Aviva Directory » Local & Global » Europe » Belarus

The landlocked nation of Belarus is officially named the Republic of Belarus. Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was known by its Russian name which is Byelorussia or White Russia. The capital and largest city is Minsk. It is bordered by Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. The two official languages are Belarusian and Russian. About 20% of the population of Belarus lives in the capital, Minsk.

Up until the end of the 20th century, the land upon which today's Belarus sits belonged to other states, including the Kingdom of Lithuania, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Russian Empire, and the Soviet Union, and aside from ten months beginning in March of 1918, Belarus had never known sovereignty over their own country.

The 1240s Mongol invasion brought the overthrow of Kiev, the destruction of many of the towns, and the end of the Kievan Rus, a loose conglomeration of European Slavic tribes which had existed since the end of the 9th century.

In the next century and a half, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was expanding, and it absorbed most of the population of Belarus. Lithuanian laws dictated that those people conquered by them retained much of their autonomy. Belarus was part of the Lithuanian state through the 14th century.

In 1386, Polish Queen Jadwiga married the Lithuanian Grand Duke Jogaila, tying their holdings together. Jogaila took the name Wtadystaw II Jagietto, King of Poland. This caused Roman Catholicism to become the official religion, though most of the population, and virtually all of the peasantry, remained Orthodox. A struggle began between the Grand Principality of Moscow and the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom, that struggle being about which entity would own the influence and the land.

In the 1400s and 1500s, Smolensk and Lithuania's eastern lands fell to Russia. The Belarusians, however, retained their way of life and were under control of Lithuania.

The Lithuanian Statues contained rules about civil and property rights. In 1557, a reform plan was begun, which entailed a three-field crop rotation and laid out the obligations of peasants to the landowners, immersing them into serfdom.

The 1569 Union of Lublin created a single federated state uniting Poland and Lithuania. Th peasantry was still Orthodox while the aristocracy was Roman Catholic. The 1596 Union of Brest-Litovsk attempted to unite the two churches by uniting the Orthodox rites and traditions with acknowledgement of the supremacy of the pope. The union did not happen, though, as the bishops of Przemyƛl and Lvov would not comply. The Belarusians existed primarily due to their agriculture.

In 1772, Catherine II of Russia acquitted a large part of what is today eastern Belarus. In 1793, Minsk and the central region became part of Russia, and in 1795, the rest of the land was folded into the Russian Empire.

In the 1860s, the serfs were freed from their serfdom, but times were even harder for them. Some took up glassmaking, others boatbuilding, and still others woodworkers, and even though industrialization was being helped along with the railroads, starting in the 1880s, times were still getting harder all the time. Between 1867 and the 1917 Russian Revolution, more than 1.5 million Belarusians immigrated from what is today Belarus, heading for the United States or for Siberia.

During World War I, German troops fighting in the Russian Empire caused massive destruction to most of the province. The ;provisional. government after the Russian Revolution replaced the Russian monarchy, but that replacement didn't last long. The Bolshevik revolutionaries overthrew the provisional government. The Bolshevik s signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany in March of 1918. The treaty was essentially nullified shortly after that when Germany was defeated by Serbia, France, the British Empire, and the rest of Russia's allies in the west.

After the Russian Revolution, Belarus declared independence, calling itself the the Rada (Council) of the Belarusian People's Republic on March 25, 1918. It lasted for ten months. On January 5, 1919, the Bolshevik Russian military captured Minsk and replaced the Rada with communist rule and renamed it the Belarusian Democratic Republic.

During the 1919 Polish invasion, the founders of the Belarusian People's Republic formed a government in exile. To this day, the Rada of the Belarusian People's Republic is the oldest ever government in exile.

Belarus became an independent nation after it declared itself free from the Soviet Union in 1991. Its constitution was adopted in 1994.



Recommended Resources

Search for Belarus on Google or Bing