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Tuesday 25th June
Belarus Information - Page 2
Early settlements in present-day Belarus date back many thousands of years. Slavic tribes did not arrive until the sixth and seventh centuries.

Small city principalities began to emerge; by the tenth century Polotsk was the most powerful. Later, Minsk became the capital. Throughout this time and up to the thirteenth century, city principalities were under the influence of Kyivan Rus, a powerful Slavic state centred in Kyiv (Ukraine).

In the fourteenth century the country was annexed by Lithuania and became part of the Polish-Lithuanian union.

By the end of the eighteenth century Poland and Lithuania had become weak and in 1772 lands were lost to Austria, Prussia and Russia. This was known as the First Partition. Other Partitions followed and most of Belarus was absorbed into Russian territory.

At the end of December 1922 the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic became a founding member of the USSR. Members of the former USSR were Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Estonia (from WW2), Latvia (from WW2), Lithuania (from WW2) and Moldova (from WW2).

During the Second World War, between 1941 and 1944, Belarus suffered from Nazi occupation; cities were destroyed and over a quarter of the population, including hundreds of thousands of Jews, lost their lives.

Following the War, the relationship between the USSR and the West was one of distrust. The "Cold War" continued until Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985 introducing extensive political and economic reforms (Perestroika) and calling for a greater openness (Glasnost) between nations.

At the end of 1991 Belarus, Russia and the Ukraine dissolved the USSR and established the Commonwealth of Independent States (a federation of former Soviet Union republics). The Republic of Belarus became an independent state with its capital city, Minsk, the administrative centre of the CIS.

Agriculture is the smallest contributor to the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Industry produces a significant percentage of the GDP, with services the largest earner.

Agricultural products include grains, potatoes, sugar beets, fruit and flax. Cucumbers are grown in greenhouses. Cattle, chickens, pigs and sheep are reared.

Major industries are vehicles (especially trucks, tractors and earthmovers), motorcycles, machine tools, televisions, radios, refrigerators, fertilizer, chemical fibres and textiles.

The tourist industry caters for a variety of tourists including business and conference visitors.

The Cross of Euphrosyne of Polotsk, crafted in 1161 by Lazar Boksha, is most famous Belarusian work of art. Other religious art includes the eleventh century frescoes in Sofia's Cathedral in Polotsk.

The most well known artist from Belarus is Marc Chagall. Born in Vitebsk in 1887 Chagall moved to Paris in 1910. Chagall's painting The Green Violinist, in the Guggenheim Museum, is said to be evocative of his native Belarus.

In the literary world Belarusian writers include Simeon Polotsky, the seventeenth century poet and playwright, and the poet Maxim Bogdanovich (1891-1917).

Cultural institutions are the National Academic Ballet Theatre of the Republic of Belarus, the National Academic Opera Theatre of Belarus, the Yanka Kupala National Theatre and the National Museum of Culture and History of Belarus in Minsk.

Belarusians participated in the Olympics as members of the USSR national team from 1952. In 1991 the National Olympic Committee of the Republic of Belarus became responsible for organising Olympic sports in Belarus.

Popular team games in Belarus include baseball, basketball, football, volleyball and ice hockey. Tennis is also played. Skiing is popular in winter.

The main religious holidays are Christmas Day (Catholic and Orthodox) and Easter (Catholic and Orthodox). Other days celebrated include New Year's Day - 1 January, Labour Day - l May and Independence Day - 3 July.

News from Belarus can be found in Newslink.

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