The Belarusians (: беларусы, : белорусы), sometimes also spelled as Belorussian, Belarussian or even Byelorussians are an East Slavic ethnic group that is native to Belarus. Belarus shares a history that is identical to that of European Russia and Ukraine, having been part of the Lithuanian Commonwealth and later Imperial Russian and Soviet territory.
However in their history, Belarusians were less successful in preserving their culture than the Ukrainians. The Belarusian language is only spoken by a handful of people in Belarus, as most are fluent Russian speakers.
The term Belarus and Belarusian are rooted from the Russian word bela meaning white and rus referring to the Kievan Rus, the ancient ancestors of the Belarusian, Rusyn, Russian and Ukrainian people. The ancient history of Belarus mirrors that of Russia and Ukraine. When Belarus began forming as a atonomous region within the Russian Empire, it was known as Belorussia. Depending on certain translations, it can also appear as Byelorussia or Belarussia.
Early History and AncestryEdit
The history of Belarus, or, more correctly of the Belarusian ethnicity, begins with the migration and expansion of the Slavic peoples throughout Eastern Europe between the 6th and 8th centuries. East Slavs settled on the territory of present-day Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, assimilating local Baltic — (Yotvingians, Dniepr Balts), Ugro-Finnic (Russia) and steppe nomads (Ukraine) already living there, their early ethnic integrations contributed to the gradual differentiation of the three East Slavic nations. These East Slavs were pagan, animistic, agrarian people whose economy included trade in agricultural produce, game, furs, honey, beeswax and amber.
The modern Belarusian ethnos was probably formed on the basis of the three Slavic tribes — Kryvians, Drehovians, Radzimians as well as several Baltic tribes.
Kievan Rus/Principality of Polotsk'Edit
The Principality of Polotsk, also known as the Kingdom of Polotsk or the Duchy of Polotsk (: По́лацкае кня́ства, : По́лоцкое кня́жество) was a medieval principality of the Early East Slavs. The origin and date of state establishment is uncertain. In the Russian chronicles it is mentioned as one being conquered by Vladimir the Great and thereafter became associated with the Rurik dynasty and Kievan Rus'.
Supposedly it was established around the ancient town of Polotsk (modern Belarusian language: Polatsk) by the tribal union of Krivichs. In the second half of 10th century Polotsk was governed by its own dynasty the first ruler of which that is mentioned in the history was a semi-legendary Rogvolod (? - 978). Rogvolod is being better known as the father of Rogneda. The Principality was heavily involved in several succession crises of the 11-12th centuries and a war with the Land of Novgorod. By the 13th century it was integrated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
At the time of its greatest extent the principality stretched over large parts of today's northern and central Belarus and a smaller part of today's southeastern Latvia, including (besides Polotsk itself) the following towns: Vitebsk, Drutsk, Minsk, Izjaslaw (now Zaslawye), Lahojsk, Barysaw, Brachyslaw (now Braslaw), Kukeinos (now Koknese) and others.
Grand Duchy of LithuaniaEdit
In the 13th century, the fragile unity of Kievan Rus' disintegrated due to nomadic incursions from Asia, which climaxed with the Mongol sacking of Kiev (1240), leaving a geopolitical vacuum in the region. The East Slavs splintered into a number of independent and competing principalities. Due to military conquest and dynastic marriages the West Ruthenian (Belarusian) principalities were acquired by the expanding Lithuania, beginning with the rule of Lithuanian King Mindaugas (1240–63).
The Lithuanians' smaller numbers in this medieval state gave the Ruthenians (present-day Belarusians and Ukrainians) an important role in the everyday cultural life of the state. Owing to the prevalence of East Slavs and the Eastern Orthodox faith among the population in eastern and southern regions of the state, the Ruthenian language was a widely used colloquial language. An East Slavic variety (rus'ka mova, Old Belarusian or West Russian Chancellery language), gradually influenced by Polish, was the language of administration in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania at least since Vytautas reign until the late 17th century when it was eventually replaced by Polish language.
This period of political breakdown and reorganization also saw the rise of written local vernaculars in place of the literary and liturgical Church Slavonic language, a further stage in the evolving differentiation between the Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian languages.
Several Lithuanian monarchs — the last being Švitrigaila in 1432–36 — relied on the Eastern Orthodox Ruthenian majority, while most monarchs and magnates increasingly came to reflect the opinions of the Roman Catholics.
Construction of Orthodox churches in some parts of present-day Belarus had been initially prohibited, as was the case of Vitebsk in 1480. On the other hand, further unification of the, mostly Orthodox, Grand Duchy with mostly Catholic Poland led to liberalization and partial solving of the religious problem. In 1511, King and Grand Duke Sigismund I the Old granted the Orthodox clergy an autonomy enjoyed previously only by Catholic clergy. The privilege was enhanced in 1531, when the Orthodox church was no longer responsible to the Catholic bishop and instead the Metropolite was responsible only to the sobor of eight Orthodox bishops, the Grand Duke and the Patriarch of Constantinople. The privilege also extended the jurisdiction of the Orthodox hierarchy over all Orthodox people.
In such circumstances, a vibrant Ruthenian culture flourished, mostly in major present-day Belarusian cities. The first Belarusian book printed with the first printing press in the Cyrillic alphabet was published in Prague, in 1517, by Francysk Skaryna, a leading representative of the renaissance Belarusian culture. Soon afterwards he founded a similar printing press in Polatsk and started an extensive work of publishing the Bible and other religious works there. Apart from the Bible itself, until his death in 1551 he published 22 other books thus laying the foundations for the evolution of the Ruthenian language into the modern Belarusian language.
Imperial Russian RuleEdit
Under Russian administration, the territory of Belarus was divided into the guberniyas of Minsk, Vitebsk, Mogilyov, and Hrodno. Belarusians were active in the guerrilla movement against Napoleon's occupation.. With Napoleon's defeat, Belarus again became a part of Imperial Russia and its guberniyas constituted part of the Northwestern Krai. The anti-Russian uprisings of the gentry in 1830 and 1863 were subdued by government forces.
Although under Nicholas I and Alexander III the national cultures were repressed due to the policies of de-Polonization and Russification, which included the return to Orthodoxy, the 19th century was signified by the rise of the modern Belarusian nation and self-confidence. A number of authors started publishing in the Belarusian language, including Jan Czeczot, Władysław Syrokomla and Konstanty Kalinowski.
In a Russification drive in the 1840s, Nicholas I forbade the use of the term Belarusia and renamed the region the "North-Western Territory". He also prohibited the use of Belarusian language in public schools, campaigned against Belarusian publications and tried to pressure those who had converted to Catholicism under the Poles to reconvert to the Orthodox faith. In 1863, economic and cultural pressure exploded into a revolt, led by Kalinowski. After the failed revolt, the Russian government reintroduced the use of Cyrillic to Belarusian in 1864 and banned the use of the Latin alphabet.
In the second half of the 19th century, the Belarusian economy, like that of the entire Europe, was experiencing significant growth due to the spread of the Industrial Revolution to Eastern Europe, particularly after the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. Peasants sought a better lot in foreign industrial centres, with some 1.5 million people leaving Belarus in the half-century preceding the Russian Revolution of 1917.
World War I and Communist RuleEdit
Minsk was captured by German troops on 21 February 1918. World War I was the short period when Belarusian culture started to flourish. German administration allowed schools with Belarusian language, previously banned in Russia; a number of Belarusian schools were created until 1919 when they were banned again by the Polish military administration. At the end of World War I, when Belarus was still occupied by Germans, according to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the short-lived Belarus National Republic was pronounced on March 25, 1918, as part of the German Mitteleuropa plan.
On 3 December 1918 the Germans withdrew from Minsk. On 10 December 1918 Soviet troops occupied Minsk. The Rada (Council) of the Belarus National Republic went into exile, first to Kaunas, then to Berlin and finally to Prague. On January 2, 1919, the Soviet Socialist Republic of Byelorussia was declared. On 17 February 1919 it was disbanded. Part of it was included into RSFSR, and part was joined to the Lithuanian SSR to form the LBSSR, Lithuanian-Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, informally known as Litbel, whose capital was Vilnius. While Belarus National Republic faced off with Litbel, foreign powers were preparing to reclaim what they saw as their territories: Polish forces were moving from the West, and Russians from the East. When Vilnius was captured by Polish forces on 17 April 1919, the capital of the Soviet puppet state Litbel was moved to Minsk. On 17 July 1919 Lenin dissolved Litbel because of the pressure of Polish forces advancing from the West. Polish troops captured Minsk on 8 August 1919.
World War IIEditWhen the Soviet Union invaded Poland on September 17, 1939, following the terms of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact's secret protocol, much of what had been eastern Poland was annexed to the BSSR. Similarly to the times of German occupation during World War I, Belarusian language and Soviet culture enjoyed relative prosperity in this short period. Already in October 1940, over 75% of schools used the Belarusian language, also in the regions where no Belarus people lived, e.g. around Łomża, what was Ruthenization. After twenty months of Soviet rule, Germany and its Axis allies invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. Soviet authorities immediately evacuated about 20% of the population of Belarus and destroyed all the food supplies. The country suffered particularly heavily during the fighting and the German occupation. Minsk was captured by the Germans on 28 June 1941. Following bloody encirclement battles, all of the present-day Belarus territory was occupied by the Germans by the end of August 1941. Since the early days of the occupation, a powerful and increasingly well-coordinated Belarusian resistance movement emerged. Hiding in the woods and swamps, the partisans inflicted heavy damage to German forces and their supply means. In the largest partisan sabotage action of the entire Second World War, the so-called Asipovichy diversion of 30 July 1943 four German trains with supplies and Tiger tanks were destroyed. To fight partisan activity, the Germans had to withdraw considerable forces behind their front line. On 22 June 1944 the huge Soviet offensive Operation Bagration ( : Oперация Багратион) was launched, Minsk was re-captured on 3 July 1944, and all of Belarus was regained by the end of August. Hundred thousand of Poles were expelled after 1944.
In total, Belarus lost a quarter of its pre-war population in World War II including practically all its intellectual elite. About 9 200 villages and 1.2 million houses were destroyed. The major towns of Minsk and Vitsebsk lost over 80% of their buildings and city infrastructure. For the defence against the Germans, and the tenacity during the German occupation, the capital Minsk was awarded the title Hero City after the war. The fortress of Brest was awarded the title Hero-Fortress.
Cold War - Belarusian SSREditAfter the end of War in 1945, Belarus became one of the founding members of the United Nations Organisation. Joining Belarus was the Soviet Union itself and another republic Ukraine. In exchange for Belarus and Ukraine joining the UN, the United States had the right to seek two more votes, a right that has never been exercised.
The Belarusian economy was completely devastated by the events of the war. Most of the industry, including whole production plants were removed either to Russia or Germany. Industrial production of Belarus in 1945 amounted for less than 20% of its pre-war size. Most of the factories evacuated to Russia, with several spectacular exceptions, were not returned to Belarus after 1945. During the immediate postwar period, the Soviet Union first rebuilt and then expanded the BSSR's economy, with control always exerted exclusively from Moscow. During this time, Belarus became a major center of manufacturing in the western region of the USSR. Huge industrial objects like the BelAZ, MAZ, and the Minsk Tractor Plant were built in the country. The increase in jobs resulted in a huge immigrant population of Russians in Belarus. Russian became the official language of administration and the peasant class, which traditionally was the base for Belarusian nation, ceased to exist.
On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl disaster occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine situated close to the border with Belarus. It is regarded as the worst nuclear accident in the history of nuclear power. It produced a plume of radioactive debris that drifted over parts of the western Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and Scandinavia. Large areas of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia were contaminated, resulting in the evacuation and resettlement of roughly 200,000 people. About 60% of the radioactive fallout landed in Belarus. After 10 years since the accident, the occurrences of thyroid cancer among children increased fifteenfold (the sharp rise started in about four years after the accident). 
Republic of BelarusEditOn 27 July 1990, Belarus declared its national sovereignty, a key step toward independence from the Soviet Union. The BSSR was formally renamed the Republic of Belarus on 25 August 1991. Around that time, Stanislav Shushkevich became the chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Belarus, the top leadership position in Belarus. On December 8, 1991, Shushkevich met with Boris Yeltsin of Russia and Leonid Kravchuk of Ukraine, in Belavezhskaya Pushcha, to formally declare the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
In 1994, the first presidential elections were held and Alexander Lukashenko was elected president of Belarus. Under Lukashenko, economic reforms were slowed. The 1996 referendum resulted in the amendment of the constitution that took key powers off the parliament. In 2001, he was re-elected as president in elections described as undemocratic by Western observers. At the same time the west began criticising him of authoritarianism. In 2006, Lukashenko was once again re-elected in presidential elections which were again criticised as flawed by most European Union countries. In 2010, Lukashenko was re-elected once again in presidential elections, which were described as flawed by most EU countries and institutions. A peaceful protest against the electoral fraud was attacked by riot police and by armed men dressed in black. After that, up to 700 opposition activists, including 7 presidential candidates, were arrested by KGB.
LanguageEditBelarusian and Russian are the official languages of Belarus. Belarusian is the first official language, and the national language while Russian is the second official language. Almost all Belarusians are fluent in Russian.
They are both East Slavic languages, and Belarusian contains Polish influence; Polish is a Western Slavic language.
A good majority of Belarusians speak the Russian language as a native language. Russian is a world major language that belongs to the East Slavic subfamily of the Slavic languages. Only twenty percent of the Belarusian population fluently speaks and/or even knows how to read Belarusian, in a research done by the Belarusian government. Another research was done, and only one in ten Belarusians understand the Belarusian language. Belarusian is also an official language in Belarus along with Russian. Belarusian also contains Polish influence, since western Belarus has a significant Polish history.
In their history, the Belarusians were much less successful than the Ukrainians in preserving their culture under Russian and Soviet influence. The language was preserved by a minority of the population. Both the Russian and Belarusian languages are written using the Cryllic alphabet. The Cryllic alphabet was introduced by St. Cryil and Methodius, both Greek linguists and saints. The Cryllic language became many Slavic empires' scripts. All of the East Slavic languages are written in the Cryllic alphabet. The Church Slavonic language, is a South Slavic language that is also used in Belarus during churches. Church Slavonic is the liturgical language of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Church Slavonic is also used in other Slavic countries that follow the Slavic Orthodox Church.
Religion and ArchitectureEdit
Most Belarusians follow the Eastern Orthodox section of Christianity. Eighty percent of the Belarusian population follow the Russian Orthodox Church. In western Belarus, there are people who are Catholics. This is of Polish influence. Many of the Roman Catholics in Belarus are ethnic Polish and Lithuanians themselves. Fifteen percent of Belarus's population follows Roman Catholicism. There is a Belarusian Greek Catholic Church, with only one percent of the Belarusian population following this section. Protestantism is also a pretty widespread religion in Belarus. Judaism had once been a major religion followed by many Belarusians. Ten percent of Belarus's population were Jews. Due to war, starvation, deportation and a generally turbulent existance, Jews make up less than one percent of Belarus's population.
CuisineEditBelarusian cuisine bares resemblance to surrounding cuisines, especially Russian cuisine. Pork is one of the most typical ingredients used in Belarusian cooking. Breads and vegetables are also used in this type of cuisine. Belarusian style breakfasts are usually light and consist of wheats. Rye bread is the most common type of bread found in Belarusian cuisine, since wheat is not producable in Belarus. Foods that are of Russian influence include okroshka, which is a cold soup. Pelmeni is also of Russian origin, these are Russian style dumplings. But there are traditional Belarusian dumplings called kalduni which is made with unleavened dough. Other Belarusian soups include kapusta which is cabbage soup, buraki which is beet soup and gyrzhanka which is swede soup. Draniki is a unique food found mostly in Belarus and Ukraine. Draniki is a potato-pancake, made Belarusian and Ukrainian style. Vodka is a very popular alcoholic beverage in Belarus. Vodka is from Russian influence, and is a distilled alcoholic beverage. Kvass is a fermented-beverage popular with Belarusians, made from rye or black bread. Kvass can also be used to make okroshka.
Notable Belarusians or People of Belarusian OriginEdit
A Belarusian public figure, politician, and linguist. He was the creator of the first standardization of the modern Belarusian language in the early 20th century. The standard was later Russified by the Soviet authorities.
A Soviet aerospace engineer. He designed the Sukhoi military aircraft and founded the Sukhoi Design Bureau. In 1958–1974 he also served as a deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR.
A national hero in Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, and the United States, who fought in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth's struggles against Russia and the Kingdom of Prussia and on the American side in the American Revolutionary War. He was a close friend and admirer of Thomas Jefferson, with whom he shared Enlightenment ideals of human rights. He was born in what is today the Belarusian town of Merechevschina.
A Belarusian musician, writer, painter, and founder of the Belarusian rockgroups Mroja, N.R.M., and Krambambula four of his songs were performed in the 2006 documentary A Lesson of Belarusian, which dealt with the Belarusian democracy movement and the 2006 re-election of Alexander Lukashenko as president. Three of these were performed by N.R.M., the other by Belarusian students.
A Polish-Belarusian humanist, educator, Hebraist, Bible translator, Church reformator, philosopher, sociologist and historian, active in the territory of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He was one of the first to promote the development of Belarusian culture in Belarusian language. He was one of the leaders of the Polish Brethren.
A Belarusian poet and writer. Kupala is considered one of the greatest Belarusian-language writers of the 20th century. Real name is Ivan Daminikavich Lutsevich.
A Belarusian singer and former model perhaps most known for representing Belarus at the Eurovision Song Contest 2005. In 1988, she won the first Miss Belarus title when she was a student of the Belarusian Academy of Arts. Between 1990 and 1995, she was in the band Verasy. In 1991, Angelica earned her second title "Miss Photo USSR" becoming the most photoed model in Belarus.
A Belarusian professional tennis player. She is a former World No. 1 and is currently World No. 4 as of 17 February 2014. She has won two Australian Open singles titles (2012 and 2013), becoming the first Belarusian player to win a Grand Slam singles title. Her other achievements include winning the bronze medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, two mixed doubles Grand Slam titles—the 2007 US Open with Max Mirnyi, the 2008 French Open with Bob Bryan—and the gold medal in the mixed doubles at the 2012 London Olympics with Max Mirnyi.
Also known as the "Sparrow from Minsk", is a former Belarusian gymnast who won four gold medals and two silver medals at the Summer Olympic Games, in which she competed in 1972 and 1976 for the Soviet team.
President of Belarus, having assumed the post on 20 July 1994. Before his career as a politician, Lukashenko worked as director of a state-owned agricultural farm and spent time with the Soviet Border Troops and the Soviet Army. When he first entered politics, he was seen as a champion against corruption and was the only deputy to vote against the independence of Belarus from the Soviet Union.
A retired Soviet cosmonaut and engineer, and the first woman to have flown in space, having been selected from more than four hundred applicants and five finalists to pilot Vostok 6 on 16 June 1963. In order to join the Cosmonaut Corps, she was only honorarily inducted into the Soviet Air Force and thus she also became the first civilian to fly in space. She is a descendant of Belarusian migrants to Russia.
A Belarusian, Soviet and Russian physicist and academic who contributed significantly to the creation of modern heterostructure physics and electronics. He is the inventor of the heterotransistor and the winner of 2000 Nobel Prize in Physics. He is also a Russian politician and has been a member of the Russian State Parliament, the Duma, since 1995. Lately, he has become one of the most influential members of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation.
A politician of Ukraine who was the president from February 2010 until February 2014, a year short of the prescribed five-year term (amid a revolution). He also served as the governor of Donetsk Oblast, a province in eastern Ukraine, from 1997 to 2002. He was Prime Minister of Ukraine from 21 November 2002 to 31 December 2004 under President Leonid Kuchma. He is of Russian, Belarusian and Polish descent. "Yanukovych" is a Belarusian surname.
- ↑ Björn Wiemer. "Dialect and language contacts on the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from the 15th century until 1939". Aspects of Multilingualism in European Language History. Edited by Kurt Braunmüller and Gisell Ferraresi. John Benjamins Publishing. 2003. pp. 110-111.
- ↑ (Russian) Литовско–русское государство (Litovsko–russkoye gosydarstvo) in Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary
- ↑ (Russian) "Братства" (Bratstva) in Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 Żytko, Russian policy..., p551.
- ↑ (Russian) Воссоединение униатов и исторические судьбы Белорусского народа (Vossoyedineniye uniatov i istoričeskiye sud'bi Belorusskogo naroda), Pravoslavie portal
- ↑ (Russian) История строительства дорог 1850–1900 гг. (Istoriya stroitel'stva dorog 1850–1900 gg.], Byelorussian Railways
- ↑ Ruchniewicz, Stosunki..., p254
- ↑ Mironowicz, p136
- ↑ Strużyńska, Anti-Soviet conspiracy..., pp859–860.
- ↑ Janowicz, Forming...,, p. 248.