Cities in BELARUS
Geography and Landscape
Belarus or Belarus (official name: Respublika Belarus) is located in Eastern Europe and is completely enclosed by other countries: in the north and east by Russia (959 km), Latvia (141 km2) and Lithuania (502 km) in the northwest, Ukraine to the south (891 km) and Poland (407 km) to the west. The area of Belarus is 207,600 km2.
The landscape of Belarus is generally flat with many wetlands. The average height is 162 meters.
Only 8% of the landscape is hilly and the highest point is the Jarzhinskaya at 346 meters. From the Polish border in the southwest to the Russian border in the northeast, the Belaruskya Grada ("Belarusian Ridge"), named after the head of the Russian security service under Stalin, Feliks Dzjarzhinskaya, runs. River valleys cut through this ridge in a number of high plains.
The landscape also has many primeval forests, fields, swamps, lakes and large rivers such as the Dnieper (700 km through Belarus), Dvina and Pripyat. Smaller rivers are the Berezina and the Bug. In total Belarus has about 20,800 rivers and streams with a total length of about 90,100 km.
The lowland has many lakes and ponds, approx. 10,800, of which Lake Narach (79.6 km2) and Osveyskoye Lake (52 km2) are the largest.
The Pripet swamp area in southern Belarus was once the largest swamp area in Europe. Vast areas, however, have been drained and made suitable for agriculture.
Climate and Weather
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Belarus is on the transition from a continental climate to a maritime climate, with cold winters and humid summers. Average temperatures range from -4 to -8°C in January to 19°C in July. The hottest month is July, with temperatures up to 30°C.
From December to April, the land is covered with snow, but it can even freeze at night until June. Belarus' winters are occasionally tempered by warm westerly winds from the Baltic Sea. Eastern Belarus has long, harsh winters with at least 70 days below zero.
The wettest months are June and August, but the average rainfall is not excessive: between 550 and 700 mm per year. Most of the rain falls in the low hills in the north of the country.
Plants and Animals
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Belrus has a very diverse plant and animal life, which has developed since the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago. Conifer species such as pine and spruce are mainly found in the south, but also birch and alder.
Deciduous trees such as oaks and hornbeams are mainly found in the north of the country. There is also an enormous diversity of peat and swamp plants and willow trees mainly grow along the rivers.
The (unofficial) national flower is cornflower, the national plant is flax.
Voles, otters, beavers and birds such as partridges, geese and ducks are common near rivers. Wild boars, wolves, minks, deer, moose and pine martens are forest dwellers. The stork is the national bird of Belarus.
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Located in the border area of Poland and Belarus, Puszca Bialowieza is the largest lowland forest in Europe with an area of 1200 km2, of which 74,000 ha in Belarus. There are about 120 species of breeding birds and many large mammals such as lynxes, wolves, moose, red deer and beavers. In 1920, the Polish government decided to protect the area and the Bialowieza National Park was founded, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park is jointly managed by Poland and Belarus.
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The European bison or wisent, Europe's largest mammal and the national animal of Belarus, is also quite abundant here. This animal was almost extinct in the 20th century, but thanks to a successful breeding program, several thousand specimens now live in the park. Many trees in the park are 350 to 600 years old and sometimes more than 45 meters high. A herd of wisents also lives in the Belarusian nature reserve Berezina (Bjarezinski), which was founded in 1925 between Minsk and Polatsk.
The Pripet River is very important for migratory birds. More than 250 species occur here every year.
Antiquity and Middle Ages
Archaeologists have discovered settlements dating back to 10,000 years, the Neolithic period. In the 5th century BC. the first BelaRussians settled in the forest plains near the Pripyat River.
The areas of present-day Belarus were already inhabited by Slavic tribes at the beginning of our era. At the end of the 9th century, a number of East Slavic tribes, including Polochans and Krivitsjen, lived on what is now Belarusian territory. During this time the empire of Kiev-Russia was also established here, under the leadership of the Rurikids.
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Under the rule of this people the tribal structure came to an end, which was replaced by a number of sub-principalities, of which that of Polotsk became the most important.
The fragmentation of power continued into the 13th century, as a result of which Belraussian territory was easily conquered by the Lithuanian Gedyminas (1315-1340). After the union of Lithuania and Poland in 1569, present-day Belarus came under increasing influence of Western civilization and further and further away from Russian civilization. At this time the area on the Upper Dnieper was called Belarus, the area south of the Neman River was called Black Russia for a long time.
Belarus is part of the Russian Empire
At the end of the 18th century Belarus came to Russia through the so-called Polish divisions. However, strong national sentiments prevented Belarus from being Russified. This was also evident after the Russian Revolution of 1905, when the Belorussian Socialist Republic (Byelorushaya Sotsjalistitseskaya Hramada) retained its cultural autonomy. After the October Revolution of 1917, Belarus was considered a separate nation by the Bolsheviks and was given the right to self-determination.
Belarus part of the Soviet Union
After the Peace of Riga in 1920, the western part of Belarus was transferred to Poland. What remained of Belarusian territory became a state of the Soviet Union in 1922 with the official name Belaruskaya Sovetskaya Sochialistichnaja Respublika (or BSSR). After the Russian invasion of Poland, Belarus regained its territories, only to lose them to Poland after the Second World War. Belarus initially seemed to side with the Germans during World War II, but after quarrels with the German rulers, a motley variety of partisan groups emerged that opposed the Germans. Meanwhile, the population suffered greatly from the brutal rule of the Germans.
In the summer of 1944, the Germans were expelled from Belarus and the country became a full member state of the Soviet Union again. It was remarkable that when the United Nations was established in 1945, Belarus was allowed to become a full member, despite a foreign policy determined by the Soviet Union.
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In the late 1980s, the Soviet Union slowly lost its grip on the many member states. Nationalism flourished everywhere and on July 27, 1990, Belarus declared itself a sovereign state. On August 25, 1991, Belarus declared its independence and in December 1991 it formed the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) with Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
The first presidential elections were held in June 1994 and eventually won by Aleksandr Lukashenko, who chaired the parliamentary anti-corruption committee at the time. In July, the Kebich government resigned and the new prime minister became the economic reformer Michael Chigir. However, the transition to a market economy was very difficult and 1994 ended with declining industrial production, gigantic inflation and a sharply declining standard of living. In addition, the Belarusian Parliament fiercely opposed the government's privatization program.
In May 1995, a referendum was held in which Lukashenko gained more and more power. He even received support for possibly dissolving the parliament and again strived for integration with Russia.
Lukashenko now ruled by decree and even dismissed some of the Supreme Court rulings that he did not like. As a result, it was still possible for him to promulgate, amend and repeal laws. The economy, which was almost entirely dependent on Russia, was in a deplorable condition, partly due to the high energy debts to that same country.
In 1996, Lukashenko finally got what he wanted. In a new referendum, a new constitution was approved, extending the powers of the president to the maximum: he could dissolve parliament on his own. It will come as no surprise that this situation arose almost immediately and that the new parliament consisted only of Lukashenko adepts. His term of office was also extended to 2001, and in April 1996 a much-desired "economic reintegration community" with Russia was established, which, however, was of little consequence. Although the opposition was stirring, Lukashenko could still count on a majority of the population despite everything. Internationally, Belarus became increasingly isolated as a result of all these anti-democratic measures.
In December 1998, Lukashenko and Russian President Yeltsin signed an agreement to establish a common state, while preserving everyone's sovereignty. At the end of December, Yeltsin and Lukashenko signed another treaty, but this treaty too did not amount to much in practice due to the wait-and-see attitude of the new Russian president Putin.
In May 1999, all opposition parties organized new presidential elections when Lukashenko's term expired. According to Lukashenko, under the constitution it was possible to extend the term of office and he therefore opposed the elections. Newspapers were in fact censored because they were not allowed to write about the elections and political parties were also prohibited from participating in the elections. The Electoral Commission then decided to declare the elections invalid, which further exacerbated the division among the opposition parties.
In March 2000, Sergej Ling was succeeded as Prime Minister by Uladzimir Yarmoshyn and demonstrations against Lukashenko followed. Hundreds of protesters were arrested and sentenced to prison terms.
Parliamentary elections were held in October, but were boycotted by a large part of the opposition. Lukashenko's undemocratic behavior was also strongly criticized abroad. The economy continued to suffer in 2000 with a high inflation rate and low wages. On September 9, 2001, the presidential elections were won by great force (76.5% of the votes) by Lukashenko. The opposition demanded a second round, but this appeal was not successful due to the great support Lukashenko had among the population. Despite much criticism from, among others, the OSCE, the election results were accepted abroad.
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At the end of December, Lukashenko proposed to Putin a new joint constitution, but the Russians did not speak up. The human rights situation in Belarus was increasingly criticized from abroad, leading to further isolation of President Lukashenko. President Putin of Russia proposed to fully integrate Belarus into the Russian Federation by adopting the Russian constitution, currency and language and appointing a head of state. Lukashenko indignantly rejected the proposal.
The economy deteriorated even further in 2002. This cost Lukashenko some of its popularity. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development suspended all activities in Belarus and the IMF also strongly criticized Lukashenko's economic policy and stated that it would no longer grant loans. To make matters worse, Russia threatened to stop the supply of natural gas due to non-payments. New facts about "freedom" of speech emerged; for example, television was placed under full state control. In July, Lukashenko fired two ministers over wage arrears in the agricultural sector.
The economy continued to be a source of concern in 2003 as well. Half of all companies suffered losses, inflation soared and over 40% of Belarusians lived below the poverty line.
The ongoing privatization was reversed and many companies were brought back under full state control. The main parties are the Communist Party of Belarus and the Agrarian Party, both of which support the president. Many seats are further won by independent candidates. In the 2004 parliamentary elections pro-Lukashenko candidates won every seat, after much of the opposition was disqualified for technical reasons. These elections were qualified as undemocratic by international observers.
For the presidential election in March 2006, the united opposition met with a joint candidate, Alexander Milinkevich. Another opposition candidate, Kozulin, also took part in the elections. In the run-up to these elections, as in previous years, the opposition was hampered by government intimidation and lack of access to state media. Important opposition parties are the Belarusian Popular Front, the United Civic Party, the Belarusian Social Democratic Party and Hramada. Milinkevich officially received only 6% of the vote, while Lukashenko officially received over 82% of the vote. Given the months of intimidation of opposition supporters and the lack of transparency in election counting, the international community has declared the presidential election neither free nor fair.
In the years 2007 and 2008 there has been a protracted conflict with Russia over gas and oil supplies. In June 2008 Belarus decides to build a nuclear power plant for which an international tender is being launched. In the September 2008 elections, government candidates win all 110 seats in parliament. In October, the EU suspends President Lukashenko's travel ban to encourage democratic reforms. In April 2009, Lukashenko visits Vatican City during his first Western European visit since 1995. Also in 2010, Russia and Belarus fought over oil and gas supplies. In January 2011, Lukashenko is sworn in as president for a fourth term. In 2011 Belarus ran into financial difficulties and struck a deal to get Russian gas cheaper. In return, Gazprom gains control of the Belarusian pipeline. In 2012 and 2013, unrest in Belarus remains and there are problems with the EU. The opposition is threatening to boycott elections. In March 2014, Belarus requested reinforcements from Russia due to the presence of additional NATO troops in the Baltic states as a result of the Ukraine crisis. In November 2015, Lukashenko won the elections again, for the fifth time, with 83.5% of the vote. In September 2016, two opposition candidates win seats in parliamentary elections, which are otherwise completely dominated by pro-government candidates. It is said that the government has arranged this. In September 2017, Belarus and Russia will hold military exercises code-named Zapad close to the borders of the NATO countries. Western experts say they are the greatest exercises since the cold war.
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There will be elections in August 2020, in which Lukashenko would again have obtained 80% of the vote. Opposition candidate Svetlana Tichanovskaya, whose husband is in prison for political reasons, flees to Lithuania. There are massive demonstrations against Lukashenko that the riot police are cracking down on. The EU expresses its horror at this action and the fraudulent elections. Lukashenko seeks support from Putin.
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Belarus has 9,549,747 million inhabitants (2017), including 83.7% ethnic Belarusians, 8.3% Russians, 3.1% Poles, 1.7% Ukrainians and a small number of Tatars and other populations.
The only non-Slavic minority in Belarus are the Roma ("People"), who mainly live in some towns and villages in the south and southeast.
Before the Second World War, many Poles, Jews and a fairly large German minority lived in Belarus. Most were killed or fled or sent to Siberia.
Before the war, 10% of the population was Jewish and in cities such as Minsk, Hrodna, Brest and Vitsebsk the number of Jews made up between a third and three quarters of the population. As a result of the Holocaust, less than 1% of the population is currently Jewish.
Belarus has no minorities that want to secede, despite a turbulent past and the contrasts between Catholics (Poland) and Russian Orthodox.
The population density is approximately 46 inhabitants per square kilometer. In 2017, 75% of the population lived in cities and 25% in rural areas. There are more than 200 urban regions and twelve cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants. Most Belarusian cities were founded in the 12th century and the oldest northern city Polotsk, founded in the year 862.
Many ethnic Belarusians live in Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. More than 1 million Belarusians live in the West, mainly in England, Germany, France, Belgium, the United States, Canada and Argentina.
Natural population growth was -0.22% in 2017.
Birth rate per 1000 inhabitants is 10.3 (2017)
Mortality rate per 1000 inhabitants is 13.2 (2017)
Life expectancy is 67.5 years for men and 78.8 years for women (2017)
0-14 years: 15.8%
15-64 years: 69.2%
The largest city is the capital Minsk with 2 million inhabitants. (2017)
Photo:Bogomolov.BL in the public domain
Most of the languages of Eastern Europe belong to the Slavic language group. The East Slavic branch - Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian - is the most important with 200 million people speaking these languages.
The official languages in Belarus are Belarusian and Russian. The fact that many Belarusians still speak Russian is a result of Russification during the Soviet era. At the time, 80% of all children were taught only in Russian; now classes are taught in both languages. Until 1984 Belarus was the ex-Soviet republic where its own population spoke the language the worst. At present, only 11% of the population is still fluent in Belarusian.
In 1990, just before independence, Belarusian was declared the official language. For many people, however, this transition went much too quickly and after a referendum in 1995, Russian was also declared the official language. To this day, Russian still plays an important role in daily life. Even President Lukashenko speaks poorly Belarusian and delivers all his speeches in Russian. Although there are a number of Belarusian newspapers, they are larded with Russian articles.
Belarusian is usually written in the Cyrillic alphabet and has loanwords from Russian and Polish. Although Belarusian and Russian are very similar, there are major differences in pronunciation and spelling; a Russian would understand at most 60% when he first hears Belarusian.
Furthermore, a number of dialects are spoken. Yiddish is still spoken by the Jewish minority. Other minority languages are Polish and Turkish from the Tatars.
After independence, the country was called 'Respublika Bielarus' in Belarusian and 'Belarus' in the Western media. Nationalists prefer Belarus because it creates a distance from Russia; those who argue for a union with Russia prefer the old spelling.
From the Russian Revolution in 1917 to independence in the late 1980s, Belarus was an atheist country. All religions were banned by the Russians and many church leaders fled abroad. Before 1917 Belarus had 2,466 religious congregations: 1,650 Orthodox, 127 Roman Catholic, 657 Jewish, 32 Protestant and some Muslim communities.
Since independence, religious life has experienced a real revival, especially among the young. It is also a fact that religion and politics are inextricably linked. The religious groups in Belarus therefore have both a religious and a political agenda for Belarus.
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Most Belarusians are Russian Orthodox (80%). In addition, there is a significant minority of Roman Catholics (8%). In 1989, the first Belarusian Catholic bishop, Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, a Belarusian-born Pole, was installed. There are also some Protestants (of German descent), Muslims (Tatars) and Jews. At the beginning of the 20th century, Belarus still had 704 Jewish synagogues, currently only 15.
Many people have remained atheists. On the border between Roman Catholic and Orthodox Eastern Europe, there is a hybrid of which the faithful recognize the Pope, but adhere to the orthodox rites. This intermediate form, the Uniatic Church, has a few small congregations in Belarus.
The Orthodox Churches are organized as independent institutions on a national basis under an Archbishop, Bishop, Metropolitan, or Patriarch.
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Belarus is a presidential republic headed by a powerful president. In 1996 a referendum was called by President Lukashenko, after which the 1994 constitution was amended. The 13th Supreme Soviet (parliament) was dissolved and replaced by a National Assembly of two chambers: the House of Representatives with 110 members and the Senate with 64 members (6 of which were appointed by the president). Internationally, the 1996 referendum was considered unconstitutional. As a result, neither the Constitution of November 24, 1996, nor the National Assembly established in that year are recognized by the community of Western countries. To date, they consider the 13th Supreme Soviet, headed by its chairman Sharetsky, to be a legitimate parliament.
The term of office of the head of state was also extended by 2 years to 7 years and he was given important powers. For example, the president appoints a number of key members of the judiciary, including the president of the Supreme Court, as well as the head of the election commission and the president of the national bank.
He also appoints, with the permission of the House of Representatives, the Prime Minister and the heads of regional and local councils. For the current political situation see chapter history.
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Belarus is divided into six regions or "voblasti", and these regions are divided into 141 districts or "rayoni".
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Children are required to attend school from 7 to 17 years old. Primary school lasts five years, followed by five years of secondary education. Pre-school education is subsidized by the state and approximately 60% of all children attend kindergarten.
At the age of 15, students choose between a university degree, a vocational training or a specialized training. There are a striking number of sports training courses, several dozen in Minsk alone.
Most colleges and universities teach in Russian, while most primary schools provide Belarusian education. It is remarkable that Belarusian is taught much more often in "Russian" schools than vice versa.
In the capital, Minsk, the number of "Belarusian" schools decreased from 220 in 1994 to 11 in 2002. Minsk has two universities and 22 Jewish Sunday schools.
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The economy is still centrally controlled, as in the Soviet period. Since independence, the country has suffered from high inflation and, after a period of deep recession in the years 1990-1995, has experienced economic growth (estimated at 2.4% in 2017).
Exports to the Russian Federation are very important to Belarus and these good economic relations have ensured that the economic situation is not as bad as in other former Soviet states. A disadvantage of this situation is that an economic crisis in Russia has direct major consequences for the economy of Belarus. Belarus is also totally dependent on Russian natural gas and oil; Lithuania provides a large part of the electricity.
Belarus' conservative economic policies have ensured that bodies like the IMF and the World Bank are reluctant to invest in the country's economy. The GDP was at $ 18,900 in 2017, 6% of the population lives below the poverty line.
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As far as the eye can see, the wheat fields stretch out in Belarus, as part of the grain belt of Eastern Europe, which continues through Poland, Hungary, Ukraine and Moldova. A lot of wheat and crops are grown there for industrial processing, and there are orchards.
Belarus retained its large state farms, but these are no guarantee that the country can provide for its own food needs. The production of the Belarusian collective farms or collective farms is in fact declining due to the undermining influence of private plots. In addition to wheat, a lot of sugar beets, potatoes and flax are grown, in addition to smaller amounts of oats, millet, tobacco and hemp. The agricultural sector provides 8% of the gross domestic product (2017).
Southern Belarus, one of the most fertile regions of the country, was severely affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine (1986). Hundreds of kilometers in Belarus were contaminated by the wind, about 20% of the entire agricultural area. Forestry, another vital industry, was also hit hard: 15% of the forest area is no longer usable.
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Industry provides approximately 40% of GDP (2017). Important are the mineral and chemical factories in cities like Salihorsk and Hrodna with their fertilizer factories and oil refineries in Novopolatsk and Mazyr. also many tractors are manufactured in Belarus. An important energy source is peat, which is common in the Pripet swamps. Furthermore, a lot of potassium is extracted and exported abroad. Copper, nickel, lead and some other metals have been found, but these cannot yet be exploited.
Belarus is central to the European transport system. The rivers have always played an important role in this, with the Black Sea in the south and the Baltic Sea in the north. Railways are also an important part of Belarus' transport system.
Holidays and Sightseeing
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The capital of Belarus is Minsk, also a tourist attraction of interest. Minsk is partly an old city with cathedrals such as the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit and the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, built in 1613, making it the oldest surviving church in the city. On the other hand, there are remnants of the old Soviet architecture such as the old spacious boulevards. There are also modern structures such as the huge National Library building.
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The castle of Mir, near the place of the same name, has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. The castle dates from the 15th and 16th centuries and has five characteristic towers with loopholes. It was known as the Invincible Castle. Around 1568 the castle came into the hands of Count Radziwil, who rebuilt the castle in Renaissance style. A three-story palace was built along the east and north walls of the castle. A number of Baroque style elements have also been added. The palace and park in Nesvish is not far from Mir Castle and was used as the residence of the Radzivills family. The palace was designed by the famous Italian architect Giovanni Bernardoni.
The Berezinsky National Park has a unique fauna and flora and is a paradise for ornithologists and other nature lovers. The park also has World Heritage status. There are more than 300 different types of birds such as storks, orioles and wheatears. You can also take a boat trip on the river Berezina and see many special mammals such as wolves, moose and European Bison.
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Levy, P. / Belarus
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