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Belarus

Belarus

Belarus, formerly known as Belorussia, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe with many castles, forests, and national parks. Although it’s a republic in name, it’s considered a dictatorship by the United States and many European nations.

belarus-flag

Quick Facts

Capital: Minsk

Population: 9 million

Key Cities: Minsk, Gomel, Mogilev, Grodno

Official Language: Belarusian, German

Major Religions: Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant

Geography

Bordering Countries: Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Ukraine

Size: 80,153 sq. miles

Lowest point: Neman River at 295 ft.

Highest point: Mount Dzyarzhynskaya at 1,135 ft.

Located in Eastern Europe, Belarus is landlocked, meaning it’s surrounded by land on all sides. The country is slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Kansas.

The land in Belarus is mostly flat or hilly, with about 40% of its surface covered by forests. The mostly flat terrain is broken up by the Belarusian Range, mountains that run diagonally across the country.

There are also swamps, as well as 3,000 streams and 4,000 lakes. Wide rivers flow into the Baltic and Black Seas, and the largest lake is Narach at 31 square miles.

lake-narach

Belarus experiences hot summers and long, cold winters. It often snows heavily from September through early March, and the weather is sometimes very harsh, with strong winds and snowstorms.

Rainfall totals close to 30 inches per year. About 70% of the rain falls from April to October, but it can rain throughout the year. Spring is the driest season.

The landscape of Belarus is very green, with natural vegetation covering 93% of the land. 28 types of trees and around 70 types of shrubbery (bushes) can be found in the country’s forests.

Belarus is also home to a huge variety of wildlife, including elks, deer, wild boars, wolves, beavers, and around 300 species of birds.

There are five national parks in Belarus designed to protect rare species of plants and animals.

History

In the 5th century A.D., Belarus was colonized by east Slavic tribes. These Slavic tribes united with some Scandinavian tribes to form a state called the Kievan Rus.

The capital of the Kievan Rus was the city of Kiev, which is today known as Novgorod. Eventually, the Kievs were conquered by the Mongols.

After being conquered by the dukes of Lithuania in the thirteenth century, Belarus became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1569, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania merged (combined) with Poland.

In the late 1700’s, Poland was divided among Russia, Prussia, and Austria, and Belarus became part of the Russian empire.

After World War I, Belarus briefly declared itself a republic before being invaded by Soviet Russia’s Red Army. The country suffered greatly under the Communist leader Joseph Stalin.

red-army

During World War II, Belarus was occupied by the German Nazis, and hundreds of thousands of Jewish people were killed in Belarus.

When the Soviet Union fell in 1990, Belarus finally declared its independence. Since 1994, the country has been ruled by President Alexander Lukashenko.

Lukashenko has been criticized by other European countries and the United States for political violence, violating human rights, and rigging elections (cheating to win and stay in power).

Travel bans and economic sanctions (penalties) have been placed on Belarus in protest of Lukashenko’s presidency, but he remains in power today.

Belarus also has a prime minister (who is appointed by the president), a Parliament, and a Council of Ministers.

However, Lukashenko has increased the power of the presidency to the point that he is considered a super-president or dictator.

Economy

Major industries in Belarus include metal-cutting machine tools, tractors, trucks, earthmovers, motorcycles, televisions, chemical fibers, fertilizer, textiles, radios, and refrigerators.

Agriculturally, Belarus produces potatoes, sugar beets, flax, grain, beef, and milk. Natural resources include small amounts of oil and gas, as well as forests, sand, gravel, and clay.

Belarus is ranked the 72nd wealthiest country in the world. It experienced a major recession (a slowdown in the economy) in 2016, but the economy has grown since then.

One economic struggle for Belarus is its poor relationship with many European powers and the United States. Because of this relationship, many countries don’t want to invest in or trade with Belarus.

The country’s economy depends heavily on Russia. In 2011, Russia loaned 3 billion to Belarus, and it also provides the country with discounted gas.

The Belarusian ruble is the form of currency in Belarus.

ruble

Culture

Russian and Belarusian are spoken equally in Belarus. These languages are very similar, and they also share many similarities with Ukrainian and Polish.

About ¾ of Belarusians identify as Orthodox, with an additional 12% practicing Roman Catholicism. The country is also home to Protestants, Jews, and Muslims in smaller numbers.

Hearty foods like red meat, potatoes, and mushrooms are especially popular in Belarus. Belarusians often spend time in the country’s many forests collecting mushrooms to use in soups and other dishes.

Belarusian specialties include borscht, a soup made with beets and served with hot sour cream, pickled berries, and Mochanka, a thick soup mixed with lard and served with pancakes. Black tea and coffee are favorite drinks.

Folk music is part of the culture in Belarus, and electronic dance music has become popular more recently. Rock music is also big in Belarus, but the government often views it as “politically inappropriate” protest music.

Festivals in Belarus include the Menestral Guitar Music Festival, the International Festival of Arts in Vitebsk (which celebrates Slavic music), and the Lipstapad International Film Festival.

guitar-music-festival

Belarusians also celebrate traditional Slavic festivals like Kupala Night, which celebrates the summer solstice and involves fun-filled water fights.

Another Slavic festival is Dziady, which honors ancestors who have passed away. Families eat ritual feasts and set extra plates for their ancestors.

Fun Facts

  • The capital, Minsk, has been destroyed eight times in European history, but it was rebuilt each time and proudly stands today as the most developed city in Belarus.
  • We weren’t kidding when we said Belarusians love their potatoes—the national cuisine includes over 300 potato recipes!
  • The longest street in Belarus is Independence Avenue, which is about nine miles long. Its name has been changed at least 14 times throughout history.

independence-avenue

  • The Bialoweza Forest in Belarus is Europe’s largest and oldest forest. It’s also home to Europe’s largest animal, the European Bison, along with more than 1,000 giant trees and 1,000 plant species, some that don’t exist anywhere else in the world.

More Europe facts.