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About Belarus

General Information -- Geography -- Climate -- Religion -- Language -- Population and Ethnic Composition-- Government -- Administrative Division -- Time Zone -- Currency Exchange and Credit Cards -- Capital City -- Official Holidays -- Airports and Public Transportation -- Traditional Cuisine -- Brief History

General Information

Belarus is a landlocked country in the heart of Europe, at the crossroads of trade routes from West to East and from North to South.
Throughout much of history, the area which is now known as Belarus was part of various countries including Lithuania, Poland and the Russian Empire. Eventually, in 1922, Belarus became a republic in the Soviet Union as the Byelorussian SSR. The republic officially declared its sovereignty on 27 August 1990, and following the collapse of the Soviet Union, declared independence as the Republic of Belarus on 25 August 1991. Belarus is currently in negotiations with neighboring Russia to integrate both of their economies, among other things, in a plan called the Union of Russia and Belarus



Belarus borders on Lithuania and Latvia in the North, on Ukraine in the South, on Russia in the East, and on Poland in the West.
The distance from Minsk to Warsaw is 500 kilometers, to Moscow - 700 kilometers, to Berlin - 1060 kilometers, to Vienna - 1300 kilometers.
The total area of Belarus is 207.6 thousand square kilometers. It extends 560 kilometers (350 miles) from North to South and 650 kilometers (460 miles) from West to East. Its total area is larger than that of Austria, Ireland, Portugal, and Greece. The city of Minsk is the capital of Belarus. It is situated on the same latitude as Hamburg and Dublin. The highest point is Dzierzhinsky Hill (345 meters above the sea level) in the Minsk Oblast. The country's lowest place is the Neman Valley in the Grodno Oblast (80-90 meters above sea level).


Belarus has a moderate climate with soft and damp winters and warm and damp summers. The average temperature in January is -6°C, and in July it is +18° C. The average annual precipitation is 550 and 700 mm.



According to some Belorussian sources, lately the number religious communities has been as follows: Orthodox, 787; Roman Catholic, 305; Pentecostal, 170; Baptist, 141; Old Believer, 26; Seventh-Day Adventist, 17; Apostolic Christian, 9; Uniate, 9; New Apostolic, 9; Muslim, 8; Jewish, 7; and other, 15.
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. 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.



Belarusian is one of the three East Slavic languages (a part of the Slavic group of the Indo-European family of langages) and is spoken in and around Belarus. Formerly called White Ruthenian, Belarusian (Belaruskaya mova) is historically the native language of most Belarusians. Many 20th-century governments of Belarus had policies favouring the Russian language, and, as a result, Russian is more widely used in education and public life than Belarusian.
Belarusian forms a link between the Russian and Ukrainian languages, since its dialects shade gradually into Russian dialects and Ukrainian dialects on the respective borders. The central dialects, among several large dialect zones, form the basis for Standard Belarusian. The language contains many Polish loanwords and is written in a form of the Cyrillic alphabet. An older form of Belarusian was used as the official language of administration in the 14th to 16th centuries in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which included present-day Belarus as well as Lithuania and Ukraine.

Population and Ethnic Composition


Population of Belarus is 9.799 million people, over 70 percent of which are urban dwellers. Beside Belarusians (81.2 percent), the population includes Russians (11.4 percent), Poles (3.9 percent), Ukrainians (2.4 percent) and other nationalities (1.1 percent). The population density is 47 persons per square kilometer.



Executive Branch: Belarus is a Presidential republic where the role of President is quite strong. The President, however, does not run the economy of the country but sets the guidelines and controls the work of the Government. The Government (Council of Ministers and a number of Ministries and Committees) is working with current issues of a day-to-day basis, thus exercising executive powers.
The current President of the Republic of Belarus is Alexander Lukashenko.
Legislative Branch: The National Assembly comprises two houses - the House of Representatives and the Council of the Republic
The Council of the Republic is the house of territorial representation. Eight members of the Council are appointed by the President of the Republic of Belarus, while the rest are elected at the sittings of the Deputies of the local Soviets of Deputies of the basic level: 8 from each of the six regions of the Republic and of the city of Minsk. The deputies to the House of Representatives are elected directly by the voters.
Judicial branch: Judicial power belongs to courts. The Constitutional Court exercises control over the legality of proposed legislation and regulations.

Administrative Division


Belarus is divided administratively into six oblasts, with their centers in Minsk, Brest, Vitebsk, Gomel, Grodno and Mogilev. Each oblast is divided into smaller administrative districts, called rayons, they also include cities and other territorial and administrative entities. There are more than one thousand towns and cities in Belarus, including 12 cities with population more than 100 thousand people.

Time Zone


Belarus is situated in the Central-European Time Zone: GMT +2. When it is noon in Belarus, it is 11:00 a.m. in Paris, 10:00 a.m. in London, 5:00 a.m. in New York, 2:00 a.m. in Los-Angeles and 1:00 p.m. in Moscow.

Currency Exchange and Credit Cards


The monetary unit in Belarus is a Belarusian rouble (BYR) issued as a banknote of the National Bank of Belarus. No coins are used. The currently used notes are printed in 2001 of 5; 10; 20; 50; 100; 500; 1,000; 5,000; 10,000; 20,000; 50,000 denominations. The exchange rates are about 1 EUR=2,960BYR and 1 USD=2,170 BYR (January, 2005). Changing money in the street is illegal and might cause problems with the police. Visa, EuroCard/MasterCard, American Express, Maestro, Visa Electron, Cirrus, EC credit cards are accepted in larger hotels and in some of restaurants and shops in major Belarusian cities.There are a number of Automatic Telling Machines (ATMs) in the downtown of Minsk including hotels. ATMs accept all major credit cards.

Capital City


The city of Minsk is located in the middle of Belarus and is the Capital of the Republic of Belarus and the center of the Region and District bearing the same name. The city of Minsk is entitled to a special status of an independent administrative and territorial unit. It is the largest political, economic, scientific and cultural center of the republic. It has a resident population of 1,726,000 (as of 01.01.2003), and occupies an area of 255.8 km². Administratively, it is subdivided into 9 urban districts.
For the first time Minsk was mentioned in 1067 (referred to as Mensk, Menesk in chronicles).
Minsk is the largest cultural center of Belarus with 16 museums, 11 theatres, 20 movie theatres, 132 libraries, 38 Palaces and Centers of culture, over 3.5 thousand of sporting facilities offer their services. 258 magazines and 282 newspapers are issued in Minsk.

Official Holidays



Airports and Public Transportation


Minsk-2 National Airport is 50 km from downtown Minsk. A number of airline companies, such as Belavia, Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa, LOT, EL AL, Lithuanian Airlines, Estonian Airlines and others, carry flights in and out of Minsk 2 linking Belarus with the world. Direct flights from Minsk to Berlin, Frankfurt, Kiev, Istanbul, Larnaka, London, Moscow, Paris, Prague, Rome, Stockholm, Warsaw, Tashkent and Tel-Aviv are offered. Other regions can be reached via Warsaw, Frankfurt, Moscow, and Vienna. Airports facilities include bank and exchange office, post office, taxi service, nursery, restaurants, bars, duty-free shops.
The rate for a taxi ride to or from Minsk-2 is about EUR 20.
The recently reopened Minsk-1 Airport is closer to the capital city, and services flights to Stockholm and Kiev.
All major cities in Belarus (Brest, Gomel, Grodno, Mogilev, Vitebsk) have local airports for domestic flights.

Traditional Cuisine


Common in Belarusian cuisine were dishes from potato which is called among people "the second bread". Potato is included into many salads, it is served together with mushrooms, meat; different pirazhki (patties) and baked puddings are made from it. The most popular among the Belarusians are traditional draniki, thick pancakes, prepared from shredded potatoes.
A lot of place in the diet of the Belarusians belongs to meat and meat products, especially to the pork and salted pork fat. The salted pork fat is used slightly smoked and seasoned with onions and garlic. Pyachysta is one of the traditional holiday dishes. This is boiled, stewed or roasted sucking pig, fowl or large chunks of pork or beef. Dishes prepared from meat are usually served together with potatoes or vegetables such as carrot, cabbage, black radish, peas, etc. It is characteristic that many vegetable and meat dishes are prepared in special stoneware pots.
Among dishes from fish the Belarusians prefer yushka, galki and also baked or boiled river-fish without special seasonings.
The choice Belarusian food are fresh, dried, salted and pickled mushrooms, and also berries such as bilberry, wild strawberries, red whortleberry, raspberries, cranberry and some others.
Of flour dishes the most popular is zacirka. Pieces of specially prepared dough are boiled in water and then poured over with milk or garnished with salted pork fat.
The Belarusians prefer to use whole milk which affected some methods of making yoghurt and the so called klinkovy cottage cheese. Myadukha, berezavik, kvas, beer are traditional Belarusian drinks.

Brief History


From the beginning of the 10th century up to the 13th century there were several state formations on the territory of the present-day Belarus. The most important ones were Principalities of Polatsk, Turau, Novgorod and some others.
First, these principalities were parts of the Kievan Rus, which was an original, very vast medieval federation, where the relations between the princes were based on suzerainty-vassalage. During the 10th-12th centuries, some of the major principalities actually became independent and were being ruled by local dynasties.
From the middle of the 13th century up to the end of the 18th century, the Belarusian lands belonged to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (the GDL). The Duchy passed through two main stages in its state and political development: 1) from the middle of the 13th century till 1569, when the GDL existed as a fully independent sovereign state; 2) from 1569, when the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Poland formed the Polish Commonwealth (Rzecz Pospolita), till the end of the 18th century.
Retrospectively, the state system of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from the end of the 16th century to the 18th century was an early form of the bourgeois (the szlachta) democracy, the first step to the civil society. After its incorporation into the Russian Empire, Belarus lost its status as a state. The change found reflection in its official name: from 1840 it was named "the North-Western Lands." No special laws were issued regarding Belarus, which could have treated it as a region with a special legal status. From 1801 the ethnic territory of the Belarusians was part of the Minsk, Mogilev, Vitebsk, Grodno and Vilnia provinces.
On the 25th of March 1918, under the conditions of occupation by the German troops, the Belarusian People's Republic was proclaimed, as a national bourgeois-democratic state. It failed, however, to turn into a fully-fledged state: it had no Constitution, no state boundaries, it had no armed forces of its own, the financial system and other attributes of statehood were not formed.
On the 1st of January 1919, the Byelorussian Soviet Socialistic Republic (the BSSR) was formed, in which political and economic life was under control of the central authority. Non-communist parties and organizations were banned, and the administrative functions were performed by the party machinery. At the same time, the Constitution of the BSSR declared that all the power was vested in the Soviets of Workers', Peasants' and Soldiers' deputies.
On the 27th of July 1990, the "Declaration of State Sovereignty" was adopted. According to the Constitution, the Republic of Belarus is a presidential republic. The President is the head of the state. The National Assembly is the country's supreme legislative authority, and the Constitutional Court is the country's supreme judicial authority.