Historical Sketch of Belarus

y Andrew Oh

The Eastern European nation of Belarus lies nestled between Russia to the east, Poland to the west, Ukraine to the south and Lithuania to the north. From 1939 until December 1991 Belarus was a republic within the Soviet Union, after being annexed by Soviet military forces early in World War 11. its name was the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. When the Soviet Union dissolved in late 1991, Belarus became an independent republic. Its capital and largest city is Minsk, which was also named capital of the new Commonwealth of Independent States (Fedor, 1994,).

The predominant ethnic group of the republic is Belorussian, also known as While Russian. They are a Slavic people, closely related in culture and language to the Russians and Ukrainians. Many Belorussians were at one time under Polish rule, but they resisted conversion to Roman Catholicism and remained members of the Russian Orthodox church.(Novosti Press Agency Pub., 1988) Since the late 19th century the Belorussian language has been recognized as different from Russian, and a modern Belorussian literature has appeared. A rich folk culture can be seen in their distinctive regional costumes, cooking, and decorative arts.

Belarus ranks as an flourishing agricultural region despite its cool climate and the areas of swampy or sandy soil.(Fedor, 1994) Livestock production, especially cattle and hogs, and dairy production are based in areas with good pastures and large amounts of land planted with fodder crops such as hay. The main commodity crops grown for food are rye, oats, potatoes, and sugar beets. Flax and tobacco are also cultivated to some extent.

Belarus lacks major deposits of industrial raw materials. It has, however, huge deposits of peat. The most useful mineral deposit is potash, which goes into the production of potassium fertilizer. The southern part of the republic produces some petroleum, but most of Belarus' petroleum is imported by pipeline from the east. Two large refineries process this oil.(Encyclopedia, I 995)

Through the centuries, Belarus has been claimed by Russia and Poland, and there has been many invading forces. The country is chiefly a farming region but has been increasingly industrialized since World War II. Belarus covers 80,200 square miles (207,700 square kilometers) and has a population of more than 10 million people. It forms part of the great East European Plain, which stretches from Poland to the Ural Mountains. Most of the region is flat, but a chain of low hills runs across the center of Belarus from southeast to northwest. Much of the lowland area is swampy. Forests cover about one quarter of the land. Belarus has generally fertile soil for farming. Summers in Belarus are cool and the winters mild with frequent thaws. The rainfall, though more than adequate for farming, occurs mainly during the summer and often causes problems with the harvest.

Chemical plants operate near the potash deposits and the oil refineries. There are major truck and tractor plants, and tractors, motor vehicles, and farm products are exported to other countries. Other economic activities include lumbering and woodworking. Minsk, the capital, produces about one third of the republic's industrial output. Several railroad lines cross Belarus, and Minsk is linked by air with many cities in the western part of Russia. (Encyclopedia, 1995)

For centuries the area that is now Belarus was divided between Russia and Poland. Because it lay on a major east-west invasion route, it suffered great destruction at various times, including during World War II. (OECD, 1994) After annexation by the Soviet Union the present boundaries were set. Belarus had its own government and Communist party, which were directed by the Soviet government in Moscow until 1990. Then, with the Soviet Union already showing signs of coming apart, Belarus declared its sovereignty. (OECD, 1994) An attempted coup in Moscow in August 1991, meant to stop the reform movement in the Soviet Union, led instead to the unraveling of central controls. In September Belarus took its present name and joined nine other republics and Mikhail Gorbachev in an accord to establish a transitional government and transfer power to the republics from the central government. This agreement came to nothing. Belarus instead became part of the Commonwealth of Independent States.



  • 1. Belarus and Moldova: Country studies. Helen Fedor, Washington DC. Liberty of congress, 1994.

  • 2. Beyelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic Moscow, Novosti Press Agency Pub.House, 1988.  

  • 3. Encyclopedia, New York, Random House. 1995  

  • 4.Investment guide to Belarus: Organization for economic co-operation and development, 1994.



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