Belarus, part of the Newly Independent States, (N.I.S.) is a vast country with stretches of unbroken birch groves, large forested marshlands and gently sloping green fields amidst wooden villages that time forgot in the 18th century. With an area of 207,600 square kilometres, Belarus borders Russia in the north and east, Poland in the west, Latvia and Lithuania in the northeast and the Ukraine in the south. Minsk is the capital of Belarus and was completely rebuilt after the Second World War.
It is possible to travel to Belarus and stay in hotels - in Minsk we recommend Hotel Planeta, Prospekt Masherava 31.
Belarus is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, bordering Russia to the east and Ukraine to the south. Its capital is Minsk and other major cities include Brest, Grodno, and Gomel. One third of the country is forested, and industries such as agriculture and manufacturing are staples of the Belarusian economy. Lakes and rivers punctuate the country. The largest wetland territory is Polesie, which is among the largest wet lands in Europe. There are 11,000 lakes in Belarus, but the majority of the lakes are smaller than 0.5 square kilometres (124 acres). Belarus' highest point is Dzyarzhynskaya Hara (345m) and its lowest point is on the Neman River, 90 metres.
The Republic of Belarus (Belarus) is located in the eastern part of Europe. The territory of Belarus is 207.6 thousand square kilometres. It is a compact country. The longest distance, 650 km, is from West to East, and 560 km from North to South. By the size of its territory, the Republic occupies the 13th place among the European countries and the 6th among the CIS countries (following Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan). The Belarusian territory in Europe is slightly smaller than that of Great Britain and Romania, and more than 2.2 times bigger than Portugal and Hungary. On 01.01.2005, the population of Belarus constituted 9,9 millions people. The country's population is 14 times smaller than in Russia, 5 times smaller than in Ukraine, but 1.3 times as big as that in the three Baltic states taken together, 2 times bigger than in Finland or Denmark, more than in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria or Sweden. Representatives of more than 100 nationalities live in Belarus. The majority of the population is Belarusian, significant numbers of Russians, Poles, Ukrainians and other nationalities live in Belarus. The highest point in Belarus is 346 meters. Averaging only 200 meters above sea level, the country is predominately gently rolling fields in the north and marshy lowlands in the south. More than half the land is used for agriculture. Some one-third is densely forested with large stands of spruce, pine, oak, and/or beech, everywhere interspersed with beautiful white/silver birch. Belarus is located on the 53rd latitude — roughly the same as Hamburg, Germany; Dublin, Ireland; and Edmonton, Canada. The climate of Belarus is moderately continental with mild and humid winter, warm summer and wet autumn. It can be cold from October to April. The average temperature in January is from –4,4 C° in the South-West to -8C° in the North-east of the country. Frost can occur 6 to 7 months of the year. Snow/ice can be expected from December to March, and occasionally into April. Winter days are short. Spring, summer, and fall bring long hours of welcome light. July is the warmest month. The average temperature of July is +18 C°. The average vegetation period is 184-208 days. The climatic conditions in Belarus are favourable for growing staple grain crops, vegetables, fruit trees and bushes which are common for moderate climate zones of East Europe, especially for cultivating potatoes, grains, sugar beets, flax, annual grass and fodder root crops, vegetables, poultry, pork, beef, and dairy products. There are more than 20 thousand rivers and streams in Belarus with the total length of 91 thousand kilometres, and about 11 thousand lakes, including 470 lakes with the area exceeding 0.5 km2 each. Naroch is the largest lake in Belarus (79.2 km2, the deepest point about 25 m). The most important river is the Dnepr, which flows well into Belarus from Russia, then south into Ukraine — ultimately providing an all-important shipping channel between the Baltic and Black Seas. Natural resources are timber and deposits of peat, granite, potassium salts, dolomite limestone, and chalk.
The Republic of Belarus consists of 6 regions which include 118 administrative districts and the City of Minsk. There are 110 towns and 108 settlements with the status of a town.
The country is linked by a system of train lines, bus routes, and roads. The road system throughout Belarus is mapped in a way that can be followed easily into all but the most rural areas.
The railway system is well developed and remains one of the cheapest and most efficient means of transportation between Belarusian cities and beyond. Minsk lies on a direct route between Warsaw and Moscow. Daily trains serve several major Eastern and Western cities, including Berlin, Paris, Kiev, Moscow, Prague, Riga, St. Petersburg, Vilnius, and Warsaw.
For some routes, buses may be the better option because of convenient departure times and frequency.
Belarus has a relatively good road system and it is possible to travel to any corner of the country within 3–4 hours. Vilnius, Lithuania is a 2 ½-hour drive; Warsaw and Kiev about 8 hours away by car, and Moscow a full day's drive.
Minsk has two airports. Minsk I is within the city limits and primarily serves smaller domestic flights. Minsk II is an easy 40-minute drive outside the city and serves international flights. The airlines that service Minsk are: Lufthansa, Austrian Air, LOT, Estonian Air, El Al, and Belavia. The major connecting cities into and out of Minsk are Frankfurt, Vienna, Warsaw, and Moscow.
Belarus is in the Eastern European Time Zone: GMT + 2 hours
President of the Republic of Belarus is the head of the state, guarantor of the Constitution and civil rights. According to the Constitution, president personifies unity of the people, guarantees realization of internal and external policy of the state, and represents the Republic of Belarus in relations with other states and international organizations. President takes measures to secure sovereignty of the Republic of Belarus, its national security and territorial integrity, provides political and economical stability, succession and cooperation of state bodies, and is a mediator between them. President issues edicts and decrees, that have the binding force on the whole territory of the Republic of Belarus. In cases stipulated by the Constitution, president issues decrees having force of laws. Directly or through special bodies provides the execution of decrees and edicts.
The Parliament, i.e. the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus is the representative and legislative body of the Republic of Belarus.
The Parliament consists of two Chambers, the Chamber of Representatives and the Council of the Republic. The Constitution defines the quantitative composition and the procedure of forming the Chambers. The Chamber of Representatives consists of 110 deputies elected on the basis of universal, free, equal and direct suffrage, by secret ballot. A deputy of the Chamber of Representatives must be citizen of the Republic of Belarus reaching the age of 21. The Council of the Republic is the Chamber of territorial representation. In each region and in the city of Minsk, 8 members of the Council of the Republic are elected at sittings of deputies by secret ballot. Eight members of the Council of the Republic are appointed by the President of the Republic of Belarus. A deputy of the Council of the Republic must be citizen of the Republic of Belarus reaching the age of 30 and residing on the territory of the respective oblast or the city of Minsk for at least 5 years.
Judicial power is exercised by General Courts (Supreme Court, plus regional, district, and town courts) and by Economic Courts (Supreme Economic, plus regional, district, and town economic courts). A Constitutional Court controls correspondence of the laws with the constitution.
The Procurator-General supervises the precise and uniform execution of laws, decrees, and other regulatory enactments by all state government bodies, local Soviets and other judicial and physical persons.
By the beginning of 2005, the population of Belarus was 9,9 millions people. Belarus is a poly-ethnic and poly-confessional state where, along with Belarusians (81,2% of the population), more than 100 nationalities are represented.
More than 1,142 thousand of Russians (about 11,4% of the total population) live in Belarus. Ethnic Russians have lived in Belarus throughout its history. Russians are dispersed throughout Belarus, there are no distinct enclaves; however, numerous groups of them are represented in the Eastern, in the capital and major industrial centres where they constitute up to 20% of the population or more.
Poles represent the next biggest (following Russians) population group in Belarus, 396 thousand strong (3,9%). They have been residing in the western parts of Belarus for several centuries. They are mostly dispersed, although their main concentration falls on western areas. Poles constitute about 5% of the urban population, although in a number of towns in the West of Belarus and in Minsk their share is much higher. But the main part of Belarusian Poles live in villages.
Ukrainians represent the fourth biggest group, following Belarusians, Russians and Poles in Belarus (by the beginning of 2000, there are 237 thousand Ukrainians, or 2.4% of the population).
Jews represent the fifth ethno-confessional group in Belarus (more than 28 thousand people). Starting from 1980, their number has decreased because of their emigration to Israel and Western countries. The migration intensity has considerably subsided in recent years.
About 7,000 Lithuanians reside in Belarus. They have been living in Belarus for a long time, mostly scattered among the population, although there are villages of their compact settlement.
Bilinguals who know 123 nationalities are represented in Belarus, including Tartars (13 thousand), Azerbaijanians, Armenians, Latvians, Koreans, Germans, Georgians, Ossetians, Gipsies, Moldavians, etc. Some of them have founded their own cultural and educational associations.
About 3 million Belarusians and their descendants reside outside Belarus, mostly in Russia, Ukraine, the USA, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Canada and Argentina.
More than 70% of Belarusians are city-dwellers.
Belarus is comparatively densely populated country. The average density of the population is 49 people per 1 km2.
Life expectancy is 62 years for men; 75 for women. Another significant impact of the war is the high percentage of women to men in the adult population.
Today, both Belarusian and Russian are considered official languages of the country. Street names and many signs are in Belarusian, as are some broadcast and print media, official documents, and many official meetings. In spite of efforts to revive Belarusian, Russian is spoken as the primary language of communication, except perhaps in the very rural countryside. Belarusian is closely related to Russian and Polish, all with Slavic origins. It is written using the Cyrillic alphabet, with two letters different from the Russian alphabet.
The national referendum held on 14 May 1995 resulted in that the Russian language was given the equal status alongside Belarusian. The Law on National Minorities in the Republic of Belarus guarantees the right of each of the ethnic minority living in the Republic to learn and use its native language.
The Constitution provides for the freedom of religion, with all denominations equal. More than 30 religious societies are registered and receive tax-exempt status. The Belarusian Orthodox Church is by far the largest in the country, followed by the Roman Catholic Church. Various Protestant denominations (including Evangelical Baptist, Seventh-day Adventist, Calvinists, Lutherans, Apostolic Christian, Beha'i and others) Judaism and Islam are represented in smaller communities throughout the country. Missionary groups, such as Campus Crusades, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the International Christian Fellowship have a growing number of followers. The Jewish community has not fully recovered from the devastation of WWII. It remains small, but there are active Synagogues. Services are in Russian, Belarusian, or Polish.
Arts, science and education
Belarus has an active and very professional ballet and opera. The Belarusian State Theatre, the Belarusian Academy of Arts, and the Belarusian University of Culture are outstanding supporters of Belarusian culture.
The artwork of Marc Chagall; the 16th century printing and translations of Francisk Skorina; and revered poets, Yakub Kolas, Maxim Bogdanovich, and Yanka Kupala are among the most notable artists. Both sacred and classical music enjoy strong traditions. Folklore groups perform traditional Belarusian music and dances. Every year the Union of Belarusian Writers sponsors literary festivals. Native handicrafts include woodcarvings, straw art, embroidered linens, lacquered paintings on boxes, eggs, and Matroshka dolls.
Famous Belarusian scientists include Kazimir Semenovich, inventor of the multistage missile; Yakub Narkevich-Yedka, inventor of electrograph and wireless transmission of electric signals; Sofia Kovalevskaya, noted mathematician; and Pavel Sukhoi, an aircraft designer. The Academy of Sciences, which opened in Minsk in 1929, remains the forum for the Republic's highest levels of research, design and technological activities.
Belarus has been home to many prominent individuals from other countries, including famous scientists, diplomats, politicians, artists, composers, writers, and even two Soviet cosmonauts.
Belarus has 53 state-run institutions of higher learning, 34 in the capital city of Minsk. Belarus State University and the Minsk Linguistic University are among the most prestigious. After independence several no state universities for humanities and business were established.
Children begin school at age 6 and continue through 10th and 11th forms. There are both public and private schools, including preschool for the very young.
Minsk is the capital city of Belarus.
Other greatest cities of Belarus: Gomel (505.000), Vitebsk (365.000), Moghilev (370.000), Grodno (306.000), Brest (300.000).
Food and Drink
In addition to Belarusian dishes, there is also a good selection of international and Russian specialities available.
Things to know: Beer and vodka can be bought round the clock from all-night kiosks and food shops. Coffee is generally available with meals and in cafes, although standards vary. Some bars are open until the early hours of the morning, while some close around 2100.
• Belarusian borshch, a soup made with beetroot, is served hot with sour cream.
• Other excellent specialities are filet à la Minsk and Minsk cutlet.
• Regional cooking is often based on potatoes with mushrooms and berries as favourite side dishes.
• Local dishes well worth trying are dracheny, a tasty potato dish with mushrooms, and draniki which is served with pickled berries.
• Mochanka is a thick soup mixed with lard accompanied by hot pancakes.
• Beloveszhskaya Bitters are made from over 100 different herbs and have an interesting flavour.
• A favourite drink is chai (black tea).
Tipping: 10% is usual. In some hotels in Minsk and other cities a 10 to 15% service charge is added to the bill. Porters expect a tip of US$1-2.
A thriving cultural scene with opera, ballet, theatre, circus and puppet theatre can be found in Minsk. Brest also has a renowned puppet theatre. Tickets can be bought in advance at underground stations or at the Central Theatre Ticket Office (Skoriny 13; opening hours: Mon-Sat 0930-2000, Sun 1100-1700). Same-day tickets are only available at the venue in question. Minsk now has a reasonable selection of restaurants, some of which offer live music. There are also discos, music venues and bars in the city. Many clubs are open all night.
Wooden caskets, trinket boxes, straw items, decorative plates and other handicraft items are good buys. Typical Russian souvenirs like the wooden matreshka dolls and original samovars are also available. Scarina Avenue is the main street with antique shops and two department stores. Only Belarusian Roubles are accepted. However, nearly every shop has a currency exchange counter. Some shops are closed on Sunday, but tourist shops are usually open every day. Antiquities, valuables, works of art and manuscripts other than those offered for sale in souvenir shops require an export licence.
Shopping hours: Mon-Sat 0900-2000. In big cities shops are open daily and many open 24 hours a day.