Minsk • Gomel • Mahilyow • Vitebsk • Hrodna • Brest • Babruysk • Baranovichi • Pinsk • Orsha • Novoye Medvezhino • Mazyr • Malinovka • Salihorsk • Maladzyechna • Navapolatsk • Horad Barysaw • Lida • Polatsk • Zhlobin • Svyetlahorsk • Rechytsa • Slutsk • Horad Zhodzina • Slonim • Kobryn • Vawkavysk • Kalinkavichy • Smarhon’ • Rahachow • Asipovichy • Horki • Navahrudak • Vilyeyka • Byaroza • Krychaw • Luninyets • Dzyarzhynsk • Ivatsevichy • Hlybokaye • Pastav • Mar’’ina Horka • Pruzhany • Dobrush • Bykhaw • Lyepyel’ • Kalodzishchy • Masty • Shchuchin • Stowbtsy •
|THE BELARUS COAT OF ARMS|
Location of Belarus within the continent of Europe
Map of Belarus
Flag Description of Belarus:The national flag of Belarus from today was formally adopted in 1995, June 7.The proportion 1:2.
The flaf of Belarus has two longitudinal stripes: up red on two-thirds of the flag width and green at the bottom on one-third of the flag. The belarusian flag have also a vertical red on white decorative pattern. These was designed in 1917 by Matrena Markevich,and occupies one-ninth of the flag's length, being placed against the flag staff. These red and white decorative pattern is used at ceremonial events like religious services, funerals and other social functions and today it has the means the cultural past of Belarus. The meaning of the colors could be: green are forests and fields of Belarus, and represents hope, spring. And red represents Belarus past and the blood of the country's defenders. The Day of the National Emblem and Flag of Belarus was declared on May 15. Pantone unofficial: 1795 C for red and 370 C for green.
- Area: 207,600 sq. km. (80,100 sq. mi.); slightly smaller than Kansas.
- Cities: Capital--Minsk.
- Terrain: Landlocked, low-lying with thick forests, flat marshes and fields.
- Climate: Cold winters, cool and moist summers, transitional between continental and maritime.
Official name Respublika Belarus (Republic of Belarus)
Form of government republic with two legislative houses (Council of the Republic ; House of Representatives )
Head of state and government President: Alyaksandr Lukashenka, assisted by Prime Minister: Andrey Kabyakow
Official languages Belarusian; Russian
Official religion none2
Monetary unit Belarusian rubel (or ruble; Br)
Population (2014 est.) 9,443,000COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 80,153
Total area (sq km) 207,595
- Urban: (2012) 75.8%
- Rural: (2012) 24.2%
Life expectancy at birth
- Male: (2012) 64.6 years
- Female: (2012) 77.6 years
Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate
- Male: not available
- Female: not available
GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2013) 6,720
2However, a 2003 concordat grants the Belarusian Orthodox Church privileged status.
Background of Belarus
Belarus is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, bordered by Russia in the north and east, Ukraine in the south, Poland in the west and Lithuania and Latvia in the north. With a complex history and rich architecture Belarus is a wonderful place to explore no matter what time of year. With a diverse geography and a passion for natural history and wildlife Belarus would be an outdoor enthusiasts' dream. Whether this is your first visit to Belarus or your fifth, come explore all it has to offer.
After seven decades as a constituent republic of the USSR, Belarus attained its independence in 1991. It has retained closer political and economic ties to Russia than any of the other former Soviet republics. Belarus and Russia signed a treaty on a two-state union on 8 December 1999 envisioning greater political and economic integration. Although Belarus agreed to a framework to carry out the accord, serious implementation has yet to take place. Since his election in July 1995 as the country's first president, Alexander LUKASHENKO has steadily consolidated his power through authoritarian means. The Constitution revision by national referendum of 24 November 1996 gave presidency greatly expanded powers and became effective 27 November 1996, revised again 17 October 2004 removing presidential term limits. Government restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, peaceful assembly, and religion continue.
Belarus, country of eastern Europe. Until it became independent in 1991, Belarus, formerly known as Belorussia or White Russia, was the smallest of the three Slavic republics included in the Soviet Union (the larger two being Russia and Ukraine). While Belarusians share a distinct ethnic identity and language, they never previously enjoyed unity and political sovereignty, except during a brief period in 1918. Belarusian history is thus less an isolable national narrative than a study of regional forces, their interplay, and their effects on the Belarusian people. The territory that is now Belarus underwent partition and changed hands repeatedly; as a result, much of the history of Belarus is inseparable from that of its neighbours. Since independence Belarus has retained close ties to its most dominant neighbour, Russia. In 1999 the two countries signed the Union State Foundation Treaty, which aimed to create a politically integrated confederation with a common currency; the precise nature of the partnership, however, remained unclear well into the 21st century. The legacy of Belarus’s Soviet past also continued to manifest itself, both in the persistent prominence of communist political parties and in the country’s authoritarian style of government. About one-fifth of the population of Belarus resides in the centrally located capital, Minsk, a sprawling modern city that was almost entirely rebuilt after its near destruction in World War II.
Geography of Belarus
Much of Belarus (formerly the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic of the USSR, and then Byelorussia) is a hilly lowland with forests, swamps, and numerous rivers and lakes. There are wide rivers emptying into the Baltic and Black seas. Its forests cover over one-third of the land and its peat marshes are a valuable natural resource. The largest lake is Narach, 31 sq mi (79.6 sq km).
Belarus is a landlocked country bordered by Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest, by Russia to the north and east, by Ukraine to the south, and by Poland to the west. In area, it is roughly one-third the size of its southern neighbour, Ukraine.
The topography of Belarus was largely shaped by glaciation during the Pleistocene Epoch (i.e., about 2,600,000 to 11,700 years ago). Much of the country consists of flat lowlands separated by low level-topped hills and uplands. The highest point, Dzyarzhynskaya Hill, is only 1,135 feet (346 metres) above sea level, and more than half the surface area of Belarus lies below 660 feet (200 metres). The higher areas are formed by ridges of glacial morainic material dating from the Valday glaciation, the last advance of Pleistocene ice in eastern Europe. The largest of the ridges, the Belarusian Ridge, extends northeastward from the Polish border on the southwest to north of Minsk, where it widens into the Minsk Upland before turning eastward to link up with the Smolensk-Moscow Upland. Running transverse to the main Belarusian Ridge, the Ashmyany Upland, consisting of terminal moraines from the same glacial period, lies between Minsk and Vilnius, in neighbouring Lithuania. The surfaces of its ridges tend to be flat or gently rolling and covered by light sandy podzolic soils; they are largely cleared of their original forest cover.
Separated by the morainic ridges lie wide lowlands, which are mostly poorly drained and marshy and contain many small lakes. To the north of the main line of morainic hills are two broad plains: the north of the republic comprises the Polatsk Lowland, and the northwestern corner, near Hrodna, is the Neman (Belarusian: Nyoman) Lowland. South of the Belarusian Ridge the wide and very flat Central Byarezina Plain gently slopes southward to merge imperceptibly with the even more extensive Pripet Marshes (Belarusian: Palyessye, “Woodlands”). A waterlogged area in the basin of the Pripet (Belarusian: Prypyats’) River, a main tributary of the Dnieper (Belarusian: Dnyapro), the Pripet Marshes extend southward into Ukraine and occupy a structural trough. The trough is filled with outwash sands and gravels deposited by the meltwaters of the last Pleistocene glaciation. The minimal variation in relief makes the Pripet Marshes among the largest wetlands in Europe.
Belarus has more than 20,000 streams, with a total length of about 56,300 miles (90,600 km), and more than 10,000 lakes. The greater part of the republic lies in the basin of the Dnieper—which flows across Belarus from north to south on its way to the Black Sea—and the basins of its major tributaries, the Byarezina and Pripet on the right bank and the Sozh on the left. In the north the Polatsk Lowland is drained by the Western Dvina (Dzvina) River to the Baltic Sea, to which also flows the Neman (Nyoman) in the west. The extreme southwestern corner of Belarus is drained by the Mukhavyets, a tributary of the Bug (Buh) River, which forms part of the border with Poland and flows to the Baltic Sea. The Mukhavyets and Pripet are linked by a ship canal, thereby connecting the Baltic and Black seas. The rivers are generally frozen from December to late March, after which occur about two months of maximum flow. Among the largest lakes are Narach, Osveyskoye, and Drysvyaty.
About three-fifths of Belarus is covered by podzolic soils. On the uplands these soils are mainly clay loams developed on loess subsoils, which can be productive with the use of fertilizers. The plains and lowlands have mostly sandy podzols of low fertility interspersed with swampy clays, which have a high humus content and can be very fertile when drained.
Belarus has a cool continental climate moderated by maritime influences from the Atlantic Ocean. Average January temperatures range from the mid-20s F (about −4 °C) in the southwest to the upper teens F (about −8 °C) in the northeast, but thaw days are frequent; correspondingly, the frost-free period decreases from more than 170 days in the southwest to 130 in the northeast. Maximum temperatures in July are generally in the mid-60s F (about 18 °C). Rainfall is moderate, though higher than over most of the vast Russian Plain of eastern Europe, and ranges from about 21 inches (530 mm) on the lowlands to some 28 inches (700 mm) on the higher morainic ridges. Maximum rainfall occurs from June to August.
- Plant and animal life
The natural vegetation of the country is mixed deciduous and coniferous forest. In the north, conifers, notably pine and spruce, tend to predominate; southward the proportion of deciduous trees, such as oak and hornbeam, increases. Birch is common everywhere, especially as the first growth on burned or disturbed areas. Over the centuries, the clearing of forest land for agricultural use has removed the greater part of the primeval forest, especially the deciduous trees, which prefer richer soils. In particular, the forest of the uplands had largely been removed by the late 16th century.
The Belovezhskaya (Belarusian: Byelavyezhskaya) Forest, on the western border with Poland (into which it extends), is one of the largest surviving areas of primeval mixed forest in Europe, encompassing more than 460 square miles (1,200 square km). The Belarusian portion of the forest was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992. Preserved for centuries as the private hunting forest of first the Polish kings and later the Russian tsars, it was made a nature reserve (and later a national park) on both sides of the frontier. The rich forest vegetation that once covered much of Europe survives here, dominated by trees that have grown to exceptional heights. The forest is the major home of the European bison, or wisent, which had become extinct in the wild following World War I but was reintroduced through captive breeding. Elk, deer, and boars also are found there and in other forests of Belarus, together with small game, hares, squirrels, foxes, badgers, martens, and, along the rivers, beavers. Birds include grouse, partridge, woodcocks, snipes, and ducks, and many of the rivers are well stocked with fish.
- Environmental concerns
The accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine in April 1986 resulted in a number of immediate and long-term consequences for the environment of Belarus, where most of the fallout occurred. In the early 21st century about one-fifth of Belarus’s land was still radioactively contaminated. In addition to the land damage, the medical and psychological costs of the accident included an increase in birth defects and cancer (particularly of the thyroid) and a declining birth rate, at least partly in response to fears of those defects.
Environmental activists also have expressed concerns about poor air quality and pollution in Minsk and other major cities.
Demography of Belarus
- Ethnic groups
Ethnic Belarusians make up about four-fifths of the country’s population. Russians, many of whom migrated to the Belorussian S.S.R. in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, form the second largest ethnic group, accounting for roughly one-tenth of the population. Most of the remainder are Poles and Ukrainians, with much smaller numbers of Jews, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Tatars. Before World War II (1939–45), Jews constituted the second largest group in the republic (and more than half the urban population); the genocide of European Jewry and postwar emigration nearly eliminated Jews from the republic.
Both Belarusian and Russian are official languages of Belarus. Belarusian, which is central to the concept of national identity, is an East Slavic language that is related to both Russian and Ukrainian, with dialects that are transitional to both. It is written in a Cyrillic alphabet and has loanwords from both Polish and Russian, which is reflective of the region’s history. An older form of Belarusian was the official language of the grand duchy of Lithuania, of which present-day Belarus was an important component.
About half of Belarusians consider themselves nonreligious or atheist. Roughly two-fifths of the population adheres to Eastern Orthodoxy, which, while not the official religion, maintains a privileged status in Belarus. Roman Catholics constitute the largest religious minority. Roman Catholicism is particularly influential in the western regions, especially in Hrodna. Tiny fractions of the population follow other forms of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. The Tatars are the predominant Muslim group.
- Settlement patterns
The greatest population concentrations in the country are in the central uplands and in the southwest. During Soviet rule, industrial growth contributed to a steady increase of the urban proportion of the population, which rose from about one-fifth in 1940 to more than two-thirds by the mid-1990s. Correspondingly, the number of cities and towns more than doubled. By the early 21st century, nearly three-fourths of the population resided in urban areas, with about one-fifth of the people concentrated in the capital, Minsk. Smaller urban centres include Homyel, in the southeast; Mahilyow, in east-central Belarus; Vitsyebsk, in the northeast; and Hrodna, in the west near the Polish border. Migration to these cities has resulted in many declining or moribund villages. The Pripet Marshes, in south-central Belarus, are the least-populated region.
- Demographic trends
After World War II, Belarus exhibited a fairly high birth rate, largely as the result of a postwar baby boom. A steep decline followed in the 1960s, and thereafter a more gradual decline ensued. By the 1990s the birth rate had dropped to what it had been during World War II, partly as a result of the Chernobyl disaster and related social and economic problems. The birth rate continued to fall into the 21st century, while the death rate gradually climbed. These factors contributed to a steady decline in population during the two decades after independence. In response, the government offered incentives to women to have more children. In the early 21st century more people, mainly Russians and other eastern Europeans, were immigrating to Belarus than were leaving the country. Nevertheless, this net gain in migrants did not offset the overall population decline.
Economy of Belarus
Devastation during World War II nearly wiped out agriculture and industry in the Belorussian S.S.R., and the intensive postwar drive to restore the economy resulted in a large industrial sector that depended on the other Soviet republics, particularly Russia, for energy and raw materials. The dissolution of the Soviet Union not only dramatically increased the cost of those raw materials but also reduced the traditional market for Belarusian manufactured goods. As a result, production decreased in Belarus during the early 1990s. Moreover, the movement toward a market economy in Belarus was slower than that of other former Soviet republics, with only a small percentage of state-run industry and agriculture privatized in the years following independence. Largely in response to this economic upheaval, Belarus sought closer economic ties with Russia. In the early 21st century Russia remained a major trading partner, although relations between the two countries had become tense as a result of disputes over the price of imported gas and oil. Meanwhile, Belarus experienced substantial increases in its gross domestic product (GDP) as well as growing trade with the European Union. The country was hit hard, however, by the global recession that began in 2008. Manufacturing, particularly in the automotive industry, declined, and in 2009 the national currency was devalued.
- Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
The agricultural sector in Belarus, which employs about one-tenth of the labour force but constitutes a diminishing proportion of GDP, is dominated by large collective and state farms. Private holdings were permitted for household use during the Soviet era, but, while their number increased dramatically following independence, they remained small in size. In the early 21st century a significant number of collective farms were sold to private or state-controlled companies.
Most of the country has mixed crop and livestock farming, with a historic emphasis on flax growing. (During the late Soviet era the Belorussian S.S.R. produced about one-fourth of the U.S.S.R. total.) Potatoes, sugar beets, barley, wheat, rye, and corn (maize) are other important field crops; a large percentage of the grains are used for animal feed. Cattle, poultry, and pigs are the main livestock. Considerable areas of the swampy lowlands have been drained since the late 19th century, with much of the reclaimed land being used for fodder crops. Dairying and truck farming are locally important in the vicinity of Minsk. Nearly two-fifths of Belarus is covered by forests, which are exploited for the production of wood and paper products. Most of the country’s small fish yield results from aquaculture.
- Resources and power
Belarus is generally poorly endowed with mineral resources. The government is attempting to accelerate the development of its raw-material base, but Belarus remains dependent on Russia for most of its energy and fossil-fuel requirements. In the 1960s, petroleum was discovered in the southeastern part of the republic, near Rechytsa. Production peaked in 1975 and fell to one-fourth of that total by the 1990s, when it stabilized.
Belarus does possess, however, one of the world’s largest reserves of potash (potassium salts), which was discovered south of Minsk in 1949 and exploited from the 1960s around the new mining town and fertilizer-manufacturing centre of Salihorsk. Potash exports remained high into the early 21st century. The country also is a world leader in the production of peat, which is especially abundant in the Pripet Marshes. In briquette form it is used as fuel. Among the other minerals recovered are salt, an important deposit of which, near Mazyr, was opened in the 1980s; building materials, chiefly limestone and, near Hrodna, quartz sands for glassmaking, both used locally; and small deposits of gold and diamonds.
Nearly all electricity is generated at thermal power stations using piped oil and natural gas; however, there is some local use of peat, and there are a number of low-capacity hydroelectric power plants. In the early 21st century Belarus began planning the construction of its first nuclear power plant.
Military production was of high industrial priority during the Soviet era, and the transition to primarily civilian production was difficult. Nevertheless, mining and manufacturing remain major components of the Belarusian economy and together account for more than one-fourth of GDP, with the processing of minerals and hydrocarbons playing an important role. A large facility for producing potash fertilizers is located at Salihorsk. There are oil refineries in the Polatsk area and at Mazyr in the south. Both are served by branches of a major pipeline originating in western Siberia, but the facilities at Mazyr also process local oil from Rechytsa. There also is a large petrochemical plant at Polatsk. Nitrogenous fertilizers are made at Hrodna, using natural gas piped from Dashava in Ukraine.
Heavy industry is well developed in Belarus. Heavy-duty vehicles, particularly trucks and tractors, are manufactured in Minsk, Zhodzina, and Mahilyow. Other engineering products include machine tools, such as metal-cutting equipment. Precision manufacturing was developed during the 1970s and ’80s, notably of such consumer goods as radios, television sets, watches, bicycles, and computers. Other industries are small-scale, and products are mostly for local consumption. These have included timber processing, furniture making, match and paper making, textile and clothing manufacture, and food processing.
Independent Belarus restructured its Soviet-style banking system into a two-tier system consisting of the National Bank of Belarus and a growing number of commercial banks, most of which are either joint-stock or limited-liability companies. The republic introduced its own currency, the Belarusian rubel, in 1992. A securities market and stock exchange were also established that year.
During much of the Soviet period, the republic was a net exporter, with the bulk of its trade conducted with other Soviet republics, principally Russia and Ukraine. Independent Belarus became a net importer, however, when the price of previously inexpensive raw materials and energy from Soviet sources rose to meet world market levels. Nonetheless, in the early 21st century Russia and Ukraine remained the republic’s main trading partners, with trade increasing with Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and other countries of the European Union. Chief exports include refined petroleum, machinery, trucks, tractors, potassium chloride, metals, and foodstuffs. Major imports include crude petroleum, machinery, natural gas, rolled metal, chemical products, and foodstuffs.
The service sector accounts for about two-fifths of GDP and employs the largest portion of the labour force. In the early 21st century the banking, communications, and real-estate industries experienced some of the highest rates of growth. Although the tourism industry is less developed in Belarus than in neighbouring countries, the revenue derived from tourist activities increased dramatically in the early 21st century. The Belovezhskaya Forest is one of the most visited destinations, and homestays on farmsteads have become popular. Another frequently visited site is the 19th-century fortress in Brest, known as the Hero Fortress for the courageous defense made there by Soviet soldiers against invading Nazis in 1941.
- Labour and taxation
A large majority of the Belarusian labour force is employed in either services or mining and manufacturing. Belarus has one of the highest percentages of women in the workforce of any country, and women occupy key roles in the education, health care, communications, manufacturing, and agricultural sectors. Most employees in Belarus are members of a trade union. There are dozens of trade unions, and most are subordinated to the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, the body that oversees the unions.
In the early 21st century Belarus’s taxation system was simplified to bring it more in line with European standards. Taxes for individuals include an income tax, a social security tax, and property taxes. For businesses taxes include a corporate income tax, a social security tax, a value-added tax, ecological taxes (for the use of natural resources), and property taxes.
- Transportation and telecommunications
Belarus has a good railway network that is headed by major interregional railways that crisscross the country: east-west between Berlin and Moscow; north-south between St. Petersburg and Kiev (Ukraine); and northwest-southeast between the Baltic countries and Ukraine. The country’s main highway connects the city of Brest in the west to Minsk and the Russian border in the east. There are also good road connections between the capital and all regional centres. Buses operate throughout the country.
The city of Minsk is served by an extensive mass transit system that includes buses, streetcars, and an underground railway known as the Minsk Metro. Minsk has good air connections as well. Minsk National Airport, also called Minsk-2, is located about 25 miles (40 km) east of the city; it opened in 1982 and began international service in 1989. A domestic airport for smaller planes, located within the city, serves Belarusian regions and Moscow.
The state-owned telecommunications company of Belarus is the sole provider of fixed-line telephone service. Mobile phones are used much more extensively, however. Though privately owned, mobile phone companies in Belarus are subject to government oversight. In addition, opposition groups have reported that at times the government has monitored or interfered in individuals’ cell phone communications, and on occasion officials have confiscated mobile phones belonging to Belarusians suspected of criminal or antigovernment activities. The government also monitors and regulates Internet usage, which increased steadily during the opening years of the 21st century.
Government and society of Belarus
- Constitutional framework
A new constitution that characterized the republic as a “democratic, social state” and guaranteed a broad range of rights and freedoms entered into force in Belarus in March 1994. It was based on the separation of legislative, executive, and judicial powers. Under the 1994 constitution, deputies were elected by universal adult suffrage for five-year terms to the government’s highest legislative body, the Supreme Soviet, which confirmed the budget, called for national elections and referenda, and was responsible for domestic, foreign, and military policy. Following the passage of a referendum (whose legitimacy was questioned by many Belarusians and by much of the international community) in November 1996, however, the constitution was revised to greatly expand the powers of the president. Thus, Pres. Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who had been elected to the office in 1994, gained the right to prolong his term in office and to rule by decree. The amended constitution also greatly diminished the powers of a reconstituted parliament, the bicameral National Assembly. Pro-Lukashenka candidates predominated in subsequent legislative elections, which were deemed irregular or undemocratic by international observers.
Under the terms of the constitution, the president, who is the head of state, is popularly elected for a five-year term. The president appoints the prime minister, who nominally is the head of government but, in effect, is subordinate to the president. The National Assembly consists of the Council of the Republic and the House of Representatives. Members of the Council serve four-year terms; most are elected by regional councils, but a small number are appointed by the president. Members of the House are popularly elected to serve four-year terms.
- Local government
There are three tiers of local government. The largest consists of six voblastsi (provinces) and one municipality (horad), Minsk. The provinces in turn are divided into rayony (sectors) and cities, with some larger cities further divided into rayony. Towns, villages, and settlements constitute the final tier.
The judicial system comprises the Supreme Court and its lower courts, the Supreme Economic Court and its lower courts, and the Constitutional Court, which has final ruling on the republic’s basic law. The Constitutional Court is made up of 12 judges, who serve 11-year terms. Half the judges are appointed by the president, and half are elected by the Council of the Republic.
- Political process
Suffrage in Belarus is universal from age 18. There are more than a dozen registered political parties, but, since Lukashenka’s election in 1994, political success has depended more on loyalty to the president than on party affiliation. Indeed, the president is technically independent of all political parties. Among the parties supportive of Lukashenka are the Communist Party of Belarus (KPB), a successor of the monolithic ruling Communist Party of the Soviet era; the Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus; and the Agrarian Party. Opposition parties are permitted, but they have had little electoral success. They include the Party of Communists of Belarus (PKB); the Party of the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF); the Conservative-Christian Party of the Belarusian Popular Front; the right-of-centre United Civic Party; and the left-of-centre Belarusian Social Democrats. The government has refused to recognize several other political parties, the most prominent being the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party. Political youth organizations include the government-sponsored Union of Patriotic Youth and the Young Front, an unregistered opposition group.
Although factionalism has tended to weaken the opposition, for the 2006 presidential election most of the opposition parties, as well as some nongovernmental associations, formed the United Democratic Forces (UDF) to endorse a single candidate to run against Lukashenka. Unsuccessful in that election, the UDF regrouped for the 2008 legislative elections, but opposition candidates again failed to capture any seats.
There are several components of security in Belarus, including the armed forces, the Special Purpose Police Units (OMON) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Committee for State Security (KGB). The Belarusian army evolved from the Soviet armed forces stationed in Belarusian territory; on Jan. 1, 1993, members of these forces were obliged to take an oath of loyalty to the Republic of Belarus. Today the Belarusian armed forces include the army and the air force. In addition, there are locally organized territorial defense forces. For Belarusians aged 18 to 27, military service is compulsory; the minimum length of service is 12 months for those with education beyond the secondary level and 18 months for those without higher education. Internal security forces, such as the KGB and OMON, actively monitor the activities of political opposition groups, foreigners, and the business community.
- Health and welfare
Managed by the government and funded through taxation, health care ostensibly is available at no cost to all Belarusians. Most medical services are provided by publicly owned facilities, although some private medical practices and clinics have emerged. In rural areas, primary health care is provided by health posts or health stations; the former are staffed by nurses, midwives, or other paramedical personnel, while the latter have physicians on staff. Urban areas are served by polyclinics, facilities that combine the functions of a hospital outpatient department and a general-practitioner health centre. During the Soviet years, inadequate training and technology contributed to a system that has failed to meet many basic medical needs in independent Belarus. Some health care facilities have been modernized, but many lack up-to-date equipment. Moreover, the incidence of infectious diseases has increased considerably since independence. A notable public health problem is the rise in HIV/AIDS infections, a substantial proportion of which are linked to intravenous drug use. In addition to subsidizing health care, the Belarusian government provides substantial welfare benefits, such as pensions and paid maternity leaves, to its citizens.
With individual housing units largely limited to the suburbs and rural areas, apartment buildings are the most common form of housing in the cities. Many Soviet prefabricated apartment blocks survive today, although a number of new housing projects, especially in Minsk, have been constructed since independence. Most urban residents rent, rather than own, their apartments. Rents are subsidized and remain low, but the acute shortage of housing that existed during the Soviet period has continued to be a problem in the 21st century.
Under the former Soviet government Belarus achieved virtually universal literacy. Education is compulsory from ages 7 to 16. Institutions of higher learning include the Belarusian State University (1921), the Belarus State Economic University (1933), and the Minsk State Linguistic University (1948), all in Minsk; the Yanka Kupala State University (1978) in Hrodna; the Francisk Skorina State University (1969) in Homyel; and the Belarusian Agricultural Academy (1848) in Horki. There are several medical, pedagogical, technological, and agricultural institutes as well. The National Academy of Sciences of Belarus (1929) is the chief scientific organization in the country and is headquartered in Minsk.
Cultural life of Belarus
- Cultural milieu
Little survives in Belarus of the earliest period of settlement by east Slavs. A distinctively Belarusian culture began to emerge clearly only in the 16th century. As Belarusian culture developed, however, long periods of foreign control—first by the grand duchy of Lithuania and the kingdom of Poland, then by tsarist Russia, and later by the Soviet Union—introduced a series of outside influences, from the European Baroque and Classical architectural styles to the cultural constraints of Socialist Realism. Yet notwithstanding the considerable efforts made by Russian tsars and Soviet rulers to suppress the Belarusian language and culture, Belarusians succeeded in preserving their distinctiveness as a people.
- Daily life and social customs
Independence Day, the national holiday of Belarus, is celebrated on July 3, the date of the Soviet liberation of Minsk from German occupation in 1944. Some Belarusians, particularly opposition groups, still recognize the holiday’s former date, July 27—the date on which state sovereignty was declared in 1990. The opposition also celebrates March 25, the date of the declaration of independence by the short-lived Belarusian National Republic in 1918. Most Soviet holidays are still commemorated, especially Victory Day (May 9), as are religious holidays, including both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Easters.
A presidential fund for culture and the arts provides for a number of annual and biannual festivals. Among the most notable festivals in Belarus are the Slavic Bazaar in Vitsyebsk, an international festival of the arts; the Spring International Music Festival in Minsk; and the Arts for Children and Youth festival.
After independence the country’s total fertility rate fell below two children per childbearing woman; most families are thus small in size. Many families spend summers at dachas, or country cottages, growing local produce. The practice of mushroom picking remains very popular.
Much Belarusian cuisine incorporates locally grown crops. Potatoes are a nearly ubiquitous ingredient, featured in such popular dishes as potato dumplings, potato pancakes, and baked potato pie. Other common dishes, often served with rye bread, include borsch (beet soup), pork stew, stuffed chicken, beef sausage, and meat- or cabbage-filled pastries. Well-known dairy products are a fresh cheese (tvorog) and a fermented cheese (siyr). Kvass is a traditional drink made from fermented bread, and kompot is a berry juice. Vodka is typically the alcoholic drink of choice, although beer has become popular, especially among younger drinkers.
- The arts
One of the oldest surviving monuments of architecture in the country is the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Polatsk, dating from the 11th century and built in the Eastern Orthodox style. The church of Boris and Gleb (Barys and Hlyeb) in Hrodna dates from the 12th century. Most of the other early buildings that remain, mostly as ruins, are the princely stone fortresses of the 12th to 16th century. One of the best-known of these is the 13th-century White Tower in Kamyanyets.
The 17th century marked the appearance of the Baroque style, which was largely linked to the eastward movement of Roman Catholicism; it is exemplified by the design of the Jesuit, Bernardine, and Bridgettine churches in Hrodna. Belarusian craftsmen played a role in extending Baroque influence farther eastward into Russia, where it was adapted as the “Moscow Baroque” style. By the 18th century, Classical styles predominated in Belarus, as seen in the Governor’s Palace in Hrodna. The ravages of World War II destroyed a large segment of the country’s architectural heritage, especially in Minsk. Because much of Minsk was reconstructed after the war, most of the architecture of the city centre reflects the grandiose Stalinist style with its Classical borrowings.
Literary activity in Belarus dates to the 11th century. In the 12th century St. Cyril of Turaw, venerated among Orthodox Slavs as “the second St. Chrysostom,” wrote sermons and hymns. In the 16th century Francisk Skorina of Polatsk translated the Bible into Belarusian and wrote extensive explanatory introductions to each book. His editions, produced in Prague (now in the Czech Republic) in 1517–19 and in Vilnius (Lithuania) in 1522–25, were the first printed books not only in Belarus but in the whole of eastern Europe. In the 17th century the Belarusian poet Simeon Polotsky (Symeon of Polatsk) was the first to bring Baroque literary style to Moscow.
Modern Belarusian literature began in the first half of the 19th century with the work of Yan Chachot and Vincent Dunin-Martsinkyevich, who translated part of the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz’s epic Master Thaddeus into Belarusian. Literary classics of the early 20th century include works by the poets Maksim Bahdanovich, Ales Harun, Vladimir Zylka, Kazimir Svayak, Yanka Kupala, and Yakub Kolas and the prose writers Zmitrok Byadulya and Maksim Haretski. Many of these writers had been contributors to the influential Belarusian newspaper Nasha Niva (“Our Field”), published in Vilnius during the period 1906–16. Of crucial importance for an understanding of the Belarusian cultural predicament in the face of war and revolution are Kupala’s play The Locals (1922) and Haretski’s short novel Two Souls (1919).
Many outstanding poets and prose writers made their mark in the 1920s, including the poets Vladimir Dubovka and Yazep Pushcha, the novelist Kuzma Chorny, and the satirist and playwright Kandrat Krapiva. Pushcha’s literary polemics with the poet Andrey Aleksandrovich at the end of the 1920s led to tighter political control over Belarusian cultural activities. Literature in the part of Belarus that was under Polish control—until Soviet forces occupied it in 1939—developed somewhat more freely. Two writers of note emerged from that area: Maksim Tank, author of the long poems Narach (1937) and Kalinowski (1938), and Natalla Arseneva, whose greatest poems are to be found in the collections Beneath the Blue Sky (1927), Golden Autumn (1937), and Today (1944).
Most noteworthy of the writers to preserve and develop the Belarusian literary tradition in the 1940s and ’50s are the poets Pimen Panchanka and Arkadi Kulyashov and the prose writers Yanka Bryl, Ivan Shamyakin, and Ivan Melezh. The 1960s marked the tentative beginnings of yet another national revival with the novels of Vasil Bykau and Uladzimir Karatkievich. Among later 20th-century writers, the poets Yawhyeniya Yanishchyts and Ales Razanov and the short-story writer Anatol Sys should be noted. Other well-known writers of the late 20th and early 21st centuries are Svetlana Alexievich, whose Voices from Chernobyl was translated into English in 2005; Volha Ipatava, a prominent poet and novelist; and the poet Slavamir Adamovich, whose poem “Kill the President!” led to his imprisonment in 1996–97. Several prominent Belarusian writers left the country in the late 20th and early 21st centuries because of the political climate. They included Bykau and Ales Adamovich, both well known for their works on the Soviet-German conflict during World War II.
Belarus has long had its own folk music. There was also a considerable tradition of church music from the 16th century on. The development of classical music largely has been a feature of the period since World War II. Among the most notable composers is Kulikovich Shchahlow, who, like some writers, went into exile after the war. Others include Yawhen Hlyebaw, composer of the opera Your Spring (1963) and the ballet Alpine Ballad (1967), and Yawhen Tsikotski, whose works include the operas Mikhas Padhorny (1939–57) and Alesya (1944). There are a conservatory of music in Minsk and a national philharmonic society. Concerts are held regularly at the Nyasvizh (Nesvizh) and Mir castles, which were designated UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2005 and 2000, respectively.
- Cultural institutions
Among the most prominent museums in Belarus are the Great Patriotic War Museum, the National Museum of the History and Culture of Belarus, the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus, the Yakub Kolas State Memorial and Literary Museum, and the Yanka Kupala State Literary Museum, all located in Minsk. Other notable attractions are the Brest Fortress, completed in 1842; the Khatyn Memorial, constructed in remembrance of Belarusian villagers massacred by Nazis; and the Stalin Line museum complex, which preserves a series of defensive fortifications used in World War II, near Zaslavl. The early home of Belarusian-born artist Marc Chagall and a small museum devoted to his paintings are in Vitsyebsk. The National Opera and Ballet Theatre in Minsk houses the country’s respected ballet and opera troupes. The National Library of Belarus was established in Minsk in 1922. In 2006 it was relocated to a new building.
- Sports and recreation
Belarusians enjoy a variety of sports. The most popular sport is undoubtedly football (soccer); most Belarusian towns and villages boast amateur and semiprofessional teams, while larger cities sponsor professional squads that often compete internationally. Basketball also enjoys a wide following, and there are several professional teams. Other popular sports are ice hockey, athletics (track and field), gymnastics, and wrestling.
Belarus has a well-organized system of sports education, with specialized children’s sports schools, undergraduate schools for physical education, a graduate sports academy, and two Olympic training centres, one of which hosted several of the football matches in the 1980 Moscow Games. These schools boast many distinguished graduates, among them weight lifter Alexander Kurlovich, tennis player Natalia Zvereva, and skater Igor Zhelezovsky.
Belarusians competed on the Soviet Union’s Olympic team between 1952 and 1988. At the 1972 Games in Munich, gymnast Olga Korbut earned three gold medals. At the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Belarus was part of the Unified Team, which comprised athletes from the former Soviet republics. Belarus made its solo Olympic debut at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. In these and subsequent Games, Belarusian athletes have won numerous medals in athletics, wrestling, gymnastics, weight lifting, and rowing, among other events.
- Media and publishing
The media are heavily controlled by the government, with some outlets serving as state organs. The main newspapers are the Russian-language SB–Belarus Segodnya (“Belarus Today”), the presidential organ; Narodnaya Hazeta (“People’s Newspaper”), the organ of the Belarusian National Assembly, issued in Belarusian and Russian; and Zvyazda (“Star”), in Belarusian, another state organ. The main opposition newspapers are Narodnaya Volya (“People’s Will”), in Belarusian and Russian, and Nasha Niva (“Our Field”), in Belarusian; the government determines where these papers may be sold. Influential journals include Belaruskaya Dumka (“Belarusian Thought”); Neman (a reference to the river of the same name), a literary and sociopolitical magazine; and the bimonthly Arche (a nod to the Greek for “beginning” or “authority”), an independent scholarly journal.
There are only a handful of Belarusian television channels, and access to Western channels is minimal. Several Russian channels broadcast in Belarus, however. Radio stations are mostly government operated. European Radio for Belarus is an independent satellite station that began operations in 2005.
History of Belarus
In the 5th century A.D. , Belarus (also known as White Russia) was colonized by east Slavic tribes. Kiev dominated it from the 9th to 12th century. After the destruction of Kiev by the Mongols in the 13th century, the territory was conquered by the dukes of Lithuania, although it retained a degree of autonomy. Belarus became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which merged with Poland in 1569. Following the partitions of Poland in 1772, 1793, and 1795, in which Poland was divided among Russia, Prussia, and Austria, Belarus became part of the Russian empire.
Following World War I, Belarus proclaimed itself a republic, only to find itself occupied by the Red Army soon after its March 1918 announcement. The Polish-Soviet War of 1918–1921 was fought to decide the fate of Belarus. West Belarus was ceded to Poland; the larger eastern part formed the Belorussian SSR, and was then joined to the USSR in 1922. In 1939, the Soviet Union took back West Belarus from Poland under the secret protocol of the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact and incorporated it into the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. Occupied by the Nazis in World War II, Belarus was one of the war's most devastated battlefields.
When the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine exploded in 1986, 70% of its radioactive fallout fell on the Belorussian SSR. Cancer and other illnesses have multiplied as a result.
- Early history
The Belarusian region has a long history of human settlement. Archaeology has provided evidence of Upper Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) cultures, and Neolithic (New Stone Age) remains are widespread. The area was one of the earliest to be inhabited by Slavs, who settled there between the 6th and the 8th century ce. The early Slavic tribes—the Dregovichi, Radimichi, Krivichi, and Drevlyane—had formed local principalities, such as those of Pinsk, Turaw (Russian: Turov), Polatsk (Russian: Polotsk), Slutsk, and Minsk, by the 8th to 9th century. These all came under the general suzerainty of Kievan Rus, the first East Slavic state, beginning in the mid-9th century. The regional economy was based on primitive shifting agriculture on burned-over forestland, as well as on honey collecting and fur hunting. Trade developed along the rivers, particularly on the Dnieper, which from about 930 was part of the “water road” from Constantinople (now Istanbul) and the Byzantine Empire, via Kiev (now in Ukraine) and Novgorod (now in Russia), to the Baltic Sea. Trading settlements multiplied, and many of the towns of present-day Belarus had been founded by the end of the 12th century. Two of the earliest-mentioned towns of Slavic foundation, Polatsk and Turaw, first appear in historical documents in the years 862 and 980, respectively. Brest (formerly Brest-Litovsk) is first recorded in 1019 and Minsk in 1067.
- Lithuanian and Polish rule
The overthrow of Kiev by the Mongol invasion of 1240 brought about the dissolution of Kievan Rus. Many Belarusian towns were laid waste and became dependencies of the Golden Horde, the western portion of the Mongol Empire. Over the next 150 years the grand duchy of Lithuania expanded, absorbing much of the Belarusian population. Under Lithuanian rule, however, the conquered regions retained a large degree of autonomy. Throughout the 13th and 14th centuries the Lithuanian state grew, encompassing the city of Smolensk (now in Russia) and the lands eastward to the neighbourhood of Moscow and southward to Kiev and the shores of the Black Sea. During this epoch of Lithuanian domination, the Belarusian language and nationality began to take shape.
A personal union between the Lithuanian and Polish ruling houses commenced under the Jagiellon dynasty in 1386, when the Lithuanian grand duke Jogaila married the Polish queen Jadwiga and, taking the name Władysław II Jagiełło, became king of Poland. Roman Catholicism became the official religion of the grand duchy of Lithuania, but the peasantry remained overwhelmingly Orthodox. Between the Polish-Lithuanian realm and the rising power of the Grand Principality of Moscow, there developed an incessant and bitter struggle for land and influence. During the 15th and 16th centuries, Smolensk and Lithuania’s easternmost lands were lost to Russia, although the Belarusian population remained largely under Lithuanian control.
Three sets of laws, known as the Lithuanian Statutes, codified civil and property rights in Lithuanian-controlled lands in the 16th century. In 1557 a far-reaching agrarian-reform plan was instituted, introducing the three-field crop-rotation system of agriculture and changing the obligations of peasants to landowners. The system, initially imposed on crown estates, was rapidly adopted on the properties of the nobility; it remained in operation with little modification until the 20th century. The combined effects of the changes reduced the peasants, who previously had retained at least some freedom to migrate, to full serfdom.
The Union of Lublin (1569) made Poland and Lithuania a single, federated state. Although Lithuania retained the title of grand duchy and its code of laws, its western province Podlasia—which ha
Belarus Area: 207,595 sq km (80,153 sq mi) Population (2009 est.): 9,658,000 Capital: Minsk Head of state and government: President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, assisted by Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski ...--->read on
Belarus Area: 207,595 sq km (80,153 sq mi) Population (2007 est.): 9,692,000 Capital: Minsk Head of state and government: President Alyaksandr H. Lukashenka, assisted by Prime Minister Syarhey...--->read on
Belarus Area: 207,595 sq km (80,153 sq mi) Population (2006 est.): 9,726,000 Capital: Minsk Head of state and government: President Alyaksandr H. Lukashenka, assisted by Prime Minister Syarhey ...--->read on
Belarus Area: 207,595 sq km (80,153 sq mi) Population (2004 est.): 9,828,000 Capital: Minsk Head of state and government: President Alyaksandr H. Lukashenka, assisted by Prime Minister Syarhey...--->read on
Minsk-National capital, Belarus
Minsk, city, capital of Belarus, and administrative centre of Minsk oblast (region). The city lies along the Svisloch River. First mentioned in 1067, it became the seat of a principality in 1101. Minsk passed to Lithuania in the 14th century and later to Poland and was regained by Russia in the Second Partition of Poland, in 1793. The city has suffered many disasters, including frequent destruction by fire, sacking by the Crimean Tatars in 1505, occupation and damage by French troops in 1812, German occupation in 1918, Polish occupation in 1919–20, and almost total destruction in World War II, especially during the Soviet advance in 1944. Nevertheless, Minsk steadily increased in importance, first as a provincial centre after 1793 and later as an industrial centre after the building of the Moscow-Warsaw and Liepaja-Romny railways through Minsk in the 1870s. In 1919 it became the capital of the Belorussian republic.
The city’s large Jewish community was systematically massacred during the German occupation (1941–44) in World War II. Minsk itself was almost completely demolished in the course of the war, and it was subsequently rebuilt with abundant parks, wide boulevards, and many blocks of multistory apartment buildings. Minsk grew in population faster than any comparable Soviet city in the period 1959–89, its inhabitants more than tripling from 500,000 to nearly 1,600,000 during that time.
Minsk remained the capital when Belarus gained independence in 1991. That same year the city became the administrative centre of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Although political protest was not uncommon in Minsk, the city remained free of the violence that had sometimes plagued Belarus’s neighbours. That changed in 2011, when a bomb exploded in one of Minsk’s busiest metro stations during the evening rush hour. More than a dozen people were killed, and some 200 were injured. Pres. Alyaksandr Lukashenka was quick to link the attack to opposition forces.
The present-day city, sprawling over gently hilly relief, is almost entirely of new construction; most of the principal buildings in the centre are in the ponderous architectural style of the early Soviet period. The Mariinsky Cathedral and the church of the Bernadine monastery survive as relics of the past.
Minsk is the major industrial centre of Belarus. The economy is based on machine building, particularly the manufacture of trucks and tractors. Other products include electric motors, bearings, machine tools, radio and television equipment, refrigerators, watches, textiles, and foodstuffs. The city is also a major educational, cultural, and printing centre, with the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, a university founded in 1921, and numerous other institutions of higher education. In 2006 the National Library of Belarus expanded to a visually striking diamond-shaped building that quickly became one of the city’s most prominent landmarks. Minsk has a music conservatory, a palace of winter sports, and a number of theatres, including the Belarus State Theatre of Opera and Ballet. Pop. (2014 est.) 1,921,807.
Passenger’s service transportation or international taxi can be very actual, when guests from abroad are going to visit Minsk or already arrived in the city. Minsk is not just a capital of Belarus, but a large and developed city, which is situated at the crossing of the main transport routes. Minsk is connected with the other largest cities of Belarus like Mogilev, Homel, Brest, Vitebsk, Hrodna, Slutsk, Orsha, Maladzyechna. At our web site you can order a transfer to Belarus or to any city you would like to visit in our country.
Minsk as the capital of Belarus and as the largest city of the country has a very rich history. Being founded in 1067 and located on he Svislach and Nyamiha rivers it represent by itself a real historical heritage. Nowadays among the most beloved and famous sights are Victory Square, which is situated in the center of Minsk, the Granite Monument of Victory, devoted to the Day of Victory, which is usually celebrated May 9 and personifies victory after the Great Patriotic War and World War 2.
One more famous sight which can be mentioned in Minsk is the Independence Square which located in the centre of Minsk. The history of this square is also connected with war events in past, but today here you can see a lot of modern buildings, including the Government house, Minsk Hotel, Central Post Office, Church of Saints Simon and Helena, the main Universities and many other sights. You can visit any of these place by ordering our taxi services.
Another historical place which can be offered for our guests is the Trinity Hill. It is the most ancient area of Minsk and its name comes several churches and monasteries, which were built nearby. After the wars these churches were ruined but today here are located many cafes, shops, bars and other places of entertainment. In Minsk can be also visited such places like the National Opera and Ballet Theatre, the National Library of Belarus, the «Island of Tears» and many others.
If you are planning to travel in the other cities of Belarus, we can recommend you an excursion to the Mirsky Castle Complex. It is situated in a small town Mir in the district of Hrodna. This castle was the mansion of rich owners till 1939, but later became an architectural monument, which consists in the list of World Heritage objects.
Any of these historical places and sights can be visited with the help of our company. If you arrive in Belarus for business and will have free time, or just for vacation our services are at your disposal. You can order transportation services of inter-city taxi at any destination or place you need to visit. Besides, we can meet you at the airport Minsk-2 or at the railway station, bring you to the necessary point of destination and take you back at the hotel or airport. Contact us for discussing the required route of your travelling!