Skip to main content
Select source:




Republic of Belarus

Respublika Belarus


FLAG: Two horizontal bands of red (top) and green, with the red band twice as wide as the green. At the hoist is a vertical band showing a traditional Belarussian ornamental pattern.

ANTHEM: Maladaya Belarus.

MONETARY UNIT: The Belarus ruble (br) circulates along with the Russian ruble (r). The government has a varying exchange rate for trade between Belarus and Russia. br1 = $0.00047 (or $1 = br2,140) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is in force.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Orthodox Christmas, 7 January; International Women's Day, 8 March; Labor Day, 1 May; Victory Day, 9 May; Independence Day, 27 July; Day of Commemoration, 2 November; Christmas, 25 December.

TIME: 2 pm = noon GMT.


Belarus is a landlocked nation located in eastern Europe, between Poland and Russia. Comparatively the area occupied by Belarus is slightly smaller than the state of Kansas, with a total area of 207,600 sq km (80,154 sq mi). Belarus shares boundaries with Latvia on the n, Russia on the n and e, Ukraine on the s, Poland on the sw, and Lithuania on the nw. The boundary length of Belarus totals 3,098 km (1,925 mi).

The capital city of Belarus, Minsk, is located near the center of the country.


The topography of Belarus is generally flat and contains much marshland. The Belarussian Ridge (Belorusskya Gryda) stretches across the center of the country from the southwest to the northeast. The highest elevation is at Dzerzhinskaya Gora, 346 m (1,135 ft).


The country's climate is transitional between continental and maritime. July's mean temperature is 19°c (67°f). January's mean temperature is -5°c (23°f). Rainfall averages between 57 cm (22.5 in) and 61 cm (26.5 in) annually.


About 45% of the country is forest land. Pine trees are found throughout the north, but spruce, alder, ash, birch, and oak trees are also common. Some of the mammals in the forest include deer, brown bears, rabbits, and squirrels. The southern region is a swampy expanse. The marshes are home to ducks, frogs, turtles, archons, and muskrats.


As part of the legacy of the former Soviet Union, Belarus's main environmental problems are chemical and nuclear pollution. Belarus was the republic most affected by the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in April 1986. Northerly winds prevailed at the time of the accident; therefore, most of the fallout occurred over farmland in the southeastern section of the country (primarily in the Gomel and Mogilev oblasts). Most experts estimate that 2530% of Belarus's farmland was irradiated and should not be used for agricultural production or to collect wild berries and mushrooms, although it continues to be used for these and other purposes. Belarus has 88 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Bialowieza Forest. There are seven Ramsar wetland sites. In 2003, about 6.3% of the total land area was protected.

In addition, Belarus has significant air and water pollution from industrial sources. The most common pollutants are formaldehyde, carbon emissions, and petroleum-related chemicals. In 1992, Belarus was among the world's top 50 nations in industrial emissions of carbon dioxide, producing 102 million metric tons, or 9.89 metric tons per capita. In 1996, the total fell to 61.7 million metric tons. The soils also contain unsafe levels of lead, zinc, copper, and the agricultural chemical DDT. All urban and rural dwellers have access to safe drinking water.

As of 2002, Belarus had over 2,000 species of plants, 74 mammal species, and 194 bird species. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 6 types of mammals, 4 species of birds, and 8 other invertebrates. Endangered species include the European bison and the European mink.


The population of Belarus in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 9,776,000, which placed it at number 81 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 14% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 16% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 88 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be -0.6%, a rate, viewed by the government as too low, that reflects low fertility rates and high mortality rates, especially among adult men. The projected population for the year 2025 was 9,399,000. The population density was 47 per sq km (122 per sq mi).

The UN estimated that 72% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 0.09%. The capital city, Minsk, had a population of 1,705,000 in that year. The estimated population of other major cities included Homyel, 481,000; Mahilyow, 374,000; Hrodna, 317,366; and Brest (formerly Brest-Litovsk), 290,000.

Almost 25% of the population of Belarus was killed during World War II, and combined with the fatalities of the Soviet-era purges, the postwar population was one-third smaller than it had been in 1930. It was not until the 1970s that the population returned to prewar levels.


With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, some two million Belarussians were among the various nationality groups who found themselves living outside their autonomous regions or native republics. Most of the Belarussians who have returned to Belarus fled other former Soviet republics because of fighting or ethnic tensions. From 1989 to 1995, 3,000 Belarussians returned from Azerbaijan and 3,000 Belarussians returned from Kyrgyzstan. From 1991 to 1995, 16,000 Belarussians returned from Kazakhstan and 10,000 Belarussians returned from Tajikistan. In 1999 Belarus had 131,200 internally displaced persons from the ecological effects of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, and 160,000 "returnees" (ethnic Belarussians who had returned to Belarus from other former republics).

A defining characteristics of migration between former Soviet republics is its irregular or transient quality and the existence of "shuttle" migrants. Some 2005 estimates suggest that there are 10 million irregular migrants in the region. The estimated net migration rate for Belarus in 2005 was 2.42 per 1000 population. The government views the immigration level as too high.

As of 2004, Belarus had an estimated 8,200 asylum seekers officially registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In 2004, about 2,100 Belarussians made asylum claims, the majority in Sweden.


In 2005, an estimated 81.2% of the total population was Belarussian. Russians made up about 11.4% of the populace; Poles, Ukrainians, and other groups combined to make up about 7.4% of the population.


Belarussian belongs to the eastern group of Slavic languages and is very similar to Russian. It did not become a separate language until the 15th century, when it was the official language of the grand duchy of Lithuania. It is written in the Cyrillic alphabet but has two letters not in Russian and a number of distinctive sounds. The vocabulary has borrowings from Polish, Lithuanian, German, Latin, and Turkic. Russian and other languages are also spoken.


As of 2005, the State Committee on Religious and National Affairs estimated that approximately 80% of the population were Belarussian Orthodox. About 1520% were Roman Catholics. Between 50,0000 and 90,000 people were Jewish. Other minority religions included the Greek Rite Catholic Church, the Belarus Autocephalous Orthodox Church, Seventh-Day Adventists, Calvinism, Lutheranism, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Apostolic Christian Church, and Islam.

Since the 1994 elections, the country's first president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who claims to be an "Orthodox atheist," has maintained a policy of favoring the Belarussian Orthodox Church (a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church) as the country's chief religion. A 2003 Concordat between the government and the Belarussian Orthodox Church (BOC) more firmly established the special relationship between the government and the BOC. The BOC works closely with the government in developing and implementing political policies, including those related to such departments as the ministries of education, defense, health, and labor. The president grants the Orthodox Church special financial aid that is not given to other denominations and has declared the preservation and development of Orthodox Christianity a "moral necessity."

The government's State Committee on Religious and National Affairs (SCRNA), established in 1997, categorizes religions and may deny any faith it designates as "nontraditional" permission to register. The traditional faiths are the BOC, the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Judaism, Sunni Islam, and Evangelical Lutheranism. In 2002, Lukashenka passed a new law on religion that prohibits all religious groups from importing or distributing religious materials without prior approval from the government. The new law prevents foreigners from leading any religious organizations and prohibits those organizations from establishing clerical training schools within the country. The new law also set a more complex registration system and prohibits the operations of any unregistered group.


About 5,512 km (3,417 mi) of broad and standard gauge railways traverse Belarus, connecting it to Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, and Latvia, as of 2004. Of that total, broad gauge accounts for 5,497 km (3,419 mi). Of the 93,055 km (57,880 mi) of highways in 2003, all were hard-surfaced. As of 2003, there were 1,557,800 passenger cars and 25,400 commercial vehicles registered for use.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) initiated a study of railways and roads in 1993 to help determine location advantages for future development in Belarus. The focus of the EBRD study also included the development of the trucking industry.

Because Belarus is landlocked, there are no ports or merchant fleet. Although, there are, as of 2003, some 2,500 km (1,555 mi) of navigable canals and rivers, but whose use is limited by their location near the country's perimeter, and by shallowness. In 1995, Belarus claimed to have retained 5% of the merchant fleet of the former Soviet Union. As of 2004, there were an estimated 133 airports in the country. As of 2005, a total of 44 had paved runways and there is also a single heliport. In 2003, scheduled airline traffic carried about 234,000 domestic and international passengers.


The Belarussians are the descendants of Slavic tribes that migrated into the region in the 9th century. They trace their distinct identity from the 13th century when the Mongols conquered Russia and parts of Ukraine. During this period, Belarus managed to maintain its identity as part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The union of the Grand Duchy with the Polish Kingdom in 1569, resulting in the emergence of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita), put the territory of Belarus under Polish rule. As a result of the partitions of Rzeczpospolita in 1772, 1793, and 1795 by Imperial Russia, Austria, and Prussia, Belarus fell to the Russian Empire.

In March 1918, at the time of the Soviet-German Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in which Moscow agreed to relinquish claim to a substantial amount of territory captured by Germany in exchange for peace, the Belarussian National Republic was formed with German military assistance. However, after the German government collapsed in November 1918 and German forces were withdrawn from the region, Bolshevik troops moved in and set up the Belarussian Soviet Socialist Republic in January 1919. In 1922 the Belarus SSR became one of 15 socialist republics to form the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Two years later, Belarus's borders were enlarged at the expense of Russia and Ukraine. Later, parts of eastern Poland were annexed to Belarus by Stalin under the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. However, Belarus was devastated by World War II.

During the decades of Soviet rule, Belarus underwent intense Russification, and its leaders generally complied with Soviet policy. However, after extensive nuclear contamination by the 1986 Chernobyl accident in neighboring Ukraine, Belarussian nationalists, acting from exile in Lithuania, organized the Belarussian People's Front. The nationalist upsurge of the period was intensified by the discovery of mass graves from the Stalinist purges of the 1930s at Kuroplaty and other locations. Although the Belarussian leadership still supported keeping the Soviet Union intact, Belarus's parliament declared Belarus a sovereign state within the USSR in July 1990. Shortly after the abortive August 1991 coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev, Belarus declared its independence on 26 August 1991.

Belarus's first president, Alyaksandr Lukashenko, was elected in July 1994, the same year the country adopted its first post-Communist constitution. Lukashenko has halted economic and political reform, and silenced or even jailed his critics using internal security forces. At the end of 1996, Belarus sent the last of its nuclear missiles back to Russia. Also in November 1996, Lukashenko won a plebiscite to expand his power as president, although most observers agreed that the election was not fair. On 28 November 1996, Lukashenko signed into law a new constitution containing provisions that gave him almost total control of all branches of government and extended his term by two years to 2001. A new bicameral National Assembly replaced the old Parliament. During 1996, Lukashenko suspended the registration of new enterprises, stopped privatization, and spurned World Bank assistance. Under the new constitution, the president has the right to hire and fire the heads of the Constitutional Court and the Central Bank, and he also has the right to dissolve parliament and veto its decisions. Most members of the international community criticized the plebiscite expanding Lukashenko's power, and do not recognize the 1996 constitution or the bicameral legislature that it established.

The constitutional changes implemented by the president sparked strong protests, including public demonstrations and opposition by the Constitutional Court and members of parliament, some of whom attempted to form their own assembly. However, all dissent was effectively suppressed, and Lukashenko remained in power. After boycotting the April 1999 local elections, his political opponents held an alternative presidential election in July. This was followed by a new crackdown that forced opposition leader Semyon Sharetsky into exile. From exile Sharetsky proclaimed himself the nation's legitimate ruler, but his action had little effect on the actual state of political affairs in the country. Another prominent political dissident, Voctor Gonchar, was reported missing in September 1999.

In April 1997, Lukashenko and Russia's President Yeltsin signed an initial charter for economic union that included a plan to adopt a common currency. However, over the following two years, implementation of the integration plan moved slowly, and in September 1999, Belarus took steps to peg the country's currency to the euro. Nevertheless, at the end of year, Belarus and Russia reaffirmed their intentions of forming an economic alliance. The leaders of both countries signed a new treaty in December 1999, and it was approved by both parliaments. In April 2000 Russia's new president, Vladimir Putin, reconfirmed his country's commitment to strengthening ties with Belarus.

Parliamentary elections held in 2001 were criticized by election observers as being neither free nor fair. Lukashenko and his administration manipulated the election process to make sure a minimum of opposition candidates were elected to parliament. Turnout in 13 constituencies was so low that a repeat of the voting was necessary (it was held in March 2001). On 9 September 2001, Lukashenko was reelected president in what Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers described as undemocratic elections. Lukashenko won 75.6% of the vote, with opposition candidate Vladimir Goncharik winning 15.4% and Liberal Democratic Party leader Syargey Gaydukevich winning 2.5%. The government reported 83.9% of eligible voters participated in the election.

In June 2002, Russian president Vladimir Putin refused to follow the path to integration that Belarus had proposed for the two nations, saying it would lead to the recreation of "something along the lines of the Soviet Union." While Lukashenko pledged not to relinquish Belarus's sovereignty in the union with Russia, Putin put forth a proposal for the "ultimate unification" of both countries. Putin envisioned a federation based on the Russian constitution, with the Russian ruble as the state's sole currency and the election of a president in 2004. A constitution for the union was approved in March 2003. In April 2003, the speaker of the Russian Duma indicated Armenia, Ukraine, and Moldova might be probable candidates for joining the Belarus-Russian union. Although Lukashenko's relations with Moscow continued to improve (Russia endorsed the 2001 elections and the 2004 referendum), as of 2006, little progress had been made in solving some of the problems related to the organization and structure of the Belarus-Russian union.

European policy has not been coherent or proactive in facing the human right violations in Belarus. In November 2002, 14 EU states imposed a travel ban on Lukashenko and several of his government ministers as a way of protesting Belarus's poor human rights record. However, Lukashenko continued to eliminate political opponents, attack independent press, and expand his powers. In February 2003, Lukashenko pledged support for Iraq in the prelude to war that began on 19 March, led by a US and UK coalition, to project an image of a strong and independent leader.

Among European countries Poland has been playing the most active role in promoting democratic changes and market transformation in Belarus, and supporting the country's national revival. However, the Polish government has not developed a strong or consistent policy of dealing with Lukashenko. The Belarussian Union of Poles (ZPB), an organization representing the 400,000 ethnic Poles living in Belarus, had its headquarters raided by police in July 2005, after Lukashenko accused the organization of plotting his overthrow. Poland recalled its ambassador after the incident, and relations between the two countries were strained as of early 2006.

On 16 December 2005 presidential elections were announced for 19 March 2006.


In May 1993, a draft constitution was presented to the 12th session of parliament, which adopted 88 of the new constitution's 153 articles.

Until mid-1994, Belarus was the only former Soviet republic not to have a president. The chairman of the Supreme Soviet was considered the chief of state, but power remained in the hands of the Council of Ministers headed by a prime minister.

On 19 July 1994, elections for president were held in Belarus. Alyaksandr Lukashenko received 80.1% of the vote. He was elected on a platform of clearing out the ruling Communist establishment. Lukashenko, however, is not a democrat but a Communist populist, who appears to have no plans for implementing political or economic reform.

He has been cited by Human Rights Watch for numerous violations and, by Western standards, rules as a dictator.

In November 1996, Lukashenko won a plebiscite to expand his powers. He signed a new constitution into law giving the president power to dissolve parliament and authorized the formation of a new bicameral National Assembly with a 64-member upper house, the Council of the Republic, and a 110-member lower house, the House of Representatives. All legislators serve four-year terms. The president's term was also extended until 2001, the year when he was reelected. The October 2004 referendum, criticized by Western observers as fraudulent, revised the constitution to eliminate presidential term limits. Consequently, Lukashenko was eligible to run for a third term in September 2006. Parliamentary elections held at the same time resulted in the election of only pro-Lukashenko candidates, with many opposition candidates disqualified on technicalities.


The Communist Party was declared illegal after the abortive August 1991 coup attempt, but was relegalized in February 1993. With two other pro-Communist parties it merged into the People's Movement of Belarus in May 1993. On the whole, political parties have not gathered the momentum evident in other former Soviet republics. None of the parties has had a large public following.

The parties with the greatest representation in the 260-member unicameral Supreme Council elected in 1995 were the Communist Party (42 seats) and the Agrarian Party (33). Following the elections in October 2004, which were widely criticized internationally, all the seats were won by pro-Lukashenko candidates. The Supreme Council was disbanded under the terms of the 1996 constitution and replaced with a bicameral legislature, for which the first elections were held in January 1997.

The primary pro-government party is the Belarussian Popular Patriotic Union, which supports President Lukashenko and the proposed union with Russia. Other pro-government parties include the Agrarian Party (AP), the Belarussian Communist Party (KPB), the Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus, and the Social-Sports Party. The primary opposition party is the Belarussian Popular Front, whose chairman, Zyanon Paznyak, was in exile in the United States and whose other leaders were jailed at various times. The Popular Front was one of three parties that organized the alternative presidential elections held in 1999 to protest the extension of President Lukashenko's term to 2001. Other opposition parties are the Belarussian Social-Democrat Party Narodnaya Gromada (BSDP NG), the Belarussian Social-Democratic party Hromada, the United Civic party (UCP), the Party of Communists Belarussian (PKB), and the Women's Party "Nadezhda". The opposition Belarussian Party of Labor was liquidated in August 2004, but remains active.


Belarus is divided into six provinces (oblasts) and one municipality. The oblasts are roughly parallel to counties in the United States. Each has a capital city, and the name of the oblast is typically derived from the name of this city. The names of the six oblasts are Brestskaya, Homyel'skaya, Hrodzyenskaya, Mahilyowskaya, Minskaya, and Vitsyebskaya. The municipality is Horad Minsk. Local Councils of Deputies are elected for four-year terms. A 1994 decree gave the president the right to appoint and dismiss senior local officials. The constitutional modifications passed in 1996 give the president increased powers over local government, including the power of nullifying rulings by local councils.


The courts system consists of district courts, regional courts, and the Supreme Court. Higher courts serve as appellate courts but also serve as courts of first instance. There are also economic courts, and a Supreme Economic Court. Trials are generally public unless closed on grounds of national security. Litigants have a right to counsel and, in cases of need, to appointment of counsel at state expense.

The president appoints all district level and military judges. The 1996 constitution gives the president the power to appoint 6 of the 12 members of the Constitutional Court, including the chief justice. The Council of the Republic appoints the other remaining 6 members of the Constitutional Court. The judiciary is not independent and is under the influence of the executive. Legislation concerning independence of the judiciary was passed in 1995, but the laws have not been implemented. The Constitutional Court was established in 1994, and adjudicates serious constitutional issues, but it has no power to enforce its decisions. Prosecutors are responsible to the Procurator General who is appointed by the Council of the Republic according to the 1996 constitution. The offices of prosecutors consist of district offices, regional, and republic level offices.


The active armed forces of Belarus numbered 72,940 in 2005. The reserves consisted of 289,500 individuals who had military service within the last five years. The nation's military is organized into three services: an army; an air force; and an air defense force. The Army numbered 29,600 active personnel, and was supported by 1,586 main battle tanks, 1,588 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 916 armored personnel carriers, and 1,499 artillery pieces. The Air Force and Air Defense Force numbered a combined 18,170 active personnel. The Air Force had 210 combat capable aircraft, including 50 attack helicopters. The Air Defense Force operated 175 surface-to-air missile batteries. Belarus also had a paramilitary force of 110,000 personnel, which included 12,000 border guards, an 87,000-man militia, and 11,000 Ministry of Interior Troops. The militia and the border guards are also under the command of the Interior Ministry. In 2005 the defense budget totaled $251 million.


Belarus was admitted to the United Nations on 22 October 1945 and serves on several specialized agencies, such as IAEA, IMF, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, WHO, and the World Bank. It is an observer in the WTO. Belarus joined the OSCE on 30 January 1992. The country is part of the Commonwealth of Independent Nations (CIS) and the Central European Initiative. In 2000, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan established the Eurasian Economic Community.

The country has signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and has formal diplomatic ties with many nations. It is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (London Group) and the Nonaligned Movement. The country is also a member of the NATO Partnership for Peace. The United States recognized Belarus's sovereignty 25 December 1991. US diplomatic relations with Belarus were established two days later. Belarus has unresolved boundary disputes with Ukraine and Latvia.

In environmental cooperation, Belarus is part of the Basel Convention, the Conventions on Biological Diversity and Air Pollution, Ramsar, CITES, the London Convention, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, and the UN Conventions on Climate Change and Desertification.


Belarus's economy has been geared toward industrial production, mostly in machinery and metallurgy with a significant military component, although trade and services account for an increasing share of economic activity. Forestry and agriculture, notably potatoes, grain, peat, and cattle, are also important. Belarus's economy is closely integrated with those of Eastern Europe and the other republics of the former Soviet Union, and the breakup of the Soviet Union was highly disruptive to it. The demand for military products was cut sharply, and supplies of imported energy and raw materials were curtailed.

Despite repeated calls by the IMF for economic reform in Belarus, the Lukashenko government remains committed to maintaining state control over most industries. Lukashenko's administration has also come under severe criticism for its monetary policies. Western analysts accuse the Belarussian government of printing more money to subsidize higher salaries, thereby fueling inflation.

In 1997, Belarus and Russia signed a treaty of union, to provide for close cooperation in foreign affairs and military and economic policies, including freedom of movement for citizens, property ownership, and participation in local elections. Each country will retain its sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and other aspects of statehood however. A constitution for the union was approved in 2003.

The business climate remains poor in Belarus: as of 2000, production had increased, but products were uncompetitive on the world market and many were placed in warehouses for storage. Losses from state-owned businesses are largely written off, which prevents those businesses from going bankrupt and keeps unemployment artificially low. Because Lukashenko controls all governmental power, there are no checks and balances or legal provisions for regulating business matters. However, as of 2003, Belarus had six free economic zones, which have attracted foreign investment, especially from Poland, Russia, and Germany, with the United States as the sixth-largest investor.

Economic expansion has been strong over the past years, with a boost of the GDP growth rate from 7.1% in 2003, to 11.0% in 2004; in 2005, the rate is expected to return to the 2003 level. This expansion was fueled by strong domestic demand, as a result of an increase in real wages, and due to a better and more stable macroeconomic situation. Inflation has been fairly high, but decreasingin 2004 it was 18.1%, and by 2005 it was expected to dwindle further to 13.0%. Unemployment is very low at 2%, but a large number of the working force is believed to be underemployed.

Despite having an economy that seems to be doing well on paper, most international analysts agree that as long as Lukashenko will continue to favor the obsolete industrial base, and as long as he will continue to pump subsidies into the agricultural sector (the peasants and the blue collar workers are his main constituency), Belarus will not achieve healthy and sustainable economic growth.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Belarus's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $77.8 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $7,600. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 7.8%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 11.5%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 9.3% of GDP, industry 31.6%, and services 59.1% in 2005.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $162 million or about $16 per capita and accounted for approximately 0.9% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $32 million or about $3 per capita and accounted for approximately 0.2% of the gross national income (GNI).

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Belarus totaled $10.42 billion or about $1,055 per capita based on a GDP of $17.6 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 3.0%. In 2001 it was estimated that approximately 36% of household consumption was spent on food, 15% on fuel, 7% on health care, and 10% on education. It was estimated that in 2003 about 27.1% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


The labor force as of end 2003 numbered 4.305 million workers. Of that total in that same year, an estimated 14% were engaged in agriculture, 51.3% in services, and 34.7% in industry. In 2004, the number of registered unemployed was officially put at 2%, but there was a large segment of the working population that was underemployed.

Although the constitution provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, these rights are not respected in practice. Union activity is discouraged, and almost impossible to conduct in most of the state-owned larger industries. Strikes are legally permitted but tight control by the regime over public demonstrations makes it difficult to strike or hold public rallies. The government has harassed and arrested union leaders, and broken up union-sponsored activities. In addition, workers who are fired for union or political activity are not required to be rehired by their employers.

Forced or compulsory labor by adults or children is prohibited. The statutory minimum employment age is 16, although a child of 14 can be employed if the parent or legal guardian gives written consent. In addition, minors under the age of 18 cannot work at hazardous jobs, or those which will adversely affect his or her education. Also they cannot work overtime on government holidays, or on the weekend. The workweek was set at 40 hours, with a 24-hour rest period per week. Safety and health standards in the workplace are often ignored. As of 2005, the minimum wage was us$55 a month, which does not provide a decent standard of living. However, average real wages were officially reported (as of end 2005) at around us$250 per month, although many receive additional income from the underground economy.


Belarus had about 5,570,000 hectares (14,159,000 acres) of arable land (27.6% of the total) in 2002. Agriculture engaged about 14% of the economically active population in 2003 and accounted for 9.3% of GDP in 2005. Production levels (in 1,000 tons) for 2004 include: potatoes, 9,900; sugar beets, 3,088; barley, 2,070; rye, 1,480; wheat, 1,025; and oats, 765. In 2002, 64,200 and 13,800 tractors and combines, respectively, were in service.


About 15% of the total land area is devoted to pastureland. In 2004, there were some 3,924,000 cattle, 3,287,000 pigs, 63,000 sheep, and 24,000,000 chickens. Of the 639,500 tons of meat produced in 2004, beef and veal accounted for 35%; poultry, 14%; pork, 50%, and other meats, 1%. Belarus produces more dairy products than any other former Soviet republic except Russia, with 5.2 million tons of milk, 77,400 tons of butter and ghee, and 80,800 tons of cheese produced in 2004. That year, egg production amounted to 163,300 tons; honey, 3,100 tons.


As a landlocked nation, fishing is confined to the system of rivers (Pripyat, Byarezina, Nyoman, Zach Dvina, Sozh, Dnieper) that cross Belarus. The total catch in 2003 was 12,318 tons, with aquaculture accounting for 44% of that amount.


About 45% of the total land area was covered by forests in 2000. Radioactive contamination of some forestland from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster has severely restricted output. In 2003, Belarus produced 7.5 million cu m (265 million cu ft) of roundwood, of which 1,518,000 cu m (53.6 million cu ft) were exported for a value of $35.7 million.


Potash was the one significant mineral resource possessed by Belarus, which ranked second in world output in 2000. During the 1980s, Belarus produced 5 million tons per year (calculated based on potassium oxide content), about 50% of the former Soviet Union's output. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, production fell to 1.95 million tons by 1993. A program was then undertaken to raise the quality of potash to world standards to increase exports. Total production in 2002 was 3.8 million tons, down from 4.55 million tons in 1999. Potash was mined in the Salihorsk region, by the Belaruskaliy production association. Accumulated waste from the industry has raised environmental concerns. Two plants produced 2.17 million tons of cement in 2002.


Domestic electricity is produced by four thermal plants. Belarus also imports electricity generated by nuclear and hydroelectric plants. In 2004, a total of 30 billion kWh was generated, of which 24.841 billion kWh came from thermal sources and 0.028 billion kWh from hydropower. In the same year, consumption of electricity totaled 28.015 billion kWh. Total capacity in 2002 was 7.838 million kW.

Only a small portion of Belarus's energy requirement is met by local production. Belarus has been producing oil since 1964 and had 37 operational fields in 1995. As of 2002 Belarus had oil reserves estimated at 198 million barrels, but there was a lack of foreign investment to fund exploration. In 2002, around 36,500 barrels of oil were produced per day, along with a nominal amount of peat and natural gas. Peat is found throughout the country and is processed by 37 fuel briquetting plants. Natural gas production in 2002 totaled 6.71 billion cu ft. There are two major oil refineries: Mazyr and Navapolatsk. Although oil consumption has been cut roughly in half since the early 1990s, Belarus was still obliged to import 75% of its oil from Russia as of 2002. In December 2002, Belarus sold its 11% stake in Slavneft, a joint Belarus and Russian state-run oil company, to Russia.

Belarus is an important transit route for Russian oil and natural gas exports to Eastern Europe, via pipelines that can carry up to 1,030,000 barrels per day of oil and 22.7 billion cu m (800 billion cu ft) per year of natural gas. Roughly half of Russia's net oil exports travel through Belarus, and a trade agreement between the two countries exempts Russia from paying export duties on this oil. In March 1993, Poland and Russia entered into an agreement to build a 2,500-mile natural gas pipeline from Russia's northern Yamal Peninsula, through Belarus and Poland, to Germany. When completed by 2010, the planned capacity of the new pipeline will be more than 56.6 billion cu m (2 trillion cu ft) per year. To maintain stable supplies of oil and natural gas, Belarus has entered into a joint project with Russia, sponsored by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), to develop 60 million tons of oil from idle wells in Russia's Tymen region in exchange for guaranteed Russian oil supplies.


Belarus's industrial base is relatively well-developed and diversified compared to other newly independent states. Industry accounted for 31.6% of GDP in 2005. Belarus's main industries are engineering, machine tools, agricultural equipment, fertilizer, chemicals, defense-related products, prefabricated construction materials, motor vehicles, motorcycles, textiles, threads, and some consumer products, such as refrigerators, watches, televisions, and radios. The types of motor vehicles produced are off-highway dump trucks with up to 110-metric-ton load capacity, tractors, earth movers for construction and mining, and 25-metric-ton trucks for use in roadless and tundra areas.

While there had been an increase in industrial production as of 2002, a high volume of unsold industrial goods remain stocked in warehouses, due to high overhead costs that make Belarussian products uncompetitive on the world market. Belarus has taken few steps to privatize state-owned industries: it was estimated that around 10% of all Belarussian enterprises were privatized as of 2000.

By 2004, the participation of industry in the overall economic output had decreased to 36.4%, while its share in the labor fell to 34.7%; agriculture made up 11% of the GDP, and employed 14% of the labor force; services came in first with 52.6%, and 51.3% respectively. The industrial production growth was less than half of the GDP growth rate, at 4%, but it recovered in the first nine months of 2005 (10%), and was well above the same rate in Russia and Ukraine (4% and 3.2% respectively).


The Academy of Sciences of Belarus, founded in 1929 and head-quartered in Minsk, has departments of physics, mathematics, and informatics; physical and engineering problems of machine building and energetics; chemical and geological sciences, biological sciences, and medical-biological sciences; it also operates numerous research institutes.

The Belarussian State University, founded in 1921 at Minsk, has faculties of applied mathematics, biology, chemistry, geography, mechanics and mathematics, physics, and radiophysics and electronics. The Belarussian State Technological University, founded in 1930 at Minsk, has faculties of chemistry technology and engineering, forestry, and organic substances technology. In 198797, science and engineering students accounted for 48% of college and university enrollment.

The Belarussian State Scientific and Technical Library, located in Minsk, had more than 1.2 million volumes as of 1996. In 2002, total research and development (R&D) expenditures in Belarus amounted to $348.3 million, or 0.6% of GDP, of which 63.4% came from the government, 24.4% from business, 10.1% from foreign sources, and 2.2% from higher education. In that year, 1,870 researchers and 207 technicians per million people were actively engaged in R&D. In 2002, high technology exports totaled $212 million, or 4% of manufactured exports.


In 1992, retail prices rose more than 1,000%. The same year a parallel national currency (called the ruble) was introduced and declared the only legal tender for purchasing goods such as food, alcohol, and tobacco. In 1998, the inflation rate was 182%. Though the government had initiated some capitalist reforms from 1991 to 1994, President Alexander Lukashenko (elected 1994) has significantly slowed efforts toward privatization through a program of "market socialism." The government has administrative control of prices and currency exchange rates and has also reestablished certain management rights over private enterprises. As of early 2003, nearly 80% of industry was state-owned. Independent banks had also been renationalized.


Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Belarus exported about 40% of its industrial output to other Soviet republics and imported 90% of its primary energy and 70% of its raw materials from them. Belarus has remained exceedingly dependant on Russia for economic support; a proposed EU-style partnership between the two nations threatens its economic independence.

In 2000, Belarus exported machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, petroleum products, and manufactured goods. Imports included fuel, natural gas, industrial raw materials, textiles, and sugar. Belarus's major trading partners are Russia, Ukraine, Poland, and Germany. Imports and exports grew at an annual pace of over 61% in 1995.

Unlike Russia, Belarus did not manage to maintain a positive resource balance in 2004while exports grew to $11.5 billion (FOBFree on Board), they were surpassed by imports, at $13.6 billion. Russia continued to dominate Belarus's trade, receiving 47% of its exports, and sending 68.2% of its imports. Other important trading partners included the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, and Poland.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2001 the purchasing power parity of Belarus's exports was $7.5 billion, while imports totaled $8.1 billion, resulting in a trade deficit of $600 million.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2001 Belarus had exports of goods totaling $7.26 billion and imports

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 9,945.6 11,558.0 -1,612.4
Russia 4,879.9 7,601.9 -2,722.0
United Kingdom 938.3 79.3 859.0
Poland 434.2 348.5 85.7
Germany 421.2 820.7 -399.5
Netherlands 413.8 93.4 320.4
Latvia 344.3 44.3 300.0
Ukraine 343.5 362.1 -18.6
Lithuania 265.0 154.2 110.8
China 162.3 71.8 90.5
Italy-San Marino-Holy See 135.3 284.0 -148.7
() data not available or not significant.
Current Account -285.2
    Balance on goods -806.9
      Imports -8,063.1
      Exports 7,256.2
    Balance on services 410.4
    Balance on income -42.8
    Current transfers 154.1
Capital Account 56.3
Financial Account 247.1
    Direct investment abroad -0.3
        Direct investment in Belarus 95.8
    Portfolio investment assets 10.5
    Portfolio investment liabilities -45.4
    Financial derivatives
    Other investment assets -139.2
    Other investment liabilities 325.7
Net Errors and Omissions -99.6
Reserves and Related Items 81.4
() data not available or not significant.

totaling $8.06 billion. The services credit totaled $1.01 billion and debit $603 million.

Unlike any other country in the region, Belarus recently witnessed a trade recoil, with exports of goods and services decreasing from $11.6 billion in 2003, to $9.9 billion in 2004; imports went down from $12.3 billion in 2003, to $10.3 billion in 2004. The resource balance was consequently negative, but not alarming-$678 million in 2003, and -$441 million in 2004. The current account balance followed a similar path, improving from -$505 million in 2003, to -$271 million in 2004. Total reserves (including gold) were insignificant at $432 million, covering less than a month of imports in 2004.


The National Bank of Belarus is the central bank of Belarus, charged with regulating the money supply, circulating currency, and regulating the commercial banks of the country. The currency unit is the ruble. There are no current figures on the level of foreign currency reserves, but it is widely assumed that these have dwindled to perilously low levels because of the need for the National Bank of Belarus to maintain the local currency at its over-valued exchange rate on the Minsk Interbank Currency Exchange (MICE). The central bank has also had to turn to the street market to replenish reserves; in August, 1996, it bought $25 million, paying effectively 10% more than it would have through MICE. Under Belarus's "currency corridor," the Belarussian ruble cannot fall below BR615,000: $1 at its twice-weekly auctions at the MICE. The street market accounts for 7080% of foreign exchange trading. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $640.0 million. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $1.8 billion. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 48%.


No recent information about the insurance industry in Belarus is available.


Because it was formerly a part of the Soviet Union, Belarus has a well-established industrial base, but the transition from a centrally planned economy to a free market economy has not been easy. Privatization, although in progress, has been happening slowly, and foreign investment is discouraged by the "hostile" business climate.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Belarus's central government took in revenues of approximately $5.9 billion and had expenditures of $6.3 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$440 million. Total external debt was $4.662 billion.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2002, the most recent year for which it had data, central government revenues were br6,960.4 billion and expenditures were br7,089 billion. The value of revenues was us$4 million and expenditures us$4 million, based on an official exchange rate for 2002 of us$1 = br1,790.917 as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 20.9%; defense, 4.6%; public order and safety, 4.4%; economic affairs, 13.0%; health, 3.6%; recreation, culture, and religion, 1.4%; education, 4.1%; and social protection, 47.9%.


Belarus imposes a wide array of taxes on business and citizens. In 2005, the corporate income tax for resident companies was 24% and 30% for insurance companies and banks. Securities transactions are taxed at 40%. Companies with profits of over 5,000 times

Revenue and Grants 6,960.4 100.0%
    Tax revenue 3,711.9 53.3%
    Social contributions 2,845.6 40.9%
    Grants 16.1 0.2%
    Other revenue 386.8 5.6%
Expenditure 7,089 100.0%
    General public services 1,484.8 20.9%
    Defense 323.6 4.6%
    Public order and safety 311.8 4.4%
    Economic affairs 924.8 13.0%
    Environmental protection
    Housing and community amenities 1.3 0.0%
    Health 253.4 3.6%
    Recreational, culture, and religion 101.4 1.4%
    Education 293.5 4.1%
    Social protection 3,394.3 47.9%
() data not available or not significant.

the minimum wage are taxed an additional 15% under certain conditions. Joint ventures in which foreign participation is more than 30% are eligible for a three-year tax holiday.

The main indirect tax is the country's value-added tax (VAT) with a standard rate of 18%. A reduced rate of 10% is placed upon certain foodstuffs, agricultural products, repair services, hair-dressers, and laundries. Other consumption taxes include a 3% turnover tax and excise taxes ranging from 1075%. There are also taxes on the use of natural resources, including the Chernobyl nuclear plant. Individual income is taxed according to a progressive schedule of rates ranging from 12% (up from 4.7%) to 30%. There is a 64.8% employer payroll tax for social security and employment taxes. There are also direct taxes on property and land.


A 1995 customs union with Russia allows goods to flow between the two countries duty-free. However, the union required Belarus to conform its customs rates to those of Russia, resulting in a tariff increase from 510% to 2040%. In 1995, Belarus also introduced a 20% import VAT (value-added tax) to be paid at the border on all incoming goods, except certain raw material used by local manufacturers.


The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) financed several major infrastructure improvement and commercial projects. The World Bank was financing construction and telecommunication projects, but these were discontinued in 1996 by President Lukashenko. At the end of the decade, President Lukashenko's steadfast refusal to implement market reforms continued to keep foreign investment levels low. In May 2002, however, the government announced a new program aimed at raising the share of foreign investment in GDP from 19% to 2628%, with most investments coming from Russia. Several state-owned enterprises (SOEs), including oil refineries and chemical plants, were to be transformed into joint stock companies in preparation of selling 49.9% in blocks of 10%. Many restrictions are still tied to foreign investments and in June 2003, President Lukashenko announced that he had turned down proposals from foreign investors amounting to $10 billion because of unacceptable terms. The president stated that the government's goal was at least $1 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2003.

FDI inflow for Belarus reached $444 million in 1999, up from $352 million in 1997 and $203 million in 1998. However, the inflow was reduced to a trickle in 2000 ($90 million) and 2001 ($169 million). During the decade 1993 to 2003, according to the Belarus government, foreign investment totaled $4 billion, $1.7 billion in FDI and $2.5 billion in credits guaranteed by the government. All but a small proportion of foreign investment has come from Russia. Other sources include the Netherlands, Germany, and the United States (McDonald's, Coca Cola, and Ford). However, McDonald's and Coca Cola have both had problems with the government and the Ford plant is closed.

Investments have regained strength in 2004, but they were still relatively low to the GDP. What is worse, though, is the fact that only a small percentage of investments come from outside the countrydue to a relatively inauspicious business climate and continued state control of major national companies. For the most part, investments are fueled by a high domestic demand (such as financing of new housing), and only a small part went to productive assets.


In the summer of 1995, the Belarussian president announced the policy of "market socialism," after a period of economic liberalization and privatization that had taken place from 199194. The government still controls key market sectors as the private sector only makes up 20% of the economy. Most of the heavy industry in Belarus remains state-owned. Belarus offers easy credit to spur economic growth, but this comes at the price of high inflation. To combat spiraling wages and prices, President Lukashenko imposed price controls. These policies have driven away foreign investment and left Belarus economically isolated.

Bad harvests in 1998 and 1999 and continued trade deficits worsened the climate of economic development. The government resorted to inflationary monetary policies, including the printing of money, to pay salaries and pensions. In 2000, the government tightened its monetary policies, but in 2002, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) criticized Belarus for its economic performance, and refused to resume loans to the country. (IMF loans were last offered in 1995.) The balance of payments situation remained weak from 200103, as the ruble rose against the US dollar and the Russian ruble. The current account deficit was $279 million or 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2003. There were plans in 2003 for monetary and currency union with Russia, which would require substantial macroeconomic reforms on the part of Belarus.

The country's good economic performance is expected to falter in the coming years due to the concerted effect of a series of factors. First of all, oil prices (which have boosted export returns) are expected to level off soon. An appreciation of the currency will work as a disincentive for exporters, while the growth of wages cannot exceed the growth in productivity for too long. Also, Belarus's most important trade partner, Russia, will probably curtail imports, as it is itself in an economically difficult position.


Old age, disability, and survivors are protected by a social insurance system updated in 1999. Sickness, maternity, work injury, family allowance, and unemployment benefits are covered by the system. Employers contribute between 1035% of payroll depending on the type of company. The government covers the cost of social pensions and subsidies as needed. Retirement is set at age 60 for men and age 55 for women. Workers' compensation laws were first instituted in 1939. Family allowances are available for families with one or more children.

The human rights record of Belarus has worsened in recent years, after President Lukashenka amended the constitution to extend his stay in office and handpick members of parliament. Reports of police brutality are widespread and prison conditions are poor. Arbitrary arrests and detention have been reported, as well as incidents of severe hazing in the military. As of 2004, political opponents and protests are met with a violent government response. The government abridges freedom of the press, speech, assembly, religion, and movement. Religious freedom and equality is provided for in the constitution, but religions other than Russian Orthodox are discriminated against. There were a number of right wing and skinhead groups active in 2004.

Domestic abuse and violence against women continued to be a significant problem in 2004. Although laws against rape exist, most women do not report the crime due to fear that the police will blame the victim. Spousal rape is not viewed as a crime. While there are no legal restrictions on women's participation in public life, social barriers are considerable, and women commonly experience discrimination when it comes to job opportunities. The law mandates equal pay for equal work, but few women reach senior management or government positions. Trafficking in women remains a serious problem.


The basic framework of the health care system has remained the same since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Health care is administered through a network of hospitals, polyclinics, tertiary care centers, and walkin clinics. As of 2004, there were an estimated 450 physicians, 1,234 nurses, 44 dentists, and 31 pharmacists per 100,000 people. In addition to hospitals and medical personnel, the medical infrastructure comprises pharmacies and other retail outlets from which people and institutions acquire medicines and other basic medical supplies. Health care expenditures were an estimated 5.6% of GDP.

The incident with the most wide-ranging effects on the health of the Belarussian population was the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in April 1986. An estimated 2.2 million Belarussians were directly affected by radioactive fallout. As a result of the disaster, the population is constantly subject to increased amounts of background radiation that weakens the immune systems of individuals in contaminated areas; many are said to suffer from "Chernobyl AIDS."

The 1999 birthrate was 10 per 1,000 inhabitants, with 101,317 births. Life expectancy in 2005 was 68.72 years. In 1997, children one year of age were immunized at the following rates: tuberculosis, 98%; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 97%; polio, 98%; and measles, 98%. The infant mortality rate in 2005 was 13.37 per 1,000 live births. Maternal mortality was estimated at 28 per 100,000 live births in 1998. In 1999, there were 80 deaths from tuberculosis per 100,000 people.

The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.30 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 15,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 1,000 deaths from AIDS in 2003.

The National AIDS Center was established in 1990.


The lack of adequate, affordable housing continues to be a problem for Belarus, but certain advances have been made. After the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster, the government was forced to seal off 485 human settlement areas, displacing about 135,000 people. Over 65,000 apartments and homes have since been built to house these people. Since 1992, the government has been reforming housing laws to secure the constitutional right of citizens to acquire, build, reconstruct, or lease housing facilities.

In 1999, about 97% of the population were living in what was defined as conventional dwellings (primarily detached houses, separate or shared apartments or flats, and hostels). About 56% were living in separate flats. About 31% were in detached houses. Those living in flats had the greatest access to improved utilities, such as central heating, central piped hot water, and flush toilets. Nationwide, only about 68% of the population had flush toilets in the home (1999), and only 71% had piped water. About 26.5% of the total population were using stove heating. About 66% of the housing stock had been built in the period 196190.


Education is compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 15. The primary school program covers four years of study and the basic education covers five years. General secondary programs are offered at gymnasiums (general studies), lyceums (affiliated with universities), and colleges (vocational studies); general secondary studies courses cover an additional two years. Students also have an option of attending a four-year technical school (technicum) or a three-year trade school instead of the general programs.

Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 94% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 85% of age-eligible students. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 16:1 in 2003. The ratio for secondary school was about 9:1. It is estimated that about 98.7% of all students complete their primary education. The academic year runs from September to July.

Education at public higher education institutes is free for students who pass the entrance competition. In 2005, there were 44 public higher education institutions, including 25 universities, 9 academies, 4 institutes, 5 colleges, and 1 technical school. There were also 13 private higher education institutions. Total enrollment at these institutions was about 545,800. The largest public institute is the Belarussian State University, which is located in Minsk and was founded in 1921. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 99.8%, with equal rates for men and women.

The official languages of education are Belarussian, which is written in the Cyrillic script, and Russian. The government is now putting more emphasis on replacing Russian with Belarussian. The Ministry of Education and the National Institute for Higher Education are the primary administrative bodies. As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 6% of GDP.


As of 2002, the National Library in Minsk held 7.6 million volumes. The country also had an extensive public library system. Universities with significant library holdings include the Belarussian State Polytechnical Academy (over two million volumes), Belarussian State University (1.7 million volumes), and the Minsk Teacher Training Institute (1.2 million volumes). The presidential library holds 1.5 million volumes, and the Gomel Regional Library has 1.3 million volumes.

The country records 14,392 monuments and historic sites. The State Art Museum in Minsk houses the country's largest collection of fine arts. The Belarussian State Museum of the Great Patriotic War (World War II) in Minsk houses artifacts and memorials of the country's great travails during the war. There is a historical and archaeological museum in Grodno and a natural history museum in Belovezskaja Pusca.


The Ministry of Telecommunications controls all telecommunications through Beltelcom. In 2003, there were an estimated 311 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people; about 292,800 people were on a waiting list for telephone service installation. The same year, there were approximately 113 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

The government operates the only nationwide television and radio stations; however, there are several local stations. Some Russian, Polish, and Lithuanian stations are received in various parts of the country, but the government has blocked certain programming and has removed some channels from local cable access. In 2003, there were an estimated 199 radios and 362 television sets for every 1,000 people. About 77.2 of every 1,000 people were cable subscribers. In 2003, 141 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were four secure Internet servers in the country in 2004. All ISPs are controlled by the state.

The most widely read newspapers (with 2002 circulation figures) are Sovetskaya Belorussiya (Soviet Belorussia, 330,000); Narodnaya Hazeta (People's Newspaper, 259,597); Respublika (Republic, 130,000); Vechernii Minsk (Evening Minsk, 111,000); Svaboda ( 90,000); Zvyazda (Star, 90,000); and Belorusskaya Niva (Belarussian Cornfield, 80,000).

Most of the higher circulation papers are controlled by the state in some way. Though freedom of the press is granted in the 1996 constitution, the government continues to restrict this right through a virtual monopoly over forms of mass communication and its desire to limit media criticism of its actions. It controls the editorial content and policy of the largest circulation daily newspapers and of radio and television broadcasts and places severe restrictions on the editorial content of independent publications or broadcasts. Local radio and television stations are pressured to refrain from reporting on national issues. Government authorities reserve the right to ban and censor publications presenting critical reports on national issues. In 2004, the government suspended publication of 25 privately-owned newspapers.


Belarus's important business and commercial organizations include the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Republic of Belarus. Important agricultural and industrial organizations include the Belarussian Peasants' Union, the Union of Entrepreneurs and Farmers, and the Union of Small Ventures. There are number of professional associations, particularly for members of medical professions.

The National Academy of Sciences and the Belarussian Physical Society promote public interest and education in science. The Belarussian Think Tanks is a public policy center involved in developing and promoting ideas to create democracy, market economy, and respect for human rights in Belarus.

Political interest youth organizations include the Belarussian Patriotic Youth Union and the Youth Front of Belarus (est. 1993). The Belarus Youth Information Center (YIC) was founded in 1994 to encourage and support youth involvement in science, culture, and education. The Belarussian Students Association is an affiliate member of the National Union of Students in Europe (ESIB). There is an organization of Girl Guides in the country, YMCA/YWCA, and a Junior Chamber Belarus. Several sports associations are active, representing such pastimes as baseball and softball, track and field, badminton, tennis, and air sports. The country sponsors a National Olympic Committee, a Paralympic Committee, and a Special Olympics chapter.

The International Association for Volunteer Effort serves to promote and provide a network for voluntary service organizations, including Lions Club International, which is active in the country. There is also a League of Youth Voluntary Service. There are active chapters of the Red Cross, Caritas and UNICEF.


Scenery, architecture, and cultural museums and memorials are primary attractions in Belarus. The Belavaezhskaja Puscha Nature Reserve features a variety of wildlife and a nature museum. The city of Hrodna is home to the baroque Farny Cathedral, the Renaissance Bernadine church and monastery, and the History of Religion Museum, which is part of a renovated 18th-century palace. There are also two castles in the area, both housing museums. A valid passport and visa are required of all visitors. An HIV test is required for visits longer than 90 days.

In 2003, there were 63,779 tourist arrivals in Belarus, up from 61,033 in 2000. Tourism receipts totaled $339 million.

In 2005, the US Department of State estimated the cost of staying in Minsk at $187 per day.


Frantsky Sharyna, who lived in the first quarter of the 16th century, translated the Bible into Belarussian. Symeon of Polatsk was a 17th-century poet who wrote in Belarussian. Naksim Bahdanovich was an important 19th-century poet. Modern writers include Uladzimir Dubouka (19001976) and Yazep Pushcha, both poets. Kuzma Chorny and Kandrat Krapiva (18961991) were writers of fiction during the outpouring of Belarussian poetry and literature during the 1920s. Famous modern composers from Belarus included Dzmitry Lukas, Ryhor Pukst, and Yauhen Hlebau (19292000).


Belarus has no territories or colonies.


Aleksievich, Svetlana. Keth Gessen (trans.). Voices from Chernobyl. Normal, Ill.: Dalkey Archive, 2005.

Brawer, Moshe. Atlas of Russia and the Independent Republics. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.

Dean, Martin. Collaboration in the Holocaust: Crimes of the Local Police in Belorussia and Ukraine, 194144. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.

Korosteleva, Elena, Colin W. Lawson, and Rosalind J. Marsh (eds.). Contemporary Belarus: Between Democracy and Dictatorship. London, Eng.: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.

Mandel, David. Labour after Communism: Auto Workers and Their Unions in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. New York: Black Rose Books, 2004.

McElrath, Karen (ed.). HIV and AIDS: A Global View. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002.

White, Stephen, Elena Korosteleva, and John Löwenhardt (eds.). Postcommunist Belarus. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Belarus." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations. . 20 Oct. 2016 <>.

"Belarus." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations. . (October 20, 2016).

"Belarus." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations. . Retrieved October 20, 2016 from



Basic Data

Official Country Name: Republic of Belarus
Region (Map name): Europe
Population: 10,350,194
Language(s): Byelorussian, Russian, other
Literacy rate: 98.0%
Area: 207,600 sq km
GDP: 29,950 (US$ millions)
Number of Television Stations: 47
Number of Television Sets: 2,520,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 243.5
Number of Cable Subscribers: 332,000
Cable Subscribers per 1,000: 33.2
Number of Satellite Subscribers: 60,000
Satellite Subscribers per 1,000: 5.8
Number of Radio Stations: 76
Number of Radio Receivers: 3,020,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 291.8
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 180,000
Internet Access per 1,000: 17.4

Background & General Characteristics

The Republic of Belarus is an independent state formed after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. It is a legal heir to a former Soviet Socialist Republic of Belarus. On July 27, 1990 the Supreme Soviet (Parliament) of the Republic adopted a declaration on national sovereignty. In 1991 this document received a constitutional status. Belarus is a founding member of the Organization of the United Nations. On June 26, 1945, it signed the Statutes of the UN. It is a founder of Commonwealth of Independent States and forms a Union with Russia.

Throughout the centuries the territory of contemporary Belarus was divided among different countries: Lithuania, Prussia, Poland. Different languages and religions left their marks on culture and literature of this region. Before World War II the republic had a considerable Jewish population that was annihilated in the Holocaust.

The main distinctive feature of the Republic is that its Slavic population speaks mostly Russian and not Belo Russian. In the eighteenth century the Catholic influence from Poland, in the nineteenth century Russian Imperial policy of assimilation and non-recognition of Belo Russian as a language, the division of the country between Poland and USSR in the interwar period, all created a unique situation when the majority of press and literature published in Belarus are in Russian language.

The link to the Soviet past is perhaps more visible in Belarus than in any other of the 14 former USSR republics. Belarus keeps a Soviet-era coat of arms, flag, and the music of the national anthem. The state security service continues to be called KGBELARUS (KGB). Significantly as of 2002, the names of the main Soviet era newspapers and magazines had not been changed. Their preeminent position in the market also had been kept intact. These particular features explain in part why undemocratic and authoritarian tendencies in Belarus after 1991 had a significant impact on the media.

As of 2001, Children under the age of 15 accounted for 20 percent of the population. The adult population was 58 percent and senior citizens over 60, some 21 percent. The population is mostly urban: 70 percent live in the cities and 30 percent in the rural areas. The literacy rate is high. In 2000, some 1,547 million studied in secondary schools while 95,000 had graduated. About 281,000 students attended courses in universities and colleges. At the same time 61 million books and brochures were published. Total stock of books in public libraries amounted to 77 million copies. There are 296 telephones per 1000 people. Belo Russians accounted for 81 percent of the population; Russians, 11 percent; Poles, 4 percent; Ukrainians, 2.4 percent; and Jews, .3 percent.

The major cities are Minsk (capital), with the population of 1.7 million; Gomel, .49 million; Vitebsk, .34 million; Mogilev, .36 million. The size of national economy was in 2002 some 3 percent of neighboring Russia. The pace of post-communist reforms in this country is slow. The transition to the market economy is not as fast as in neighboring countries. As of 2000, the total percent of the population who worked in foreign owned companies was only .4; those who worked in mixed joint ventures (national and foreign capital) numbered 1.3 percent. In the government sector of the economy, workers numbered 57 percent, and in privately owned businesses, they numbered about 42.5 percent.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the biggest political party continued to be the Communist. The Human Rights issues were advocated by the Khartiia 97 movement. The nationalistic movements, unlike in other post-Soviet republics, constituted the opposition. Belo Russian National Front, United Civil Party, and Narodnaia gromada (Social Democratic Party) were allowed to operate, but their access to the media was insignificant.

The first newspaper on the territory of contemporary Belarus is believed to have been Gazeta Grodzen'ska (1776). It was published in Polish in a two-page format. Starting in 1838 the official newspapers were published in Russian (since it was an official language of the Russian Empire): Vitebskie gubernskie novosti (Vitebsk Provincial News, also Grodno, Minsk, and Mogilev). In 1862-63 K. Kalinoiskii published an underground newspaper, Muzhytskaia prauda (Peasant Truth) in Belo Russian language. The first authorized printing house for Belo Russian language publications was opened in 1906, Nashe Delo (Our Cause). After the October 1917 socialist revolution led by Lenin, several republican and provincial newspapers were established. In 1924 (district), in 1938 (regional), and in 1954 (papers at both district and region levels).

The most distinctive feature of journalism and media in general is that it is practiced in Russian. That makes sense since in a century before the 1917 Bolshevik revolution only 13 out of 249 publications were in Belo Russian language. During the years of independence the number of magazines and periodicals rose sharply from 129 in 1990 (those in Belo Russian language accounted for 36) to 354 in 2001 (those in Belo Russian accounted for 111). However, the yearly number of printing copies went down from 54.1 million (33 million in Belo Russian) to 16 million (4 million in Belo Russian). The rise in the number of newspapers displayed a different tendency, a jump from 224 titles (135 in Belo Russsian) to 610 (202 in Belo Russian). Total single circulation went from 5.7 million copies to 11.4 (Belo Russian language dropped from 2.3 million to 1.8 million). Annual circulation in million of copies went down from 985 million in 1990 to 635 million in 2000 (in Belo Russian language from 312 to 216). The country is open to Russian language publication from the Russian Federation as well.

Some Russian Federation newspapers have local editions: Komsomol'skaia Pravda prints 220,000 copies on Friday and 30,000 on a regular day. The most circulated Russian newspaper, Argumenty I facty (Arguments and Facts) has a 160,000 daily circulation in Belarus and includes a special local supplement.

Belarus by European standards is a closed society. Only 48,000 tourists visited the country in 2000, mostly from neighboring Poland (13,000). At the same time 1.2 million Belo Russians traveled abroad outside CIS and Russia.

As of January 1, 1995 in the republic there were published 525 newspapers. The national newspapers that belong to the government and are subsidized from the national budget date their existence back to Soviet times: Zviazda (Star), Literatura I mastatstva (Literature and Art), Sovetskaia Belarus (Soviet Belarus, in Russian, available on-line), Chyrvonaia zmena (Red Relief), Respublika (Republic), Narodnaia gazeta (People's Newspaper, in Russian), Nastaunitskaia gazeta (Teacher's Newspaper). Regional newspapers are: Zaria (Dawn, Brest), Minskaia prauda (Minsk Truth), Magileuskaiaprauda (Mogilev Truth). The titles of most of these newspapers have not changed since the Soviet Era. This fact suggests the much larger and pervasive difficulties and challenges of transition from Communism to post-communist society in this former Soviet Republic.

In the capital six non-government newspapers of general interest are published. Only one of them, Narodnaia Volia, can be considered daily (five issues a week). The second place belongs to Belorusskaia delovaia gazeta (four times a week, available on-line). The rest are typical large format weeklies.

Theoretically diverse political parties, civil organizations and movements, artistic and professional groups, and private citizens, all have a right to publish their own printed media. More than 1,000 newspapers and magazines are registered in the country. In fact, 80 percent of them belong to private citizens or businesses. However, only few non-government papers have a circulation running in tens of thousands: Narodnaia Volia, 75,000; Belorusskaia Delovaia Gazeta and Belorusskaia Gazeta, 20,000. The vast majority of regional papers have a circulation from several hundred to two or three thousand copies. The circulation of government papers surpasses those of private at the ratio of ten to one. To this should be added a variety of official local newspapers and those published by the government ministries. Vo slavu Rodiny (For the Glory of the Motherland) is published by the Ministry of National Defense for the purpose of indoctrination work in the armed forces. The industrial factories and Soviet era kolkhozy and sovkhozy (collective and Soviet peasant farms) also publish their own tabloid size four-page newspapers called mnogotirazhka. Minsk Auto Factory (MAZ) has its own Avtozavodets paper.

All government papers are subsidized from the budget, either presidential or national, or from the special foundations held by industrial enterprises. Though the printing costs in the republic are high, the sales price is brought down by heavy subsidies. There are no problems with distribution for government paper. The local authorities mandate their subordinates and managers of the state firms and enterprises to subscribe to government papers, both national and regional. This is another Soviet-like feature of the press.

Language Issues

The paradox of the current situation in Belarus is the fact that the government represented by the president, prime minister, administration of the president, security service (KGB), and to a large degree by the president-controlled Parliament forces, all try to impose the Soviet era style of government and the Russian language as its main instrument while the opposition promotes the national Belarus language and culture and is oriented to Western European values. Therefore the government makes systematic efforts to subvert the national press, especially the local one.

As of 2002, this typical situation could be illustrated by Baranovichy, a town in the Brest region near the Polish border. According to a population census, 83 percent of the people in Baranovichy consider Belarussian their mother tongue and 40 percent use it in everyday communication. However, there are only 3 independent newspapers in this town of 170,000, and all of them are published in Russian. Belaruskaye Slova (Belarusian Word), the first Belarusian language independent newspaper in the town, was founded in 1991 at the beginning of the national revival period. But in 1994 it was economically strangled; the fine imposed on the publication for an article published in it amounted to its several annual budgets. After that, the ex-editor of the newspaper tried to restore the newspaper, but extremely tough conditions of registration along with absurd prices for printing and distribution made it impossible.

The Largest Newspapers by Circulation

As of the early 2000s, Sovetskaia Belarus (The Soviet Belarus) was published by the Administratsiia Prezidenta Respubliki Belarus' (the President's Office of Belarus). Founded in 1927, the daily paper, initially the mouthpiece of the local branch of Communist Party, had Format A2 and half a million copies. It was printed in Belorusskii Dom Pechati (Belo Russian House of Press), the main state owned printing facility in the Republic. Respublika (The Republic), with a circulation of 120,000, was published 250 days a year by the Soviet Ministrov (Council of Ministers) since 1991 in both Belo Russian and Russian. This paper was also printed in Belorusskii Dom Pechati. Begun in 1999, Soiuz (Union) was published by the Ispolnitel'nyi komitet I Parlamentskoe sobranie Soiuza Belarusi I Rossii (Executive Committee and Parliamentary Congress of Belarus and Russia), the main bodies of proposed union between Russia and Belarus. The publishers were Belorusskii dom pechati andRossiiskaia Gazeta (Russian Newspaper), the official organ of the Russian Government. The stated circulation was of 900,000 copies. Vechernii Minsk (Evening Minsk), format A2 evening newspaper was published in the capital. It produced 100,000 copies, and half of the newspaper was advertising and the rest mainly local news. First issued in August 1917 in Russian in Minsk, Zviazda (Star) is published five times a week. Starting in 1925, it was partly Russian, partly Belo Russian and after 1927 it was exclusively in Belo Russian. It is the official newspaper covering the activities of the Supreme Soviet and the Cabinet of Ministers. The monthly supplement, Chernobyl (which began in 1993) deals with issues linked to the nuclear power station disaster in neighboring Ukraine in 1986. Literatura I mastatstva (Literature and Art) is a weekly dealing with literature, theatre, music, and cinema.

The Belarus Orthodox Church has the most members of any church functioning in the Republic. It is part of the Russian Orthodox Church. While responding to major decisions taken by the Moscow Patriarchate, it still has certain independence in internal affairs. This lack of completely independent national status for the Orthodox Church (unlike in the neighboring Ukraine and elsewhere) also reflects the somewhat incomplete nature of Belarus independence. A religiously connected magazine, Minskie eparkhial'nye vedomosti is published four times a year (in format 4A with 250 pages). The official church newspaper Tserkovnoe slovo is published on an irregular basis. The activities of foreign religious organizations as well as representatives of Vatican are severely curtailed and monitored. They are often called "totalitarian sects" and their religious work labeled as "pernicious".

Economic Framework

Before the break up of the Soviet Union in December 1991 Belarus occupied 1 percent of the USSR national territory and accounted for 4 percent of its GDP. However, the very nature of command economy made the republic highly dependent for supplies on other parts of the country. After the proclamation of independence, hyperinflation ensued and production collapsed. Two-thirds of the capital left the country. Eighty percent of the enterprises were on the verge of bankruptcy. By the end of 1990s the economic collapse had stopped. As of 2002, according to the government data, 98 percent of the active adult population was employed in production industries. The same statistics source claimed gross domestic product (GDP) in the 1996-2000 period rose 36 percent; investment rose 13 percent; and industrial output increased 65 percent. Personal income rose 71 percent and commerce doubled. However, the published statistics in post-communist countries have to be viewed with some degree of healthy skepticism. The particular feature of Belarus is the slow pace of privatization and the absence of oligarchic structures (a mixture of former Communist Party, KGB, and government moguls that privatized huge parts of the national economy). The most important business activity is controlled, in fact, by the President's Administration Office. The government becomes in practice the main businessman in the Republic.

Distribution Networks

Most newspapers are published by Belorusskii Dom Pechati, the megaprinting house owned by the state and are also distributed by a government monopoly network, Belpochta (Belo Russian Mail). Belpochta sets different tariffs for government and non-government media. By illustration, the tariff set for the privately owned Belorusskaia Delovaia Gazeta for the second quarter of 2000 was five times higher than for the government paper, Respublica. Yet the format and size of these two newspapers is identical. Moreover, there are difficulties facing independent distributors. Pressures from the Association of Journalists forced Ministry of Business and Investment to issue a warning to stop discriminatory tariffs for non-government media. The Ministry of Communications, whose subsidiary is Belpochta, defended itself by stating that any medium is free to distribute its product in any possible way through government, cooperative, NGO organizations, or with the help of private citizens.

Press Laws

The Belarus Constitution, adopted by the thirteenth session of the Supreme Soviet on March 15, 1994, states in its Article 5 that "political parties and other social organizations have the right to use state media in the way it is established by the law." The same article prohibits the formation of the parties aimed at changing constitutional order; propaganda of war; and national, racial or religious hatred. Article 33 states: "Manipulation of Media by the State, social organizations and by average citizens, as well as censorship are not allowed." Article 34 provides for the soliciting and dissemination of information about the government activities, "political, economic and international life." In practice, however, the declaratory democratic pronouncements of the Constitution are de facto annulled by other Laws, Rules and Regulations.

The most significant political event regarding the press was the treatment of the figure of the President Aleksandr Lukashenko (Belarus 1954) who came to power in 1994 and managed to get reelected for a five-year term in 2001. The political climate imposed by Lukashenko's regime in the country is expressed by the "above the law" status of the president himself and to some degree it anticipated the pattern of Russian political development after the election of President Vladimir Putin in March 2000, which brought with it increased militarization, the appointment of security forces cadres to key government positions, and a curtailing of independent printed and electronic media.

According to the Constitution, the president is a head of state and de facto of the government, a "guarantor of the Constitution, of rights and freedoms of people and citizens, he personifies the unity of the nation and guarantees the realization of the main directions of internal and foreign policy." The provision for the "unity of the nation" and the demonstrated practice of power have been one of many causes of serious human rights violations and suppression of the press in the Republic. As some human rights organizations, the Council of Europe, European Parliament, Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe and others suggest this totalitarian concept of the "unity of the nation" is in practice a cover for the establishment of an authoritarian state in the heart of Europe.

Press Related Laws

Government Decree no. 144, adopted on February 26, 1996, stipulated that purchase of printing equipment could be carried out only by the permission of the Government Committee on the Press (now Ministry of Information). Without this permit no media could operate in the republic. No license was needed in the case of certain government agencies' publications and official blanks, wrapping paper, stickers, and rice tags. The rest of the publications in order to be printed need a government license. The publishing license could be obtained if the particular medium has on staff "professionals with University degrees, three years experience in the publishing business and those who have successfully passed a qualifying examination." Those without these requirements did not qualify.

The media were required to post the information about the publisher. The compulsory posting on bonds, however, did not exist, but the newspapers, especially the independent ones, had to be constantly ready to disclose all financial information to the government-controlled tax and revenue police. In fact the tax office in post-Soviet societies is one of the major instruments of government control over the media. The violation of copyright laws is prohibited as well the infringement of "thematic scope" and publishing in languages not authorized in the license.

Obligatory copies of certain publications are distributed widely, sent to the ministries, national libraries or book chambers. Poor printing quality is not allowed. The political control includes a ban on media use of information that is considered state secret "or any other secret especially protected by the law," any appeal towards "the violent change of existing government and social order, war propaganda, violence and cruelty, racial, national, religious supremacy or intolerance, pornography, as well as any publishing activity that contradicts the interests of the Republic or any other illegal activities." The government is entitled to suspend the license for up to 6 months and in case of a recurrent violation suspend the license altogether. ("Regulation on the Licensing and the Use of Licenses" issued by the Committee on the Press on May 21, 1997).

Article 16 of the Press and Media Law that regulates the Belarus media stipulates the following steps to be taken leading up to the closure of the media. First, the Ministry of Information or a local attorney makes a written warning when the media violate the laws. Two or more warnings during a twelve-month period can lead to the closure of the media. In the year 2000 more than 50 warnings were issued. Most of the warnings dealt with article 5 of the Press Law that bans any "dissemination of information made in the name of political parties, trade unions or any other social organizations that did not pass Government registration" in the Ministry of Justice.


Though the Constitution bans the censorship, some agencies monitor the press and therefore exercise strict censorship. This government system includes the State Committee on the Press (Republican Government) that in the late 2001 was replaced with the Ministry of Information. There are regional executive committees (regional governments) that have Upravlenie po pechati (Department on the Press) (for example, in Brest, Vitebsk, Mogilev, Gomel) or Upravlenie obschestvenno politicheskoi informatsii (Department of Social and Political information, in Grodno) or Upravlenie informatsii (Department of information, in Minsk). Natsional'naia knizhnaia palata (National Book Chamber) monitors all printing activities in the Republic in terms of collecting and filing all printed materials.

Cases of Actual Censorship

Government vs. Narodnaia volia illustrates the point. On one occasion the most influential independent newspaper, Narodnaia Volia used the verb "expelled" in the context of the prominent Belo Russian writer, Vasil' Bykov, who lives in Germany. The Press Committee issued the official warning to the newspaper based on the interpretation of the word. It stated Bykov was not "expelled," but rather "for some time he had been living and working in Finland invited by the PEN-CluBelarus. Now he lives in Germany. He is not considered 'an expelled person' as claimed by Narodnaia Volia. " A warning of this type can foretell closure and is usually signed by the Minister of Press (Information) Suspension. In August 2001 the authorities confiscated 10 computers belonging to the same Narodnaia Volia. The official reason was the fact the computers were not registered as belonging to the editorial office rather than to private citizens namely, the journalists. Therefore they could not be used on editorial premises. The editorial staff was left with only four computers.

Government vs. Lambda also illustrates how censorship works. In March 2002 the only gay publication in the country, Forum Lambda, was closed down. The license was removed because according to the government the magazine that had "registered as scientific, popular, culturological edition, for more than a year had been published as an erotic one." In September of 2001 the magazine had received a first warning with the same text. It coincided with the official ban of a "Gay Parade 2001" in Minsk whose main organizer happened to be the magazine. The tax police immediately studied the publication's bookkeeping and tax receipts but did not find any irregularities.

The cases against government newspapers are hard to win. Helsinki Human Rights Group vs. the Government illustrates the point. After the 2001 Presidential election, a leading human rights association, The Bela Russian Helsinki Committee, demanded a "refutation of slanderous data disseminated" in the leading government newspaper Sovetskaya Belorussiya. The newspaper had claimed that the Helsinki Committee activities subverted the country's national security. The article in question was published in the newspaper's special issue, whose circulation was twice that of a regular one. Its main topic was candidate Alexander Lukashenko's election program. The special issue was produced in full color on eight pages and was distributed free of charge. The court first of all refused even to consider the sources for financing the issue. Then it declined to study the veracity of the information. For months after that news, the group tried hard to get this information publicly refuted. The human rights defenders addressed in vain the republican KGB, the Security Council (top national security body) and the Presidential Administration requesting these institutions to confirm or deny BHC's involvement in anti-state activities.

In April 2002, the Ministry of Information issued yet another official warning to Narodnaia Volia for "dissemination of baseless unsupported statements regarding the President of Belarus." It was a reply to an article, "Great Laundry" that claimed that the president's office had privatized the most lucrative part of national economy (arms trade) and the president wanted to launder those profits in Austria. The newspaper objected the reprimand because the news had been reprinted from the Web site of Radio Liberty.

The government tries to intimidate even the foreign journalists working and covering the country from abroad. In January 2002 the KGB of Belarus sent a letter to Russia's Secret Service FSB protesting against statements made by top Russian TV journalist Pavel Sheremet (Bela Russian by birth). KGB claimed public statements made by Sheremet damaged constitutional order in the country, were of anti-government nature, discredited Belo Russian leadership and as a result damaged relations between two countries. Russian authorities as a routine disregard these protests made by their closest political ally.

The censorship as an all-pervasive Soviet-style institution works as well at the local level, with municipal government publications, industrial enterprises and collective farms. For example, the director of the agricultural machinery plant, Gomsel'mash, issued an internal memo entitled "On the Relationship with Media," which ordered the editor of the factory's newspaper to review all types of documents (texts, speeches, articles, addresses, letters) that were being sent from the factory's official to the media. This document was announced to all 10,000 workers and they were specifically advised that any appearance in media had to be previously approved.

Judiciary and the Media

The criminal code was adopted by Palata predstavitelei (Chamber of Representatives of the Parliament) on June 2, 1999 and approved by the Soviet Respubliki on June 24, 1999. It includes six chapters (out of nine) that potentially infringe on the freedom of press and individual liberties. "Crimes against Peace, security of humankind and military crimes," (propaganda of war), "Crimes against Social Security and Population Health," "Crimes against Social Order and Social Morals," "Crimes against Information Security," "Crimes against State (gosudartsvo ) and order of execution of Government and management" (vlast' i upravleniie), and "Crimes against military service". (The remaining chapters are: "Crimes against Person" and "Crimes against ownership and way of conducting of economic activities.") It is one of the most repressive criminal codes in all of the post-Soviet world except perhaps some Central Asian countries.

Article 198 establishes that any impediment in any form of the lawful professional activities of journalists or forcing them to divulge or desist from dissemination of information (with violence or with the threat to use it) entails a fine or banning to occupy certain positions or imprisonment up to three years. Article 204 establishes a fine for the denial of an official to give to a citizen documents and materials concerning this citizen. Article 367, "Defamation regarding the President of the Republic of Belarus" (kleveta v otnoshenii prezidenta respubliki Belarus) applies to any public pronouncement, printed or publicly displayed work, or in the media that may draw a fine, correctional works up to two years, or imprisonment up to four years. Article 368, "Insult of the President" (oskorblenie prezidenta ), stipulates that a public insult would draw a fine or two years imprisonment. The treatment of the President became the central worry of the Bela Russian state and its police and law enforcement organs. Defilement of State symbols (coat of arms, flag and anthem) draws up to one year imprisonment. Other crimes include: State secrets, official secrets, "illegal production, acquisition or sale of means for illegal receipt of information."

State-Press Relations

Organization and Functions of Information Ministry

On June 14, 1996 the government Committee on the Press was instituted. On October 26, 2001 it was dismantled and a Ministry of Information formed in its place which is headed by a minister appointed by the president and managed by a seven-person board.

At the provincial level the Directorates of Information exist. They are attached to the provincial executive committees (local governments). According to the law the main tasks of the ministry include: "government regulation of the spreading of information," carrying out of the government policy towards media, control, economic measures in media and publishing business and distribution of books, coordination of policies with other states, and finally the "formation of the media culture."

The Ministry of Information has a monopoly right to license media and all publishing and printing activities in the territory of Belarus. It takes measures to prevent "abuse of media freedoms, free publishing and censorship" and it is in charge of publishing of the "socially important literature," textbooks, etc. It also makes decisions on forming, reorganizing and closing of media organizations. It forms correspondents bureaus abroad and takes care of the accreditations procedures for foreign correspondents (in conjunction with the External Affairs Ministry).

The Right to Criticize the Government (Theory and Practice)

The Constitution proclaims the freedom of the press. In practice, criticism of the president as the supreme authority of the nation often is a prelude to a crack-down. this applies to all media both printed and electronic. The opposition claims that since the top management of the Belo Russian Television and Radio Company is named by the president it is totally subordinated to him. Political opposition therefore is denied any access to the government owned media.

The agreement reached in October 1999 about a wider access of the political opposition to the Government media and the creation of equal opportunities to all forms of media ownership went largely ignored by the authorities. A case of local newspaper Pagonia and its editors illustrates the point. Nikolai Markevich and Pavel Mazeika were tried on charges of slander against President Lukashenko. If convicted, they might face up to five years in jail, under Belarus criminal laws. Both international and domestic media freedom watchdogs denounced the criminal libel prosecution of journalists as a gross violation of the freedom of expression standards.

Suspension and Confiscation of Newspapers

Newspaper Noviny published in Belo Russian has been popular in opposition circles. Reportedly the president of the country gave an order to the Security Council chief to file a case against the newspaper for an alleged "insulted honor and dignity" of the president and seek financial compensation. The claim was presented at the court and satisfied in the record short time. The amount of fine was so big that the newspaper was forced out of business. Half a year later it made an unsuccessful effort to come out under a different name.

In September 2000 several issues of the opposition newspaper Rabochii (Worker) published by the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions was confiscated. It had called citizens to boycott the October 15 parliamentary elections. Police and KGB confiscated 150,000 copies of the newspaper and arrested its editor-in-chief, the lawyer representing the newspaper and the director of the printing shop.

In the first four months of 2001 the printed media received 68 warnings from the Government Committee. The government lost only one trial brought against Brestskii kur'er. In the year 2000 only four trials were lost by the government.

State Control over the Press

Control is exercised in a simple but effective way, the financial one. The government owned newspapers receive heavy subsidies from the budget. It allows them to establish a symbolic subscription price (less than one U.S. dollar for three months, that is, one cent a day). At the same time the distribution through the government-controlled post office for a privately owned newspaper costs four to five times more than for the government one. The competition becomes difficult, if not impossible.

The average monthly salary in the country is US$35. Potential readers must choose to purchase the most economic media product. This explains the skyrocketing circulation of the main government paper, Sovetskaia Belarus (half a million copies). The government also monopolizes all remaining infrastructure dealing with the press. The printing, mailing, and selling of the press is regulated by the state. The result of this protectionist policy is that the circulation of independent press is ten times smaller than the newspapers and magazines sponsored by the government.

The authorities in the little town of Smorgon in early 2001 explicitly prohibited local government offices and businesses from subscribing to the non-government newspaper Novaia gazeta. Atypically, its circulation was five times larger than the local official paper. The post office was required to submit the lists of all government subscribers to independent paper in order to punish them.

Different branches of the government try to exercise its influence over the press. Sometimes their interests are conflicting and damaging the State. Ministry of the Interior (police) was reportedly refusing to give accreditation to the official government newspaper, Respublic. The newspaper in the past had criticized the Minister of the Interior, and it had reported cases of corruption and organized crime within the police force.

Attitude towards Foreign Media

In general the attitude towards foreign media is governed by the atmosphere of strained relations with the European Union, the Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the United States.

Accreditation procedures for foreign journalists

Foreign journalists are required to submit an application in order to get a professional accreditation in Belarus. It includes personal information, a name of the organization which is requesting the procedure, and valid journalism credentials. Based on this submission, the External Affairs Ministry grants or denies the accreditation.

The activities of foreign journalists and those national citizens working for them are governed by the government polozhenie (statute), "On Stay and professional activities in the territory of Republic of Belarus of offices and correspondents of foreign media registered in the Republic of Belarus." More specifically, the rules are listed in the Instruktsiia (Instructions) issued by the External Affairs ministry. There are two types of accreditation: permanent (up to one year) and temporary (up to two months).

Apart from the application, a short note on the history and status of foreign media should be supplied with relevant information, as well as resume on professional activity of a correspondent. The same procedure is required for technical personnel. The Ministry resolves the case in two months period. When the permit is granted the Consular Division of the Ministry sends a written authorization form allowing the Belo Russian Consulate in a given country to issue a year-long multiple entry professional visa (godovaia mnogokratnaia sluzhebnaia viza ). Once in the national territory, foreign journalist gets an Accreditation Card. Family members get a special card as well as professional visa. The temporary accreditation follows the same procedure. The only difference is the visa is granted in 20 working days after the application is received. The activities of foreign correspondents de jure are monitored by the Department of Relations with Media at the External Affairs ministry and de facto by the security service, KGBELARUS.

A common practice adopted by foreign media in Belarus is to hire local journalists and photo correspondents to cover events in the country. Doing so, however, creates additional pressure on the journalists who are local citizens and not covered by diplomatic immunity or other privileges accorded to the foreign nationals.

No diplomats, consular officials, representatives of foreign businesses, offices, or any organizations can be granted foreign correspondents accreditation. Certified national journalists can neither work for foreign media. Foreign journalists can form a professional journalistic association, can freely travel on the territory of the Republic except in case of "objects access to which is limited in accordance with the Republican legislation." In 1997 the visit of two Russian TV journalists to a forest near the Lithuanian border brought about their arrest and created an international scandal between Russia and Belarus. The Belarus authorities claimed the forest had military installations.

The Rules specifically stipulate that "rights and freedoms exercised by foreign correspondents should not damage interests of the Republic of Belarus, rights and legal interests of citizens." The specification of these obligations includes a requirement to check out the veracity of information, "present for publication objective information," not allow false or untrue assertions to be aired, to get permission for news on private life of the citizen from the citizen concerned, "while receiving information from citizens and officials notify them about the use of this information in audio, video, cinema and photo materials as well in the form of text." Rules also required journalists to carry a professional identification. Finally, a foreign journalist is required to "fulfill other obligations stipulated on journalists by the law and international treaties signed by the Republic of Belarus." The full responsibility falls upon the shoulders of foreign journalists in case they divulgate information considered state or "any other guarded by the law secret," or they are engaged in "the propaganda of war, social, national, religious, racial hatred, make calls to seize power, or violently change the constitutional order or infringement of the territorial integrity of the republic." If they stipulate the formation of "illegal social organizations, aid and make propaganda of their activities." Finally it is specifically prohibited to "attempt against the morality, honor and dignity of citizens and officials of the state, in particular dissemination of information viciously attempting against honor, dignity and business reputation (chest', dostoinstvo I delovaia reputatsiia ) of the President of the Republic of Belarus." "Other illegal activities" are mentioned without specification. This language and practice follow closely the repressive legislation and practice of Soviet era.

The reprisals envisioned by the Ministry include the following steps: a) the first warning; and b) the reduction of the time of stay in the Republic for foreign nationals or the expulsion from the republic. Foreign journalists can be denied accreditation in the following cases: a) violation of rules after the first warning and the "dissemination of facts not corresponding to the reality," and b) in cases envisioned by the international agreements on civil and political rights. If the foreign media employ unauthorized personnel it can be denied accreditation for six months. A special Committee of the Ministry of External Affairs deals with the accreditation of journalists.

On May 8, 2001, this committee officially warned Iurii Svirko, a local journalist working for the foreign media, about violations in the "rules of order" governing foreign journalists' work. The warning was reportedly made on behalf of the president's Security Service. The Service among other priorities monitors media coverage of the president. The decree mandating this was adopted in 1998 but was never made public.

In September 2001, the Belo Russian consulate in Bonn, Germany, refused to grant visas to six German journalists. They were invited by the Belo Russian office of UNESCO as part of a bilateral exchange program. The refusal was motivated by the fact that the journalists did not have an accreditation with the Ministry of External Affairs (MID Belorussii). In fact the journalists on exchange trips unlike those traveling on business do not need accreditation.

In January 2002, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its concern with a comment made by Russian National TV channel NTV journalist Pavel Selin on the detainment of Mikhail Leonov, general director of the Minsk Tractor Factory (MTF). The NTV correspondent said: "Products of the Minsk Tractor Factory are mainly exported to Russia. President Lukashenko is known to resist the mass penetration of Russian capital into the profitable branches of Belarus' industry. He is no less active in getting rid of those who are standing out for the strong economic relations with brotherly Russia." The head of the NTV bureau in Minsk was immediately summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Commenting on this event the head of the ministry's information service, said: "In our opinion, the comments made on the detainment of MTF director were an insult to the Republic of Belarus and distorted the real picture and the fight against embezzlements." According to the journalist, the Ministry's official said that the conversation had the status of an official warning. He added that if NTV did not change its attitude to covering events in Belarus, the accreditation in the country might be cancelled.

News Agencies

The government-owned Belo Russian Telegraph Agency (BELTA) was founded in January 1921. For 70 years it worked as a provincial subsidiary of the main Soviet News agency TASS. In 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union it became independent. It prepares daily 80 to 100 news items on mostly government approved information. It is mailed to and it is required publication material by the national and local newspapers, TV and radio stations. Some foreign subscribers, diplomatic missions, companies, and major Russian Internet companies are also among the subscribers. Photographs done by BELTA correspondents are sent to Poland, Germany, Rumania, and People's Republic of China. BELTA publishes a weekly information and analysis magazine Sem' dnei (Seven days) that has a circulation 100,000. Using its government status the news agency is actively involved in publishing business (books, posters, brochures, booklets). According to its official Web site, "it is ready to fulfill any printing order."

Another domestic news agency is BelaPAN. Created in 1991, it has a reputation for disseminating alternative source political, economic, and other information from Belarus. It is subject to all the restrictions imposed on media but can be considered semi-independent from the government not unlike the Interfaks agency in Russia. The company distributes its information to the subscribers and has its own correspondents in all regions of the country as well as in the neighboring states. It has an analytical service, advertisement agency, editorial office, and a sociological service, Zerkalo (Mirror). In 1999 it started publishing its own weekly Otdykhai (Have a Rest) geared at travel agencies and tourism.

Broadcast Media


Belo Russian Television began in 1955. Only 4,500 people had TV-sets at that point. One channel broadcasted six hours a day. The signal reached a radius of 60 kilometers. In 2000 the First national channel broadcasted 17 hours a day in all the republic's territory. The programming included strict schedules of newscast, division of programs in three blocks (morning, afternoon, night), variety of programs, and took into consideration different categories of viewers and TV ratings.


Belo Russian Radio was inaugurated in November 1925. The broadcasts were aired in Belo Russian language with a signal range of 300 kilometers. At that time, broadcasts lasted only 30 minutes a day as compared to the early twenty-first century where it broadcasts 29 hours a day on two national channels. In June 1998 it started broadcasting into the neighboring areas of the Russian Federation and in Ukraine. Four hours a day it broadcasts abroad. The government radio station Stolitsa broadcasts 17 hours a day.

The same laws and regulations that govern the printed media apply to the Belarus Radio which is strictly controlled by the government in terms of the distribution of frequencies, equipment, and other facilities. It is considered a strategic media because the majority of the households has standard radio sets that are connected to so-called "radio lines," a practice dating back from the early Soviet times. This is especially true in the rural areas where it is common scene for the government station to be heard non-stop from the loudspeaker located at the main square.

After Belarus' independence many FM stations sprang up. The most listened to is FM station "Stolitsa" (The Capital) broadcasting almost 18 hours a day. It has what is called in the former Soviet Union, a "European" style of broadcasting that combines popular music and information segments. But it is a government property and forms part of TV and radio media holding. Radio "Belarus" also broadcasts four hours a day in Belarussian, Russian, English, and German languages.

The government claims the official radio is popular, accessible, offers a great amount of information, is fast and has a high content of coverage of problematic issues. But critics argue it is a spoken version of the government's printed propaganda.

SummaryBroadcast Media

The government policies regarding TV and radio broadcasts are even stricter than for printed media since no private enterprise is allowed in this type of media. Commenting during a yearly trip to the TV offices on October 12, 2001 President Lukashenko stated his criteria regarding the type of person who should lead the television company: "It would be a person, who carries out a government policy. Television is a serious force. It will never leave from out of control of the state and will never lack its support. The new head of TV without doubt will be President's man, the same way I am your man, and all of us are people of the Government."

Electronic News Media

The pioneer of the development of internet technology in Belarusas well as in the other parts of CIShas been the "Open Society" Institute, part of the George Soros Foundation. It distributed thousands of computers free of charge to civil society and non-government institutions in addition to subsidiaries of the official Academy of Sciences of Belarus. However, only in Belarus have drastic measures been taken by the security apparatus against its offices that were closed down in 1997 and its officials expelled. The mechanism used to evict "Open Society" represents a common pattern in dealing with independent media in both print and electronically.

There are an estimated 180,000 users of the Internet in Belarus. Almost four-fifths of them live in the capital Minsk. Users can access information on the republic from independent sources not available in printed format (the semi-clandestine National Radical Party is publishing an internet newspaper "Molot" otherwise it would not be able to disseminate its information). Some other media both government and independentare also present in electronic format. For example, republican, local, and commercial information newspapers: "Belorusskaia delovaia gazeta," BELTA News Agency, "Sovetskaia Belorussia." "Vecherny Gomel" (regional business paper), "Press Reklama" (newspaper with free advertising), "Gomelskie Vedomosti," free-advertising newspaper "BEKO Plus, ""DJAM" newspaper (advertising and information), "Shans" newspaper from Gomel (advertising and information), "Smorgon News" (the independent newspaper of Smorgon including local news, free classifields, and a photo gallery) and "Optovick Belorussii".

Education & TRAINING

Belorusskaia Assotsiatsiia Zhurnalistov

(Belo Russian Association of Journalists), a professional group of 800 journalists, is a special interest lobby. The Association sponsors a Law Center for Media protection. The officers and experts of the Centre have acted as defense attorneys in trials against Belarusian journalists: the case of Svaboda newspaper, closed down by authorities in November 1997; the case of Pavel Sheremet and Dmitry Zavadski, Russian ORT TV network correspondents, convicted to suspended sentence in December 1997-January 1998; the cases of administrative prosecution against journalists covering peaceful mass protest actions. Russian Tsentr ekstremal'noi zhurnalistiki (Centre for Extreme Journalism) has its office in Belarus and monitors the violation of press freedoms.

The Journalistic education in Belarus is being carried out at the Journalism Faculty of Belarus State University in Minsk. The magazine Kul'tura movy zhurnalista (The Culture of Journalists' Language) has been published since 1982. The journalists formed the Union of Journalists of Belarus to represent the government-oriented media. Before its closure by the authorities and expulsion from the republic in 1997, George Soros' Open Society Institute, made a significant contribution to the civic education of journalists through generous grants and scholarships and seminars.


The situation with the press and other media in Belarus represents a paradox. According to some observers the country in the heart of Europe is perhaps the only vestige left of the totalitarian culture that governed half of Europe for a significant part of the twentieth century. According to Belarus government it is an island where post-communist chaos, mafia, oligarchs, and other vice could not take hold. Living in isolation from Europe but trying to form a joint country with Russia Belarus severely curtailed personal freedoms and freedom of the press in the name of so-called national unity.

The government involvement in the media is unparallel even with former Soviet republics (Moldavia, Ukraine, or neighboring Russia). The independent media have to be printed in Lithuania or Ukraine. At the same time the country watches Russian TV and reads Russian newspapers. Russian is the de facto media language of the Republic.

As of 2002, it seemed certain that pressure for the liberalization of the country would continue. Internet technologies, TV broadcasts from other countries, and the support of democratic governments around the world and NGO for a constitutional opposition eventually may lead to the democratization of the country.

Significant Dates

  • 1994: A new Constitution is adopted.
  • 1994: Aleksandr Lukashenko is elected president.
  • 1995: Iosif Seredich is removed by the president from the parliamentary official newspaper Narodnaia Gazeta and he starts publishing an independent Narodnaia Volia.
  • 1996: A Treaty on the Formation of Commonwealth of Belarus and Russia is signed.
  • 1997: A Union Treaty between Belarus and Russia is signed.
  • 1997: The Council of Ministers (Government) approves a document drafted by External Affairs Ministry. It is the main code that governs foreign journalists activities in the Republic.
  • 1997: Russian National TV journalists Pavel Sheremet and IuriiZavadskii are arrested in Belarus.
  • 1997: President Lukashenko cancels his visit to Russia. President Boris Eltsyn demands: "Let him free Sheremet first."
  • 1997: Sheremet and Zavadskii are freed.
  • 2000: The Russian TV cameraman Zavadkii is abducted at Minsk national airport at Belarus capital. His colleague Cheremet arrives at the airport and finds Zavadskii's car at the place where the cameraman usually parked it. Dmitrii disappears without a trace. The arrest of the former Belarus Army Special Unit "Almaz" officer Valery Ignatovich prompts speculations about government involvement in the case.
  • 2001: The authorities close down the independent newspaper Pagonia accusing it in libel against the president. It has published a limerick about Lukashenko. All equipment and all copies of the paper are confiscated. The editor replies that during the presidential campaign the newspaper has criticized all candidates.
  • 2001: The Supreme Court of Belarussia in its closed session studies the case of disappearance of the cameraman Zavadskii.
  • 2001: Iosif Seredich is charged with dissemination of information "denigrating the authorities."
  • 2001: Non-government media journalists hold unauthorized protest against government closure of local opposition newspaper Pagonia. Passersby are offered toilet paper with printed message: "Ideal Press According to the President."
  • 2000: Grodno local newspaper Pagonia is closed down indefinitely by the decision of the court. The 14 journalists protesting the closure picket and are arrested.


Belarus Entsyklapedychny davednik (Belarus. Encyclopedia). Minsk: Belaruskaia entsyklopedyia, 1995.

Kanstytutsyia respubliki Belarus (Constitution of Belarus Republic). Minsk: Polymia, 1994.

Knizhnoe delo. Pressa Belarusi (Book Publishing. Belarus Press). Minsk: Natsional'naia knizhnaia palata Belarusi, 1999.

Martselov, Stanislav. Na putiakh stroitel'stva sotsializma. Pechat' Belorussii. vol. 1926-37 gg. Minsk: Izdatel'stvo Belarus, 1972.

Pechat' Belorussii v period razvitogo sotsializma (Belarus Press in the Period of Developed Socialism). Minsk: Belarus, 1982.

Respublika Belarus' v tsifrakh. Kratkii statisticheskii sbornik (Republic of Belarus in Numbers. Short Statistical Book). Minsk: Ministertsvo statistiki I analiza Respubliki Belarus, 2001.

Ugolovnyi kodeks Respubliki Belarus (Criminal Code of Belarus). Minsk: Natsional'nyi Tsentr pravovoi informatsii Respubliki Belarus, 1999.

Leonid Maximenkov

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Belarus." World Press Encyclopedia. . 20 Oct. 2016 <>.

"Belarus." World Press Encyclopedia. . (October 20, 2016).

"Belarus." World Press Encyclopedia. . Retrieved October 20, 2016 from



Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of Belarus
Region: Europe
Population: 10,366,719
Language(s): Byelorussian, Russian
Literacy Rate: 98%
Academic Year: September-May
Compulsory Schooling: 9 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 5.9%
Foreign Students in National Universities: 3,714
Libraries: 11,329
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 625,000
  Secondary: 1,064,700
  Higher: 328,746
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 98%
  Secondary: 93%
  Higher: 44%
Teachers: Higher: 40,300
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 20:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 96%
  Secondary: 95%
  Higher: 49%

History & Background

The Republic of Belarus (the former Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic) became an independent state in 1991, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Situated on the crossroads between Russia, the Baltic states, Poland, and Ukraine, Belarus has an important geopolitical location and covers a territory of 80,134 square miles (207,546 square kilometers) with a population exceeding 10 million. The capital and the biggest city is Minsk (1.7 million people). Of 118 ethnic groups living on its territory, the major ones are Belarusians (77.9 percent), Russians (13.2 percent), Poles (4.1 percent), and Ukrainians (2.9 percent).

Belarusians are Eastern Slavic people with a language similar to Russian. They use the Cyrillic alphabet invented by the Byzantine monk, scholar, and philosopher Cyril (827-869 A.D.) and his brother Methodius (826-885 A.D.). In the tenth to twelfth centuries, the territory of modern Belarus was part of Ancient Russia. The main method of instruction was teaching children how to read religious books copied in Turov, Vitebsk, Slutsk, Pinsk, and other major cities. One of the first Belarusian educators was the bishop Cyril Turovsky (c. 1130-1182), who wrote numerous precepts on moral values. In the thirteenth century, Belarus became part of Lithuania. In spite of the national and religious contradictions, which were tearing the Lithuanian Principality apart, literacy gradually spread among townspeople, artisans, and merchants.

After the establishment of the Polish-Lithuanian state, called Rzecz Pospolita (1569), the development of Belarusian culture was strongly affected by the Reformation. The followers of the Orthodox Church were, consequently, in an underprivileged position. The curricula of confessional Protestant schools included religious dogmata, church singing, languages (Belarusian, Latin, Greek, and sometimes Ancient Russian), rhetoric, poetry, dialectics, history, and mathematics. The emergence of printing shops resulted in the publication of textbooks, some of them in the Belarusian language.

Brotherhood schools established in 1590 in Mogilev, Brest, and other large cities had a tremendous impact on the development of Slavic culture. These schools were affiliated with Orthodox monasteries and admitted children from different social groups. The educational process was divided into two stages. In the first stage, reading, writing and church singing were taught. In the second stage, Old Slavic, Greek, grammar, rhetoric, poetics, foundations of mathematics, and philosophy were covered. Orthodoxy played an important part in the curriculum. All the organizational problems, including the length of study, were negotiated by the parents and the teacher in the presence of neighbors. The children who excelled in studies were granted honorable seats in the classroom. Corporal punishment was limited, and the schools even had elements of student self-government.

The period from the late 1700s to early 1800s saw the growth of Catholic and Uniate schools, which were often attached to monasteries. Such schools prevailed until the abolition of Unia in 1839. Most of the teaching in Catholic and Uniate schools was done in Polish. Between 1773 and 1794, general secular education developed under the influence of the Education Commission, which opened twenty schools with curricula centering on natural sciences. The first establishment of higher learning in Belarus was the Grodno Medical Academy (1775-1781).

In the 1790s, after the breakup of Rzecz Pospolita, Belarus was reunited with Russia. This resulted in the formation of 20 new Russian schools. The first teacher training seminary opened in Vitebsk in 1834. The opening of the Gory-Goretsk Agricultural School in 1840 marked the beginning of secondary professional education. The democratic trends and reforms of the 1860s fostered the development of cultural life in Belarus. By 1865 there were 567 educational institutions, including 12 secondary, 45 incomplete secondary, 21 theological, and over 400 elementary schools. The progressive public movement for the education of female students initiated the establishment of almost 30 schools for women. In response to the 1863-1864 Polish resurrection, the Russian government issued Temporary Rules, which intensified the policy of Russification in Belarusian schools. In 1867, the czarist government prohibited publishing in the Belarusian language, its use in the school curricula, and as a language of instruction. Because of insufficient financing parents had to collect their own money in order to build primary schools. For the most part, secondary schools were unaffordable for common people. In 1894 Belarus and Lithuania, which constituted one educational district, had only 16 secondary schools. The literacy rate in the age group from 9- to 49-years-old was only 32 percent.

The Russian Revolution of 1905-1907 sparked the struggle of the Belarusians for their cultural identity and creation of national schools. About 25 preschools emerged in Minsk, Vitebsk, Mogilev, Grodno, and Bobruisk. In 1906 the first illegal teachers' convention in Belarus called for the establishment of general compulsory schooling and the use of the mother tongue as a language of instruction. The same year the czarist government lifted the prohibition against publishing in Belarusian. Another convention, which assembled in Vilna in 1907, instituted the Belarusian Teachers' Union. Its activities, including the publication of a newspaper for teachers, promoted the reconstruction of public education on democratic principles, introduction of self-government,and the use of the Belarusian language in schools. By 1917, Belarus had 7,682 general education institutions, including 7,492 primary, 119 incomplete secondary, and 71 secondary schools with a total number of 489,000 students, mostly from well-to-do families. On the professional level, there were 15 secondary professional schools with nearly 1,500,000 students, 10 agricultural and 3 obstetrical schools, 8 teacher's seminaries, and three teacher training institutes. Higher education was virtually nonexistent. Although progress was evident when the Mogilev and Vitebsk pedagogical institutes were opened in 1918.

In 1919 Belarus became part of the Soviet Union. The Statute on Unified Labor School of the Russian Federation was applied to the Belarusian educational network. Its primary aim was to reshape the educational system on the basis of free compulsory schooling. Labor education was deemed the basis for "the Communist rebirth of society" and the medium for promoting proletarian values. Major efforts were directed against illiteracy. Most of the big schools used Belarusian as the language of instruction. The main type of school was the labor general or polytechnical school with seven years of instruction for students aged 8 to 15. In 1920, Narkompros (Peoples Commissariat of Education) organized a preschool department, which supervised 25 nursery schools and kindergartens, as well as 10 preschool children's homes. The search for innovation initiated the development of experimental communal schools and other nontraditional forms, which were strongly encouraged by Lenin and his wife Krupskaya. Programs of Communist ideology were introduced on all educational levels, from preschools to universities, as well as through the network of workers' clubs, libraries, and publications. Active propagation of the "foundations of Leninism" began in 1924. The policy of promoting workers to higher education (at the expense of other social groups), in order to train intellectuals loyal to the Soviet government, was materialized in the form of rabfaki (workers' faculties). The first one was opened in 1921 at the Belarusian University in Minsk. By 1935 there were 28 workers' faculties with 11,000 students. The revised university curricula included historical materialism, history of the proletarian revolution, economic policy of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and other indoctrination subjects. In 1932, it was claimed that Belarus had attained universal primary education. That same year the Soviet of People's Commissars of the Belarusian Republic made a decision about universal education for illiterate adults aged 15 to 45. By 1939 the literacy rate was 78.9 percent. In 1940 the system of professional education included 40 FZUs (primary factory schools), 6 railway schools, 58 technicums (secondary technical schools), and 15 institutions of higher learning.

During the period of Stalinist political terror, almost 4 million Belarusians were executed, imprisoned, deported, or otherwise forcibly relocated, among them were numerous representatives of the intellectual community. In Western Belarus, which was annexed by Poland in 1919, the situation with schooling was drastic. By the late 1930s, about 400 Belarusian schools had been closed and almost 70 percent of the population was illiterate. After the reunification of Belarus in 1939, a unified school system started functioning in Belarus. By 1941 there were about 12,000 primary and secondary schools with 1,700,000 students; 128 professional secondary schools; and 25 higher educational institutions with 56,500 students.

The Nazi troops, which occupied Belarus in 1941, destroyed 9,000 school buildings (60 percent) with all the equipment and 20 million textbooks. The forest schools located within the zones controlled by 1,108 guerrilla groups (Brest, Minsk, Vitebsk, and others) continued to work throughout the war. Professional technical schools were evacuated to the Urals and Western Siberia. After the liberation of Belarus in 1944, the school network was restored and developed further. By 1945-1946, some 24 higher educational institutions with 12,600 students had resumed their work. From 1946 to 1956 the number of students increased by 511,000 in secondary schools, 22,700 in specialized professional schools, and 35,900 in higher education.

The Twentieth Communist Party Congress condemned Stalinism and began radical reforms in all spheres of life, including the educational system. The new curricula aimed at forging close links between general education and productive labor. The period after 1959 was marked by the emergence of complex facilities, such as nursery school kindergarten. By 1976 the Republic had attained universal secondary education. In 1981 there were 3,716 preschools, 12,294 general education primary and secondary schools, 220 vocational technical schools, 135 secondary professional schools, and 32 higher educational institutions. The educational crisis of the 1980s made it evident that the system did not adequately meet national and regional requirements or create favorable conditions for the use of the Belarusian language. The innovations of the perestroika (reconstruction) period of the late 1980s and early 1990s resulted in the establishment of new types of schools, as well as bilingualism based on close relations between the Belarusian and Russian languages. The Law on Languages of the Belarus Republic (1990) and other changes followed the declaration of independence of Belarus in 1991 and contributed to the democratization and diversification of the educational system.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

The legal foundations of the Belarusian educational system are in the Constitution adopted in 1994 and further revised in 1996. Article 49 guarantees every Belarusian citizen the right to a free general secondary education and vocational training. Secondary specialized and higher education can be obtained free of charge in state educational institutions on a competitive basis. The principles and functions of education are further defined in the laws: "On Education in the Republic of Belarus," "On Languages," "On National and Cultural Minorities," "On the Child's Rights," as well as a number of statutes and regulations.

According to Article 14 of the Law on Education, the system is composed of preprimary education, general secondary education, professional technical education, secondary specialized education, higher education, educational staff training, advanced training and retraining, and independent education. The Law spells out the main principles of the educational policy, which include:

  • the priority of human values
  • national and cultural basis of schooling
  • scholarly character achieved through improvement of the content of education
  • forms and methods of instruction
  • cooperation of research institutions with educational establishments
  • connection with social practice
  • continuity and structural coherence
  • secular character
  • compulsory basic (nine-year) schooling

One of the principles emphasized by the Law is the ecological orientation of education. This issue is of special importance because of the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, situated six miles from the southern border of Belarus. The disaster at Chernobyl occurred on April 26 to 28, 1986, and Belarus suffered 75 percent of the effects of the explosion. As a result, more than 20 percent of its land was contaminated by radiation, and more than 500,000 people had to be relocated. Schools in Belarus were expected to educate students about security and behavior under unfavorable ecological conditions. The law also prescribes educational establishments to take care of the children's health, especially in regard to those who live in the areas affected by the radiation.

The goals of education identified by the law are:

  • to promote the harmonious development of personality and realize its creative potential
  • to foster national identity and preserve and increase the intellectual wealth and national values of the Belarusian people and other ethnic groups of the republic
  • to develop the scientific, technical, and cultural activities in accordance with the needs of the republic
  • to develop a conscious attitude towards democracy as a form of administration and existence
  • to cultivate respect for the world order, based on the acknowledgement of political, economic, and social rights of all peoples

Educational SystemOverview

The educational system of Belarus combines the structure inherited from the Soviet Union with a new content developed as an independent state. Preprimary education, which includes nursery schools and kindergartens, is optional. Primary education (three or four years of instruction), basic secondary education (five years of instruction), and upper secondary education (two years of instruction) usually coexist within one school. Initial or secondary vocational education requires from one to four years of training. Higher education is represented by institutes, academies, and universities.

In 1998-1999, Belarus had 4,500 preschool facilities; 4,783 general education schools; 249 vocational schools; 151 specialized secondary; and 57 higher educational institutions. The total number of students exceeded 2,100,000. The number of teachers employed in the educational sphere approached 200,000. There were more than 100 advanced training and retraining institutions.

In 1990, when Belarus was still part of the Soviet Union, the law "On Languages in Belarus" proclaimed Belarusian the state language of the republic and stipulated the right to use Russian as the medium of international communication. After the declaration of independence in 1991, language became a political issue. The Belarusian government authorized a state program aimed at the development of Belarusian and other languages in the territory of the republic. The Constitution of 1994 (amended in 1996) gave equal status to the Belarusian and Russian languages. Article 6 of the Law on Education states that the choice of the language of instruction is voluntary. The study of Belarusian, Russian, and one foreign language is obligatory. The decision of administrative organs, as well as the request of citizens can initiate the establishment of programs with full or partial instruction in the language of a national minority.

In the 1990s, more than 3,500 schools (66.7 percent) were using Belarusian as the language of instruction. There were 140 schools with intensive study of Belarusian. In 1,600 schools the teaching was done in Russian, and 140 schools (mostly in the Grodno region) introduced Polish into their curricula.

Preprimary & Primary Education

According to the Law on Education (1991), the main aim of preprimary education is the stimulation of a child's natural desire to learn about the surrounding world. While the leading role belongs to the family, preschools are expected to contribute to children's moral and physical development, and provide them with access to the Belarusian language, culture, and folk traditions.

Yasli (nursery schools), which constitute the initial stage of preschool education, cater to the needs of infants from six months to three-years-old. Dzetsady (kindergartens) take care of children from three to six years of age and prepare them for entry to primary school. Traditional preschools include half-day (6 hours), full-day (12 hours), and 24-hour facilities. The law prescribes that state organs, enterprises, social organizations, and individuals give material, pedagogical, and psychological support to preschool institutions. In reality, in the 1990s the state financing of preprimary education was reduced, and the financial situation in preschools significantly deteriorated. The number of institutions decreased from 4,988 in 1992 (485,000 children) to 4,500 in 1997 (434,000 children), and this tendency continues.

The innovations of the post-perestroika period (the 1990s) initiated the establishment of preprimary institutions of new types: family-type and boarding-type preschools, facilities with short-term stay, flexible programs, and individual schedules. They are based on the best world experience and take into account the ideas of personality-oriented pedagogy. Vykhavatseli (teachers) for preschools are trained in 15 educational institutions: 3 pedagogical universities, 1 pedagogical institute, 3 colleges, and 8 pedagogical secondary schools situated in Borisov, Gomel, Grodno, Minsk, Mogilev, Brest, Vitebsk, and other cities.

Secondary Education

General secondary education is the main part of the system of continuous education in Belarus. It is represented on three levels:

  • primary school (first to fourth grade, six or seven to nine years of age)
  • basic secondary school (fifth to ninth grade, ten to fifteen years of age) leading to incomplete secondary education
  • upper secondary school (tenth and eleventh grade, sixteen to seventeen years of age), which leads to complete secondary education

The primary and secondary level institutions sometimes function separately (predominantly in rural areas); in the city they are usually combined within one school. The academic year begins on September 1 and continues through the end of May, and they have an examination session in the ninth and eleventh grades. School operates on a quarterly schedule, with four vacations: a week in November, two weeks in early January, a week at the end of March, and two and a half or three months in the summer. Students go to school five or six days a week. The daily number of classes varies from four in primary school to six in the senior grades. Lessons last 40 or 45 minutes, with shorts breaks between classes.

Almost all the schools are coeducational. On the primary level, children are divided into classes of twenty-five to thirty students, who study as a permanent group until the end of secondary school. The program opens with a relatively simple curriculum, with new subjects added every year. In the eleventh grade, there can be as many as 17 or even 20 subjects. The grades used for evaluation are numerical: five is excellent, four is good, three is satisfactory, and two is failure. Students who fail in two or more subjects are required to repeat the year's program. Successful completion of secondary school is the main route into higher education. In 1998-1999 the system of general secondary education in Belarus included 4,783 secondary schools with 1,650,000 students.

Primary education begins at six or seven years of age and encompasses the first three or four grades of the general education school. The reform of the 1980s, when Belarus was still part of the Soviet Union, attempted at the transition to universal four-year primary education starting with the age of six. The reform was premature and schools could not cater to the needs of all the six-yearolds. As a result, the modern Belarusian primary school allows for two options: children can start school at the age of seven and study three years (old system), or enter the first grade at the age of six and study four years with a lighter schedule and more attention given to games. The choice depends on the child's medical state and the parents' wish. The program of the first grade can be also covered in kindergarten. In the future, all primary schools are planning to adopt a four-year program.

The curricula include basics of the Belarusian and Russian languages (reading and writing), mathematics, nature study, initial knowledge about society, and national history and culture, all of which are taught by the same teacher. Other subjects are labor, music, and physical training. Great attention is given to the development of the child's individuality, personal hygiene, and a healthy way of living. Students also engage in extracurricular activities: school concerts and holiday parties, trips, excursions to museums, theaters, and libraries. In 1997-1999 the Ministry of Education, in conjunction with the National Education Institute, developed new curricula and textbooks for primary schools.

Basic secondary school (fifth to ninth grade) is compulsory and leads to incomplete secondary education, which can be continued on the upper secondary level (tenth and eleventh grade). The content of education and forms of control are based on the curricula developed according to the state requirements, as well as regional and national peculiarities. The Communist indoctrination programs, which was a significant part of the curricula during the Soviet times, have been replaced by more diversified courses that allow room for alternative points of view and personal opinions. Yet, the state control of education is strong and reveals itself in the requirements of the content of education, which are prescribed by the executive organs of the Republic. The state standards include an obligatory list of subjects and the minimum number of hours assigned for them. The major subjects are the Belarusian and Russian languages, literature, mathematics, sciences, Belarusian and world history, law, foundations of modern civilization, art, music, world culture, labor, and physical training. A foreign language (predominantly English, German, or French) is introduced in the fifth grade. Students get cumulative grades in every subject at the end of each quarter. After the ninth and eleventh grade they are required to take examinations. All students who successfully complete 11 years of study receive the Certificate of General Secondary Education. Those who get excellent marks for all the semesters of the tenth and eleventh grade, as well as the final exams, are awarded a gold medal. Students with no more than two good grades (all the others being excellent) receive a silver medal. The medals have a moral value, but they also give their owners privileges when they apply for entry to higher educational institutions. In 1998, gold medals were awarded to 6 percent and silver medals to 6.1 percent of secondary school graduates.

In addition to the traditional general education secondary schools, the 1990s saw the development of new types of institutionsgymnasiums and lyceums. Gymnasiums provide comprehensive humanitarian education, often centered on the study of foreign languages. They are expected to have a highly qualified teaching staff, use innovative textbooks, and to have modern methods of teaching. Lyceums offer professionally oriented education and are usually affiliated with higher educational or research institutions. In 1999 the Republic of Belarus had 73 gymnasiums (69,100 students) and 25 lyceums (13,600 students), which correspondingly made up 1.5 and 0.5 percent of all secondary daytime schools.

Due to the social and economic problems of the 1990s, the number of orphans and children left without proper parental care has significantly increased. In 1998 there were 27 ordinary and 22 family-type children's homes, 31 general secondary boarding schools, and 25 sanatorium-type institutions under the supervision of the Ministry of Education. The disturbing statistics of the same period showed that 10.9 percent of Belarusian children had problems with their psychic and physical development. These 21,500 students were accommodated at 80 boarding schools for mentally and physically handicapped children, 27 rehabilitation centers, and 707 special schools. There were 417 secondary school classes for students with learning disabilities. Two thousand children with health problems were tutored by visiting teachers at home.

The general secondary school reform of 1998 foresaw the development of culturally specific programs, restructuring of the curricula, and the introduction of new state standards and an innovative syllabi. One of the long-term goals was a gradual transition to 12-year secondary schooling, which would provide for a more even distribution of the study load across the curricula, and which would include 17 courses instead of 24 or 27. The new arrangement would also allow more time to students' individual needs, interests, and peculiarities, as well as a greater diversification of the educational process. An additional school year would help solve a number of demographic and social problems (e.g. insufficient, number of opportunities in the job market). Other innovative state programs dealt with the improvement of rural schools, intensification of the study of foreign languages, computerization of the education system, dissemination of 212 new textbooks, and other issues. An important step would be the development of a unified national test for admission to higher educational institutions. It would involve the creation of a national testing center, the development of assignments on all the subjects, entrance exams, and the replacement of separate exams by a universal test, which would be recognized by all higher educational institutions.

The Belarusian system of vocational training functions on two levels. The first level encompasses vocational technical schools (PTU) and apprenticeship programs for blue-collar jobs. Applicants may be accepted by PTU after 11 years of general secondary school and in this case take a year-long course to acquire a professional skill. Students with basic general education (nine grades) study three years to get both professional training and complete secondary education. The curriculum of PTU is distributed between theoretical (73 percent) and practical courses (27 percent). It includes general secondary, general professional, and special subjects, as well as electives and individual consultations.

Students are divided into groups of 12 to 25 people and are supervised by their main teacher called the "master of industrial training." Schools are usually attached to industrial enterprises, which provide students with onthe-job training. The modern tendency is to integrate several skills into the educational process in order to ensure the students' greater adaptability to the job market. In 1998, about 250 vocational technical schools with more than 130,700 students trained specialists in 400 professions. The number of PTU graduates totaled 54,400. There were 4,000 teachers and 7,363 masters of industrial education employed on the initial vocational level program.

The second level of vocational training is provided by technicums, colleges, and professional secondary schools called vuchylishcha. These institutions prepare middle-level technicians, assistants of higherqualification specialists, independent qualified workers performing tasks that require both practical skills and theoretical knowledge, as well as specialists of nonproduction areas (librarians, obstetricians, nurses, preschool and primary school teachers). In 1999 this network comprised 151 state and 6 non-state secondary professional institutions, which provided training in 154 specialties. There were 16 professional technical colleges for students with physical disabilities, with training in 14 different specialties.

The course of study at the secondary professional level lasts from three to four years and is concluded by qualification exams and the defense of a diploma project. A number of former professional schools have been transformed into colleges. Professional schools are usually affiliated with higher educational institutions and work in close contact with them. Consequently, this arrangement can lead to a bachelor's degree at a college. Another option is for the college students to continue their studies at a higher educational institution, with the courses previously taken counting towards the university degree. Educational institutions are expected to reveal and develop the students' interests and abilities and to give them vocational guidance and advanced professional training. Integrated continuous education is provided by a study complexes' lyceum (college or higher educational institution) with a coordinated curricula. Faculty from higher educational institutions often lecture at colleges, assist instructors with curricula development and methodological work, participate in qualification exams, and prepare study materials. Partnerships of this kind prove to be highly effective.

Innovations in the system of vocational training are primarily defined by new trends in society. Educators have to review the inventory of professions with regard to the market demand; change the content of education by diversifying the curricula; give the students an opportunity to express their individuality and creativity; and introduce new subjects in response to the changing times. Schools must work in close contact with prospective employers, enterprises, and businesses.

Higher Education

The Belarusian system of higher education consists of universities, academies, and institutes. It comprises 42 state and 15 non-state higher educational institutions (VNU) with a total of 243,700 thousand students. Universities and academies offer graduate and post-graduate programs and are engaged in fundamental research. Whereas universities offer education in a wide variety of areas, academies have a narrower specialization (e.g., medical or management academies). Institutes are also highly specialized and usually have no post-graduate programs. They can function as separate entities or as part of a university. Higher educational institutions offer full-time (day) and part-time (night and correspondence) programs.

The degree that has been traditionally conferred by Belarusian higher educational institutions is Certified Specialist. It usually requires five years of training, success in final state examinations, and defense of a thesis. The study at medical institutions lasts longer and has a different set of requirements. The need to integrate into the world educational community has stimulated the introduction of two other degrees: Bachelor's, after four years of training, and Master's, after six years of instruction. The advanced scholarly degrees include Kandydat navuk (literally "Candidate of Sciences") and Doktar navuk (Doctor of Sciences). The degree of Kandydat is approximately equivalent to a Ph.D. and requires at least three years of post-graduate study, success in qualification examinations, and the defense of a dissertation. The Doktar's degree is highly prestigious and can be obtained after many years of teaching and independent research. A three-year sabbatical called daktarantura leads to the defense of a second dissertation of high theoretical and practical value. The defense is preceded by the publication of several dozen articles and at least one monograph. In 1999, about 54 percent of all faculty members in Belarus had advanced scholarly degrees. The total number of post-graduate students exceeded 2,500.

Teachers of higher educational institutions are promoted to faculty positions through the process of competition. Applicants submit documents, which are expected to prove their professional competence and ability to engage in scholarly research. All the papers are reviewed by a special commission, which conducts an interview with the candidate. Since there is no tenure, all the faculty members have to go through this process every five years. The faculty positions are: Assistant, Senior Lecturer, Datsent (which usually requires a Kandydat's degree), and Professor (usually with a Doktar's degree). The scholarly ranks of Datsent and Professor are conferred to faculty members who have worked in the corresponding position for at least a year and have a number of post-defense publications.

A higher educational institution is headed by the Rector, elected by the Academic Council, which makes major decisions about educational policy, curricula, and staffing. The institution is divided into faculties, headed by Deans. All faculty members are organized according to their specialty into departments called kafedry.

Applicants to higher educational institutions must have completed secondary education. The admissions are highly selective: on the average, in 1996 there were 250 applications per 100 spots in full-time programs. Since some specialties are much more popular than others, the competition in the departments can be very intense. The prospective students have to take three to five entrance examinations. The obligatory subjects for all applicants are the Belarusian language and literature or the Russian language and literature. Other subjects, which have to be connected with the future specialty, are set up by the institution on the basis of the list, developed by the Ministry of Education, which includes: a foreign language, history of Belarus, new world history, humankind and society, geography, physics, information science, mathematics, chemistry, biology, art, music, technical drawing, and other subjects. The applicants who score the highest are admitted to free studies and are even paid a small monthly stipend. Those who have a gold or a silver medal take only one exam and are admitted if they get an excellent grade. Previously, higher education was free for all students. Now a certain percentage of students at state universities (those who passed the examinations but did not win the competition) pay tuition fees.

All the enrolled students are divided into permanent groups of 25 to 30 people. They stay together as a group throughout the period of their studies, which allows them to develop close friendships. The schedule is made for the whole group. The structure of the curricula largely depends on standards developed on the state level. This is done in order to ensure the quality of education in the whole Republic. The main categories included in the curricula are general, general professional, and specialized subjects. The share of electives is comparatively small. The academic year begins on September 1 and is divided into semesters.

Students are graded both for their current work and examinations taken at the end of each semester. The grades used for evaluation are "excellent, good, satisfactory, and unsatisfactory." In case of a failure, students are allowed to retake the examination three times, the last time before a panel of professors. If they fail, they are expelled from the university. Excellent students receive an increase to their stipend. The course of study culminates in a state profile exam and/or defense of a thesis. Students who graduate with honors are awarded a "red certificate."

Under the new socioeconomic conditions, higher education is increasingly charged with the task of restructuring the curricula, diversifying the educational process, and adapting it to the requirements of the market economy. The enrollment figures are steadily growing, mostly because of the emergence of private institutions, as well as paid programs within existing universities. The most popular and competitive programs are in management, economics, law, and foreign languages. The new specialties offered by higher educational institutions include:

  • classical languages and literature
  • Japanese and Chinese
  • commercial activity in commodity and service markets
  • standardization and certification
  • printing industry technology

Among the most important tasks in higher education are:

  • the preparation of a new law on higher education
  • development of educational standards that would establish universal requirements for institutions of different types and provide a basis for their accreditation
  • a gradual switch to multilevel higher education
  • the integration of universities into the world educational community

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

The Belarusian educational system is administered by the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus (legislative function), the Council of Ministers (executive function), the Ministry of Education, and the local administrative organs. The state organs define the educational policy; formulate the requirements to educational institutions; authorize the order of their establishment, reorganization, and liquidation; allocate resources for their financing, and approve the curricula. In their turn, local organs are responsible for the development of education within the range of their control. They define the numbers and structure of personnel training, allocate funds and establish tax benefits for the educational institutions in their territory, and pay special attention to the national peculiarities of the region under their jurisdiction. Educational institutions are independent in their decisions about the organization of the educational process and their financial activities, as long as they observe the laws and respect the students' and teachers' rights.

Belarusian education is financed from state and non-state sources. The primary sources of financing are the state and local budgets. According to the law, the state funds must constitute at least 10 percent of the national revenue. Other sources include the profit from paid educational services, research activities, contract sums for personnel training, and contributions of enterprises, organizations, and individuals. In 1996 the respective share of state and non-state financing of education was 80 and 20 percent.

When Belarus was part of the Soviet Union, education in all kinds of institutions was free of charge. The new economic situation of the 1990s brought about the establishment of private institutions, as well as the development of paid programs within state institutions. In 1999, about 83.0 percent of students were studying at the expense of the state budget, whereas 16.7 percent were paying tuition fees. There were 15 non-state institutions with a total of 36.5 thousand students.

Nonformal Education

According to Article 17 of the Law on Education, state organs, enterprises and public organizations are encouraged to establish extra school cultural, aesthetic, scientific, technical, and sports facilities, in order to satisfy the individual requirements of children and youth. In 1996 Belarus had 3,318 different nonformal educational facilities. They provide an elaborate arrangement of instructional and recreational activities through a network of children centers (former Young Pioneer palaces), ecological, technical, and computer teenage clubs, part-time music, art, and sport schools, as well as centers of folk art and crafts. Independent education for adults is carried out through "people's universities," which organize a variety of courses on different subjects; national cultural centers; evening courses on foreign languages, accounting, and finance; and sports clubs, which are gaining more popularity. An important educational role belongs to libraries, information centers, social organizations, publishing houses, and mass media.

Teaching Profession

The Law on Education guarantees teachers adequate working conditions, protection of their honor and dignity, and salaries at least 1.5 times higher than average wages in industry. In the 1990s, though, the state of educational institutions was steadily deteriorating because of inadequate financing. Teachers' salaries were humiliatingly low, with long delays in their payment. In spite of all the difficulties, teachers still constitute one of the most enthusiastic and selfless groups of the Belarusian population.

Teachers are trained at professional secondary schools (vuchilishcha ), teacher training institutes and universities, as well as classical universities and other higher educational institutions. In 1999 secondary schools were staffed by teachers of different ranks: 80 percent with higher education, 16 percent with specialized secondary, 3 percent with incomplete higher and 1 percent with general secondary education. Out of 17,100 faculty members of higher educational institutions, 54 percent had advanced post-graduate degrees (Kandydat and Doktar ). Educators are concerned that the teaching profession on the preprimary, primary, and secondary levels has become a predominantly female profession. In 1999 there were 2,672 women and only 67 men teaching in primary schools. In higher educational institutions the figures are more evenly distributed between men and women (correspondingly 58.7 and 41.3 percent).

Every five years primary and secondary school teachers have to go through the process of attestation. As a result, they are assigned a category, which reflects the level of their professional efficiency and influences their salary. University teachers are promoted to faculty positions on a competitive basis. The upgrading of qualification is attained through faculties and institutes of advanced training, methodological seminars, and professional development courses, spirantura and dactarantura.

The research Institute of Pedagogy of the Ministry of Education, organized in 1928, is engaged in fundamental study of the history and theory of education, methods of teaching, as well as the development of state programs, curricula, and textbooks. Educational research is also conducted by the National Institute of Education, university departments of pedagogy and psychology, specialized research institutes, and laboratories. The Pedagogical Society founded in 1972 has a number of regional and city councils. Other organizations include the Teachers' Union, Council of School Directors, and the Association of Educational Researchers.


Belarus' independence, the transitions to a market economy, and the quest for democratization have initiated important changes in Belarusian education. It was restructured and most of the educational institutions were subordinated to the Ministry of Education instead of to numerous ministries and agencies. Family and special education were included in the educational system. Courses indoctrinating Communist ideology were eliminated from the curricula. The content of education became more diverse, with more attention given to each student. The reform, which will continue until 2010, aims at providing equal educational opportunities for all citizens; reviving national and regional cultural peculiarities and reflecting them in the curricula; developing the legal basis of education; and working out new mechanisms of financing the educational system.

In order to integrate its educational system into the world community, Belarus is actively cooperating with Russia, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), and a number of European countries. In 1999 Belarus and Russia signed a treaty on a two-state union envisioning their greater political and economic integration. The same year they adopted a joint programThe Formation and Development of a Unified Educational Community of the Belarusian-Russian Union. It is centered on a number of projects aimed at the preservation of the historical and cultural unity of the two states. The major ones are the coordination of educational standards and normative bases of the licensing; attestation and accreditation of educational institutions; the elaboration of a textbook on the history of Eastern Slavs for secondary schools; the unfolding of distance education programs; as well as the establishment of the department of Slavic Philology at Mogilev State University and the school of Slavic Studies at Smolensk State Pedagogical University. The CIS Council for Educational Cooperation was set up to ensure coordinated efforts directed towards the creation of a joint educational community, development of a mechanism of mutual equivalency of educational degrees and ranks, and generating a joint information system. In order to participate in European projects, the Republic of Belarus joined the European Cultural Convention. It also cooperates with UNESCO, the Council of Europe, TEMPUS/TACIS, the British Council, German Service of Academic Exchanges, and numerous United States organizations and agencies. Hopefully, all these efforts will stimulate an unprecedented expansion and diversification of the Belarusian educational system.


Arlova, H.P. Belaruskaya narodnaya pedahohika (Belarusian National Pedagogy). Minsk: Narodnaya Asveta, 1993.

Belarus at the Crossroads. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1999.

Drozd, L.N. Razvitiye srednei obshcheobrazovatel'noi shkoly v Belorussii 1917-1941 (The Development of Secondary General Education School in Byelorussia in 1917-1941). Minsk, 1986.

Ermak, V.I. Vysshie uchebnye zavedeniia Respubliki Belarus': Spravochnik abiturienta. 2000 (Higher Educational Establishments of the Republic of Belarus: Applicant's Handbook 2000). Minsk: TetraSistems, 2000.

Laptsionak, A.S., and V.A. Saleeu, eds. Natsyianal'naia samasviadomasts' i vykhavanne moladzi (National Independence and the Upbringing of Young People). Minsk: Natsyianal'nyi institut adukatsyi, 1996.

Latyshina, D.I. Istoriya pedagogiki. Vospitaniye I obrazovaniye v Rossii, X-nachalo XX veka. (The History of Pedagogy. Upbringing and Education in Russia, 10th-early 20th centuries). Moscow: Forum, 1998.

Obshcheye obrazovatel'noye prostranstvo-real'naya tsel' integratsii (Universal Educational Community-a Real Goal of Integration), 21 January 2001. Available from

Snapkouskaia, S.V. Adukatsyinaia palityka i shkola na Belarusi u kantsy XIX-pachatku XX stst. (Educational Policy and School in Belarus in the late 19th-early 20th century). Minsk: Natsional'nyi in-t obrazovaniia Respubliki Belarus, 1998.

Sotsial'no-ekonomicheskie i organizatsionnye problemy obrazovaniia na etape ego transformatsii (Socioeconomic and Organizational Problems of Education at the Stage of its Transformation). Minsk: Natsional'nyi institut obrazovaniia Respubliki Belarus, 1998.

Struktura natsional'noi sistemy obrazovaniya Respubliki Belarus (Structure of the National Educational System of the Republic of Belarus), 28 January 2001. Available from http//

The System of Education in the Republic of Belarus: Basic Indicators and Tendencies of Development (Materials for National Report of the Republic of Belarus to UNESCO International Bureau of Education), 25 January 2001. Available from

Olga Leontovich

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Belarus." World Education Encyclopedia. . 20 Oct. 2016 <>.

"Belarus." World Education Encyclopedia. . (October 20, 2016).

"Belarus." World Education Encyclopedia. . Retrieved October 20, 2016 from



Republic of Belarus

Respublika Byelarus



Belarus is a landlocked state in Eastern Europe bordering Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia to the west; Ukraine to the south; and Russia to the east and north. It has a total border of 3,100 kilometers (1,900 miles), with almost one-third of its border (960 kilometers, or 600 miles) touching Russia. Slightly smaller than the state of Kansas, Belarus covers an area of 208,000 square kilometers (80,000 square miles). Belarus is divided into 6 oblastsi (provinces). The cities of Minsk, Gomel, Brest, Vitsyebsk, Grodno, and Mogilev are the capital cities of these oblastsi.

Belarus is the smallest of 3 Slavic republics (with Russia and Ukraine) that were once part of the Soviet Union. These Slavic republics, along with 12 other regions, gained their independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.


The population of Belarus was estimated at 10.4 million in July 2000, with almost 75 percent living in urban areas. The population of the city of Minsk alone was estimated at 1.67 million in July 2000. The number of people living in Belarus peaked in 1993 and has been declining at an average annual rate of 0.5 percent. It is estimated that by 2015 the population will fall to 9.8 million. The negative population growth rate is partly due to a falling life expectancy (68 years; 62 years for males and 74 for females), a low fertility rate, and emigration . Belarusians are marrying at an older age and having fewer children. Low fertility combined with increased emigration has resulted in an older population. In 1960, for example, 32 percent of the population was considered "young" and 14 percent was considered "old." The corresponding figures for 1996 were 23 percent and 21 percent.

Ethnic Belarusians make up more than 77 percent of the country's population. Russians, many of whom were migrants to Belarus while it was still part of the Soviet Union (1917-91), form the second largest ethnic group (13 percent). The remainder of the population are Poles (4 percent), Ukrainians (3 percent), and Jews (1 percent), with a small number of Latvians, Lithuanians, and Tartars (0.1 percent). Before World War II, Jews constituted the second largest ethnic group in the country.

Belarusians emigrate from their country for economic, military, political, and religious reasons. Some estimates put the number of Belarusians living abroad at between 3 to 3.5 million. The United States is one of the principal countries of Belarusian emigration. Since 1946, more than 500,000 Belarusians have emigrated to the United States, many fleeing a country devastated by World War II (1939-45).

Both Belarusian and Russian are official languages. The Belarusian language is an East Slavic language, closely related to Russian and Ukrainian. Like many of the Slavic languages, Belarusian uses the Cyrillic alphabet. Most Belarusians who profess a religion adhere to the Eastern Orthodox Church. There is, however, a sizable minority of Roman Catholics, and the Eastern-rite (Uniate) church is experiencing a revival after centuries of persecution under Eastern Orthodox-dominated Tsarist Russia and atheistic (not subscribing to any religion) Soviet rule.


The breakup of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) in 1991 had a negative impact on Belarus. Although the majority of the former Soviet republics quickly shifted their economies toward the free market system, Belarus was among the slowest to open up its economy. International financial institutions, such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) assisted the country with credits and special economic development projects. Although their efforts resulted in some positive outcomes, they also increased Belarus's international debt. Whereas in 1991 the country was practically debt-free, in 2000 Belarus owed nearly US$800 million to foreign banks and government bodies.

Agriculture and industry are the largest sectors of Belarus's economy, making up 13 percent and 34 percent of GDP in 2000, respectively. Wheat, rye, oats, potatoes, flax, hemp, and sugar beets are the primary agricultural products. Dairy and beef cows, pigs, and chickens are also raised. The main industrial items produced in Belarus are tractors, trucks, earth movers, metal-cutting machine tools, agricultural equipment, motorcycles, chemicals, fertilizer, textiles, and some consumer goods . Peat, the country's most valuable mineral resource, is used for fuel and fertilizer and in the chemical industry. Belarus also has significant deposits of clay, sand, chalk, dolomite, phosphor, and rock and potassium salt. Forests cover one-third of the country's territory and the lumber industry is economically important as a result. Having only small reserves of petroleum and natural gas of its own, Belarus imports most of its oil and gas, mainly from neighboring Russia. It also imports large quantities of grain. The main export items are machinery and household items.

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident that took place on 26 April 1986 in Ukraine released massive amounts of radiation, contaminating large amounts of agricultural land in Belarus. An estimated 150,000 inhabitants had to move, and many people needed medical help. Chernobyl caused the government to take more than 23 percent of the country's agricultural land and 20 percent of forest land out of production. Economic output declined for several years after the accident, but revived somewhat in the late 1990s. The economic revival was due to several factors, including improved production techniques, better relations with foreign countries, and the introduction of privatization .

Under the socialist system of the Soviet Union, Belarus's economy was merely part of the national economy of the Soviet Union. After winning independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Belarus moved very slowly on free market reforms, keeping its basic economic reliance on Russia. Some reforms were implemented between 1991 and 1994, but they did not last long enough to make an impression. When Alexander Grigorjevich Lukashenka became president in 1994, many of these free market economic reforms were reversed. The government reintroduced price controls (an enforced price on an item) on at least 26 basic goods and services. Currency exchange regulations were re-imposed, and privatization was halted. The government subsidized businesses and farms. About half of all enterprises remained in state hands in 2000. Structural reform has been slower than in most other Commonwealth of Independent States (the CIS is made up of 12 republics of the former Soviet Union, not including the 3 Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia).

Russia remains Belarus's main trading partner, accounting for more than 50 percent of Belarus's foreign trade. Belarus has made several attempts at economic and political re-integration with Russia. Belarus seeks to use the Russian ruble as its currency by 2005, and hopes to see a common Russia-Belarus currency by 2008. Other major trading partners are Ukraine, Poland, and Germany.


There are 3 governmental branches in Belarus: the executive, including the president, prime minister, and council of ministers; the legislative, consisting of parliament; and the judicial, or the Supreme Court. Belarus has a president as the head of the state, who serves a 5-year term. The president appoints the prime minister, who is the head of the government. A bicameral (2-house) parliament consists of the 64-seat Council of the Republic and the 110-seat Chamber of Representatives. Judicial power in Belarus is in the hands of courts. The Constitutional Court exercises control over constitutionality (determination of legal validity based on the constitution) of acts and decrees. Administratively, the country is divided into 6 oblasts (administrative divisions). Local administration and decision making are carried out primarily by the Soviets of Deputies. There are several registered political parties: the Belarusian Popular Front, Party of Popular Accord, Union of Belarusian Entrepreneurs, Belarusian Party of Communists, Belarus Peasant Party, Belarusian Socialist Party, Social Democrat Party, Agrarian Party of Belarus, and United Democratic Party of Belarus.

President Lukashenka consolidated his power through a highly controversial election held in 1994. Based on the results of this vote, the Constitutional Court lost its independence, and the democratically elected parliament was abolished and replaced by presidential appointees. President Lukashenka used his increased power to suppress the freedoms of speech, press, association, and assembly. He also eliminated the system of checks and balances over the executive branch. In 1996 Lukashenka extended his term, which should have ended in 1999, to 2001.

Taxes are the primary source of government revenue. The taxation system of Belarus includes national and local taxes as well as other types of taxes and duties . National taxes are collected throughout the country and transferred to the national budget and extra-budgetary state funds. Local taxes are levied only within respective administrative and territorial units and transferred to local budgets. Belarus signed international agreements on avoiding double taxation with a number of countries. The country took steps to liberalize taxation and customs regulations, granting some benefits to investors in the 1990s. Belarusian laws allow foreign entities to make direct private investments in the Belarusian economy through the creation of joint ventures with as much as 100 percent participation of foreign capital.

From 1993 to 1999, investments in Belarus totaled US$697 million, a low figure compared to other former Soviet countries. The bulk of foreign investment came from Gazprom (Russia's state-owned gas company). The Yamal pipeline project funded by Gazprom will export natural gas to Western Europe via Belarus. Western investors in Belarus include the Coca-Cola company, which has been building a US$50 million plant in the capital city of Minsk, and Ford Motor Company, which holds a 51 percent stake in a truck assembly plant outside of Minsk.


Belarus has an extensive though aging infrastructure , which is badly in need of investment for repair and maintenance. A network of over 5,488 kilometers (3,409 miles) of railways and 52,131 kilometers (32,380 miles) of primary and secondary roads serve the country. About 11 percent of all roads are unpaved. The railways are used to transport both people and goods, and are in moderate use by international transit linking Western and Eastern Europe. Furthermore, the country has a large and widely used canal and river system, with 1 port at Mazyr. Nearly 5 percent of the former Soviet Union's fleet of ships are

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Belarus 174 296 314 N/A 1 1.9 N/A 0.77 50
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Russia 105 418 420 78.5 5 0.4 40.6 13.06 2,700
Ukraine 54 884 490 15.7 2 0.0 13.8 4.56 200
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

in Belarus. There are 118 large and small airports, few of which meet international standards. Only 36 airports have paved runways.

Belarus remains highly dependent on imported energy and has made little progress toward diversifying its exports and entering new markets. Many energy consumers, such as households, businesses, and even government offices, have not been able to pay their utility bills. Energy debt, mostly for natural gas, stood at more than US$250 million in May 2000. The government attempted to pay its debts by bartering and through agreements directly with Russia and Lithuania. Even though the large majority of electricity and fuel is imported, there is some domestic production of energy. In 2000 Belarus produced 25 billion kilowatts (kWh) of electric power, 1.8 million tons of gasoline, 3,500 tons of diesel fuel, and 5.6 million tons of industrial fuel oil.

Telecommunications services in Belarus are inadequate for both public and business use. Hundreds of thousands of applications from household telephones remain unsatisfied. Some investment on international connections and businesses has taken place, much of it in Minsk. There were 296 radios per 1,000 people in 1997, and 314 televisions per 1,000 people in 1998. A domestic cellular telephone system operated in Minsk, but only 1 person out of 1,000 owned a cellular phone in 1998. By 2000, the country had 9 Internet service providers. However, the number of personal computers in the country was very low.


More than half of the economy of Belarus is owned and operated by the state. The government's insistence on maintaining a centrally planned socialist economy and encouraging private and foreign investment has not been successful. Belarus's economic progress has fallen behind neighboring countries, many of which have adopted free market economic practices. Yet Belarus has a high capacity for progress. It has a relatively educated and skilled labor force (4.44 million in 1999) and it is situated in a strategic location of Europe. Industrial production (34 percent of GDP) dominated the economy in 1999, employing 28.9 percent of the workforce, but services employed almost half of the total workforce.

The lack of a free market system and human rights violations, such as the arrest of peaceful political activists and the control of radio and television stations, has discouraged substantial amounts of foreign investment. The country is short of foreign exchange reserves and has a relatively high inflation rate (more than 150 percent per year for 1998 and 1999). By March 2000, Belarus had not reached many of the economic goals through which it could receive additional International Monetary Fund aid. The government has been looking toward Russia for increased economic cooperation, such as increased trade, foreign investment, and an eventual unified currency.


Agriculture accounted for 23 percent of the country's 1998 GDP and employed nearly 650,000 people, or more than 17 percent of the labor force in 1999. The majority of agriculture is conducted on state-owned lands and farms. Private farms, however, are much more efficient than state farms. Private farms produce an estimated 40 percent of agricultural output, even though they constitute a mere 15 percent of all agricultural lands. The primary food crops produced by Belarusian agriculture are barley, corn, potatoes, sugar beets, and wheat. Meat products include beef, veal, chicken, lamb, and pork. The most profitable agricultural exports in 2000 were butter, alcoholic beverages, condensed milk, beef, and cheese. The total value of agricultural exports in 2000 was US$377 million, while the value of agricultural imports was US$911 million.

Independence for Belarus, as in many of the former Soviet republics, brought economic hardships and food shortages. Between 1990 and 1998, total agricultural production was reduced by 29 percent, and in collective and state farms, production was reduced by 44 percent. Production of grains and pulses in 1998 was 69 percent of that of 1990, potatoes 88 percent, meat 57 percent, and milk 70 percent. Animal husbandry also saw a reduction: the average yield of milk per cow in government farms fell by 23 percent from 1990 to 1998. The nutritional value of the average daily ration shrank by 14 percent during that period. Due to the poor economic situation, the per capita annual consumption of meat decreased by 14 kg (19 percent), milk by 59 kg (19 percent), and eggs by 57 units (18 percent).

Production of grains in 1998 was 4,475,000 tons. This provided less than half of the minimal grain requirements for the country. Grain yields fell by 31 percent during the period of 1990-98. Land sown to grain also fell by 4 percent. As a result of the grain shortage, Belarus was forced to purchase and import grain from abroad. Russia was a major source of grain imports for Belarus, making up 44 percent of all grain imports in 1998. Imports of grain from Ukraine constituted another 30 percent of the whole. Ukraine was also a major provider of corn to Belarus. To encourage the domestic production of wheat, the government offered an artificially high price for wheat to farmers.

Belarus requires no less than 350,000 tons of sugar per year, but the capacity of internal sugar factories is only 150,000 tons per year. Since internal sugar beet production covers only about 44 percent of the country's needs, the rest is provided by imports. Belarus purchases the majority of its sugar from the Ukraine. During 1998 a total of 476,000 tons of sugar was both produced and imported, leading to an accumulation of sugar reserves and to the export of excess sugar to other CIS countries, mainly Russia. The sugar beet growing areas are located in the Brest, Grodno, and Minsk oblasts, where the 4 main sugar factories are located. The crop takes only 0.7 percent of total farmland in the country. In accordance with state sugar program, the development of the sugar industry aims to increase sugar beet production, increase the production capacity of the 4 sugar factories, and reduce energy and raw material expenses.

Vegetable oil is produced locally and sold to Russia, and it is imported from the Ukraine. Production capacities of the fat and oil industry meet the domestic market demand for vegetable oil, margarine, mayonnaise, and soap, as well as allow for the export of some finished products. The fields devoted to rape (a type of herb with oily seeds used to make canola oil) were increased from 88,000 hectares in 1998 to 150,000 hectares in 2000. The total sowing area under oilseeds was still 16 percent less than what it was in 1990. In order to solve the problem of domestic vegetable oil needs, to expand the growth of oilseeds and to increase the efficiency of oilseed production, the government supplied farms with quality seeds, mineral fertilizers, pesticides, and specialized harvesting machinery. Furthermore, it strengthened the material and technical base for seed processing and drying. An increase of the domestic production of vegetable oil was also induced by the rapid rise of the price for imported oils and oilseeds. In 1998 the price of vegetable oil was US$1,161 per ton as compared to US$823 per ton in 1995. The largest volume of vegetable oil export was recorded in 1998 at 11,300 tons.


Industry plays a leading role in the economy of Belarus, responsible for 34 percent of its GDP. It includes more than 100 sectors and 2,000 enterprises, many of which are fully self-supporting, and employs nearly 1 million people (26 percent of the Belarusian labor force). Before the breakup of the Soviet Union, much of Belarus's industry was geared toward making military machinery. After independence, the country faced the challenges of changing from military to peacetime production, modernizing factories, and cleaning up industrial pollution left by old factories.


The main industrial products include metal cutting tools, trucks, earth movers, motorcycles, bicycles, television sets, radios, refrigerators, and chemical fibers. In addition, tires, timber, paper, board, textiles, and clothing are produced. Agricultural machinery is one of the specialties of Belarusian industry. Basic agricultural machinery produced in Belarus includes tractors, harvesters, fertilizers, and equipment for livestock-raising farms. Engineering and metalworking plants account for as much as 25 percent of the industrial output. The automotive industry specializes in the production of heavy-duty trucks. The Minsk tractor plant produces tractors, tractor engines, and spare parts. In 2000 alone, 26,500 tractors were produced. The electrical engineering industry produces alternating current motors, power transformers, electric bulbs, and cable products. In addition, computer-aided control systems, clocks, watches, cameras, and electrical measuring and process monitoring instruments are produced. Furthermore, road building machines, building and reclamation machines, roller bearings, passenger elevators, gas cookers, and equipment for the food industry are also produced. In 2000, exported manufactured goods included 7,800 trucks, 26,100 tractors, 3,200 metal-cutting machine tools, 505,100 refrigerators, 161,000 television sets, and 120,000 bicycles.


The chemical and petrochemical industries are well-developed. There are large complexes for the production of mineral fertilizers, tires, artificial fibers, and filament. In 2000 they produced 502,000 tons of nitrogen fertilizers, 2.8 million tons of potash fertilizers, 51.7 million tons of phosphate fertilizers, 209,000 tons of artificial fiber and filament, and 1.3 million tires for motor vehicles and farm machinery. The state dominates the chemical and petrochemical sector of industry, owning 73 percent of production. In 2000, 1 million tires, 2.6 million tons of potash fertilizers, and 161,400 tons of artificial fiber and filament were exported.



Belarus has fewer visits by tourists than its neighbors, but the numbers are increasing. In 1997, a reported 250,000 tourists visited Belarus, an increase of 36 percent from 1994. Tourists spent US$25 million in 1997. There are several reasons behind the low number of visitors to Belarus. There are few historic assets on which to build a tourist industry. Many of the country's historic buildings were destroyed during World War II. Minsk was completely flattened and is now characterized by grim Stalinist architecture (Stalin was the former dictator of the USSR) and high-rise buildings. In addition, as opposed to most Eastern European and Baltic countries that have dropped visa (government approval to enter a country) requirements for most visitors, Belarus requires visas for most tourists. The potential for increased tourism in Belarus is still favorable because it is considered a good candidate for ecotourism . Ecotourism could generate urgently needed revenue, create jobs, and help conserve the natural environment. The Ministry of Sports and Tourism and Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection have looked into establishing national parks and protected territories and monuments to stimulate an increase in tourism.


After independence in 1991, the Gosbank (state bank) of the USSR was converted into the National Bank of Belarus (NBB). The specialized Soviet banks, including Sherbank, Agroprombank, Promstroibank, and Vnesheconombank, were turned into commercial banks offering corresponding specialized services. By mid-2000, Belagroprombank and Belarusbank together accounted for 51 percent of all Belarusian banking sector assets. There are 22 locally owned and joint venture banks. The largest joint venture bank was the Russian Mossbusinessbank. By mid-2000, the banking system of the republic, with a total of 28 banks, held an estimated BR1.5 trillion worth of assets (approximately US$1.6 billion). As a percentage of GDP, this made Belarus one of the lowest among the CIS countries. Assets in local currency accounted for 43 percent of total banking assets. Among the problems with the banking sector was a relatively high rate of lending to government enterprises (constituting 47 percent of all lending), considered to be economically unwise.


Foreign trade turnover totaled US$12.5 billion in 2000, nearly the same as the previous year, but down 20 percent from 1998. Exports accounted for an estimated US$5.95 billion and imports US$6.55 billion. Some 60 percent of Belarus's international trade and 85 percent of its trade with the CIS were with Russia, making that country its main trading partner. Half of the trade with Russia

Trade (expressed in millions of US$): Belarus
exports Imports
1994 2510 3066
1995 4706 5562
1996 5652 6938
1997 7300 8688
1998 7070 8548
1999 5922 6664
SOURCE: United Nations. Monthly Bulletin of Statistics (September 2000).

was in the form of barter deals. After the Russian financial crisis of August 1998, however, Belarusian exports to Russia shrank by about 17 percent and imports from Russia fell by 19 percent. Other CIS trading partners of Belarus were the Ukraine (11 percent of CIS trade), Kazakhstan (1.4 percent of CIS trade), and Moldova and Uzbekistan (1 percent each of CIS trade).

Main exports include vehicles (16 percent of total value of exports), machinery (13 percent), chemicals (13 percent), textiles (12 percent), and metal-ware (9 percent). In 1990, special priority was given to the development of bilateral links with various Russian regions. Exports to Russia in 1999 were 7 times higher than to any other country. Agricultural exports to Russia were primarily meat (12 percent of total), dairy products (21 percent), and eggs (7 percent). Nearly 90 percent of Belarusian meat and dairy exports went to Russia, in addition to 50 percent of potato, fruit, and vegetable exports. Exports to non-CIS countries decreased from 30 percent in early 1990 to less than 12 percent in 2000. Food and agricultural exports have increased, while machinery exports have decreased. Agricultural goods made up 8.2 percent of total trade in 2000 compared to 6.6 percent in 1996. Exports of meat products increased by 40 percent from 1996 to 2000, dairy products by 60 percent, eggs by more than 250 percent, and margarine by 440 percent.

Principal imports are energy (25 percent of total imports), machinery and equipment (16 percent), metals (13 percent), and food (11 percent). The main share (more than 50 percent) of food and agricultural imports comes from non-CIS countries. Another 25 to 30 percent of such products are imported from Russia. In 1997 the volume of agricultural imports was the highest it had been in years, at US$1.12 billion, and the average annual import of agricultural commodities during 1996-2000 was equivalent to US$929.3 million. The import structure changed after 1991 with some traditionally exported items such as meat, animal fats, and margarine being imported from abroad.

Belarus has had a trade deficit since 1995. The trade balance with Russia, however, has traditionally been positive. Exports to Russia exceeded imports by more than 200 percent in 2000. In the same year, the trade deficit with non-CIS countries amounted to US$433 million. During the 1996-2000 period, goods supplied by non-CIS countries were cheaper than items imported from Russia, except dairy products and grain. Vegetables, fruits, vegetable oil, margarine, and pasta imported from non-CIS countries were more than 200 percent cheaper; tea and candies were over 500 percent cheaper; meat products were 50 percent cheaper; fish was 30 percent cheaper; and sugar was 40 percent less expensive.


Annual inflation in Belarus, as measured by changes in consumer price inflation, or CPI, has been very high during the 1990s. It stood at 294 percent by the end of 1999. There were several reasons behind the inflationary pressure on the economy. The 1998 Russian monetary crisis had a negative effect on the Belarusian ruble due to the dependence of the Belarusian economy on Russia. Government subsidies to several sectors of the economy (such as agriculture and housing) supported bad lending practices, poor weather conditions caused low agricultural production, and the government's periodic expansion of the money supply caused a devaluation of the Belarusian ruble.

In February 1993 Belarus set up the Inter-Bank Currency Exchange which is the main trading forum of the legal currency market. Trades are performed in 4 main currencies: the U.S. dollar, the German mark, the Russian ruble, and the Ukrainian grivna. The Russian financial crisis of 1998 forced the Belarusian ruble to depreciate against the Russian ruble and the U.S. dollar. In April 2000 the exchange rate stood at BR435 to US$1. The depreciation of the Belarusian currency continued to accelerate in the following months, reaching a whopping BR1,247 to US$1 by mid-February 2001.

Exchange rates: Belarus
Belarusian rubles per US$1
2000 1,180
Dec 1999 730,000
Jan 1999 139,000
1998 46,080
1997 25,964
1996 15,500
Note: On January 1, 2000, the national currency was redenominated at onenew ruble to 2,000 old rubles.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].
GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Belarus N/A N/A N/A 2,761 2,198
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Russia 2,555 3,654 3,463 3,668 2,138
Ukraine N/A N/A N/A 1,979 837
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.


For most Belarusians, independence compromised their economic and physical welfare. Environmental problems, the loss of life savings, and the continued effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster undermined the health of the population. Compared to other East European and former Soviet republic nations, the income of Belarusians lagged behind. The GDP per capita of Belarus declined from US$2,761 in 1990 to US$2,198 in 1998, while per capita GDP in Russia and Poland increased by over US$1,000 during the decade (based on the 1995 exchange rate).

Though many of the former Soviet republics and East European countries worked to change from socialist, centrally planned economies to free market economies, Belarus was not anxious to follow that route; as a consequence, the economy was left behind the other former Soviet states.

The life expectancy of Belarusians, which in the mid-1970s stood at 71.5 years, was estimated at 68.0 years in 2000. The mortality rate increased from 10.7 in 1990 to 13.0 in 1998. Men had a life expectancy of only 61.8 years, while women were expected to live 74.5 years. Approximately 22 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Belarus
Lowest 10% 5.1
Lowest 20% 11.4
Second 20% 15.2
Third 20% 18.2
Fourth 20% 21.9
Highest 20% 33.3
Highest 10% 20.0
Survey year: 1998
Note: This information refers to expenditure shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita expenditure.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].
Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All Food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Belarus 36 7 15 7 10 11 14
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
Russia 28 11 16 7 15 8 16
Ukraine 34 5 16 6 4 14 22
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
aExcludes energy used for transport.
bIncludes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.


The official unemployment rate in the country was reported at 2.1 percent in 2000. However, the reporting of the unemployment rate in former Soviet republics is generally considered inaccurate. Many people are officially employed at state-owned enterprises, and are reported as such, yet in reality are unemployed or working part-time in the informal sector of the economy, selling agricultural produce in the local market or working at other small businesses.

In 2000, the Belarusian economy had 4.5 million workers, 60 percent of whom were reportedly employed in state-owned enterprises. This number may be higher, since the so-called Joint Stock companies, which were formerly state-owned and employed more than 270,000 people in 2000, were still functioning with government assistance. Less than 400,000 people, or only about 9 percent of the workforce, worked in private businesses.

A rural-urban age gap has also emerged. Many of the young job-seekers migrate to larger urban areas. This has led to a high concentration of older people in the rural areas. Older people make up as much as 35 percent of the population of rural villages. The combination of negative rural population growth, an aging society, and the state-run economy, with the emigration of many of the professionals to western countries, has led to an unhappy environment for the Belarusian worker.


1919. A Soviet regime is established in Belarus.

1922. Belarus becomes a member of the USSR.

1923. The forced mass collectivization of agricultural lands begins.

1944. After 4 years of occupation by Nazi Germany, Minsk is recaptured by the Soviet Army.

1986. The Chernobyl nuclear power station accident in Ukraine leaks radiation into Belarus.

1990. Belarus declares state sovereignty from the USSR.

1991. Belarus declares independence. Belarus, along with Russia and Ukraine, forms the CIS.

1994. Russia and Belarus announce a monetary union, which is abandoned by Russia a year later. Alexander Lukashenka is elected as the first president of independent Belarus.

1995. Belarus joins NATO's Partnership for Peace Program.

1995. Russia and Belarus allow the free movement of certain goods across their border.

1996. The last nuclear weapon left over from the Soviet-era is removed from Belarusian territory.

1997. Russia and Belarus sign the Act of Union, which envisions the union of the 2 countries.


The parliamentary election of October 2000 showed that President Lukashenka would keep his grip on the country by making sure that his opponents remained out of power. This continued to damage the legitimacy of his administration. President Lukashenka is expected to continue to dominate the political scene in the future, and he is almost assured of re-election. The opposition will remain weak, owing to consistent pressure from the administration and a lack of media access. However, the suppression of the opposition before the presidential election would damage relations with Western countries and international lending agencies.

The Belarusian leadership has had limited vision when attempting to tackle the country's economic problems. While its neighbors to the west (Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia) have long endorsed free market programs of economic reform, with overwhelming success, Belarus has stubbornly stood by a plan of economic union with Russia at a time when Russia has been facing economic uncertainty and political instability. Some polls have indicated that a large segment of the Belarusian population believes in the supremacy of the state and continues to expect a communist -like state to look after their well-being. The hard grip of the former communists on power, and an aging society with an unsure attitude towards market reforms, are likely to contribute to the maintenance of the status quo in Belarus, with continuing economic hardship and political repression.


Belarus has no territories or colonies.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Country Review: Belarus, 2001.<>. Accessed April 2001.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Belarus, Moldova,

2000-2001. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2000.

History of Belarus (Great Litva). <>. Accessed February 2001.

International Monetary Fund. Republic of Belarus: Recent

Economic Developments and Selected Issues. Washington, DC: International Monetary Fund, 2000.

Lubachko, Igor S. Belarusia Under Soviet Rule, 1917-1957,

Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1972.

Marples, David R. Belarus: A Denationalized Nation. Australia:

Hardwood Academic Publishers, 1999.

The National Academy of Sciences of Belarus. <>. Accessed February 2001.

Stroev, Igor, Leonid Blyakhman, and Mikhail Krotov. Economics of the CIS Countries on the Threshold of the New Millennium. St. Petersburg: Nauka, 1999. <>. Accessed February 2001.

United Nations Development Program. The Republic of Belarus,

1996. <>. Accessed April 2001.

United Nations Development Program. Human Development

Report 2000. New York: UNDP, 2000.

Vakar, Nicholas P. Belarusia: The Making of a Nation: A Case

Study, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1956.

World Bank. Country Brief: Belarus, 2000. <>. Accessed February 2001.

Payam Foroughi

Raissa Muhutdinova-Foroughi




The Belarusian ruble (BR) became the official currency in May 1992. New bank notes introduced in 2000 include 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1,000 and 5,000 ruble notes. The currency contains no coins. As of February 2001, BR1,244 equaled US$1.


Machinery, transport equipment, chemicals, metals, textiles, foodstuffs.


Fuel, natural gas, industrial raw materials, cotton fiber, sugar, foodstuffs.


US$55.2 billion (1999 est.).


Exports: US$5.95 billion (2000). Imports: US$6.55 billion (2000).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Belarus." Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies. . 20 Oct. 2016 <>.

"Belarus." Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies. . (October 20, 2016).

"Belarus." Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies. . Retrieved October 20, 2016 from



Republic of Belarus

Major Cities:

Other Cities:
Brest, Gomel, Grodno, Mogilëv, Vitebsk


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated May 1997. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


Settled originally by East Slavs in the 6th to 8th centuries, the Republic of Belarus is a historic borderland between western and eastern Europe. Because of its location, Belarus endured and occupation by numerous regional powers over the centuries, such as Poland, Lithuania, and Russia. The former Soviet republic suffered its greatest destruction during World War II, when it bore the brunt of the Nazi occupation. One in four Belarusians was killed. Then in 1986, the republic encountered a modern-day foe, when 70 percent of the nuclear fallout from the disaster at Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power plant landed on Belarusian territory, contaminating one-fifth of its area.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union, Belarus declared independence on August 25, 1991. The United States recognized the Republic of Belarus on December 25, 1991.



Minsk, the capital of Belarus and the administrative capital of the Commonwealth of Independent States, is one of the "hero cities" of the Great Patriotic War (World War II). Situated halfway between Warsaw and Moscow and between Vilnius and Kiev, Minsk was almost completely destroyed during the fighting. It was rebuilt in pure Soviet style and has wide streets and large parks. In the past three decades, the population of Minsk has more than tripled to reach 1.9 million people.

Skorina Avenue (formerly Lenin Avenue) and Masherova Avenue are the primary thoroughfares dividing the city. Although few historic buildings remain, the 17th century Russian Orthodox cathedral of the Bernadine Convent is undergoing renovation, and the " Trinity Embankment," along the Svislach River has been reconstructed in the 1 7th and 1 8th century styles.


The availability of food is constantly improving, but the selection is never wide nor consistent. Shipping certain consumables, such as spices, food items associated with ethnic cuisines, and items necessary for special diets, is recommended.

There are stores in Minsk that best can be described as hybrids that fall somewhere between the local gastronoms and small Western-style supermarkets. Goods for sale mainly are imported and are displayed on open shelves from which customers make their own selections, and customers pay for everything at one time at checkout counters. A few of these shops operate around the clock. As well, more and more gastronoms stock imported foodstuffs and beverages. Shoppers usually can find canned goods, cheeses, pasta, juices, some fruits and vegetables, processed and cured meats, cleaning supplies, toiletries, packaged foods, soft drinks, snacks, liquor, sweets, and other goods at random. Food also can be ordered from a department store based in Helsinki. Deliveries are made weekly.

A large farmer's market is open all year in Minsk, and its merchants sell fresh fruits and vegetables in season and imported items at higher prices all year.

Kitchen supplies such as trash bags, foil and plastic wraps, reclosable storage bags, ice trays, and egg cartons are not readily available.


Clothing requirements in Minsk are relatively informal.

Western clothing styles and brands are beginning to be available in Belarus; several popular clothing and shoe manufacturers have opened retail outlets in Minsk. It is also possible to find a small selection of imported clothing in local department stores. Prices for such merchandise tend to be two or three times higher than in the West, and the choices are very limited.

Although Minsk is one of the cleaner former Soviet cities, it is still pretty grimy, and clothes are easily soiled. Easily cleaned garments in dark colors are preferable. A supply of warm winter clothing is necessary. This should include rain gear, warm hats, scarves, gloves, socks, and sturdy boots with nonslip soles.

Summers are usually mild, but temperatures can rise above 90°F. Spring and the short autumn are characterized by rain. Winter comes early, spring late.

Supplies and Services

Supplies: Personal toiletries, cosmetics, and feminine hygiene products are available in local stores, though the availability is never guaranteed and the quality is not necessarily up to American standards.

Although a German pharmacy has opened in Minsk, a very limited selection of contact lens solutions is available through local contact lens clinics.

Paper goods, such as toilet paper and disposable diapers, are available locally, but supplies can never be guaranteed. Other paper products such as wrapping paper, stationery, or greeting cards are not sold locally. Also, most local stores do not supply bags for your purchases. Local people carry their purchases home in large plastic or canvas bags. These bags are inexpensive and widely available.

Basic art supplies for children, such as markers and paints, are available locally. Fabric and yarns are available, but the selection and quality are not always good. Western sporting goods are beginning to make an appearance, but the prices are prohibitive. Film and photo developing is available locally, and the service is quick and basically reliable for about the same price as in the U.S.

There are several firms specializing in computer sales and repair, from which it is possible to purchase basic computer supplies and software.

Western tobacco and alcohol products are sold locally; prices are approaching or exceeding Western levels. Other entertainment supplies such as music cassettes and compact disks are available, but the quality and adherence to copyright law is never guaranteed. Some videos are sold, but they are on the East European system, Secam-D/K. They do not play in Western VCRs.

There is not a great selection of pet food and supplies, but adequate products usually can be found.

Basic Services: There are several beauty shops, which are satisfactory and inexpensive, that give both men's and women's haircuts. Some hair products are available locally,.

Tailoring, dressmaking, and shoe repair are available, but not to Western standards. Fabrics and other materials are available, but the selection is limited.

Several garages that repair foreign-made automobiles have opened in Minsk, but spare parts for Western automobiles still are hard to come by.

Religious Activities

There are a variety of religious societies in Belarus. Among them are Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Evangelical Baptist, Seventh-Day Adventist, Jewish, Muslim, Baha'i, and Krishna congregations. Roman Catholic services are conducted in Polish and Russian.

A nondenominational Christian fellowship that holds services in English meets each Sunday.


The private, nonprofit Minsk International School, operated by Quality Schools International, opened in September 1993. The school holds classes in a Belarusian kindergarten about a block from the embassy. Instruction is offered in English for students in kindergarten through 7th grade.

For additional information, write:

Minsk International School c/o
American Embassy Minsk,
Belarus or call

Mr. James E. Gilson, President
Quality Schools International
Box 2002

Sana'a, Yemen or call 067-1-234-437

Special Educational Opportunities

Russian and Belarusian language tutors are readily available. Arts and sports instruction (in Russian) is available through local government-sponsored institutions.

French and German government cultural facilities with language training are being established.


A tennis complex in the city is available for use, and the a nearby recreation area is a popular cross-country skiing location. There also are several swimming pools, weight-lifting facilities, and an ice skating rink.

Minsk has many parks and jogging trails. Soccer is very popular, as is volleyball. Belarusians are avid chess players, and organized championships occur year-round.

On the outskirts of Minsk are several former Soviet Olympic training centers, including the winter sports center at Raubichi and the equestrian center at Ratomka.

The Minsk Yacht Club, catering to sailing and wind-surfing enthusiasts, is situated on the shores of the huge Minsk reservoir known as the Minsk Sea. Fishermen, campers, hikers, and nature-lovers will enjoy Belarus' many lakes and forests. Hunting and fishing are regulated and require licenses.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

Most attractions within an hour of Minsk are historical structures, museums, and war memorials. These include the World War II Khatyn Memorial; the city of Zaslavl, site of a 13thcentury Catholic church; or the 15th-century Mir Castle.

Belarus has a relatively good system of roads, and it is possible to travel to any corner of the country in three or four hours. Vilnius, Lithuania, is a two-to three-hour drive north, Warsaw and Kiev are eight hours away by car, and Moscow is a full day's drive.

Crimea, on the Black Sea in southern Ukraine, is the closest warm-weather destination.


Minsk offers a wide variety of live entertainment, including concerts, theater, opera, and ballet. The opera and ballet are excellent and have wide repertoires. A puppet theater and an experimental theater require a good command of Russian to be enjoyed. The indoor circus arena hosts many traveling troupes. Tickets are very affordable.

New restaurants open every month in Minsk, though there is not great variety in cuisines. As of August 1995, restaurant patrons could dine in Western style at a steak house and establishments featuring Spanish and Italian cooking. Service and menu selection are not up to Western standards, and prices tend to be very high. There is no "fast food" in Minsk, but several pizza restaurants and a cafe with some Arab-style dishes have opened in late 1994.

Travelers should subscribe to favorite periodicals and bring plenty of books to post. Western newspapers are rarely received in Minsk on a timely basis.

Social Activities

Travelers tend to socialize informally, sharing meals and going out to restaurants and Minsk's three nightclubs.

The international community in Minsk is small but growing rapidly. There is an English-language theater group that stages semiannual musical productions.

Organized opportunities for meeting host-country nationals are limited, and Russian language skills are necessary for contact beyond the diplomatic community.

Special Information

The southeastern corner of Belarus is officially a "no man's land" because of contamination from the Chernobyl incident. The residents of that area were relocated, but main roads through the area remain open for travel through it.

People traveling to Belarus by car may encounter long delays at the Belarusian-Polish border or the Polish-German border.


On the right bank of the Bug River in southwest Belarus, less than two miles from the Polish border, BREST is an important railroad junction. Its population is 294,000. Brest was taken by the Germans during World War I and was the site for the signing of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty between Germany and Russia in 1918. During World War II, the city once again came under German occupation from 1941 until 1944, when it was retaken by the Soviets.

GOMEL , a city with a population of jabout 504,000, is located in southeast Belarus. First accounts of the city date from 1142. Gomel has been a cultural and historical center since the Middle Ages. The city was controlled alternatively by Poland and Russia until 1772, when it finally became Russian. A rail and water transportation center, Gomel trades in flax, wool, and lumber.

Located in a western corner of Belarus between the Polish and Lithuanian borders, GRODNO , at various times during its history, has been under Lithuanian, Polish, and Russian rule. During the 14th century the city was the capital of Lithuania; in 1795 it was the seat of the Polish Sejm which ratified the third partition of Poland, at which time Grodno became Russian. The city was occupied by German forces during both World Wars. Today, this city of 295,000 is an industrial and agricultural center.

MOGILËV was founded in the 13th century and is located on the banks of the Dnieper River, 112 miles east of Minsk. Its current population is 356,000. Through its history, the city was controlled by Russia, Poland, and Sweden. It was partly destroyed by Peter the Great in 1708. In 1772 Mogilëv was annexed to Russia from Poland. Between August of 1941 and June of 1944, Mogilëv was occupied by German forces.

VITEBSK , 140 miles northeast of Minsk, is on the Western Dvina River. This city of 360,000 is an important industrial center that produces machine tools, furniture, and radios. Vitebsk was first mentioned in historical chronicles in 1021 and was the trading center of an independent principality for about two centuries. It came under Lithuanian rule in 1320 and then under Poland in the 16th century. After the First Partition of Poland in 1772, Vitebsk became a Russian city. Occupied by the Germans between August, 1941 and June, 1944, Vitebsk was heavily damaged during this period.


Geography and Climate

Historically known as Byelorussia (White Russia), Belarus occupies 80,154 square miles (207,600 sq. km.), bounded on the north and east by Russia, on the south by Ukraine, on the west by Poland, and on the northwest by Lithuania and Latvia. The country is roughly the size of Great Britain or the U. S. state of Kansas.

Approximately one-third of the land area is forested, and 13 percent is uninhabitable marshland. The majority of the landscape is flat farmland, drained by the Dnieper, the Western Dvina, the Pripyat, and the Nieman rivers. Of the 10,000 lakes in the country, the largest is Lake Naroch in the northwestern part of the country, just east of Vilnius, Lithuania. The Bialavezhia Forest, on the Polish border north of Brest, is a nature preserve and popular tourist attraction.

Nuclear fallout from the 1986 disaster at Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power plant, just seven and a half miles (12 km) from the southeast border of Belarus, contaminated 23 percent of its farmland. Implementation of Belarusian laws regarding resettlement and medical care for the people and decontamination of the territories most affected by radiation has been difficult due to lack of adequate financing. However, in December 1993, the U.N. General Assembly, led by the efforts of the U.S., Japan, and Canada, adopted a resolution to study and attempt to minimize the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster.

At an altitude of 656 ft. (200 m.) above sea level, Belarus has a mild continental climate, with an average temperature in winter of 20°F (-6°C) and in summer of 62°F (17°C). Annual precipitation averages 22-28 inches. Belarus is on the 53rd latitude, the same as Hamburg, Germany; Dublin, Ireland; and Edmonton, Canada.


The population of Belarus is 10.4 million, of whom 81 percent are Belarusian, 11 percent Russian, 4 percent Polish, 3 percent Ukrainian, and 1 percent Jewish.

Approximately 68 percent of the population lives in urban areas, concentrated primarily in Minsk, the capital, and the other major cities along the route from Warsaw to Moscow. Life expectancy is 62 years for men, 75 for women.

There is no state religion, though the majority of Belarusians are Orthodox Christians. Roman Catholics make up about 15 percent of the population, and 16 other religious sects are registered in Belarus.

The Belarusian Constitution, adopted in 1994, established Belarusian as the official language of the republic, and many public-place and street names were changed from Russian to Belarusian. Broadcast and print news media use Belarusian as does the government for official documents; however, Russian, still considered the language of communication, continues to be used widely. Belarusian is closely related to Russian and Polish. It is written using the Cyrillic alphabet, with two letters different from the Russian alphabet.

In May 1995, during parliamentary elections, referendums were passed that granted Russian equal status with Belarusian as the official language of Belarus and replaced the republic's post-independence coat of arms (a knight on horseback in a field of red) and red and white flag with ones nearly identical to Belarus's Soviet emblem and flag. Although the modified Soviet-era flag flies above government buildings, the knight-on-horseback emblem is still much in evidence elsewhere.

Public Institutions

Belarus is a presidential republic, with a three-tiered structure of power: executive, legislative, and judicial.

The first constitution of the newly independent republic of Belarus was adopted on March 15, 1994, and its first popularly elected president, Alexander Lukashenko, won his seat on July 10, 1994 and was reelected in 2001. The president selects a cabinet of ministers, headed by a prime minister, currently Gennady Novitsky.

The Parliament (Supreme Council) of the Republic of Belarus acts as the highest legislative body, and local governments are administered by Councils of Deputies, led by mayors.

In the judicial branch, a procurator general oversees the Constitutional Court of the Republic and a series of subordinate local procurators and courts.

There are a wide variety of political parties, but party designations are meaningless under current political conditions.

There are more than 600 nonpolitical public unions and associations, among them industrial trade unions, philanthropic foundations, sports and recreations groups, and associations for the disabled.

Arts, Science and Education

The Belarusian cultural presence is exemplified by the well-known Belarusian ballet; the artwork of Marc Chagall; the 16th century printing and translations of the scholar Francisk Skorina; handicrafts including carvings, straw weavings, and embroidered linens; and the popular traditions of folk music and literature.

Countless folklore groups perform Belarusian music and dances, and every year the Union of Belarusian Writers sponsors literary festivals. The poet Yakub Kolas is honored all over Belarus.

The Belarusian Bolshoi Theater of Opera and Ballet was founded in 1933, and the best-known composers include Yuri Semenyako and Evgeni Glebov.

Famous Belarusian scientists include Kazimir Semenovich, inventor of the multistage missile; Yakub Narkevich-Yedka, inventor of electrography and wireless transmission of electric signals; Sofia Kovalevskaya, a mathematician; and Pavel Sukhoi, an aircraft designer. The Academy of Sciences, which was opened in 1929, unites 46 research, design, and technology divisions and is the forum for the republic's highest-level research and scholarly activities.

Belarus has many state-run institutions of higher learning, with about half in the capital city of Minsk. Belarus State University and the Minsk Institute of Foreign Languages are among the most prestigious. After independence, several non-state universities, oriented toward such fields as the humanities and business, were established.

Children begin school at age six and continue through the 10th and 11th forms, at age 17.

Commerce and Industry

During the Soviet period, Belarus was the assembly line of the USSR, importing raw materials and exporting manufactured goods. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Belarus no longer has access to subsidized raw materials or energy products, and its as yet unreconstructed economy is floundering. Energy-inefficient factories make Belarusian manufactured goods, particularly heavy machinery, non-competitive on world markets. The defense industry, which played a significant role in the Belarusian economy, continues to experience difficulty converting to the production of civilian goods. However, with its highly qualified workforce, strategic location in the center of Europe, and well-established infrastructure, Belarus has good potential for economic growth.

Belarus is heavily energy-dependent, importing most of its oil and natural gas from Russia. As 2000, the republic was carrying a debt of approximately $1 billion. The country's few natural resources include peat reserves, iron ore deposits, coal reserves and timber. The textile industry, also dependent on imported raw materials, includes flax, cotton, and wool processing and weaving, and the manufacture of linen, cotton, silk, and wool fabrics and products.

Belarus's agricultural sector remains largely unreformed, with state-owned and collective farms still in the majority. Private plots, however, produce most of the vegetables for sale in markets. The primary agricultural products in Belarus are potatoes, cereal grains, sugar beets, flax, and vegetables. The republic completely satisfies its needs in (and is, in fact, a net exporter of) meat, dairy products, eggs, and potatoes.

Belarus's main trade relationships are with countries of the former Soviet Union, mainly with Russia. A customs union with Russia was signed in January 1995. Germany, Poland, the U.S., and Austria are Belarus's primary Western partners. Many joint ventures had been registered in Belarus, mostly with partners from Poland, Germany, and the U.S.; investors from these countries also account for the majority of wholly foreign-owned enterprises in Belarus.



Public transportation in the post city of Minsk is inexpensive and reliable, though usually extremely overcrowded. The metro and buses run from early morning until after midnight. Monthly passes, which provide access to all forms of public transportation, may be purchased.

Taxis are generally easy to find, either at the many taxi stands or by calling one of two companies. They are inexpensive by Western standards, though not always very clean or well maintained. Fares are calculated by multiplying the price indicated in Soviet rubles on the meter by an inflation factor. Tipping taxi drivers is not customary, and if one takes a private taxi as opposed to a state taxi, a "tip" is certainly included in the fare.


As in the U.S., Belarusians drive on the right side of the road. Belarusian driving regulations and traffic signals are somewhat different than those in the U.S.; American drivers should be aware of these differences. Signage is like that used in Europe, but road signs and traffic signals often are located in unexpected places. Belarusian drivers tend to be more aggressive than is customary in the U.S. and often disregard the rules of the road. American drivers should be prepared to be pulled over often by the traffic police (GAI). Because of car thieves' preference for foreign vehicles, the traffic police are very conscientious about stopping foreign cars to verify their ownership.

Minsk has two airports. One is within the city limits and mostly serves domestic flights. The other is about a forty-minute drive from Minsk and serves international flights. The primary international airlines are Lufthansa, Swiss Air, Austrian Airlines, Estonian Airlines, and Lot (Polish). El Al recently initiated service to Minsk. Belavia is the Belarusian branch of Aeroflot and also serves international passengers, primarily to other cities in the former Soviet Union, though it has twice weekly flights to Shannon, Ireland.

Because Minsk lies on the direct route between Warsaw and Moscow, daily trains serve such major cities as Berlin, Kiev, Koln, Moscow, Odessa, Paris, Prague, Riga, St. Petersburg, Warsaw, and Vilnius and are often the fastest and easiest way to travel outside Belarus. To ensure their safety and comfort, Western passengers are advised to reserve entire full first-class compartments, even when traveling alone. By Western standards, fares (even in first-class) are relatively low, though foreigners must pay more than local people.


Telephone and Telegraph

Belarusian telephone service is often slow and not very reliable. Much of the telephone system has not been updated since it was installed after World War II. Touch-tone service may not be available in all areas.

Radio and TV

Local television offers channels in Russian and Belarusian, and European Satellite television service, which during certain parts of the day includes NBC Super Channel and CNN, is available for a fee. There is a commercial channel that shows some Western films in English with Russian dubbing.

Newspapers, Magazines, Books, and Technical


Several daily newspapers, printed in Russian or Belarusian, are published in Belarus. No foreign newspapers are readily available, and even newspapers from Russia are difficult to find. A bi-weekly eight-page tabloid, the Minsk Economic News, is published in English.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

Medical care in Belarus is below U.S. standards.

Community Health

The accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant affected Belarus more than any other Soviet republic. Northwesterly winds carried radioactive particles from the destroyed reactor, located just 12 km south of the Belarusian border, across Belarus and beyond. In the days immediately following the disaster, gamma radiation in Minsk exceeded safe levels by a factor of 25. However, after a decade, radiation levels in Minsk have returned to normal. A significant portion of Belarus's territory remains heavily contaminated (maps available in local bookstores show the location of the contaminated areas), and certain regions in the south of the country were evacuated; it is, however, safe to travel through the contaminated areas. In general, individuals are advised to avoid eating wild mushrooms and berries (which absorb and retain radiation longer than other vegetation) and to refrain from drinking locally produced milk.

Minsk was rebuilt entirely after World War II, and therefore has the newest fresh water and sewer infrastructure of any capital city of the former Soviet Union. Rivers and streams, however, are considered unsafe for bathing and swimming due to sewage and agricultural run off. The post provides tap water purifiers for residences.

Compared to other Eastern European cities, Minsk has little pollution, but levels are rising due to the increasing number of privately owned cars. Although municipal authorities are operating on very tight budgets, efforts are made to keep the streets clean, and there is regular trash pick up in most residential areas. Cockroaches are common in summer.

Preventive Measures

Tap water is not safe to drink, because of possible bacterial contamination and dirt in the pipes. Boiling the water for five minutes and then filtering it is recommended. Many Americans prefer to buy bottled water.

Meat and milk are of dubious quality. Food handling is not up to American standards. All meat should be washed and cooked thoroughly. Boxed UHT milk can be purchased in local stores.

While Belarus is relatively disease-free, there have been reports of TB and hepatitis. Cholera, diphtheria, malaria, and TB cases are on the rise in neighboring countries. No immunizations are required, but Hepatitis-B and Immune Globulin are recommended. As well, routine vaccinations such as measles, tetanus, and diphtheria should be updated. A fluoride supplement also is recommended.


There are no local entry or departure fees at the Minsk airport. There is no restriction on the amount of money that can be imported or exported in Belarus, but amounts in excess of $500 must be declared.

Export of art must be approved by customs inspectors. People buying art always should obtain an itemized receipt at the time of purchase or importation.

Single-entry visas may be obtained from the Belarusian Embassy in Washington, D.C. (1619 New Hampshire Avenue NW, 20009, 202/986-1606). Multiple-entry visas can be obtained only at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Minsk and will be issued upon arrival.

There is no quarantine requirement for pets coming into Belarus, but dogs and cats must have all rabies shots up to date within thirty days of departure. An international health certificate is required and must be obtained within ten days of the pet's arrival in Belarus.

Veterinary care is limited but available. Pet food and supplies, such as cat litter, are not readily available. Employees should carry enough pet food to last until air freight arrives.

Pets may be transported on Lufthansa Airlines for a fee.

Western-style boarding kennels are not available.

The Belarusian ruble is the official currency in the Republic of Belarus. Inflation is high in Belarus, but it has been artificially stabilized since January 1995. Belarus redenominated its currency in January 2000, with one new ruble equivalent to 2,000 old rubles. At the end of 2000, the exchange rate was 1,180 rubles per U.S. dollar. Virtually all transactions are in cash, though a few large stores and restaurants accept VISA cards. Money changing booths, which accept German marks or dollars, are located in all big stores and on most major streets. Traveler's checks are not widely accepted.

The metric system of weights and measures is used in Belarus.


Jan. 1New Year's Day

Jan. 7Christmas Day (Orthodox)

Mar. 8All Women's Day

Mar/Apr.Easter (Catholic)

Apr/MayEaster (Orthodox)

Apr/MayRadunitsa* (9th day after Orthodox Easter)

May 1Labor Day

May 9Victory Day

July 27Independence Day

Dec. 25Christmas Day (Catholic)



These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial publications.

Adamovich, Anthony. Opposition to Sovietization in Belorussian Literature, 1917-195. Munich: 1958.

Auslund, Anders. Economic Transformation in Russia. St. Martin's Press: 1994.

Batalden, Stephen K. and Sandra L. The Newly Independent States of Eurasia: Handbook of Former Soviet Republics. Onyx Press: 1993. Belarus: USIA Health Profile. USAID Health Information System, Arlington: 1992.

Byelorussian SSR; Culture, Literature, Art. Soviet Government publication. Minsk: 1977.

Chew, Allen F. An Atlas of Russian History: Eleven Centuries of Changing Borders. Yale University: 1970.

Clem, Ralph S. "Belorusians" The Nationalities Question in the Soviet Union. Graham Smith, ed. Longman, New York: 1990.

Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror: A Reassessment. Oxford University Press, New York: 1990.

Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook 1993. Detroit, MI: Gale Research Inc., 1993.

Czekanowska, Anna. Polish Folk-Music: Slavonic Heritage, Polish Tradition, Contemporary Trends. Cambridge Studies in Ethnomusicology: 1992.

Davies, Norman and Antony Polonsky, eds. Jews in Eastern Poland and the USSR, 1939-1946. Macmillan: 1991.

Dawisha, Karen and Bruce Parrott. Russia and the New States of Eurasia. Cambridge University Press: 1994.

Diuk, Nadia and Adrian Karatnyckys. The Hidden Nations: The People Challenge the Soviet Union. Wm. Morrow and Co.: 1990.

Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States 1992. London: Europa Publications (distributed in U.S. by Gale Research Inc.), 1992.

Exchange Arrangements and Export Restrictions Annual Report 1993. International Monetary Fund, Washington: 1993.

Feshbach, Murray and Alfred Friendly, Jr. Ecocide in the USSR: Health and Nature under Siege. Basic Books: 1992.

Gasparov, Boris. Slavic Cultures in the Middle Ages. University of California Press: 1993.

Gross, Jan T. Revolution from Abroad. Princeton University Press: 1988.

Hurwicz, Abraham A. Aspects of Contemporary Belorussia. Human Relations Area Files, Inc., New Haven: 1955.

Iwanow, Mikolaj. "The Byelorussians of Eastern Poland under Soviet Occupation, 1939-1941. "The Soviet Takeover of the Polish Eastern Provinces, 1939-1941.

Keith Sword, ed. St. Martin's Press: 1991. Kieniewicz, Stefan, ed. History of Poland. Polish Scientific Publishers, Warsaw: 1968.

Kipel, Vitaut. Byelorussian Statehood: Reader and Bibliography. Byelorussian Institute of Arts and Sciences, New York: 1988.

Kupala, Janka. The Heritage: Selected Poetry of Janka Kupala. New York: 1955.

Larrabee, Stephen. East European Security After the Cold War. Rand: 1993.

Letter to a Russian Friend: A Samizdat Publication from Soviet Byelorussia. Association of Byelorussians in Great Britain: 1979.

Loftus, John. The Belarus Secret: The Nazi Connection in America. Paragon House: 1988.

Lubachko, Ivan. Belorussia under Soviet Rule 1917-1957.

Michener, James A. Poland. Ballantine Books: 1993.

Mihalisko, Kathleen. "Political-Economic Assessments: Belarus. "The Former Soviet Union in Transifion. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington: 1993.

Nahaylo, Bohdan and Victor Swoboda. Sovief Disunion. The Free Press: 1990.

New American Embassy Posts Medical Handbook 1992. Department of State, Washington: 1 992.

Odling-Smee, John, ed. Belarus: Economic Review. International Monetary Fund, Washington: 1993.

Panov, Boris. In the Main Line of Advance: The Route of Nazi Troops in Byelorussia. Novosti Press Agency: 1974.

Picarda, Guy. Minsk, A Historical Guide. London: 1993.

Pinchuk, Ben Zion. Shtetl Jews under Soviet Rule: Eastern Poland on the Eve of the Holocaust. B. Blackwell: 1991.

Reports on the USSR. Issues from1988 to 1991.

Ruble, Blair A., ed. A Scholars' Guide to Humanities and Social Sciences in the Soviet Successor States. INION and the Russian Academy of Sciences: 1993.

Shimanskii, Mikhail. Byelorussia. Novosti Press Agency: 1986.

Simon, Gerhard. Nationalism and Policy Toward Nationalities in the Soviet Union. Westview Press: 1991.

Smith, Graham. The Nationalities Question in the Soviet Union. Longman, New York: 1990.

Stashkevich, Nikolai. The October-Revolutionin Byelorussia.Minsk: 1979.

Tec, Nechama. Defiance: 7he Bielski Partisans. Oxford University Press: 1993.

U.S. Government, Central Intelligence Agency. The World Fact-book 1992. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1992.

Urban, Michael. An Algebra of Soviet Power: Elite Circulation in the Belorussian Republic, 1966-1986. Cambridge University Press: 1989.

Vakar, Nicholas. Belorussia: The Making of a Nation. Harvard University Press: 1956.

Wexler, P. Purism and Language: A Study of Modern Ukrainian and Belorussian Nationalism, 1940-1967. Bloomington: 1974.

Zaprudnik, Jan. Belarus: At a Crossroads in History. Westview Press, Boulder: 1993.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Belarus." Cities of the World. . 20 Oct. 2016 <>.

"Belarus." Cities of the World. . (October 20, 2016).

"Belarus." Cities of the World. . Retrieved October 20, 2016 from


Belarus or Byelarus (both: byĕ´lərōōs´), formerly Belorussia, officially Republic of Belarus, republic (2005 pop. 9,799,000), c.80,150 sq mi (207,600 sq km), E central Europe. It is sometimes called White Russia. Belarus borders on Poland in the west, on Lithuania and Latvia in the north, on Russia in the east, and on Ukraine in the south. Minsk is the capital and largest city.

Land and People

Much of Belarus is a hilly lowland, drained by the Dnieper, Western Dvina, and Neman rivers. The climate is moderate humid continental, with warm summers and cold winters. More than one third of the land is covered with peat and other swampy soils, notably in the Pripyat Marshes in the south. In addition to the capital, other important cities are Gomel (in Belarusian, Homyel), Vitebsk (Vitsyebsk), Mogilev (Mahilyow), Bobruysk (Babruysk), Grodno (Horodna), and Brest. Some 80% of the population are Belarusians; Russians, Poles, and Ukrainians are the republic's largest minorities. Since the breakup the USSR, Belarus has experienced a slow decline in population. About 80% of the population belongs to the Orthodox church, and there are Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim minorities. Religious groups that have won converts more recently have suffered official discouragement and persecution since independence, a policy that was enacted into law in 2002. Both Belarusian and Russian are official languages, but Russian is more widely used.


Since winning independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Belarus has moved slowly on privatization and other market reforms, emphasizing instead close economic relations with Russia. About 80% of all industry remains in state hands, and foreign investment has been hindered by a climate hostile to private businesses. The banks, which had been privatized after independence, were renationalized after President Lukashenko took office in 1994. Economic output, which declined for several years, revived somewhat in the late 1990s, but the economy remained dependent on Russian subsidies. By 2011, however, the increased cost of imported fuel had undermined the economy, leading to a steep fall in the value of the Belarusian ruble, an inability to purchase imports, and enormous government debt.

Peat, the country's most valuable mineral resource, is used for fuel and fertilizer and in the chemical industry. Belarus also has deposits of granite, dolomite, chalk, sand, clay, and rock and potassium salt. Forests cover about a third of the land, and lumbering is an important occupation. Potatoes, flax, hemp, sugar beets, rye, oats, and wheat are the chief agricultural products. Dairy and beef cattle, pigs, and chickens are raised. Belarus has only small reserves of petroleum and natural gas and imports most of its oil and gas from Russia. The main branches of industry produce tractors and trucks, earth movers for use in construction and mining, metal-cutting machine tools, motorcycles, chemicals, fertilizer, textiles, and consumer goods. Russia is by far the most important trading partner; others include the Netherlands, Ukraine, and Germany.


Belarus is governed under the constitution of 1994 as amended. The president, who is the head of state, is popularly elected for a five-year term; there are no term limits. The prime minister, who is the head of government, is appointed by the president. The legislature, or National Assembly, is divided into the upper Council of the Republic and the lower Chamber of Representatives. Of the 64 members of the Council of the Republic, 56 are elected by regional councils and eight are appointed by the president. The 110 members of the Chamber of Representatives are popularly elected. All legislators serve four-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into six provinces, or oblasts, and one municipality.


Early History through the Soviet Era

The region now constituting Belarus was colonized by East Slavic tribes from the 5th to the 8th cent. It fell (9th cent.) under the sway of Kievan Rus and was later (12th cent.) subdivided into several Belarusian principalities forming part of the Kievan state. Kiev's destruction by the Mongols in the 13th cent. facilitated the conquest (early 14th cent.) of Belarus by the dukes of Lithuania. The region became part of the grand duchy of Lithuania, which in 1569 was merged with Poland. The large Jewish population (later decimated by the Germans during World War II) settled in Belarus in the 14th cent. The region flourished under Lithuanian rule; but after the Polish-Lithuanian union Belarus lost its relative importance, and its ruling classes became thoroughly Polonized.

Through the Polish partitions of 1772, 1793, and 1795, all Belarus passed to the Russian Empire. It suffered greatly during the wars (16th–18th cent.) between Poland and Russia and in the Napoleonic invasion of 1812 (during which it was laid waste by retreating Russian forces). Great poverty under Russian rule, notably among the Jews, led to mass emigration to the United States in the 19th cent. A battlefield in World War I and in the Soviet-Polish War of 1919–20, Belarus experienced great devastation.

In Mar., 1918, the Belarusian National Rada in Minsk proclaimed the region an independent republic; but in Jan., 1919, the Soviet government proclaimed a Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic at Smolensk, and soon the Red Army occupied all of Belarus. In 1921, the Treaty of Riga, which ended the Soviet-Polish War, awarded W Belarus to Poland. The eastern and larger part formed the Belorussian SSR when the USSR was formally established in 1922.

In Sept., 1939, the Soviet army overran E Poland and incorporated W Belarus into the Belorussian SSR. Occupied (1941–44) by the Germans during World War II, Belorussia was one of the most devastated areas of the USSR. Its large Jewish population (dating from the 14th cent.) was decimated, and many non-Jews were systematically murdered as well. As much as half the region's population died or was displaced during the war. In 1945 its western border was adjusted slightly in favor of Poland, but the 1939 frontier remained essentially unchanged. The country has had a separate seat in the United Nations since 1945.

The massive nuclear accident (Apr. 26, 1986) at the Chernobyl power plant, across the border in Ukraine, had a devastating effect on Belarus; as a result of the radiation release, agriculture in a large part of the country was destroyed, and many villages were abandoned. Resettlement and medical costs were huge and long-term.

Post-Soviet Belarus

The Republic of Belarus declared its independence from the USSR on Aug. 25, 1991. The reform-minded Stanislav Shushkevich became head of state and, along with Russia and Ukraine, Belarus was one of the original signatories to the treaty establishing the Commonwealth of Independent States. In early 1994 former Communists in the parliament voted to replace Shushkevich with Mechislav Grib, a former national police official; Aleksandr Lukashenko was elected to the post in July, 1994. Parliamentary elections were held during 1995, and most seats were filled by former Communists.

In 1996, Russia and Belarus signed an agreement to form a "union state" that, without completely merging the two governments, would strengthen economic, cultural, and political ties. Additional treaties signed in 1997, 1998, and 1999 included the development of common customs and taxation, a single currency, a joint defense policy, and other items designed to integrate the two nations, but progress toward real integration has been slow, as Russia as insisted on gradual implementation of the union and Belarus has proved reluctant to cede any real power to its much larger neighbor. In Sept., 2003, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine signed an agreement to create a common economic space, but the customs union establishment was delayed until July, 2010, and Ukraine was not a party to the 2009 accord that established the customs union. An agreement to establish the Eurasian Economic Union, to increase economic coordination and integration, was signed by Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia in May, 2014.

A referendum held in 1996 increased Lukashenko's power at the expense of parliament and extended his presidential term by two years (to 2001). A new parliament subsequently was formed from handpicked members of the old. Lukashenko's government has been criticized for human-rights abuses, including being responsible for the disappearance of its political opponents. Parliamentary elections held in 2000, which were boycotted by the small democratic opposition, preserved Lukashenko's hold on power. Lukashenko himself was reelected in 2001, in a contest that most observers regarded as neither free nor fair.

A referendum in 2004 removed the two-term limit on the presidency, but independent observers and polls indicated that the results were fraudulent. Elections for parliament, in which no opposition candidate won a seat, were held at the same time and were similarly flawed. Following the so-called Orange Revolution (Oct.–Dec., 2004) in Ukraine, where demonstrations ultimately forced the governing party from power, the Belarusian government increased its efforts to silence its opponents. In 2005 relations became particularly tense with Poland, which Lukashenko accused of plotting with Belarus's Polish minority to overthrow him.

Lukashenko was reelected by a lopsided margin in Mar., 2006. The tightly controlled campaign and subsequent voting were criticized by the European Union, the United States, and others but commended by the Commonwealth of Independent States. Following the campaign, opponents mounted a number of protests against the president that, though not large, nonetheless were more sustained than previous demonstrations. Many opposition leaders were arrested and jailed, including the 2006 opposition presidential candidate Aleksander Kozulin.

Relations with Russia became strained late in 2006 when the Russia-owned energy giant Gazprom insisted Belarus pay more (though still less than market rates) for natural gas; Russia also insisted that Belarus pay the full duty on Russian crude oil (which Belarus processed and exported). Belarus responded to these price increases by imposing a transit tax on Russian oil exported through pipelines in Belarus, but Russia refused to pay. Russia subsequently halted the transport of oil through Belarus, accusing it of siphoning off oil as payment for the transit tax, and after threats of retaliation from Russia, Belarus agreed to revoke the tax.

In Aug., 2007, Gazprom threatened to reduce gas supplies to Belarus because of overdue payments, and in subsequent years there were signs of strain in relations with Russia, most notably after Belarus did not recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent after Russia did (2008). In the parliamentary elections of Sept., 2008, which were denounced as rigged by the opposition and criticized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, no opposition candidate won a seat.

Relations between Belarus and Russia were again strained in Jan., 2010, this time over the amount of oil Russia would sell to Belarus at a discount. Russia refused to sell Belarus more discounted oil than it required to meet its own needs; Belarus had been earning export income by refining additional discounted oil and selling it on the international market. Russia did agree to an increase in transit fees paid for oil piped through Belarus to other countries, but the changes aggravated Belarus's economic problems. A dispute over payments due Gazprom led to a brief reduction in Russian gas shipments to Belarus in June, 2010, and relations with Russia remained periodically testy.

The Dec., 2010, presidential election was a repeat of the previous won in most respects, with Lukashenko winning some 80% of the vote amid charges of fraud. Protest demonstrations in the capital after the results were announced were broken up with force by riot police, and a number of opposition candidates, activists, and journalists were arrested then and in subsequent weeks. The election and the government moves against the opposition were denounced by European (OSCE) observers. In Apr., 2011, a subway bombing in Minsk killed 15 and injured some 200. Two men were later convicted (Nov., 2011) of the attack, but at the time many inside and outside Belarus speculated that government might be behind the attack in an attempt to distract citizens from the country's increasing economic problems. Belarus sold Gazprom its share of the gas pipeline company Beltranshaz in Nov., 2011, in exchange for temporarily reduced natural-gas prices and a $10 billion loan.

The parliamentary elections of Sept., 2012, were boycotted by the two main opposition parties, and supporters of Lukashenko swept all the seats. Western observers again criticized the elections as undemocratic; domestic critics also accused the government of vote fraud and inflating the turnout, with was reported as being nearly 75%.


See N. Vakar, Belorussia: The Making of a Nation (1956); I. S. Lubachko, Belorussia Under Soviet Rule, 1917–1957 (1972); Collet's Holdings, Belorussian SSR: Facts and Figures (1984).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Belarus." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 20 Oct. 2016 <>.

"Belarus." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (October 20, 2016).

"Belarus." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved October 20, 2016 from



Official name: Republic of Belarus

Area: 207,600 square kilometers (80,154 square miles)

Highest point on mainland : Dzerzhinskaya Mountain (346 meters / 1,135 feet)

Lowest point on land: Neman River (90 meters / 295 feet)

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 2 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 640 kilometers (400 miles) from southwest to northeast; 490 kilometers (310 miles) from north to south

Land boundaries : 3,098 kilometers (1,925 miles) total boundary length; Latvia, 141 kilometers (88 miles); Lithuania, 502 kilometers (312 miles); Poland, 605 kilometers (376 miles); Russia, 959 kilometers (596 miles); Ukraine, 891 kilometers (554 miles)

Coastline: None

Territorial sea limits: None


The Republic of Belarus is a landlocked country (does not have access to the sea) in east-central Europe, about 260 kilometers (161 miles) southeast of the Baltic Sea coastline. With a total area of 207,600 square kilometers (80,154 square miles), it is slightly smaller than the state of Texas.


Belarus claims no territories or dependencies.


The Belarusian climate is considered transitional between continental and maritime. Cool temperatures and high humidity predominate, with a moderating influence from the nearby Baltic Sea. Winter temperatures at times have dropped below -40°C (-40°F) in the north. Summer lasts up to 150 days, while winter ranges from 105 to 145 days. Precipitation ranges between 57 and 61 centimeters (22.5 and 26.5 inches) in an average year; the central region generally receives the highest amount. The popular claim in Belarus that it either rains or snows every two days is fairly accurate.

Season Months Average Temperature: °Celsius (°Fahrenheit)
Summer May to August 19°C (67°F)
Winter December to March -5°C (23°F)


Although its topography is chiefly flat to hilly, Belarus does have five distinct geographic regions. In the north is the Polotsk Lowland, an area of lakes, hills, and forests. The Neman Lowland in the northwest is similar. The Belorussian Ridge and smaller uplands separate these lowlands from each other and from the rest of the country. Plains and grasslands lie in the east and central part of the country. The Polesye Marshes dominate the south region, a vast swampy area that extends into Ukraine. Belarus has no natural geographic borders.


Belarus is landlocked and has no coast.


Belarus has over four thousand lakes. Lakes Drisvyaty and Osveyskoye are near the northern border. The largest is Lake Naroch (Narach), covering 80 square kilometers (50 square miles) in the northwest.


At 2,290 kilometers (1,420 miles), the Dnieper is the longest river in Belarus. It is the third-longest river in Europe; only the Volga and Danube Rivers are longer. Its main tributaries are the Berezina in the central region and the Pripyat in the south. The Pripyat and its tributaries are surrounded by the Polesye (or Pripyat) Marshes. The Bug River flows north along part of the border with Poland. The major rivers in the north of the country are the Western Dvina and the Neman Rivers.


Belarus has no desert area.


Aside from the highland of the Belorussian Ridge, most of the country is relatively flat (average elevation 162 meters/100 feet) and well watered. About 25 percent of Belarus is covered in peat bogs and marshes. The Pole-sye Marshes are poorly drained lowlands around the Pripyat River, with low hills that dominate the southern part of Belarus and northern Ukraine. Roughly 485 kilometers (300 miles) across from east to west and 225 kilometers (140 miles) from north to south, they represent the largest wetland in Europe.

Near the border with Poland, the Belavezhskaja Pushcha Nature Reserve protects the largest area of ancient forest in Europe, home to a free-ranging herd of European bison. There are large stands of birch trees across the country.


Roughly 23 percent of Belarus's territory was contaminated by radioactivity when a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in neighboring Ukraine exploded on April 26, 1986. The area affected was home to more than two million people.


Although its terrain is generally level, the Belorussian Ridge, a region of highlands, runs across the center of the country from the southwest to the northeast. The highest elevation is Dzerzhinskaya Mountain (Dzyarzhynskaya Hara; 346 meters/1,135 feet).


Belarus has no notable canyons or caves.


There are no notable plateaus on Belarus.


The Dnieper-Bug Canal connects the Bug River to the Pripyat-Dnieper system. Canals also link both the Western Dvina and the Neman with the Dnieper, helping to make it one of the main waterways linking the Black and the Baltic Seas.



Zaprudnik, Jan. Belarus: At a Crossroads in History. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993.


Glover, Jeffrey. "Outlook for Belarus." Review and Outlook for the Former Soviet Union. Washington: PlanEcon, August 1995, pp. 89-104.

"In the Slav Shadowlands." Economist, 335, no. 7915, May 20, 1995, pp. 47-49.

Web Sites

Interesting WWW Sites in and around Belarus. (accessed May 2, 2003).

Virtual Guide to Belarus. (accessed May 2, 2003).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Belarus." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Physical Geography. . 20 Oct. 2016 <>.

"Belarus." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Physical Geography. . (October 20, 2016).

"Belarus." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Physical Geography. . Retrieved October 20, 2016 from




207,600sq km (80,154sq mi)



capital (population):

Minsk (1,680,000)


Multiparty republic

ethnic groups:

Belarussian 80%, Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, Jewish


Belarussian, Russian (both official)


Christianity (mainly Belarussian Orthodox, with Roman Catholics in the w and Evangelicals in the sw)


Belarussian rouble = 100 kopecks

Republic in ne Europe. Belarus (Belorussia), formerly part of the Soviet Union, is a landlocked country in e Europe. The land is low-lying and mostly flat. In s Belarus are the Pripet Marshes, Europe's largest area of marsh and peat bog. A hilly region extends from ne to sw through the center of Belarus and includes its highest point, at 346m (1135ft), near the capital Minsk.

Climate and Vegetation

Belarus' climate is affected by the Baltic Sea and by continental conditions to the e. Winters are cold and summers warm. The average annual rainfall is c.550–700mm (22–28in). Forests cover about a third of Belarus. The colder n has trees such as alder, birch, and pine. Ash and oak grow in the warmer s. Farmland and pasture have replaced most of the original forest.

History and Politics

Slavic people settled in Belarus c.1500 years ago. In the 9th century, the area became part of the first East Slavic state of Kievan Rus. In 1240, Mongol armies overran the area and Belarus was subsumed into the empire of the Golden Horde. In the 14th century, Belarus became part of Lithuania. The Livonian War (1558–63) between Lithuania and Muscovy forced the union of Lithuania and Poland. By the Partitions of Poland (1772, 1793, 1795), Russia gained all of modern Belarus. In the Napoleonic Wars, Belarus was razed by the retreating Russian army in 1812. Belarus was again devastated by conflict in World War I.

In 1918, Belarus unilaterally declared independence from Russia. In 1919, it was declared a socialist republic of the Soviet Union. In the Treaty of Riga (1921), western Belorussia was handed to Poland, while the eastern part became a founder republic of the Soviet Union (1922). In 1939, western Belorussia was captured by the Red Army. During World War II, Belarus was once more a battlefield for major European powers and a quarter of its population perished. The Nazis murdered most of the Jewish population.

In 1991, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Belarus declared independence and was a founder member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Minsk is the administrative centre of the CIS. Alexander Lukashenka became president in 1994 elections. Lukashenka gained a second term in 2001 elections. In 1996, despite opposition from nationalists, Belarus committed itself to economic union with Russia.


Belarus is an upper-middle-income economy (2000 GDP per capita, US$7500). Like several former republics of the Soviet Union, it faced problems in the transition to a market-based economy. Under communism, many manufacturing industries, such as agricultural equipment, relied on raw materials from the Soviet Union. Agriculture, especially meat and dairy farming, is important. In 1998 Belarus agreed to share Russia's currency and taxation system.

Political map

Physical map


Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Belarus." World Encyclopedia. . 20 Oct. 2016 <>.

"Belarus." World Encyclopedia. . (October 20, 2016).

"Belarus." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved October 20, 2016 from



BELARUS. From the decline of Kievan Rus' to the mid-fourteenth century, the Belarusian principalities were gradually taken over by Lithuanian princes. Initially, the Belarusian elites, who for a long time had shared with their Ukrainian counterparts a common Ruthenian identity, were an influential political and cultural force within the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Lithuanian princes often converted to Orthodoxy, accepted the Ruthenian language as the official language of their realm, and allowed many norms of the Rus' Law to function in their state. The Union of Lublin (1569) between the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which created a Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, left the Belarusian territories within the borders of a semiautonomous Lithuania. It also brought Polish political and cultural influences into the region and opened it to Jewish emigration.

The advent of the Reformation, and especially the struggles over the church union adopted at the Brest Council of 1596 between Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, spearheaded Ruthenian religious and cultural revival in the region. The new intellectual challenges also helped Belarusian elites develop a sense of distinct identity vis-à-vis their Polish and Lithuanian counterparts. The outbreak of the Russian-Polish war in 1654 turned Belarus into a battleground between the Muscovite, Polish-Lithuanian, and Ukrainian Cossack armies. According to the Russian-Polish treaties of 1667 and 1686, the commonwealth maintained its control over all of Belarusian territories except for the Smolensk region, which passed over to Muscovite jurisdiction. In the eighteenth century, growing Polish cultural influences as well as the advance of Roman Catholicism and the Uniate Church helped to widen cultural differences between the inhabitants of Belarus and Russia. The partitions of Poland in 17721795 resulted in the incorporation of all Belarusian territories into the Russian Empire.

See also Andrusovo, Truce of ; Lithuania, Grand Duchy of, to 1569 ; Lithuanian Literature and Language ; Poland-Lithuania, Commonwealth of, 15691795 ; Poland to 1569 ; Ukraine .


Gudziak, Borys A. Crisis and Reform: The Kyivan Metropolitanate, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and the Genesis of the Union of Brest. Cambridge, Mass., 1998.

Halecki, Oskar. From Florence to Brest (14391596). 2nd ed. Hamden, Conn., 1968.

Kaminski, Andrzej Sulima. Republic vs. Autocracy: Poland- Lithuania and Russia, 16861697. Cambridge, Mass., 1993.

Pelenski, Jaroslaw. The Contest for the Legacy of Kievan Rus'. Boulder, Colo., and New York, 1998.

Stone, Daniel. The Polish-Lithuanian State, 13861795. Seattle, 2001.

Zaprudnik, Jan. Belarus: At a Crossroads in History. Boulder, Colo., 1993.

Serhii Plokhy

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Belarus." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . 20 Oct. 2016 <>.

"Belarus." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . (October 20, 2016).

"Belarus." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Retrieved October 20, 2016 from



Culture Name


Alternative Names

Republic of Belarus, Respublika Belarus; before 1991, the country was known as the Belorussian (also spelled Byelorussian) Soviet Socialist Republic. Sometimes called White Russia or alternatively White Ruthenia, especially in relation to the pre-1918 history of the region. Culture name also known as Belarussian.


Identification. The name Belarus probably derives from the Middle Ages geographic designation of the area as "White Russia." Historians and linguists argue about its etymology, but it was possibly used as a folk name referring to northern territories. Some historic sources also mention Red and Black Rus in addition to White Rus. Such labeling probably predates the times when the Kievan Kingdom came into existence. Historic sources mention Belarus during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries as a geographic name; it later gained specific political meaning, including nation-state identification.

Although Belarusians are the dominant ethnic group in the country, the culture includes people of various ethnicities such as Lithuanians, Poles, Ukrainians, Russians, Jews, and Tartars. The richness and blend of the culture reflects the complexity of ethnic interactions that have been taking place in this region for hundreds of years.

Location and Geography. Belarus is bounded by Poland and Lithuania on the west, Latvia in the northwest, Russia in the northeast and east, and Ukraine in the south. Belarus is a large plain about the size of Kansas, with a total area of 80,200 square miles (207,600 square kilometers).

The country is in the western portion of the East European Plains within the basins of the Dnepr, West Dvina, and Neman Rivers. The basins are connected, forming a system of natural waterways that link the Baltic and Black Seas. Much of the country is lowland with gently rolling hills; forests cover one-third of the land and their peat marshes are a valuable natural resource.

Modern Belarus is fairly evenly populated, with the exceptions of the marshes along the southern boundary with Ukraine. The capital, Minsk, is the largest and one of the oldest cities in the region and is centrally located.

Belarus has a moderate continental climate that is influenced by the Baltic Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The summers are cool with some warm days, and winters are cold, while the average annual precipitation ranges 21.5 inches (546 mm) to 27.3 inches (693 mm). Average temperature ranges are from 63.5 degrees Fahrenheit (17.5 degrees Celsius) in July to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 degrees Celsius) in January.

Demography. The population of Belarus was estimated to be 10,366,719 in 2000. The major ethnic groups in 2000 were Belarusians (77.9 percent), Russians (13.2 percent), Poles (4.16 percent), Ukrainians (2.9 percent), Jews (1.1 percent), Tartars, and Lithuanians (less than 1 percent). The demographic distribution remained consistent for centuries, but changed profoundly during the course of the twentieth century, especially due to the murder of Jews and Poles during the Holocaust and the influx of ethnic Russians.

The population density was estimated at 127 inhabitants per square mile in 2000. Women make up 53 percent of the population, and men the remaining 47 percent. Approximately 69 percent of the population is urban. The biggest city is Minsk, with around 1.7 million residents.

Linguistic Affiliation. The official language is Belarusian, but Russian is also widely spoken. Furthermore, each ethnic minorityPolish, Ukrainian, and Lithuanianalso speaks its own language. Most Belarusians speak two or three languages, usually including Belarusian and Russian. About 98 percent of adult Belarusians are literate.

The Belarusian language belongs to the family of Slavic languages and is very close to Russian and Ukrainian. All the three languages use the Cyrillic alphabet, with minor modifications in Ukrainian and Belarusian. Until the early twentieth century, the Belarusian language stood out as a symbol of ethnic distinction. In the communist era, Russian became dominant. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, however, Belarusian is again being spoken and taught in schools as the national language.

"Lacinka" is the name of the Latin-script in Belarusian writing. It originated in the mid-sixteenth century as an aftermath of influence from Poland. Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and the expansion of the Western style of education were among the major factors leading to the considerable changes in the archaic Belarusian written language.

Symbolism. The state symbols of Belarus changed repeatedly throughout the twentieth century. In 1918 the Belarusian People's Republic took "The Pursuit" emblem (a horseman in motion, carrying a sword and shield) and the whiteredwhite flag as the state symbols. In 1919 the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic approved another state emblem: a hammer and sickle in the rays of the rising sun, surrounded by a garland of wheat. In 1956 the new Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR) approved a flag. It consisted of an upper red stripe and a lower green one. Additionally, there was a white Belarusian folk ornament on the red field. In 1991 the Republic of Belarus acquired the status of an independent sovereign state and "The Pursuit" emblem again became the state symbol and the white redwhite striped flag again became the state flag.

After the referendum in 1995, the state emblem of the Republic of Belarus was changed to an image of the republic's geographic outline in golden sunrays over the globe, with a five-pointed red star above. The image is framed by a garland of wheat, clover, and flax flowers. The golden inscription below reads "Republic of Belarus." The Belarusian national flag, which was accepted in 1995, looks like the 1956 design: two horizontal stripes (red and green) and a vertical element of white folk-design lace presented against the red background. The new state anthem has lyrics and music that reflect the everlasting aspiration of the Belarusian people for freedom and independence, and proclaims their commitment to ideals of humanism, goodness, and justice.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Around the end of the ninth and the beginning of the tenth centuries, the Kievan Rus kingdom formed. Its two administrative provinces, the Polock and the Turov Principalities, covered the area of today's Belarus. For several centuries the Belarusian territories were strongly influenced by the Byzantine culture, including Orthodox Christianity, stone architecture, and literature. After the destruction of the Kievan Rus in the mid-thirteenth century by the Mongols the two Belarusian principalities were incorporated into the Great Lithuanian Duchy. A century later the Duchy formed a union with the Polish Kingdom. This new administrative and political situation brought a strong Western European influence to the region, including the Roman Catholic religion. A large Jewish population also settled in Belarus in the fourteenth century.

The Polish-Lithuanian Union created a strong political, economic, and military power in Eastern Europe. In 1569 the Great Lithuanian Duchy and the Polish Kingdom fused into a multiethnic federal state, one of the wealthiest and mightiest in Europe of the time, called the Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita ). The state enjoyed a powerful position in Europe for two centuries.

Following the partitions of the Commonwealth in 1772, 1793, and 1795 by Russia, Prussia, and Austria, respectively, the Belarusian territories became a part of the Russian empire. Great poverty under Russian rule, particularly among Jews, led to mass emigration to the United States in the nineteenth century. The second half of the nineteenth century witnessed the rapid development of capitalism in Belarus.

Beginning in the late 1880s, Marxist ideas proliferated in Belarus, and the 19051907 revolution produced the Belarusian national liberation movement. The nationalist newspaper Nasha Niva ("Our Land") was first published around this time. The most significant event in this national awakening process took place in April 1917, when the Congress of the Belarusian National Organizations took place. Its delegates claimed autonomy for Belarus. However, after the October Socialist Revolution in Petrograd succeeded, the Bolsheviks seized power in Belarus. In December 1917, they dissolved the all-Belarusian Congress in Minsk. Regardless of Soviet occupation, the all-Belarusian Congress and the representatives of the political parties declared the Belarusian People's Republic the first independent Belarusian state on 25 March 1918. Ten months later, the Bolsheviks proclaimed the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR). The new nation-state was formally incorporated into the Soviet Union (USSR), and remained part of that union until 1991.

On 27 July 1991, the Supreme Soviet of the BSSR adopted the Declaration on State Sovereignty. In August 1991, the Supreme Soviet of the BSSR suspended the Communist Party of Belarus and renamed the country the Republic of Belarus. In December 1991, the USSR dissolved and Belarus became a cofounder of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

In March 1994, Belarus adopted a new constitution, creating a presidency and reconstructing the 260-seat Parliament. On 10 July 1994, Alyaksandr Lukashenka was elected as the first President of Belarus. In 1997, the Treaty on the Union of Belarus and Russia was signed.

National Identity. National identity is symbolically linked to two significant moments in the Belarusian history. The national holiday is officially celebrated on 3 July, commemorating the day Soviet troops entered Minsk in 1944, liberating the city from Nazi forces. For some Bellarussians, 25 March is celebrated as an unofficial Independence Day. The date commemorates the short time period when Belarus broke free from the Bolshevik Russia in March 1918, only to be reoccupied in December 1918.

Ethnic Relations. Throughout the centuries, Belarusian lands were home to an ethnically and religiously diverse society. Muslims, Jews, Orthodox Christians, Roman and Greek Catholic Christians, and Protestants lived together without any major confrontations; Belarusians, Poles, Russians, Jews, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, and Roma (Gypsies) also lived in peace in Belarus. Although the twentieth century brought many challenges to this peaceful coexistence, Belarus is in many senses a culture of tolerance. The current population is primarily Belarusian but also includes Russians, Poles, Ukrainians, and Jews. All ethnic groups enjoy equal status, and there is no evidence of hate or ethnically-biased crimes.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Belarus is predominantly rural with several large cities. Urban centers such as Minsk have been important in the development of Eastern European architecture since the eleventh century. Important religious monuments include the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Polotsk (begun in 1044), and churches such as Saint Euphrocine-Saviour Church in Polotsk, the Annunciation Church in Vitebsk, the Saint Boris and Gleb Church in Grodno (all built in the twelfth century). Many military fortifications and facilities were built between the thirteenth and the seventeenth centuries, in both Gothic and Renaissance styles. Many castles dating from the Middle Ages and Renaissance still stand, and in some cases the original wooden architecture has survived. Baroque churches were built in the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, and at the end of the eighteenth century classicism began to dominate local architecture. Russian architects participated in town planning in the late nineteenthearly twentieth centuries, and towns were intensively built up. The architecture of twentieth century was characterized by both modernism and constructivism (such as the National Library of Belarus, built 193032).

Belarus is a farming country. Twenty-nine percent of the farm land is devoted to arable land; 15 percent to permanent pastures; 1 percent to permanent crops; 34 percent to forests and woodland; and 21 percent to other uses.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Belarusian eating habits are not very different from those of people in other Eastern European cultures. They usually have three main daily meals, and staples include red meat and potatoes. Belarusians are also very fond of spending their free time in the woods searching for the many types of mushrooms that are used in soups and other dishes.

Favorite Belarusian dishes include borscht,a soup made with beets that is served hot with sour cream; filet àla Minsk and Minsk cutlet; potato dishes with mushrooms; and pickled berries. Mochanka is a thick soup mixed with lard accompanied by hot pancakes. There is also a large selection of international and Russian specialities available. A favorite drink is black tea, and coffee is generally available with meals and in cafés, although standards vary. Soft drinks, fruit juices, and mineral waters are widely available.

Ethnographic studies confirm that most Belarusians in the beginning of the twentieth century subsisted on a rather poor diet. No significant change can be noticed since the inception of the Soviet rules after the Bolshevik Revolution and the picture of a family eating from a common bowl has been changing slowly. After World War II, due to industrialization and economic changes, the eating habits have changed, but not profoundly.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Food customs often involve women and point out their role in society. For instance, setting a food table was customarily a woman's job. Men would not engage in such activity. An interesting food custom is related to matchmaking, which was always associated with drinking vodka and having food. First the matchmaker would visit a house of a potential bride and offer drinks and food. If the suitor was accepted, he would appear with the matchmaker at the woman's house with vodka and the woman's parents would provide food. Interestingly, the ceremony could be repeated several times until the couple would be officially engaged. If the engagement were broken, whoever broke the engagement would have to repay the other side for all expenses.

After a funeral, the mourners gather together for a meal.

Basic Economy. The official currency is the rouble (R) (also known as the zaichik ) divided into 100 kopecks. Belarus is an industrial state with developed and diversified agriculture. The main industries include electric power, timber, metallurgy, chemicals and petrochemicals, pulp and paper, building materials, medical, printing, machine-building, microbiology, textiles, and food industries.

The agricultural products are dairy and beef products, pork, poultry, potatoes, and flax. Agricultural production is highly industrialized and is based on the use of modern technology such as tractors, machine tools, trucks, equipment for animal husbandry and livestock feeding, and chemical fertilizers. Agricultural lands make up more than 46 percent of Belarus's territory, and agriculture accounts for about 20 percent of the national income. State-run farms are main producers of agrarian goods. Privately-owned farms are in the state of development.

The nuclear accident at the Chernobyl (Ukraine) power plant in 1986 had a devastating effect on Belarusian agricultural industry. As a result of the radiation, agriculture in a large part of the country was destroyed, and many villages were abandoned.

Since gaining its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Belarus has moved relatively slowly on privatization and other market reforms, emphasizing instead close economic relations with Russia. About 80 percent of all industry remains in state hands, and foreign investment has been hindered by a political climate not always friendly towards business. Economic output, which had been declining for several years, revived somewhat in the late 1990s. Privatization of enterprises controlled by the central government virtually ceased in 1996, and the Belarusian economy was in crisis. The volume of production in all branches of industries has decreased. The Russian financial crisis that began in autumn 1998 severely affected Belarus's Soviet-style planned economy. Belarus is almost completely dependent on Russia, which buys 70 percent of its exports. Belarus has seen little structural reform since 1995, when President Lukashenka launched the country on the path of "market socialism." Belarus's trade deficit has grown steadily since then, from 8 percent of total trade turnover in 1995 to 14 percent in the first quarter of 1997, despite the government's efforts to promote exports and limit imports. Lukashenka also re-imposed administrative control over prices and the national currency's exchange rate, and expanded the state's right to intervene arbitrarily in the management of private enterprise. Given Belarus's limited fiscal reserve, continued growth in the trade deficit will increase vulnerability to economic crisis.

Land Tenure and Property. Prior to the partition of the Commonwealth by the end of the eighteenth century, all land belonged to the local gentry and petty noblemen (predominantly Polish or Polonized Belarusians). Before 1861, when peasants were freed, only small parcels of land were in the hands of Belarusian farmers. Peasants had to work three days a week or one hundred fifty six days a year for the noblemen. Some landlords preferred cash to labor. The landlords also hired peasants (those who did not own land) as paid labor. In the beginning of the twentieth century small stretches of land were owned by the state (about 5 percent), some land was communal (about 34 percent), and the majority was in private hands (60 percent). By 1917 the state, church, and gentry owned 9.3 percent while the individual farmers held 90.7 percent of all arable land. Farms were grouped in small hamlets rather than villages (two to ten households). With each generation the family lots got smaller. Some farmers rented additional land from the noblemen or wealthy farmers. After the Bolshevik Revolution of the 1917, all land belonged to the state and large state-owned collective farms. This situation persisted at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Major Industries. The vast Belarusian forests support a large lumber industry, contributing about one-third of the gross national product (GNP). Among the most developed branches of industry are automobile and tractor building, agricultural machinery, production of machine tools and bearings, electronics, oil extraction and processing, production of synthetic fibers and mineral fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, production of construction materials, textiles, and food industries. Much of the national industry is focused on ready-made products for export.

Trade. The country's main trading partners are the other CIS states. Among the primary products traded are buckwheat, chalk, chloride, clay, limestone, peat, potassium, quartz sand, rye, sodium chloride, sugar beets, timber, tobacco, wheat, farm machinery, fertilizers, glass, machine tools, synthetic fibers, and textiles. In 1999 Belarus exported $6 billion (U.S.) worth of goods. Among the most significant export partners are Russia (66 percent of export), Ukraine, Poland, Germany, and Lithuania.

Belarus imports such commodities as oil, natural gas, coal, ferrous metal, lumber, chemicals chemical semi-products, cement, cotton, silk, cars, buses, household appliances, paper, grain, sugar, fish. In 1999 Belarus spent approximately $6.4 billion (U.S.) on goods imported primarily from Russia (54 percent), Ukraine, Germany, Poland, and Lithuania.

Political Life

Government. The Republic of Belarus is united democratic, legal state. It is divided into six administrative regions: five provinces (voblastsi, singular - voblasts' ; the administrative center name follows in parentheses): Brestskaya (Brest), Homyel'skaya (Homyel'), Hrodzyenskaya (Hrodna), Mahilyowskaya (Mahilyow), and Vitsyebskaya (Vitsyebsk), and one municipality (horad ), Minsk. The basic law is the Constitution of 1994 (with variations and additions), amended by a referendum in 1996. The chief of state, the President, is elected by the population for a five year term. The legislative body, the National Assembly, is composed of the House of Representatives (one-hundred-ten deputies, elected by the population) and Council of Republic (sixty-four members, fifty six elected by domestic councils of deputies, eight appointed by the president). Members of the National Assembly serve four-year terms. A Ministerial Council, headed by the prime minister, is appointed by the President with the consent of the House of Representatives. Local government is managed by local Councils with executive and administrative power. The supreme judicial organ is the Supreme Court, which interprets the constitution.

Leadership and Political Officials. Critics and opposition members denounce the increasingly oppressive political atmosphere and human rights violations in Belarus under the Soviet-style authoritarianism of President Alyaksandr Lukashenko. In 1999, the year President Lukashenko was to step down, he held what was internationally considered to be a rigged national referendum. The referendum changed the constitution and allowed Lukashenk to cancel the elections and remain president.

Military Activity. Belarus has a sizable army, with approximately 98,400 active duty personnel. Military branches include the army (51 percent of personnel) and the air force (27 percent). The remaining 22 percent is divided among the air defense force, interior ministry troops, and border guards. As a landlocked country, Belarus does not have a navy. Military service is mandatory for males over eighteen years of age. Belarusian military expenditure amounts to approximately $156 million (U.S., in 1998), which is 1.2 percent of the gross domestic product and 1.8 percent of the GNP.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

There are several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Belarus. One of them is The Belarus Project, which supports judges, lawyers, human rights advocates, and journalists in making their case before international audiences and intergovernmental bodies regarding President Lukashenka's violations of human rights and the rule of law in Belarus. Much effort goes toward bringing Belarusian civic leaders to the U.S. State Department and to the United Nations to tell their own stories of the situation in Belarus. This also gives them the opportunity to meet with their international colleagues and with human rights organizations and other NGOs that may be helpful to their cause at home.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Modern Belarus is a part of the industrialized world. But certain cultural traits, which are observable today, might be traced back to the past. During the last fifty years some changes can be noticed in terms of traditional labor patterns. Today men and women do the same jobs and they might even be compensated equal wages. But ethnographic sources confirm a strong division of labor by gender existing in the beginning of the twentieth century and some of those patterns can still be recognized today. They relate to eating and childrearing patterns. One of them is the obligation of setting the dinner table, which is exclusively a woman's job. It is usually a mother or wife who is responsible for the arrangements. A man would not interfere with this obligation; it may even be considered degrading for a man to perform this task. Also, children under fourteen years old traditionally were under mothers' care and fathers would not interfere.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Gender roles in Belarus remain very traditional. Men are considered the more powerful gender and as breadwinners, while women are required to take care of the children and household. This traditional structure is slowly changing, and women are beginning to gain more recognition and power. The gay movement is also slowly entering the region, although with some opposition.

Men occupy all top positions in various spheres of the economy and politics. After some gains, a considerable decline in the professional and social status of women has been observed recently. Belarusian women are the least protected social group on the job market, and their unemployment rate is around 65 percent. Part of the gender inequality problem is that Belarusian women do not identify their rights and interests as specifically women's issues. Many Belarusians do not see social injustice in the low status of women, and so do not protest the situation.

The first appearance of feminist initiatives came in 1991, when the Belarusian Committee of Soviet Women was transformed into the Union of Women in Belarus. Other independent women's organizations followed, such as the League of Women in Belarus, the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, and the Women's Christian-Democratic Movement. From 1993 to 1996, the Ministry of Justice of Belarus registered other organizations that, in addition to the protection of women's rights, were designed to achieve other goals like promotion of the development of culture, the revival of national traditions, and environmental protection. These groups have appeared within the structures of trade unions in order to resolve problems of both working and unemployed women.

In the late 1990s, a number of women's organizations were formed that were tightly linked with certain political structures. For example, the Belarusian feminist movement "For the Renaissance of the Fatherland" united women of social-democratic orientation, while the "League of Women-Electors" were mainly members of the United Civil Party; a women's organization was set up within the Liberal-Democratic Party, called Women's Liberal Association. In 2000, there were more than twenty women's organizations registered by the Ministry of Justice in Belarus.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Traditionally, marriage was a matter of mutual consent between the young, but the custom also required the consent of the families involved. Daughters enjoyed considerable freedom and had many opportunities to meet young men. Several times a year there were public gatherings in a larger village or town. The young couple had to live with the husband's family and often marriage was a compromise. Both the bride and the groom were expected to contribute something to the marriage and the farm, and most often it was just labor. The most sought qualities of a woman were for her to be a good field worker and housekeeper. Personal beauty and wealth were of secondary importance. Belarusians required high moral qualities from their spouses and virginity of the bride, and occasionally also the groom, was a prerequisite for marriage. The wedding was celebrated in both houses and expenses were shared. Divorce was also by mutual consent.

Domestic Unit. Until modern times households based on extended kinship relations (zadruga joint families) were popular. The traditional zadruga household includes the father and all his sons living on one piece of land. Each married son would have his own hut, but the land, animals, and equipment was owned by the entire family. The family also worked and ate together. Private ownership was limited to personal belonging. Such extended family may have included as many as fifty members united under the authority of one senior. Interestingly, the family's head was not always the natural father or grandfather and the extended family often included distant relatives or even strangers who may have been adopted as family members. Labor invested in the farm rather than blood relations regulated the kin membership. A stranger could have become a family member temporarily or for a lifetime and in some situation could have acquired a status of the head of the extended household.

Usually, the father would assume the position of the family's head and after his death any of his sons (usually the oldest), or his brother, or even a stranger, could take up his position in the family. There was no official title of the position, although several folk terms exist. The kinship also regulated profit sharing. If an adult member had been separated from the kin and had not contributed labor, he would not participate in profit sharing. A son who was absent and did not contribute to the welfare of the kin would not get the same share as other family members including those who were not blood related. Some remains of this kin structure persisted until the Soviet times.

The senior of the kin always directed the work of the men, while his wife took care of the women's activities. The father held the legal title to the property, but he was limited in the possibilities to sell or trade the family assets for as long as there were legal heirs. The custom was designed to protect the children and their rights to own property. When the property was sold, minors, after reaching the legal age, could have claimed the sold property as theirs. There are records that on several occasions courts ruled in their favor.

Inheritence. With certain exceptions for unmarried daughters, men and women were equal to family property. Whatever they brought in to the marriage remained theirs forever. Only the common investments were considered as family holdings. After the death of the spouse, the property went back to their legal heirs or was returned to the home of their origin. All money that a woman made from selling her garden products was her property and the family had no right over such assets. Also, a daughter's earnings outside a farm, although handed over to the family, were her private property. The wife was not responsible for her husband's debts, but the husband was for his wife's. Belarusian married women enjoyed relative equality in decision-making and economic share. But daughters had no share in the family estates, and brothers were under the obligation to marry off their sisters. When there were only daughters in the family, they inherited the whole estate, and the husband of the eldest one was under obligation to take care of the younger until they married.


Child Rearing and Education. Child rearing and education are controlled by the state. Mothers can take paid maternity leaves and paid sick-days when their children are ill. Schooling is free and primary and secondary schooling is mandatory. The state runs affordable kindergartens. More than 10 percent of the population continue their education in several universities around the country. Literacy level is very high; 98 percent of the population age fifteen and over can read and write.

Higher Education. There were fifty-five higher educational institutions in Belarus at the end of the twentieth century, including thirteen private schools. The largest state institutions are the Belarusian University; the University of Informatics and Radio-electronics; the Economic, Technological, Agricultural Technological, and Pedagogical Universities; the Polytechnic Academy; the Academy of Arts; the Academy of Music; the Academy of Physical Training and Sports; the Academy of Agriculture; the Brest, Gomel, Grodno, Vitebsk, Mogilev, and Minsk Linguistic Universities; the Vitebsk Technological University; and medical institutes in Gomel, Grodno, Vitebsk, and Minsk. There were 292 scientific establishments in Belarus, employing 26,000 scientists. The main scientific center is the National Academy of Sciences.


"Sardechna zaprashayem!" is the traditional expression used when welcoming guests, who are usually presented with bread and salt. Shaking hands is the common form of greeting. Hospitality is part of the Belarusian tradition; people are welcoming and friendly; and gifts are given to friends and business associates.


Religious Beliefs. Christianity is the dominant faith. Byzantine Christianity was introduced to Belarus with the rise of the Kievan kingdom in the tenth century. With the incorporation of the Belarusian territories into the Great Lithuanian Duchy and later into the Polish-dominated Commonwealth, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism flourished in Belarus. At the end of the sixteenth century, the struggle between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches produced the Orthodox Uniate Church, governed by the Vatican. The Orthodox Church dominated following the Russian defeat of uprisings in 1863 and 1864.

In 2000, Russian Orthodoxy claimed the most Belarusian believers (80 percent), followed by Roman Catholicism. The Christian community in Belarus is currently very diverse and includes several communities of Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Evangelists, Calvinists, and Lutherans, as well as Roman Catholics Orthodox practitioners, and Uniates. The most prevalent Protestant groups are Evangelic Christians and Christians of Evangelic Faith.

There are now about 44,000 Muslims, including people from the former Soviet republics and about 1,500 Arab students, in Belarus. The country has four mosques (in Ivye, Novogrudok [Navahradak], Slonim, and Smilovichi) and a fifth one at Vidzy in the Braslav district of the Vitebsk region will soon be designated.

Most of the Jews fled the region before World War II, were exterminated during that war, or emigrated after it ended. At the end of the eighteenth century, about 7 percent of Belarus's population was Jewish. At the beginning of the twentieth century, there were 704 synagogues; in 1995, only fifteen of them remained.

The number of Jews in Belarus can be estimated from the current number of members of the Union of Religious Jewish Congregations of the Republic of Belarus. This organization had at least 20,000 members in 2000 and has twelve regional offices. It effectively represents virtually the entire observant community and the Jewish community at large. It supplies humanitarian and medical aid and is affiliated with World Jewish Relief in the United Kingdom and B'nai B'rith in the States. The Main Synagogue of Minsk has daily morning and evening services.

Since the inception of Christianity into the region, the practitioners of Eastern Orthodoxy always outnumbered the followers of other religions. Regardless the times of religious freedom, there were also times of religious intolerance and persecutions. Religious rivalry between Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity amplified after 1839, when the Unite Church was abolished. All major political powers inflicted their policies against certain religions but the Poles and Soviets imposed the most drastic measures. Religious practices were seriously limited during the Soviet area or even outlawed. For instance, Jewish religion and culture, which has strong roots in Belarus, were discriminated under the Soviet rule. Most synagogues have been closed and the teaching of Hebrew and Judaism forbidden. Nevertheless, many Jews practiced their religious activities in secret. Since the Soviet era, the Eastern Orthodox Church in Belarus was a structural part of the Russian Orthodox Church. In February of 1992 the Belarusian Exarchate of the Moscow Patriarchate was created, but Moscow still heavily influences the Belarusian Church. Since 1989 the Vatican has been sending Catholic priests from Poland to work in Belarus.

Rituals and Holy Places. Among the most important religious holidays are Easter, Christmas, and days of remembrance. Russian Orthodox Easter is celebrated sometime between late March and early May, and the difference between Orthodox Easter and Catholic Easter may be up to six weeks. Roman Catholic Easter varies according to a lunar calendar. Russian Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on 5 January, and Roman Catholics celebrate on 25 December. Russian Orthodox practitioners observe Radaunitsa, a remembrance day, on 28 April, and Roman Catholics celebrate All Souls Day (Dsiady ) on 2 November.

There are several places in Belarus that are related to various saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church, including Polock, Sluck, Brest, and Turov. The holiest place of the Russian Orthodox Church is the Garbarka Hill, in eastern Poland.

Medicine and Health Care

Hospital treatment and some other medical and dental treatment is normally provided without fee. Belarus has several large, diverse healthcare facilities, both hospitals and outpatient institutions. Specialized medicine is expanding and improving in the country, although students learn medicine in four medical institutes (in Minsk, Vitebsk, Grodno, Gomel), while eighteen medical schools prepare other medical personnel extensive epidemics of diphtheria have been reported in recent years.

Life expectancy at birth is 62 years for men and 74 years for women, with a population average of 68 years.

Secular Celebrations

Secular celebrations include the following national holidays: 1 January is New Year's Day; 8 March is International Women's Day, honoring the contribution of women to society; 1 May is Labor Day, celebrating the significance and the contribution of the working class and including a parade of citizens; Victory Day, celebrated 9 May, commemorates the victory over Nazi Germany in 1945. Independence Day is celebrated on 3 July and signifies the liberation of Minsk from the Nazi troops during WWII. The October Revolution Holiday, commemorating victory of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, is celebrated on 7 November.

The Arts and Humanities

Literature. The origins of Belarusian literature may be traced to the times of The Kievan Rus. Its formative period was during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and culminated in the sixteenth century when Francisk Skaryna, a publisher, humanist, scientist, and writer, published the first bookthe Biblein Belarusian.

Modern Belarusian literature originated in the nineteenth century, with a sense of national identity. V. Dunin-Marcinkevich, a poet and playwright, was the most dominant figure of the times. He developed literary forms new to Belarus (such as the idyll, ballad, and comedy), and significantly influenced the formation of the literature, dramatic art, and spiritual culture of Belarusians.

Belarusian literature flourished in the twentieth century; key figures were Yakub Kolas and Yanka Kupala, both poets, novelists, playwrights, critics, publicists, public figures, and founders of the modern Belarusian literature and language.

Graphic Arts. Painting first developed in Belarus in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, under influence of Byzantine art. Few works of that period remain, but fresco paintings like those in the Polotsk Sofia Cathedral have been preserved. In the sixteenth century, a fresco painting school was formed in Belarus. Works from the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries were stylistically connected with the painting of Poland and Western Europe; portraiture was popular.

"The Vitebsk School" played a major role in developing the Belarusian national art in the early twentieth century. The best internationally known member of the School was Marc Chagall, who was born near Vitebsk. He emigrated in 1922 and subsequently lived in France, Mexico, and the United States. Often his works depict scenes of his native Vitebsk, and Jewish life in a Belarusian town.

After the October Revolution of 1917, Socialist Realism became popular, with emphasis on historical and domestic subjects. Beginning in the 1940s, artists focused on battle scenes, particularly of the Great Patriotic War. In the 1980s and 1990s, Belarusian painting followed western trends and addressed intellectual and philosophical topics, relying on symbolic meanings and metaphors.

Since the 1980s, decorative and applied arts have been revived. Ceramics, glass, batik, and especially tapestry are popular. Folk art, like weaving from straw, is gaining prominence as well.

Performance Arts. Belarusian music shows strong folk and religious influences. During the nineteenth century the collection, publication, and study of Belarusian ethnic songs was begun. Folk influences still inspire many Belarusian composers, and there are many folk music festivals and competitions held annually. Many amateur ensembles of national song and dance, folklore groups, and ensembles of the folklore-scenic form take part in those cultural events.

Belarus has the National Academic Opera and Ballet Theater, as well as the State Musical Comedy Theater and State Symphonic Concert Orchestra. Belarusian opera and ballet are well known and admired internationally. Performing arts centers are found in big cities like Minsk, which has a thriving cultural scene with opera, ballet, theaters, puppet theater, and a circus. Brest also has a renowned puppet theater. Rock music in the Belarusian language first developed in the 1990s.

The Belarusian theater originated from folk traditions from various religious and secular holidays, and from family and domestic rites. One of the longest lasting traditions is puppet theater; it has played a major role in shaping national theatrical traditions. During the eighteenth century, several aristocratic families sponsored their own theaters, and in the twentieth century many new theaters emerged. Today the most famous are the State Theater of Musical Comedy, the Gorkiy State Theater, and the Theater-studio of the Film Actor in Minsk.

Belarusian cinematography tends to focus on heroic and romantic genres, as well as the psychology of characters. Belarusian directors are particularly known for their animated films. There is also an all female film studio in Belarus, Tatyana.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

All scientific activity is state-funded and organized through academic institutions, universities, or the institutes of the National Academy of Sciences. Belarus has a well-developed scientific community: the National Academy of Sciences, the Belarusian State University, and scientific and research institutes conduct investigations in the fields of quantum electronics, solid-state physics, genetics, chemistry, powder metallurgy, and other research fields.

Traditionally, academic emphasis has been on historical disciplines like archaeology, ethnology, ethnography, history, and art history, but the social sciences like sociology, psychology, and political science are gaining popularity.


Belarus (Now and Then), 1993.

Dawisha, Karen. Democratic Changes and Authoritarian Reactions in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, 1997.

Ethnography of Belarus, 1989.

Garnett, Sherman W., ed. Belarus at the Crossroad, 2000.

Kelly, Robert C., ed. Belarus, Country Review 1999/2000, 2000.

Levy, Patricia. Belarus, 1998.

Marples, David. Belarus: From Soviet Rule to the Nuclear Catastrophe, 1996.

. Belarus: Denationalized Nation, 1999.

Novik, Uladzimir. Belarus: A new country in Eastern Europe, 1994.

Vakar, Nicholas P. Belorussia. The Making of a Nation, 1956.

Zaprudnik, Jan. Belarus: At a Crossroads in History, 1993.

. Historical Dictionary of Belarus, 1998.

Ludomir Lozny

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Belarus." Countries and Their Cultures. . 20 Oct. 2016 <>.

"Belarus." Countries and Their Cultures. . (October 20, 2016).

"Belarus." Countries and Their Cultures. . Retrieved October 20, 2016 from




The people of Belarus are called Belarusans (sometimes spelled Belarussians). Over three-fourths of the population are native Belarusans; Russians represent 13 percent; Poles, 4 percent; Ukrainians, 3 percent; and Jews, 1 percent. For more information, see the chapters on Russia and Poland (Volume 7) and Ukraine (Volume 9).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Belarus." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . 20 Oct. 2016 <>.

"Belarus." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . (October 20, 2016).

"Belarus." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved October 20, 2016 from


Belarusabstruse, abuse, adduce, Ballets Russes, Belarus, Bruce, burnous, caboose, charlotte russe, conduce, deduce, deuce, diffuse, douce, educe, excuse, goose, induce, introduce, juice, Larousse, loose, luce, misuse, moose, mousse, noose, obtuse, Palouse, papoose, produce, profuse, puce, recluse, reduce, Rousse, seduce, sluice, Sousse, spruce, traduce, truce, use, vamoose, Zeus •cayuse • calaboose • mongoose •Aarhus • verjuice • couscous •footloose • ventouse • refuse •Odysseus • Idomeneus • hypotenuse •Syracuse

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Belarus." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . 20 Oct. 2016 <>.

"Belarus." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . (October 20, 2016).

"Belarus." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved October 20, 2016 from