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.)
- The best starting point for a general, multimedia
introduction to Belarus is the following site maintained by Alex Artsyukhovich and
others: The Virtual Guide to Belarus
- For an interesting summary of Belarusian history, see
A summary of Belarusian history by Jauhen Reshatau & Dmitry Zelenko
- See also two US Government collections of information related
to Belarus: CIA Fact Book entry for Belarus (1997) and US Library of Congress Country
- See also the following general collection of information
related to Belarus on Britannica.com. (in English) (Britannica.com rates the
"A Belarus Miscellany" one of the best Web sites about Belarus!) -- click the
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?
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
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
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
|Norwegian (Long form; both Nynorsk and Bokmal)
|Norwegian (Short form: Nynorsk)
|Norwegian (Short form: Bokmal)
||Kviterussland or Hviterussland
- Norwegian information is courtesy of Herman Ranes:
- A list for many other languages is at
http://www.nlp.f2s.com/belarus.html and is maintained by Alexander Mikhailian:
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
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.
Most of the preceding is an excerpt from the historical
essay in another section of this A Belarus Miscellany Web site. Note, that Web
"page" is quite large -- about 80 KB.
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.
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
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
Some of the preceding information is summarized and
excerpted from Belarus: At a Crossroads in History by Jan Zaprudnik.