Map of Belarus
Map of Belarus

Introduction to Belarus

The Republic of Belarus is a landlocked nation-state in Eastern Europe, which borders Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Ukraine. Its capital city is Minsk, and other important cities include Brest, Grodno (Hrodna), Gomel (Homyel'), Mahilyow and Vitebsk.

Throughout much of history, the area which is now known as Belarus was part of various countries including Lithuania, Poland and the Russian Empire. Eventually, in 1922, Belarus became a republic in the Soviet Union as the Byelorussian SSR. The republic officially declared its independence on 27 August 1990, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since 1994, amidst allegations of human rights violations and autocracy, Alexander Lukashenko has been the nation's president. As a consequence, Belarus has been excluded from joining the Council of Europe. The country also continues to suffer from the effects of nuclear fallout from the 1986 Chernobyl accident, which took place in neighboring Ukraine.

Officially, the country is known as the Republic of Belarus (Belarusian: Рэспубліка Беларусь, Łacinka: Respublika Biełaruś; Russian: Республика Беларусь, Respublika Belarus), while the short name is Belarus (Беларусь, Biełaruś, Беларусь). The earlier name "Byelorussia" (Белоруссия) can still be found in use, although mainly in historical contexts. Some Belarusians consider the use of "Byelorussian" derogatory, as it brings back memories of Russification. The name has incorrectly been translated as "White Russia", a name that refers to a separate region.
Flag of Belarus
Flag of Belarus

Cultural notes about Belarus

Traditional Belarusian dress originates from the time of Kievian Rus and over time was under the influence of cultures of neigbors: Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Russians, and other European nations. Aside from its predominantly Ruthenian roots, Belarusian cuisine is very close to Lithuanian. It is sometimes considered as somewhat less rich and impressive than those of its imposing neighbours. In fact, however, this may result from the general lack of national identity which still continues to hold back the development of a nation and also led to the loss of many culinary traditions in the last 100 years.

Certain aspects of the Belarusian culture have been lost over time because of the Russification period. President Lukashenko has introduced laws that force radio and television stations to showcase a percentage of Belarusian talent daily, but it does not state that the performance has to be in the Belarusian or Russian language.

The Belarusian government sponsors many annual cultural festivals: "Slavonic Bazaar in Vitebsk"; "Minsk Spring"; "Slavonic Theatrical Meetings"; International Jazz Festival; National Harvesting Festival; "Arts for Children and Youth"; the Competition of Youth Variety Show Arts; "Muses of Niesvizh"; "Mir Castle"; and the National Festival of the Belarusian Song and Poetry. These events showcase talented Belarusian performers, whether it is in music, art, poetry, dance or theater. At these festivals, various prizes named after Soviet and Belarusian heroes are awarded for excellence in music or art. Several state holidays, like Independence Day or Victory Day draw big crowds and include various displays such as fireworks and military parades. Most of the festivals take place in Vitebsk or Minsk.[28]

Russian Orthodox church in Brest, Belarus

Belarus has four World Heritage Sites, two of them shared between Belarus and its neighbors. The four are: the Mir Castle Complex; the Niasvizh Castle; the Belovezhskaya Pushcha (shared with Poland); and the Struve Geodetic Arc (shared with Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Moldova, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine).

Official Canadian government advisories for travelling to, in and around Belarus

Street crime, such as mugging, pick-pocketing, and purse-snatching occurs, particularly in urban centres after dark and in and around hotels and hostels frequented by foreigners. Vehicle theft is common. Do not leave valuables unattended in vehicles. Avoid displays of affluence. Exercise normal safety precautions and ensure valuables, passports, and other travel documents are secure at all times. Be especially vigilant when crossing the border with Poland at Brest due to the risk of mugging. Demonstrations can occur on short notice and should be avoided. Bystanders face the possibility of arrest and detention. On September 23, 2005, a bomb exploded at an outdoor café in the city of Vitebsk injuring 50 people.

Security authorities may place foreigners under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones, fax machines, and e-mail messages may be monitored. Personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched. There have been cases of expulsion among foreigners working with the Belarus Civil Society. The number to contact the police is 02.
Country Data
Population 10,310,520
Capital City Minsk (Belarus)
Major Cities(s) Minsk
Major Religion(s) Eastern Orthodox 80%, other (including Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim) 20% (1997 est.)
Physical Size 207,600 km²
Land Area 207,600 km²
Water Area 0 km²