to describe the part of old Ruthenia
Ruthenia
Ruthenia is the Latin word used onwards from the 13th century, describing lands of the Ancient Rus in European manuscripts. Its geographic and culturo-ethnic name at that time was applied to the parts of Eastern Europe. Essentially, the word is a false Latin rendering of the ancient place name Rus...

n lands within the Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Grand Duchy of Lithuania
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a European state from the 12th /13th century until 1569 and then as a constituent part of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1791 when Constitution of May 3, 1791 abolished it in favor of unitary state. It was founded by the Lithuanians, one of the polytheistic...

 that was mostly populated by the early Christianized Slavs, as opposed to Black Ruthenia
Black Ruthenia
Black Ruthenia, Black Rus or Black Russia are variant conventional terms used for a region around Navahrudak , in the western part of contemporary Belarus on the upper reaches of the Neman River for the time period between the 13th and 14th centuries...

, which to a greater extent was inhabited by predominantly pagan Balts. Another possible origin for the name is for the white clothing that was worn by the local Slavic population. Yet another theory suggests that the old Ruthenian lands (Polatsk, Vitsiebsk and Mahilyow) which were not conquered by the Tatars
Tatars
Tatars are a Turkic speaking ethnic group , numbering roughly 7 million.The majority of Tatars live in the Russian Federation, with a population of around 5.5 million, about 2 million of which in the republic of Tatarstan.Significant minority populations are found in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan,...

 were referred to as "white". Other sources claim that before 1267, the land not conquered by the Mongols was considered "White Rus'". In 2008, historian Ales Bely defended his PhD thesis in the Lithuanian Institute of History
Lithuanian Institute of History
The Lithuanian Institute of History is a state-funded research institution in Lithuania. Governed by national law, it is the country's main institution of history research, concentrating mostly on the history of Lithuania and its neighbouring states....

, Vilnius
Vilnius
Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, and its largest city, with a population of 560,190 as of 2010. It is the seat of the Vilnius city municipality and of the Vilnius district municipality. It is also the capital of Vilnius County...

 entitled Localization of the Choronym of White Rus in the European Written and Map Sources of the 13th to mid-18th Centuries which showed that the term White Rus was originally largely referred to the lands of the Novgorod Republic
Novgorod Republic
The Novgorod Republic was a large medieval Russian state which stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Ural Mountains between the 12th and 15th centuries, centred on the city of Novgorod...

 conquered by the Grand Duchy of Moscow
Grand Duchy of Moscow
The Grand Duchy of Moscow or Grand Principality of Moscow, also known in English simply as Muscovy , was a late medieval Rus' principality centered on Moscow, and the predecessor state of the early modern Tsardom of Russia....

 in 1478, and translated to the territory of what is now Eastern Belarus together with Westward expansion of Muscovy during the Livonian War
Livonian War
The Livonian War was fought for control of Old Livonia in the territory of present-day Estonia and Latvia when the Tsardom of Russia faced a varying coalition of Denmark–Norway, the Kingdom of Sweden, the Union of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland.During the period 1558–1578,...

 in the 17th century.

As the names "Ruthenia" and "Rus'" have very often been confused with their modern derivative "Russia", White Ruthenia has often been referred to as "White Russia
White Russia
White Russia or White Ruthenia is a name that has historically been applied to a part of the wider region of Ruthenia or Rus', most often to that which roughly corresponds to the eastern part of present-day Belarus including the cities of Polatsk, Vitsyebsk and Mahiliou. In English, the use of the...

". This misinterpretation has been supported by the Moscovite regents after the fall of Kievan Rus'. The Moskovite dukes, starting with Ivan IV, considered themselves to be the rightful successors of the Ruthenian grand duke dynasty, and their use of the name "Russia" as referring to all former Ruthenian (east slavic) lands became a political weapon and a casus belli
Casus belli
is a Latin expression meaning the justification for acts of war. means "incident", "rupture" or indeed "case", while means bellic...

 for claiming the west Ruthenian territories from Lithuania and Poland. The name first appeared in German
Medieval German literature
Medieval German literature refers to literature written in Germany, stretching from the Carolingian dynasty; various dates have been given for the end of the German literary Middle Ages, the Reformation being the last possible cut-off point....

 and Latin medieval literature
Medieval literature
Medieval literature is a broad subject, encompassing essentially all written works available in Europe and beyond during the Middle Ages . The literature of this time was composed of religious writings as well as secular works...

. In chronicles written by Jan of Czarnków, he spoke of the Lithuanian grand duke Jogaila
Jogaila
Jogaila, later 'He is known under a number of names: ; ; . See also: Jogaila : names and titles. was Grand Duke of Lithuania , king consort of Kingdom of Poland , and sole King of Poland . He ruled in Lithuania from 1377, at first with his uncle Kęstutis...

 and his mother being imprisoned in 1381 at "Albae Russiae, Poloczk dicto". The Latin term "Alba Russia" was again used by Pope Pius VI when establishing a Jesuit Society in 1783. His official Papal bull
Papal bull
A Papal bull is a particular type of letters patent or charter issued by a Pope of the Catholic Church. It is named after the bulla that was appended to the end in order to authenticate it....

 exclaimed "Approbo Societatem Jesu in Alba Russia degentem, approbo, approbo." Historically, the country was referred to in English as "White Ruthenia
Ruthenia
Ruthenia is the Latin word used onwards from the 13th century, describing lands of the Ancient Rus in European manuscripts. Its geographic and culturo-ethnic name at that time was applied to the parts of Eastern Europe. Essentially, the word is a false Latin rendering of the ancient place name Rus...

". The first known use of "White Russia" to refer to Belarus was in the late-16th century by Englishman Sir Jerome Horsey
Jerome Horsey
Sir Jerome Horsey , of Great Kimble, Buckinghamshire, was an English explorer, diplomat and politician in the 16th and 17th centuries....

, who was known for his close contacts with the Russian Royal Court. During the 17th century, Russian tsar
Tsar
Tsar is a title used to designate certain European Slavic monarchs or supreme rulers. As a system of government in the Tsardom of Russia and Russian Empire, it is known as Tsarist autocracy, or Tsarism...

s used "White Rus"
Ruthenia
Ruthenia is the Latin word used onwards from the 13th century, describing lands of the Ancient Rus in European manuscripts. Its geographic and culturo-ethnic name at that time was applied to the parts of Eastern Europe. Essentially, the word is a false Latin rendering of the ancient place name Rus...

" when describing the lands captured from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Grand Duchy of Lithuania
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a European state from the 12th /13th century until 1569 and then as a constituent part of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1791 when Constitution of May 3, 1791 abolished it in favor of unitary state. It was founded by the Lithuanians, one of the polytheistic...

.

Belarus was formally named "Belorussia" in the days of the Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

, and the Russian tsar was usually styled "Tsar of All the Russias", as "Russia" or the "Russian Empire" was formed by all the Russias – the Great
Great Russia
Great Russia is an obsolete name formerly applied to the territories of "Russia proper", the land that formed the core of Muscovy and, later, Russia...

, Little
Little Russia
Little Russia , sometimes Little or Lesser Rus’ , is a historical political and geographical term in the Russian language referring to most of the territory of modern-day Ukraine before the 20th century. It is similar to the Polish term Małopolska of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth...

, and White
White Russia
White Russia or White Ruthenia is a name that has historically been applied to a part of the wider region of Ruthenia or Rus', most often to that which roughly corresponds to the eastern part of present-day Belarus including the cities of Polatsk, Vitsyebsk and Mahiliou. In English, the use of the...

. At the time, "Byelorussia" was the only Russian language name of the country; under the Russian Empire, Belarus was generally seen as a part of the Russian nation and the Belarusian language was viewed as a dialect of Russian. After the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the term White Russia caused some confusion because it was also the name of the military force that opposed the "red" Bolsheviks. During the period of the Belorussian SSR, the term "Byelorussia" was embraced as part of a national consciousness. In the Polish-held Western Belarus, "Byelorussia" became commonly used in the regions of Białystok and Grodno during the interwar period.

The term "Belorussia" (its names in other languages such as English being based on the Russian form) was only used officially until 1991, when the Supreme Soviet of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic decreed by law that the new independent republic should be called "Belarus" (Беларусь) in Russian and in all other language transcriptions of its name. The change was made to reflect adequately the Belarusian language form of the name. The use of Byelorussian SSR and any abbreviations of that name was allowed from 1991 until 1993. Conservative forces in the newly independent Belarus did not support the name change and opposed its inclusion in the 1991 draft of the Constitution of Belarus
Constitution of Belarus
The Constitution of the Republic of Belarus is the ultimate law of Belarus. Adopted in 1994, three years after the country declared its independence from the Soviet Union, this formal document establishes the framework of the Belarusian state and government and enumerates the rights and freedoms...

.

Accordingly, the name "Belorussia" was replaced by "Belarus" in English and to some extent in Russian (although the traditional name still persists in that language as well); likewise, the adjective "Belorussian" or "Byelorussian" was replaced by "Belarusian" in English (though Russian has not developed a new adjective). "Belarusian" is closer to the original Russian term of "bielaruski." Belarusian intelligentsia in the Stalin era attempted to change the name from "Belorussia" to a form of "Krivia" because of the supposed connection with Russia. Some nationalists also object to the name for the same reason. However, several popular newspapers published locally still retain the old name of the country in Russian in their names, for example Komsomolskaya Pravda v Byelorussii
Komsomolskaya Pravda
Komsomolskaya Pravda is a daily Russian tabloid newspaper, founded on March 13th, 1925. It is published by "Izdatelsky Dom Komsomolskaya Pravda" .- History :...

, which is the localized publication of a popular Russian tabloid. Also, those who wish for Belarus to be reunited with Russia continue to use "Belorussia". Officially, the full name of the country is "Republic of Belarus" (Рэспубліка Беларусь, Республика Беларусь, Respublika Belarus" ).

Prior to First World War


Both Homo erectus and Neanderthal remains have been found in the region. Later Neolithic modern man that moved into the area established from 5000–2000 BCE Bandkerimik cultures, which predominated. Remains for the Dnieper-Donets culture
Dnieper-Donets culture
Dnieper-Donets culture, ca. 5th—4th millennium BC. A neolithic culture in the area north of the Black Sea/Sea of Azov between the Dnieper and Donets River.There are parallels with the contemporaneous Samara culture...

 were also found in Belarus and parts of Ukraine. Cimmerians and other pastoralists roamed through the area by 1000 BCE. By 500 BCE, Slavs had taken up residence there, with Scythian pressure on the outskirts of their territories. Various Asiatic "barbarian" invasions passed around the region, including Huns and Avars c. 400–600 CE, but did not dislodge the Slavic presence.
The region that is now Belarus was first settled by Slavic
Slavic peoples
The Slavic people are an Indo-European panethnicity living in Eastern Europe, Southeast Europe, North Asia and Central Asia. The term Slavic represents a broad ethno-linguistic group of people, who speak languages belonging to the Slavic language family and share, to varying degrees, certain...

 tribes in the 6th century. They gradually came into contact with the Varangians
Varangians
The Varangians or Varyags , sometimes referred to as Variagians, were people from the Baltic region, most often associated with Vikings, who from the 9th to 11th centuries ventured eastwards and southwards along the rivers of Eastern Europe, through what is now Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.According...

, bands of Scandinavia
Scandinavia
Scandinavia is a cultural, historical and ethno-linguistic region in northern Europe that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, characterized by their common ethno-cultural heritage and language. Modern Norway and Sweden proper are situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula,...

n warriors and traders. Though defeated and briefly exiled by the local population, the Varangians were later asked to return and helped to form a polity
Body politic
A polity is a state or one of its subordinate civil authorities, such as a province, prefecture, county, municipality, city, or district. It is generally understood to mean a geographic area with a corresponding government. Thomas Hobbes considered bodies politic in this sense in Leviathan...

—commonly referred to as the Kievan Rus'
Kievan Rus'
Kievan Rus was a medieval polity in Eastern Europe, from the late 9th to the mid 13th century, when it disintegrated under the pressure of the Mongol invasion of 1237–1240....

—in exchange for tribute. The Kievan Rus' state began in about 862 around the city of Kiev
Kiev
Kiev or Kyiv is the capital and the largest city of Ukraine, located in the north central part of the country on the Dnieper River. The population as of the 2001 census was 2,611,300. However, higher numbers have been cited in the press....

 or alternatively around the present-day city of Novgorod
Veliky Novgorod
Veliky Novgorod is one of Russia's most historic cities and the administrative center of Novgorod Oblast. It is situated on the M10 federal highway connecting Moscow and St. Petersburg. The city lies along the Volkhov River just below its outflow from Lake Ilmen...

.

Upon the death of Kievan Rus' ruler, Yaroslav I the Wise
Yaroslav I the Wise
Yaroslav I, Grand Prince of Rus, known as Yaroslav the Wise Yaroslav I, Grand Prince of Rus, known as Yaroslav the Wise Yaroslav I, Grand Prince of Rus, known as Yaroslav the Wise (Old Norse: Jarizleifr; ; Old East Slavic and Russian: Ярослав Мудрый; Ukrainian: Ярослав Мудрий; c...

, the state split into independent principalities. These Ruthenian principalities were badly affected by a Mongol invasion in the 13th century, and many were later incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Grand Duchy of Lithuania
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a European state from the 12th /13th century until 1569 and then as a constituent part of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1791 when Constitution of May 3, 1791 abolished it in favor of unitary state. It was founded by the Lithuanians, one of the polytheistic...

. Of the principalities held by the Duchy, nine were settled by ancestors of the Belarusian people. During this time the Duchy was involved in several military campaigns, including fighting on the side of Poland against the Teutonic Knights
Teutonic Knights
The Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem , commonly the Teutonic Order , is a German medieval military order, in modern times a purely religious Catholic order...

 at the Battle of Grunwald
Battle of Grunwald
The Battle of Grunwald or 1st Battle of Tannenberg was fought on 15 July 1410, during the Polish–Lithuanian–Teutonic War. The alliance of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, led respectively by King Jogaila and Grand Duke Vytautas , decisively defeated the Teutonic Knights, led...

 in 1410; the joint victory allowed the Duchy to control the northwestern border lands of Eastern Europe.

On 2 February 1386, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland were joined in a personal union
Personal union
A personal union is the combination by which two or more different states have the same monarch while their boundaries, their laws and their interests remain distinct. It should not be confused with a federation which is internationally considered a single state...

 through a marriage of their rulers
Union of Krewo
In a strict sense, the Union of Krewo or Act of Krėva was a set of prenuptial promises made in the Kreva Castle on 14 August 1385 by Jogaila, Grand Duke of Lithuania, in exchange for marriage to the underage reigning Queen Jadwiga of Poland...

. This union set in motion the developments that eventually resulted in the formation of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, created in 1569
Union of Lublin
The Union of Lublin replaced the personal union of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania with a real union and an elective monarchy, since Sigismund II Augustus, the last of the Jagiellons, remained childless after three marriages. In addition, the autonomy of Royal Prussia was...

. The Russians
Grand Duchy of Moscow
The Grand Duchy of Moscow or Grand Principality of Moscow, also known in English simply as Muscovy , was a late medieval Rus' principality centered on Moscow, and the predecessor state of the early modern Tsardom of Russia....

, led by Ivan III of Moscow
Ivan III of Russia
Ivan III Vasilyevich , also known as Ivan the Great, was a Grand Prince of Moscow and "Grand Prince of all Rus"...

, began military conquests in 1486 in an attempt to reunite the Kievan Rus' lands, specifically the territories of modern day Belarus and Ukraine.

The union between Poland and Lithuania ended in 1795 with the partitioning of Poland
Partitions of Poland
The Partitions of Poland or Partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth took place in the second half of the 18th century and ended the existence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, resulting in the elimination of sovereign Poland for 123 years...

 by Imperial Russia
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

, Prussia
Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

, and Austria
Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

. During this time the territories of modern day Belarus were acquired by the Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

 under the reign of Catherine II
Catherine II of Russia
Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great , Empress of Russia, was born in Stettin, Pomerania, Prussia on as Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg...

 and held until their occupation by German Empire
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

 during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

.

Since initial independence


During the negotiations of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was a peace treaty signed on March 3, 1918, mediated by South African Andrik Fuller, at Brest-Litovsk between Russia and the Central Powers, headed by Germany, marking Russia's exit from World War I.While the treaty was practically obsolete before the end of the year,...

, Belarus first declared independence on 1918, forming the Belarusian People's Republic. The Belarusian People's Republic was created while under German occupation, and it was one of the first attempts to "Westernize" Belarus. Socialist Soviet Republic of Byelorussia
Socialist Soviet Republic of Byelorussia
The Socialist Soviet Republic of Byelorussia or Soviet Socialist Republic of Belarus was an early republic in the historical territory of Belarus after the collapse of the Russian Empire as a result of the October Revolution....

 was proclaimed. Immediately after formation, the Polish–Soviet War was started, and Belarus was torn between resurgent Poland and Soviet Russia. Part of Belarus under Russian rule became the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1919. Soon that part was merged into the Lithuanian–Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. The contested lands were split between Poland and the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 after the war ended in 1921, and the Belorussian SSR became a founding member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922. The western part of modern Belarus remained part of Poland.

A set of agricultural reforms, culminating in the Belarusian phase of Soviet collectivization, began in the 1920s. A process of rapid industrialization was undertaken during the 1930s, following the model of Soviet five-year plans.
In 1939, Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 and the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Poland, marking the beginning of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. Much of northeastern Poland, which had been part of the country since the Peace of Riga
Peace of Riga
The Peace of Riga, also known as the Treaty of Riga; was signed in Riga on 18 March 1921, between Poland, Soviet Russia and Soviet Ukraine. The treaty ended the Polish-Soviet War....

 two decades earlier, was annexed to the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, and now constitutes West Belarus
West Belarus
West Belarus is the name used in reference to the territory of modern Belarus which belonged to the Second Polish Republic between 1919 and 1939. The area of West Belarus was annexed into the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic following staged elections soon after the Nazi-Soviet Invasion of...

. The Soviet-controlled Belarusian People Council officially took control of the territories, which had a predominantly ethnic Belarusian population, on 28 October 1939, in Białystok.

Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

 in 1941. The Brest Fortress
Brest Fortress
Brest Fortress , formerly known as Brest-Litovsk Fortress , is a 19th century Russian fortress in Brest, Belarus. It is one of the most important Soviet World War II war monuments commemorating the Soviet resistance against the German invasion on June 22, 1941...

, which had been annexed in 1939, received one of the fiercest of the war's opening blows, with its notable defense
Defense of Brest Fortress
The defence of Brest Fortress took place 22–30 June 1941. It was one of the first battles of Operation Barbarossa. The Brest Fortress was defended by the Red Army against the Wehrmacht, held out longer than expected, and became a symbol of Soviet resistance during the Second World War...

 in 1941 coming to be remembered as an act of heroism in countering the German aggression. Statistically, BSSR was the hardest hit Soviet republic in the war and remained in Nazi hands
Occupation of Belarus by Nazi Germany
The occupation of Belarus by Nazi Germany occurred as part of the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 and ended in August 1944 with the Soviet Operation Bagration.- Background :...

 until 1944. 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 estimated to be between two and three million (about a quarter to one-third of the total population), while the Jewish population of Belarus
History of the Jews in Belarus
The Jews in Belarus were the third largest ethnic group in the country in the first half of the 20th century. Before World War II, Jews were the third among the ethnic groups in Belarus, and in cities and towns comprised more than 40% of the population. The population of cities such as Minsk,...

 was devastated during the Holocaust
The Holocaust
The Holocaust , also known as the Shoah , was the genocide of approximately six million European Jews and millions of others during World War II, a programme of systematic state-sponsored murder by Nazi...

 and never recovered. The population of Belarus did not regain its pre-war level until 1971.

After the war ended, Belarus was officially among the 51 founding countries of the United Nations Charter
United Nations Charter
The Charter of the United Nations is the foundational treaty of the international organization called the United Nations. It was signed at the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center in San Francisco, United States, on 26 June 1945, by 50 of the 51 original member countries...

 in 1945; along with Ukraine
Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

 it was given an additional vote at the UN alongside that of the Soviet Union. Intense post-war reconstruction was initiated promptly. During this time, the Belorussian SSR became a major center of manufacturing in the western region of the USSR, increasing jobs and bringing an influx of ethnic Russians
Russians
The Russian people are an East Slavic ethnic group native to Russia, speaking the Russian language and primarily living in Russia and neighboring countries....

 into the republic. The borders of Belorussian SSR and Poland were redrawn to a point known as the Curzon Line
Curzon Line
The Curzon Line was put forward by the Allied Supreme Council after World War I as a demarcation line between the Second Polish Republic and Bolshevik Russia and was supposed to serve as the basis for a future border. In the wake of World War I, which catalysed the Russian Revolution of 1917, the...

.

Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

 implemented a policy of Sovietization
Sovietization
Sovietization is term that may be used with two distinct meanings:*the adoption of a political system based on the model of soviets .*the adoption of a way of life and mentality modelled after the Soviet Union....

 to isolate the Belorussian SSR from Western influences
Western world
The Western world, also known as the West and the Occident , is a term referring to the countries of Western Europe , the countries of the Americas, as well all countries of Northern and Central Europe, Australia and New Zealand...

. This policy involved sending Russians from various parts of the Soviet Union and placing them in key positions in the Belorussian SSR government. The official use of the Belarusian language
Belarusian language
The Belarusian language , sometimes referred to as White Russian or White Ruthenian, is the language of the Belarusian people...

 and other cultural aspects were limited by Moscow
Politics of the Soviet Union
The political system of the Soviet Union was characterized by the superior role of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union , the only party permitted by Constitution.For information about the government, see Government of the Soviet Union-Background:...

. After Stalin died in 1953, successor Nikita Khrushchev
Nikita Khrushchev
Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev led the Soviet Union during part of the Cold War. He served as First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964, and as Chairman of the Council of Ministers, or Premier, from 1958 to 1964...

 continued this program, stating, "The sooner we all start speaking Russian, the faster we shall build communism."

The Belorussian SSR was significantly exposed to nuclear fallout
Nuclear fallout
Fallout is the residual radioactive material propelled into the upper atmosphere following a nuclear blast, so called because it "falls out" of the sky after the explosion and shock wave have passed. It commonly refers to the radioactive dust and ash created when a nuclear weapon explodes...

 from the explosion at the Chernobyl
Chernobyl disaster
The Chernobyl disaster was a nuclear accident that occurred on 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine , which was under the direct jurisdiction of the central authorities in Moscow...

 power plant in neighboring Ukrainian SSR in 1986.

In June 1988 at the rural site of Kurapaty
Kurapaty
Kurapaty is a wooded area on the outskirts of Minsk, Belarus, in which a vast number of people were executed between 1937 and 1941 by the Soviet secret police, the NKVD.The exact count of victims is uncertain, NKVD archives are classified in Belarus...

 near Minsk, archaeologist Zyanon Paznyak, the leader of Christian Conservative Party of the BPF, discovered mass grave
Mass grave
A mass grave is a grave containing multiple number of human corpses, which may or may not be identified prior to burial. There is no strict definition of the minimum number of bodies required to constitute a mass grave, although the United Nations defines a mass grave as a burial site which...

s of victims executed in 1937–1941. Some nationalists contend that this discovery is proof that the Soviet government was trying to erase the Belarusian people, causing Belarusian nationalists to seek independence.

Two years later, in March 1990, elections for seats in the Supreme Soviet
Supreme Soviet
The Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union was the Supreme Soviet in the Soviet Union and the only one with the power to pass constitutional amendments...

 of the Belorussian SSR took place. Though the pro-independence Belarusian Popular Front took only 10% of the seats, the populace was content with the selection of the delegates. Belarus declared itself sovereign on 1990 by issuing the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic
Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic
The Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic was a formal document issued by the Supreme Soviet of Belarus to assert their independence from the Soviet Union. Passed on July 27, 1990, the Declaration started the process to Belarus' eventual independence in August...

. With the support of the Communist Party, the country's name was changed to the Republic of Belarus on 1991. Stanislav Shushkevich, the chairman of the Supreme Soviet
Supreme Soviet
The Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union was the Supreme Soviet in the Soviet Union and the only one with the power to pass constitutional amendments...

 of Belarus, met with Boris Yeltsin
Boris Yeltsin
Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin was the first President of the Russian Federation, serving from 1991 to 1999.Originally a supporter of Mikhail Gorbachev, Yeltsin emerged under the perestroika reforms as one of Gorbachev's most powerful political opponents. On 29 May 1990 he was elected the chairman of...

 of Russia and Leonid Kravchuk
Leonid Kravchuk
Leonid Makarovych Kravchuk is a Ukrainian politician, the first President of Ukraine serving from December 5, 1991 until his resignation on July 19, 1994, a former Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada and People's Deputy of Ukraine serving in the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine faction.After a...

 of Ukraine
Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

 on 1991 in Belavezhskaya Pushcha to formally declare the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States
Commonwealth of Independent States
The Commonwealth of Independent States is a regional organization whose participating countries are former Soviet Republics, formed during the breakup of the Soviet Union....

.

A national constitution
Constitution of Belarus
The Constitution of the Republic of Belarus is the ultimate law of Belarus. Adopted in 1994, three years after the country declared its independence from the Soviet Union, this formal document establishes the framework of the Belarusian state and government and enumerates the rights and freedoms...

 was adopted in March 1994 in which the functions of prime minister were given to the president of Belarus
President of Belarus
The office of President of Belarus is the head of state of Belarus. The office was created in 1994 with the passing of the Constitution of Belarus by the Supreme Soviet. This replaced the office of Chairman of the Supreme Soviet as the head of state...

. Two-round elections for the presidency ( 1994 and 1994) resulted in the politically unknown Alexander Lukashenko
Alexander Lukashenko
Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko has been serving as the President of Belarus since 20 July 1994. Before his career as a politician, Lukashenko worked as director of a state-owned agricultural farm. Under Lukashenko's rule, Belarus has come to be viewed as a state whose conduct is out of line...

 winning more than 45% of the vote in the first round and 80% in the second round, beating Vyacheslav Kebich
Vyachaslau Kebich
Vyachaslau Frantsavich Kebich is a political figure from Belarus. He was the first Prime Minister of the Republic of Belarus, serving from 1991 until 1994, having held the equivalent office of the Byelorussian SSR since 1990. Kebich was also one of two candidates in the final running for President...

 who received 14% of the votes. Lukashenko was re-elected in 2001
Belarusian presidential election, 2001
Presidential elections were held in Belarus on 9 September 2001. The result was a victory for Alexander Lukashenko, who received 77.4% of the vote. Voter turnout was 83.9%.-Results:...

, in 2006
Belarusian presidential election, 2006
Presidential elections were held in Belarus on 19 March 2006. The result was a victory for incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko, who received 84.4% of the vote. However, western observers deemed the elections rigged...

 and in 2010.

Geography


Belarus lies between latitudes 51°
51st parallel north
The 51st parallel north is a circle of latitude that is 51 degrees north of the Earth's equatorial plane. It crosses Europe, Asia, the Pacific Ocean, North America, and the Atlantic Ocean....

 and 57° N
57th parallel north
The 57th parallel north is a circle of latitude that is 57 degrees north of the Earth's equatorial plane. It crosses Europe, Asia, the Pacific Ocean, North America, and the Atlantic Ocean....

, and longitudes 23°
23rd meridian east
The meridian 23° east of Greenwich is a line of longitude that extends from the North Pole across the Arctic Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, Europe, Africa, the Indian Ocean, the Southern Ocean, and Antarctica to the South Pole....

 and 33° E
33rd meridian east
The meridian 33° east of Greenwich is a line of longitude that extends from the North Pole across the Arctic Ocean, Europe, Turkey, Africa, the Indian Ocean, the Southern Ocean, and Antarctica to the South Pole....

. It is landlocked, relatively flat, and contains large tracts of marsh
Marsh
In geography, a marsh, or morass, is a type of wetland that is subject to frequent or continuous flood. Typically the water is shallow and features grasses, rushes, reeds, typhas, sedges, other herbaceous plants, and moss....

y land. According to a 2005 estimate by the United Nations, 40% of Belarus is covered by forests.
Many streams and 11,000 lakes are found in Belarus. Three major rivers run through the country: the Neman
Neman River
Neman or Niemen or Nemunas, is a major Eastern European river rising in Belarus and flowing through Lithuania before draining into the Curonian Lagoon and then into the Baltic Sea at Klaipėda. It is the northern border between Lithuania and Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast in its lower reaches...

, the Pripyat
Pripyat River
The Pripyat River or Prypiat River is a river in Eastern Europe, approximately long. It flows east through Ukraine, Belarus, and Ukraine again, draining into the Dnieper....

, and the Dnieper
Dnieper River
The Dnieper River is one of the major rivers of Europe that flows from Russia, through Belarus and Ukraine, to the Black Sea.The total length is and has a drainage basin of .The river is noted for its dams and hydroelectric stations...

. The Neman flows westward towards the Baltic sea and the Pripyat flows eastward to the Dnieper; the Dnieper flows southward towards the Black Sea
Black Sea
The Black Sea is bounded by Europe, Anatolia and the Caucasus and is ultimately connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the Mediterranean and the Aegean seas and various straits. The Bosphorus strait connects it to the Sea of Marmara, and the strait of the Dardanelles connects that sea to the Aegean...

.

The highest point is Dzyarzhynskaya Hara
Dzyarzhynskaya Hara
Dzyarzhynskaya Hara is the highest point in Belarus. The hill is 345 meters above sea level and is located west of Minsk, near Dzyarzhynsk, in the village Skirmuntava. The original name of the hill was Svyataya Hara...

 (Dzyarzhynsk Hill) at 345 metres (1,132 ft), and the lowest point is on the Neman River at 90 metres (295 ft). The average elevation of Belarus is 525 feet (160 m) above sea level
Above mean sea level
The term above mean sea level refers to the elevation or altitude of any object, relative to the average sea level datum. AMSL is used extensively in radio by engineers to determine the coverage area a station will be able to reach...

. The climate features cold winters, with average January temperatures at -6 °C, and cool and moist summers with an average temperature of 18 °C (64.4 °F). Belarus has an average annual rainfall of 550 to 700 mm (21.7 to 27.6 in). The country is in the transitional zone between continental climate
Continental climate
Continental climate is a climate characterized by important annual variation in temperature due to the lack of significant bodies of water nearby...

s and maritime climate
Oceanic climate
An oceanic climate, also called marine west coast climate, maritime climate, Cascadian climate and British climate for Köppen climate classification Cfb and subtropical highland for Köppen Cfb or Cwb, is a type of climate typically found along the west coasts at the middle latitudes of some of the...

s.
Natural resources include peat
Peat
Peat is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation matter or histosol. Peat forms in wetland bogs, moors, muskegs, pocosins, mires, and peat swamp forests. Peat is harvested as an important source of fuel in certain parts of the world...

 deposits, small quantities of oil and natural gas, granite
Granite
Granite is a common and widely occurring type of intrusive, felsic, igneous rock. Granite usually has a medium- to coarse-grained texture. Occasionally some individual crystals are larger than the groundmass, in which case the texture is known as porphyritic. A granitic rock with a porphyritic...

, dolomite (limestone
Limestone
Limestone is a sedimentary rock composed largely of the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different crystal forms of calcium carbonate . Many limestones are composed from skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral or foraminifera....

), marl
Marl
Marl or marlstone is a calcium carbonate or lime-rich mud or mudstone which contains variable amounts of clays and aragonite. Marl was originally an old term loosely applied to a variety of materials, most of which occur as loose, earthy deposits consisting chiefly of an intimate mixture of clay...

, chalk, sand, gravel, and clay. About 70% of the radiation from neighboring Ukraine's 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster
Chernobyl disaster
The Chernobyl disaster was a nuclear accident that occurred on 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine , which was under the direct jurisdiction of the central authorities in Moscow...

 entered Belarusian territory, and as of 2005 about a fifth of Belarusian land (principally farmland and forests in the southeastern provinces) continues to be affected by radiation fallout. The United Nations and other agencies have aimed to reduce the level of radiation in affected areas, especially through the use of caesium binders and rapeseed
Rapeseed
Rapeseed , also known as rape, oilseed rape, rapa, rappi, rapaseed is a bright yellow flowering member of the family Brassicaceae...

 cultivation, which are meant to decrease soil levels of caesium-137
Caesium-137
Caesium-137 is a radioactive isotope of caesium which is formed as a fission product by nuclear fission.It has a half-life of about 30.17 years, and decays by beta emission to a metastable nuclear isomer of barium-137: barium-137m . Caesium-137 is a radioactive isotope of caesium which is formed...

.

Belarus is bordered by Latvia on the north, Lithuania to the northwest, Poland to the west, Russia to the north and east and Ukraine to the south. Treaties in 1995 and 1996 demarcated Belarus's borders with Latvia and Lithuania, but Belarus failed to ratify a 1997 treaty establishing the Belarus-Ukraine border. Belarus and Lithuania ratified final border demarcation documents in February 2007.

Politics




Belarus is a presidential
Presidential system
A presidential system is a system of government where an executive branch exists and presides separately from the legislature, to which it is not responsible and which cannot, in normal circumstances, dismiss it....

 republic, governed by a president
President of Belarus
The office of President of Belarus is the head of state of Belarus. The office was created in 1994 with the passing of the Constitution of Belarus by the Supreme Soviet. This replaced the office of Chairman of the Supreme Soviet as the head of state...

 and the National Assembly. The term
Term of office
Term of office or term in office refers to the length of time a person serves in a particular office.-Prime Minister:In the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister has no term limits...

 for the president is five years, but because of a 1996 referendum, the election
Belarusian presidential election, 2001
Presidential elections were held in Belarus on 9 September 2001. The result was a victory for Alexander Lukashenko, who received 77.4% of the vote. Voter turnout was 83.9%.-Results:...

 that was supposed to occur in 1999 was pushed back to 2001. Under the 1994 constitution, the president could only serve for two terms as president, but a change in the constitution eliminated term limits. The National Assembly is a bicameral parliament
Bicameralism
In the government, bicameralism is the practice of having two legislative or parliamentary chambers. Thus, a bicameral parliament or bicameral legislature is a legislature which consists of two chambers or houses....

 comprising the 110-member House of Representatives (the lower house) and the 64-member Council of the Republic
Council of the Republic of Belarus
The Council of the Republic is the upper house in Belarus' bicameral parliament, the National Assembly. The Council comprises 64 members and the representation is based geographically, most of the elected members come from civil society organizations, labour collectives and public associations in...

 (the upper house).

The House of Representatives has the power to appoint the prime minister, make constitutional amendments, call for a vote of confidence on the prime minister, and make suggestions on foreign and domestic policy. The Council of the Republic has the power to select various government officials, conduct an impeachment trial of the president, and accept or reject the bills passed by the House of Representatives. Each chamber has the ability to veto any law passed by local officials if it is contrary to the constitution.

Since 1994, Alexander Lukashenko
Alexander Lukashenko
Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko has been serving as the President of Belarus since 20 July 1994. Before his career as a politician, Lukashenko worked as director of a state-owned agricultural farm. Under Lukashenko's rule, Belarus has come to be viewed as a state whose conduct is out of line...

 has been the president of Belarus. The government includes a Council of Ministers, headed by the prime minister and five deputy prime ministers. The members of this council need not be members of the legislature and are appointed by the president. The judiciary comprises the Supreme Court
Supreme Court of Belarus
The Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus is the highest-tier court inside of Belarus and acts as the final "court of review." Its general tasks include the oversight of lower-tier courts and can render justice in areas of general civil and criminal law...

 and specialized courts such as the Constitutional Court
Constitutional Court of Belarus
The Constitutional Court of Belarus is one of the top-tier courts in the Eastern European country. Created in 1994, the Court is run under guidelines that were issued in 1997. The purpose of the court is to render justice in areas where the constitution has come into question, such as a local law...

, which deals with specific issues related to constitutional and business law. The judges of national courts are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Council of the Republic. For criminal cases, the highest court of appeal is the Supreme Court. The Belarusian Constitution forbids the use of special extrajudicial courts.

As of 2007, 98 of the 110 members of the House of Representatives are not affiliated with any political party, and of the remaining 12 members, 8 belong to the Communist Party of Belarus
Communist Party of Belarus
The Communist Party of Belarus is a political party in Belarus, that supports the government of president Alexander Lukashenko. It was created in 1996. The leader of the party is Tatsyana Holubeva....

, 3 to the Agrarian Party of Belarus, and 1 to the Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus. Most of the non-partisans represent a wide scope of social organizations such as workers' collectives, public associations and civil society organizations, similar to the composition of the Soviet legislature.

Neither the pro-Lukashenko parties, such as the Belarusian Socialist Sporting Party
Belarusian Socialist Sporting Party
The Belarusian Socialist Sporting Party is a political party in Belarus, that supports the government of president Alexander Lukashenko.It was created in 1994. Leader of the party is Vladimir Alexandrovich....

 and the Republican Party of Labour and Justice, nor the People's Coalition 5 Plus
People's Coalition 5 Plus
The People's Coalition 5 Plus was a political alliance in Belarus, that opposed the regime of president Alexander Lukashenko.At the last legislative elections, 13–17 October 2004, the alliance won no seats....

 opposition parties, such as the Belarusian People's Front and the United Civil Party of Belarus
United Civil Party of Belarus
The United Civil Party of Belarus is a centre-right, liberal-conservative party in Belarus. The party opposes the government of Alexander Lukashenko, generally participates in the country's elections, but doesn't have a single member in parliament...

, won any seats in the 2004 elections. Groups such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe is the world's largest security-oriented intergovernmental organization. Its mandate includes issues such as arms control, human rights, freedom of the press and fair elections...

 (OSCE) declared the election "un-free" because of the opposition parties' poor results and media bias in favor of the government.

In the country's 2006 presidential election
Belarusian presidential election, 2006
Presidential elections were held in Belarus on 19 March 2006. The result was a victory for incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko, who received 84.4% of the vote. However, western observers deemed the elections rigged...

, Lukashenko was opposed by Alaksandar Milinkievič
Alaksandar Milinkievic
Aliaksandr Uładzimiravič Milinkevič is a Belarusian politician. He was nominated by the leading opposition parties in Belarus to run against incumbent Alexander Lukashenko in the presidential election on 19 March 2006.-Biography:...

, a candidate representing a coalition of opposition parties, and by Alaksandar Kazulin
Alaksandar Kazulin
Alaksandr Kazulin , is the former leader of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party and one of the candidates who ran for the office of President of Belarus on March 19, 2006....

 of the Social Democrats. Kazulin was detained and beaten by police during protests surrounding the All Belarusian People's Assembly
All Belarusian People's Assembly
The All Belarusian People's Assembly is a general meeting of the Belarusian Government with industry leaders and other top officials from every sector of the government. The citizens of Belarus are also permitted to take part of the discussion...

. Lukashenko won the election with 80% of the vote; the Russian Federation and the CIS called the vote open and fair while the OSCE and other organizations called the election unfair.

After the December completion of the 2010 presidential election, Lukashenko was elected to a fourth straight term with nearly 80 percent of the vote in elections. The runner-up, opposition leader Andrei Sannikov
Andrei Sannikov
Andrei Olegovich Sannikov is a Belarusian politician and activist. In the early 1990s, he headed the Belarusian delegation on Nuclear and Conventional Weapons Armament Negotiations, also serving as the Belarusian diplomat to Switzerland. From 1995 to 1996, he served as Deputy Foreign Minister of...

, received less than 3%, and the results were criticized as fraudulent by independent observers. When opposition protesters took to the streets in Minsk
Minsk
- Ecological situation :The ecological situation is monitored by Republican Center of Radioactive and Environmental Control .During 2003–2008 the overall weight of contaminants increased from 186,000 to 247,400 tons. The change of gas as industrial fuel to mazut for financial reasons has worsened...

, scores were beaten and arrested by state militia, including most of the rival candidates allowed to run. Many of the candidates, including Sannikov, were sentenced to over four year prison terms or house arrest. Six months later, activists using social networking sites initiated a fresh round of protests, mostly by wordless, hand-clapping rallies in Minsk and cities around the country, amid an unprecedented economic crisis.

Human rights


Lukashenko has described himself as having an "authoritarian ruling style." Western countries have described Belarus under Lukashenko as a dictatorship; the government has accused the same Western powers of trying to oust Lukashenko. The Council of Europe
Council of Europe
The Council of Europe is an international organisation promoting co-operation between all countries of Europe in the areas of legal standards, human rights, democratic development, the rule of law and cultural co-operation...

 has barred Belarus from membership since 1997 for undemocratic voting and election irregularities in the November 1996 constitutional referendum and parliament by-elections. The Belarusian government is also criticized for human rights violations and its actions against non-governmental organizations, independent journalists, national minorities, and opposition politicians.

The constitution was changed by Lukashenko in 2004 to lift the two-term limit for the presidency. Previously in 1996, Lukashenko called for a controversial vote to extend the presidential term from five years to seven years, and the voters passed it. In testimony to the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
The United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations is a standing committee of the United States Senate. It is charged with leading foreign-policy legislation and debate in the Senate. The Foreign Relations Committee is generally responsible for overseeing and funding foreign aid programs as...

, former United States Secretary of State
United States Secretary of State
The United States Secretary of State is the head of the United States Department of State, concerned with foreign affairs. The Secretary is a member of the Cabinet and the highest-ranking cabinet secretary both in line of succession and order of precedence...

 Condoleezza Rice
Condoleezza Rice
Condoleezza Rice is an American political scientist and diplomat. She served as the 66th United States Secretary of State, and was the second person to hold that office in the administration of President George W. Bush...

 labeled Belarus among the six nations of the "outposts of tyranny
Outposts of tyranny
Outposts of tyranny was a term used in 2005 by United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and subsequently by others in the U.S. government to characterize the governments of certain countries as being totalitarian regimes or dictatorships...

". In response, the Belarusian government called the assessment "quite far from reality".

Foreign relations


Belarus and Russia have been close trading partners and diplomatic allies since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Belarus is dependent on Russia for imports of raw materials and for its export market. The union of Russia and Belarus, a supranational confederation, was established in a 1996–99 series of treaties that called for monetary union, equal rights, single citizenship, and a common foreign and defense policy. However, the future of the union has been placed in doubt because of Belarus's repeated delays of monetary union, the lack of a referendum date for the draft constitution, and a dispute about petroleum trade.

On 11 December 2007, reports emerged that a framework for the new state was discussed between both countries. On 2008, Belarusian President Lukashenko said that he had named Russian Prime Minister
Prime Minister of Russia
The Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation The use of the term "Prime Minister" is strictly informal and is not allowed for by the Russian Constitution and other laws....

 Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin served as the second President of the Russian Federation and is the current Prime Minister of Russia, as well as chairman of United Russia and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Union of Russia and Belarus. He became acting President on 31 December 1999, when...

 the "prime minister" of the Russia-Belarus alliance. The meaning of the move was not immediately clear; however, there was speculation that Putin might become president of a unified state of Russia and Belarus after stepping down as Russian president in May 2008, although this has not happened.

Belarus was a founding member of the Commonwealth of Independent States
Commonwealth of Independent States
The Commonwealth of Independent States is a regional organization whose participating countries are former Soviet Republics, formed during the breakup of the Soviet Union....

 (CIS); however, recently other CIS members have questioned the effectiveness of the organization. Belarus has trade agreements with several European Union
European Union
The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

 member states (despite other member states' travel ban on Lukashenko and top officials), including its neighbors Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. The travel bans from the European Union have been lifted in the past for not only letting Lukashenko attend diplomatic meetings but also as a way to engage both the government and opposition groups in dialogue.

Bilateral relations with the United States are strained because the U.S. Department of State
United States Department of State
The United States Department of State , is the United States federal executive department responsible for international relations of the United States, equivalent to the foreign ministries of other countries...

 supports various anti-Lukashenko non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and because the Belarusian government has made it harder for U.S.-based organizations to operate within the country. The 2004 U.S. Belarus Democracy Act
Belarus Democracy Act of 2004
The Belarus Democracy Act of 2004 is a United States federal law that authorizes assistance for political parties, non-governmental organizations, and independent media working for democracy and human rights in Belarus. The act was signed by President George W. Bush and passed unanimously by the U.S...

 continued this trend, authorizing funding for what the U.S. considers to be pro-democracy Belarusian NGOs and forbidding loans to the Belarusian government except for humanitarian purposes. Despite this, the two nations cooperate on intellectual property protection, prevention of human trafficking and technology crime, and disaster relief.

Belarus has increased cooperation with China, strengthened by the visit of President Lukashenko to China in October 2005. Belarus has strong ties with Syria
Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

, which President Lukashenko considers a key partner in the Middle East. In addition to the CIS, Belarus has membership in the Eurasian Economic Community
Eurasian Economic Community
The Eurasian Economic Community originated from the Commonwealth of Independent States customs union between Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan on 29 March 1996...

 and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation
Collective Security Treaty Organisation
The Collective Security Treaty Organization is an intergovernmental military alliance which was signed on 15 May 1992. On 7 October 2002, the Presidents of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan signed a charter in Tashkent founding the CSTO.Nikolai Bordyuzha was appointed...

. Belarus has been a member of the international Non-Aligned Movement
Non-Aligned Movement
The Non-Aligned Movement is a group of states considering themselves not aligned formally with or against any major power bloc. As of 2011, the movement had 120 members and 17 observer countries...

 since 1998 and a member of the UN since its founding in 1945. Belarus is also a member of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). As an OSCE participating State, Belarus's international commitments are subject to monitoring under the mandate of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.

Military



The Armed Forces of Belarus
Armed Forces of Belarus
The Armed Forces of Belarus consist of the Army and the Air and Air Defense Forces, all under the command of the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Belarus...

 have three branches: the Army, the Air Force, and the Ministry of Defense joint staff. Colonel-General Leonid Maltsev heads the Ministry of Defense, and Alexander Lukashenko (as president) serves as Commander-in-Chief. The Armed Forces were formed in 1992 using parts of the former Soviet Armed Forces
Soviet Armed Forces
The Soviet Armed Forces, also called the Armed Forces of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Armed Forces of the Soviet Union refers to the armed forces of the Russian SFSR , and Soviet Union from their beginnings in the...

 on the new republic's territory. The transformation of the ex-Soviet forces into the Armed Forces of Belarus, which was completed in 1997, reduced the number of its soldiers by 30,000 and restructured its leadership and military formations.

Most of Belarus's service members are conscripts
Conscription
Conscription is the compulsory enlistment of people in some sort of national service, most often military service. Conscription dates back to antiquity and continues in some countries to the present day under various names...

, who serve for 12 months if they have higher education or 18 months if they do not. However, demographic decreases in the Belarusians of conscription age have increased the importance of contract soldiers, who numbered 12,000 as of 2001. In 2005, about 1.4% of Belarus's gross domestic product was devoted to military expenditures. Belarus has not expressed a desire to join NATO but has participated in the Individual Partnership Program since 1997, and Belarus provides refueling and airspace support for the ISAF
ISAF
ISAF may refer to:* International Sailing Federation, the world governing body for Olympic and other competitive sailing.* International Security Assistance Force, the NATO-led security mission operating in Afghanistan since 2001....

 mission in Afghanistan
Afghanistan
Afghanistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in the centre of Asia, forming South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. With a population of about 29 million, it has an area of , making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world...

. Belarus first began to cooperate with NATO upon signing documents to participate in their Partnership for Peace Program in 1995. However, Belarus cannot join NATO because it is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation
Collective Security Treaty Organisation
The Collective Security Treaty Organization is an intergovernmental military alliance which was signed on 15 May 1992. On 7 October 2002, the Presidents of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan signed a charter in Tashkent founding the CSTO.Nikolai Bordyuzha was appointed...

. Difficulties between NATO and Belarus reached a peak in the peri­od following the March 2006 Presidential election in Belarus.

Administrative divisions


Belarus is divided into six regions
Oblast
Oblast is a type of administrative division in Slavic countries, including some countries of the former Soviet Union. The word "oblast" is a loanword in English, but it is nevertheless often translated as "area", "zone", "province", or "region"...

, which are named after the cities that serve as their administrative centers. Each region has a provincial legislative authority, called a region council , which is elected by its residents, and a provincial executive authority called region administration , whose chairman is appointed by the president. Regions are further subdivided into raion
Raion
A raion is a type of administrative unit of several post-Soviet countries. The term, which is from French rayon 'honeycomb, department,' describes both a type of a subnational entity and a division of a city, and is commonly translated in English as "district"...

s
, commonly translated as districts or regions .
Each raion has its own legislative authority or raion council elected by its residents, and an executive authority or raion administration appointed by higher executive powers. As of 2002, there are six regions, 118 raions, 102 towns and 108 urbanized settlements. The city of Minsk is split into nine districts and is given a special status since the city serves as the national capital. Minsk City is run by an executive committee and granted a charter of self-rule by the national government.

Regions (with administrative centers):
  1. Brest Voblast
    Brest Voblast
    Brest Voblast or Brest Oblast is a province of Belarus with its administrative center being Brest.Important cities within the voblast' include: Baranovichi, Brest, and Pinsk.-Geography:...

     (Brest
    Brest, Belarus
    Brest , formerly also Brest-on-the-Bug and Brest-Litovsk , is a city in Belarus at the border with Poland opposite the city of Terespol, where the Bug River and Mukhavets rivers meet...

    )
  2. Homiel Voblast
    Homiel Voblast
    Homiel Voblast or Gomel Oblast is a province of Belarus with its administrative center being Homyel.Important cities within the voblasts include: Gomel, Mazyr, Zhlobin, Svetlahorsk, Rechytsia, Kalinkavichy, Rahachow, Dobrush...

     (Gomel)
  3. Hrodna Voblast
    Hrodna Voblast
    Hrodna Voblast or Grodno Oblast is a voblast in northwestern Belarus.The capital - Grodno is the biggest city of the province. It lies on the Neman River. Grodno's existence is attested to from 1127. Two castles dating from the 14th - 18th centuries are located here on the steep right bank of...

     (Grodno)
  4. Mahilou Voblast (Mogilev
    Mogilev
    Mogilev is a city in eastern Belarus, about 76 km from the border with Russia's Smolensk Oblast and 105 km from the border with Russia's Bryansk Oblast. It has more than 367,788 inhabitants...

    )
  5. Minsk Voblast (Minsk
    Minsk
    - Ecological situation :The ecological situation is monitored by Republican Center of Radioactive and Environmental Control .During 2003–2008 the overall weight of contaminants increased from 186,000 to 247,400 tons. The change of gas as industrial fuel to mazut for financial reasons has worsened...

    )
  6. Vitsebsk Voblast
    Vitsebsk Voblast
    Vitsebsk Voblast or Vitebsk Oblast is a province of Belarus with its administrative center being Vitebsk .As of a 2009 estimate, the voblast has a population of 1,230,800...

     (Vitebsk
    Vitebsk
    Vitebsk, also known as Viciebsk or Vitsyebsk , is a city in Belarus, near the border with Russia. The capital of the Vitebsk Oblast, in 2004 it had 342,381 inhabitants, making it the country's fourth largest city...

    )


Special administrative district:
  1. Minsk City
    Minsk
    - Ecological situation :The ecological situation is monitored by Republican Center of Radioactive and Environmental Control .During 2003–2008 the overall weight of contaminants increased from 186,000 to 247,400 tons. The change of gas as industrial fuel to mazut for financial reasons has worsened...


Economy




Most of the Belarusian economy remains state-controlled
Planned economy
A planned economy is an economic system in which decisions regarding production and investment are embodied in a plan formulated by a central authority, usually by a government agency...

 and has been described as "Soviet-style." Thus, 51.2% of Belarusians are employed by state-controlled companies, 47.4% are employed by private Belarusian companies (of which 5.7% are partially foreign-owned), and 1.4% are employed by foreign companies. The country relies on imports such as oil from Russia. Important agricultural products include potatoes and cattle byproducts, including meat. As of 1994, the biggest exports from Belarus were heavy machinery (especially tractors), agricultural products, and energy products.

Historically important branches of industry include textiles and wood processing. As of the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, Belarus was one of the world's most industrially developed states by percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) as well as the richest CIS state. Economically, Belarus involved itself in the CIS, Eurasian Economic Community
Eurasian Economic Community
The Eurasian Economic Community originated from the Commonwealth of Independent States customs union between Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan on 29 March 1996...

, and Union with Russia.

During the 1990s, however, industrial production plunged because of decreases in imported inputs, investment, and demand for exports from traditional trading partners. It took until 1996 for the gross domestic product to rise; this coincided with the government putting more emphasis on using the GDP for social welfare and state subsidies. The GDP for 2006 was in purchasing power parity
Purchasing power parity
In economics, purchasing power parity is a condition between countries where an amount of money has the same purchasing power in different countries. The prices of the goods between the countries would only reflect the exchange rates...

 (PPP) dollars (estimate), or about $8,100 per capita. In 2005, the gross domestic product increased by about 9.9%, with the inflation rate averaging about 9.5%.

As of 2006, Belarus's largest trading partner is Russia, accounting for nearly half of total trade, and the European Union is Belarus's next largest trading partner, with nearly a third of foreign trade. Because of its failure to protect labor rights, however, Belarus lost its EU Generalized System of Preferences
Generalized System of Preferences
The Generalized System of Preferences, or GSP, is a formal system of exemption from the more general rules of the World Trade Organization ,...

 status on 2007, which raised tariff rates to their prior most favoured nation
Most favoured nation
In international economic relations and international politics, most favoured nation is a status or level of treatment accorded by one state to another in international trade. The term means the country which is the recipient of this treatment must, nominally, receive equal trade advantages as the...

 levels. Belarus applied to become a member of the World Trade Organization
World Trade Organization
The World Trade Organization is an organization that intends to supervise and liberalize international trade. The organization officially commenced on January 1, 1995 under the Marrakech Agreement, replacing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade , which commenced in 1948...

 in 1993.

The labor force consists of more than four million people, among whom women hold slightly more jobs than men. In 2005, nearly a quarter of the population was employed by industrial factories. Employment is also high in agriculture, manufacturing sales, trading goods, and education. The unemployment rate, according to Belarusian government statistics, was about 1.5% in 2005. The number of unemployed persons totaled 679,000, of whom about two-thirds are women. The rate of unemployment has been decreasing since 2003, and the overall rate of employment is the highest since statistics were first compiled in 1995.

The currency of Belarus is the Belarusian ruble
Belarusian ruble
The ruble is the currency of Belarus. The symbol for the ruble is Br and the ISO 4217 code is BYR.-First ruble, 1992–2000:The breakup of supply chain in the former Soviet enterprises demanded that goods be bought and sold on the market, often requiring cash settlement...

 (BYR). The currency was introduced in May 1992, replacing the Soviet ruble
Soviet ruble
The Soviet ruble or rouble was the currency of the Soviet Union. One ruble is divided into 100 kopeks, ....

. The ruble was reintroduced with new values in 2000 and has been in use ever since. As part of the Union of Russia and Belarus, both states have discussed using a single currency along the same lines as the Euro. This led to a proposal that the Belarusian Ruble be discontinued in favor of the Russian ruble
Russian ruble
The ruble or rouble is the currency of the Russian Federation and the two partially recognized republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Formerly, the ruble was also the currency of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union prior to their breakups. Belarus and Transnistria also use currencies with...

 (RUB), starting as early as 2008. As of August 2007, the National Bank of Belarus
National Bank of the Republic of Belarus
The National Bank of the Republic of Belarus is the central bank of Belarus, located in the capital city, Minsk. The bank was created in 1922 under the name of "Belarusian Republican Bank" by the Soviet of People's Commissars of Beylorussia, but soon worked under the direction of the State Bank of...

 no longer pegged the Belarusian Ruble to the Russian Ruble. The banking system of Belarus is composed of 30 state-owned banks and one privatized bank. On 23 May 2011, the Belarusian Ruble was devalued by 56% against the U.S. dollar. On the black market, the devaluation has dropped even lower. Panic spread across the country as citizens rushed to exchange their rubles for dollars, euros, durable goods and canned goods. On 1 June 2011, Belarus requested an economic rescue package from the International Monetary Fund
International Monetary Fund
The International Monetary Fund is an organization of 187 countries, working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world...

.

Demographics




According to 2009 census, the population is 9,503,807. Ethnic Belarusians
Belarusians
Belarusians ; are an East Slavic ethnic group who populate the majority of the Republic of Belarus. Introduced to the world as a new state in the early 1990s, the Republic of Belarus brought with it the notion of a re-emerging Belarusian ethnicity, drawn upon the lines of the Old Belarusian...

 constitute 83.7% of Belarus' total population. The next largest ethnic groups are: Russians
Russians
The Russian people are an East Slavic ethnic group native to Russia, speaking the Russian language and primarily living in Russia and neighboring countries....

 (8.3%), Poles
Poles
thumb|right|180px|The state flag of [[Poland]] as used by Polish government and diplomatic authoritiesThe Polish people, or Poles , are a nation indigenous to Poland. They are united by the Polish language, which belongs to the historical Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages of Central Europe...

 (3.1%), and Ukrainians
Ukrainians
Ukrainians are an East Slavic ethnic group native to Ukraine, which is the sixth-largest nation in Europe. The Constitution of Ukraine applies the term 'Ukrainians' to all its citizens...

 (1.7%). Belarus' two official languages are Russian and Belarusian
Belarusian language
The Belarusian language , sometimes referred to as White Russian or White Ruthenian, is the language of the Belarusian people...

; Russian is the main language, used by 72% of the population, while Belarusian, the second official language, is only used by 11.9%. Minorities also speak Polish
Polish language
Polish is a language of the Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages, used throughout Poland and by Polish minorities in other countries...

, Ukrainian
Ukrainian language
Ukrainian is a language of the East Slavic subgroup of the Slavic languages. It is the official state language of Ukraine. Written Ukrainian uses a variant of the Cyrillic alphabet....

 and Eastern Yiddish.

Belarus has a population density of about 50 people per square kilometer (127 per sq mi); 70% of its total population is concentrated in urban areas. Minsk
Minsk
- Ecological situation :The ecological situation is monitored by Republican Center of Radioactive and Environmental Control .During 2003–2008 the overall weight of contaminants increased from 186,000 to 247,400 tons. The change of gas as industrial fuel to mazut for financial reasons has worsened...

, the nation's capital and largest city, is home to 1,836,808 residents. Gomel, with 481,000 people, is the second largest city and serves as the capital of the Homel Voblast. Other large cities are Mogilev
Mogilev
Mogilev is a city in eastern Belarus, about 76 km from the border with Russia's Smolensk Oblast and 105 km from the border with Russia's Bryansk Oblast. It has more than 367,788 inhabitants...

 (365,100), Vitebsk
Vitebsk
Vitebsk, also known as Viciebsk or Vitsyebsk , is a city in Belarus, near the border with Russia. The capital of the Vitebsk Oblast, in 2004 it had 342,381 inhabitants, making it the country's fourth largest city...

 (342,400), Hrodna
Hrodna
Grodno or Hrodna , is a city in Belarus. It is located on the Neman River , close to the borders of Poland and Lithuania . It has 327,540 inhabitants...

 (314,800) and Brest
Brest, Belarus
Brest , formerly also Brest-on-the-Bug and Brest-Litovsk , is a city in Belarus at the border with Poland opposite the city of Terespol, where the Bug River and Mukhavets rivers meet...

 (298,300).

Like many other European countries, Belarus has a negative population growth rate and a negative natural growth rate. In 2007, Belarus's population declined by 0.41% and its fertility rate
Total Fertility Rate
The total fertility rate of a population is the average number of children that would be born to a woman over her lifetime if she were to experience the exact current age-specific fertility rates through her lifetime, and she...

 was 1.22, well below the replacement rate
Sub-replacement fertility
Sub-replacement fertility is a total fertility rate that leads to each new generation being less populous than the previous one in a given area. In developed countries sub-replacement fertility is any rate below approximately 2.1 children born per woman, but the threshold can be as high as 3.4...

. Its net migration rate
Net migration rate
Net migration rate is the difference of immigrants and emigrants of an area in a period of time, divided per 1,000 inhabitants...

 is +0.38 per 1,000, indicating that Belarus experiences slightly more immigration than emigration. As of 2007, 69.7% of Belarus's population is aged 14 to 64; 16% is under 14, and 14.6% is 65 or older. Its population is also aging: while the current median age is 37, it is estimated that Belarusians' median age group will be between 55 and 65 in 2050. There are about 0.88 males per female in Belarus. The average life expectancy is 68.7 years (63.0 years for males and 74.9 years for females). Over 99% of Belarusians are literate.

Religion




Orthodoxy
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

 makes up about 80% of the population. Catholicism is spread mostly in the western regions, and there are also different denominations of Protestantism
Protestantism
Protestantism is one of the three major groupings within Christianity. It is a movement that began in Germany in the early 16th century as a reaction against medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, especially in regards to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology.The doctrines of the...

 (especially during the time of union with Protestant Sweden
Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

). Other minorities practice Judaism
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 and other religions. Many Belarusians converted to the Russian Orthodox Church after Belarus was annexed by Russia after the partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. As a consequence, the Russian Orthodox church now has more members than other denominations.

Belarus's Roman Catholic minority, which makes up about 10% of the country's population and is concentrated in the western part of the country, especially around Hrodna
Hrodna
Grodno or Hrodna , is a city in Belarus. It is located on the Neman River , close to the borders of Poland and Lithuania . It has 327,540 inhabitants...

, is made up of a mixture of Belarusians and the country's Polish
Poles
thumb|right|180px|The state flag of [[Poland]] as used by Polish government and diplomatic authoritiesThe Polish people, or Poles , are a nation indigenous to Poland. They are united by the Polish language, which belongs to the historical Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages of Central Europe...

 and Lithuanian minorities. In a statement to the media regarding Belarusian-Vatican ties, President Lukashenko stated that Orthodox and Catholic believers are the "two main confessors in our country." About 1% belong to the Belarusian Greek Catholic Church
Belarusian Greek Catholic Church
The Belarusian Greek Catholic Church , sometimes called, in reference to its Byzantine Rite, the Belarusian Byzantine Catholic Church, is the heir within Belarus of the Union of Brest...

.

Belarus was a major center of the European Jewish population, with 10% being Jewish
History of the Jews in Belarus
The Jews in Belarus were the third largest ethnic group in the country in the first half of the 20th century. Before World War II, Jews were the third among the ethnic groups in Belarus, and in cities and towns comprised more than 40% of the population. The population of cities such as Minsk,...

, but the population of Jews has been reduced by war, starvation, deportation, and emigration so that today it is a very small minority of about 1% or less. The Lipka Tatars
Lipka Tatars
The Lipka Tatars are a group of Tatars who originally settled in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania at the beginning of 14th century. The first settlers tried to preserve their shamanistic religion and sought asylum amongst the non-Christian Lithuanians...

 numbering over 15,000 are Muslims
Islam in Belarus
Islam in Belarus has long history. It was introduced into the lands which now constitute Belarus by Lipka Tatars in the 14th -16th centuries. Today Muslim immigrants contribute to Islam in the country.-History:...

. According to Article 16 of the Constitution
Constitution of Belarus
The Constitution of the Republic of Belarus is the ultimate law of Belarus. Adopted in 1994, three years after the country declared its independence from the Soviet Union, this formal document establishes the framework of the Belarusian state and government and enumerates the rights and freedoms...

, Belarus has no official religion. While the freedom of worship
Freedom of religion
Freedom of religion is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance; the concept is generally recognized also to include the freedom to change religion or not to follow any...

 is granted in the same article, religious organizations that are deemed harmful to the government or social order of the country can be prohibited.

Culture



Literature


Belarusian literature began with 11th to 13th century religious writing; the 12th century poetry of Cyril of Turaw
Cyril of Turaw
Cyril of Turaŭ was a bishop and saint. He was one of the first and finest theologians of Kievan Rus'; he lived in Turaw, now Southern Belarus...

 is representative. By the 16th century, Polotsk resident Francysk Skaryna translated the Bible into Belarusian. It was published in Prague
Prague
Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Situated in the north-west of the country on the Vltava river, the city is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of over 2.3 million...

 and Vilnius
Vilnius
Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, and its largest city, with a population of 560,190 as of 2010. It is the seat of the Vilnius city municipality and of the Vilnius district municipality. It is also the capital of Vilnius County...

 between 1517 and 1525, making it the first book printed in Belarus or anywhere in Eastern Europe. The modern period of Belarusian literature began in the late 19th century; one important writer was Yanka Kupala
Yanka Kupala
Yanka Kupala — was the pen name of Ivan Daminikavich Lutsevich , a Belarusian poet and writer. Kupala is considered one of the greatest Belarusian-language writers of the 20th century.-Early life:...

. Many Belarusian writers of the time, such as Uładzimir Žyłka, Kazimir Svayak, Yakub Kolas
Yakub Kolas
Yakub Kolas , real name Kanstantsin Mitskievich was a Belarusian writer, People's Poet of the Byelorussian SSR , and member and vice-president of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences.In his works, Yakub Kolas was known for his sympathy towards the ordinary Belarusian peasantry...

, Źmitrok Biadula
Zmitrok Biadula
Shmuel Yefimovich Plavnik , better known by the pen name Źmitrok Biadula, , was a famous Jewish Belarusian poet, prose writer, cultural worker, and political activist in the Belarusian independence movement.Źmitrok Biadula was born Shmuel Yefimovich Plavnik on April 23, 1886 in the...

 and Maksim Haretski
Maksim Haretski
Maksim Haretski was a Belarusian prose writer. In 1919, he published a short novel titled Two Souls. During his lifetime, he also wrote for the Belarusian language newspaper Nasha Niva....

, wrote for a Belarusian language paper called Nasha Niva, published in Vilnius.

After Belarus was incorporated into the Soviet Union, the Soviet government took control of the Republic's cultural affairs. The free development of literature occurred only in Polish-held territory until Soviet occupation in 1939. Several poets and authors went into exile after the Nazi occupation of Belarus, not to return until the 1960s. The last major revival of Belarusian literature occurred in the 1960s with novels published by Vasil Bykaŭ and Uladzimir Karatkievich.

Music


In the 19th century, Polish composer Stanisław Moniuszko
Stanisław Moniuszko
Stanisław Moniuszko was a Polish composer, conductor and teacher. His output includes many songs and operas, and his musical style is filled with patriotic folk themes of the peoples of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth...

 composed operas and chamber music pieces while living in Minsk. During his stay, he worked with Belarusian poet Vintsent Dunin-Martsinkyevich and created the opera Sielanka (Peasant Woman). At the end of the 19th century, major Belarusian cities formed their own opera and ballet companies. The ballet Nightingale
Nightingale (ballet)
Nightingale was a ballet composed in the Byelorussian SSR . Created in 1940, it was the first Belarusian ballet to be formed at the National Academic Bolshoi Ballet Theatre. Originally from a book written by Źmitrok Biadula, the ballet was choreographed by Aleksey Yermolayev and set to music by M....

by M. Kroshner was composed during the Soviet era and became the first Belarusian ballet showcased at the National Academic Bolshoi Ballet Theatre in Minsk.

After the Second World War, music focused on the hardships of the Belarusian people or on those who took up arms in defense of the homeland. During this period, A. Bogatyryov, creator of the opera In Polesye Virgin Forest, served as the "tutor" of Belarusian composers. The National Academic Theatre of Ballet, in Minsk, was awarded the Benois de la Dance Prize
Prix Benois de la Danse
The Benois de la Danse is one of the most prestigious ballet competition. Founded by the International Dance Association in Moscow in 1991, it takes place each year on or around April 29 and is jury-based in its judging...

 in 1996 as the top ballet company in the world. Rock music has risen in popularity in recent years, though the Belarusian government has attempted to limit the amount of foreign music aired on the radio in favour of traditional Belarusian music. Since 2004, Belarus has been sending artists to the Eurovision Song Contest
Eurovision Song Contest
The Eurovision Song Contest is an annual competition held among active member countries of the European Broadcasting Union .Each member country submits a song to be performed on live television and then casts votes for the other countries' songs to determine the most popular song in the competition...

.

Performances


The Belarusian government sponsors annual cultural festivals such as the Slavianski Bazaar in Vitebsk
Slavianski Bazaar in Vitebsk
The International Festival of Arts "Slavianski Bazaar in Vitebsk" is an annual festival held in Vitebsk, Belarus under the auspices of the Belarussian Government since 1992. Its main program is devoted to Slavic music. The main participants are artists from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, with guests...

, which showcases Belarusian performers, artists, writers, musicians, and actors. Several state holidays, such as Independence Day and Victory Day, draw big crowds and often include displays such as fireworks and military parades, especially in Vitebsk and Minsk. The government's Ministry of Culture finances events promoting Belarusian arts and culture both inside and outside the country.

Dress


The traditional Belarusian dress originates from the Kievan Rus'
Kievan Rus'
Kievan Rus was a medieval polity in Eastern Europe, from the late 9th to the mid 13th century, when it disintegrated under the pressure of the Mongol invasion of 1237–1240....

 period. Because of the cool climate, clothes, usually composed of flax
Flax
Flax is a member of the genus Linum in the family Linaceae. It is native to the region extending from the eastern Mediterranean to India and was probably first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent...

 or wool
Wool
Wool is the textile fiber obtained from sheep and certain other animals, including cashmere from goats, mohair from goats, qiviut from muskoxen, vicuña, alpaca, camel from animals in the camel family, and angora from rabbits....

, were designed to keep the body warm. They are decorated with ornate patterns influenced by the neighboring cultures: Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Russians, and other European nations. Each region of Belarus has developed specific design patterns. An ornamental pattern used on some early dresses is currently used to decorate the hoist of the Belarusian national flag
Flag of Belarus
The current national flag of Belarus was formally adopted on June 7, 1995, following the result of a referendum voted on by the Belarusian people in the previous month. This new design replaced a historical flag used by the Belarusian People's Republic of 1918, before Belarus became a Soviet...

, adopted in a disputed referendum in 1995.

Cuisine



Belarusian cuisine
Belarusian cuisine
Belarusian cuisine shares the same roots with cuisines of other Eastern and Northern European countries, basing predominantly on meat and various vegetables typical for the region.-History:...

 consists mainly of 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 consumed in Belarus, but rye is more plentiful because conditions are too harsh for growing wheat. To show hospitality, a host traditionally presents an offering of bread and salt
Bread and salt
Bread and salt is a Slavic welcome greeting ceremony.The tradition, known by its local Slavic names , was also adopted by two non-Slavic nations — Lithuanians and Romanians — both of which culturally and historically close to their Slavic neighbours .When important, respected, or admired guests...

 when greeting a guest or visitor. Popular drinks in Belarus include Russian wheat vodka and kvass
Kvass
Kvass, kvas, quass or gira, gėra is a fermented beverage made from black...

, a drink made from fermented malted brown bread or rye flour. Kvass may also be combined with sliced vegetables to create a cold soup called okroshka.

Heritage Sites


Belarus has four World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site
A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place that is listed by the UNESCO as of special cultural or physical significance...

s: the Mir Castle Complex
Mir Castle Complex
The Mirsky Castle Complex , is a UNESCO World Heritage site in Belarus located in the town of Mir in the Karelichy District of the Hrodna voblast, at , 29 km to the north-west from another World Heritage site, Nesvizh Castle....

, the Nesvizh Castle, the Belovezhskaya Pushcha (shared with Poland
Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

), and the Struve Geodetic Arc
Struve Geodetic Arc
The Struve Geodetic Arc is a chain of survey triangulations stretching from Hammerfest in Norway to the Black Sea, through ten countries and over 2,820 km, which yielded the first accurate measurement of a meridian....

 (shared with nine other countries).

Communications



In 2008, there were 3.718 million phone landlines used in comparison to cellular phones in Belarus. Most of the phone lines are operated by Beltelcom, a state owned company. About two-thirds of all of the phone services are run on digital systems, and the mobile-cellular teledensity is about 90 phones per 100 persons. There are approximately 113,000 internet hosts in Belarus in 2009 to meet the needs of approximately Internet users.

The largest media holding group in Belarus is the state-owned National State Teleradiocompany. It operates several television and radio stations that broadcast content domestically and internationally, either through traditional signals or the Internet. The Television Broadcasting Network is one of the major independent television stations in Belarus, mostly showing regional programming also a bootlegged version of The Big Bang Theory called The Theorists. Several newspapers, printed either in Belarusian or Russian, provide general information or special interest content, such as business, politics or sports. In 1998, there were fewer than 100 radio stations in Belarus: 28 AM
AM broadcasting
AM broadcasting is the process of radio broadcasting using amplitude modulation. AM was the first method of impressing sound on a radio signal and is still widely used today. Commercial and public AM broadcasting is carried out in the medium wave band world wide, and on long wave and short wave...

, 37 FM
FM broadcasting
FM broadcasting is a broadcasting technology pioneered by Edwin Howard Armstrong which uses frequency modulation to provide high-fidelity sound over broadcast radio. The term "FM band" describes the "frequency band in which FM is used for broadcasting"...

 and 11 shortwave
Shortwave
Shortwave radio refers to the upper MF and all of the HF portion of the radio spectrum, between 1,800–30,000 kHz. Shortwave radio received its name because the wavelengths in this band are shorter than 200 m which marked the original upper limit of the medium frequency band first used...

 stations.

All media companies are regulated by the Law On Press and Other Mass Media, passed on 1995. This grants the freedom of press; however, Article 5 states that slander cannot be made against the president of Belarus or other officials outlined in the national constitution.
The Belarusian Government has since been criticized for acting against media outlets. Newspapers such as Nasha Niva and the Belaruskaya Delovaya Gazeta have been targeted for closure by the authorities after they published reports critical of President Lukashenko or other government officials. The OSCE and Freedom House
Freedom House
Freedom House is an international non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C. that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom and human rights...

have commented regarding the loss of press freedom in Belarus. In 2009, Freedom House gave Belarus a score of 6.75 (not free) when it came to dealing with press freedom. Another issue for the Belarusian press is the unresolved disappearance of several journalists.

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