Site Information:  Newly Independent States of the Former Soviet Union



Public Affairs Source: Bureau of Public Affairs, Office of Public Communication Description: Washington, DC Date: May 27, 19925/27/92 Category: Site Information Region: Eurasia Country: Belarus, USSR (former) Subject: History, Democratization, Trade/Economics, Cultural Exchange Map: Central, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Republics [TEXT]


According to archeological evidence, Belarus has been inhabited since prehistoric times, although the first recorded settlements date back to the 6th century AD. Small towns, most of which were founded by the end of the 12th century, dotted the region, and gradually came under the control of the princes of Kiev. They ruled Belarus until the invasion of the Mongols in 1240, when most of the towns were destroyed. The region came under the control of powerful Lithuanians and, later, under the Lithuanian-Polish Jagiellon Dynasty in 1386. For centuries, the Poles and the Muscovites struggled bitterly over Belarus. In 1772, Catherine the Great gained control over part of the country, and, by 1795, Russia ruled all of Belarus. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the country again became a European battleground. Napoleon passed through Belarus-and fought there-in 1812, and the Germans fought the Russians on Belarussian territory in World War I. Although a Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed in January 1919, fighting with Poland continued until 1921. Belarus suffered heavy losses in World War II, but experienced a great post-war rebirth. The residents of Minsk quickly rebuilt railways, institutes, and schools. Because of these efforts, Minsk's economic output doubled in the 10 years between 1940 and 1950. Belarus declared its independence on August 25, 1991.

Minsk-The Heart of White Russia

Minsk, the capital of Belarus, was first mentioned in 1067 as a trading center on the route from Russia to Poland. It became capital of the region in 1101 and was annexed to Lithuania in 1326. Starting in 1569, Minsk was joined to Poland, an arrangement that expired with the second partition of Poland in 1793, when Russia claimed suzerainty. Despite its economic success, Minsk has not always prospered. Many disasters have affected the city from the 1505 sacking by the Crimean Tatars to the French, German, and Polish occupations that occurred between 1812 and 1920. This destruction climaxed during World War II, when 300,000 people were killed, and 74% of the city's housing was destroyed. In addition to being the capital, Minsk is also the cultural center of Belarus. Entertainment and arts events are provided by small theaters, a music conservatory, and a theater of opera and ballet. Because of the massive wartime destruction, little of Minsk's historical past remains. The most notable architectural sites in Minsk today are the Ekaterina Cathedral and Bernardine Convent, both built in the 17th century. Modern Minsk was rebuilt in the utilitarian designs favored by the early Soviet leadership.