Country Profiles: Belarus
Total Area207, 600 sq km
Population9,685,768, -0.3% growth rate,
46 density per sq km.
Capital CityMensk, 1, 769, 500
LanguagesBelorussian (White Russian), Russian
EthnicityBelorussian 81.2%, Russian 11.4%, Polish 3.9%
ReligionEastern Orthodox 80%
National HolidayIndependence Day, July 3
ClimateModerately continental, mild and humid winters, warm summers, damp autumns.
Economic SummaryGDP: $105.2 billion
Major industries: metal-cutting machines tools, tractors, earthmovers, motocycles, televisions, radios, refrigerators
Natural resources: forests, peat deposits, oil and natural gas
Major trading partnersRussia, UK, Netherlands, Poland, Germany, Ukraine
Belarus' economy is still state-controlled, as it was in Soviet times, and main exports include heavy machinery, agricultural products and energy. Other industries of importance are wood processing and textiles. Almost half the trade in Belarus takes place with Russia, its main trading partner. Around 25% of the workforce is employed in industry, but agriculture and service are also important sectors. For energy, the country relies on oil import from neighbouring Russia.
The area that now makes up the country of Belarus was settled by Slavic tribes in the 6th century. Next came the Varangians, a group of Scandinavian and Slavs from the Baltics, who helped move the land towards the Kievan Rus' State, which bgan in 862. With the death of its ruler, Prince Yaroslav the Wise, the state split into independent Ruthenian principalities, of which many suffered at the hands of a Mongol invasion and later became absorbed into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
In 1386, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland merged in a personal union, which set in motion a sequence of developments which led to the formation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569. The Russians in a series of invasions tried to conquer the Kievan Rus' lands, specifically Belarus and Ukraine, and in 1795 Poland and Lithuanian's union ended, which resulted in the division of Belarus - with Belarussian lands acquired by the Russian Empire under Catherine the Great and held until German occupation in World War I.
In 1918, supported by the Germans, Belarus first gained independence as the Belarussian People's Republic. However, following Germany's defeat, the BFR fell to the Red Army and became the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. After Russian occupation of Lithuania it became joint with that country, and then split between Poland and the Soviet at the end of the Polish-Soviet war in 1921. Subsequently, the newly created Byelorussian SSR became a founding member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922.
In 1939, the Soviet invaded Poland and annexed its eastern lands, including much of the Belorussian land still belonging to the Polish. Germany invaded the Soviet in 1941, with Byelorussia the worst hit soviet republic, remaining under Nazi occupation until 1944. 209 out of 290 cities were completely destroyed during those years, and a third of the population killed - especially Byelorussia's Jewish population which was devestated during the Holocaust and never recovered. It was not until 1971 that Belorussia regained the population it had had before the war. After the war, Byelorussia was key to the rebuilding of the Soviet Republic and was a western outpost for manufacturing in the USSR. Stalin took measures to ensure the Byelorussian SSR's isolation from Western influences, known as Sovietization. The Belarussian language was frowned upon in Russia, and after Stalin's death, his successor Khrushchev continued this trend. The Byelorussian SSR suffered nuclear fallout from the Chernobyl explosion in neighbouring Ukraine. Afterwards, the Belarussian people put forward a petition to Gorbachev protesting against the restrictions on their culture. This led to a move towards Belarussian independence; in 1990 the pro-independence Belarussian Popular Front gained support, and though they only took 10% of seats, the people were happy with this step forward. On July 29 1990 the country announced itself Sovereign, and with the support of the Soveit, changed its name tot eh Republic of Belarus. Shushkevich, the country's chairman, met with Russian president Boris Yeltsin to announce the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Since then, Lukashenko has been re-elected twice to the presidency of Belarus, in 2001 and 2006.
Belarusian is the official language of Belarus, and is spoken by about 40% of the population, with others speaking Russian. The language is a member of the East Slavonic languages, sharing many features of grammar and lexicography, and was preceded up to the 19th century by Old Belarusian. It uses a form of the Cyrillic alphabet, with the modern version formulated in 1918 and comprising of 32 letters. As well as the standard norm, there are two varying dialects spoken in Belarus. The language has gone through several transformations, evolving gradually and changing as the country was annexed and occupied by neighbouring countries.
Belarus has a long standing tradition of literature, starting in the 11th to 13th centuries with religious writing, such as the poetry of Cyril of Turaw. In the 16th century, Francysk Skaryna translated the Bible into Belarusian, making it the first book printed anywhere in Eastern Europe. Kupala in the late 19th century heralded in the modern period in Belarusian literature; he was followed by writers such as Svayak, Kolas and Biadula. However, once taken over by Soviet control, and latterly Nazi occupation, cultural freedoms were greatly restricted, and many writers fled the country during the Second World War. The last revival of literature in Belarus occurred in the 1960s with works published by Bykau and Karatkievic.
The first Belarusian ballet to be performed by the Bolshoi Ballet Theatre in Minsk was Nightingale by Kroshner, and was performed during the Soviet era. After the Great Patriotic War, the term used to use Belarus and the Soviet's part in the war against Germany, music focused on the hardships of the people who took up arms in defending their country. Although there is an underground movement of rock music which has developed in the past years, the Belarusian government has taken measures to suppress its development.
Belarusian meals consist mostly of meat, vegetables and breads, and are mostly stewed or slow-cooked. The Russian wheat vodka and soft drink kvass are popular, the latter being combined with sliced vegetables and served with a cold soup called okroshka.
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