Information about Belarus: Belarus, officially the Republic of Belarus, formerly known by its Russian name Byelorussia or Belorussia, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe bordered by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital and most populous city is Minsk with a population of 1,975 million (2018). Read More...

History


Early History

From 5000 to 2000 BC, Bandkeramik cultures predominated. In addition, remains from the Dnieper-Donets culture were found in Belarus and parts of Ukraine. Cimmerians and other pastoralists roamed through the area by 1,000 BC, and by 500 AD, Slavs had taken up residence, which was circumscribed by the Scythians who roamed its outskirts. Invaders from Asia, among whom were the Huns and Avars, swept through c. 400–600 AD, but were unable to dislodge the Slavic presence. The region that is now Belarus was first settled by Baltic tribes in the 3rd century. Around the 5th century, the area was taken over by Slavic tribes. The takeover was partially due to the lack of military coordination of the Balts but the gradual assimilation of the Balts into Slavic culture was peaceful in nature.


Principality of Polotsk


In the 9th century some principalities arose on the territory of modern Belarus. Among them was the Principality of Polotsk that for most of the time was effectively an independent State (apart from about 20 years when it was a Vassal of Kievan Rus’). The Principality of Polotsk was the first nation state to be established on the land of Belarus.


Grand Duchy of Lithuania


Many early Rus’ principalities were virtually razed or severely affected by a major Mongol invasion in the 13th century, but the lands of modern Belarus avoided the brunt of the invasion and were eventually joined the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. There are no sources of military seizure, but the annals affirm the alliance and united foreign policy of Polotsk and Lithuania for decades. For example, the Chronicle of Novgorod informs about “Izyaslav had been set to be Knyaz in Luki and covered Novgorod from the Lithuanians” in 1198 when Luki is situated on the east from Polotsk. A map of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 15th century. Belarus was fully within its borders. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania, whose territory started its existence between Nemunas and Neris rivers and existed in the center of Europe in the 13th–18th centuries and comprised entire territories of contemporary Belarus, Ukraine, partially Poland, Lithuania and Latvia and stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. Incorporation into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania resulted in an economic, political and ethno-cultural unification of Belarusian lands. Of the principalities held by the Duchy, nine of them were settled by a population that would eventually become Belarusian people. During this time, the Duchy was involved in several military campaigns, including fighting on the side of Poland against the Teutonic Knights at the Battle of Grunwald in 1410; the joint victory allowed the Duchy to control the northwestern borderlands of Eastern Europe. The Muscovites, led by Ivan III of Moscow, began military campaigns in 1486 in an attempt to incorporate the lands of Kievan Rus’, specifically the territories of modern Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.


Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth


On 2 February 1386, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland were joined in a personal union through a marriage of their rulers. This union set in motion the developments that eventually resulted in the formation of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, created in 1569 by the Union of Lublin. Modern Belarusian lands on a Tobias Lotter map of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, 1780. Area occupied after the First Partition of Poland marked in green. The Lithuanian nobles was forced to go for rapprochement because of the threat coming from Muscovy. To strengthen the independence in the format of the union, three editions of the Statutes of Lithuania were issued in the 16th century. The third Article of the Statute establishes that all lands of Grand Duchy of Lithuania will be eternally in Grand Duchy of Lithuania and never enter as a part of other states. It allowed to own the land within Grand Duchy of Lithuania only to own families. Anyone from outside Duchy would be honored with property only own it after swearing to Grand Duke of Lithuania. These articles were aimed to defend the rights of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania nobility against Polish, Prussian and other aristocracy of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. n the years following the union, the process of gradual Polonization of both Lithuanians and Ruthenians gained steady momentum. In culture and social life, both the Polish language and Catholicism became dominant, and in 1696, Polish replaced Ruthenian as the official language—with the Ruthenian language being banned from administrative use.[55] However, the Ruthenian peasants, continued to speak their own language and remained faithful to the Belarusian Greek Catholic Church. Statutes were initially only issued in Ruthenian language and later also in Polish. Around 1840 the Statutes were banned by the Russian tsar following the November Uprising. Modern Ukrainian lands used it until 1860s.


Russian Empire


Further information: Kościuszko Uprising, November Uprising, January Uprising, and Belarusian history in the Russian Empire.The union between Poland and Lithuania ended in 1795 with the partitioning of Poland by Imperial Russia, Prussia, and Austria. The Belarusian territories acquired by the Russian Empire under the reign of Catherine II were included into the Belarusian Governorate (Russian: Белорусское генерал-губернаторство) in 1796 and held until their occupation by the German Empire during World War I. A Church of Saints Simon and Helena in Minsk, then part of the Russian Empire, 1910. Under Nicholas I and Alexander III the national cultures were repressed. Policies of Polonization changed by Russification, which included the return to Orthodox Christianity of Belorusian Uniates. Belarusian language was banned in schools while in neighboring Samogitia primary school education with Samogitian literacy was allowed. In a Russification drive in the 1840s, Nicholas I prohibited use of the Belarusian language in public schools, campaigned against Belarusian publications and tried to pressure those who had converted to Catholicism under the Poles to reconvert to the Orthodox faith. In 1863, economic and cultural pressure exploded in a revolt, led by Konstanty Kalinowski. After the failed revolt, the Russian government reintroduced the use of Cyrillic to Belarusian in 1864 and no documents in Belarusian were permitted by the Russian government until 1905. During the negotiations of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Belarus first declared independence under German occupation on 25 March 1918, forming the Belarusian People’s Republic. Immediately afterwards, the Polish–Soviet War ignited, and the territory of Belarus was divided between Poland and Soviet Russia. The Rada of the Belarusian Democratic Republic exists as a government in exile ever since then; in fact, it is currently the world’s longest serving government in exile.


Belorussian People’s Republic


Belarusian People’s Republic postcard with Coats of Arms of voivodeships. The Belarusian People’s Republic was a first attempt to create an independent Belarusian state under name “Belarus”. Despite the many efforts state ceased to exist cause territory was occupied and controlled by German Imperial Army, Imperial Russian Army and than Red Army in World War I times. It existed only from 1918 to 1919 but created prerequisites for the formation of the state idea around the newly name “Belarus” on these lands. The choice of the name was probably based the fact that the intelligent core of young government was educated in the tsardom universities with a corresponding education around the ideology of West-Russianism.


Republic of Central Lithuania


The Republic of Central Lithuania was a short-lived political entity, which was the last attempt to restore Lithuania in the historical confederacy state (it was also supposed to create Lithuania Upper and Lithuania Lower). The republic was created in 1920 following the staged rebellion of soldiers of the 1st Lithuanian–Belarusian Division of the Polish Army under Lucjan Żeligowski. Centered on the historical capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Vilna (Lithuanian: Vilnius, Polish: Wilno), for 18 months the entity served as a buffer state between Poland, upon which it depended, and Lithuania, which claimed the area. After a variety of delays, a disputed election took place on 8 January 1922, and the territory was annexed to Poland. Żeligowski later in his memoir which was published in London in 1943 condemned the annexation of Republic by Poland, as well as the policy of closing Belarusian schools and general disregard of Marshal Józef Piłsudski’s confederation plans by Polish ally. Years earlier interrogation report of 19-year-old revolutionary Pilsudski of March 10, 1887 indicated that he called himself a “belarusian, nobleman”.


Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic


Caricature illustrating the partition of Belarus between Poland and the Bolsheviks after the Peace of Riga, 1921. A part of Belarus under Russian rule emerged as the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (Byelorussian SSR) in 1919. Soon thereafter it merged to form the Lithuanian-Byelorussian SSR. The contested lands were divided between Poland and the Soviet Union after the war ended in 1921, and the Byelorussian SSR became a founding member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922. The western part of modern Belarus remained part of Poland. In the 1920s and 1930s, Soviet agricultural and economic policies, including collectivization and five-year plans for the national economy, led to famine and political repression. Soviet partisan fighters behind German front lines in Belarus in 1943. In 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Poland, marking the beginning of World War II. The Soviets invaded and annexed much of eastern Poland, which had been part of the country since the Peace of Riga two decades earlier. Much of the northern section of this area was added to the Belorussian SSR, and now constitutes West Belarus. The Soviet-controlled Byelorussian People’s Council officially took control of the territories, whose populations consisted of a mixture of Poles, Ukrainians, Belorussians and Jews, on 28 October 1939 in Białystok. Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. The Brest Fortress, which had been annexed in 1939, at this time was subjected to one of the most destructive onslaughts that happened during the war. Statistically, the Byelorussian SSR was the hardest-hit Soviet republic in World War II; it remained in Nazi hands until 1944. During that time, Germany destroyed 209 out of 290 cities in the republic, 85{8314aace7d675dba5b72b12405d18e1eacfac00b702602a338292ae9d81e375e} of the republic’s industry, and more than one million buildings. The Nazi Generalplan Ost called for the extermination, expulsion or enslavement of most or all Belorussians for the purpose of providing more living space in the East for Germans. Casualties were estimated to be between 2 and 3 million (about a quarter to one-third of the total population), while the Jewish population of Belarus was devastated during the Holocaust and never recovered. The population of Belarus did not regain its pre-war level until 1971.


It was also after this conflict that the final borders of Belarus were set by Stalin when parts of Belorussian territory were given to the recently annexed Lithuania. After the war, Belarus was among the 51 founding countries of the United Nations Charter and as such it was allowed an additional vote at the UN, on top of the Soviet Union’s vote. Vigorous postwar reconstruction promptly followed the end of the war and the Byelorussian SSR became a major center of manufacturing in the western USSR, creating jobs and attracting ethnic Russians. The borders of the Byelorussian SSR and Poland were redrawn, in accord with the 1919-proposed Curzon Line. Joseph Stalin implemented a policy of Sovietization to isolate the Belorussian SSR from Western influences. This policy involved sending Russians from various parts of the Soviet Union and placing them in key positions in the Byelorussian SSR government. After Stalin’s death in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev continued his predecessor’s cultural hegemonyprogram, stating, “The sooner we all start speaking Russian, the faster we shall build communism.” In 1986, the Byelorussian SSR was exposed to significant nuclear fallout from the explosion at the Chernobyl power plant in the neighboring Ukrainian SSR. In June 1988, the archaeologist and leader of the Christian Conservative Party of the BPF Zyanon Paznyak discovered mass graves of victims executed in 1937–41 at Kurapaty, near Minsk. Some nationalists contend that this discovery is proof that the Soviet government was trying to erase the Belarusian people, causing Belarusian nationalists to seek independence. Leaders of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus signed the Belavezha Accords, dissolving the Soviet Union, 8 December 1991.


Independence


In March 1990, elections for seats in the Supreme Soviet of the Byelorussian SSR took place. Though the pro-independence Belarusian Popular Front took only 10{8314aace7d675dba5b72b12405d18e1eacfac00b702602a338292ae9d81e375e} of the seats, the populace was content with the selection of the delegates. Belarus declared itself sovereign on 27 July 1990 by issuing the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. With the support of the Communist Party, the country’s name was changed to the Republic of Belarus on 25 August 1991. Stanislav Shushkevich, the chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Belarus, met with Boris Yeltsin of Russia and Leonid Kravchuk of Ukraine on 8 December 1991 in Belavezhskaya Pushcha to formally declare the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States. A national constitution was adopted in March 1994 in which the functions of prime minister were given to the President of Belarus.

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