A landlocked republic in eastern Europe; formerly a European Soviet; Also called: Byelarus, Byelorussia, Belorussia, White Russia.
Or Byelorussia or Belorussia; Country in E central Europe, bounded S by Ukraine, E by Russia, W by Poland, and N by Latvia and Lithuania.
The 1994 constitution provides for a presidentialist system. There is a 260-seat legislature, the supreme soviet, to which deputies are elected by a majority system, and a second-ballot run-off race in contests in which there is no clear first-round majority. The state president is directly elected and can serve a maximum of two five-year terms. The president also serves as commander in chief of the armed forces, appoints the cabinet, and has the power to declare a state of emergency but not to dissolve parliament.
A Byelorussian state developed in the Middle Ages around the city of Polotsk on the river Dvina. From the 13th century it became incorporated within the Slavonic Grand Duchy of Lithunia and from 1569 there was union with Poland.
Byelorussia was brought into the Russian Empire in the late 18th century and from the later 19th century there was an upsurge in national consciousness. Amid the chaos of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, an independent Byelorussian National Republic was declared 1918, but failed to receive international recognition. Instead, a Byelorussian Soviet Republic was established 1919, with some loss of territory to Poland.
National culture and language were encouraged until the Soviet dictator Stalin launched a Russification drive, with more than 100,000 people, predominantly writers and intellectuals, being executed between 1937 and 1941. Under the terms of the 1939 Nazi-Soviet pact, Byelorussia was reunified, but then suffered severely under German invasion and occupation 1941–44. Russification resumed in the 1960s and continued into the mid-1980s, when glasnost brought a revival of national culture. A Popular Front, demanding greater autonomy, was established Feb 1989. In the wake of the April 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which forced the resettlement of several hundred thousand people, the Byelorussian Ecological Union (BEU) had been formed. Both the Popular Front and BEU contested the March-April 1990 Byelorussian supreme soviet elections under the Democratic Bloc banner, capturing more than a quarter of the seats. In response, Byelorussian was reestablished as the republic's official state language from Sept 1990.
Byelorussia's communist president, Nikolai Dementei, supported the attempted coup against President Gorbachev in Moscow Aug 1991. When it failed, Dementei resigned. Byelorussia's independence was declared on 25 Aug 1991 and the activities of the Communist Party suspended. In Sept 1991 the supreme soviet voted to adopt the name of Republic of Belarus and elected Stanislav Shushkevich, an advocate of democratic reform, as its chair, which also made him state president. Shushkevich played an important role in the creation Dec 1991 of a new Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the confederal successor to the USSR, with Minsk (Mensk) chosen as the CIS's early center. In the same month, Belarus was formally acknowledged as independent by the US and granted diplomatic recognition. It had been a member of the United Nations since its foundation in 1945.
economy and armed forces
Belarus was cautious in its implementation of market-centered economic reform, with privatization and price liberalization introduced very gradually. It remained heavily dependent upon Russia for industrial raw materials. In May 1992, Belarus and Russia (as a single signatory), along with the the Ukraine and Kazakhstan, signed protocols with the US agreeing to comply with START and to return all tactical nuclear weapons, inherited from the USSR, to Russia for destruction. In Feb 1993 parliament formally ratified START I and voted to adhere to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
communists regained power
The Communist Party, supported by Prime Minister Vyacheslav Kebich, reestablished itself within the republic during 1993, and in Jan 1994, despite opposition from President Shushkevich, an agreement to merge the Belarusian economy with that of Russia was signed. President Shushkevich was later dismissed by parliament. In July 1994 Alexander Lukashenko, a radical populist, defeated Kebich in the presidential elections; in the same month Mikhail Chigir replaced Kebich as prime minister. The new president advocated currency union with Russia.