Coordinates: 53°N 23°E / 53°N 23°E / 53; 23
Republic of Belarus
Рэспубліка Беларусь (Belarusian)
Республика Беларусь (Russian)
Дзяржаўны гімн Рэспублікі
Dziaržaŭny himn Respubliki Bielaruś
(English: State Anthem of Belarus)
Location of Belarus (green)
in Europe (dark grey) – [Legend]
and largest city
53°55′N 27°33′E / 53.917°N 27.550°E / 53.917; 27.550
Unitary presidential republic
• Prime Minister
• Upper house
Council of the Republic
• Lower house
House of Representatives
• Principality of Polotsk
• Grand Duchy of Lithuania
• Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
1 July 1569
• Russian Empire
• Independence from the Russian SFSR; Belarusian People's
25 March 1918
• Lithuanian-Byelorussian SSR
17 February 1919
• Byelorussian SSR
31 July 1920
• Annexation of West Belarus
15 November 1939
27 July 1990
• Independence from the USSR
25 August 1991
• CIS Declaration
8 December 1991
• Independence recognized
26 December 1991
• Current constitution
15 March 1994
207,595 km2 (80,153 sq mi) (84th)
• Water (%)
1.4% (2.830 km2 or 1.093 sq mi)b
• 2016 estimate
9,498,700  (93rd)
45.8/km2 (118.6/sq mi) (142nd)
• Per capita
• Per capita
high · 52nd
Belarusian ruble (BYN)
Drives on the
ISO 3166 code
^ Constitution of the
Belarus Section 1, Article 17
^ "FAO's Information System on Water and Agriculture". FAO. Archived
from the original on 26 January 2012. Retrieved 16 February
Belarus (/bɛləˈruːs/ ( listen) bel-ə-ROOSS; Belarusian:
Беларусь, translit. Biełaruś;
IPA: [bʲɛlaˈrusʲ]; Russian: Беларусь,
IPA: [bʲɪlɐˈrusʲ]), officially the
Republic of Belarus
(Belarusian: Рэспубліка Беларусь; Russian:
Республика Беларусь), formerly known by its Russian
name Byelorussia or Belorussia (Russian: Белоруссия), is a
landlocked country in Eastern Europe bordered by
Russia to the
Ukraine to the south,
Poland to the west, and
Latvia to the northwest. Its capital and most populous city is Minsk.
Over 40% of its 207,600 square kilometres (80,200 sq mi) is
forested. Its major economic sectors are service industries and
manufacturing. Until the 20th century, different states at various
times controlled the lands of modern-day Belarus, including the
Principality of Polotsk
Principality of Polotsk (11th to 14th centuries), the Grand Duchy of
Lithuania, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the Russian
In the aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution,
independence as the Belarusian People's Republic, which was conquered
by Soviet Russia. The Socialist Soviet
Republic of Byelorussia became
a founding constituent republic of the
Soviet Union in 1922 and was
renamed as the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist
Belarus lost almost half of its territory to
Poland after the
Polish–Soviet War of 1919–1921. Much of the borders of Belarus
took their modern shape in 1939, when some lands of the Second Polish
Republic were reintegrated into it after the Soviet invasion of
Poland, and were finalized after World War II. During
WWII, military operations devastated Belarus, which 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
Byelorussian SSR became a founding member of the United Nations, along
Soviet Union and the Ukrainian SSR.
The parliament of the republic proclaimed the sovereignty of Belarus
on 27 July 1990, and during the dissolution of the Soviet Union,
Belarus declared independence on 25 August 1991. Alexander
Lukashenko has served as the country's president since 1994. Belarus
has been labeled "Europe's last dictatorship" by some Western
journalists, on account of Lukashenko's self-described
authoritarian style of government. Lukashenko continued a
number of Soviet-era policies, such as state ownership of large
sections of the economy. Elections under Lukashenko's rule have been
widely criticized as unfair; and according to many countries and
organizations, political opposition has been violently suppressed.
Belarus is also the last country in
Europe using the death
Democracy Index rating was the lowest
Europe until 2014 (when it was passed by Russia), the country is
labelled as "not free" by Freedom House, as "repressed" in the Index
of Economic Freedom, and is rated as by far the worst country for
press freedom in
Europe in the 2013–14
Press Freedom Index
Press Freedom Index published
by Reporters Without Borders, which ranks
Belarus 157th out of 180
Russia signed a treaty for greater cooperation,
forming the Union State. Over 70% of Belarus's population of
9.49 million resides in urban areas. More than 80% of the
population is ethnic Belarusian, with sizable minorities of Russians,
Poles and Ukrainians. Since a referendum in 1995, the country has had
two official languages: Belarusian and Russian. The Constitution of
Belarus does not declare any official religion, although the primary
religion in the country is Eastern Orthodox Christianity. The
second-most widespread religion, Roman Catholicism, has a much smaller
Belarus celebrates both Orthodox and Catholic
versions of Christmas and Easter as national holidays.
a member of the
United Nations since its founding, the Commonwealth of
Independent States, CSTO, EEU, and the Non-Aligned Movement. Belarus
has shown no aspirations for joining the
European Union but
nevertheless maintains a bilateral relationship with the organisation,
and likewise participates in two EU projects: the Eastern Partnership
and the Baku Initiative.
2.1 Early history
2.2 Kievan Rus'
2.3 Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
2.4 Russian Empire
2.5 Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic
3 Geography and climate
4.1 Election controversies
4.3 Human rights
4.4 Foreign relations
4.6 Administrative divisions
4.7 Capital punishment
7.1 Arts and literature
7.6 World Heritage Sites
8 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
Belarus is closely related with the term Belaya Rus', i.e.,
White Rus'. There are several claims to the origin of the name White
Rus'. An ethno-religious theory suggests that the name used to
describe the part of old Ruthenian lands within the Grand Duchy of
Lithuania that had been populated mostly by early Christianized Slavs,
as opposed to Black Ruthenia, which was predominantly inhabited by
An alternate explanation for the name comments on the white clothing
worn by the local Slavic population. A third theory suggests
that the old Rus' lands that were not conquered by the
Polatsk, Vitsiebsk and Mahilyow) had been referred to as "White
The name Rus' is often conflated with its Latin forms
Belarus is often referred to as White
Russia or White
Ruthenia. The name first appeared in German and Latin medieval
literature; the chronicles of
Jan of Czarnków
Jan of Czarnków mention the
imprisonment of Lithuanian grand duke
Jogaila and his mother at "Albae
Russiae, Poloczk dicto" in 1381. In some languages, including
German, Afrikaans and Dutch, the country is generally called "White
Russia" to this day (Weißrussland and Wit-Rusland
The Latin term "Alba Russia" was used again by
Pope Pius VI
Pope Pius VI in 1783 to
Society of Jesus
Society of Jesus there, exclaiming "Approbo Societatem
Jesu in Alba
Russia degentem, approbo, approbo." The first known
use of White
Russia to refer to
Belarus was in the late-16th century
by Englishman Sir Jerome Horsey, who was known for his close contacts
with the Russian Royal Court. During the 17th century, the Russian
tsars used "White Rus" to describe the lands added from the Grand
Duchy of Lithuania.
Stamp with the Cross of St. Euphrosyne from 1992
The term Belorussia (Russian: Белору́ссия, the latter part
similar but spelled and stressed differently from Росси́я,
Russia) first rose in the days of the Russian Empire, and the Russian
Tsar was usually styled "the
Tsar of All the Russias", as
Russian Empire was formed by three parts of Russia—the Great,
Little, and White. This asserted that the territories are all
Russian and all the peoples are also Russian; in the case of the
Belarusians, they were variants of the Russian people.
Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the term "White Russia" caused
some confusion, as it was also the name of the military force that
opposed the red Bolsheviks. During the period of the Byelorussian
SSR, the term Byelorussia was embraced as part of a national
consciousness. In western
Belarus under Polish control, Byelorussia
became commonly used in the regions of
the interwar period.
The term Byelorussia (its names in other languages such as English
being based on the Russian form) was only used officially until 1991,
Supreme Soviet of the Byelorussian SSR decreed by law that
the new independent republic should be called
Republic of Belarus
(Республика Беларусь spelled in Russian), as well
its abridged form should be "Belarus". The law decreed that all the
forms of the new term should be transliterated into other languages
Belarusian language forms. The use of Byelorussian SSR and
any abbreviations thereof were allowed from 1991 to 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.
Accordingly, the name Byelorussia was replaced by
English. Likewise, the adjective Belorussian or Byelorussian was
replaced by Belarusian in English. Belarusian is closer to the
original Belarusian term of bielaruski. Belarusian intelligentsia
Stalin era attempted to change the name from Byelorussia to a
form of Krivia because of the supposed connection with Russia.
Some nationalists object to the name for the same reason.
Several local newspapers kept the old name of the country in Russian
in their names, for example
Komsomolskaya Pravda v Byelorussii, which
is the localized publication of a popular Russian newspaper. 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
On March 16, 2018, Embassy of
Belarus in China announced its official
Chinese name changed from Bai'eluosi (simplified Chinese:
白俄罗斯; traditional Chinese: 白俄羅斯; pinyin:
Bái'élúosī, the translation of Belorussia), which had not fallen
out of common use, to Bailuosi (simplified Chinese: 白罗斯;
traditional Chinese: 白羅斯; pinyin: Báilúosī).
Main article: History of Belarus
From 5000 to 2000 BC,
Bandkeramik cultures predominated. In addition,
remains from the
Dnieper-Donets culture were found in
parts of Ukraine.
Cimmerians and other pastoralists roamed through
the area by 1,000 BC, and by 500 AD,
Slavs had taken up residence,
which was circumscribed by the
Scythians who roamed its outskirts.
Invaders from Asia, among whom were the
Huns and Avars, swept through
c. 400–600 AD, but were unable to dislodge the Slavic presence.
The region that is now
Belarus was first settled by Baltic tribes in
the 3rd century. Around the 5th century, the area was taken over by
Slavic tribes. The takeover was partially due to the lack of military
coordination of the
Balts but the gradual assimilation of the Balts
into Slavic culture was peaceful in nature.
Principalities of Kievan Rus'
Further information: Kievan Rus', Principality of Polotsk, and Grand
Duchy of Lithuania
In the 9th century some principalities arose on the territory of
modern Belarus. Among them was the Principality of Polatsk that for
most of the time was effectively an independent State (apart from
about 20 years when it was a Vassal of Kievan Rus'). The Principality
of Polatsk was the first nation state to be established on the land of
Many early Russian principalities were virtually razed or severely
affected by a major Mongol invasion in the 13th century, but the lands
Belarus avoided the brunt of the invasion and were eventually
absorbed by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
A map of the
Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 15th century.
fully within its borders.
Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Grand Duchy of Lithuania developed from Kingdom of Lithuania,
whose territory started its existence between Nemunas and Neris rivers
and existed in the center of
Europe in the 13th–18th centuries and
comprised entire territories of contemporary Belarus, Ukraine,
Latvia and stretched from the Baltic
Sea to the Black Sea.
Incorporation into the
Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Grand Duchy of Lithuania resulted in an
economic, political and ethno-cultural unification of Belarusian
lands. Of the principalities held by the Duchy, nine of them were
settled by a population that would eventually become Belarusian
people. During this time, the Duchy was involved in several
military campaigns, including fighting on the side of
Teutonic Knights at the
Battle of Grunwald
Battle of Grunwald in 1410; the joint
victory allowed the Duchy to control the northwestern borderlands of
The Muscovites, led by Ivan III of Moscow, began military campaigns in
1486 in an attempt to incorporate the lands of Kievan Rus',
specifically the territories of Belarus,
Russia and Ukraine.
Further information: Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
On 2 February 1386, the
Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of
Poland were joined in a personal union through a marriage of their
rulers. This union set in motion the developments that eventually
resulted in the formation of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth,
created in 1569 by the Union of Lublin.
In the years following the union, the process of gradual Polonization
gained steady momentum. In culture and social life, both the Polish
language and Catholicism became dominant, and in 1696, Polish replaced
Belarusian as the official language—with the Belarusian language
being banned from administrative use. However, the local Ruthenian
peasants, continued to speak their own language and remained faithful
to the Eastern Orthodox church.
Further information: Belarusian history in the Russian Empire
The union between
Lithuania ended in 1795 with the
Poland by Imperial Russia, Prussia, and Austria.
The Belarusian territories acquired by the
Russian Empire under the
reign of Catherine II were included into the Belarusian
Governorate (Russian: Белорусское
генерал-губернаторство) in 1796 and held until
their occupation by the
German Empire during World War I.
Under Nicholas I and Alexander III the national cultures were
repressed due to the policies of de-Polonization and
Russification, which included the return to Orthodox Christianity
of Belorusian Uniates.
Russification drive in the 1840s, Nicholas I prohibited use of
Belarusian language in public schools, campaigned against
Belarusian publications and tried to pressure those who had converted
to Catholicism under the
Poles to reconvert to the Orthodox faith. In
1863, economic and cultural pressure exploded in a revolt, led by
Kalinowski. After the failed revolt, the Russian government
reintroduced the use of
Cyrillic to Belarusian in 1864 and no
documents in Belarusian were permitted by the Russian government until
During the negotiations of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk,
declared independence under German occupation on 25 March 1918,
forming the Belarusian People's Republic. Immediately
Polish–Soviet War ignited, and the territory of
Belarus was divided between
Poland and Soviet Russia. The Rada of
the Belarusian Democratic
Republic exists as a government in exile
ever since then, in fact it is currently the world's longest serving
government in exile.
Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic
Further information: Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic
A part of
Belarus under Russian rule emerged as the Byelorussian
Republic (Byelorussian SSR) in 1919. Soon thereafter
it merged to form the Lithuanian-Byelorussian SSR. The contested lands
were divided between
Poland and the
Soviet Union after the war ended
in 1921, and the Byelorussian SSR became a founding member of the
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922. The western part
Belarus remained part of Poland.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Soviet agricultural and economic policies,
including collectivization and five-year plans for the national
economy, led to famine and political repression.
Khatyn Memorial. During World War II, the Germans murdered civilians
in 5,295 different localities in occupied Soviet Belarus.
Soviet partisan fighters behind German front lines in
Belarus in 1943
Nazi Germany and the
Soviet Union invaded and occupied
Poland, marking the beginning of World War II. The Soviets invaded and
annexed much of eastern Poland, which had been part of the country
Peace of Riga
Peace of Riga two decades earlier. Much of the northern
section of this area was added to the Byelorussian SSR, and now
constitutes West Belarus. The Soviet-controlled
Byelorussian People's Council officially took control of the
territories, whose populations consisted of a mixture of Poles,
Belarusians and Jews, on 28 October 1939 in Białystok.
Nazi Germany invaded the
Soviet Union in 1941. The Brest Fortress,
which had been annexed in 1939, at this time was subjected to one of
the most destructive onslaughts that happened during the war.
Statistically, the Byelorussian SSR was the hardest-hit Soviet
republic in World War II; it remained in Nazi hands until 1944. During
Germany destroyed 209 out of 290 cities in the republic,
85% of the republic's industry, and more than one million
buildings. The Nazi
Generalplan Ost called for the extermination,
expulsion or enslavement of most or all
Belarusians for the purpose of
providing more living space in the East for Germans.
Casualties were estimated to be between 2 and 3 million (about a
quarter to one-third of the total population), while the Jewish
Belarus was devastated during the
Holocaust and never
recovered. The population of
Belarus did not regain its
pre-war level until 1971. It was also after this conflict that the
final borders of
Belarus were set by Stalin when parts of Belarusian
territory were given to the recently annexed Lithuania.
After the war,
Belarus was among the 51 founding countries of the
United Nations Charter and as such it was allowed an additional vote
at the UN, on top of the Soviet Union's vote. Vigorous postwar
reconstruction promptly followed the end of the war and the
Byelorussian SSR became a major center of manufacturing in the western
USSR, creating jobs and attracting ethnic Russians. The borders of
the Byelorussian SSR and
Poland were redrawn and became known as the
Joseph Stalin implemented a policy of
Sovietization to isolate the
Byelorussian SSR from Western influences. This policy involved
Russians from various parts of the
Soviet Union and placing
them in key positions in the Byelorussian SSR government. After
Stalin's death in 1953,
Nikita Khrushchev continued his predecessor's
cultural hegemony program, stating, "The sooner we all start speaking
Russian, the faster we shall build communism."
In 1986, the Byelorussian SSR was exposed to significant nuclear
fallout from the explosion at the Chernobyl power plant in the
neighboring Ukrainian SSR.
In June 1988, the archaeologist and leader of the Christian
Conservative Party of the BPF
Zyanon Paznyak discovered mass graves of
victims executed in 1937–41 at Kurapaty, near Minsk. 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.
Leaders of Russia,
Belarus signed the Belavezha Accords,
dissolving the Soviet Union, 8 December 1991
In March 1990, elections for seats in the
Supreme Soviet of the
Byelorussian 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 27 July 1990 by issuing the Declaration of State
Sovereignty of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic.
With the support of the Communist Party, the country's name was
changed to the
Belarus on 25 August 1991. Stanislav
Shushkevich, the chairman of the
Supreme Soviet of Belarus, met with
Boris Yeltsin of
Leonid Kravchuk of
Ukraine on 8 December
1991 in Belavezhskaya Pushcha to formally declare the dissolution of
Soviet Union and the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent
A national constitution was adopted in March 1994 in which the
functions of prime minister were given to the President of Belarus.
Alexander Lukashenko has ruled
Belarus since 1994, and is Europe's
longest currently ruling elected head of state.
Two-round elections for the presidency on (24 June 1994 and 10 July
1994) catapulted the formerly unknown
Alexander Lukashenko into
national prominence. He garnered 45% of the vote in the first round
and 80% in the second, defeating Vyacheslav Kebich who received
14% of the vote. Lukashenko was re-elected in 2001, in 2006, in 2010
and again in 2015. Western governments, Amnesty International,
and Human Rights Watch have criticized Lukashenko's authoritarian
style of government.
Since 2014, following years of embrace of Russian influence in the
country, Lukashenko has pressed a revival of Belarusian identity,
following the Russian annexation of Crimea and military intervention
in Eastern Ukraine. For the first time, he delivered a speech in
Belarusian (rather than Russian, which most people use), in which he
said, "We are not Russian—we are Belarusians", and later encouraged
the use of Belarusian. Trade disputes, a border dispute, and a much
relaxed official attitude to dissident voices are all part of a
weakening of the longtime warm relationship with Russia.
Geography and climate
Main article: Geography of Belarus
Strusta Lake in the
Belarus lies between latitudes 51° and 57° N, and longitudes 23°
and 33° E. Its extension from north to south is 560 km
(350 mi), from west to east is 650 km (400 mi). It
is landlocked, relatively flat, and contains large tracts of marshy
land. About 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, the Pripyat, and the
Dnieper. The Neman flows westward towards the Baltic sea and the
Pripyat flows eastward to the Dnieper; the Dnieper flows southward
towards the Black Sea.
The highest point is
Dzyarzhynskaya Hara (Dzyarzhynsk Hill) at 345
metres (1,132 ft), and the lowest point is on the
Neman River at
90 m (295 ft). The average elevation of
160 m (525 ft) above sea level. The climate features
mild to cold winters, with average January minimum temperatures
ranging from −4 °C (24.8 °F) in southwest (Brest) to
−8 °C (17.6 °F) in northeast (Vitebsk), and cool and
moist summers with an average temperature of 18 °C
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 climates and maritime
Natural resources include peat deposits, small quantities of oil and
natural gas, granite, dolomite (limestone), marl, chalk, sand, gravel,
and clay. About 70% of the radiation from neighboring Ukraine's
1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster entered Belarusian territory, and
about a fifth of Belarusian land (principally farmland and forests in
the southeastern regions) was 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 cultivation, which are meant to decrease soil
levels of caesium-137.
Belarus borders five countries:
Latvia to the north,
Lithuania to the
Poland to the west,
Russia to the north and the east, and
Ukraine to the south. Treaties in 1995 and 1996 demarcated Belarus's
Latvia and Lithuania, and
Belarus ratified a 1997 treaty
establishing the Belarus-
Ukraine border in 2009.
Lithuania ratified final border demarcation documents in February
Average daily maximum and minimum temperatures for the six largest
cities in Belarus
Main article: Politics of Belarus
House of Representatives of Belarus
Victory Square in Minsk
Belarus is a presidential republic, governed by a president and the
National Assembly. The term for each presidency is five years. Under
the 1994 constitution, the president could serve for only two terms as
president, but a change in the constitution in 2004 eliminated term
Alexander Lukashenko has been the president of Belarus
since 1994. In 1996, Lukashenko called for a controversial vote to
extend the presidential term from five to seven years, and as a result
the election that was supposed to occur in 1999 was pushed back to
2001. The referendum on the extension was denounced as a "fantastic"
fake by the chief electoral officer, Viktar Hanchar, who was removed
from the office for official matters only during the campaign. The
National Assembly is a bicameral parliament comprising the 110-member
House of Representatives (the lower house) and the 64-member Council
Republic (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.
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 and
specialized courts such as the Constitutional Court, 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.
In the 2012 parliamentary election, 105 of the 110 members elected to
the House of Representatives were not affiliated with any political
Communist Party of Belarus
Communist Party of Belarus won 3 seats, and the Agrarian
Party and Republican Party of Labour and Justice, one each. Most
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
Neither the pro-Lukashenko parties, such as the Belarusian Socialist
Sporting Party and the Republican Party of Labour and Justice, nor the
People's Coalition 5 Plus opposition parties, such as the Belarusian
People's Front and the United Civil Party of Belarus, won any seats in
the 2004 elections. Groups such as the Organization for Security and
Europe (OSCE) declared the election "un-free" because
of the opposition parties' poor results and media bias in favor of the
In the 2006 presidential election, Lukashenko was opposed by
Alaksandar Milinkievič, who represented a coalition of opposition
parties, and by
Alaksandar Kazulin of the Social Democrats. Kazulin
was detained and beaten by police during protests surrounding the All
Belarusian People's Assembly. Lukashenko won the election with 80% of
the vote; the Russian Federation and the CIS deemed the vote open and
fair while the OSCE and other organizations called the election
After the December completion of the 2010 presidential election,
Lukashenko was elected to a fourth straight term with nearly 80% of
the vote in elections. The runner-up opposition leader Andrei Sannikov
received less than 3% of the vote; independent observers criticized
the election as fraudulent. When opposition protesters took to the
streets in Minsk, many people, including most rival presidential
candidates, were beaten and arrested by the state militia. Many
of the candidates, including Sannikov, were sentenced to prison or
house arrest for terms which are mainly and typically over four
years. Six months later amid an unprecedented economic
crisis, activists utilized social networking to initiate a fresh round
of protests characterized by wordless hand-clapping.
The judicial system in
Belarus lacks independence and is subject to
political interference. Corrupt practices such as bribery often
took place during tender processes, and whistleblower protection and
national ombudsman are lacking in Belarus's anti-corruption
system. However, there is a political will to fight against
corruption in the government, and the government has made some
progress in combating corruption, such as minimizing tax regulations
in order to improve transparency in the tax office.
Main article: Human rights in Belarus
A symbol of Belarusian opposition, this flag served as the national
flag from 1991 to 1995.
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 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 persecution of non-governmental organisations,
independent journalists, national minorities, and opposition
politicians. In a testimony to the United States Senate
Committee on Foreign Relations, former United States Secretary of
Condoleezza Rice labeled
Belarus as one of the world's six
"outposts of tyranny". In response, the Belarusian government
called the assessment "quite far from reality". The Viasna Human
Rights Centre lists 11 political prisoners currently detained in
Belarus. Among them is the human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, Vice
International Federation for Human Rights
International Federation for Human Rights and head of
Lukashenko announced a new law in 2014 that will prohibit kolkhoz
workers (around 9% of total work force) from leaving their jobs at
will—a change of job and living location will require permission
from governors. The law was compared with serfdom by Lukashenko
himself. Similar regulations were introduced for the
forestry industry in 2012.
Main article: Foreign relations of Belarus
President Alexander Lukashenko, right, shaking hands with Russian
President Vladimir Putin, left, in 2012
The Byelorussian SSR was one of the two Soviet republics that joined
United Nations along with the
Ukrainian SSR as one of the original
51 members in 1945. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, under
Belarus became the internationally recognized
successor state to the Byelorussian SSR, retaining its UN membership.
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
over the petroleum trade.
On 11 December 2007, reports emerged that a framework for the new
state was discussed between both countries. On 27 May 2008,
Belarusian President Lukashenko said that he had named Russian Prime
Vladimir Putin the "prime minister" of the Russia-Belarus
alliance. The significance of this act was not immediately clear; some
incorrectly speculated that Putin would become president of a unified
Belarus after stepping down as Russian president
in May 2008.
Belarus was a founding member of the Commonwealth of Independent
Belarus has trade agreements with several European
Union member states (despite other member states' travel ban on
Lukashenko and top officials), including neighboring Latvia,
Lithuania, and Poland. Travel bans imposed by the European Union
have been lifted in the past in order to allow Lukashenko to attend
diplomatic meetings and also to engage his government and opposition
groups in dialogue.
Leaders of Belarus, Russia, Germany, France, and
Ukraine at the summit
in Minsk, 11–12 February 2015
Bilateral relations with the United States are strained because the
U.S. Department of State supports various anti-Lukashenko
non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and also because the Belarusian
government has made it increasingly difficult for United States-based
organizations to operate within the country. Diplomatic relations
remained tense, and in 2004, the United States passed the Belarus
Democracy Act, which authorized funding for anti-government Belarusian
NGOs, and prohibited loans to the Belarusian government, except for
humanitarian purposes. Despite this political friction, the two
countries do cooperate on intellectual property protection, prevention
of human trafficking, technology crime, and disaster relief.
Sino-Belarusian relations have improved, strengthened by the
visit of President Lukashenko to China in October 2005. Belarus
also has strong ties with Syria, considered a key partner in the
Middle East. In addition to the CIS,
Belarus is a member of the
Eurasian Economic Community, the Collective Security Treaty
Organisation, the international
Non-Aligned Movement since
1998, and the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe
(OSCE). As an OSCE member state, Belarus's international commitments
are subject to monitoring under the mandate of the U.S. Helsinki
Belarus is included in the European Union's European Neighbourhood
Policy (ENP) which aims at bringing the EU and its neighbours closer.
On 15 February 2016 the
European Union announced the easing of
Belarus during a meeting by 28 EU foreign ministers
at a regular session of the Council of the European Union.
Main article: Armed Forces of Belarus
Soldiers patrol in the
Białowieża Forest on the Belarusian border
Andrei Ravkov heads the Ministry of Defence, 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 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, who serve for 12
months if they have higher education or 18 months if they do not.
Demographic decreases in the
Belarusians of conscription age have
increased the importance of contract soldiers, who numbered 12,000 in
2001. In 2005, about 1.4% of Belarus's gross domestic product was
devoted to military expenditure.
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 mission in
Belarus first began to cooperate with
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. Tensions
Belarus peaked after the March 2006 presidential
election in Belarus.
Regions of Belarus
Regions of Belarus and Districts of Belarus
Belarus is divided into six regions (Belarusian: вобласць,
Russian: о́бласть), which are named after the cities that
serve as their administrative centers.
Each region has a provincial legislative authority, called a region
council (Belarusian: абласны Савет Дэпутатаў,
Russian: областно́й Сове́т Депутатов), which
is elected by its residents, and a provincial executive authority
called a region administration (Belarusian: абласны
выканаўчы камітэт, Russian: областно́й
исполнительный комите́т), whose chairman is
appointed by the president. Regions are further subdivided into
raions, commonly translated as districts (Belarusian: раён,
Each raion has its own legislative authority, or raion council,
(Belarusian: раённы Савет Дэпутатаў, Russian:
районный Сове́т Депутатов) elected by its
residents, and an executive authority or raion administration
appointed by higher executive powers. The six regions are divided into
The city of
Minsk is split into nine districts and enjoys special
status as the nation's capital. It is run by an executive
committee and has been granted a charter of self-rule.
Regions (with administrative centers):
Brest Region (Brest)
Gomel Region (Gomel)
Grodno Region (Grodno)
Mogilev Region (Mogilev)
Minsk Region (Minsk)
Vitebsk Region (Vitebsk)
Special administrative district:
Capital punishment in Belarus
Belarus is the only European country still using capital punishment.
The U.S. and
Belarus were the only two of the 56 member states of the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe to have carried
out executions during 2011.
A graphical depiction of Belarus's product exports in
28 colour-coded categories
Belarusian annual GDP and CPI rates 2001–2013
Main article: Economy of Belarus
In 2014 the share of manufacturing in GDP was 37%, more than two
thirds of this amount falls on manufacturing industries. The number of
people employed in industry is 32.7% of the working population. The
growth rate is much lower than for the economy as a whole – about
1.9% in 2014.
At the time of the dissolution of the
Soviet Union in 1991, Belarus
was one of the world's most industrially developed states by
percentage of GDP as well as the richest CIS member-state. In
2015, 39.3% of
Belarusians were employed by state-controlled
companies, 57.2% were employed by private companies (in which the
government has a 21.1% stake) and 3.5% were employed by foreign
companies. The country relies on
Russia for various imports,
including petroleum. Important agricultural products include
potatoes and cattle byproducts, including meat. In 1994,
Belarus's main exports included heavy machinery (especially tractors),
agricultural products, and energy products. Economically, Belarus
involved itself in the CIS, Eurasian Economic Community, and Union
In the 1990s, however, industrial production plunged due to decreases
in imports, investment, and demand for Belarusian products from its
trading partners. GDP only began to rise in 1996; the
country was the fastest-recovering former Soviet republic in the terms
of its economy. In 2006, GDP amounted to US$83.1 billion in
purchasing power parity (PPP) dollars (estimate), or about $8,100 per
capita. In 2005, GDP increased by 9.9%; the inflation rate
Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, under Lukashenko's
Belarus has maintained government control over key
industries and eschewed the large-scale privatizations seen in other
former Soviet republics.
In 2006, Belarus's largest trading partner was Russia, accounting for
nearly half of total trade, with the
European Union the next largest
trading partner, with nearly a third of foreign trade. As of
2015, 38% of Belarusian exported goods go to
Russia and 56% of
imported goods come from Russia.
Due to its failure to protect labor rights, including passing laws
forbidding unemployment or working outside of state-controlled
Belarus lost its EU Generalized System of Preferences
status on 21 June 2007, which raised tariff rates to their prior most
favored nation levels.
Belarus applied to become a member of the
World Trade Organization
World Trade Organization 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 government statistics,
was 1.5% in 2005. There were 679,000 unemployed Belarusians,
two-thirds of whom were women. The unemployment rate has been in
decline since 2003, and the overall rate of employment is the highest
since statistics were first compiled in 1995.
Until 1 July 2016, the currency of
Belarus was the Belarusian ruble
(BYR). The currency was introduced in May 1992, replacing the Soviet
ruble. The first coins of the
Belarus were issued on 27
December 1996. 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 (RUB), starting as
early as 1 January 2008. The National Bank of
Belarusian ruble to the
Russian ruble in August 2007.
A new currency, the new
Belarusian ruble (
ISO 4217 code: BYN) was
introduced in July 2016, replacing the
Belarusian ruble in a rate of
1:10,000 (10,000 old rubles = 1 new ruble). From 1 July until 31
December 2016, the old and new currencies will be in parallel
circulation and series 2000 notes and coins can be exchanged for
series 2009 from 1 January 2017 to 31 December 2021. This
redenomination can be considered an effort to fight the high inflation
The banking system of
Belarus consists of two level: Central Bank
(National Bank of the
Republic of Belarus) and 25 commercial
banks. On 23 May 2011, the
Belarusian ruble depreciated 56%
against the United States dollar. The depreciation was even steeper on
the black market and financial collapse seemed imminent 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.
Main article: Demographics of Belarus
According to the National Statistical Committee, as of January 2016,
the population is 9.49 million people. Ethnic Belarusians
constitute 83.7% of Belarus's total population. The next largest
ethnic groups are:
Poles (3.1%), and Ukrainians
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, the nation's capital and
largest city, was home to 1,937,900 residents in 2015[update].
Gomel, with a population of 481,000, is the second-largest city and
serves as the capital of the Homiel Voblast. Other large cities are
Hrodna (314,800) and Brest
Like many other eastern 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 was
1.22, well below the replacement rate. Its net migration rate is
+0.38 per 1,000, indicating that
Belarus experiences slightly more
immigration than emigration. As of 2015[update], 69.9% of Belarus's
population is aged 14 to 64; 15.5% is under 14, and 14.6% is 65 or
older. Its population is also aging; the median age of 30–34 is
estimated to rise to between 60 and 64 in 2050. There are about
0.87 males per female in Belarus. The average life expectancy is
72.15 (66.53 years for men and 78.1 years for women). Over 99% of
Belarusians aged 15 and older are literate.
Largest cities or towns in Belarus
Main article: Languages of Belarus
Belarus' two official languages are Russian and Belarusian;
Russian is the main language, used by 72% of the population, while
Belarusian, the official first language, is spoken by 11.9%.
Minorities also speak Polish, Ukrainian and Eastern Yiddish.
Belarusian, although not as widely used as Russian, is the mother
tongue of 53.2% of the population, whereas Russian is the mother
tongue of only 41.5%.
Main article: Religion in Belarus
Religion in Belarus
Religion in Belarus (2011)
Saint Sophia Cathedral in Polotsk
According to the census of as of November 2011[update], 58.9% of all
Belarusians adhere to some kind of religion; out of those, Eastern
Orthodoxy (Belarusian Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church) makes
up about 82%. Roman Catholicism is practiced mostly in the
western regions, and there are also different denominations of
Protestantism. Minorities also practice Greek Catholicism,
Judaism, Islam and Neopaganism. Overall, 48.3% of the population is
Orthodox Christian, 41.1% is not religious, 7.1% is Catholic and 3.3%
follows other religions.
Belarus's Catholic minority is concentrated in the western part of the
country, especially around Hrodna, is made up of a mixture of
Belarusians and the country's Polish 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 confessions in our country".
Belarus was once a major center of European Jews, with 10% of the
population being Jewish. But since the mid-20th century, the number of
Jews has been reduced by the Holocaust, deportation, and emigration,
so that today it is a very small minority of less than one
percent. The Lipka Tatars, numbering over 15,000, are
predominantly Muslims. According to Article 16 of the Constitution,
Belarus has no official religion. While the freedom of worship is
granted in the same article, religious organizations deemed harmful to
the government or social order can be prohibited.
Main article: Culture of Belarus
Arts and literature
The Opera and Ballet Theater in Minsk
Slavianski Bazaar in Vitebsk
The Belarusian government sponsors annual cultural festivals such as
the Bazaar in Vitebsk, 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
Francysk Skaryna, developer of the Belarusian language, and one of the
first people to print in the
Belarusian literature began with 11th- to 13th-century religious
scripture, such as the 12th-century poetry of Cyril of Turaw.
By the 16th century,
Francysk Skaryna translated the
Bible into Belarusian. It was published in
between 1517 and 1525, making it the first book printed in
anywhere in Eastern Europe. The modern era of Belarusian
literature began in the late 19th century; one prominent writer was
Yanka Kupala. Many Belarusian writers of the time, such as Uładzimir
Žyłka, Kazimir Svayak, Yakub Kolas, Źmitrok Biadula, and Maksim
Haretski, wrote for Nasha Niva, a Belarusian-language paper published
that was previously published in
Vilnius but now is published in
Belarus was incorporated into the Soviet Union, the Soviet
government took control of the Republic's cultural affairs. At first,
a policy of "Belarusianization" was followed in the newly formed
Byelorussian SSR. This policy was reversed in the 1930s, and the
majority of prominent Belarusian intellectuals and nationalist
advocates were either exiled or killed in Stalinist purges. 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 and would not return until
The last major revival of
Belarusian literature occurred in the 1960s
with novels published by
Vasil Bykaŭ and Uladzimir Karatkievich. An
influential author who devoted his work to awakening the awareness of
the catastrophes the country has suffered, was Ales Adamovich. He was
named by Svetlana Alexievich, the Belarusian winner of the Nobel Prize
in Literature 2015, as "her main teacher, who helped her to find a
path of her own".
Poet and librettist Vintsent Dunin-Martsinkyevich
Belarus largely comprises a rich tradition of folk and
religious music. The country's folk music traditions can be traced
back to the times of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In the 19th
century, Polish composer
Stanisław Moniuszko 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 Sialanka (Peasant Woman). At the end of the 19th century, major
Belarusian cities formed their own opera and ballet companies. The
ballet Nightingale by M. Kroshner was composed during the Soviet era
and became the first Belarusian ballet showcased at the National
Academic Vialiki 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, Anatoly Bogatyrev, creator of the opera
In Polesye Virgin Forest, served as the "tutor" of Belarusian
composers. The National Academic Theatre of Ballet in
awarded the Benois de la Dance Prize in 1996 as the top ballet company
in the world. Rock music has become increasingly popular in
recent years, though the Belarusian government has attempted to limit
the amount of foreign music aired on the radio in favor of traditional
Belarusian music. Since 2004,
Belarus has been sending artists to the
Eurovision Song Contest.
Marc Chagall was born in Liozna (near Vitebsk) in 1887. He spent the
World War I
World War I years in Soviet Belarus, becoming one of the country's
most distinguished artists and a member of the modernist avant-garde
and was a founder of the
Vitebsk Arts College.
The traditional Belarusian dress originates from the Kievan Rus'
period. Due to the cool climate, clothes were designed to preserve
body heat and were usually made from flax or wool. They were decorated
with ornate patterns influenced by the neighboring cultures: Poles,
Lithuanians, Latvians, Russians, and other European nations. Each
Belarus has developed specific design patterns. One
ornamental pattern common in early dresses currently decorates the
hoist of the Belarusian national flag, adopted in a disputed
referendum in 1995.
Draniki, the national dish
Belarusian cuisine consists mainly of vegetables, meat (particularly
pork), and bread. Foods are usually either slowly cooked or stewed.
Belarusians eat 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 when greeting a
guest or visitor.
Belarus at the Olympics
Belarus has competed in the Olympic Games since the 1994 Winter
National Olympic Committee
National Olympic Committee has been headed by President
Lukashenko since 1997.
Receiving heavy sponsorship from the government, ice hockey is the
nation's second most popular sport after football. The national
football team has never qualified for a major tournament; however,
BATE Borisov has played in the Champions League. The national hockey
team finished fourth at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics following a
memorable upset win over
Sweden in the quarterfinals, and regularly
competes in the World Championships, often making the quarterfinals.
Numerous Belarusian players are present in the Kontinental Hockey
League in Eurasia, particularly for Belarusian club HC Dinamo Minsk,
and several have also played in the
National Hockey League
National Hockey League in North
Darya Domracheva is a leading biathlete whose honours include
three gold medals at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Victoria Azarenka became the first Belarusian to win a
Grand Slam singles title at the
Australian Open in 2012. She also
won the gold medal in mixed doubles at the 2012 Summer Olympics with
Max Mirnyi, who holds ten Grand Slam titles in doubles.
Other notable Belarusian sportspeople include cyclist Vasil Kiryienka,
who won the 2015 Road World Time Trial Championship, and middle
distance runner Maryna Arzamasava, who won the gold medal in the 800m
at the 2015 World Championships in Athletics.
Belarus is also known for its strong rhythmic gymnasts. Noticeable
gymnasts include Inna Zhukova, who earned silver at the 2008 Beijing
Olympics, Liubov Charkashyna, who earned bronze at the 2012 London
Olympics and Melitina Staniouta, Bronze All-Around Medalist of the
2015 World Championships. The Belorussian senior group earned bronze
at the 2012 London Olympics.
Andrei Arlovski, who was born in Babruysk, Byelorussian SSR, is a
current UFC fighter and the former UFC heavyweight champion of the
Main article: Telecommunications in Belarus
See also: Censorship in Belarus
Country code: .by
The state telecom monopoly, Beltelecom, holds the exclusive
interconnection with Internet providers outside of Belarus. Beltelecom
owns all the backbone channels that linked to the Lattelecom, TEO LT,
Tata Communications (former Teleglobe), Synterra, Rostelecom,
Transtelekom and MTS ISP's. Beltelecom is the only operator licensed
to provide commercial VoIP services in Belarus.
World Heritage Sites
Belarus has four UNESCO-designated World Heritage Sites: the Mir
Castle Complex, the Nesvizh Castle, the Belovezhskaya Pushcha (shared
with Poland), and the
Struve Geodetic Arc
Struve Geodetic Arc (shared with nine other
Soviet Union portal
List of Belarus-related topics
Outline of Belarus
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