History of Belarus
The Republic of Belarus is famous for its rich history. Moreover, the geographical name contains the word «white» and is associated with a «great, holy, free, independent» country. Our ancestors have long worn white linen clothes, showing other nations their friendliness, hospitality, love for the Motherland and readiness to defend it.
The first man appeared on the territory of Belarus in ancient times. Our ancestors lived on the banks of rivers and lakes, farmed, fished and hunted wild animals. Gradually the territory of Belarus was settled by East Slavic tribes − Krivichi, Dregovichi and Radimichi. Written references to them are given in the chronicle «The Tale of Bygone Years».
The first established date in the history of the country is 862 − mentioning the first state formation − the city of Polotsk and the Polotsk Principality. Under 980 annals specify the second state formation − the Turov princedom. With the emergence of the Polotsk and Turov Principalities the process of origin of new cities began: Vitebsk (947), Zaslavl (the end of the 10th century), Brest (1019), Orsha (1067), Logoisk (1078), Pinsk (1097), Borisov (1102).
The state promoted the development of culture, writing and religion. The adoption and spread of Christianity on the territory of Belarus is connected with the activities of Euphrosyne of Polotsk.
In the XIII century our ancestors united with the Balts and formed a state − the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL), which became the largest state in Europe, and its borders stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. Gradually all Belarusian lands became part of the new state. During the era of the GDL Francis Skorina published the first book in the East Slavic lands «Psalter» (1517). One of the first collections of laws in Europe, the Statute of the GDL (1529), was compiled.
In 1569 the GDL and the Kingdom of Poland united into the Polish−Lithuanian Commonwealth. But constant wars and internal contradictions weakened the state, and at the end of the XVIII century the Polish−Lithuanian Commonwealth was divided between other countries and the Belarusian lands became part of the Russian Empire.
After the October Revolution of 1917, Soviet power was established.
In 1919 the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR) was established. This state laid the foundation for the independence of the Belarusian people.
In 1922, the BSSR and other Soviet republics united to form the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
The most tragic and at the same time heroic period in the history of the Belarusian people was the Great Patriotic War, which lasted almost four years − from 1941 to 1945.
The road to peace and revival in Belarus began only in 1943, when the first Belarusian towns and villages were liberated. The contribution of the Belarusian people to the fight against fascism was highly appreciated by other states − the BSSR became one of the founding countries of the United Nations.
In the post-war period all the efforts of the Belarusian people were directed to the reconstruction of the country, revival of towns and villages. Thanks to the hard work and enthusiasm of the Belarusians, our country turned into a developed industrial centre of the Soviet Union. Education and science, culture and health care were the most advanced in the world.
In 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed and Belarus declared itself an independent and sovereign State. On 15 March 1994, the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus was adopted − the basic law of the country (the updated version will be published on 15 March 2022).
According to the Constitution, the head of the country is the President of the Republic of Belarus. As a result of the 1994 national elections Alexander Grigorievich Lukashenko was elected the first President of the Republic of Belarus.
Thanks to the historical wisdom and patriotism of the people, Belarus has not only preserved but also multiplied the wealth inherited from the USSR. The leadership of the Republic, by keeping large state−owned enterprises and mobilising all available resources, has ensured high rates of economic growth. The industrial complex of Belarus today has one of the most developed production potentials in the post−Soviet space. The products of industrial giants − MAZ, BelAZ, MTZ, Gomselmash, Belaruskali, Naftan, Mozyr Oil Refinery, Grodno Azot, BMZ, MZKT are well known all over the world. The country's industrial complex produces a quarter of the national GDP and provides at least two thirds of Belarusian commodity exports. This success has been made possible by the country's targeted industrial policy, which focuses on comprehensive support and large-scale technical and technological modernisation of the industry.
Belarusian national culture and its achievements
The unique Belarusian culture has been shaped over centuries. The richest spiritual values glorifying the moral essence of man have been handed down from generation to generation. They contain high ideals of goodness and justice, respect for others and a firm rejection of evil and violence.
The formation and development of culture based on Christian tradition began in the X century, after the baptism of the population according to the Eastern Christian rite. Writing appeared, churches and monasteries were built, which became the main educational and cultural centres. At them were created workshops for copying books, icon painting, schools for teaching literacy. The foundations of town−planning were laid, monumental architecture was developed. These architectural monuments have survived to this day and are still in operation after restoration.
In the X−XII centuries, after the first state formations (Polotsk, Turov and other principalities) emerged, Belarusian nationality and culture began to take shape. From the very beginning, Belarusian art and architecture showed themselves to be original, connected with the life of the people.
Many masterpieces of arts and crafts were created at that time. The most famous national relic is the cross of Saint Euphrosyne of Polotsk, princess, enlightener, which was created by master Lazar Bogsha in 1161. The XII century also saw the creation of a famous literary work − the poem «The Tale of Igor's Campaign».
The well−known in ancient times trade route from Byzantium to Scandinavia «from Varangians to Greeks» passed through the territory of Belarus, which contributed to the strengthening of contacts between peoples and interpenetration of cultures.
At the end of the 12th – at the beginning of the 13th century, the processes of state centralisation intensified in the Belarusian lands. As a result, a new state formation emerged − the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Russia and Zhemoitsk (GDL), which existed until the end of the XVIII century The official language in the Grand Duchy was Old Belarusian. Belarusians created monuments of political and legal culture of the Renaissance − Statutes of the GDL, which were based on the ancient Belarusian legal tradition.
During the times of the GDL, masterpieces of defensive architecture were built in Belarus: Krev, Lida, Novogrudok and other castles.
The formation of the Belarusian icon−painting school with distinctive style dates back to this period. Fine arts (painting, wooden sculpture, decorative and applied arts), music, literature, court and folk theatres developed. Folklore and arts and crafts are developing in folk culture. The Belarusian type of Renaissance culture was taking shape. The outstanding achievement of the epoch was the book publishing activity of F. Skaryna.
The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth − a new era in history and culture. Workshops producing tapestries, lace and glassware began to operate in the Belarusian lands. The famous Slutsk belts are rightly considered one of the national treasures.
The famous Slutsk belts are one of the national relics of the Belarusians, a fine example of arts and crafts, which have become not only a historical cultural symbol, but also a modern brand of Belarus.
Long wide belts with beautiful patterns and complex weaving of precious threads contributed to the legend about the origin of the aristocracy of the Polish−Lithuanian Commonwealth from the ancient warlike tribes of the Sarmatians.
Belarusian weavers created unique patterns and symbolic motifs, exclusive technology. The belts of the Slutsk Persiarni − the Radziwill manufactory, the richest and most influential dynasty in Europe − became world famous.
Today ancient Slutsk belts are a rarity. In Belarus there are single copies and fragments (11 items), and most of the works of national decorative−applied art are in museums and private collections around the world.
The unique monument of Polish-Belarusian musical culture «Polotsk Notebook» dates back to the 17th century. It is a manuscript collection of music by anonymous authors of the Renaissance and early Baroque eras.
Theatre flourished in Belarus in the 18th century. Opera and ballet theatres and symphony orchestras were created at the courts of large landowners. Artists were peasants who received special education. Musical and theatrical life was on the level of the advanced European countries.
At the end of the XVIII century the Belarusian lands became part of the Russian Empire and from that moment began to be influenced by Russian culture.
A distinctive feature of the cultural life of Belarus at the end of the XVIII−beginning of the XX century is manifested in the development of literature and journalism. Я. Kupala, J. Kolas, M. Bogdanovich raised the literary Belarusian language to a qualitatively new level.
The musical works of our fellow countrymen M. K. Oginski, S. Monyushko, paintings by I. Khrutsky, V. Belynitsky−Biruli, F. Rushchitz, M. Chagal and other artists are world famous.
After the Great Patriotic War of 1941−1945, the military-patriotic theme became the main theme in almost all types of professional art.
The modern cultural life of Belarus is dynamic and diverse. There are many art exhibitions, music, theatre and film festivals. All of them are accessible to both Belarusians and visitors to the country.
About 5.600 state organisations (including separate structural subdivisions and branches) operate in the sphere of culture: clubs, public libraries, museums, theatrical and entertainment organisations (theatres, concert organisations, circuses), parks, zoos and others.
The museums present collections of works of art by Belarusian authors of different epochs and genres. The largest collection of paintings and sculptures is in the National Art Museum.
Belarus entered the world art culture of the twentieth century with the creation of the avant−garde art association «Approvers of New Art» and such names as M. Chagall, K. Malevich, Y. Pan, H. Sutin. Artists M. Filippovich, V. Bialynitsky-Birulya, V. Tsvirko, V. Gromyko, M. Danzig, P. Maslenikov, M. Savitsky. Sculptors A. Brat, A. Grube, M. Kerzin, Z. Azgur, P. Belousov, A. Bembel, A. Glebov and many others.
Tapestry occupies a leading position in decorative and applied arts. Thus, the «Tapestry of the Century» by A. Kishchenko is officially recognised as the largest in the world and is listed in the Guinness Book of Records.
Contemporary fine arts in Belarus are characterised by diversity. Photography, art design, action art, computer graphics are gaining popularity, and the genre spectrum is expanding. The National Centre for Contemporary Art operates in Minsk.
The work of the leading musical groups of the country is very popular: the Presidential Orchestra of the Republic of Belarus, the State Academic Symphony Orchestra, the State Academic Choir named after G. Shirma.
Artists of the National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre of Belarus, the Belarusian State Academic Musical Theatre and the Belarusian State Philharmonic Society conquer both Belarusians and numerous spectators abroad with their original talent and the highest performing skills.
The Belarusian musical art was glorified by the outstanding composers S. Monyushko, G. Wagner, V. Mulyavin, I. Luchenok, E. Hanok, D. Smolsky, O. Eliseenkov and others.
The vocal group «Pure Voice», the ensembles «Pesnyary» and «Syabry» can rightfully be considered the calling cards of Belarus. Every year 60 festivals of international and republican level are held in Belarus, 30 of them are musical festivals. The festival «Slavonic Bazaar in Vitebsk», the National Festival of Belarusian Song and Poetry «Molodechno», «Belarusian Musical Autumn», the holiday «Alexandria Gathers Friends» are the brands of sovereign Belarus.
There are 28 state professional theatres working for the residents and guests of the republic, 27 of them are of the system of the Ministry of Culture (1 theatre of opera and ballet, 18 dramatic and musical theatres, 7 puppet and young spectators' theatres), 1 is of the system of the Ministry of Defence (Drama Theatre of the Belarusian Army). 4 theatres in Belarus have the status of «national»: the Bolshoi Theatre of Belarus, the dramatic theatres named after Y.Kupala and M.Gorky (Minsk), Y.Kolas (Vitebsk).
Belarus regularly holds festivals, contests and stage art reviews. Among them are the International Forum of Theatre Art «TEART» in Minsk, the International Festival of Puppet Theatres in Minsk, the International Festival of Contemporary Choreography in Vitebsk, «Slavic Theatre Meetings» in Gomel, «Belaya Vezha» in Brest and many others. In 2011 the National Theatre Award of Belarus was established.
Serious work on the restoration of historical and cultural heritage is being carried out in the country. The most significant heritage protected by the state is included in the State List of Historical and Cultural Values of the Republic of Belarus. The list includes 5671 objects.
The most outstanding objects of national and world culture are included in the UNESCO World Heritage Lists. In particular, the list includes: in 1992 − Belovezhskaya Pushcha (Kamenets district, Brest region), in 2000 − the castle complex «Mir» (Mir settlement, Korelichi district, Grodno region); in 2005 − the architectural and cultural complex of the Radziwill residence in Nesvizh (Minsk region) and Duga Struve (Brest and Grodno regions). The UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage includes: in 2009 − the Christmas ritual «Carols of Kings» in the village of Semezhevo (Kopyl district, Minsk region); in 2018 − the celebration in honour of the veneration of the icon of the Mother of God Budslava (Budslava Fest) in Budslava (Myadel district, Minsk region); in 2019 − the spring ritual «Yurievsky round dance» in the village of Pogost (Zhitkovichi district, Gomel region); in 2020 − the culture of forest beekeeping.
Origin and development of the Belarusian language
At present, the Belarusian language is one of the two official languages of the Republic of Belarus (the other is Russian).
The Belarusian language belongs to the Slavic group of the Indo-European language family. After several millennia, the Indo-European community disintegrated and various languages (Germanic, Romance, Slavic) began to form on the basis of its dialects.
The Belarusian language has preserved many Slavic elements and therefore is rightly considered to be the key to understanding other Slavic languages. It has a huge number of words that cannot be translated word for word. This is its uniqueness, inimitability and the meaning of its existence.
A significant contribution to the history of the Belarusian language development was made by Francysk Skorina, who founded book printing in the Old Belarusian language.
The Belarusian intelligentsia is at the origin of the development of the literary language: V. Dunin-Martinkevich, A. Rypinski, Y. Chachot. In the second half of the XIX century the national language began to flourish. Famous poets and writers wrote their works in it − F. Bogushevich, M. Bogdanovich, J. Kolas, J. Kupala. After the October Revolution of 1917 the Belarusian language was recognised as the state language.
The Belarusian language is very rich in dialects. If in the literary language there are about 250-500 thousand words, in the dialect language there are about 2 million. Dialects and local colloquialisms are an important component of the Belarusian language. It is considered that the main dialects of the Belarusian language are the North−Eastern, South−Western and Middle Belarusian transitional dialects. Belarusian dialects differ in the pronunciation of certain types of letters. For example, the letters «a» or «e», «t». Linguists call these pronunciation peculiarities «akan», «dzekan» and «tsekan».
History of Belarusian national cuisine
Culinary traditions of Belarus go back to pagan times, and they were finally formed at the turn of the XVI-XVII centuries.
The calling card of the Belarusian national cuisine is:
Draniki. The recipe was borrowed from German cuisine and was first described in the book «Kuhar dobra navuchany» in 1830. These are thin fritters made of potatoes with the addition of egg and served usually with sour cream. It is a hearty and inexpensive dish that is quick and easy to prepare.
Verashchaka is also popular. The court cook of the King of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Vereshchaka entered the history of Belarusian cuisine as the creator of a rather interesting dish. He came up with the idea of stewing sausage pieces mixed with lard in gravy. Over time, vereshchaka also appeared in the diet of villagers − it was cooked on big holidays.
Botvinnik soup (beetroot soup, cholodnik) was traditionally made of beetroot (now beetroot).
Kopytki. This dish of Belarusian national cuisine got its original name first of all because of its shape: grated potato mass was prepared and formed into a layer, which was cut into pieces resembling small hooves.
Machanka is very common. Machanka was a sauce to dip another dish (for example, hooves) in.
An interesting dish is «Pyachysty».It could be baked lamb, whole chicken or game. This dish often appeared on the prince's table, and it was prepared in the following way: the carcass of a chicken or other game was soaked and then buried for several days in the sand, then stuffed with herring mince.
Incredibly tasty nalistniki.This dish is mistakenly called pancakes, but it differs in that nalistniki are not an independent dish. They are served with various fillings, for example, cottage cheese.
Beer chowder is a traditional Belarusian soup that was cooked with beer. The history of this dish goes back to the XVI-XVIII centuries, when beer was a very popular drink in Belarus.
Krambamboula is a strong alcoholic drink made with honey, which consisted of alcohol, honey and spices. No nobleman's feast was without krumbamboulya.
A traditional non-alcoholic herbal drink is sbiten.Depending on the season, it could be served both cold and hot.
Belarusian holidays, customs and performance of rituals
The spiritual wealth of the nation is reflected in its customs and traditions. They preserve the achievements and the best qualities of the Belarusian people: mercy and friendliness, mental generosity and readiness to share everything they have.
The most significant events and activities held in Belarus on a regular basis are the following.
Independence Day celebrations. This is the main state holiday of Belarus, which is celebrated annually on 3 July on the day of liberation of Minsk from Nazi invaders. The parade is the brightest moment of Independence Day. «Our beloved Matsi-Radzima, eternally alive and well, Belarus!» − these heartfelt lines of the anthem sound as a declaration of love and devotion to one's Motherland, as a wish for peace and prosperity.
All-Belarusian People's Assembly. The first assembly was held in the autumn of 1996 and became a special form of people's power, a democratic institution that allows citizens to exercise their right to participate more widely in the affairs of the state. To date, there have been 6 All−Belarusian People's Assemblies, the last of which was held on 11−12 February 2021.
Victory Day − Belarus Remembers (9 May). This is a sacred holiday, where the focus is on veterans and children of the war, before whose courage, steadfastness and willpower contemporaries bow their heads. A republican action «Belarus Remembers» is taking place all over the country. People carry portraits of their grandfathers and great−grandfathers as a sign of respect for the heroes of the Great Patriotic War and in gratitude to the generation of winners. Belarusians honour the memory of the victims with a national minute of silence.
The annual Address of the President to the Belarusian People and the National Assembly. This is the main program document of the year, which sets political and economic guidelines for the society and the authorities.
Day of Belarusian Script. This holiday is celebrated in the republic in early September, in the first days of the new academic year. Education, information technologies and culture are the three branches that form the intellectual elite of the nation, its present and future. The holiday was first held in 1994 in Polotsk. Over the past 30 years, the capitals of the holiday have been historical and cultural centres of the country, including the following cities: Turov, Novogrudok, Nesvizh, Orsha, Pinsk, Zaslavl, Mstislavl, Mir, Kamenets, Postavy, Shklov, Borisov, Smorgon, Khoiniki, Hantsevichi, Glubokoe, Bykhov, Shchuchin, Rogachev, Ivanovo, Slonim, Belynichi, Kopyl, Dobrush, Gorodok. The National Literary Award ceremony takes place at the holiday.
In 1996, on the initiative of the President, the first festival-fair «Dazhynki» was held, which for many years became a real holiday for workers of the agro-industrial complex, scientists, engineers, designers of new equipment and all those who help enterprises to achieve high performance.
Presentation of the award «For Spiritual Revival».During the New Year and Christmas holidays, those who have made a significant contribution to the cause of mercy and humanism − teachers, doctors, representatives of the clergy, cultural figures and artists are honoured.
The following significant events are held annually on a regular basis: celebrations on the State Flag Square; the Christmas tournament of amateur ice hockey players for the prize of the President of Belarus «Golden Puck»; the action «Together for a Healthy Lifestyle!», actions in support of motherhood and childhood (the action «Our Children», support for talented young people), the Republican Graduation Ball, the New Year's Ball for young people) and many others.
The ancient Belarusian rituals reflect the history, life and spirit of the people. With their help our ancestors hoped to protect themselves from misfortunes («Gramnitsy», «Hukanne viasny», «Provady rusalki», «Radzimichy», etc.). Some of them, such as the carol ritual «Tsary», are included in the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
The most famous rituals and holidays, the traditions of observance of which have survived to this day, are the following.
«Kupalye» («Alexandria gathers friends»). The festival is held annually in Ag. Alexandria and dates back to 2011. It is based on cultural exchange between different countries. The festival attracts guests from different countries, including Russia, Poland, the Baltic States and others. Delegations are represented by folk art groups and masters of arts and crafts. The guests enjoy ancient songs and dances, fortune−telling, in the evening they undergo a ritual of purification by fire, and then go in search of the magic fern that blooms once a year.
Slavonic Bazaar International Arts Festival. This is the main cultural event of the year, which takes place in Vitebsk and welcomes guests from all continents. Since 1995 it has been held under the patronage of the President of the Republic of Belarus. The festival promotes the development of cultural dialogue between different peoples and countries. The noble mission of the festival is formulated in its motto: «Through Art − to Peace and Mutual Understanding». The special prize of the President of the Republic of Belarus, which he presents at the festival, bears the same name.
State symbols of the Republic of Belarus
As a sovereign state, the Republic of Belarus has its state symbols − the State Flag, the State Emblem and the State Anthem.
The State Flag of the Republic of Belarus looks like a rectangular cloth, the width and length of which are 1:2. It is divided horizontally into two different stripes: green at the bottom, 1/3 of the width, and red at the top, 2/3 of the width. Along the shaft there is a vertical ornamental stripe of red colour on a white background – this is a symbol of the connection of generations.
The basis of the ornament on the flag is the pattern «Rising Sun», woven in 1917 by M. Markevich. It was found in the archives of Belpromsovet and was originally intended for women's clothing.
The main element of the flag and coat of arms is a rhombus in the center of the ornament. It is an ancient symbol of the rising sun. The figures to the right and left of the rhombus are symbols of prosperity and wealth. Two cross−shaped crossed lines with four points between them inside the rhombus mean a sown field. Paired connected rhombuses at the top and bottom of the ornament − a symbol of the continuation of life, renewing bread. Between them and the central figure there are lines of four rectangles with dashes coming from all sides. They are called «votive signs», which denote a wish that everything a person asks for will come true.
White and red colours are traditional in the culture of Belarusians. Red is the colour of military standards. White symbolises spiritual purity and hospitality of Belarusians. Green is the symbol of spring, hope and prosperity, the embodiment in colour of the country's nature.
The State Emblem of the Republic of Belarus is a symbol of state sovereignty of the Republic of Belarus. It represents the golden outline of the State border of the Republic of Belarus placed in a silver field, superimposed on the golden rays of the sun rising above the globe. At the top of the field is a five−pointed red star. The coat of arms is framed by a wreath of golden ears intertwined with clover flowers on the right and flax flowers on the left. The wreath is bound three times on each side by a red−green ribbon, in the middle part of which the words «Republic of Belarus» are inscribed in gold in two lines at the base of the State Emblem of the Republic of Belarus.
The National Anthem of the Republic of Belarus is a musical and poetic work performed on solemn occasions, the list of which is set out in legislation. The music to it was written by Belarusian composer N.F. Sokolovsky, the words were written by Belarusian poets M.N. Klimkovich and V.I. Karizna.