Belarus, Minsk

Geographical Location of Belarus

Belarus is a low-lying landlocked country. The highest mountain is only 346 m above sea level, and the landscape mainly consists of low hills and hills. Almost a third of the country is covered with dense forests. In the south, the landscape is characterized by marshes crossed by rivers and lakes. The country has one of the largest remaining virgin forests in Europe. The climate is continental with very cold winters and hot summers.

The biggest environmental problems in Belarus come from emissions from old Soviet factories and heavy industries. Discharges lead to river and water pollution, as well as significant air pollution in heavy industrial areas. The country was also hit hard when the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded in 1986. The radioactive waste rendered large agricultural and forested areas unusable and displaced several hundred thousand people. Subsequently, the number of birth defects and cancers increased significantly.

Brief History of Belarus

The area was settled by Slavic tribes during the great migrations in Central Europe some 400-500 years ago, and in the 8th century the area was incorporated into the Kingdom of Kiev, which grew up around Kyiv in what is now Ukraine. When the empire collapsed as a result of the Mongol invasion in the 13th century, Belarus became part of the Principality of Lithuania. The duchy was constantly at war with the surrounding area until it was divided at the end of the 18th century. Most of today's Belarus was then included in the Russian Tsarist Empire. Under Russian rule, Belarusian peasants were treated like slaves who were not allowed to own their land or speak their own language.

After the October Revolution of 1917, Belarus declared itself an independent state. However, independence did not last long as German troops occupied the area soon after. The Bolsheviks then seized power from the Germans, and in 1922 Belarus became a sub-republic of the Soviet Union. In the twentieth century, the country developed both culturally and economically, but with Joseph Stalin coming to power, everything changed dramatically. Today it is estimated that during this period about two million people became victims of Stalin's terror.

During World War II, the country was again occupied by Germany and more than a third of the population was forced to flee or killed. In addition, large cities such as Minsk and Vitebsk lay in ruins. After the war, Belarus became one of the most important industrial centers of the Soviet Union. Industry made the sub-republic the richest in the union. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Belarus became an independent republic again, but not for long.

Society and Politics of Belarus

Belarus is a republic in which the president is the head of state, head of government, head of parliament and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The President is elected by direct elections for a five-year term and chooses the government, appoints the judges of the Supreme Court and the Chairman of the Constitutional Court, as well as half of the members of the court. Since 1994, the country has been ruled by a gradually increasingly authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko. After the amendment to the 1996 constitution, initiated by Lukashenko himself, the number of re-elections of the president is not limited.
The elections are criticized for being undemocratic, and the president is criticized for suppressing the opposition. The media and the Internet are controlled by the state. The president also has great influence over the courts and judicial system, which should initially be independent. The country is closely connected with Russia. They tried to create their own union, but the process was delayed, and no one knows for sure whether the union's plans will be realized. Belarus is also the only remaining country in Europe where the death penalty is practiced.

Belarus has also been criticized for gross human rights violations. Several non-governmental organizations, journalists critical of the regime, minorities, and opposition politicians were harassed, ill-treated, and imprisoned. The situation worsened after the August 2020 presidential elections. In the fall of 2020 and winter of 2021, there were regular large protests against the president, who allegedly won the election with more than 80 percent of the vote. Several thousand protesters and opponents of the regime were arrested or sent into exile. The EU does not recognize the elections and has imposed sanctions against Belarus and Lukashenko personally.

Economy and Trade of Belarus

More than 80 percent of the Belarusian economy is owned and controlled by the state. After independence, several sectors were privatized, but since 1994 the state has regained control of most of them. This "market socialism" has left the country economically isolated and discourages foreign investment. The economy was characterized by wide fluctuations, high inflation, and widespread corruption. This led to significant cuts in social benefits such as pensions, health insurance and the education system. However, the standard of living in Belarus is one of the highest compared to other former Soviet republics.

The economy depends on the country's close relationship with Russia. Oil and gas from Russia account for more than half of all imports. The country is also paid to be a transit country for Russian oil and gas to the Western European market. About 10 percent of the population is employed in agriculture. Potatoes, flax, cattle and pigs are the most important products. A quarter of the population is employed in industry and heavy industry. The largest industries are workshop, weapons production, textile industry and chemical industry.

Belarusian Cuisine and Culinary Traditions of Belarus

Belarusian cuisine includes many recipes. The diversity of Belarusian cuisine is largely due to the geographical location of Belarus, due to which it borrowed many dishes and cooking methods from neighboring peoples. The products used in recipes for Belarusian cuisine are very diverse, as are the recipes for Belarusian dishes themselves. Despite the fact that potatoes originated from America, they have actually become the hallmark of Belarusian cuisine - such a variety of potato dishes is not found in any other national cuisine in the world. Kolduny, draniki, kopytka, stewed meat, potato babka and other Belarusian potato recipes are known both in Belarus itself and abroad. Potatoes in Belarus are stewed, boiled, fried, baked, cooked with many fish, vegetable or meat products, salads and many other dishes are cooked from them. In addition, Belarusian cuisine includes many recipes from vegetables, poultry, meat and fish.

Flag of Belarus
Coat of Arms of Belarus

Basic Information About Belarus

  • Full name - Republic of Belarus
  • Capital - Minsk
  • Language - Belarusian
  • Population - 9,447,249
  • Form of government - republic
  • Area - 207,600 km2
  • Currency - new Belarusian rubles
  • National Day - July 3