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Coordinates: 53°N 27°E / 53°N 27°E / 53; 27

Republic of Belarus
  • Рэспубліка Беларусь (Belarusian)
  • Республика Беларусь (Russian)
Emblem of Belarus
Дзяржаўны гімн Рэспублікі Беларусь (Belarusian)
Dziaržaŭny Himn Respubliki Biełaruś
Государственный гимн Республики Беларусь (Russian)
Gosudarstvennyy gimn Respubliki Belarus
authoritarian dictatorship[3][4]
• President
Alexander Lukashenko (disputed)[5][6]
Roman Golovchenko[7]
House of Representatives
10th century
9 March 1918
25 March 1918
27 July 1990
• Independence from USSR
25 August 1991
15 March 1994
8 December 1999
ISO 3166 codeBY
Internet TLD
  1. ^ Constitution of the Republic of Belarus of 1994 Section 1, Article 17
  2. ^ "FAO's Information System on Water and Agriculture". FAO. Archived from the original on 26 January 2012. Retrieved 16 February 2013.

Belarus,[a] officially the Republic of Belarus,[b] is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe. It is bordered by Russia to the east and northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Covering an area of 207,600 square kilometres (80,200 sq mi) and with a population of 9.2 million, Belarus is the 13th-largest and the 20th-most populous country in Europe. The country has a hemiboreal climate and is administratively divided into seven regions. Minsk is the capital and largest city.

Until the 20th century, different states at various times controlled the lands of modern-day Belarus, including

half of its territory to Poland. 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.[14][15][16] During World War II, military operations devastated Belarus, which lost about a quarter of its population and half of its economic resources.[17] The republic was redeveloped in the post-war years. In 1945, the Byelorussian SSR became a founding member of the United Nations
, along with the Soviet Union.

The parliament of the republic proclaimed the

freedom of the press and civil liberties. It has continued a number of Soviet-era policies, such as state ownership of large sections of the economy. Belarus is the only European country using capital punishment.[21] In 2000, Belarus and Russia signed a treaty for greater cooperation, forming the Union State

Belarus is a

OSCE, and the Non-Aligned Movement. It has shown no aspirations of joining the European Union but nevertheless maintains a bilateral relationship with the bloc and also participates in two EU projects, the Baku Initiative and the Eastern Partnership. Belarus suspended its participation in the latter on 28 June 2021, after the EU imposed more sanctions against the country.[23][24]


The name 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'.[25] 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 Slavs who had been Christianized early, as opposed to Black Ruthenia, which was predominantly inhabited by pagan Balts.[26] An alternative explanation for the name comments on the white clothing worn by the local Slavic population.[25] A third theory suggests that the old Rus' lands that were not conquered by the Tatars (i.e., Polotsk, Vitebsk and Mogilev) had been referred to as White Rus'.[25] A fourth theory suggests that the color white was associated with the west, and Belarus was the western part of Rus in the 9th to 13th centuries.[27]

The name Rus is often conflated with its Latin forms Russia and Ruthenia, thus Belarus is often referred to as White Russia or White Ruthenia. The name first appeared in

Jogaila and his mother at "Albae Russiae, Poloczk dicto" in 1381.[28] 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.[29] During the 17th century, the Russian tsars used White Rus to describe the lands added from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.[30]

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 Russia or the Russian Empire was formed by three parts of Russia—the Great, Little, and White.[31] 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.[32]

After the

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.[33] 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 Białystok and Grodno during the interwar period.[34]

The term Byelorussia (its names in other languages such as English being based on the Russian form) was only used officially until 1991. Officially, the full name of the country is Republic of Belarus (Рэспубліка Беларусь, Республика Беларусь, Respublika Belarus

help·info)).[35][36] In Russia, the usage of Belorussia is still very common.[37]

In Lithuanian, besides Baltarusija (White Russia), Belarus is also called Gudija.[38][39] The etymology of the word Gudija is not clear. By one hypothesis the word derives from the Old Prussian name Gudwa, which, in turn, is related to the form Żudwa, which is a distorted version of Sudwa, Sudovia. Sudovia, in its turn, is one of the names of the Yotvingians. Another hypothesis connects the word with the Gothic Kingdom that occupied parts of the territory of modern Belarus and Ukraine in the 4th and 5th centuries. The self-naming of Goths was Gutans and Gytos, which are close to Gudija. Yet another hypothesis is based on the idea that Gudija in Lithuanian means "the other" and may have been used historically by Lithuanians to refer to any people who did not speak Lithuanian.[40]


Early history

From 5000 to 2000 BC, the

Avars, swept through c. 400–600 AD, but were unable to dislodge the Slavic presence.[43]

Kievan Rus'

before the Mongol and Lithuanian invasions

In the 9th century the territory of modern Belarus became part of

Yaroslav I the Wise in 1054, the state split into independent principalities.[44] The Battle on the Nemiga River in 1067 was one of the more notable events of the period, the date of which is considered the founding date of Minsk

Many early Rus' principalities were virtually razed or severely affected by a major

Tatar Yoke, the Principality of Minsk sought protection from Lithuanian princes further north and in 1242, the Principality of Minsk
became a part of the expanding Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

Incorporation into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania resulted in an economic, political and ethno-cultural unification of Belarusian lands.

Teutonic Knights at the Battle of Grunwald in 1410; the joint victory allowed the duchy to control the northwestern borderlands of Eastern Europe.[49]


Ivan III of Moscow, began military campaigns in 1486 in an attempt to incorporate the former lands of Kievan Rus', specifically the territories of modern-day Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.[50]

Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth

A map of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 15th century prior to its union with the Kingdom of Poland
. Belarus was fully within its borders.

On 2 February 1386, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the

Kingdom of Poland were joined in a personal union through a marriage of their rulers.[51] 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.[52][53]

The Lithuanian nobles were forced to seek rapprochement with the Poles because of a potential threat from Muscovy. To strengthen their independence within the format of the union, three editions of the Statutes of Lithuania were issued in the second half of the 16th century. The third Article of the Statutes established that all lands of the duchy will be eternally within the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and never enter as a part of other states. The Statutes allowed the right to own land only to noble families of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Anyone from outside the duchy gaining rights to a property would actually own it only after swearing allegiance to the Grand Duke of Lithuania (a title dually held by the King of Poland). These articles were aimed to defend the rights of the Lithuanian nobility within the duchy against Polish and other nobles of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.[citation needed]

In the years following the union, the process of gradual

Belarusian Byzantine Catholic Church was formed by the Poles in order to bring Orthodox Christians into the See of Rome. The Belarusian church entered into a full communion with the Latin Church through the Union of Brest in 1595, while keeping its Byzantine liturgy in the Church Slavonic

The Statutes were initially issued in the Ruthenian language alone and later also in Polish. Around 1840 the Statutes were banned by the Russian tsar following the November Uprising. Ukrainian lands used them until 1860s.[citation needed]

Russian Empire

Berezina river (near Barysaw
, Belarus)

The union between Poland and Lithuania ended in 1795 with the

Catherine II[56] 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.[57]


Samogitian literacy was allowed.[60]

In a Russification drive in the 1840s, Nicholas I prohibited use of the 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 Konstanty Kalinowski (also known as Kastus). 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 1905.[61]

During the negotiations of the

Belarusian People's Republic.[62][63] Immediately afterwards, the Polish–Soviet War ignited, and the territory of Belarus was divided between Poland and Soviet Russia.[64] 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.[65]

Early states and interwar period

The first government of the People's Republic.
Sitting, left to right:
Aliaksandar Burbis, Jan Sierada, Jazep Varonka, Vasil Zacharka.
Standing, left to right:
Arkadź Smolič, Pyotra Krecheuski, Kastus Jezavitau, Anton Ausianik, Liavon Zayats


Bolshevik Red Army. It existed from only 1918 to 1919 but created prerequisites for the formation of a Belarusian state. The choice of name was probably based on the fact that core members of the newly formed government were educated in tsarist universities, with corresponding emphasis on the ideology of West-Russianism.[66]


Vilna (Lithuanian: Vilnius, Polish: Wilno), for 18 months the entity served as a buffer state between Poland, upon which it depended, and Lithuania, which claimed the area.[67] After a variety of delays, a disputed election took place on 8 January 1922, and the territory was annexed to Poland. Żeligowski later in his memoir which was published in London in 1943 condemned the annexation of the Republic by Poland, as well as the policy of closing Belarusian schools and general disregard of Marshal Józef Piłsudski's confederation plans by Polish ally.[68]

Meeting in the Kurapaty woods, 1989, where between 1937 and 1941 from 30,000 to 250,000 people, including Belarusian intelligentsia members, were murdered by the NKVD during the Great Purge

In January 1919 a part of Belarus under Bolshevik Russian control was declared the Socialist Soviet Republic of Byelorussia (SSRB) for just two months, but then merged with the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic (LSSR) to form the Socialist Soviet Republic of Lithuania and Belorussia (SSR LiB), which lost control of its territories by August.

The Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR) was created in July 1920.

The contested lands were divided between Poland and the

collectivization and five-year plans for the national economy, led to famine and political repression.[70]


World War II

German soldiers in Minsk
, August 1941

In 1939,

West Belarus.[14][15][16][78] The Soviet-controlled Byelorussian People's Council officially took control of the territories, whose populations consisted of a mixture of Poles, Ukrainians, Belarusians and Jews, on 28 October 1939 in Białystok. Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. The defense of Brest Fortress was the first major battle of Operation Barbarossa

The Byelorussian SSR was the hardest-hit Soviet republic in World War II; it

remained in Nazi hands until 1944. The German 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.[79] Most of Western Belarus became part of the Reichskommissariat Ostland in 1941, but in 1943 the German authorities allowed local collaborators to set up a client state, the Belarusian Central Council.[80]

The German occupation in 1941–1944 and war on the Eastern Front devastated Belarus. During that time, 209 out of 290 towns and cities were destroyed, 85% of the republic's industry, and more than one million buildings. After the war, it was estimated that 2.2 million local inhabitants had died and of those some 810,000 were combatants—some foreign. This figure represented a staggering quarter of the prewar population. In the 1990s some raised the estimate even higher, to 2.7 million.[81] The Jewish population of Belarus was devastated during the Holocaust and never recovered.[17][82][83] The population of Belarus did not regain its pre-war level until 1971.[82]


occupied Soviet Belarus

After the war, Belarus was among the 51 founding member states 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.[citation needed] The borders of the Byelorussian SSR and Poland were redrawn, in accord with the 1919-proposed Curzon Line.[57]

Joseph Stalin implemented a policy of Sovietization to isolate the Byelorussian SSR from Western influences.[82] This policy involved sending 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."[82]

Soviet Belarusian communist politician Andrei Gromyko, who served as Soviet foreign minister (1957–1985) and as Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet (1985–1988), was responsible for many top decisions on Soviet foreign policy until he was replaced by Eduard Shevardnadze.[84] In 1986, the Byelorussian SSR was contaminated with most (70%) of the nuclear fallout from the explosion at the Chernobyl power plant located 16 km beyond the border in the neighboring Ukrainian SSR.[85][86]

By the late 1980s, political liberalization led to a national revival, with the Belarusian Popular Front becoming a major pro-independence force.[87][88]