Belarus History and Politics

By | June 3, 2021

First settlers and arrival of the Eastern Slavs

The people who lived in the area of ​​what is now Belarus in the Stone Age were, as everywhere in Europe, in the 6th millennium BC. Settled down. Different cultures developed, which mainly belonged to the band ceramics, but also to the Dnepr-Don culture.

Baltic tribes came to the region in the 3rd century. From the 6th century, Slavs settled on the banks of the great rivers such as the Dnieper and Pripyat. The Balts living here were absorbed in them. The East Slavic tribes included Dregowitschen, Radimitschen and Poltschanen. Today’s Belarusians, like the Russians and Ukrainians, are descendants of the Eastern Slavs.

Part of the Kiev Rus

In the 9th century, Vikings came through the area and founded the Kievan Rus. Kiev became their capital, and they themselves were called Rus. They quickly adopted the language and culture of the Slavs living here. The empire was divided into many small principalities. The principalities of Polotsk and Turow, which were formed in the 10th century, lay on the territory of what is now Belarus. In the 13th century, invading Mongols destroyed the Kievan Rus.

Grand Duchy of Lithuania

The Grand Duchy of Lithuania emerged around 1300, spreading far to the east and finally encompassing today’s territory of Belarus. The time of affiliation with Lithuania is also known as the Golden Age. Cities and culture flourished in the 14th and 15th centuries.

In 1569, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland joined forces in the Union of Lublin. Poland-Lithuania came into being. Lithuania was looking for support against Russia. As a result, the Belarusian nobility in particular came closer to the Polish nobility and adopted their religion, Catholicism. A religious and cultural contrast arose between the nobility and the people. Poland also gained the upper hand politically.

With the first and second partition of Poland, Belarus came under Russian rule in 1793.

Russian rule

With the partitions of Poland, Catherine the Great took over the territory of Belarus, which was now under Russian rule. It was ruled from Saint Petersburg. The use of the Belarusian language was temporarily banned. The Catholic Church was suppressed and the inhabitants were forced to adopt the Russian Orthodox religion. In 1863 there was a Belarusian uprising under the leader Kastus Kalinowski, but this was bloodily suppressed.

History of Belarus from 1918 to the present day

Belarusian People’s Republic

On March 25, 1918 Belarus declared its independence for the first time and thus renounced Soviet Russia. This happened under German protection after German troops had marched into Minsk a month earlier. Belarus was not recognized as an independent state, but in the national consciousness of Belarusians this first independence is considered to be the foundation of Belarus, a country located in eastern part of Europe according to COUNTRYAAH.

Between Poland and Russia

The first independence did not last long: on January 1, 1919, the country came under the control of the Russian Bolsheviks. The Socialist Soviet Republic of Belarus was proclaimed. In March 1919, through the merger with Lithuania, the Lithuanian-Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic was formed, but it only existed for a few months.

In August 1919, Poland occupied the western parts of the country. The Polish-Soviet War broke out. With the Treaty of Riga in 1921, Poland finally received a border pushed far to the east, so that a large part of what is now Belarus belonged to Poland. This limit was in place until 1939.

Foundation of the Soviet republic and German occupation

The remaining eastern part of Belarus became the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1922 she was one of the founding members of the Soviet Union. Although Belarus enjoyed a great deal of autonomy on the one hand, developments in the Soviet Union were also implemented in Belarus. Agriculture was collectivized, that is, the farmers had to give up their farms and they were now farmed jointly. Russian became the official language.

With the beginning of the Second World War, the Soviet Union occupied the eastern part of Belarus, which belonged to Poland, and reintegrated it.

German troops conquered the country in 1941. Many partisans (armed fighters) fought against the German occupation. It was not until mid-1944 that the Soviet Union fully recaptured the area. Many people died, almost all of the cities were destroyed during the retreat.

After the Second World War

After the Second World War, the country was rebuilt and industrialization began. Above all, mechanical engineering and the chemical industry were promoted.

In 1986 Belarus was particularly hard hit by the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine. Large parts of the country were radioactively contaminated.

On August 26, 1991 Belarus declared its independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

First years of independence (1991-1994)

Stanislau Shushkevich became the first president of independent Belarus. A difficult time began economically. The old trading partner fell away, inflation was very high, and reforms were slow to be implemented.

At the end of 1993, Shushkevich and many other politicians were accused of corruption. Alexander Lukashenko headed the committee to investigate corruption. It later emerged that the allegations against Shushkevich were false. But he lost a vote of confidence and was replaced by the communist Metschyslau Hryb until the next election.

President Lukashenko (since 1994)

In July 1994, direct presidential elections were held for the first time in Belarus. Alexander Lukashenko won the election and became the new president. The Belarusian variant of his name is Aljaksandr Lukashenka. He rules Belarus to this day, now in his fifth term. The previously applicable restriction of a maximum of two terms of office has been lifted.

In Western Europe, Lukashenko’s policies are seen as authoritarian and undemocratic. He himself is described as “the last dictator in Europe”. Western observers also describe the elections as unfair. Political opponents are persecuted and the freedom of the press is severely restricted. A youth organization and a mass party were founded to support Lukashenko’s policies.

Politically and economically, Belarus rejoined Russia strongly under Lukashenko’s government, even if relations cooled down again and again in between.

The country’s economic recovery began in the late 1990s.

Belarus History