HISTORY OF BELARUS
THE BEGINNINGS OF BELARUS
The oldest settlements of people were found in the Gomel region, near the villages of Yurovichi and Berdyzh. Already at the beginning of the first millennium, the Slavic tribes began to settle in Belarus. Gradually, the Baltic tribes living in these areas assimilated, and from the 6th century onwards the first political associations – tribal unions – began to take shape. There were three unions of this type in Belarusian lands: Krivichi, Dregovichi and Radimichi.
One of the oldest cities in Belarus is Polotsk, which is mentioned for the first time in chronicles in 862. At the same time, the Principality of Polatsk emerged, one of the first state formations of modern Belarus.
Time passed quickly, and at the same time people’s worldviews changed. Thus, in 988, Prince Vladimir baptized pagan Russia (and then Belarus was part of it) by the Byzantine rite.
THE ESTABLISHMENT AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE GRAND DUCHY OF LITHUANIA
At the end of the 13th century, Duke Mindaugas began the construction of a huge state that later received the name of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Ruthenia and Samogitia and became one of the most popular and strong countries. The Grand Duchy consisted of modern territories of Belarus, Lithuania, and partially of Ukraine and Russia .
Until the 16th century, the Grand Duchy was very strong and played an important role among the European states, but after several wars it lost its strength and power.
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE RZECZPOSPOLITA
At the end of the 16th century the Grand Duchy signed an agreement called the Union of Lublin with the King of the Polish state. Two countries made the decision to unite in a single state called Rzeczpospolita, although despite the founding of the union, the state suffered greatly from internal disputes and foreign wars. The military actions between the Grand Duchy and Moscow and the Northern War were the most devastating for the Belarusian territories. These events gave rise to three partitions of Rzeczpospolita: in 1772, in 1793 and in 1795. That country was divided by the Russian, Prussian and Austrian states .
THE HISTORY OF BELARUS IN THE PERIOD OF THE RUSSIAN EMPIRE (1772-1917)
In the 18th century, after the three partitions of Rzeczpospolita, most of the territories of Belarus were part of the Russian Empire. During the 18th and 19th centuries, several enormous military actions took place there. In 1794 Tadeusz Kosciuszko led the action against the partition of Rzeczpospolita. The leader wanted the Polish state to unite and wanted to gain its independence. This uprising was suppressed by the Russian general Suvorov.
In 1806 Poland was occupied by Napoleon and the French troops were welcomed as liberators and fighters for the independence of Rzeczpospolita. In 1812 Belarus became the main scene of a battle between the Russians and the French. On August 26, 1812, the greatest action of the war took place near the town of Borodino, where the Russian troops were defeated. During the war against Napoleon, a great guerrilla war appeared that took place in those territories. Although the French troops lost the war, the consequences were quite harsh for these places: many casualties, destroyed settlements, famine, poverty and disease.
In 1863 Kastus Kalinovsky and his young followers organized an uprising against Russia. However, there was a division among the rebels called the division between “Los Blancos” and “Los Rojos.” For this reason, the protest of the Belarusian people against the Russian Empire failed.
After these harsh events, peace was finally recovered in Belarus and was only interrupted by the First World War in 1914.
During the 4-year war the Belarusian territories once again became the war line between Russia and Germany . On March 3, 1918, the peace treaty was signed in Brest-Litovsk. It ended with Russian participation in military actions.
REVOLUTIONS AND THE TERRITORY OF BELARUS
In 1917 Tsar Nikolay II abdicated the throne of the Russian Empire and then the October Revolution began. When the Bolshevik Party came to power in 1918 the Republic of Belarus was declared. In that period of time, Belarus were occupied by German troops. In 1919 the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed and Minsk became its capital.
In 1921, at the end of the war, the Treaty of Riga was signed. It set the borders of Western Belarus within the Polish territories.
The territories of East Belarus remained in the name of the USSR. From 1921 to 1939 in western Belarus the Polish government promoted the policy of active colonization and the eastern part of the Belarusian lands suffered from starvation and economic collapse. From 1936 to 1940 more than eighty-six thousand people living in Belarus were eliminated during Stalin’s reprisals.
THE GREAT PATRIOTIC WAR (1941-1945)
This war is an important historical part of the Second World War that lasted from 1939 to 1945 and took place between the USSR with Belarus as part of it and Germany with its allies. In Belarus, the actions began on June 22, 1941 after the invasion of the territory of the Brest region by German troops and the defense of the Brest fortress for six weeks. In September 1941 all the territories of Belarus had been occupied by German troops.
Throughout the war, German soldiers massively killed Jews living in Belarus. At the end of 1941 a guerrilla movement was actively formed in these territories and was the largest in Europe until 1944. In July 1944 the Belarusian lands were liberated as a result of Operation “Bagration”. After the war, the western territories of Belarus remained in the USSR.
THE MOST RECENT HISTORY OF BELARUS
In 1945, Belarus became a member of the United Nations. In 1954, Belarus joined UNESCO.
In 1986, the Chernobyl disaster at the Nuclear Power Plant occurred in Ukraine. It brought harsh consequences for all the nearby territories, especially for Belarus and its lands.
In 1990 the sovereignty of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic was declared and in 1991 the country was named “The Republic of Belarus”.
In 1994 the first presidential elections were held and, as a result, Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko was elected President of the Republic of Belarus.
TRADITIONS AND CUSTOMS OF BELARUS
WHAT TRADITIONS AND CUSTOMS ARE THERE IN BELARUS?
A brief look at the customs and traditions of Belarus, a former Soviet country.
FOOD AND ECONOMY
FOOD IN DAILY LIFE
Belarusian eating habits are not very different from those of people of other Eastern European cultures. They generally have three main meals a day, and the staples include red meat and potatoes. Belarusians are also very fond of spending their free time in the forest in search of the many types of mushrooms that are used in soups and other dishes.
Belarusian favorites include borscht, a soup made with beets served hot with sour cream; Minsk steak and Minsk chop; potato dishes with mushrooms; and pickled berries. Mochanka is a thick soup mixed with lard accompanied by hot pancakes.
There is also a large selection of international and Russian specialties available. A favorite beverage is black tea, and coffee is generally available with meals and in cafes, although standards vary. Non-alcoholic beverages, fruit juices, and mineral waters are widely available.
Ethnographic studies confirm that the majority of Belarusians in the early 20th century subsisted on a rather poor diet. No significant changes have been noticed since the inception of Soviet rules after the Bolshevik Revolution and the image of a family eating from a common plate has been slowly changing.
After World War II, due to industrialization and economic changes, eating habits have changed, but not profoundly.
FOOD CUSTOMS ON CEREMONIAL OCCASIONS
Food customs often involve women and signal their role in society. For example, preparing a dinner table was usually a woman’s job. Men would not get involved in such activity.
An interesting food custom is related to the search for a mate, which was always associated with drinking vodka and eating. First, the matchmaker would visit the home of a prospective bride and offer drinks and food. If the suitor was accepted, he would appear with the matchmaker at the woman’s house with vodka and the woman’s parents would provide him with food.
Interestingly, the ceremony could be repeated several times until the couple were officially engaged. If the engagement were broken, whoever broke it would have to pay all expenses to the other party.
After a funeral, the mourners gather to eat.
“Sardechna zaprashayem” is the traditional expression used to welcome guests, who are usually presented with bread and salt. The handshake is the common way of greeting.
Hospitality is part of the Belarusian tradition; the people are welcoming and friendly; and gifts are given to friends and business partners.
Christianity is the dominant faith. Byzantine Christianity was introduced to Belarus with the rise of the Kiev kingdom in the 10th century. With the incorporation of the Belarusian territories into the Lithuanian Grand Duchy and later into the Polish- dominated Commonwealth , Roman Catholicism and Protestantism flourished in Belarus. .
At the end of the 16th century, the struggle between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches gave rise to the United Orthodox Church, ruled by the Vatican . The Orthodox Church dominated after the Russian defeat of the uprisings of 1863 and 1864.
In 2000, Russian Orthodoxy claimed the most Belarusian believers (80 percent), followed by Roman Catholicism. The Christian community in Belarus is currently very diverse and includes various communities of Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Evangelists, Calvinists, and Lutherans, as well as Roman, Orthodox, and United Catholics. The most frequent Protestant groups are Evangelical Christians and Evangelical Christians.
There are currently about 44,000 Muslims in Belarus, including people from the former Soviet republics and about 1,500 Arab students. The country has four mosques (in Ivye, Navahrúdak, Slonim and Smilovichi) and a fifth in Vidzy, in the Braslav district of the Vitebsk region, which will soon be designated.
Most Jews fled the region before World War II, were exterminated during that war, or emigrated after it ended. At the end of the 18th century, about 7 percent of the population of Belarus was Jewish. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were 704 synagogues; in 1995, there were only fifteen left.
The number of Jews in Belarus can be calculated from the current number of members of the Union of Jewish Religious Congregations of the Republic of Belarus. This organization had at least 20,000 members in 2000 and has twelve regional offices.
It effectively represents practically the entire observing community and the Jewish community in general. It provides humanitarian and medical aid and is affiliated with World Jewish Relief in the United Kingdom and B’nai B’rith in the United States . The Main Synagogue in Minsk has daily services in the morning and in the evening.
Since the beginning of Christianity in the region, the practitioners of Eastern Orthodoxy always outnumbered the followers of other religions. Regardless of the times of religious freedom, there were also times of religious intolerance and persecution.
The religious rivalry between Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity widened after 1839, when the United Church was abolished. All the major political powers inflicted their policies against certain religions, but the Poles and Soviets imposed the most drastic measures.
Religious practices were seriously limited during the Soviet area or even prohibited. For example, Jewish religion and culture, which have strong roots in Belarus, were discriminated against under Soviet rule .
Most synagogues have been closed and the teaching of Hebrew and Judaism banned. However, many Jews practiced their religious activities in secret. Since the Soviet era, the Eastern Orthodox Church of Belarus was a structural part of the Russian Orthodox Church.
In February 1992 the Belarusian Exarchate of the Moscow Patriarchate was created, but Moscow still has a great influence on the Belarusian Church. Since 1989 the Vatican has been sending Catholic priests from Poland to work in Belarus.
RITUALS AND HOLY PLACES
Among the most important religious holidays are Easter, Christmas and remembrance days. Russian Orthodox Easter is celebrated between late March and early May, and the difference between Orthodox Easter and Catholic Easter can be up to six weeks. Roman Catholic Easter varies according to a lunar calendar.
Russian Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on January 5 and Roman Catholics on December 25. Russian Orthodox practitioners observe Radaunitsa, a remembrance day, on April 28, and Roman Catholics celebrate All Saints’ Day (“Dsiady”) on November 2.
There are several places in Belarus that are related to various saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church, including Polock, Sluck, Brest, and Turov. The holiest place in the Russian Orthodox Church is Garbarka Hill in eastern Poland .
Secular celebrations include the following national holidays: January 1 is New Years Day; March 8 is International Women’s Day, in honor of the contribution of women to society; May 1 is Labor Day, which celebrates the meaning and contribution of the working class and includes a parade of citizens; May 9 is Victory Day, commemorating the victory over Nazi Germany in 1945.
Independence Day is celebrated on July 3 and signifies the liberation of Minsk from Nazi troops during World War II. The Feast of the October Revolution, which commemorates the victory of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia , is celebrated on November 7.
ARTS AND HUMANITIES
The origins of Belarusian literature go back to the times of Kiev Russia . Its formative period was during the 14th and 15th centuries, culminating in the 16th century when Francisk Skaryna, an editor, humanist, scientist and writer, published the first book – the Bible – in Belarusian.
Modern Belarusian literature originated in the 19th century, with a sense of national identity. V. Dunin-Marcinkevich, poet and playwright, was the most dominant figure of the time. He developed new literary forms in Belarus (such as idyll, ballads, and comedy), and significantly influenced the formation of Belarusian literature, drama, and spiritual culture.
Belarusian literature flourished in the 20th century; the key figures were Yakub Kolas and Yanka Kupala, both poets, novelists, playwrights, critics, publicists, public figures, and founders of modern Belarusian literature and language.
Painting was first developed in Belarus in the 11th and 12th centuries, under the influence of Byzantine art. Few works remain from that period, but frescoes such as those in Polotsk Sofia Cathedral have been preserved. In the 16th century, a school of fresco painting was created in Belarus. Works from the 16th to 19th centuries were stylistically related to Polish and Western European painting ; the portrait was popular.
The “Vitebsk School” played an important role in the development of Belarusian national art in the early 20th century. The most internationally known member of the School was Marc Chagall, who was born near Vitebsk. He emigrated in 1922 and later lived in France , Mexico, and the United States . His works often depict scenes from his native Vitebsk and from Jewish life in a Belarusian city.
After the October Revolution of 1917, Socialist Realism became popular, with an emphasis on historical and domestic issues. Beginning in the 1940s, artists focused on battle scenes, particularly from the Great Patriotic War. In the 1980s and 1990s, Belarusian painting followed Western trends and addressed intellectual and philosophical themes, relying on symbolic meanings and metaphors.
Since the 1980s, the decorative and applied arts have been revived. Ceramics, glass, batik and especially tapestry are very popular. Folk art, such as straw weaving, is also gaining importance.
The music Belarussian shows strong folk and religious influences. During the 19th century, the collection, publication and study of Belarusian ethnic songs began. Folk influences still inspire many Belarusian composers, and there are many folk music festivals and competitions held annually.
Many groups of fans of national song and dance, folk groups and groups of the scenic folklore participate in these cultural events.
Belarus has the National Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet, as well as the State Theater of Musical Comedy and the State Concert Symphony Orchestra. Belarusian opera and ballet are well known and admired internationally.
Performing arts centers are found in big cities like Minsk, which has a thriving cultural scene with opera, ballet, theaters, puppet theater, and a circus. Brest also has a renowned puppet theater. Rock music in Belarusian was first developed in the 1990s.
The theater Belarussian originated from folk traditions of various religious and secular holidays, and family and domestic rites. One of the most enduring traditions is the puppet theater, which has played an important role in the formation of national theatrical traditions.
During the 18th century, various aristocratic families sponsored their own theaters, and in the 20th century many new theaters emerged. Today, the most famous are the State Theater of Musical Comedy, the Gorkiy State Theater and the Minsk Theater-Studio of the Film Actor.
The film Belarussian tends to focus on heroic and romantic genres, as well as the psychology of the characters. Belarusian directors are especially known for their animated films. There is also a female film studio in Belarus, Tatyana.