Belarus Facts

Belarus Facts and History


Belarus – The Last Dictatorship in Europe?

Belarus or (officially) Belarus is the largest landlocked country in Europe. Its landscape was shaped by Ice Age glaciers and is flat to hilly, with numerous rivers and around 10,000 lakes. Extensive swamp and moorland areas formed on the plains, the original forests are still home to rare wild animals such as bison, elk and beaver. However, much of the country was lost in 1986 as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster (Ukraine) contaminated, as about 70% of the radioactive fallout fell here. During the Second World War, the German Wehrmacht raged particularly cruelly in this country, over a quarter of the total population fell victim to the war and almost a tenth of the Jews murdered in Europe came from Belarus. The current president of the country, Alexandr Lukashenka, has ruled since 1994 and is often referred to as the “last dictator in Europe”.

Name of the country Republic of Belarus/Respublika Belarus
Form of government Presidential Republic
Geographical location Eastern Europe
National anthem My Belarusy (We, the Belarusians)
Population Approx. 9.5 million (Credit: Countryaah: Belarus Population)
  • Approx. 84% Belarusians
  • Approx. 8% Russians
Religions Approx. 50% Russian Orthodox Christians, 10% Catholics and around 40% are non-denominational
Languages Russian and Belarusian are the official languages.
Capital Minsk with approx. 1.9 million residents
Surface 207,595 km²
Highest mountain Dzerzinskaya with a height of 346 m
Longest river Dnepr with a length of 2,285 km²
Largest lake in area Naratsch with an area of 79.2 km²
International license plate BY
National currency Belarusian ruble
Time difference to CET + 1h
International phone code 00375
Mains voltage, frequency 220 volts and 50 hertz (an adapter is recommended.)
Internet TLD (Top Level Domain) .by

Belarus: history

Early history

Archaeological finds show that what is now Belarus has been inhabited for at least 10,000 years. Stone Age tools and weapon parts made of flint were discovered as well as numerous Bronze Age graves.

Until the 17th century

According to Abbreviationfinder website, Slavic tribes settled in the region from the 6th century. After Vikings from the Varangian tribe had come to the area around Kiev, the Old Eastern Slavic Kiev Empire (Rus) was formed in the 9th century. It increasingly encompassed Belarusian territory, on which several independent principalities were founded around the year 1000.

The close connection to the Byzantine Empire, mainly through trade, resulted in the conversion of the Rus to the Orthodox faith in 988. After the empire had disintegrated into numerous small principalities, it was finally destroyed in the middle of the 13th century by the Mongol invasion of the so-called Golden Horde. During this time, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania began to expand, which eventually also ruled Belarus. The following epoch is often referred to as the “Golden Age” by the Belarusians. Since Belarus made up the main part of the Lithuanian national territory at that time, the old Belarusian language and culture became dominant, although the upper class adopted the Catholic faith and, after the union with Poland in the 16th century, also the Polish language.

In the 18th and 19th centuries

At the end of the 18th century, the so-called partitions of Poland began, which led to the fact that today’s Belarusian area gradually came under Russian rule. This at least led to the lifting of serfdom. Nevertheless, the population remained extremely poor and between 1850 and 1918 about 1.5 million people emigrated, mostly to the USA and Siberia. The country’s elite consisted almost entirely of Poles, Russians, and Jews. The tsarist government in Moscow also banned the Belarusian language until 1905.

In the 20th century

During the First World War, the Russian tsarist empire fell apart. After German troops marched into Minsk at the beginning of 1918, the “Belarusian People’s Republic” was founded on March 25, 1918, which was neither recognized by the German Reich nor by the Western powers and which was disbanded by the Red Army in October of the same year. On January 1st, 1919 the “Belarusian Soviet Republic” was proclaimed. In the Polish-Soviet war of 1920, Polish troops occupied the country. From the part that the Red Army was able to recapture, the “Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic” (WSSR) was formed. It was one of the four founding members of the Soviet Union in 1922 and was ruled centrally from Moscow in the following period. The Stalinist purges in the 30s of the 20th century. At least 100,000 people were believed to have died there. The western third of Belarus belonged to Poland until the Second World War, and around 300,000 Poles were settled there between 1929 and 1939.

After all of Belarus was assigned to the Soviet Union in the secret additional protocol of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, the Red Army occupied eastern Poland in September 1939, which shortly afterwards was annexed to the WSSR. Under Stalin, up to 500,000 people (mainly communists, clergy, Jews and Polish aristocrats and businessmen) were probably deported to this area. In 1941, the German attack on the Soviet Union followed, with Belarus being annexed. Around two and a half million people, i.e. at least a quarter of the total population, perished there by 1944. Almost all of the country’s Jewish residents were murdered. The Germans also destroyed almost all cities and industrial plants. By the summer of 1944, the Red Army recaptured the country.

In 1945 Belarus became a founding member of the United Nations.

In 1986 the Chernobyl disaster occurred in neighboring Ukraine, which contaminated large parts of the country, especially in the south and east (around 70% of the radioactive fallout fell here). The failure of the government, which initiated the warning and evacuation of those affected far too late, has now resulted in the formation of an effective opposition movement against the Russian government in Belarus.

The country declared its independence in August 1991, which was sealed by the Treaty of Dissolution of the Soviet Union in December of the same year. Belarus joined the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

The first presidential election in 1994 was won by Alexandr Lukashenka, who is still in power today and is often referred to by his critics as “the last dictator in Europe”. Its politics are undemocratic and anti-market economy, which led to the isolation of the country. Friendly relations are only maintained with Iran, North Korea, China and Cuba. Human rights violations are being committed in the country, elections are manipulated and the opposition is suppressed, some of whose members are even murdered. Relations with Russia are now tense.

Belarus Facts