Belarus, Republic of Eastern Europe, Inland State bordering Poland in the west, Lithuania and Latvia in the northwest, Russia in the north and east and Ukraine in the south.
Belarus became independent in 1991 when the Belarusian Socialist Soviet Republic declared independence from the Soviet Union. Throughout history, the territories that today make up Belarus have been part of a number of different state formation, including the Kiev State, the Lithuanian Grand Principality, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. For short periods, the Belarusians have also had their own state formation; The Belarusian People’s Republic was established in March 1918 and lasted the year.
Today, Belarus is closely linked to Russia. The country is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (SUS), and has close, economic and military cooperation with Russia.
The Norwegian name Belarus is a translation of the term Belarus, which has an unclear origin, but has been used about these areas since the late Middle Ages.
Belarus was already admitted as a member of the UN in 1945. The country is also a member of several UN specialized agencies, including the World Bank; for example, the Commonwealth of Independent States (SUS) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Belarus signed in 1995 Partnership for Peace agreements with NATO and spring 1997 union agreement with Russia. Belarus, together with Kosovo, is the only country in Europe that is not a member of the Council of Europe.
Belarus national anthem is My Belarusy (We Belarusians). The title, which is unofficial, is from the first verse line of the original 1955 text.
Geography and environment
Belarus covers a land area of 208,000 square kilometers, which corresponds to about two-thirds of Norway’s land area. The country is a plain country that is clearly marked by the icing during the last ice age. It is the largest country in Europe that does not have access to the sea.
The Belarusian ridges are a southwest-northeast moraine ridge, which forms the watershed between Neman and Dvina, both flowing to the Baltic Sea, and Dnieper with the bee-lions Pripjat and Beresina, which flow to the Black Sea.
One third of Belarus is covered by forests, essentially bare forests. The Republic has one of Europe’s largest remaining primeval forests: the Belarusian state reserve Belush Pushcha.
The fauna in Belarus has great similarities to that found in eastern Poland. In the forests, large mammals such as elk, deer, and wild boar live, and also many marsh animals, including badgers. The Belavezhskaya forest on the border with Poland has a considerable population of European bison.
Bird life is rich. The birds of prey include sea eagles, wasps and larch falcons. The stork thrives in the cultural landscape and is a traditional symbol of Belarus; numerous ends, ridges and waders in the many wetlands. In the woods, for example, large birds and blackbirds live.
People and society
The population of Belarus is 9,452,113 (2018), and the country is experiencing a decline in the population. Life expectancy at birth is estimated to be 79 years for women and 67.8 years for men (2018). Source: Countryaah.com
The country is one of the sparsely populated countries in Europe. The south of the country is least populated, while the northern, western and eastern parts of the country are more densely populated. Almost three quarters of the residents live in cities. The capital Minsk is a metropolitan area. Every sixth resident lives here.
Around 80% of the population are Belarusians, 13% are Russians. Polish and Ukrainian minorities live mainly in the border areas in the west and south. Russian is the second official language alongside Belarusian.
Around 72% of the population belong to the Christian Orthodox Church. Minorities are the Jews and Muslims. There is ten years of compulsory schooling. The illiteracy rate is 2.1%.
The reactor disaster of Chernobyl on April 26th, 1986 had devastating effects. About half of Belarus was contaminated. Around 120,000 people have been evacuated from the highly polluted areas to date.
Belarusians, who make up 84 percent of the population (2009), belong to the East Slavic peoples group, like Russians and Ukrainians.
About three-quarters of the population lives in cities. The largest cities are the capital Minsk, Homel and Vitsebsk.
The Orthodox Church is the dominant church in Belarus, but also the Catholic Church, the Unitarian Church and Judaism have long traditions in the country. In an official 2011 survey, 76 percent of Belarusians state that they are Orthodox, while 10 percent are Catholics.
Belarusian has been the official language of the republic since 1990, after a referendum in 1995, Russia also gained the same status. According to the census in 2009, 53 percent of the country’s citizens considered Belarusian as their mother tongue, while 42 percent stated Russian. In reality, Russian is the dominant language.
State and politics
In December 1991, the Soviet Union was disbanded. Belarus President Stanislaw Shushkvich (center) with Russia’s President Boris Yeltsin (right) and Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk (left) signed a resolution on the dissolution of the Commonwealth of Independent States (SUS). The picture was taken on December 18, 1991.
Belarus is a presidential republic. The 1994 constitution has been changed by referendums in 1995, 1996 and 2004, which have extended the powers of attorney to the president. Parliament has two chambers, a House of Representatives and a Republican Council.
Aljaksandr Lukashenka, who was elected president in 1994, has ruled the country with growing powers. OSCE and EU observers have criticized the country’s elections, and in particular pointed to widespread electoral fraud and significant formal obstacles to opposition candidates. Belarus is the only country in Europe where the death penalty is still practiced. This has been criticized several times by the EU, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and a number of countries, including Norway.
Administratively, the country is divided into the metropolitan area and six regions, and these are again divided into 118 districts with elected councils.
The judiciary is formally independent, but the judges in the Supreme Court are appointed by the president. There is a separate constitutional court, where the president and the House of Representatives each appoint half of the 12 judges.
Belarus practices general military service for men aged 18; the initial service is from 12 to 18 months. The total strength is 48,000, with a reserve of 289,500 (IISS). Russia has military installations in the country (radar stations and air defense missiles).
Economy and business
The Belarusian economy is largely state-controlled and based on close cooperation with Russia. Economic developments since 1991 have been turbulent and alternated between periods of severe currency crises and economic progress. The periodic progress has been particularly linked to the status of transit country for oil and gas from Russia to Central and Western Europe. The private sector is small and there has been minimal foreign investment.
For several years after independence in 1991, state and collective farming dominated the ownership of Belarusian agriculture. However, private landowners account for most of the country’s production of potatoes, fruits and vegetables. Animal husbandry accounts for more than half of the country’s total agricultural production. Large areas of Belarus are still unused after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine.
Around 40 per cent of the country’s workforce is employed in manufacturing. Half of the industry employees work in heavy engineering. In addition to the workshop industry, the textile and clothing industry is the most important industrial sector.
The country’s most important export goods are machinery and transport equipment, chemical products and food products.
Music in Belarus
Folk music has a completely dominant place in Belarus’s music scene, with roots in early East Slavic culture. The traditional resistance to cultural assimilation has helped to preserve more archaic style in Belarusian than in neighboring folk. The oldest folk songs (from before the 16th century) are built on a common repertoire of standard tunes, etalonnïye napevï, which has low pitch, quasi-recitative character and is used as a basis for improvisation. The association with traditional contexts, such as harvest, spring and summer rituals, weddings and births, has helped to preserve the distinctive character of folk music.
Among the oldest instruments are horns, dudka (flute), zjalejka (pipe with single tube), buben (tambourine), gusli (psalter) and gudok (fiddle-type). Newer instruments, known from the 16th century, are clay (pivot) tsimbali (chopping board) and duda (bagpipe). In the 18th century, the violin was used, and from the 19th century the accordion has spread.
Multi-voiced folk songs in parallel were widely used in the 19th century and are still popular. After the October Revolution and during World War II, new, revolutionary and party songs have emerged, but the older repertoire is still being cultivated. At the end of the 20th century, D. Agrenev-Slavjansky was at the forefront of developing the national anthem for choral singing, for concert performance.
Theater in Belarus
Belarusian theater is based on traditions of popular rituals, wandering music troupes, theater troupes associated with local magnates in the Belarusian parts of the Russian Empire and voluntary theater collectives from the transition between the 1800s and the 1900s.
A provincial theater was established in Minsk in 1890. In 1917, actors in the first Belarusian drama and comedy theater staged Janka Kupala’s play Pawlinka. Three years later, this theater group formed the basis for the National Belarusian Theater. In the first seasons, the theater consisted of a Belarusian, a Jewish and a Russian group. In 1944, the theater was named after Kupala, and his Pawlinka is still on the report.
Established in 1932, the Russian Dramatic Theater in Minsk was based on both classical works and a modern repertoire. Opened in 1933, the Minsk Opera has been based on both Western European and Russian classics. Today, the Opera is the country’s most famous theater.
In the post-independence era, a number of independent theater groups have also emerged. Best known is “Free Theater”, which due to the difficult political conditions in the country has been forced to hide.