This File Last Updated: 2001/03/22


Belarus

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Background

The Republic of Belarus is a country that comprises approximately sixty percent of the historical Belarusian ethnographic territory (but has no outstanding claims on any lands beyond its present borders).

However, because of historical military and political domination of Belarus by its neighbors, seldom in its history has Belarus been politically independent. Refer to the History section for further notes on this topic.

Belarus is ethnically and culturally distinct as a nation with a rich and long history, and it has also always been culturally diverse (since it is located on major trade routes). Relations with Western European have been strong since at least the Middle Ages, including democratic influences.

There is a distinct Belarusian language and culture with a rich literary history that have survived the centuries, although they have been repeatedly and persistently attacked, including regrettably through to the present. Refer to the Language on Trial section for further information.

Happily for many of us, there is currently a Belarus national revival that began in the late 1980's, and also includes members of the Belarusian diaspora. (Note: The current authoritarian regime (1998) has revived the Soviet policy against the viability of Belarusian language and culture, and thus alienates most of the diaspora.)



Note: A lot of the following information is presented from the point of view of an English speaker in the US, primarily due to the linguistic limitations of the person collecting this material. Much of the material has a US or Canadian perspective. I hope we can minimize these shortcomings with time, and include information about all of the Belarusian organizations both inside and outside of the Republic of Belarus. In addition, I hope that we will have a Belarusian language equivalent of this information as well in the not-so-distant future. Also, see a caveat. . . .



How is the Name Spelled?

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Because of several historical issues, including translation across two alphabet systems, the country name has had a surprisingly large number of variant spellings in English over the years. Although there is not any real consensus, currently, "Belarus" is the preferred spelling ( The Republic of Belarus is the official name).

For the adjective and noun (person; language) form, two variant spellings appear to be competing for acceptance: "Belarusian" (often seen in U.S. publications, especially periodicals) and "Belarusan" (used in Belarus: At a Crossroads in History by Jan Zaprudnik, and other academic sources). There is a political dimension to the competition between these two spellings as well: "Belarusian" is used by the current government headed by President Lukashenka and those supporting it; "Belarusan" is used by many of those who oppose the current regime. "Bielarus" is also being used by some English-speakers, and they give historical and linguistic reasons for doing so. Note: Spelling Belarus(i)an with a double "s" is not acceptable by any knowledgeable Belarusian since it (1) implies/indicates a translation from Russian, and (2) confuses Belarus with its neighbor to the east.

In an attempt to get an official answer to this issue, I wrote to the Embassy of the Republic of Belarus, Washington, DC, USA, in early January, 1996. I still have not received a reply. So far, no one else has been able to refer me to an official document that includes the answer, although I am told such documentation exists, and that "Belarusian" is the official spelling. (Note: I have even checked the United Nations documents at a local university, but was unable to find any official reference to how Belarus should be spelled. The United Nations documents, however, are probably the best bet for finding an official policy about the spelling of Belarus.)

In any case, whenever a Web site, book, organization, etc., is referred to, the spelling of "Belarus" and "Belarusian" used is the spelling that is preferred by that specific Web site, author, organization, etc., in each case. I hope this doesn't cause confusion.

In addition to the spellings given above, previous and alternate English spellings also include the following and are useful when completing bibliographic searches: Byelorussia(n), Bielorussia(n), Bielarus(sian), Belorussia(n), White Russian, White Ruthenian, Belarus'an (in Canada), etc. (FYI: The double "s" is a remnant of translating the country name to English by way of Russian--just as the English spelling of the name of the Russian composer "Tchaikovsky" shows that it came into English by way of German, the "T" not being needed in English.)

Spellings of "Belarus" in several other languages include:

Language Belarus(ian)
German Weissrussland
French belorussie
Italian alba russa
Norwegian (Long form; both Nynorsk and Bokmål) Republikken Belarus
Norwegian (Short form: Nynorsk) Kviterussland
Norwegian (Short form: Bokmål) Kviterussland or Hviterussland
Swedish Vitryssland


For further discussion of Belarusian language issues, go to the Belarusian Language section.



Where did the Name "Belarus" Come From?

Although the name Belarus most likely means "white Rus", it is a very old term, and there's still no exact version of its origin. ("Rus," historically, refers to the southwestern Slavic territory, but east of Poland, primarily Ukraine, and having nothing whatsoever to do with today's "Russia.") Some historians believe that "white" in old Slavic languages meant "free," pointing to the fact that Belarus was never invaded by the Tatars or under their control, unlike the other principalities later in the 13th - 15th centuries.

Others think that this name is older and served as a difference between Kievan Rus, "Black Rus" - a small territory in the western part of modern Belarus, and the territory known as "White Rus". Whatever the source of this name, it is clear that it is very old and originally corresponded to the territory where the ancestors of the Belarusians lived and where the modern Republic of Belarus is situated.

About as reliable--and widespread--as most "urban myths," some people speculate that the name comes from the many birch trees in Belarus, but that story is not seriously considered by reputable historians.



Where is Belarus Located?

Belarus is a land-locked country in eastern Europe, surrounded by Poland to the west, (and continuing clockwise) Lithuania and Latvia to the west and north, the Russian Federation to the north and east, and Ukraine to the south. It is approximately the size of Britain or the US state of Kansas. Its climate includes cold winters, cool and moist summers, and is transitional between continental and maritime.



The Republic of Belarus in Europe

Map of Belarus in Europe


Map of Cities in Belarus

Belarus, Its Major Cities and Provinces

(Source: National Geographic Magazine, Dec., 1992)


Note: For additional maps, see the Historical Maps section on the Virtual Guide to Belarus Web site.



As has taken place in many European countries over the centuries, and possibly even more true for Belarus, the extent of the land area of the ethnic and linguistic region of Belarus has fluctuated greatly (especially decreased) and thus, some of the people in the surrounding countries identify themselves as ethnic Belarusians.

A lot of Belarusian territory was given away during the Soviet era, and many Belarusians were either imprisoned, killed, or forcibly relocated--as was of course true for many other nationalities. You will find many Belarusians in Latvia, Kazakhstan, and the Murmansk region of Russia, as well as part of the diaspora in North America. Refer to the Belarusian Diaspora Web page for further information. Regrettably, the majority of these "Belarusians" do not identify themselves as Belarusians for a large variety and complex number of reasons. Thus, the Belarusian diaspora, thus far, has not been effective in helping the Republic of Belarus move to a free and vibrant economy, rule of law, and a democratic society.

For more general information about Belarus, see   General Information about Belarus   at the Bucknell University Web site (USA).

Some of the preceding information is summarized and excerpted from Belarus: At a Crossroads in History by Jan Zaprudnik.


The Purpose of the A Belarus Miscellany Web Site

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This Web site, A Belarus Miscellany, is intended to collect and make available as much accurate information as possible about the Republic of Belarus and the Belarusian people--both inside and outside of the Republic of Belarus. In particular, this Web site started by providing information not found on the several other Belarus-related Web sites in existence at the time (January, 1996). (Note: Throughout this Web site, the term "Belarusian" is used in the broadest sense possible.)

Obviously, information has been collected from a variety of sources with the help of many people. Collecting such information is clearly a group effort, and I thank all who have taken the time to make contributions (that is, provide new content, corrections, updates, etc.).

Although the A Belarus Miscellany Web site includes many links to other online information--including multimedia Web sites, usenet newsgroups, and Internet e-mail lists, it is even more importantly a place to find information about things and places not on the Internet. If you have information about Belarus you feel should be here but isn't, please contact me.

To learn more about Belarus and to participate in its two online forums, please join either or both of the following:




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Original content and overall form ©1996-2004 by Peter Kasaty : All Rights Reserved. Last Updated:  2001/03/22
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