Capital : Minsk
Size: 80 100 sq m Popn: 10 297 000
In the Middle Ages, a Byelorussian (White Russian) state grew up around the city of Polotsk on the Dvina river. From the C13th, it was part of the Slavonic Grand Duchy of Lithuania which formed a union with Poland in 1569, and was brought into the Tsarist Russian Empire in the late C18th.
Nationalism grew in the later C19th and during the confusion of the Bolshevik Revolution, an independent Byelorussian National Republic was declared in 1918. It was not internationally recognised and a Byelorussian Soviet Republic was established in 1919 with some of its territory being lost to Poland. The encouragement of national culture and language continued until the Soviet dictator Stalin began a Russification drive which led to the executions of over 100 000 people, mostly writers and intellectuals, between 1937 and 1941. The Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939 reunified Byelorussia but it suffered greatly under German occupation in 1941-4. It joined the United Nations when it was founded in 1945.
Several hundred thousand people had to be resettled after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 and the Byelorussian Ecological Union was formed. The Russification process continued until the 1980s when glasnost led to a revival of national culture and in 1989 a Popular Front, which wanted greater autonomy, was established. The PF and the BEU fought under the Democratic Bloc banner in the 1990 supreme soviet elections and gained over a quarter of the seats. Byelorussian was re-established as the official state language in September 1990.
The communist president, Nikolai Dementei, supported the coup attempt against Soviet leader Gorbachev in August 1991 and resigned when it failed. The Byelorussian supreme soviet declared independence and suspended Communist Party activity, voting to accept the name of 'The Republic of Belarus'. Stanislav Shuskevich was elected chair and state president. He advocated democratic reform and helped to create the Commonwealth of Independent States, the successor to the USSR, which at first had Minsk chosen as its centre. Belarus was formally recognised as independent by the USA in December 1991 and was allowed to join the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe in January 1992. Market-centred economic reform was gradually introduced. Although Belarus had inherited a substantial amount of nuclear weapons from the USSR, it remained dependent upon it for industrial raw materials. Shushkevich promised to make the country nuclear-free and it signed the START protocol with the USA, agreeing in 1992 to return all its nuclear weapons to Russia to be destroyed.
First names are similar to those of Russia.
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