This week let’s visit Belarus, a country in eastern Europe!
The history of Belarus is inseparable from its neighbors. While Belarusians share a characteristic ethnic identity and language, much of Belarusian history is sparked by regional forces and their effects on the people of Belarus. Before it became independent in 1991, Belarus was known as Belorussia or White Russia, one of the three Slavic republics included in the Soviet Union. Since its independence, Belarus has maintained ties with Russia, and its history can be seen through its governing style.
Belarus is a landlocked country, roughly a third of the size of its neighbor Ukraine. Almost twenty percent of the population lives in the capital of Minsk, a modern city at the center of Belarus. Famous for its primeval forests and wetlands, which cover almost half of the country, Belarus is known by some as the ‘Lungs of Europe’. The Belovezhskaya Forest on the western border is one of the largest remaining areas of primeval mixed forest in Europe. Historically, it was used as a private hunting forest for Polish kings and Russian tsars.
Belarusian and Russian are the official languages of Belarus. Belarusian is an East Slavic language that is related to both Russian and Ukrainian. There are dialects that are closer to both. It is written in Cyrillic alphabet and has words derived from Polish and Russian. An older form of Belarusian was the official language of the grand duchy of Lithuania, of which present-day Belarus was part of.
Despite the considerable efforts made by past occupants of Belarus to suppress their native language and identity, Belarusians have succeeded in preserving their distinct culture. A popular traditional holiday is Kupala Night, one of the oldest folk holidays dedicated to the sun and efflorescence. The word “Kupalo” meant “wrathful”, “scorching”, “blistering”, which reflect the way ancestors described the sun. People also thanked other powers such as Fire, Water, and Earth.