About  |   Contact  |  Mongabay on Facebook  |  Mongabay on Twitter  |  Subscribe
Rainforests | Tropical fish | Environmental news | For kids | Madagascar | Photos



Belarus - Acknowledgments

The authors are indebted to numerous individuals and organizations who gave their time, research materials, and expertise on affairs in Belarus and Moldova to provide data, perspective, and material support for this volume.

The collection of accurate and current information was assisted greatly by the contributions of Dr. Stephen Burant of the United States Department of State, Professor Thomas E. Bird of Queens College, Valery Kurdzyukou of the Embassy of the Republic of Belarus, A. James Firth of the United States Department of Agriculture, John Mumford of The Washington Group, Eugene Fishel of the United States Department of State, Professor Paul E. Michelson of Huntington College, Professor Ernest H. Latham, Jr., of the American-Romanian Academy, Raymond Milefsky of the Defense Mapping Agency, and Iurie Leanca of the Embassy of the Republic of Moldova. The authors also acknowledge the generosity of all the individuals who allowed their photographs to be used in this study.

Thanks also go to Ralph K. Benesch, who oversees the Country Studies/Area Handbook Program for the Department of the Army. In addition, the authors appreciate the advice and guidance of Sandra W. Meditz, Federal Research Division coordinator of the handbook series. Special thanks go to Marilyn L. Majeska, who supervised editing; Andrea T. Merrill, who performed the prepublication editorial review and managed production; David P. Cabitto, who designed the book cover and the illustrations on the title page of both chapters, provided graphics support, and, together with Thomas D. Hall, prepared the maps; Ihor Y. Gawdiak, who provided historical background information; and Glenn E. Curtis, who critiqued the text. The following individuals are gratefully acknowledged as well: Vincent Ercolano and Janet Willen, who edited the chapters; Barbara Edgerton and Izella Watson, who did the word processing; Francine Cronshaw, who compiled the index; and Stephen C. Cranton, David P. Cabitto, and Janie L. Gilchrist, who prepared the camera-ready copy.

Belarus - Preface

At the end of 1991, the formal liquidation of the Soviet Union was the surprisingly swift result of partially hidden decrepitude and centrifugal forces within that empire. Of the fifteen "new" states that emerged from the process, many had been independent political entities at some time in the past. Aside from their coverage in the 1991 Soviet Union: A Country Study, none had received individual treatment in this series, however. Belarus and Moldova: Country Studies is the second in a new subseries describing the fifteen post-Soviet republics, both as they existed before and during the Soviet era and as they have developed since 1991. This volume covers Belarus and Moldova, two nations on the western border of what was once the Soviet Union.

The marked relaxation of information restrictions, which began in the late 1980s and accelerated after 1991, allows the reporting of extensive data on every aspect of life in the two countries. Scholarly articles and periodical reports have been especially helpful in accounting for the years of independence in the 1990s. The authors have described the historical, political, and social backgrounds of the countries as the background for their current portraits. However, in general, both Belarus and Moldova (especially the former) have been written about to a lesser extent than other former Soviet republics. In each case, the authors' goal in this book was to provide a compact, accessible, and objective treatment of five main topics: historical setting, the society and its environment, the economy, government and politics, and national security.

In the case of Belarus, providing a definitive spelling of a personal name or place-name has been a challenge. All names have been transliterated according to the transliteration schemes devised by the United States Board on Geographic Names (BGN); which is widely used by the United States government, although not by the Library of Congress or in most scholarly works. According to the BGN system, most Cyrillic letters are transliterated similarly from both Belarusian and Russian. But some letters are transliterated from the two languages differently (for example, "e," which remains "e" in transliterated Russian but becomes "ye" in transliterated Belarusian), and some letters exist in Belarusian but not in Russian.

Because Belarusian names often differ from the Russian versions that have been used predominantly by the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and the world in general, the Russian version is given in parentheses at the first occurrence of a name. Otherwise, the Belarusian names have been used throughout. The few exceptions to this are well-known names (Moscow) and words (perestroika) that have acquired a standardized spelling in English usage.

Another problem in writing about Belarus is what to call it and when. In its early history, the region was known as "Belaya Rus'," "Belorussia," "White Ruthenia," or "White Rus'." (A number of explanations have been proffered for the term "white.") As if this were not confusing enough, the terms "Rus'" and "Russia" have often been confused, sometimes deliberately. The original Rus' was Kievan Rus', which existed for centuries before Muscovy (which would later become Russia) gained significance. Russia later claimed to be the sole successor to Kievan Rus' and often blurred the line between the two. In the Russian language, both "russkiy" and "rossiyskiy" mean "Russian."

During the time when Belarus was part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, it was commonly known as Belorussia, and the language was known as Belorussian. Occasionally, nationalist groups would form and take a name that included the word "Belarusian," but this use of the word was the exception. It was only after the Supreme Soviet declared the country independent that the name was changed from the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic to the Republic of Belarus, despite the title of the earlier Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. The policy in this volume has been to use "Belarus/Belarusian" in the earliest historical times; "Belorussia/Belorussian" while it was a part of either the Grand Duchy, Poland, the Russian Empire, or the Soviet Union; and "Belarus/Belarusian" after the country declared independence in August 1991. The exceptions are names in which "Belarus/Belarusian" was deliberately chosen over "Belorussia/Belorussian" by the groups themselves.

The body of the text reflects information available as of May 1995. Certain other portions of the text, however, have been updated. The Bibliography lists published sources thought to be particularly helpful to the reader.


SINCE THE LATE NINETEENTH CENTURY, national activists have based their attempts to create an independent Belarusian state based on the Belorussian language, which had been kept alive over the centuries mainly by peasants. The stage was set for the emergence of a national consciousness by the industrialization and urbanization of the nineteenth century and by the subsequent publication of literature in the Belorussian language, which was often suppressed by Russian, and later Polish, authorities. It is ironic, then, that the first long-lived Belorussian state entity, the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (Belorussian SSR), was created by outside forces--the Bolshevik government in Moscow. And it was those same forces, the communists, whose downfall in 1991 precipitated the existence of an independent Belarus, which has been torn between its desire for independence and a longing for integration with newly independent Russia.

The population of the Belorussian SSR was jolted into national awareness in the late 1980s with the occurrence of one disaster and the discovery of another. The explosion at the Chornobyl' (Chernobyl') nuclear power plant in Ukraine not only entailed the physically damaging radiation carried by the winds but also came to represent the toll taken on the country's sense of its ethnic and cultural identity by years of Russification. These two sets of consequences affected both the daily lives of the Belarusians and national politics: how was the country to remedy the two kinds of damage?

Belarus's other disaster was the discovery in 1988 of mass graves containing victims of Joseph V. Stalin's atrocities. Although the revelation of these graves angered a broad spectrum of Belarusians, it actually energized only a relatively small group of activists to try to overcome the country's political apathy. Nationalists saw Stalin's actions as clear proof of Moscow's attempts to eliminate the Belorussian nation and wanted to make sure that such barbarity could not occur again. For them, a strong, independent Belarus was the first step in this direction.

Belarus - Early History

Belarus's origins can be traced from the emergence in the late ninth century A.D. of Kievan Rus', the first East Slavic state. After the death of its ruler, Prince Yaroslav the Wise, in 1054, Kievan Rus' split into a number of principalities, each centered on a city. One, Polatsk (Polotsk, in Russian), became the nucleus of modern-day Belarus.

In 1240, after the Tatar overthrow of Kiev, the dominant principality of Kievan Rus', Belorussia and part of Ukraine came under the control of Lithuania. The resulting state was called the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Rus', and Samogitia. Because territories inhabited by East Slavs made up about 90 percent of the Grand Duchy, they exerted a great cultural influence on the new state. Official business was conducted in a Slavic language (a predecessor of both Belorussian and Ukrainian) based on Old Church Slavonic, and the law code was based on that of Kievan Rus'.

Belarus - Belorussia, Poland, and Catholicism

The Union of Krevo (1385), which joined Poland and the Grand Duchy in a confederation, hinged on Lithuanian Grand Duke Jogaila's conversion from paganism to Roman Catholicism and his subsequent marriage to twelve-year-old Queen Jadwiga of Poland. Thus he became Wladyslaw II Jagiello, king of Poland. Poland and Lithuania were later united into a single state, the PolishLithuanian Commonwealth, by the Union of Lublin (1569).

When Roman Catholicism became the official religion of Lithuania shortly after Jagiello's conversion, the Lithuanian and Belorussian nobilities began converting from Orthodoxy to Catholicism and assimilating Polish culture (including the language), a process accelerated by the Union of Lublin. As a result, the Belorussian peasantry was ruled by those who shared neither their language nor its religion, Eastern Orthodoxy.

The Union of Brest (1596), which united the Roman Catholic Church with the part of the Orthodox Church that was within the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, was viewed favorably by both the Polish king, Sigismund III, and a number of Orthodox bishops, clergy, and faithful. The new Uniate Church acknowledged the supremacy of the Roman Catholic pope and accepted articles of Roman Catholic religious doctrine. In return, the Uniate Church retained its traditional Orthodox rites and customs as well as a measure of autonomy in nondoctrinal matters; it was also given the same rights and privileges as the Roman Catholic Church. However, fear of the new church's becoming Latinized and Polonized caused many of the Orthodox faithful to reject the union, and the Orthodox Church continued to exist alongside the Uniate Church in an often bitter struggle.

In the aftermath of the Union of Brest, both civil and religious authorities persecuted the Orthodox Church and supported the Uniates in their takeover of Orthodox property. Social conditions deteriorated, there was a large-scale revolt against Polish landowners in 1648-54 (coinciding with the Khmel'nyts'kyi rebellion in Ukraine), and many Belorussians fled to the Ukrainian steppes to join the Cossacks. There was little economic development in Belorussian lands, and the vast majority of the Belorussian population lived on subsistence agriculture.

Belarus - The Partitions of Poland

Belorussia remained a part of Poland until Russia, Prussia, and Austria carried out the three partitions of Poland in 1772, 1793, and 1795. After the last partition, the entire territory of Belorussia found itself part of the Russian Empire, with the exception of a small piece of land in the west, which was held by Prussia. Orthodox Russia tolerated the Uniate Church to a certain degree, but in 1839, when three-quarters of all Belorussians were Uniates, Tsar Nicholas I (with the support of the Russian Orthodox Church) abolished the Uniate Church and forced the Uniates to reconvert to Orthodoxy. He also banned the use of the name "Belorussia" and replaced it with the name "Northwest Territory" (Severo-zapadnyy kray, in Russian). Overall, the state pursued a policy of Russification.

At the time serfdom was abolished in the Russian Empire in 1861, Belorussia was essentially a nation of peasants and landlords. Although they had their freedom, the peasants had little else: they remained poor and largely landless. The imposition of the Russian language, the Orthodox religion, heavy taxes, and military service lasting twenty-five years made the past under Polish rule seem better than the present under the tsars.

Belarus - Early Belorussian Nationalism

It was those memories that Kastus' Kalinowski (1838-64) tried to evoke in his clandestine newspaper Muzhytskaya Prawda (Peasants' Truth), which he published to inspire an uprising in solidarity with the Polish-Lithuanian insurrection against Russia in January 1863. The insurrection failed, and the Polish territories and people were absorbed directly into the Russian Empire. Kalinowski, today considered the founding father of Belorussian nationalism, was hanged in Vilnius.

Despite the industrial development that took place in Belorussia during the 1880s and 1890s, unemployment and poverty were widespread, giving impetus to large-scale migrations. In the fifty years leading up to the Bolshevik Revolution, almost 1.5 million persons emigrated from Belorussia to the United States and to Siberia.

Following the defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War and the Revolution of 1905, strikes and peasant disorders erupted throughout the Russian Empire; to stem the unrest the tsar granted, and then extended, civil liberties. Russian authorities were forced to relax their repressive policies on non-Russian ethnic groups, prompting a national and cultural flowering in Belorussia. The ban on the Belorussian language (and other nonRussian languages) was lifted, although there were still restrictions on its use; education was expanded, and peasants began to attend school for the first time; Belorussian writers published classics of modern Belorussian literature; and the weekly newspaper Nasha Niva (Our Cornfield), published by the Belorussian Socialist Party, lent the name nashanivism to this period (1906-18) of Belorussian history.

Belarus - World War and Revolution

The outbreak of World War I in 1914 turned Belorussia into a zone of strict martial law, military operations, and great destruction. Large German and Russian armies fought fiercely and caused the expulsion or departure of more than 1 million civilians from the country. The Russian government's inept war efforts and ineffective economic policies prompted high food prices, shortages of goods, and many needless deaths in the war. Discontent in the cities and the countryside spread, leading to strikes, riots, and the eventual downfall of the tsarist government.

The two revolutions of 1917--the February Revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution--gave nationally conscious Belorussians an opportunity to advance their political cause. Bolshevism did not have many followers among the natives of Belorussia; instead, local political life was dominated by the Socialist Revolutionary Party, the Mensheviks, the Bund, and various Christian movements in which the clergy of both the Russian Orthodox Church and the Polish Catholic Church played significant roles. The Belorussian political cause was represented by the Belorussian Socialist Party, the Socialist Revolutionary Party, the Leninist Social Democratic Party, and various nationalist groups advocating moderate forms of socialism.

In December 1917, more than 1,900 delegates to the AllBelorussian Congress (Rada) met in Minsk to establish a democratic republican government in Belorussia, but Bolshevik soldiers disbanded the assembly before it had finished its deliberations. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918 put most of Belorussia under German control, but on March 25, 1918, the Central Executive Committee of the Rada nullified the treaty and proclaimed the independence of the Belorussian National Republic. Later that year, the German government, which had guaranteed the new state's independence, collapsed, and the new republic was unable to resist Belorussian Bolsheviks supported by the Bolshevik government in Moscow. The Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (Belorussian SSR) was established on January 1, 1919, by force of arms.

For the next two years, Belorussia was a prize in the PolishSoviet War, a conflict settled by the Treaty of Riga in March 1921. Under the terms of the treaty, Belorussia was divided into three parts: the western portion, which was absorbed into Poland; central Belorussia, which formed the Belorussian SSR; and the eastern portion, which became part of Russia. The Belorussian SSR was incorporated into the Soviet Union when the Soviet Union was founded in December 1922.

The territory of the Belorussian SSR was enlarged in both 1924 and 1926 by the addition of Belorussian ethnographic regions that had become part of Russia under the Treaty of Riga. The area of the republic was expanded from its original post-treaty size of 51,800 square kilometers to 124,320 square kilometers, and the population increased from 1.5 million to almost 5 million persons.

The New Economic Policy, established by Vladimir I. Lenin in 1921 as a temporary compromise with capitalism, stimulated economic recovery in the Soviet Union, and by the mid-1920s agricultural and industrial output in Belorussia had reached 1913 levels. Historically, Belorussia had been a country of landlords with large holdings, but after the Bolshevik Revolution, these landlords were replaced by middle-class landholders; farm collectives were practically nonexistent. When forced collectivization and confiscations began in 1928, there was strong resistance, for which the peasantry paid a high social price: peasants were allowed to starve in some areas, and so-called troublemakers were deported to Siberia. Because peasants slaughtered their livestock rather than turn it over to collective farms, agriculture suffered serious setbacks. However, the rapid industrialization that accompanied forced collectivization enabled the Moscow government to develop new heavy industry in Belarus quickly.

During the period of the NEP, the Soviet government relaxed its cultural restrictions, and Belorussian language and culture flourished. But in the 1930s, when Stalin was fully in power, Moscow's attitude changed, and it became important to Moscow to bind both Belorussia and its economy as closely to the Soviet Union as possible. Once again, this meant Russification of the people and the culture. The Belorussian language was reformed to bring it closer to the Russian language, and history books were rewritten to show that the Belorussian people had strived to be united with Russia throughout their history. Political persecutions in the 1930s reached genocidal proportions, causing population losses as great as would occur during World War II-- more than 2 million persons.

Belarus - Belorussian Territory under Poland

Belorussian territory under Poland experienced its own drama. The new Polish state, where ethnic minorities, including Belorussians, Ukrainians, Jews, and Germans, made up one-third of the country's population, began as a democracy. The country's 3.5 million Belorussians were able to open their own primary schools, high schools, and teachers' colleges; the government supported cultural activities; and Belorussians elected three senators and eleven deputies to the Polish parliament, or Sejm, in 1922.

By 1924, however, Poland's policy toward ethnic minorities had changed drastically. Under the guise of combating communism, most Belorussian schools were closed, and publications in the Belorussian language were banned. The government encouraged ethnic Poles to settle in the Belorussian region, but at the same time it neglected the overall economic development of the area. The Belorussian region became an agricultural appendage to a more industrialized Poland, and unemployment and land hunger were widespread. Between 1925 and 1938, some 78,000 people emigrated from this part of Poland in search of work, mainly to France and Latin America.

In May 1926, war hero Marshal J�zef Pilsudski established an authoritarian regime in Poland. The following year, when the Belorussian Peasant-and-Workers' Union spearheaded a widespread protest against the government's oppressive policies in the Belorussian region, the regime arrested and imprisoned the union's activists. Further governmental policies toward the socalled Eastern Territories (the official name for the Belorussian and Ukrainian regions) were aimed at imposing a Polish and Roman Catholic character on the region.

In 1935 Poland declared that it would no longer be bound by the League of Nations treaty on ethnic minorities, arguing that its own laws were adequate. That same year, many Belorussians in Poland who opposed the government's policies were placed in a concentration camp at Byaroza-Kartuzski (Bereza Kartuska, in Polish). The Belorussians lost their last seat in the Polish Sejm in the general elections of 1935, and the legislation that guaranteed the right of minority communities to have their own schools was repealed in November 1938. The state then involved itself more deeply in religion by attempting to Polonize the Orthodox Church and subordinate it to the government.

Belarus - World War II

Germany attacked Poland on September 1, 1939. Two and onehalf weeks later, Soviet troops moved into the western portions of Belorussia and Ukraine. Ignorant of, or disbelieving the existence of, mass persecutions under Stalin, most Belorussians welcomed the Red Army, only to learn quickly of the harsh reality of communism. Arrests and deportations were common, and the socalled flourishing of national culture was strictly circumscribed by the ideological and political goals of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. About 300,000 persons were deported from western Belorussia to Soviet labor camps between September 1939 and June 1941, when Germany attacked the Soviet Union.

In June 1941, when German tanks swept through Belorussia toward Moscow, many Belorussians actually welcomed the Nazis, thinking that they would free the Belorussian people from their communist oppression. However, the Nazis' designs for the occupied territories became known soon enough: Germanizing and assimilating 25 percent of the Belorussians and either ousting or destroying the remaining 75 percent; parceling out Belorussian territory to the Lithuanian and Ukrainian administrative divisions and to East Prussia, while making the central part of Belorussia the Weissruthenische Generalbezirk (Belorussian Military District); and placing the eastern portion of Belorussia under the German military regime.

Although the front was far to the east, military operations continued within Belorussia. During the three years of Nazi occupation, enormous devastation was caused by guerrilla warfare, retaliatory burnings of entire villages by the occupiers, mass executions of the Jewish population, and two movements of the front through the area. More than 2 million lives were lost and more than 1 million buildings destroyed. An American observer, after six months of travel across Belorussia, called it "the most devastated territory in the world." Major cities, such as Minsk and Vitsyebsk (Vitebsk, in Russian), were in ruins.

One of the political consequences of the German occupation was an upsurge of Belorussian nationalism, which the German authorities used for their own ends. Once the Red Army and Soviet administrators fled Belorussia ahead of the Nazis, Belorussians began to organize their own police forces and administration, which the Nazis encouraged. Belorussians living in Belorussia were assisted by Belorussian anticommunist political refugees who were permitted to return from Germany. The Nazis permitted the Union of Belorussian Youth to organize in mid-1943; the Belorussian Central Council (BCC) was formed as a self-governing auxiliary body in December 1943; the BCC mobilized a Belorussian Land Defense force in March 1944; and the All-Belorussian Congress was permitted to meet in Minsk to rally resistance to the Russian communists in 1944. However, none of those measures changed the negative attitude of the Belorussians toward the brutal occupation regime.

To counterbalance the Belorussians, the Nazis allowed a number of Russians back from political exile in German-occupied countries in Europe. In addition, they encouraged Poles who had settled in Belorussia during the time of Polish control (and who were frequently at odds with the Belorussians) to become involved in the government.

When the eastern front began moving westward, many Belorussians had to choose between two evils: life with the Soviets or departure into exile with the Nazis. Many Belorussians decided to flee, and tens of thousands of them found themselves in Germany and Austria toward the end of World War II. Some of those who had been deported as forced laborers to Germany agreed to go back to Belorussia, only to be redeported by the communists to Siberia or other remote places in the Soviet Union. All those who fled voluntarily to the West eventually settled in Germany, other West European countries, or overseas.

Belarus - Stalin and Russification

But the country's misery did not end in the summer of 1944, when the Red Army "liberated" it from the Nazis. Stalin ordered sweeping purges and mass deportations of local administrators and members of the CPSU, as well as those who had collaborated with the Nazis in any way, those who had spent the war in slave labor and prison camps in Germany and were now "ideologically contaminated" in Stalin's view, those who were suspected of antiSoviet sentiments, and those who were accused of "bourgeois nationalism." Only in 1971 did the Belorussian SSR return to its pre-World War II population level, but without its large Jewish populace.

The wartime devastation of Belorussia--the loss of people, homes, animals, public buildings, educational and cultural resources, roads, communications, health care facilities, and the entire industrial base--was complete. To make up for the industrial loss, Stalin ordered the building of new factories and plants, more efficient than most of those elsewhere in the Soviet Union.

One of the devices Stalin used to "protect" Belorussia (and the rest of the Soviet Union) against possible Western influences was a program of intensive Russification, thus creating a cordon sanitaire for Russia along the Polish border. Consequently, most key positions in Minsk, as well as in the western provincial cities of Hrodna (Grodno, in Russian) and Brest, were filled by Russians sent from elsewhere in the Soviet Union. The Belorussian language was unofficially banned from official use, educational and cultural institutions, and the mass media, and Belorussian national culture was suppressed by Moscow. This so-called cultural cleansing intensified greatly after 1959, when Nikita S. Khrushchev, the CPSU leader at the time, pronounced in Minsk, "The sooner we all start speaking Russian, the faster we shall build communism." The resistance of some students, writers, and intellectuals in Minsk during the 1960s and 1970s was met with harassment by the Committee for State Security and firing from jobs rather than arrests. Among the best-known dissidents were the writer Vasil' Bykaw, the historian Mykola Prashkovich, and the worker Mikhal Kukabaka, who spent seventeen years in confinement.

Belarus - Perestroika

The early days of Mikhail S. Gorbachev's perestroika in Belorussia were highlighted by two major events: the Chornobyl' disaster of April 26, 1986 (the Belorussian SSR absorbed 70 percent of the radioactive contaminants spewed out by the reactor), and a December 1986 petition sent by twenty-eight intellectuals to Gorbachev expressing the Belorussian people's fundamental grievances in the field of culture ("a cultural Chornobyl'").

Whereas the full impact of the physical effects of Chornobyl' was kept secret for more than three years, the "cultural Chornobyl'" became a subject of hot discussion and an inspiration for considerable political activity. The petition pleaded with Gorbachev to prevent the "spiritual extinction" of the Belorussian nation and laid out measures for the introduction of Belorussian as a working language in party, state, and local government bodies and at all levels of education, publishing, mass media, and other fields.

The document embodied the aspirations of a considerable part of the national intelligentsia, who, having received no positive answer from the CPSU leadership either in Moscow or in Minsk, took to the streets. A number of independent youth groups sprang up, many of which embraced the national cause. In July 1988, the Organizational Committee of the Confederation of Belorussian Youth Associations called for "support of the radical restructuring of Belorussia."

In June 1988, mass graves, allegedly with up to 250,000 of Stalin's victims, were found near Minsk at Kurapaty. This sensational discovery fueled denunciations of the old regime and brought demands for reforms. An October demonstration, attended by about 10,000 people and dispersed by riot police, commemorated these victims as well as expressing support for the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF), which had been formed earlier in the month in hopes of encouraging reform.

The group of activists who called for reform was relatively small; most people, although angry about the graves, remained both attached to Soviet ways and politically apathetic, believing that all these public activities would make no difference in the long run. The March 4, 1990, elections to the republic's Supreme Soviet illustrated the extent of political apathy and ideological inertia. Of the 360 seats in the legislature, fifteen were unfilled (at least eleven remained so more than a year later); of those elected, 86 percent belonged to the Communist Party of Belorussia (CPB). This conservative majority was not alone in slowing the pace of reforms. A majority of the republic's population, 83 percent, also voted conservatively in the March 17 all-union referendum on the preservation of the Soviet Union, even though the Supreme Soviet of the Belorussian SSR adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic on June 27, 1990 (following the Russian example of some two weeks earlier).

A series of strikes in April 1991 put an end to the Belorussian SSR's reputation as the quietest of the European Soviet republics. The demands were mainly economic (higher wages and cancellation of a new sales tax), but some were also political (resignation of the Belorussian government and depoliticization of republic institutions). Certain economic demands were met, but the political ones were not. However, increasing dissent within the party led to thirty-three CPB deputies joining the opposition as the Communists for Democracy faction one month later.

Belarus - Independent Belarus

Following the August 1991 coup d'�tat in Moscow and declarations of independence by Estonia, Latvia, and Ukraine, the Supreme Soviet in Minsk declared the independence of Belarus on August 25, 1991, by giving its Declaration of State Sovereignty the status of a constitutional document and renaming the country the Republic of Belarus.

The disorientation that overtook the communists in the wake of the coup was used by liberals and nationalist reformers in various structures to advance their cause: the Supreme Soviet forced the resignation of its chairman, Mikalay Dzyemyantsyey, for siding with the coup leaders and replaced him with his deputy, Stanislaw Shushkyevich; all CPB property was nationalized; the name of the state was officially changed from the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic to the Republic of Belarus; and the CPB was temporarily suspended while its role in the coup was investigated.

Shushkyevich's support for the continuation of some kind of union culminated on December 8, 1991, in his signing of the Minsk Agreement, which established the Commonwealth of Independent States. On December 21, eleven former Soviet republics expanded the CIS by issuing the Alma-Ata Declaration. Minsk became the headquarters of the CIS.

After much negotiation and considerable revision, the Supreme Soviet adopted a new constitution, which went into effect on March 30, 1994. The new document created the office of president, declared Belarus a democracy with separation of powers, granted freedom of religion, and proclaimed Belarus's goal of becoming a neutral, nonnuclear state. The winner of the quickly organized election was Alyaksandr Lukashyenka, whose pro-Russian sentiments and policies seemed, however, destined to reunite Belarus with Russia in some way. Treaties were signed with Russia that made political concessions to the latter in hopes of creating economic advantages for Belarus. And there were clashes with parliament over the issue of presidential powers.

In the campaigning for the May 1995 parliamentary elections, continuing censorship of the media's campaign coverage demonstrated the less-than-democratic nature of the state. In response to the lack of information and as a consequence of continued political apathy on the part of the populace, two rounds of elections failed to elect enough deputies to seat a new Supreme Soviet. And Lukashyenka continued to accumulate increasing power through his appointments and dismissals.


Topography and Drainage

Belarus, a generally flat country (the average elevation is 162 meters above sea level) without natural borders, occupies an area of 207,600 square kilometers, or slightly smaller than the state of Kansas. Its neighbors are Russia to the east and northeast, Latvia to the north, Lithuania to the northwest, Poland to the west, and Ukraine to the south.

Belarus's mostly level terrain is broken up by the Belarusian Range (Byelaruskaya Hrada), a swath of elevated territory, composed of individual highlands, that runs diagonally through the country from west-southwest to east-northeast. Its highest point is the 346-meter Mount Dzyarzhynskaya (Dzerzhinskaya, in Russian), named for Feliks Dzerzhinskiy, head of Russia's security apparatus under Stalin. Northern Belarus has a picturesque, hilly landscape with many lakes and gently sloping ridges created by glacial debris. In the south, about one-third of the republic's territory around the Prypyats' (Pripyat', in Russian) River is taken up by the low-lying swampy plain of the Belarusian Woodland, or Palyessye (Poles'ye in Russian).

Belarus's 3,000 streams and 4,000 lakes are major features of the landscape and are used for floating timber, shipping, and power generation. Major rivers are the west-flowing Zakhodnyaya Dzvina (Zapadnaya Dvina in Russian) and Nyoman (Neman in Russian) rivers, and the south-flowing Dnyapro (Dnepr in Russian) with its tributaries, Byarezina (Berezina in Russian), Sozh, and Prypyats' rivers. The Prypyats' River has served as a bridge between the Dnyapro flowing to Ukraine and the Vistula in Poland since the period of Kievan Rus'. Lake Narach (Naroch', in Russian), the country's largest lake, covers eighty square kilometers.

Nearly one-third of the country is covered with pushchy (sing., pushcha), large unpopulated tracts of forests. In the north, conifers predominate in forests that also include birch and alder; farther south, other deciduous trees grow. The Belavezhskaya (Belovezhskaya, in Russian) Pushcha in the far west is the oldest and most magnificent of the forests; a reservation here shelters animals and birds that became extinct elsewhere long ago. The reservation spills across the border into Poland; both countries jointly administer it.

<>Environmental Concerns

Belarus - Climate

Because of the proximity of the Baltic Sea (257 meters at the closest point), the country's climate is temperate continental. Winters last between 105 and 145 days, and summers last up to 150 days. The average temperature in January is -6�C, and the average temperature for July is about 18�C, with high humidity. Average annual precipitation ranges from 550 to 700 millimeters and is sometimes excessive.

Belarus - Environmental Concerns

The most notorious legacy of pollution from the communist era is the April 26, 1986, accident at the Chornobyl' nuclear power plant in Ukraine. Some 70 percent of the radiation spewed was carried by the wind to Belarus, where it affected at least 25 percent of the country--especially the Homyel' (Gomel' in Russian) and Mahilyow (Mogil�v in Russian) voblastsi (sing., voblasts'), or counties, in the south and southeast, and 22 percent of the population. Although more than 2 million people (including 600,000 children) lived in areas affected by fallout from the disaster, the Soviet government tried to cover up the accident until Swedish scientists pressed for an explanation of the unusually high levels of atmospheric radiation in Sweden.

The Belorussian government's request to the Soviet government for a minimum of 17 billion rubles to deal with the consequences was answered with Moscow's offer of only 3 billion rubles. According to one official in 1993, the per capita expenditure on the accident was one kopek in Russia, three kopeks in Ukraine, and one ruble (100 kopeks) in Belarus.

Despite the government's establishment of the State Committee for Chornobyl', the enactment of laws limiting who may stay in contaminated areas, and the institution of a national program for research on the effects, little progress was made in coping with the consequences of the disaster, owing to the lack of money and the government's sluggish attitude. In 1994 a resettlement program for 170,000 residents was woefully underbudgeted and far behind schedule. To assist victims of Chornobyl', a Western organization, the Know-How Fund, provided many Belarusian doctors with training in the latest bone-marrow techniques in Europe and the United States.

The long-range effects of the disaster include an increasing incidence of various kinds of cancer and birth defects; congenital defects in newborns are reported to be 40 percent higher than before the accident. Tainted water, livestock, farm produce, and land are widespread, and the extensive wetlands retain high concentrations of radiation. Cleanup of the disaster accounted for 14 percent of the state budget in 1995. Other environmental problems include widespread chemical pollution of the soil, which shows excessive pesticide levels, and the industrial pollution found in nearly all the large cities.

Belarus - Population

In July 1994, an estimated 10,404,862 people (fifty persons per square kilometer) lived in Belarus, with additional populations of ethnic Belarusians living in Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Ethnic Belarusians in the West (living primarily in Britain, Germany, France, Belgium, the United States, Canada, and Argentina) numbered more than 1 million.

In 1994 the annual population growth rate was estimated at 0.32 percent, resulting from a birth rate of 13.1 births per 1,000 population, a death rate of 11.2 deaths per 1,000 population, and a net migration rate of 1.3 persons per 1,000 population. The estimated 1994 average life expectancy at birth in Belarus was 66.2 years for males and 75.8 years for females. The annual population growth rate is expected to decrease slowly well into the next century as a result of fears of birth defects caused by Chornobyl' and the difficult economic situation.

Population growth in Belarus has declined because of a rapid drop in fertility rates (an estimated 1.88 children per woman in 1994) and because of a sharp increase in infant and child mortality, which had been in decline before the Chornobyl' accident in 1986. Improvements in the infant mortality rate, which was estimated at 18.9 per 1,000 live births in 1994, were further blocked by poor maternal health, poor prenatal care, and frequent use of abortion as a means of birth control. Belarus has instituted a pronatal policy to counteract women's reluctance to have children, but difficult economic conditions and fear of birth defects caused by environmental pollution continue to be major causes of the decline in the birthrate.

Falling birthrates have also contributed to the graying of the population. This will affect the country in a number of ways, including the allocation of funds from its budget. With fewer workers supporting more pensioners, the administration will be paying more in pensions than it collects in taxes.

The population's sex structure was most profoundly affected by World War II. The large loss of male lives during the war ensured not only that there would be a surplus of women, but that this surplus would persist for at least another generation.

A law passed in September 1992 gave the entire population of Belarus an automatic right to citizenship. This included all the ethnic Russians who had moved there over the years, not the least of whom were military personnel, officials, and policy makers. However, many declined to acquire Belarusian citizenship, so that Belarus was sometimes represented or administered by ethnic Russians who are residents, but not citizens of Belarus, as, for example, by its diplomats abroad.

In 1992 Belarus's largest cities were Minsk, the capital, with 1.7 million inhabitants; Homyel', with 517,000; Vitsyebsk, with 373,000; Mahilyow, with 364,000; Hrodna, with 291,000; and Brest, with 284,000. The republic included more than 100 cities and towns, twelve of which had a population of 100,000 or more. Of the total population, 68 percent lived in cities and 32 percent lived in rural areas in 1994. These figures resemble those for the former Soviet Union as a whole.

<>Ethnic Composition

Updated population figures for Belarus.

Belarus - Ethnic Composition

The 1989 census of the Soviet Union, its last, showed a mainly Slavic population in Belorussia: Belorussians (77.8 percent), Russians (13.2 percent), Poles (4.1 percent), Ukrainians (2.9 percent), and others (2.0 percent). Other ethnic groups include Lithuanians, Latvians, and Tatars. A large number of Russians immigrated to Belarus immediately after World War II to make up for the local labor shortage, caused in part by Stalin's mass deportations, and to take part in rebuilding the country. Others came as part of Stalin's program of Russification.

There has been little conflict with the major non-Belarusian group, the Russians, who account for about 13 percent of the population. The Russification campaign in what is now Belarus used a mixture of subtle and not-so-subtle coercion. The campaign was widely successful, to the extent that Russian became the language of choice for much of the population. One-third of the respondents in a 1992 poll said they consider Russian and Belarusian history to be one and the same. A large number of organized Russian cultural bodies and publications exist in Belarus.

Ethnic Poles, who account for some 4 percent of the population, live in the western part of the country, near the Polish border. They retain their traditions and their Roman Catholic religion, which has been the cause of friction with Orthodox Belarusians, who also see a decidedly political bent to these cultural activities.

Ukrainians account for approximately 3 percent of the population. Belarusians and Ukrainians have been on friendly terms and have faced similar problems in trying to maintain their ethnic and cultural identities in the face of Russification by Moscow.

Jews have been present in Belarus since medieval times, but by the late eighteenth century were restricted to the Pale of Settlement and later to cities and towns within the Pale. Before World War II, Jews were the second largest ethnic group in Belorussia and accounted for more than 50 percent of the population in cities and towns. The 1989 Soviet census showed that Jews accounted for only 1.1 percent of the population, the result of genocide during World War II and subsequent emigration.




"Language is not only a means of communication, but also the soul of a nation, the foundation and the most important part of its culture." So begins the January 1990 Law About Languages in the Belorussian SSR, which made Belarusian the sole official language of the republic.

The Belarusian language is an East Slavic tongue closely related to Russian and Ukrainian, with many loanwords from Polish (a West Slavic language) and more recently from Russian. The standard literary language, first codified in 1918, is based on the dialect spoken in the central part of the country and is written in the Cyrillic alphabet. Under Polish influence, a parallel Latin alphabet (lacinka) was used by some writers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and is still used today by some Roman Catholics in Belarus and abroad.

One early proponent of the Belorussian language, poet Frantsishak Bahushyevich (1840-1900), the father of modern Belorussian literature and a participant in the 1863 uprising, was inspired by the fact that many 200- and 300-year-old documents written in Belorussian could be read and understood easily in modern times. The theme of the native language as a repository of national identity and an expression of aspiration to nationhood has been the leitmotif of Belorussian literature and polemics beginning in the late nineteenth century.

Although the tsarist government regarded the Belorussians as well as the Ukrainians as another branch of Russians, not as a separate nation, the Belorussian language was registered in the first systematic census of the Russian Empire in 1897. In the early 1920s, Belorussian language and culture flourished, and the language was promoted as the official medium of the communist party and the government as well as of scholarly, scientific, and educational establishments. Most primary and secondary schools switched to instruction in Belorussian, and institutions of higher education gradually made the switch as well. The Belorussian State University was founded in 1921, the Institute of Belorussian Culture was founded in 1922, and a number of other institutions of higher learning also opened. The interests of other minorities in the republic were taken into account in a July 1924 decree that confirmed equal rights for the four principal languages of the republic: Belorussian, Polish, Russian, and Yiddish.

With the advent of perestroika, national activists launched a campaign of restoring the Belorussian language to the place it had enjoyed during the 1920s. To urge the government to make Belorussian the official language of the republic, the Belarusian Language Society was established in June 1989 with poet-scholar Nil Hilyevich as president.

Belorussia's CPSU leadership, consisting almost exclusively of Russified technocrats, ignored all the government resolutions and decisions on languages. However, it could not ignore the general language trend throughout the non-Russian republics of the Soviet Union, particularly in the neighboring Baltic states and Ukraine, where national movements were stronger and exerted an influence on events in the Belorussian SSR. After months of meetings, rallies, conferences, and heated debates in the press, on January 26, 1990, the Supreme Soviet voted to make Belarusian the official language of the state, effective September 1, 1990. The law included provisions for protecting the languages of minorities and allowed up to ten years to make the transition from Russian to Belarusian.

Despite the provisions, implementation of the law has encountered both active and passive resistance: many people still want their children to be educated in the Russian language rather than in Belarusian, and some government officials agree to give interviews only in Russian. According to data assembled in 1992 by the Sociology Center of the Belarusian State University, some 60 percent of those polled prefer to use Russian in their daily life, 75 percent favor bilingualism in state institutions, and only 17 percent favor having the government declare Belarusian the sole official language. One Western source reported that in the early 1990s, only 11 percent of the population, most of whom lived in the countryside, were fluent in Belarusian.

Since late 1992, there had been a growing demand that the Russian language be given the same official status as Belarusian. The results of the four-question referendum of May 1995, which included a question on whether Russian should be an official language, put an end to any uncertainty; the populace voted "yes."

Belarus - Religion

Before 1917 Belorussia had 2,466 religious communities, including 1,650 Orthodox, 127 Roman Catholic, 657 Jewish, thirtytwo Protestant, and several Muslim communities. Under the communists (who were officially atheists), the activities of these communities were severely restricted. Many religious communities were destroyed and their leaders exiled or executed; the remaining communities were sometimes co-opted by the government for its own ends, as in the effort to instill patriotism during World War II.

In 1993 one Belarusian publication reported the numbers of religious communities as follows: Orthodox, 787; Roman Catholic, 305; Pentecostal, 170; Baptist, 141; Old Believer, twenty-six; Seventh-Day Adventist, seventeen; Apostolic Christian, nine; Uniate, eight; New Apostolic, eight; Muslim, eight; Jewish, seven; and other, fifteen.

Although the Orthodox Church was devastated during World War II and continued to decline until the early 1980s because of government policies, it underwent a small revival with the onset of perestroika and the celebration in 1988 of the 1,000- year anniversary of Christianity in Russia. In 1990 Belorussia was designated an exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, creating the Belarusian Orthodox Church. In the early 1990s, 60 percent of the population identified themselves as Orthodox. The church had one seminary, three convents, and one monastery. A Belarusian theological academy was to be opened in 1995.

Soviet policies toward the Roman Catholic Church were strongly influenced by the Catholics' recognition of an outside authority, the pope, as head of the church, as well as by the close historical ties of the church in Belorussia with Poland. In 1989 the five official Roman Catholic dioceses, which had existed since World War II and had been without a bishop, were reorganized into five dioceses (covering 455 parishes) and the archdiocese of Minsk and Mahilyow. In the early 1990s, figures for the Catholic population in Belarus ranged from 8 percent to 20 percent; one estimate identified 25 percent of the Catholics as ethnic Poles. The church had one seminary in Belarus.

The revival of religion in Belarus in the postcommunist era brought about a revival of the old historical conflict between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. This religious complexity is compounded by the two denominations' links to institutions outside the republic. The Belarusian Orthodox Church is headed by an ethnic Russian, Metropolitan Filaret, who heads an exarchate of the Moscow Patriarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Roman Catholic archdiocese of Belarus is headed by an ethnic Pole, Archbishop Kazimir Sviontak, who has close ties to the church in Poland. However, despite these ties, Archbishop Sviontak, who had been a prisoner in the Soviet camps and a pastor in Pinsk for many years, has prohibited the display of Polish national symbols in Catholic churches in Belarus.

Fledgling Belarusian religious movements are having difficulties asserting themselves within these two major religious institutions because of the historical practice of preaching in Russian in the Orthodox churches and in Polish in the Catholic churches. Attempts to introduce the Belarusian language into religious life, including the liturgy, also have not met with wide success because of the cultural predominance of Russians and Poles in their respective churches, as well as the low usage of the Belarusian language in everyday life.

To a certain extent, the 1991 declaration of Belarus's independence and the 1990 law making Belarusian the official language of the republic have generated a new attitude toward the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. Some religiously uncommitted young people have turned to the Uniate Church in reaction to the resistance of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic hierarchies to accepting the Belarusian language as a medium of communication with their flock. Overall, however, national activists have had little success in trying to generate new interest in the Uniate Church.

The Uniate Church, a branch of which existed in Belarus from 1596 to 1839 and had some three-quarters of the Belarusian population as members when it was abolished, is reputed to have used Belorussian in its liturgy and pastoral work. When the church was reestablished in Belarus in the early 1990s, its adherents advertised it as a "national" church. The modest growth of the Uniate Church was accompanied by heated public debates of both a theological and a political character. Because the original allegiance of the Uniate Church was clearly to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the reestablished church is viewed by some in the Orthodox Church in Belarus with suspicion, as being a vehicle of both Warsaw and the Vatican.

Before World War II, the number of Protestants in Belarus was quite low in comparison with other Christians, but they have shown remarkable growth since then. In 1990 there were more than 350 Protestant communities in the country.

The first Jewish communities appeared in Belorussia at the end of the fourteenth century and continued to increase until the genocide of World War II. Mainly urban residents, the country's nearly 1.3 million Jews in 1914 accounted for 50 to 60 percent of the population in cities and towns. The Soviet census of 1989 counted some 142,000 Jews, or 1.1 percent of the population, many of whom have since emigrated. Although Belorussia's boundaries changed from 1914 to 1922, a significant portion of the decrease was the result of the war. However, with the new religious freedom, Jewish life in Belarus is experiencing a rebirth. In late 1992, there were nearly seventy Jewish organizations active in Belarus, half of which were republic-wide.

Muslims in Belarus are represented by small communities of ethnic Tatars. Some of these Tatars are descendants of emigrants and prisoners of war who settled here after the eleventh century.

Belarus - Culture

Belarusian culture is the product of a millennium of development under the impact of a number of diverse factors. These include the physical environment; the ethnographic background of Belarusians (the merger of Slavic newcomers with Baltic natives); the paganism of the early settlers and their hosts; Byzantine Christianity as a link to the Orthodox religion and its literary tradition; the country's lack of natural borders; the flow of rivers toward both the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea; and the variety of religions in the region (Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Judaism, and Islam).

An early Western influence on Belarusian culture was Magdeburg Law--charters that granted municipal self-rule and were based on the laws of German cities. These charters were granted in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries by grand dukes and kings to a number of cities, including Brest, Hrodna, Slutsk, and Minsk. The tradition of self-government not only facilitated contacts with Western Europe but also nurtured self-reliance, entrepreneurship, and a sense of civic responsibility.

In 1517-19 Frantsishak Skaryna (ca. 1490-1552) translated the Bible into the vernacular (Old Belorussian). Under the communist regime, Skaryna's work was vastly undervalued, but in independent Belarus he became an inspiration for the emerging national consciousness as much for his advocacy of the Belorussian language as for his humanistic ideas.

From the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries, when the ideas of humanism, the Renaissance, and the Reformation were alive in Western Europe, these ideas were debated in Belorussia as well because of trade relations there and because of the enrollment of noblemen's and burghers' sons in Western universities. The Reformation and Counter-Reformation also contributed greatly to the flourishing of polemical writings as well as to the spread of printing houses and schools.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when Poland and Russia were making deep political and cultural inroads in Belorussia by assimilating the nobility into their respective cultures, the rulers succeeded in associating "Belorussian" culture primarily with peasant ways, folklore, ethnic dress, and ethnic customs, with an overlay of Christianity. This was the point of departure for some national activists who attempted to attain statehood for their nation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The development of Belorussian literature, spreading the idea of nationhood for the Belorussians, was epitomized by the literary works of Yanka Kupala (1882-1942) and Yakub Kolas (1882- 1956). The works of these poets, along with several other outstanding writers, became the classics of modern Belorussian literature by writing widely on rural themes (the countryside was where the writers heard the Belorussian language) and by modernizing the Belorussian literary language, which had been little used since the sixteenth century. Postindependence authors in the 1990s continued to use rural themes widely.

Unlike literature's focus on rural life, other fields of culture--painting, sculpture, music, film, and theater--centered on urban reality, universal concerns, and universal values.



In Belarus education is compulsory for ten years, from ages seven to seventeen. Primary school, generally starting at age seven and lasting for five years, is followed by an additional five years of secondary school. These schools fall into three categories: general, teacher training, and vocational. Institutions of higher education include three universities, four polytechnical institutes, and a number of colleges specializing in agricultural or technical sciences.

In early 1992, some 60 percent of eligible children attended preschool institutions in Belarus. During the 1993-94 school year, Belarus had 1.5 million children in 5,187 primary and secondary schools, 175,400 students in thirty-three institutions of higher education, and 129,200 students in 148 technical colleges. The literacy rate was 100 percent, and the population was fairly well educated.

During the communist era, education was mainly conducted in the Russian language; by 1987 there were no Belorussian-language schools in any of the republic's urban areas. When Belarusian was adopted as the country's official language in 1990, children were to be taught in Belarusian as early as primary school; Russian language, history, and literature were to be replaced with Belarusian language, history, and literature. However, Russian remains the main language of instruction in both secondary schools and institutions of higher education.

Belarus - Health

Belarus's health care system is in poor shape and fails to meet the needs of the population, as is common for the former republics of the Soviet Union. The communist era's neglect of this sphere, poorly trained staff, and substandard technology have resulted in a system in which basic medical services are sorely lacking, contributing to the poor health of the population. The added strains of caring for victims of the Chornobyl' accident have overwhelmed the system. In 1994 there were 127 hospital beds and forty-two doctors per 10,000 inhabitants. The country had 131,000 hospital beds at 868 hospitals. The most common causes of death were cardiovascular disease, cancer, accidents, and respiratory disease.

The Republic Center on AIDS was created in 1990 to coordinate all activities for prevention of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and control of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). There is mandatory HIV testing of all hospital inpatients and extensive testing of high-risk populations, such as homosexuals, prostitutes, and prisoners. By the end of 1991, seventy cases of HIV-positive individuals were identified, forty of whom were foreigners. However, because HIV testing kits (as well as other medical supplies) had been supplied by Moscow before the breakup of the Soviet Union, there was doubt as to whether testing could continue at the same level.

Belarus - Welfare

Belarus's social safety net, largely a continuation of what existed in the former Soviet Union, is based on a guarantee of employment and a number of allowances and benefits for particular needs. Benefits were indexed to inflation in January 1991 (benefits are adjusted at the same rate as the minimum wage), and the system was expanded in 1991-92, partly to alleviate the social costs of switching to a market economy. The safety net had been a growing concern to the government because in the early 1990s it accounted for a large share of general government expenditures. Benefits were funded either directly by the budget or by two major social funds.

The government's greatest social expenditures are for pensions. The relatively low retirement age (fifty-five for women and sixty for men) and the country's demographic structure account for the large number of pensioners. In January 1992, the minimum pension was raised to 350 rubles (for the value of the Belarusian ruble per month, the same as the minimum wage. The Pension Law of January 1993 based pensions on income earned at the time of retirement and on length of employment; the pensions of those who did not contribute to the Pension Fund during their years of employment are linked to the minimum wage. In January 1994, Belarus had nearly 2 million oldage pensioners and 600,000 persons receiving other types of pensions.

Legislation passed in late 1992 permits families to receive allowances for children above age three only if they meet certain eligibility requirements based on income. Previously, families with children up to sixteen years of age (eighteen years of age for those in secondary schools) had automatically received allowances based on the minimum wage. The program has been hampered by problems in testing for eligibility, however, because of difficulties in assessing income and because of tax evasion by the self-employed.

Unemployment compensation is provided for six months. Benefits are related to earnings for those who work for more than a year and also work continuously for the twelve weeks before separation. For those who work less than a year, benefits are tied to the minimum wage. Because the eligibility criteria for unemployment benefits are quite stringent, half of the registered unemployed are without benefits. In February 1995, some 52 percent of the unemployed received unemployment compensation. In early 1995, women accounted for more than 62 percent of the unemployed.

The government provides a number of other benefits, including lump-sum grants upon the birth of each child; temporary disability allowances; trips to sanatoria, spas, health homes, vacation resorts, and other facilities; and benefits for victims of the Chornobyl' disaster.

Belarus - Housing

In Belarus about 75 percent of urban housing and many village homes were destroyed during World War II, forcing many people to live in makeshift huts and hovels while housing (along with industrial and public buildings) was reconstructed after the war. This chronic housing shortage was recently exacerbated by the need to resettle Chornobyl' victims. In 1993 per capita housing space was approximately nineteen square meters (slightly less in urban areas), small by Western standards. As is true for most of the former Soviet Union, much of Belarus's urban housing stock consists of drab multistory, prefabricated units. The norm for rural housing is individual homes, which tend to be of a higher quality.

In July 1992, the Law on Privatization of Housing was passed, but little progress was made until mid-1993, when amendments were made to the laws to reassess housing values. Plans called for citizens to receive housing vouchers, which could not be exchanged for cash. In 1993 private housing accounted for 49 percent of the housing stock in Belarus.


Belarus is a graphic example of the problems created when an industrial "colony" becomes independent. The Belorussian SSR had imported the bulk of its raw materials, components, and energy from the Soviet Union and exported most of what it produced (much of it for the military-industrial complex) back to the Soviet Union. The country's economy, which had been integrated into that of the Soviet Union, found itself deprived of most of the essential components it needed to function independently when the Soviet system collapsed.

Independent Belarus's economy, like that of the Belorussian SSR, still relies on inefficient, state-supported, industrial facilities, which are increasingly hampered by their need for fuels whose prices are gradually reaching world levels. The economic recession in Belarus intensified in 1994, leading to Belarus's worst economic year to that point. In 1994 the net material product had dropped by 21 percent from 1993 (down by more than one-third from its 1989 level), which was worse than in the two previous years; this decline was felt across the board. Agriculture now accounted for 36 percent of NMP, industry for 44 percent, transportation and communications for 3 percent, construction for 12 percent, and the remaining sectors for 5 percent.

Belarus - THE ECONOMY - Government Policy

Although the government's stated goals during the first years of independence included promoting a market economy, normalizing monetary circulation, and lowering the country's dependence on monopoly suppliers, these goals were not met. Inflation and depreciation in the exchange rate stemmed from the government's compensation for decreased living standards and lower industrial output through subsidies (rather than changes in the country's economic structure and adoption of market reforms).

The government's economic timidity was prompted not only by the wish to maintain the status quo but also by a fear of the social consequences. Years earlier, calls for political action did not stir the populace, but the populace reacted dramatically to sudden price increases. In April 1991, demonstrations occurred in Minsk, Orsha, and other cities, frightening the government into wage concessions, a slowdown of reforms, and promises not to neglect the "social protection net" so as to avoid a repeat of such economically motivated unrest.

As of mid-1995, the government continued to look for easy solutions to its economic problems. It neglected privatization and price liberalization, instead continuing to increase minimum wages to offset minor price increases and to prop up outdated factories that piled up unwanted inventories.

Belarus - THE ECONOMY - Privatization

A conservative parliament and a lack of political will have slowed privatization in Belarus in comparison with other former Soviet republics. Although the Law on Privatization of State Property was approved in January 1993, the Supreme Soviet did not approve the 1993 State Program of Privatization and the Law on Privatization Checks (or vouchers) until that summer. By the end of the year, less than 2 percent of all republic assets slated for privatization had actually been transferred to the private sector. To speed the pace of privatization, the State Committee on Privatization was converted into a ministry with an expanded staff in March 1994.

The State Program of Privatization calls for two-thirds of state enterprises to be privatized during 1993-2000. Exemptions include defense-related industries, monopolies (such as utilities), and specialized enterprises working with gems and precious metals. Enterprises of strategic importance can be privatized only with the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers, and agricultural monopolies can be privatized only with the approval of the Anti-Monopoly Committee.

According to the privatization law, 50 percent of each entity slated for privatization will be distributed to the populace via vouchers, and 50 percent will be sold for cash; the prices of the entities will be adjusted for inflation. (There are separate vouchers for housing and property.) Every citizen was eligible to apply for privatization vouchers and open a voucher account at the Savings Bank (Sbyerbank) as of April 1, 1994. The entitlement is twenty property vouchers per citizen plus one voucher for each year worked, with additional allocations for orphans, the disabled, and war veterans. All vouchers are scheduled to be distributed by January 1, 1996.

In 1995 the practice was quite different from the theory. Privatization of large firms, delayed by the government under various pretexts, had not even started. (Much resistance to privatization also came from factory managers and politicians, particularly at the local level.) At best, some 10 percent of state enterprises had been privatized. Privatization plans for 1995 call for another 500 state-owned enterprises (4 percent of the total) to be privatized.

Belarus - Agriculture

In 1993 agriculture and forestry accounted for almost onequarter of the gross domestic product and almost 6 percent of the total agricultural output of the former Soviet Union (Belarus has 4 percent of the former Soviet labor force). Agriculture employed 20 percent of the labor force.

During the Soviet era, agriculture in Belarus consisted mainly of state and collective farms, with a sprinkling of small plots for private household use. In the early 1990s, the government based its agricultural policies on that legacy. Instead of disrupting the production of food for both domestic consumption and export, the authorities decided to maintain the large-scale farming for which they believed the existing equipment and capital stock were best suited. In 1994 the Ministry of Agriculture planned to transform collective and state farms into joint-stock companies that would be agriculturally efficient and would keep providing most of the social services in rural areas.

In March 1993, Belarus added the Law on the Right to Land Ownership to its Land Lease Law (March 1990). The law on land ownership limited purchases to small parcels for housing and orchards, stated that farming would depend on leased land, and allowed private farmers to lease only up to fifty hectares on long-term leases. This law meant that Belarus would not develop a private farming sector and that farming would stay in the hands of the government, which owned the collective and state farms.

In 1993 private agriculture accounted for 37 percent of all agricultural output, reflecting the increase in the number of private farms from eighty-four in 1990 to 2,730 in 1993. However, the average size of private farms remained small: twenty-one hectares in 1993, compared with 3,114 hectares on average for collective farms and 3,052 hectares for state farms. In addition, private plots on large farms in rural areas and garden plots in urban areas continue to provide a significant amount of food, just as they did in the Soviet era.

Belarus can be divided into three agricultural regions: north (flax, fodder, grasses, and cattle), central (potatoes and pigs), and south (pastureland, hemp, and cattle). Belarus's cool climate and dense soil are well suited to fodder crops, which support herds of cattle and pigs, and temperate-zone crops (wheat, barley, oats, buckwheat, potatoes, flax, and sugar beets). Belarus's soils are generally fertile, especially in the river valleys, except in the southern marshy regions.

Despite the progress made by the agricultural sector in 1993, it suffered a set-back in 1994. A drought during the summer contributed to a decline of 19 percent in the Belarusian crop. Wheat production declined 35 percent from the previous year, while sugar beet production declined 31 percent and potato production declined 29 percent. Animal products declined 11 percent; the number of cows decreased 2 percent, but the number of sheep declined 30 percent.

The greatest changes in agriculture in the first half of the 1990s were a decline in the amount of land under cultivation and a significant shift from livestock to crop production because of the fact that crops had become a great deal more profitable than before. The sales price for crops generally increased more than production costs, while inputs for livestock (such as imported fodder) have increased in price beyond livestock sales prices. Many private farms faced difficulties, caused partly by inflation, which wreaked havoc on preset contract prices, delayed payments, and budget subsidies.

In early 1993, Belarus's government replaced the system of "recommended" agricultural producer prices with "support" prices, which were intended as minimum guaranteed prices and could be adjusted in accord with price increases in agricultural inputs. Meat prices were deregulated in the summer of 1993, and direct budgetary subsidies were no longer provided to the agriculture sector at all.

Basic foods were watched closely, however, and sometimes "reprotected ." For example, prices were reset on rationed sugar in February 1994 in response to a sharp increase in its market price. Another problem was lower food prices in Belarus than in neighboring countries; the government maintained subsidies on food to keep prices low for the people of Belarus. Nonetheless, these subsidies strained the budget while encouraging increased informal exports of food, or "food tourism," from neighboring countries.

Because the agricultural sector is in critical condition, partly the consequence of a drought in the summer of 1994 that reduced agricultural output by nearly 25 percent, the government gave it a special place in the 1995 budget. President Lukashyenka gave collective and state farms credits totaling 520 million rubles to facilitate sowing and to purchase fertilizer. In addition, by implementing sizable price increases for dairy products, pork products, and beef, the government hoped to increase production of these commodities.

Forests cover nearly one-third of Belarus and are the source of raw materials for production of matches, pressboard, plywood, furniture, timbers for coal mines, paper, paperboard, and sections of prefabricated houses. However, during the Soviet era, Belarus's forests were poorly managed and were logged faster than they were replanted. In 1991 the country produced 5.8 million cubic meters of timber.

An ongoing problem facing agriculture is soil depletion, because of a severe fertilizer shortage, and a serious lack of equipment. For many farmers, the answer to the latter, as well as to the cost and shortage of fuel, is a return to horse-drawn ploughs.

The main enduring problem affecting the agricultural and forestry sector is the Chornobyl' disaster of 1986. Belarus absorbed the bulk of the radioactive fallout from the explosion because of weather conditions on the day of the disaster. Longterm radiation affects 18 percent of Belarus's most productive farmland and 20 percent of its forests. Despite the Chornobyl' accident, in 1993 Belarus was still a net exporter of meat, milk, eggs, flour, and potatoes to other former Soviet republics, although its exports were routinely tested for radioactive contamination.

Belarus - Industry

In 1985, in the early days of perestroika, Belarus specialized mainly in machine building and instrument building (especially tractors, large trucks, machine tools, and automation equipment) and in agricultural production. Because of the vast devastation caused by World War II, the republic's industrial base was of postwar vintage, enabling it to maintain higher labor productivity than many other former republics of the Soviet Union, which were burdened with older, prewar equipment.

In 1992 industry in Belarus accounted for approximately 38 percent of GDP, down from 51 percent in 1991. This figure reflects a decline in the availability of imported inputs (especially crude oil and deliveries from Russia), a drop in investments, and decreased demand from Belarus's traditional export markets among the former Soviet republics. Belarus's economy has also been affected by decreased demand for military equipment, traditionally an important sector. Attempts to convert military production to civil production were largely unsuccessful as of 1995.

By 1993 Belarus also produced petrochemicals, plastics, synthetic fibers, fertilizer, processed food, glass, and textiles. Even though Belarus continued its production of electronic instruments and computers, a specialty from the communist era, their quality mainly restricted them for export to former Soviet republics.

In 1994 gross industrial output declined by 19 percent. At the beginning of 1995, every industrial sector had decreased output, including fuel and energy extracting (down by 27 percent); chemical and oil refining (18 percent); ferrous metallurgy (13 percent); machine building and metal working (17 percent); truck production (31 percent); tractor production (48 percent); light industry (33 percent); wood, paper, and pulp production (14 percent); construction materials (32 percent); and consumer goods (16 percent).

Belarus - Mining

Although not rich in minerals, Belarus has been found to have small deposits of iron ore, nonferrous metal ores, dolomite, potash (for fertilizer production), rock salt, phosphorites, refractory clay, molding sand, sand for glass production, and various building materials. Belarus also has deposits of industrial diamonds, titanium, copper ore, lead, mercury, bauxite, nickel, vanadium, and amber, but little progress has been made in exploiting them.

Belarus - Energy

Belarus's transition from communism to democracy proved to be more difficult than expected, economically as well as politically. What had once been a boon to industry in the Belorussian SSR--large volumes of inexpensive oil, natural gas, and electricity from the Russian Republic--quickly became a considerable problem for independent Belarus. Under the communist regime, industry had had no incentive to use fuels efficiently, modernize equipment, reduce pollution, maintain factories adequately, recycle, or allot energy resources efficiently. However, once Russian fuel prices began to approach world levels, Belarusian industry had to adjust in order to survive. Logic would seem to call for enterprises improving their industrial efficiency, but the oil refineries at Navapolatsk (capacity 22 million tons a year) and Mazyr (capacity 18 million tons a year), as well as many enterprises, cut their output instead. The 30 percent drop in energy consumption between 1990 and 1993 was the result of a drop in demand for industrial goods produced in Belarus, partly because of the chaotic state of the Soviet economy in the last years of the Soviet Union's existence, and partly because the Soviet Union no longer needed so many goods for its military.

By mid-1993 Belarus's debt to Russia for oil and natural gas had reached US$450 million. After several warnings, Russia temporarily cut off Belarus's supply in August and threatened to do so again on at least two other occasions. In an attempt to head off a crisis, government authorities resorted to allocating energy to priority sectors in 1994.

Russia's suspension of fuel shipments to Belarus yet again in September 1994 over unpaid fuel bills was the impetus for Belarus to sign an agreement giving the Russian state gas company ownership of its Belarusian counterpart, Beltransgaz, in exchange for the resumption of gas deliveries, but the agreement was not ratified by the Supreme Soviet of Belarus. Beltransgaz made additional offers of means of repayment, and Russia countered with conditions of its own and hinted that failure to meet these conditions would result in Russia's rerouting pipelines to Western Europe through either Lithuania or Latvia--a blow to Belarus.

Because delivery of natural gas in 1995 at lower-than-world prices was made contingent upon Belarus's timely payment of its bills, Belarus felt the need to diversify its sources of fuels. The government's long-term energy program, in place in early 1995, aimed to diversify its sources of fuels from such countries as Poland, Australia, Turkmenistan, and Norway.

In 1993 Belarus imported some 90 percent of its fuel from Russia via the Druzhba (Friendship) oil pipeline and the Northern Lights natural gas pipeline, both of which pass through the country en route to Central Europe. Refineries at Polatsk and Mazyr processed some of the crude oil for fuel, and the Polatsk refinery also provided raw material for fertilizer, plastics, and artificial fibers. In 1992 Belarus had 1,470 kilometers of pipeline carrying crude oil, 1,100 kilometers of pipeline carrying refined products, and 1,980 kilometers of pipeline carrying natural gas.

In January 1995, Russia and Belarus signed an agreement under which Russia was to deliver some 66 percent of Belarus's yearly required crude oil at prices that did not exceed domestic Russian prices (which were set to rise significantly over the course of the year). In exchange, Belarus would export products to Russia, although finding enough products that Russia wants could be a problem.

Although Belarus imports most of its fuels, it has small deposits of oil and natural gas close to the Polish border, as well as oil shale, coal, and lignite. Belarus's production of 13 percent (2 million tons) of its crude oil production and 2 percent (2.4 million tons) of its natural gas consumption was stable in 1994.

Belarus also has a large supply of peat (more than one-third of the total for the former Soviet Union), which is used to power industry, heat homes, and fuel boilers at electric power plants. In 1993 thirty-seven factories produced about 2 million tons of peat briquettes.

In 1994 Belarus's twenty-two thermal power plants had a production capacity of 7,033 megawatts and produced 31,400 million kilowatt-hours of electricity. Additional small power plants had a total capacity of 188 megawatts. There were also nine small hydroelectric power plants with a total installed capacity of some six megawatts. All but three plants produced heat as well as electricity.

The country's power grid is connected to the grids of Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine, and Poland. Most electricity imports come from Lithuania (the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant) and Russia (the Smolensk Nuclear Power Plant), but even here, Belarus has had problems in paying for its imports. In May 1995, Lithuania resumed electricity exports after more than two years; Belarus agreed to make payment in Russian natural gas.

During the Soviet era, nuclear energy was promoted as an inexpensive source of electricity, but after the Chornobyl' accident, many people in Belarus were opposed to nuclear power. A nuclear power plant was under construction near Minsk in the early 1990s, and the country had no nuclear generating capacity at that time.

Belarus - Labor Force

The private sector attracted a growing portion of the labor force in 1994, but cooperatives and the state sector continued to account for the bulk of official employment in Belarus. The labor force numbered 4.8 million persons in 1994, or 48 percent of the total population.

A principal reason for Belarus's low official unemployment rate in 1994 (2.2 percent by the end of that year) was underemployment, which had been true during the Soviet era as well (thus keeping down the Soviet unemployment rate). Rather than lay off employees, enterprises often shortened work hours, reduced wages, and even forced employees to take leave without pay instead. Agreements signed by enterprises, labor unions, and the government in 1993 and 1994 called for avoiding declines in output and employment; in return for keeping the same level of employment, labor unions mainly refrained from industrial disruptions. At a time when the cost of living was rising dramatically, the social benefits provided by enterprises also acted as a disincentive for voluntary separations: a low-paying job that provided access to clinics, day care, and inexpensive housing was better than cash unemployment benefits alone.

Belarus - Banking and Finance

Under the communist regime, the currency of the Soviet Union was the ruble, and the banking system was owned and managed by the central government. Gosbank (Gosudarstvennyy bank--the State Bank) was the central bank of the country and its only commercial bank as well. It handled all significant banking transactions, including the issuance and control of currency and credit, management of the gold reserve, and oversight of all transactions among economic enterprises. Gosbank had main offices in each of the republics, and, because the banking system was highly centralized, it played an important role in managing the economy.

After independence, Belarus restructured its banks into a two-tier system consisting of the National Bank of Belarus and thirty-six commercial banks (including four specialized banks: Byelagroprombank, Byelpromstroybank, Byelvnyehsekonombank, and Sbyerbank) with a total of 525 branches in 1994. Of these banks, Sbyerbank is wholly state owned, another bank is owned by an individual, and the rest are organized as either limited liability companies or joint-stock companies.

Belarus's securities market was created at the end of 1992 and is licensed and controlled by the state inspectorate for securities and the stock exchange. The over-the-counter market dominates the securities market, with Russian corporate shares and bonds the most actively traded items. The country has three commodity and stock exchanges.

The Belarusian ruble was introduced in May 1992 in response to a shortage of Russian rubles with which to pay fuel and other debts to Russia. The zaychyk (hare), as the Belarusian ruble is known colloquially, was officially tied to the Russian ruble, but Russia would not accept the new unsecured currency in payment, forcing Belarus to dip into its hard-currency reserves. In September 1993, Belarus and five other CIS countries agreed to create a joint monetary system based on the Russian ruble.

Although Belarus and Russia continued to work at creating a monetary and economic union by signing an April 1994 treaty, only a customs union was actually realized. Moscow postponed implementation of the union itself, although it would have given Moscow significant control over the Belarusian economy, for fear of jeopardizing its own fragile economic reforms. Belarus's completely unreformed economy and accompanying high rate of inflation would have forced Russia to print large amounts of money to keep the Belarusian economy going, thereby fueling inflation in Russia.

In early 1995, Belarus's monetary policy was so loose that the National Bank of Belarus came under fire from the International Monetary Fund when it lowered the country's key financing rate despite the country's high level of inflation. Belarus was in danger of jeopardizing other IMF loans by its actions. Despite the logic of the IMF's reasoning, President Lukashyenka's view of these difficulties is that they were the result of the IMF's dislike of Belarus's close relationship with Russia.

In November 1994, the Supreme Soviet declared that the country's sole legal tender would be the Belarusian ruble as of January 1, 1995, when the Russian ruble could no longer be circulated. Although the zaychyk was convertible, the National Bank of Belarus used multiple exchange rates that depended on the nature of the transaction, thus setting limits on the convertibility of the zaychyk.

The government's lax monetary policy failed to support financial discipline, which caused the average monthly inflation rate in 1993 to increase to 45 percent in the last quarter. Even though monthly inflation was down to 10 percent by March 1994, it rose again in 1994 and frightened off investments from abroad, including Russia. The consumer price index rose by 1,070 percent in 1992, by 1,290 percent in 1993, and by 2,221 percent in 1994. In 1995 inflation seemed to abate somewhat, with the monthly inflation rate of "only" 22 percent through April.

Belarus - Foreign Economic Relations

By mid-1995 Belarus still relied primarily on Russia and other members of the CIS as its primary trade partners but had started looking to expand its economic ties beyond the CIS. It turned to the EU, with whom it signed an agreement with the goal of gradual economic integration of Belarus into the EU, as well as to markets in the east, where it was better able to compete. An example of the latter was Belarus's trade of farm machinery and chemical fibers for Iranian oil in March 1995.

Although the total volume of Belarus's foreign trade declined by nearly one-third in 1994, the balance of its trade (non-CIS countries versus CIS countries) improved. Belarus's lack of reform of its domestic economy, however, has slowed down efforts to improve and expand its foreign economic relations.

In January 1995, Belarus signed a number of agreements in hopes that they would improve its access to foreign markets: trade barriers were lowered between Russia and Belarus, and Kazakhstan joined the agreement to create a free-trade area (however, one month later, the accord was still not implemented). Belarus and the EU signed an agreement to create a free-trade zone between the EU and Belarus. Under its terms, all quantitative limits on imports from Belarus to the EU will be abolished.

Belarus - Exports

Under communism, the Belorussian SSR had net industrial and agricultural export surpluses within the Soviet Union until 1990, thanks to the relatively high productivity of the Belarusian labor force. Belarus shipped trucks, tractors, tractor trailers, elevators, lathes, bearings, electric motors, computer equipment, synthetic yarns and fibers, tires, linoleum, flax, textiles, carpets, potatoes, meat, dairy products, eggs, flour, and various consumer goods to the other republics.

Apart from Belarus's energy situation, little had changed in the direction of independent Belarus's trade from its previous centralized planning system. In 1994 Belarus's major trading partners were still former Soviet republics (mainly Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Lithuania, and Latvia), which accounted for 93 percent of its exports. Exports to these countries totaled approximately US$2.5 billion, a decrease of 36 percent by volume over the previous year. Exports included gasoline (198,000 tons), diesel fuel (147,000 tons), meat and meat products (53,000 tons), milk and milk products (256,000 tons), refrigerators, tractors, and trucks. Belarus had a trade deficit with CIS countries amounting to US$614 million in 1994.

Belarus's main non-CIS trading partners in 1994 were Germany (21 percent of non-CIS trade), Poland (9 percent), the United States (7 percent), Switzerland (4 percent), Austria (4 percent), Italy (3 percent), the Netherlands (3 percent), Hungary (3 percent), China (3 percent), Brazil (3 percent), Britain (2 percent), and Lithuania (2 percent). Exports to non-CIS countries consisted mainly of energy products and heavy machinery. Belarus had a trade surplus of US$434 million with non-CIS countries in 1994.

After independence and continuing into 1995, Belarus's trade deteriorated because import prices for energy and for raw materials began to rise to world market levels, and demand for the country's exports by its major trading partners (especially Ukraine and Russia) declined. Payment problems within the former Soviet Union made the situation worse, and limited access to foreign financing caused the domestic economy to decline by further decreasing the volume of trade.

Restrictions on export quantities, imposed by the new government to prevent low-cost Belarusian goods from being sold abroad in large quantities to the detriment of the Belarusian consumer, were relaxed in March 1994, and only certain goods continued to be restricted: oil and gas, electricity, fertilizers, timber and wood products, nonferrous metals, cereals, pharmaceuticals, textiles, and leather. Exports of precious metals and gems had to be licensed by the State Committee on Precious Metals and Precious Stones, and an export ban applied to certain medicinal herbs, animals, and some artworks and antiques. An agreement between Belarus and the EU set export quotas on textiles.

As part of Belarus's pursuit of economic and monetary integration with Russia, interstate trade regulations and taxation were harmonized with those of Russia, and most export and import fees on mutual trade with Russia were abolished by June 1, 1994. In May 1995, Belarus and Russia eliminated customs checkpoints along their joint border.

Belarus - Imports

Both before and after independence, most of Belarus's imports came from Russia (64 percent in 1990) and Ukraine (19 percent in 1990). However, the foreign trade situation worsened for Belarus as the former Soviet Union continued to disintegrate economically. Imports from such countries as Germany, Poland, and the United States increased, so that by 1994 only 76 percent of Belarus's imports came from former Soviet republics. Belarus was now paying higher prices for goods it had previously imported cheaply from them. The greatest drain on its finances now consisted of imports of raw materials and oil, whose prices increased greatly in the early to mid-1990s.

In 1994 Belarus's imports from non-CIS countries decreased by nearly 13 percent from 1993 to US$534 million. Its imports from CIS countries were estimated at US$3.1 billion, a decrease of over 57 percent by volume from the previous year.

In the mid-1990s, Belarus imported oil, natural gas, coal, rolled ferrous metal, nonferrous metals, commercial lumber and sawed timber, chemical products, raw materials for the chemical industry, cement, cotton yarn, silk, machines and equipment, automobiles and buses, sewing machines and washing machines, paper, grain, forage, cooking oil, sugar, tea, fish and fish products, vegetables, and consumer goods. A few items were subject to restrictions for health and security reasons, including chemicals and industrial waste. An improved import tariff structure was introduced in October 1993, partly in line with World Bank recommendations.


Belarus's declaration of independence on August 25, 1991, did not stem from long-held political aspirations but from reactions to domestic and foreign events. Moscow's slow response both to the accident at the Chornobyl' power plant and to the discovery of mass graves of Stalin's victims at Kurapaty led to demands for government accountability and reform. Ukraine's declaration of independence, in particular, led the Belorussian SSR to realize that the Soviet Union would not last long. Independence nonetheless brought little or no change in the country's political structure.

<>Prelude to Independence
<>Problems of Democratization
<>Government Structure
The Constitution
<>National Government
<>Local Government
<>Political Parties
<>The Media

Belarus - Prelude to Independence

The series of events that led to Belarus's independence began with the explosion at the Chornobyl' nuclear power plant on April 26, 1986. The foot-dragging of the government in Moscow in even announcing that the accident had occurred, let alone evacuating people from affected areas and providing funds for the cleanup, greatly angered the Belorussian people, most of whom had no political aspirations for independence.

In 1988 Zyanon Paznyak, an archagologist who would later play a role in national politics, revealed the discovery of mass graves of some 250,000 of Stalin's victims at Kurapaty. Many Belorussians were deeply shaken by this news, and some demanded accountability from the central authorities in Moscow. Reformers created the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF) in October after several mass demonstrations and clashes with the authorities. Paznyak became the spokesman for the reform movement and nationalist aspirations, and he emerged as the BPF chairman.

The March 4, 1990, elections to the republic's Supreme Soviet gave the country a legislature that was little different from previous legislatures: only 10 percent of the deputies were members of the opposition. But for the most part, the populace seemed satisfied with the new deputies, and the BPF's calls for independence and efforts at nation-building failed to stir up the same strong emotions as movements in neighboring Ukraine and the Baltic republics. Although the Supreme Soviet of the Belorussian SSR adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic on June 27, 1990 (some two weeks after Russia had declared its own sovereignty), the March 1991 referendum held throughout the Soviet Union showed that 83 percent of Belorussians wanted to preserve the Soviet Union.

Political change in Belarus came about only after the August 1991 coup d'�tat in Moscow and a display of satisfaction by the Central Committee of the CPB at the coup attempt--it never issued a condemnation of the coup plotters. Following the coup's collapse and declarations of independence by Estonia, Latvia, and Ukraine, Belarus declared its own independence on August 25 by giving its declaration of sovereignty the status of a constitutional document. On August 28, Belarus's prime minister, Vyachaslaw Kyebich, declared that he and his entire cabinet had "suspended" their CPB membership. The next day, both the Russian and the Belarusian governments suspended the activities of the communist party.

Liberals and nationalist reformers used this period of political confusion to advance their cause. On September 18, the parliament dismissed its chairman, Mikalay Dzyemyantsyey, for siding with the coup and replaced him with his deputy, Stanislaw Shushkyevich. The next day, pressed by the small but vocal democratic opposition, the parliament changed the state's name from the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic to the Republic of Belarus. A new national flag (three horizontal stripes, white- red-white) was adopted, along with a new coat of arms (a mounted knight, St. George, Patron Saint of Belarus, with a drawn sword, the emblem of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania). On December 8, Belarus joined Russia and Ukraine in signing the Minsk Agreement to form the CIS, which formally put an end to the Soviet Union. On December 21, Belarus signed the Alma-Ata Declaration, which expanded the CIS membership from the original three signatories of the Minsk Agreement to eleven states. And it was agreed that the headquarters of the CIS was to be in Minsk, a move that the government of Belarus welcomed as a means of attracting foreign attention.

The democratic opposition in the Supreme Soviet, led by the twenty-seven-member BPF faction and some of its allies, continued pressing for a referendum on the dissolution of the Supreme Soviet and for new elections. The electorate seemed to be responsive. More than 442,000 signatures in support of the move were collected within three months, but the initiators had underestimated the conservativism of the Supreme Soviet.

Meeting in mid-October 1992 and encouraged by the electoral victory of former communists in Lithuania and growing resistance to President Boris N. Yeltsin's reforms in Russia, the Supreme Soviet solidly rejected the demand for a referendum. Claiming violations in the signature collection drive, 202 deputies voted against the referendum; only thirty-five deputies supported it, and another thirty-five abstained. In view of the fact that in May 1992 the Central Referendum Commission had validated 384,000 of the 442,000 signatures collected (exceeding the 350,000 signatures required by law), the BPF opposition accused the Supreme Soviet's conservative majority of an open violation of the republic's constitution and of an attempt to retain power by illegal means. Nonetheless, the opposition won a small victory in this tug-of-war: the parliament agreed to shorten its five-year term by one year and scheduled the next elections for the spring of 1994.

The Belarusian government headed by Prime Minister Kyebich consisted of former CPB functionaries and took a very conservative approach to economic and political reforms. Kyebich himself characterized his policy as "traditional" and warned about taking "extreme" positions.

Belarus's conservative Supreme Soviet continued to put obstacles in the path of reform. A privatization law was finally passed in July 1993, but it allowed collective and state farms to continue to exist and operate. Privatization of state-owned enterprises had barely begun in mid-1995, despite earlier efforts by Shushkyevich, who was largely a figurehead, to move along reform efforts. Conservative Kyebich, who actually controlled the ministries, was a temporary victor, when, in January 1994, he survived a no-confidence vote that ousted Shushkyevich and replaced him with a Kyebich crony, Myechyslaw Hryb.

In the meantime, the Supreme Soviet adopted a constitution that went into effect on March 30, 1994, and created the office of president, who would now be the head of government instead of the prime minister. A quickly organized election was held in June, and a runoff election between the two highest vote-getters was held in July; in a surprise result, Kyebich was soundly beaten by anticorruption crusader Alyaksandr Lukashyenka. Both Kyebich and Lukashyenka took pro-Russian stands on economic and political matters, and both supported a quick monetary union with Russia. Lukashyenka even called for outright unification with Russia, but it was his anticorruption stance that won him more than 80 percent of the vote.

After Lukashyenka achieved his victory, the BPF granted him a three-month grace period during which it did not openly criticize his policies. Because his campaign promises had often been vague, he had great latitude within which to operate. And because Kyebich resigned after the election, taking his government with him, there were no problems in removing ministers.

Lukashyenka's presidency was one of contradictions from the start. His cabinet was composed of young, talented newcomers as well as Kyebich veterans who had not fully supported Kyebich. As a reward to the parliament for confirming his appointees, Lukashyenka supported the move to postpone the parliamentary elections until May 1995.

Lukashyenka's government was also plagued by corrupt members. Lukashyenka fired the minister of defense, the armed forces chief of staff, the head of the border guards, and the minister of forestry. Following resignations among reformists in Lukashyenka's cabinet, parliamentary deputy Syarhey Antonchyk read a report in parliament on December 20, 1994, about corruption in the administration. Although Lukashyenka refused to accept the resignations that followed, the government attempted to censor the report, fueling the opposition's criticism of Lukashyenka.

Lukashyenka went to Russia in August 1994 on his first official visit abroad as head of state. There he came to realize that Russia would not make any unusual efforts to accommodate Belarus, especially its economic needs. Nevertheless, Lukashyenka kept trying; in February 1995, Belarus signed the Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation with Russia, making many concessions to Russia, such as allowing the stationing of Russian troops in Belarus, in hopes that Russia would return the favor by charging Belarus lower prices for fuels. However, because the treaty included no such provision, there was little hope of realizing this objective.

Lukashyenka had several disputes with parliament, mainly over the limits of presidential power (such as whether the president has the right to dissolve parliament). A hunger strike by opposition deputies, led by Zyanon Paznyak, began on April 11, 1995, after Lukashyenka proposed four questions for a referendum and then stated that the referendum would be held regardless of parliament's vote. The protest ended when the striking deputies, forcibly evicted in the middle of the night during a search for an alleged bomb, found that the national television and radio building had been cordoned off as well because of another alleged bomb threat. After this incident, the parliament gave in on a number of matters, including the four referendum questions, because word of their strike now could not be publicized.

The parliamentary elections held in May 1995 were less than successful or democratic. The restrictions placed on the mass media and on the candidates' expenditures during the campaign led to a shortage of information about the candidates and almost no political debate before the elections. In several cases, no one candidate received the necessary majority of the votes in the May 14 elections, prompting another round on May 28. The main problem in the second round was the lack of voter turnout. After the second round, parliament was in limbo because it had only 120 elected deputies--it was still short of the 174 members necessary to seat a new legislature. Another round of elections was discussed, probably near the end of the year, but the government claimed to have no money to finance them.

Belarus - Problems of Democratization

Of the 346 deputies to the Belorussian Supreme Soviet elected in 1990, fourteen were still vacant three years later, owing to voter apathy. There was also widespread apathy toward the political process and disbelief that what were being advertised as democratic ways would improve the situation. This general political malaise was then, and continued to be in 1995, reflected in the feeble growth, small size, and low popularity of political parties.

Although the 1990 and 1995 parliamentary elections were far from democratic, the predominance of conservatives in the legislature had deeper roots than just the lack of means for free expression and the strictures of the electoral procedure. A widely heard rhetorical question was, "What is more useful, sausage or freedom?" The conservative majority in parliament-- largely managers, administrators, and representatives of such groups as war veterans and collective and state farm managers-- had successfully slowed the pace of reforms, and the standard of living had decreased dramatically for most of the population.

In view of the tremendous economic difficulties that accompanied the post-Soviet period, the years before perestroika looked reasonably good to most citizens. The populace was frustrated by the misuse of a freedom whose benefits were measured predominantly in material terms. Nostalgia for the so-called good old days had been growing stronger ever since the country declared its independence, and the lack of political energy in the country hindered the growth of political parties not tied to the old ways.

An example of political inertia is the debate on relations between Russia and Belarus. This debate has proceeded rather noisily and has been couched in cultural and historical terms, rather than in terms of the state's interests. National interests and foreign affairs are still deemed to be beyond the average citizen's competence, and the idea that the party/government knows best is still prevalent in the popular mind.

The four-question referendum that had prompted the parliamentary hunger strike in April 1994 was held on May 15, 1995. The populace voted "yes" on all four questions: Russian as an official language, the return of a Soviet-era red and green flag, economic integration with Russia, and presidential power to dissolve the Supreme Soviet. The result hardly inspired confidence among aspiring democrats.

Belarus - Government Structure

The Constitution

A new Belarusian constitution was submitted to the Supreme Soviet in three different versions before it was finally adopted on March 28, 1994, and went into effect on March 30, 1994. The new basic law declares the Republic of Belarus a democracy that operates on the basis of a diversity of political institutions, ideologies, and opinions, with all religions and creeds equal before the law. The official language is Belarusian, although Russian is retained as the language of interethnic communication. Belarus is declared a nuclear-free, neutral state. All persons are equal before the law and are to have their rights, legitimate interests, and freedom protected equally; suffrage is granted to citizens who have reached eighteen years of age. The state also pledges itself to create "the conditions for full employment."

Belarus - National Government

With the exception of the new office of the president, the government structure of independent Belarus had changed little from that of the Belorussian SSR. Within the government, the communist-era mindset also persisted, even though the names of office-holders were often different. Because Lukashyenka and the legislature were frequently at odds, there was little agreement or initiative in changing or improving the government.

The national government consists of three branches: legislative, executive, and judiciary. Under the constitution, the size of the Supreme Soviet (elected for a term of five years) was reduced from 360 to 260 members. It is the highest legislative body of state power. Its functions include calling national referenda; adopting, revising, and interpreting the constitution; scheduling parliamentary and presidential elections; electing members of high-level courts, the procurator general, and the chairman and members of the board of the National Bank of Belarus; determining guidelines for domestic and foreign policy; confirming the state budget; supervising currency issues; ratifying international treaties; and determining military policy. The role of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet was reduced to that of an agenda-setting and administrative body. The legislature's two subordinate state committees are the State Customs Committee and the State Security Committee.

Any Belarusian citizen who has the right to vote and is at least twenty-one years old is eligible to stand for election as a deputy. The parliament is elected by universal suffrage.

The president, a position created by the new constitution, is elected by popular vote for a five-year term of office and is the head of state and of the executive branch of government. He or she adopts measures to guard the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity, appoints and dismisses the chairman and members of the Cabinet of Ministers, appoints judges, heads the country's National Security Council, and serves as commander in chief of the armed forces.

The president can be removed by a two-thirds vote in the parliament under certain circumstances, such as violating the constitution or committing a crime. However, the president cannot dismiss the parliament or other elected governing bodies.

The executive branch also includes the Cabinet of Ministers, composed of the heads of Belarus's twenty-six ministries: administration of state property and privatization; agriculture; architecture and construction; CIS matters; communications and information technology; culture and the press; defense; economy; education and science; emergency situations and the protection of the population from the aftermath of the Chornobyl' nuclear power station disaster; finance; foreign affairs; foreign economic relations; forestry; fuel and energy; health care; housing and municipal services; industry; information; internal affairs; justice, labor; natural resources and environmental protection; social protection; statistics and analyses; trade; and transportation and communications.

Judicial power is vested in a court system headed by the Constitutional Court, which consists of eleven judges who are nominated by the president and appointed by the Supreme Soviet. The Constitutional Court receives proposals from the president, the chairman of the Supreme Soviet, the permanent committees of the Supreme Soviet, at least seventy deputies of the Supreme Soviet, the Supreme Court, the Supreme Economic Court, or the Procurator General to review the constitutionality of international agreements or obligations to which Belarus is a party. The Constitutional Court also reviews the constitutionality of domestic legal acts; presidential edicts; regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers; the constitution; laws; legal documents; and regulatory decisions of the Supreme Court, the Supreme Economic Court, and the Procurator General. The Constitutional Court's decisions are final and not subject to appeal.

The mid-level courts are regional courts, and below them are district courts. These are presided over by judges appointed directly by the president. Trials in all courts are open. The parties involved in a case have the right to appeal judicial decisions, sentences, and other rulings. However, the appeal consists merely of a higher court's review of the protocol and other documents of the original trial. In actual practice, decisions are rarely overturned.

There is a separate system of military courts. Military judges are appointed directly by the president.

The Procuracy functions like a cross between a police investigative bureau and a public prosecutor's office. It investigates crimes, brings criminals to trial and prosecutes them, supervises courts and penal facilities within its jurisdiction, reviews all court decisions in both civil and criminal cases, supervises investigations conducted by other government agencies, and ensures the uniform application of law in the courts.

The Procuracy is headed by the procurator general, who is appointed by the Supreme Soviet. The procurator general then appoints each officer of the Procuracy, known as a procurator. The constitution states that the procurator general and his subordinate procurators are to function independently, yet the procurator general is accountable to the Supreme Soviet. Procurators are independent of regional and local government bodies because they derive their authority from the procurator general. Procurators are generally quite influential because they supervise all criminal investigations; courts are extremely deferential to the procurators' actions, petitions, and conclusions.

Belarus - Local Government

In 1995 Belarus's local government was arranged in three tiers: six voblastsi (sing., voblasts'); 141 rayony (sing., rayon) and thirtyeight cities; and 112 towns and 1,480 villages and settlements. Large cities were also divided into rayony.

Under Belarus's new constitution, local councils of deputies are to be elected by the citizens of their jurisdictions for four-year terms and are to have exclusive jurisdiction over economic and social development programs, local budgets and taxes, management and disposal of local government property, and the calling of referenda. In October 1994, Lukashyenka convinced the Supreme Soviet to amend the law on local self-government, much to the dismay of the opposition, who saw the country's administration come under his control in a single stroke. The local councils in villages, towns, and city districts were to be disbanded and placed under the supervision of local administrations. The head of the regional executives was to be appointed by the president, and the local executives were to be nominated by the regional executives (and approved by the president). Thus, the chain of command ran from the top down, as it had in the days of the Belorussian SSR.

Belarus - Political Parties

Stanislaw Shushkyevich observed at the beginning of 1993 that almost 60 percent of Belarusians did not support any political party, only 3.9 percent of the electorate backed the communist party, and only 3.8 percent favored the BPF. The influence of other parties was much lower.

The Communist Party of Belarus (CPB), part of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), claimed to rule the Belorussian SSR in the name of the proletariat for the entire duration of the republic's existence. For most of this period, it sought to control all aspects of government and society and to infuse political, economic, and social policies with the correct ideological content. By the late 1980s, however, the party watched as Mikhail S. Gorbachev attempted to withdraw the CPSU from day-to-day economic affairs.

After the CPB was banned in the wake of the August 1991 coup d'�tat, Belarusian communists regrouped and renamed themselves the Party of Communists of Belarus (PCB), which became the umbrella organization for Belarus's communist parties and proRussian groups. The PCB was formally registered in December 1991. The Supreme Soviet lifted the ban on the CPB in February 1993.

The most active and visible of the opposition political groups in Belarus in the first half of the 1990s was the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF), founded in October 1989 with Zyanon Paznyak as chairman. The BPF declared itself a movement open to any individual or party, including communists, provided that those who joined shared its basic goal of a fully independent and democratic Belarus. The BPF's critics, however, claimed that it was indeed a party, pointing out the movement's goal of seeking political power, having a "shadow cabinet," and being engaged in parliamentary politics.

The United Democratic Party of Belarus was founded in November 1990 and was the first political party in independent Belarus other than the communist party. Its membership is composed of technical intelligentsia, professionals, workers, and peasants. It seeks an independent Belarus, democracy, freedom of ethnic expression, and a market economy.

The Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly (Hramada) emerged in March 1991. Its members include workers, peasants, students, military personnel, and urban and rural intelligentsia. Its program advocates an independent Belarus, which does not rule out membership in the CIS, and a market economy with state regulation of certain sectors. The assembly cooperates with other parties and considers itself part of the worldwide social democratic movement.

The Belarusian Peasant Party, founded in February 1991, is headquartered in Minsk and has branches in most voblastsi. The party's goals include privatization of land, a free market, a democratic government, and support of Belarusian culture and humanism.

The Belarusian Christian Democratic Union, founded in June 1991, was a continuation of the Belarusian Christian-Democratic Party, which was disbanded by the Polish authorities in western Belarus in the 1930s. Its membership consists mainly of the intelligentsia, and it espouses Christian values, nonviolence, pluralism, private property, and peaceful relations among ethnic groups.

The "Belaya Rus'" Slavic Council was founded in June 1992 as a conservative Russophile group that defends Russian interests in all spheres of social life, vociferously objects to the status of Belarusian as the republic's sole official language, and demands equal status for the Russian language.

In 1995 other parties included the Belarusian Ecological Party, the National Democratic Party of Belarus, the Party of People's Accord, the All-Belarusian Party of Popular Unity and Accord, the Belarusian United Agrarian Democratic Party, the Belarusian Scientific Industrial Congress, the Belarusian Green Party, the Belarusian Humanitarian Party, the Belarusian Party of Labor, the Belarusian Party of Labor and Justice, the Belarusian Socialist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus, the Polish Democratic Union, and the Republican Party.

Belarus - The Media

In late 1992, Belarus had 586 officially approved periodicals: 140 in Belarusian, 159 in Russian, and 241 in both Belarusian and Russian. Other publications combined Russian with another language or were published in English, Polish, or Ukrainian. The only daily newspaper published completely in Belarusian was Zvyazda (Star). Other dailies included Sovetskaya Belorussiya (Soviet Belorussia) and Vechernyy Minsk (Evening Minsk), published in Russian, and Narodnaya hazyeta (People's Newspaper), published in both Belarusian and Russian. Belarus's official news agency is BelTA (Belarusian News Agency), and the independent news agency is BELAPAN.

In the early to mid-1990s, Belarus had a high level of censorship in its media. Works no longer had to be approved before publication, but all nonfiction materials had to be presented to the Inspectorate for the Protection of State Secrets, a small government department subordinate to the Ministry of Information, which once had been a branch of Glavlit, the Soviet censorship body. Most publishing houses in the country were funded and controlled by the Ministry of Information.


By late 1992, more than 100 countries had recognized Belarus, and nearly seventy of them had established some level of diplomatic relations with it. Belarus had a limited number of embassies abroad because its diplomatic activities, as all other phases of life, were severely constrained by economic hardships. There was also a shortage of experienced diplomats who were Belarusian citizens; international relations had been the purview of Moscow during the Soviet era and continued to be mainly the purview of ethnic Russians residing in, but not citizens of, Belarus.

In 1995 Belarus was a member of a number of international organizations, including the United Nations (UN) (of which it was a founding member), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE; until January 1995 known as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe), the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Belarus also has observer status at the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and its successor, the World Trade Organization (WTO). However, the Council of Europe in 1995 declared Belarus to be ineligible for membership in the Council of Europe because of shortcomings in its elections and its election laws, including restrictions on mass media coverage of the spring 1995 parliamentary campaign and restrictions on candidates' campaign expenditures.

Belarusian authorities, particularly the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, have been trying to promote the widest possible contacts with Belarusians living abroad (and particularly in the West), with an eye to developing economic and cultural cooperation. The Belarusian domestic media have devoted an increasing amount of space to the life of �migr�s, including their past and present activities. A number of cultural exchanges, conferences, and joint ventures took place during the early 1990s; a World Reunion of Belarusians was held in the republic's capital in 1993.

But not everybody in the republic concurs with these initiatives. From the ultraconservatives came denunciations of the �migr�s for their alleged collaboration with the Nazis during World War II and their employment by the United States Central Intelligence Agency. However, the democratic opposition groups, including the BPF, have engaged in their own cooperative efforts with Belarusian �migr� organizations, through which they have reached out for contacts with Western politicians and governments.

<>United States

Belarus - Russia

Even though Belarus's new constitution declared that it is a neutral country, the reality at independence was that Russia was Belarus's neighbor, its military partner, and its largest economic partner. Belarus's heavy economic dependence on Russia, especially for critically needed fuels, has serious political consequences. Russia not only could bring political pressure on Belarus but could also bring the country to its knees economically by withholding oil and natural gas. And with more than 1.5 million ethnic Russians living in Belarus and many of the officers in the Belarusian armed forces being ethnic Russians, Russia is in a position to influence Belarus in more subtle ways as well.

The opposition is aware that the government of Alyaksandr Lukashyenka, using economic difficulties as justification, could try to append Belarus to Russia, not only economically but also militarily and politically. Lukashyenka has made it clear from the start that he wants a "special relationship" with Moscow, which, in terms of national security, would mean relying on Russia to ensure Belarus's security and, perhaps, giving Russia a "right of supervision" over Belarusian foreign and security policy.

Some hard-liners have called for closer contacts not only with the CIS but also with Russia itself. Because Belarus is so dependent on Russia already, they argue, it would make sense to be allied with it militarily as well. The Russian troops and missiles still on Belarus's soil would seem to make this alliance the logical choice, but it runs counter to the Belarusian constitution's goal of neutrality. The public itself is divided on the issue.

Nevertheless, although Russia has strong security concerns regarding Belarus, it does not appear interested in taking Belarus under its wing economically. Russia has made a number of changes in its finances and its economy that Belarus has not replicated; many in Russia see Belarus as a continuing drain on Russia's own financial resources.

The most concrete efforts to date at a close relationship between the two countries lie in the economic and monetary spheres. By June 1, 1994, Belarus had harmonized its interstate trade regulations and taxation schemes with those of Russia; most export and import fees on mutual trade were abolished. In May 1995, Belarus and Russia signed a customs union that eliminated customs checkpoints along their joint border (effective July 15, 1995) and also signed an agreement on cooperation in maintaining state borders.

Belarus - United States

Although the United States awarded Belarus most-favored-nation status for trade on February 16, 1993, and dramatically increased aid (from US$8.3 million under previously signed agreements to US$100 million in January 1994) because of Belarus's agreement to approve the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. But the good relations between the United States and Belarus had cooled by 1995, when the reforms and progress toward democracy that had been developing slowly under Stanislaw Shushkyevich were stopped and even reversed by Alyaksandr Lukashyenka. The United States has protested the violations of human rights and democratic reversals under the Lukashyenka administration.

Belarus - Ukraine

In 1995 Belarus and Ukraine were on good terms and made no territorial claims on each other; their respective minority groups have not voiced any complaints of discrimination. However, ties between the two countries are weak because of their different relationships with, and views of, Russia. Unlike Belarus, Ukraine is determined to be politically and militarily independent. Kiev complains that whenever Ukraine disagrees with Russia on an issue, Belarus backs the latter.

Perhaps the most important Ukrainian issue for Belarus is the Chornobyl' nuclear power plant. Because Belarus suffered the effects of the 1986 disaster more than any other country, it had a strong interest in the shutdown of the plant. It was therefore alarmed by the Ukrainian parliament's December 1993 vote to keep the plant running, despite the original plans that called for closing it at the end of 1993. Yet Supreme Soviet Chairman Shushkyevich's appeals to Ukraine, which was in the midst of an energy crisis, made little difference.

Belarus - Poland

Once Belarus declared its independence, it signed a number of agreements with Poland, including ones on diplomatic relations and a consular convention, fighting crime, creating a commercial bank to finance bilateral trade, establishing new border-crossing points, and supporting investment opportunities in the two countries. Polish president Lech Walesa and Belarusian parliamentary chairman Stanislaw Shushkyevich signed a bilateral friendship and cooperation treaty during the latter's visit to Warsaw in June 1992. Military and economic agreements were signed in 1993.

In 1994 approximately 300,000 ethnic Belarusians lived in Poland, and 418,000 ethnic Poles lived in Belarus. In neither country are there any obstacles to the ethnic minority's participation in political life. In Belarus most ethnic Poles supported the drive for Belarusian independence and were not seen as a threat to Belarus; the government raised no obstacles to the Poles' acquisition of Belarusian citizenship. The ethnic Belarusians in Poland live mainly in the Bialystok region, one of the poorest areas of the country, but new economic cooperation between Belarus and Poland and specific obligations taken on by Poland are sure to effect changes, if only modestly.

The arena of most disagreements between Poles and Belarusians in the 1990s seemed to be religion. Accusations were made of ethnic Polish dominance of the Roman Catholic Church in Belarus. Polish priests sometimes served in parishes with little or no knowledge of the Belarusian language. But steps were being taken by the Roman Catholic archbishop to counter the more blatant use of Polish political symbols in the churches.

Belarus - Lithuania

Although relations between Belarus and Lithuania were generally friendly in the early 1990s, various groups and individuals, and even some elements of the Belarusian government and legislature, cited historical and sociological "facts" about language and ethnicity to claim some of Lithuania's territory, especially around the capital, Vilnius. The two countries signed a border agreement in December 1991 and over the next two years demarcated the previously unmarked border to prevent any further disputes.

During an early February 1995 summit, Lithuanian president Algirdas Brazauskas and Belarusian president Lukashyenka signed a friendship and cooperation treaty that included resolution of all outstanding border issues. No problems were reported in connection with the minorities living in the other country.

Belarus - Latvia

Belarus's relations with Latvia, one of its major trading partners, have been relatively free of problems. The border is unchanged from that established in 1940, so that marking it and establishing normal border controls (so that both countries could deal with smuggling and illegal immigration) were fairly straightforward. Neither the 120,000 ethnic Belarusians in Latvia nor the approximately 3,000 ethnic Latvians living in Belarus reported problems.

Belarus and Latvia have signed a number of agreements. An agreement signed in December 1991 covered respect for the rights of minorities and for national borders; Latvian president Guntis Ulmanis and Belarusian foreign minister Pyotr Krawchanka signed similar accords in August 1993. In May 1995, the transportation ministers of both countries signed an agreement on cooperation in rail transport and communications.

Belarus - Bibliography

Adamovich, Anthony. Opposition to Sovietization in Belorussian
     Literature, 1917-1957. New York: Scarecrow Press, 1958.

Amnesty International. Amnesty International Report, 1994.
     New York: 1994.

Association of Byelorussians in Great Britain. Letters to
     Gorbachev: New Documents from Soviet Byelorussia. (2d
     ed.) London: 1987.

Belarus. Ministerstva zamyezhnykh spraw. Infarmatsyyny-kamyertsyyny
     tsentr. Respublika Belarus': Mahchymastsi dzelavoha
     supratsownitstva (Respublika Belarus': Vozmozhnosti
     delovogo sotrudnichestva) (The Republic of Belarus: Prospects
     for Business Cooperation). Minsk: 1992.

"Belorussia." Pages 104-7 in The Dorling Kindersley World
     Reference Atlas. London: Dorling Kindersley, 1994.

Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. Mission to the United
     Nations. Statement by H.E. Vyacheslav F. Kebich, Chairman
     of the Council of Ministers of the Byelorussian SSR in the
     General Debate at the 45th Session of the UN General
     Assembly. (Press Release.) New York: September 26, 1990,

"Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic." Pages 830-33 in The
     New Encyclopaedia Britannica. (Macropaedia, 2.) Chicago:
     Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1975.

Bird, Thomas E. "Byelorussian Literature." Pages 374-76 in Leonard
     S. Klein, ed., Encyclopedia of World Literature in the
     20th Century, 1. (Rev. ed.) New York: Frederick Ungar,

Bird, Thomas E. "Orthodoxy in Byelorussia, 1917-1980,"
     Zapisy, 17, 1983, 144-213.

Blum, Jakub, and Vera Rich, eds. The Image of the Jew in Soviet
     Literature: The Post-Stalin Period. New York: Ktav, 1984.

Borushko, V.F. Belorussiya: Lyudi, sobytiya, fakty. (3d
     ed.) Minsk: Byelarus, 1989.

"Bund." Page 368 in The New Encyclopaedia Britannica.
     (Micropaedia, 2.) Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1975.

Burant, Stephen R. "Belarus and the 'Belarusian Irredenta' in
     Lithuania," Nationalities Papers. Charleston,
     Illinois: forthcoming 1995.

Burant, Stephen R. "Foreign Policy and National Identity: A
     Comparison of Ukraine and Belarus," Europe-Asia
     Studies [Abingdon, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom],
     forthcoming November 1995.

Burant, Stephen R. "International Relations in a Regional Context:
     Poland and Its Eastern Neighbours--Lithuania, Belarus,
     Ukraine," Europe-Asia Studies [Abingdom, Oxfordshire,
     United Kingdom], 45, No. 3, 1993, 395-418.

Burant, Stephen R. "Polish-Belarusian Relations," RFE/RL
     Research Report [Munich], 1, No. 37, September 18, 1992,

"Byelorussians." Pages 131-32 in Amiram Gonen, ed., The
     Encyclopedia of the Peoples of the World. New York: Henry
     Holt and Company, 1993.

Byelorussian Tristan. Trans., Zora Kipel. (Garland Library
     of Medieval Literature Series, 59. Series B.) New York:
     Garland Press, 1988.

Center for International Health Information/ISTI. Belarus:
     USAID Health Profile (Selected Data). [Final draft.]
     Arlington, Virginia: 1992.

"Chernobyl Accident." Page 171 in The New Encyclopedia
     Britannica. (Micropaedia, 3.) Chicago: Encyclopaedia
     Britannica, 1992.

"Council of Europe Rules Belarus Ineligible Due to Election
     Shortcomings," Summary of World Broadcasts [Caversham
     Park, Reading, United Kingdom], Part 1-Former USSR, Third
     Series, SU/2324, June 8, 1995, D/3-D/4.

Curtis, Glenn E., ed. Poland: A Country Study. Washington:
     GPO, 1994.

The Dorling Kindersley World Reference Atlas. London:
     Dorling Kindersley, 1994.

The Europa World Year Book, 1994. (2 vols.) London:
     Europa, 1994.

The Europa World Year Book, 1995. (2 vols.) London:
     Europa, 1995.

Galeotti, Mark. "The Belarusian Army--An Example of Successful
     Reform?" Jane's Intelligence Review [Coulsdon,
     Surrey, United Kingdom], 7, No. 6, June 1995, 258-60.

Glover, Jeffrey. "Outlook for Belarus." Pages 89-104 in Review
     and Outlook for the Former Soviet Union. Washington:
     PlanEcon, August 1995.

Gonen, Amiram, ed. The Encyclopedia of the Peoples of the
     World. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1993.

Gregory, Paul M., and Jeffrey S. Glover, "Outlook for Belarus."
     Pages 111-27 in Review and Outlook for the Former Soviet
     Union. Washington: PlanEcon, March 1995.

Grishan, Igor'. "I eto vs� o nas," Sovetskaya Belorussiya
     [Minsk], June 4, 1992, 1.

"History of the Baltic States." Pages 670-76 in The New
     Encyclopaedia Britannica. (Macropaedia, 2.) Chicago:
     Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1975.

Hlebowicz, Adam. "Przyszlosc Kosciola katolickiego na Bialorusi"
     (The Future of the Catholic Church in Belarus), Wiez
     [Warsaw], January, 1994, 138.

Hlobenko, M., V. Kubijovyc, and O. Ohloblyn. "Belorussia." Pages
     194-99 in Volodymyr Kubijovyc, ed., Encyclopedia of
     Ukraine, 1. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984.

Hockstader, Lee. "Belarus Slowly Drifts Toward Moscow Orbit,"
     Washington Post, January 28, 1994, A20.

"How Belarus Will Sink," Foreign Report [London], August
     25, 1994, 5-6.

Internal Monetary Fund. Belarus. (Economic Review Series.)
     Washington: 1992.

International Monetary Fund. Belarus. (Economic Review
     Series.) Washington: 1994.

"In the Slav Shadowlands," Economist [London], 335, No.
     7915, May 20, 1995, 47-49.

Kasiak, Ivan. Byelorussia: Historical Outline. London:
     Byelorussian Central Council, 1989.

Katz, Zev, ed. Handbook of Major Soviet Nationalities. New
     York: Free Press, 1975.

Kipel, Vitaut. "Byelorussians." Pages 88-107 in Barbara Cunningham,
     ed., The New Jersey Ethnic Experience. Union City,
     New Jersey: William H. Wise and Company, 1977.

Kipel, Vitaut, and Zora Kipel, eds. Byelorussian Statehood:
     Reader and Bibliography. New York: Byelorussian Institute
     of Arts and Sciences, 1988.

Klein, Leonard S., ed. Encyclopedia of World Literature in the
     20th Century. (Rev. ed.) New York: Frederick Ungar, 1981.

Kubijovyc, Volodymyr, ed. Encyclopedia of Ukraine. (5
     vols.) Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984.

"Latvia and Belarus Sign Transport and Communications Agreement,"
     Summary of World Broadcasts [Caversham Park, Reading,
     United Kingdom], Part 1-Former USSR, Third Series, SU/2308,
     May 20, 1995, E/3.

Lerner Publications Company. Geography Department.
     Belarus. (Then and Now Series.) Minneapolis: 1993.

Lubachko, Ivan S. Belorussia under Soviet Rule, 1917-1957.
     Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1972.

McMillin, Arnold B. A History of Byelorussian Literature: From
     Its Origins to the Present Day. Giessen, Germany: Wilhelm
     Schmitz Verlag, 1977.

Magocsi, Paul Robert. Historical Atlas of East Central
     Europe. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1993.

Magocsi, Paul Robert. Ukraine: A Historical Atlas.
     Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985.

Markus, Ustina. "Belarus: Slowly Awakening to New Realities,"
     RFE/RL Research Report [Munich], 2, No. 1, January 7,
     1994, 42-46.

Markus, Ustina. "Belarus: You Can't Go Home Again?" Current
     History, 93, No. 585, October 1994, 337-41.

Markus, Ustina. "Belarus a 'Weak Link' in Eastern Europe?"
     RFE/RL Research Report [Munich], 2, No. 49, December
     10, 1993, 21-27.

Markus, Ustina. "Business as Usual with Lukashenka,"
     Transition, 1, No. 8, May 26, 1995, 57-61.

Markus, Ustina. "Lukashenka's Victory," Transition, 1, No.
     14, August 11, 1995, 75-78.

Markus, Ustina. "Missed Opportunities in Foreign Policy,"
     Transition, 1, No. 15, August 25, 1995, 62-66.

Marples, David R. "The Legacy of the Chernobyl Disaster,"
     RFE/RL Research Bulletin [Munich], 10, No. 4,
     February 16, 1993, 4-5.

Marples, David R. "Post-Soviet Belarus' and the Impact of
     Chernobyl'," Post-Soviet Geography, 33, No. 7,
     September 1992, 419-31.

Maryniak, Irena. "Democracy's Playground," Index on
     Censorship [London], 22, No. 3, March 1993, 4.

Maryniak, Irena. "Language and the Nation," Index on
     Censorship [London], 22, No. 3, March 1993, 6.

Maryniak, Irena. "A Matter of Duty," Index on Censorship
     [London], 22, No. 3, March 1993, 5.

The Military Balance, 1994-1995. London: Brassey's for
     International Institute for Strategic Studies, October 1994.

Morris, William, ed. The American Heritage Dictionary of the
     English Language. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976.

Rich, Vera. "`First Come, First Served,'" Catholic World
     Report, January 1993, 10-14.

Rich, Vera. "Jewish Themes and Characters in Belorussians Texts."
     Pages 100-271 in Jakub Blum and Vera Rich, eds., The Image
     of the Jew in Soviet Literature: The Post-Stalin Period.
     New York: Ktav, 1984.

Rich, Vera. Like Water, Like Fire: An Anthology of Byelorussian
     Poetry from 1828 to the Present Day. London: George Allen
     and Unwin, 1971.

"Russia, Belarus Scrap Border Checkpoints," Washington
     Post, May 27, 1995, A26.

Sadouski, John. A History of the Byelorussians in Canada.
     Belleville, Ontario: Mika, 1981.

"Scandals in Belarus," Foreign Report [London], January
     26, 1995, 7.

The Statesman's Year-Book, 1994-1995. Ed., Brian Hunter.
     New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994.

The Statesman's Year-Book, 1995-1996. Ed., Brian Hunter.
     New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.

"Tatars." Pages 590-91 in Amiram Gonen, ed., The Encyclopedia
     of the Peoples of the World. New York: Henry Holt and
     Company, 1993.

Umbach, Frank. "Back to the Future?--The Security Policy of
     Belarus," Jane's Intelligence Review [Coulsdon,
     Surrey, United Kingdom], 5, No. 9, September 1993, 410-14.

"Union of Brest-Litovsk." Page 257 in The New Encyclopaedia
     Britannica. (Micropaedia, 2.) Chicago: Encyclopaedia
     Britannica, 1975.

"Union of Soviet Socialist Republics." Pages 941-1090 in The
     New Encyclopedia Britannica. (Macropaedia, 28.) Chicago:
     Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1992.

United States. Agency for International Development. "U.S.
     Government Assistance to and Cooperative Activities with the
     New Independent States of the Former Soviet Union: Quarterly
     Report, April-June 1995." Washington: 1995.

United States. Central Intelligence Agency. Handbook of
     International Economic Statistics, 1994. (CPAS 94-10001.)
     Washington: September 1994.

United States. Central Intelligence Agency. USSR Energy
     Atlas. Washington: 1985.

United States. Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook,
     1993. Washington: 1993.

United States. Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook,
     1994. Washington: 1994.

United States. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
     Report on the Belarusian Presidential Election: June 23,
     1994, and July 10, 1994. Washington: July 1994.

United States. Department of State. Country Reports on Human
     Rights Practices for 1994. (Report submitted to United
     States Congress, 104th, 1st Session, Senate, Committee on
     Foreign Relations, and House of Representatives, Committee on
     Foreign Affairs.) Washington: GPO, 1995.

Urban, Michael. An Algebra of Soviet Power: Elite Circulation
     in the Belorussian Republic, 1966-1986. Cambridge:
     Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Vakar, Nicholas P. Belorussia: The Making of a Nation.
     Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1956.

World Bank. Belarus: Energy Sector Review. Washington:
     April 21, 1995.

World Bank. Statistical Handbook: States of the Former
     USSR. (Studies of Economies in Transformation, No. 3.)
     Washington: 1992.

World Radio TV Handbook, 47. Ed., Andrew G. Sennitt.
     Amsterdam: 1993.

World Radio TV Handbook, 49. Ed., Andrew G. Sennitt.
     Amsterdam: 1995.

World Resources Institute. The 1994 Information Please
     Environmental Almanac. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994.

Zaprudnik, Jan. Belarus: At a Crossroads in History.
     Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1993.

Zaprudnik, Jan. "Belorussia and the Belorussians." Pages 49-71 in
     Zev Katz, ed., Handbook of Major Soviet
     Nationalities. New York: Free Press, 1975.

Zaprudnik, Jan. "Belorussia Reawakening," Problems of
     Communism, 38, July-August 1989, 36-52.

Zaprudnik, Jan, and Thomas Bird. The Uprising in Byelorussia:
     "Peasants' Truth" and "Letters from Beneath the Gallows"
     (Texts and Commentaries). New York: Kreceuski Foundation,

Zickel, Raymond E., ed. Soviet Union: A Country Study.
     (Area Handbook Series.) Washington: GPO, 1992.

CITATION: Federal Research Division of the
Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

TRY USING CTRL-F on your keyboard to find the appropriate section of text


what's new | rainforests home | for kids | help | madagascar | search | about | languages | contact

Copyright 2013 Mongabay.com