The oldest finds are from the Middle Paleolithic (about 300,000-40,000 years ago). The southwestern edge of the country was reached by the Neolithic linear band ceramic culture and later by the tripole culture (4000-2800 BC). The central and northern parts were then dominated by groups of the non-agricultural pit-pottery culture.
With the battle ax culture at the end of the Neolithic (2000s BC) followed a more extensive spread of agriculture; Flint mines from this time have also been investigated. During much of the Bronze Age, from the second millennium BC, the culture of northern Belarus was linked to that of the Baltic, while the central and southern parts exhibit conditions similar to those of Ukraine and southern Poland. At the end of the Bronze Age, an influence from the Central European Lausitz culture can be demonstrated.
During the 600s BC iron mill was introduced. In northern and central Belarus, the so-called Dnieper – Dvina culture flourished with, among other things, numerous small, fortified settlements and a pottery that bears similarities to the one in the Baltic. In the southwest, the cultural-historical course was largely the same as in Ukraine.
From the 400s AD became a northern hallmark of culture throughout Belarus, and the connection with the Baltic is evident in the finds; however, the changes that can be observed took place within the framework of a local tradition. The unambiguous Slavic expansion reached southern Belarus only about 650, and significant Baltic elements can be followed until the 1100s. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Belarus.
The Belarussian territory was inhabited in the 8th century by two tribes of partly mixed Baltic-Slavic origin. These were incorporated into the Kiev-Russian Empire, Kievrus. An important support point for this was already in Polotsk in the 8th century. In Kievru’s disintegration in various sub-tribunals, in Belarusian area Smolensk and Polotsk-Vitsebsk were most important. They were incorporated during the 1300s as fairly independent parts of the expanding Grand Principality of Lithuania, which in 1386 merged with Poland in the personnel union.
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The Belarusians, Christianized from Byzantium in the 9th century, developed an increasingly distinctive culture as a result of the political separation from the other East Slavic people. This development was further promoted by the Bible being translated into Belarusian in the early 16th century and disseminated through the art of letterpress. One opposing factor, however, was the social; the Belarussians belonged mainly to the agrarian subclass, while the area’s politically, economically and culturally dominant groups consisted of urban-based poles, Russians and eventually also Jews. The Polish cultural influence became particularly strong since the personnel union in 1569 was transformed into a real union under Polish dominance, and by the end of the 17th century the Belarusian culture began to be suppressed and persecuted.
The trend towards reduced autonomy and increased assimilation continued since Poland was divided three times (1772–95) and Belarus ended up in Russia and the Tsar Empire. The Belarusian language was banned in print and could not be used in the few Belarusian schools. In 1839, the Unitarian church was banned, and the following year the name Belarus was removed in favor of a Russian government subdivision on administrative but not ethnic grounds.
The national awakening that created concern in several of the western territories of the tsarist empire affected only marginally Belarus, although a small group of Belarusian intellectuals created embryos into a national literature. It was not until the end of the 19th century that the ethnic term Belarusian was used more generally to distinguish the Belarussians from the large Russian and Lesser Russian (Ukrainian) neighbors. During the first years of the 20th century, the first Belarusian political parties, with autonomy for Belarus, were founded on the program. The newly awakened political interest was not only related to the tsarist repression. It had its deeper background in the social development of the 19th century, with the cessation of life property and the emergence of an independent peasant class, industrialization and urban expansion.
Following the violent political turbulence that followed the First World War, the Bolshevik takeover of Russia in 1917, the Russian-Polish War 1919-20 and the peace in Riga in 1921, Belarus was divided between the restored Poland and the newly established Soviet state. In the eastern part, the Socialist Soviet Republic of Belarus was established in 1922 with Minsk as its capital. After a brief period of prosperity for the national culture, the Stalin era’s policy of politics followed, which went hand in hand with the annihilation of the independent Belarusian peasant class, large-scale deportations of leading Belarusians and reckless restructuring.
With the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939 and World War II, the western part of Belarus was brought to the Soviet Union. The war brought enormous human and material havoc to the country. The population was homogenized ethnically; almost all the Jewish people were destroyed during the war, while many Poles were moved from western Belarus to Poland after the war. Of the historical gentlemen, there remained only the Russians, who, through continued domination and assimilation policy, maintained a firm political and cultural grip on the Belarussian Soviet Republic.
The independent Belarus
The first leader of the independent Belarus became Stanislau Shushchevich (born 1934), who together with the leaders of Russia and Ukraine Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kravtjukin December 1991, signed the document that led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union (the so-called Belavezia Agreement, after the Belarusian town where the leaders met). Belarus had already declared its independence in August 1991, but it took until March 1994 before a new post-Soviet constitution was adopted. According to Soviet tradition, Stanislav Shushchevich, as the Speaker of Parliament, became the first Belarusian head of state. His time as a leader was marked by media openness and a renaissance for Belarusian culture. However, Shushevich was seen by the public as responsible for the economic crisis that arose after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
In the first presidential election in July 1994, former Kolchos chairman and MP Aljaksandr Lukashenka was instead appointed to the president. While this election is considered to have been conducted reasonably correctly, all subsequent parliamentary and presidential elections have been free. Lukashenka’s presidential regime has evolved into a dictatorship, with persecution of dissent, fierce control of the mass media, manipulated referendums and elections, and constant violations of the constitution as a hallmark. His precocious or prosovetic orientation has since a referendum in 1995 led to a political and economic rapprochement between Belarus and the Russian Federation. In the same year, the Russian was reinstated as the official language, after having been allowed to stand back for the Belarusian during the first post-Soviet years. The Soviet state arms were also reintroduced, slightly modified.
Until 2004, the president could only sit for two terms, but after a disputed referendum, that restriction was removed, which allowed Lukashenka to remain in power for an unlimited amount of time in accordance with the new constitution. The presidential and parliamentary elections that have been held since 1994 have also been condemned as unrestricted by organizations such as the OSCE and the UN. Economically, Belarus has become increasingly dependent on Russian subsidies on oil and natural gas, as well as Russian financial support. The Russian state also owns a large part of Belarusian oil and natural gas infrastructure, and it was in exchange for additional financial support that Lukashenka made the decision to join Belarus to the Moscow-led Euro-Asian Union in 2012.
As a result of the democratic shortcomings, in 2004 the EU targeted sanctions against Belarus, mainly against arms sales but also travel bans and the freezing of EU financial assets for 243 Belarusian politicians and other decision-makers. Since Belarus was judged to have released the last political prisoners in 2016, the EU lifted most of its sanctions on its politicians, including Lukashenka. Only four names then remained on the sanction list, persons identified as responsible for “unresolved disappearances”.
Belarussian civil society has been under heavy pressure under Lukashenka all the time. In 1999 and 2000, several high-ranking government opponents disappeared without a trace, supposedly murdered, and others were arrested, fined or otherwise harassed. The regime controls all major media, mainly TV and radio broadcasts, where the only nationwide channels in the country are owned by the state. The state also has a monopoly on printers, postal services and subscription services. The Belarusian opposition mainly uses the Internet and social media to communicate. The authorities have not completely restricted access to the Internet, but all Internet-based media must register with the authorities, and online media are subject to the same restrictions as print media.
Belarus is the only country in Europe that applies the death penalty that is enforced by a head shot. No aggregate statistics on how many people have been executed are available, but it is estimated that there are 250-400 people since 1991. For this reason, Belarus is not allowed to participate in the Council of Europe, which prohibits the death penalty.
Belarus’s relations with the EU and the US are strained as a result of the regime’s authoritarian rule and repeated violations of human rights. Relations with the Russian Federation have also deteriorated in recent years and the completion of the Russian-Belarusian Union has stopped. Belarus has opposed parts of Russian foreign policy and the Russian Federation has responded by reducing its support for the Belarusian economy. Belarus, in turn, has come to turn more toward other countries, such as China, as a source of new investment in the economy. The Russian Federation and Belarus conducted a joint military exercise in 2017, partly on Belarusian territory, indicating that relations in security and defense remained strong.