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Belarus: Geography, History, Economics and Culture Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 4th, 2020

Introduction

The Republic of Belarus is a European country and a member of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Efforts to appreciate Belarus cannot be successful without examining various aspects such as its natural features, system of governance, economy, and culture. It is also imperative to look at the events that transpired in the early years before the formation of the modern day Belarus.

Knowing this history enables a comprehension of secrecy and the enigma that describe the nationwide psyche in Belarus. Evaluation of credit is vital in deciding whether a country can enter the international capital markets. In addition, it helps promote remarkable expansion, stability and effectiveness of international and domestic markets. Such a feat can only be attained by gaining an insight into the country’s economy. For someone intending to tour Belarus, it is worthwhile to learn about its cultural assortment and monumental buildings.

This paper seeks to give the reader an in-depth understanding of Belarus. It does so by providing the physical characteristics of the country and the natural life (plants and animals) found in Belarus. The paper also provides a brief history of the country, which takes us back in time to the origin of the state and its formation. An economic insight into Belarus is illustrated in this paper while laying emphasis on factors such as currency, gross domestic product as well as the state of employment and unemployment in the country. The paper finally describes the culture of Belarus including various tourist attraction sites.

Geography

Absolute/Relative Location and Size

The Republic of Belarus is a country situated in Eastern Europe on the eastern part of Poland. Its precise coordinates are 53 00 North, 28 00 East. The country covers an area of 207,600 square kilometers out of which 4,700 square kilometers are occupied by water bodies. Belarus shares its southern border with Ukraine. The eastern boundary of Belarus is adjacent to Russia while its western borderline is next to Poland. The northwestern part of Belarus borders Latvia and Lithuania. The total extent of these boundaries is approximately 3036 kilometers.

Nationals of Belarus are referred to as Belarusians. The Central Intelligence Agency estimates that the country is likely to have a population of 9,608,058 in July 2014 (“The World Factbook”). The capital of Belarus is Minsk, which is a city situated at the center of the country. The city is the political, moneymaking, scientific, and social hub of the country as well as the managerial base of the Minsk area. It has a population of about 1.9 million people. Belarus is subdivided into six regions with “118 districts, 111 cities and towns, 97 urban-type communities, and 23,973 rural settlements” (“Republic of Belarus: Environment and Safety” 1).

Hydrological Features

Forty percent of the total area in the Republic of Belarus is occupied by forests, whereas farming lands occupy another 43.7 percent. Swamps and water bodies cover the remaining 6.7 percent. Belarus is a landlocked country and does not have any coastline. However, the country is blessed with a large number of water bodies, which cater for its needs. Belarus has approximately “20,800 rivers, 10,800 lakes, 153 water reservoirs and 1,500 ponds” (“Fresh Water Resources- Belarus” par.1).

The rivers cover a length of about 90,800 kilometers and drain into other rivers that ultimately empty into the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea. The most notable rivers include rivers Dnieper, Western Boug, Sozh, Pripyat, Neman, and Vilia. Some of these rivers connect the Republic of Belarus to other countries. For example, rivers Sohz, Dnieper and Western Boug link Belarus to Russia where they accumulate a significant fraction of their overspill.

Out of the 10,800 lakes, a significant number is distributed between two regions namely Poozerie and Polesie. About six thousand lakes are found in Polesie, whereas four thousand lakes are found in Poozerie. It is worth noting that the largest lake in Belarus is Lake Naroch that covers a vast area of 80 square kilometers. Three quarters of the remaining lakes cover only 0.1 square kilometers and, therefore, fall in the category of small lakes.

The Republic of Belarus boasts of about 150 water reservoirs including the Vileika and Soligorsk Reservoirs. These reservoirs have a capacity to store about 1.24 cubic kilometers of water. The stored water is used in maintaining the water supply of large cities as well as for irrigation purposes. Power generation plants are also cooled using water from these reservoirs.

The mean quantity of locally generated water in Belarus surpasses that of other countries such as the Netherlands, England and Ukraine. However, despite having vast water resources, Belarus faces the challenge of a lopsided dispersal of these resources, which affects the quality of agriculture and other industrial processes that depend on water. In addition, some of the largest rivers are transboundary rivers as they cut through more than one country thereby providing a challenge in the formulation of water laws.

Orographic Features

Belarus is a flat country with lowlands such as the Poltsk Lowland in the northern part of the country and the Dnieper Lowland in the southern part of the country. The southern region of Belarus is characterized by a vast expanse of marshes. However, a small number of hills particularly in the western areas of the country punctuate the lowlands. The Dzerzhinsikaya Mountain is Belarus’ largest mountain with a height of approximately 346 meters (Economic Commission for Europe 1). The lowest region in the country has an altitude of 80 meters and is situated in the Neman River within the region of Grodno. The average altitude of the entire country is about 160 meters.

The Belorussian Ridge, which is an extension of the Smolensk-Moscow Hills, traverses Orsha via Minsk, in addition to Baranovichi and Grodno. This ridge plays the role of a watershed for all the rivers that feed the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. A large number of river valleys subdivide the Belorussian Ridge into a chain of hills, each with its distinct name. The elevations include the Katarsy Mountains found in the Lepel area, the Novogrudok Heights, the Grodno Heights, and the Volkovysk Heights. The Oshmiany Hills traverse the Belorussian Ridge to Vilnius while the Nesvizh Heights cover Baranovichi and Slutsk towns (“The Situation in Belorussia at the Beginning of June 1944: The Plan of the Red Army Belorussian Operation” 5).

Climatic Features

The climatic conditions experienced in Belarus are temperate continental and are largely influenced by air from the Atlantic Ocean (Roberts 4). Consequently, the temperatures range from negative 6.8 degrees Celsius in January (winter) to 17.8 degrees Celsius in July (summer). Winters usually last between a hundred and one hundred and twenty days and are accompanied by great northeasterly winds and snowstorms.

During the summer, thunderstorms are common occurrences particularly in the afternoon hours. According to Roberts, the lowlands in the country experience annual precipitation levels of between 550 and 650 millimeters, whereas higher elevations experience precipitations of between 650 and 750 millimeters (4). The mean vegetation period is between 184 and 208 days. Therefore, such weather makes the country favorable for the farming of cereal crops, potatoes, fruits, and vegetables.

Flora and Fauna

Approximately 70 percent of the total land in Belarus is covered with natural vegetation. Out of this, about 40 percent is occupied by forests, whereas 44 percent is occupied by farmland. Arable land covers about a third of the total farmland. The most predominant trees in the northern region of the country are pines, whereas forests dominated by deciduous trees especially oak trees are noticeable in the southern parts of the country. Other trees found in these forests include spruce, ash trees and alders. Protective rings of silver birch enclose pine trees in most of the areas where pine trees are found. Birch trees mature faster than pine trees and provide protection against adverse water loss to the delicate pine trees (Roberts 4). These forests provide timber and act as homes to a large variety of wildlife.

The unique natural environment is home to an array of fascinating animal species that include seventeen mammal species, fifty-eight fish types, four species of amphibians, seven types of reptiles, seventy-two species of mammals, and an equal number of insect species. Examples of the fascinating mammals include “elk, wild boars, deer, roe deer, hares, beavers, wolves, fox, swamp beavers, minks, American pine martens, waterfowl, and grouse” (“Animals in Belarus” par. 3). A few of the unique bird species found in Belarus are “doves, kestrels, wrens, bullfinches, and woodpeckers” (“Animals in Belarus” par. 5).

Human hunters invade the natural forests of Belarus to hunt some of these rare animals. Natural disasters, cutting of trees for timber and clearing of forests for agricultural land also play a part in endangering the wildlife. As a result, wildlife parks have been created to safeguard the plants and animals in danger of extinction. The earliest nature reserve was founded in 1925. Thereafter, 99 state wildlife asylums in and about 400 local wildlife sanctuaries were created to protect the animals.

History

Early Civilization

Early signs of life were witnessed in areas that form the present day Belarus in the years 100,000 to 40,000 BC (Roberts 9). The Radzimichy, Dryhavichy and Kryvichy people were thought to occupy that area between the seventh and ninth centuries AD. It was during that time that the original Slavic alliances came into being. Thereafter, the initial states were formed in Polotsk, Smolensk and Turov. The Kryvichy were thought to have developed the town of Polotsk at the point where rivers Dzhina and Palota converged. The town was regarded as the first capital of Belarus as well as the spiritual crib of the country.

The coverage of the Polotskian rule covered the regions between the Baltic Sea and Smolnsk. During that time, Byzantine Christianity developed and spread throughout the region as an outcome of trade associations. Consequently, arts, literature and stone-based architecture that developed initiated a novel golden era of creativity, which was characterized by the Turov Gospels and the Cathedral of Saint Sophia in Polotsk (Roberts 9). The cathedral not only served as a place of worship, but also as a demonstration of the state’s supremacy and importance. Foreign ambassadors were officially received there. Important decrees were also made at that point. In addition, the building was used to safeguard the area’s resources and secrets.

The Grand Duchy of Lithuania

A vital phase in the memoirs of present Belarus was developed in the thirteenth century. The fundamentals of the Belarusian language were created in the initial half of that century. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania that united several Belarusian territories to resist the danger of incursion from “the Teutonic Knights from the west, Turks from the south and the Golden Horde of Mongol Tartars from the East” was also formed (Roberts 10). The union won many battles and led to the possession of Kernave, Samogitia, Trakai, and Vilnius, which formed part of the duchy. King Mindaugas was made the ruler of the Lithuanian duchy (in 1253) when Novogrudok was made the capital of the duchy. Seventy years later, the capital status was transferred to Vilnius under the rule of Vitautis who extended the rule of the duchy earning it worldwide esteem.

Poland and Lithuania combined forces to gain victory over the Teutonic Order (Roberts 10). In 1569, the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth led to the formation of a new federative state referred to as Rzeczpospolita. Its rule extended from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. The state was subdivided into provinces and managerial localities that were referred to as povets. However, the original Lithuanian duchy retained its administration, monetary systems, defense force, and symbols. The Livonian war against Muscovy arose in 1558 due to a contending scuffle for power in the Baltic region. The war, which lasted two and a half decades, was won by the new State of Muscovy and led to the securing of supremacy and control in the eastern Baltic.

A great agrarian revolution took place in the sixteenth century amidst relentless wars ending in the incarnation of the notion of serfdom in a statute established in 1588. During that time, towns that were under self-governance developed at an alarming rate with the growth of urban craft and protection of society. Therefore, trade also flourished from the craft.

The Church

The Reformation influenced the institution of Protestant doctrines such as Lutheranism and Calvinism in the sixteenth century. That period was characterized by substantial religious acceptance and stability. However, the end of the century saw the beginning of the Counter Reformation with the emergence of the Brest Church Union in 1596, which was a result of a merger between Catholicism and Orthodoxy. The Orthodox Church in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania accepted the preeminence of Rome whilst preserving its own practices, traditions and sets of guidelines. However, a large number of Orthodox believers refused to embrace religious suppression and the economic burden on the peasantry under the Brest Church Union leading to extensive inner dissension and resistance to feudalism.

The Rise and Influence of Russia

The internal strife in the state of Rzeczpospolita caused Russia to take advantage of the situation and mount an attack against the state in 1654. The struggle lasted 13 years and saw the occupation of a large part of Belarus by the Russians. Consequently, serious financial and demographic catastrophes arose. The towns were destroyed, and the population was reduced by fifty percent. Between 1700 and 1721, the Swedes waged war against the Russians and the State of Rzeczpospolita. The grounds that are now present day Belarus formed the battleground for that war. Decades of economic ruins created by the war were only salvaged in the 1750s with the restoration of trade and commerce as undeveloped marketplace economy. The war also brought about a prolonged political disaster to the country. King Stanislav August Ponyatovsky attempted to unite the central power, but he was met head-on by a dynamic resistance that had reinforcements from foreign countries.

In 1772, the misunderstandings between Orthodox and Protestant believers in Rzeczpospolita brought the first division in the country, which saw countries such as Austria, Prussia and Russia take advantage of the situation. The eastern part of modern day Belarus was seized and integrated into the Russian Empire. Two decades later, central Belarus was also captured. In 1795, Belarus was divided for the third and fourth times, which led to the extinction of Rzeczpospolita as an autonomous state. Its areas were governed by the Russian Empire, and its people had to pay taxes and duty to the empire.

The Russians dominated for a period of 17 years. In 1812, the modern day Belarus was the key battlefield during the Napoleonic invasion of Russia. The initial state emancipation lobby group developed following the war due to an influx of democratic ideas that came from the communal and managerial void from the war. Consequently, in 1830, a revolt occurred to reinstate the original boundaries of Rzeczpospolita. The revolution was unsuccessful, but it destabilized the standing of Catholicism. The 1588 statute that codified the autonomous Grand Duchy of Lithuania was annulled leaving the region of modern day Belarus to subsist as a section of the Russian Empire.

In the nineteenth century, the Tsars tried to cling to power more than ever. The Russian influence became strong, and any attempts to defy it were restrained with violence. The Belarusian people were prohibited from speaking their language, a fact that was emphasized by a written law. However, patriotic ideas continued to grow in secrecy regardless of the restrictions imposed. In 1864, the state emancipation lobby group rose up against the Tsars.

The movement was defeated, but it set the basis for the endurance of the group in the twentieth century (Roberts 13). An insurgent organization Gomon, which was equal to the principles and civil liberties of a budding Belarusian nation, was created in the 1880s. Jews from all over the empire were forced to relocate into the modern day Belarus causing its population to increase significantly.

The 20th Century

In 1903, the earliest opinionated party (Gromada) was created. The party intended to defeat autocracy and form a Russian coalition of self-governing states. German troops captured the town of Minsk in February 1918. During the period of the First World War, the Belarusian culture grew as the German rule allowed schools that used the Belarusian language, which had previously been prohibited by the Russian Empire. However, the Polish military government banned those schools again in the subsequent year. The Germans occupied Belarus by the end of the First World War. The Brest-Litovsk pact led to the declaration of the Belarus National Republic, which was a section of the Mitteleuropa plan.

In 1918, the Germans pulled out from the Ober-Ost territory causing the Mitteleuropa to become obsolete. The political vacuum created was occupied by the Soviet troops at the end of 1918. As a result, the committee of the Belarus National Republic went into exile in Berlin, Kaunas and Prague. The Soviet Socialist Republic of Byelorussia was acknowledged in January 1919. However, it only lasted one month as it was split and integrated into the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR). The Lithuanian-Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (Litbel) was then formed. Belarus National Republic challenged Litbel. At the same time, the external Polish and Russian forces sought to reclaim what they considered their land. The Polish military took over Minsk leading to the dissolution of Litbel in July 1919.

Belarusian Soviet Republic

Ataman Wiaczesław Adamowicz who led the Belarus anti-Soviet units agreed to cooperate with the Polish army that seized Minsk leading to the formation of Belarusian units. In 1920, Józef Piłsudski from Poland led an incursion into Ukraine that was known as the Kiev Offensive. The incursion met a strong resistance by the Soviet Red Army that saw the recapturing of Minsk and the subsequent formation of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR).

The Riga pact terminated the conflict between the Polish and the Soviet Republic leading to yet another subdivision of the BSSR. The subdivision was effected between Soviet Russia and Poland. The Great Purge led to the killing of nearly all Belarusian national intelligentsia. Thousands of people of other nationalities were also killed. The use of the Belarusian language was prohibited since it was regarded as a rebellion against the Soviet. Polish families settled in western Belarus and imposed their traditions on all marginal groups in the region. Consequently, Belarusian formal institutes and schools were totally abolished.

The Second World War

The Soviet invasion into Poland in 1939 saw much of eastern Poland taken over by the BSSR. During that time, the Belarusian culture and language had short-lived affluence. The language was used extensively in most schools and areas of settlement. The German invasion into the Soviet Union in 1941 led to the mass departure of a fifth of Belarusian population and annihilation of food supplies. The Germans managed to capture Minsk and occupy the Belarus region. The Second World War saw the mass killing of anybody that tried to resist the Germans. Thousands of people were also sold as slaves. A small resistance movement against the Nazis was formed in 1942 by the Jews. The movement carried out its operations underground in the bushes and secretly destroyed German supply chains and communication systems. A radical process instigated in 1944 led to the recalling of Minsk and reinstating of Belarus. However, the Second World War caused Belarus to lose a significant portion of its population and infrastructure.

The Soviet Union contributed to rebuilding the economy of BSSR making Belarus the hub of industrialization in the western area of the USSR. The many job opportunities that were created led to an influx of Russians into Belarus. Therefore, the Russian language became the formal lingo of administration.

The Chernobyl Disaster

An explosion happened at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant found in Ukraine in April 1986 (Roberts 16). The blast caused a great fire that freed large quantities of radioactive substances such as iodine-131, americium-241 and cesium-137 among many others that spread to the Soviet Union and Scandinavia (Roberts 16). The power plant was situated close to the Belarusian boundary implying that much of the harmful radioactive substance contaminated Belarus. Two hundred thousand people were moved out of the area and resettled elsewhere. The disaster left extensive economic, ecologic, health, and social damages in Belarus as extensive measures were taken to mitigate the effects of radiation. Incidences of thyroid cancer rose tremendously in Belarus due to that incident.

The Republic of Belarus

Belarus announced its self-governance in July 1990 leading to the renaming of the BSSR to the Republic of Belarus later in August 1991. The Soviet Union was then disbanded by the then leaders of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. Alexander Lukashenko was chosen as the first president of the Republic of Belarus following the earliest presidential voting in 1994 (Roberts 20). Economic growth slowed significantly under his rule, and he was criticized of dictatorship. Despite his shortcomings, Lukashenko was chosen as president again in 2001 and 2006 in controversial voting.

Political System

Government Type and Composition

The Republic of Belarus is a ‘unitary democratic social law-governed state’ in accordance with Article 1 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus. The president is the main head of state. This office is currently held by Alexander Lukashenka. The government, on the other hand, is headed by the Prime Minister whose office is currently occupied by Mikhail Myasnikovich. The prime minister is selected by the president. The constitution allows the members of the country to elect their president directly every five years (Ioffe 90).

Political Representation

Belarus has a parliament that consists of the Council of the Republic with 64 seats as well as the House of representatives that has 110 seats (Roberts 19). The Council of the Republic represents the various territories in the country. The president has a mandate to choose an eighth of the council members while the other seven eighths is voted in by the regional councils. Voters are allowed to elect the assistants to the House of Representatives. The Belarusian government also has a State Committee for Security abbreviated as KGB. Its leader is appointed by the president alone. Local councils of deputies enable citizens to effect local and self administration through participation in activities such as regional referenda and area meetings.

The Council of Deputies works in three main levels namely primary, basic and regional. The primary level of operation involves villages while the basic level involves towns and regional councils. The regional level of operation, on the other hand, involves the Regional Council of Deputies in parliament. This council stands in for the local people on matters regarding health, social welfare, transportation, education, and commerce.

Political Division

The Republic of Belarus is subdivided into six political units known as voblasts. The voblasts are regarded as provinces or regions, and they include Brest, Horad, Homyel (Gomel), Hrodna (Grodno), Mahilyow (Mogilev), and Vitsebsk (Vitebsk). The seventh political unit is Minsk, which is the capital of Belarus. The Minsk region also considers the city of Minsk its headquarters. The voblasts are further subdivided into districts referred to as raions.

Executive

The president is the head of state, whereas the prime minister is in charge of government. The cabinet comprises the council of ministers. The president who appoints the prime minister and deputy prime minister is elected through a popular vote. The president is “the guarantor of certain inalienable rights and institutions including the constitution and the rights and freedom of individual citizens” (Roberts 19).

President Alexander Lukashenka progressively merged powers via dictatorial means from the time of his election in 1994. Consequently, all checks and balances were eliminated giving him control over all divisions of the government. Some of the effects of his actions saw him reelected as president repeatedly through unethical means. In 1996, the president also used his influence to make changes to the constitution to expand his influence and prolong his tenure as president (Silitski and Zaprudnik 162). In 2004, he foisted a deceptive referendum that got rid of term restrictions on the presidency. He even went ahead to ensure that the poll results matched his interests. His actions did not please other European countries and led to economic sanctions and travel prohibitions for Lukashenka and his senior officials.

Legislative

The National Assembly serves as a representative and law-making organization. As mentioned earlier, it is made up of the House of Representatives and the Council of the Republic (Roberts 19). The House of Representatives is responsible for making of bills that intend to be laws. The bills are then passed by the Council of the Republic for them to become laws (Roberts 20).

Judicial Powers

The courts in Belarus possess the judicial powers as stipulated by the constitution. The compliance of various national bodies to the requirements of the constitution is overseen by the Constitutional Court. The president of the Republic of Belarus has the power to decide on the occupants of key positions in the judiciary. For example, the Constitutional Court consists of twelve magistrates out of which half are selected by the president.

The president also selects all judges of the common jurisdiction and financial courts. However, he seeks the approval of the Council of the Republic in appointing other judicial officials such as heads of the Supreme Court, the Supreme Economic Court and the Constitutional Court. Other officials such as “the General Prosecutor, the Chairman of the National Bank, and the Chairman of the Central Election Commission” are also chosen with the approval of the members of the Council of the Republic (“Belarus: Government” par. 1).

National Symbols

The constitution of the Republic of Belarus specifies that the state flag, the state emblem and the state anthem are the indications of dominion (Kolst 677). The state flag is a rectangular hessian that consists of a pair of parallel bands of color. The upper band that forms more than half of the width is red, whereas the bottom band has a green color. The left end of the flag (near the flag pole) consists of a vertical strip made of a white and red pattern.

Belarus’ state emblem is a green sketch of the country. Bright beams of the sun shining over the earth illuminate the sketch, which has a red star with five ends positioned at the top. The right section of the insignia is surrounded by a garland of golden wheat entangled with clover blossoms. Flax blossoms matted with golden wheat appear on the left side of the badge. A red and green ribbon encloses the heads of wheat. The center of the ribbon has a golden caption of the words ‘Republic of Belarus.’

The national hymn of Belarus retains the musical foundation of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. The theme of the national anthem is the advancement of Belarus as an independent and peaceful nation. It calls attention to the loyalty and conscience of the nation as well as peaceful coexistence among members of different nationalities in the country.

The Pahonia, which is an illustration of an attacking horseman, is another state symbol used in Belarus with a history that dates to many centuries. Its establishment and conversion to a national symbol entailed a sequence of historical occurrences. The primeval sign of the Pahonia was fashioned during the era of the Slavic history. It was also used as a symbol in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. However, confusion and disputes concerning the legitimate owner of the Pahonia between Belorussia and Lithuania stopped its usage in Belarus.

Economics

Currency and Exchange Rate

The official currency used in Belarus is the Belarus Ruble, which is abbreviated as BYB or BYR. The Belarus ruble took the place of the Soviet Union Ruble following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992. The shortage of Russian Rubles during trade led to the introduction of the Belarus Ruble. However, the Russians were reluctant to accept the Belarusian Ruble as a means of payment. Varying situations forced the National Bank of Belarus to use different exchange rates for the Belarus Ruble making it difficult to associate the BYL with a given exchange rate. Two years later, a newer ruble (BYB) whose value was equivalent to one hundred old rubles was introduced. In 2000, another ruble (BYR) whose value was equal to 1000 of the old rubles was also launched. The Belarusian Ruble is an extremely volatile currency with varying exchange rates since its inception. In 1999, for example, one U.S. dollar was equal to 500,000 rubles.

Currently, one US dollar (USD) is equivalent to 9,840 Belarusian Rubles (“National Bank of the Republic of Belarus”). The Euro is equivalent to 13,500 BYR, whereas the Great Britain Pound (GBP) is equal to 16,230.59 BYL (“National Bank of the Republic of Belarus”).

Gross Domestic Product

Belarus has a comparatively strong industrial base as a member of the ex-USSR having retained its industries when it separated from the Soviet Union. However, with advancing times these industries have become old-fashioned and uneconomical in their energy use. The Republic of Belarus plays a significant role in the economy of the country by supporting business ventures owned by the state. For example, farming receives considerable state support as subsidies. The first surge of capitalistic reforms between 1991 and 1994 that saw the privatization of state ventures greatly slowed down the economic growth of the country. A hostile economic environment also prevented foreign investors. However, a sudden increase in the prices of oil in the mid 2000s revitalized the economy.

According to reports issued by the World Bank, the gross domestic product (GDP) of Belarus increased by 8.3% yearly between 2001 and 2008 (“Belarus Overview”). Cheap oil imports from Russia and exports of oil products and fertilizer (potash) contributed to the growth. Russia’s adjustments of its oil prices according to the global market prices led to a decline in economic growth. Just like any other country, Belarus was not exempted from the global economic crisis in 2008 and 2009. Consequently, the GDP reduced to 0.2% in 2009. The government of Belarus responded by adjusting its foreign exchange rates, which caused a slight improvement in 2010.

However, an expansion in monetary plans and increased lending by financial institutions caused a negative growth of about 15% as well as a soaring rate of inflation that began at 70% reaching 109% in the year 2011. Stringent fiscal and monetary rules set between 2011 and 2012 led to the restoration of macroeconomic steadiness in 2013. Inflation was reduced to about 22%, and the GDP improved from a deficit of 13% in 2010 to a deficit of less than 3% by 2013 (“Belarus Overview”).

Per Capita Income

Belarus has witnessed an increase in per capita income within the last five years. In 2009, the per capita income was 5,183 U.S. dollars increasing to $5,819 and $6,785 in 2010 and 2011 respectively. By the end of 2012, the per capita income had grown to $6,685 (“GDP Per Capita (Current US$)”).

Labor Composition

By the year 2009, the labor force in Belarus consisted of 5,000,000 people. Out of those people, 9.4% participated in the agricultural sector while 44.7% worked in the service sector. The remaining 45.9% worked in various industries. One interesting fact about the labor force in Belarus is the high level of literacy. More than half of the labor force possesses a qualification from an institution of higher learning.

Unemployment Rate

Despite the ups and downs witnessed by the economy in Belarus, the country has relatively low rates of unemployment. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, the country had an unemployment rate of 1.6 percent in 2005, which came down to one percent by December 2013 (“The World Factbook”). The highest rate of unemployment ever attained in the country was 4% in 1996.

Main Exports and Imports

Belarus brings in large quantities of oil among other wares such as food items, chemicals, minerals, and technology. Most of these imports are obtained from Germany, Ukraine and Russia.

Belarus has rich sources of potash, which is used as a fertilizer. Potash is the country’s key export commodity. It is thought that approximately 16% of the global supply of potash comes from Belarus. Other minerals present in the country are chalk, clay, dolomite, and potassium salt. Since most of the country’s population work in the manufacturing industry, machinery equipment is part of the key exports. They include items such as metal-cutting machines, tractors, earthmovers, trucks, televisions, refrigerators, radios, and motorcycles. Chemicals and textiles also make up the exports. These commodities are exported to countries such as the United Kingdom, Poland, Latvia, Ukraine, the Netherlands, and Russia in order of increasing exports.

Culture and Tourism

Folklore, Music and Dance

Despite the existence of Christianity in Belarus for the past few centuries, prehistoric pagan practices are still observed. Pagans adulate peculiar pictures kept in forests. These pictures are associated with popular festivals such as Kolyady and Kupalie. Kupalie is observed between the sixth and seventh days of July annually. It is based on a legend concerning a fern flower that reveals its presence at midnight. It is purported that the flower can confer eternal youth and happiness to whoever finds it. Kolyady, on the other hand, is a festivity that marks the beginning of a novel year only that its date does not coincide with the modern calendar. Maslenitsa is another folk festival that welcomes spring after winter. Traditional song, dance, national costumes, and pancakes accompany this festival.

Belarusians take pleasure in a rich variety of cultures that date back to several centuries. Belarusians know how to play at least one musical instrument. Therefore, their music consists of varied styles and effects. The citizens of Belarus love music so much that they gather to watch musical performances by bands, for example, the Presidential Orchestra of the Republic of Belarus, State Academic Symphony Orchestra and the Syabri band among many others. Contemporary pop music is becoming more and more accepted in Belarus, which has seen the country partake in the Eurovision Song Contest for the last ten years.

Museums

Art galleries are the most predominant museums in Belarus due to the country’s artistic heritage. Most works of art are preserved in the National Museum of Art that enthusiastically supports state art where nearly all native artists bring their works for display. Other art museums are found in Mogilev and Vitebsk.

National Parks

The diversity of wildlife in Belarus has seen the establishment of five national parks to protect endangered species. The national parks include the Belavezhskaya Pushcha Park in Brest, the Berezinsky Biosphere Reserve in Vitebsk, the Braslavskiye Ozera National Park in Vitebsk, Narachansky National Park in Minsk and Pripyatsky National Park in the region of Gomel (Roberts 168). The creation and maintenance of these parks enjoy the support of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Temples

The diverse religions in Belarus imply that there are numerous temples (places of worship) for each religion. These places include Jewish synagogues such as Baranovichi and Gomel Synagogues among many others, catholic cathedrals and mosques.

Gastronomy (Foods)

Belarusian state cookery has advanced for a long time over the country’s history. The culinary habits are a blend of gauche recipes and refined cookery used by the masses and upper class respectively. Ancient Belarusian recipes are still in use and form part of the country’s tourist attractions. Traditional foods are unique to each area due to the use of garden-fresh foodstuffs in the preparation of the food (Silitski and Zaprudnik 389).

These dishes are inspired by immigrant pioneers and the neighboring states as well as the availability of fresh farm products. Therefore, Belarusian cuisine is a combination of Baltic, Jewish, German and Slavic Recipes. It includes bread, meat treats, cheese, and sweets. Some of the well-liked traditional meals include “pork stew (machanka) and vereshchaka, homemade sausages, draniki (thick potato pancakes), kolduny, kletski (dumplings), babka (baked grated potato pie), cold sorrel soup, mushroom soup” among many others (“Cuisine of Belarus” Par. 4). In the ancient days, the food traditions in Belarus were categorized according to the social ranks in the society, which included the lower class peasants and bourgeois and the upper class that comprised Shlyakhta and the noble.

Palaces and Castles

There are two notable palaces and castles in Belarus namely the Nesvizh Palace and the Mir castle. The Nesvizh Palace is built on the Nesvizh Estate in the region of Minsk using an array of architectural styles such as neo-gothic, baroque, rococo, modernism, and classicism. It has opulently distinct structural designs and picturesque grounds presenting it as the most beautiful palace in Belarus. The Mir Castle is situated in the region of Grodno. It was constructed in the 16th century using the gothic style and is considered a UNESCO World Heritage site. Other castles include the Castle at Novogrudok, the Old Castle and the Castle at Lida.

Archaeological Sites

Belarusian Stone Age settlements can be found in the region of Gomel particularly in Yurovichi and Berdysh villages. Other antique cultural remnants can also be found in other regions such as Minsk, Grodno and Mogilev. Pieces from the Bronze Age are distributed throughout the country, whereas Iron Age relics are available in areas surrounding the river basins of rivers Dnieper, Pripyat and Dvina.

Philosophy and Traditions

Belarusians take pride in the history of their country and its traditional way of life. Belarusians, therefore, gather in Minsk every spring to commemorate their past during the medieval festival. This celebration is also known as The White Castle Festival, which is punctuated by presentations in unique attire, contests of knights and very old music. During the summer, knights’ contests and international medieval festivals that draw audiences and partakers from all over the world happen. The festivities take place over several days during which participants are allowed to immerse themselves in the quixotic mood of the middle ages and reflect on the re-enactment of notable occurrences. Participants are also given opportunities to be trained by craftsmen, listen to medieval music and don knights’ armor or ladies’ splendid dresses.

Some of the Belarusian traditions have been observed for over five centuries. For example, the Motol prymaski carnival, which is majorly a cookery event, is a well-known practice. This fair is usually held in a village called Motol. Non-Belarusians are allowed to partake in this celebration where they indulge in culinary treats and traditional artworks that they can take home with them. The visitors are taught the art of weaving alongside the construction of casks.

Belarusians also have a distinctive needlework tradition characterized by the construction of caps and boots from wool, which is known as shapovalstvo. People from Dribin (Mogilev) are renowned for their exceptional skills in weaving. They ensure that these skills do not become extinct by teaching their children who are instructed to hand the same skills over to their progenies. Residents who are not sons and daughters of master craftsmen can also learn the weaving skills at an ethnographic repository in Dribin.

Religion

Belarusians practice a wide range of religions with the predominant one being Christianity (Silitski and Zaprudnik 382). The Orthodox religion is the most common form of Christianity with more than 1,000 churches followed by Roman Catholicism with approximately 400 churches. Protestants such as Lutherans, Calvinists, Mormons, and Baptists fall in the third place. There are about forty Jewish communities and twenty-seven Muslim communities in Belarus. However, some pagan practices are still observed as witnessed in some of the festivals such as Kolyady and Kupalie.

Festivals

Belarus has various types of festivals including arts, music, political, theatre, and cinema festivals. Some of the key cinema festivals include the “International Film Festival Listapad” and the “International Festival of Christian Movies and TV Programs Magnificat” (“Belarus Culture”). Few of the regions also have their own film festivals such as the “National Festival of Belarusian Films (Brest)” and the International Animated Film festival held in Mogilev (“Belarus Culture”).

One of the political festivities in Belarus is conducted in May annually to celebrate the flag as well as the emblem. Ancestral practices have initiated the development of show business in Belarus. As a result, the majority of the towns have puppet theatres and opera houses that serve grownups and children. Some people take the issue of theatre seriously and set up professional theatre companies. Influential drama meetings that attract participants and audiences from many areas of the world are often conducted in various regions. Some of the theatre festivals include the “International Theater Festival Belaya Vezha (Brest)” and “International Theater Festival Panorama (Minsk)” (“Belarus Culture”).

Galleries

The only gallery found in Belarus is an art assemblage in Polotsk as most works of art are preserved in the art museum. However, online galleries can still be accessed by people interested in checking out the works of their favorite artists.

Conclusion

It can be seen from this paper that Belarus is a country with a rich diversity of geographical and natural resources as well as cultural heritage. The cultural heritage of Belarus stems from its historical background and struggle to become an autonomous nation. Therefore, the country is full of economic potential that can steer it to greater heights. However, the country continues to experience a shaky economy in spite of having numerous resources.

One cause of its financial hardships appears to emanate from its authoritarian leadership style camouflaged as democracy. This form of leadership causes the country to receive economic sanctions and travel bans for some of its key government figures. In addition, the environment in the country is not favorable for foreign investors. These factors translate negatively on the country’s economy. An overhaul of the leadership system and enforcement of democracy are likely ways of changing the negative impression of the country before potential donors who may inject the much needed funding and encourage foreign investors. This is likely to improve and stabilize the economy of the Republic of Belarus.

Works Cited

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Roberts, Nigel. Belarus. 2nd ed. 2011. Guilford, Connecticut: The Globe Pequot Press. Print.

Silitski, Vitali and Jan Zaprudnik. The A to Z of Belarus, Plymouth United Kingdom: Scarecrow Press, 2010. Print.

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“The Situation in Belorussia at the Beginning of June 1944: The Plan of the Red Army Belorussian Operation.” Belorussia 1944: The Soviet General Staff Study. Eds. David M. Glantz and Harold S. Oreinstein. New York, NY: Franc Cass Publishers, 2004. 1-22. Print.

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Appendices

Appendix 1: The Map of Belarus

The Map of Belarus.

Appendix 2: Belarusian Ruble (Note)

Belarusian Ruble.

Appendix 3: Belarusian Ruble (Coins)

Belarusian Ruble (Coins).

Appendix 4: A Table of Belarusian Demographics between 1996 and 2003

A Table of Belarusian Demographics between 1996 and 2003.

Appendix 5: A Bar Graph of The Key Contributors of the Economy of Belarus

A Bar Graph of The Key Contributors of the Economy of Belarus.

Appendix 6: The Belarusian Pahonia

The Belarusian Pahonia.

Appendix 7: The Belarusian State Emblem

The Belarusian State Emblem.

Appendix 8: The Belarusian Flag

The Belarusian Flag.
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