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Belarus citizens overwhelmingly voted against the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1991 referendum, have often sought stability, but had to settle for stagnation. The Republic of Belarus is a legal successor of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. On 27 July 1990, the Supreme Soviet of the BSSR adopted a Declaration on State Sovereignty. A year later the Declaration was granted the status of a constitutional law.

The overall territory of Belarus is 207.600 square kilometers. As of 1 January 1996 the population of the Republic reached a total of 10,265,200 people of 100 nationalities. According to the census of 1989, Belarusians accounted for 77.9%, Russians for 13.2%, Poles for 4.1%, Ukrainians for 2.9%, Jews for 1.1% while Tatars, Gypsies and Lithuanians for 0.1 % of the total population each. Other nationalities are represented by less than one thousand. Despite the multinational population, there were no interethnic conflicts for the recent decades. Minsk is the capital of the Republic of Belarus with 1,700,300 inhabitants. The population density in Belarus is fairly low: 49 people per square kilometer.

The geopolitical location of Belarus is favorable (between West and East in the center of Europe). It borders the Russian Federation in the East, Poland in the West, Lithuania and Latvia in the North and the Ukraine in the South. Natural conditions in the Republic are very favorable for people's living and activity: continental temperate climate, predominantly flat- mountainous relief, well-developed hydrogeographical network, variety of soils, rich flora and fauna.

Originally (since XIV century), the term of "Belaya Rus" (White Rus or Russia) denoted one of dialect-ethnographic areas, mostly the North-East (Novgorod, Pskov, Polotsk and Vitebsk lands), of the all-east ancient Slavic community. In Russian sources of the XV century "White Rus" is frequently identified with the "Great Moscow Rus". There exist various interpretations of the "White Rus" term. Some researchers associate it with independence from the Tatar-Mongols ("white" is treated as "free") , from early Christianization and even with the more privileged status of the Polotsk and Vitebsk lands within the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. From the second half of XVI century the term "White Rus" was used to denote the territory between Lithuania and the Moscow State. They began to call the Slavic population of these territories "Belarustsy"(Belarusians).

In the period from XIII to the first half of XIV century., the Belarusian and Lithuanian ethnical territories were united by local princes into a sort of federation: the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL). Since XV century it had been officially called the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Russia and Zhemojtia. As an early feudal monarchy, GDL had been formed during the reign of the GrandDuke Mindauh (c. 1200-1263). In the XIII century, the residence of the Lithuanian princes was the Belarusian town of Novogrudok.

The Grand Duchy of Lithuania had been weakened by wars with the Moscow State, by the Crimean Khanate in XVI century, and by everlasting intercine wars between feudals and princes within the state. Thus pushed by the Lithuanian and Belarusian gentry striving for the same privileges and rights as those enjoyed by the Polish feudals, the GDL was forced to enter into an alliance with Poland.

Long-lasting and devastating wars in the second half on the 17th and the early 18th century (anti-feudal war, 1648-1651; wars between Poland (Rzecz Pospolita) and Sweden in 1655-1660, Russia in 1654-1667, and the Northern War , 1700-17210 , social disturbances, intercine wars between magnates and gentry accounted for prolonged political decline and crisis of Rzecz Pospolita and the Belarusian lands.

Incorporation of the Belarusian land into the Russian Empire had both the positive and negative effects. On the one hand, Belarus had been liberated from forced Polonization and integrated into the All-Russian economic system. Intercine feuds were stopped and anarchism of gentry was eradicated. On the other hand, the policy of Russification, long-lasting serfdom and its survivals hindered the development of its economy. Occupied by the Russian empire from the end of the 18th century until 1918, Belarus declared its short-lived National Republic on March 25, 1918, only to be forcibly absorbed by the Bolsheviks into what became the Soviet Union.

On 22 June 1941 fascist Germany attacked the USSR. That was the beginning of the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union which lasted from 1941 to 1945. Belarus had become an arena of heavy fighting. As a consequence of the Red Army retreat, a Hitlerite occupation regime was temporarily established on the territory. For the time of occupation, fascist invaders annihilated over 2,200,000 inhabitants of Belarus. Every fourth inhabitant of the Republic perished.

At the Crimean Conference (February 1945) the Heads of the Governments of Great Britain , USA and USSR there was achieved an agreement that the USSR would be represented in the international security organization by two more of sixteen Republics: Belarussia and the Ukraine. The Resolution of the Constituent Conference (San Francisco, April-June 1945) about the inclusion of the Ukrainian SSR and the BSSR in the number of founders of the United Nations Organization became a decisive factor for the Republics to enter the international scene as a subject of the international law. The basis for the BSSR and the Ukrainian SSR to be received to the UN was a formally sovereign nature of these Republics as well as international recognition of contribution of the peoples of Belarus and the Ukraine to the defeat of Nazi Germany and their great sacrifices in the struggle against fascism. On 26 June 1945 the BSSR signed the Charter of the United Nations that was ratified by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the BSSR in July the same year.

The membership of the Republic in the UN opened up prospects for its participation (within the framework of the USSR initiatives though) in the discussion and settlement of important problems by the international community, joining the activities of certain special institutions and organizations such as the International Telecommunications Union and the Universal Postal Union (since 1947), the World Meteorological Organization (since 1948), the World Health Organization (1948-1949), the International Labor Organization (since 1954), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, since 1954).

The massive nuclear accident (Apr. 26, 1986) at the Chernobyl power plant, across the border in Ukraine, had a devastating effect on Belarus; as a result of the radiation release, agriculture in a large part of the country was destroyed, and many villages were abandoned. Resettlement and medical costs were substantial and long-term.

According to its amended Constitution, Belarus is a republic with a directly elected President. The President, Alexander Lukashenka (elected in 1994), used a November 1996 referendum to amend the 1994 Constitution in order to broaden his powers, extend his term in office, and replace the unicameral Parliament with a handpicked one, ignoring the then-Constitutional Court's ruling that the Constitution could not be amended by referendum. Most members of the international community criticized the flawed referendum and do not recognize the legitimacy of the 1996 Constitution or the bicameral legislature that it introduced.

After the internationally unrecognized November 1996 constitutional referendum, which resulted in the dissolution of Belarus's legitimate parliament and the centralization of power in the executive branch, Lukashenko provoked a diplomatic crisis by demanding and eventually confiscating diplomatic residences on the Drozdy compound, taking the U.S., German, British, French, Italian, and IMF residences away from those missions, ignoring outstanding lease agreements, and leaving the confiscation uncompensated. In addition, Lukashenko used his newly centralized power to repress human rights throughout the country, but particularly members of the disbanded 13th Supreme Soviet, the legitimately elected parliament at the time, or former members of his own government.

Lukashenka renewed his term of office as President through an election process that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) described as neither free nor fair and as having failed to meet OSCE commitments for democratic elections. Parliamentary elections were held in October 2000, the first since the 1996 referendum. The President and his administration manipulated the election process to ensure an absolute minimum of antiregime candidates and opposition members of the Parliament. The OSCE concluded that the elections were neither free nor fair. The judiciary is not independent.

Profiteering from systemic corruption keeps the governing class faithful to the president. Lukashenko buys the nomenclature's loyalty by allowing them or their family members to receive interests in state-run companies, which they use to line their pockets. Lukashenko thereby keeps the nomenclature financially satisfied, which is preventing the opposition from attracting any nomenclature support. On the other hand, if Russia succeeded in forcing economic concessions out of Lukashenko, the regime could lose its ability to keep the nomenclature satisfied and Lukashenko could fall from power. Lukashenko likely realizes this.

The aftershocks of the 2008 financial crisis, falling oil prices, and Western sanctions meant that Moscow's subsidies to Belarus were sharply reduced. This made it difficult for Lukashenka to maintain the Soviet-style social welfare state that was the basis for his legitimacy. The landscape began to shift in 2014, as Lukashenka was marking two decades in power. Russia's annexation of Crimea and invasion of the Donbas that year raised fears in Minsk that Belarus could someday become a target of Moscow's imperial expansion.

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Page last modified: 22-07-2019 18:25:18 ZULU