OFFICIAL NAME: Republic of Belarus
SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT: Unitary Multiparty Republic
AREA: 207,600 Sq Km (80,200 Sq Mi)
ESTIMATED 2000 POPULATION 10,452,500
LOCATION AND GEOGRAPHY: Belarus is a former republic of the
USSR. It is bound by Poland and Lithuania to the west, Russia
to the northeast and east, Ukraine to the south and Latvia
to the northwest. The country occupies the western extremities
of the East European Plain within the basins of the Dnieper,
Zapadnaia Dvina and Neman Rivers. The country's terrain
is characterized by the alternation of elevated flat and
depressed areas, which are swampy and occupied by lakes
in various regions. The southeast region is occupied by
alluvial as well as glacial plains and as a whole, the terrain
is the result of anthropogenic continental glaciation. The
principal rivers are the Western Dvina, Bevezina, Dnepr,
Pripyat (Pripet), Neman, Bug and the Sozh. Major Cities
(pop. est.); Minsk 1,671,000, Homel 517,000, Vitebsk 373,000,
Mahilyou 364,000, Hrodno 291,000 (1992). Land Use; forested
34%, pastures 15%, agricultural-cultivated 30%, other 21%
CLIMATE: Belarus has a moderately continental climate that is
influenced by the Baltic Sea and Atlantic Ocean. The summers are warm and
winters are cold while the average annual precipitation ranges 546 mm (21.5
inches) to 693 mm (27.3 inches). Average temperature ranges are from 17.5
degrees Celsius (63.5 degrees Fahrenheit) in July to -7 degrees Celsius
(20 degrees Fahrenheit) in January.
PEOPLE: The principal ethnic majority are the Belarussians who
account for 78% of the population while 13% are Russians and 3% are Ukrainians.
Other ethnic minorities include Jews, Tartars and Lithuanians.
DEMOGRAPHIC/VITAL STATISTICS: Density; 50 persons per sq km (129
persons per sq mi) (1993). Urban-Rural; 67.6% urban, 32.4% rural (1992).
Sex Distribution; 47.0% male, 53.0% female (1992). Life Expectancy at Birth;
66.3 years male, 75.6 years female (1990). Age Breakdown; 23% under 15,
22% 15 to 29, 21% 30 to 44, 18% 45 to 59, 11% 60 to 74, 5% 75 and over
(1989). Birth Rate; 12.9 per 1,000 (1992). Death Rate; 11.2 per 1,000 (1992).
Increase Rate; 1.7 per 1,000 (1992). Infant Mortality Rate; 12.1 per 1,000
live births (1992).
RELIGIONS: Mostly Orthodox Christians with a Roman Catholic minority.
LANGUAGES: The official language is Belarussian while Russian
is also widely spoken and each ethnic minority also has its own language.
EDUCATION: Aged 25 or over and having attained: primary or no
formal schooling 23.0%, incomplete secondary 16.8%, completed secondary
49.4%, higher 10.8% (1989). Literacy; N/A.
MODERN HISTORY - WWII TO 1993: On Aug. 25, 1991 Belarus declared
its independence, although prior to independence its history was closely
tied with that of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
In Mar. 1953 Yosef Stalin died and was succeeded by Georgy Malenkov who
was in turn forced to relinquish the party leadership to Nikita Khrushchev
after a little over one week in power. In 1955 the Warsaw pact, militarily
aligned the Soviet Union with other communist countries and in Nov. 1956
the Soviet Red Army invaded Hungary to quell uprisings. In 1957 three communist
ministers unsuccessfully attempted to depose Khrushchev which resulted
in their expulsion from the central committee. In 1962 under Khrushchev's
rule the USSR was involved in the Cuban Missile crisis and in the same
year relations with China were broken off as a result of ideological differences.
In Oct. 1964 Khrushchev was forced to retire and was succeeded by Leonid
Brezhnev. In Aug. 1968 the Warsaw Pact forces led by the Red Army invaded
Czechoslovakia to halt their Prague Spring reforms. In 1977 Breshnev was
elected President. In Nov. 1982 Brezhnev died and was succeeded by Yuri
Andropov, the former head of the KGB. Andropov introduced limited economic
reforms and established an anti-corruption program. In Feb 1984 Andropov
died and was succeeded by Konstantin Chernenko who in turn died on Mar.
10, 1985. On Mar. 11, 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev was elected as Chernenko's
successor and Gorbachev embarked on a program which restructured the USSR's
relations with the West. Gorbachev also established Glasnost (openness)
as well as Perestroika (restructuring and reform). In Apr. 1986 a meltdown
in the reactor of the Chernobyl nuclear power station in Ukraine sent radioactive
fallout across northern Europe. In Dec. 1987 the USSR and USA signed the
Treaty on Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF). In Feb. 1988 a dispute erupted
between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh which
resulted in mass demonstrations and strikes in the two republics. In Dec.
1988 an earthquake in Armenia killed some 50,000 people. In Apr. 1989 troops
violently repressed demonstrations in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.
In Dec. 1989 the Lithuanian Parliament adopted multiparty politics.
In Jan. 1990 Gorbachev visited Lithuania and was met by some 250,000
pro-independence demonstrators. In Feb. 1990 some 18 people were killed
in riots over housing discrimination in Tajikistan. In May 1990 Boris Yeltsin
was elected President of the Russian Federation and on Nov. 1, 1990 launched
a 500 day plan to give the Russian Republic a free market economy. In June
1990 Nakhichevan an Azerbaijani enclave bordering Iran declared its intention
for a unification with Iran while a civil war was escalating between Azerbaijan
and Armenia. In the same month around 150 people were killed during ethnic
clashes in Kyrgyzstan. In Jan 1991 another 15 people were killed as the
Red Army seized a television station in Lithuania while in Latvia the Soviet
Black Berets killed 5 people in an attack on the ministry building. In
the same month troops were being deployed in Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia
and Moldova. In Mar. 1991 pro-Yeltsin demonstrators held a mass rally.
On Aug. 18, 1991 as Gorbachev was vacationing in the Crimea, the Politburo
hard liners attempted a coup to remove Gorbachev from power through the
declaration of a State of Emergency under the control of a State Committee.
Almost immediately republic leaders declared the emergency committee illegal
as well as unconstitutional and began to barricade their parliaments as
troops and tanks were deployed throughout the republics. By Aug. 20 senior
officers had refused to order their troops to use force against the civilians
and on Aug. 21, 1991 the coup collapsed as troops were ordered to return
to their barracks. Immediately following the unsuccessful coup many republics
suspended or purged the communist party and on Sept. 5, 1991 after 3 days
of debate the 74 years of centralized communist control came to an end.
In Jan. 1992 Belarus became a founding member of the Commonwealth of Independent
States (CIS). The Belarus leadership which consisted solely of former communists
decided not to adopt a presidential form of government so that the Supreme
Soviet, headed by Stanislau Shushkevich became the organ of state power.
Throughout 1992, the leadership remained divided on the issue of Belarus'
policy within the CIS. Prime Minister Vyacheslau Kebich favored a confederation
of of equal states and the emergence of a successor state to the Soviet
Union while Shushkevich favored the CIS as a purely transitional arrangement
with the establishment of closer ties to Europe. In May 1992 Belarus introduced
its own rouble bank notes which became the sole legal tender in November.
In June 1992, Poland and Belarus recognized each other's borders and settled
their differences. In July 1992, after a joint session of the Russian and
Belarus governments in Moscow, military and economic agreements were signed
that involved a "high-level of real integration" of the two states.
Immediately afterwards, Shushkevich contradicted his prime minister by
declaring the agreements were contrary to CIS and Belarus law. Also during
1992, industrial production fell by 14% while the GDP was expected to fall
by 16%. Belarus had also announced its intention to become nuclear free
with the last tactical nuclear warhead leaving Belarus territory in May
with all long-range nuclear weapons to be transferred to Russian over the
next 7 years. In February 1993, Belarus voted to adhere to the Nuclear
Non-proliferation Treaty and ratified the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty
(START I) with some 80 intercontinental missiles to by transferred to Russia
by the end of 1994. During 1993 there were further economic woes for Belarus
with market reforms curtailed by the Supreme Soviet. Further economic problems
also caused periodical halts to energy supplies for which Belarus is reliant
on Russia for 90% of its energy imports. Political life was dominated by
the continuing conflict between Prime Minister Kebich and Supreme Soviet
Chairman Shushkevich over the question of joint military and economic unions
with Russia. In September 1993, the Belarus parliament with the support
of powerful reactionary grouping, the Belarus Faction, agreed to enter
an economic union with Russia and in November to form a monetary union,
both against the protest of Shushkevich and the Belarussian Popular Front.
Also during 1993, there were growing concerns over the 1986 Chernobyl-Ukrainian
atomic power plant disaster with the number of thyroid cancers among children
rising dramatically as a result of nearly 40% of the country's territory
being contaminated by radioactive fallout.
CURRENCY: The official currency is the Rouble (R) (also known
as the Zaichik) divided into 100 Kopecks.
ECONOMY: Gross National Product; USD $29,306,000,000 (1993).
Public Debt; USD $1,489,400,000 (1994). Imports; USD $3,038,000,000 (1994).
Exports; USD $3,680,000,000 (1994). Tourism Receipts; N/A. Balance of Trade;
USD $ -542,000,000 (1994). Economically Active Population; 4,826,000 or
46.9% of total population (1993). Unemployed; 7.5% (1992).
MAIN TRADING PARTNERS: Its main trading partner is the CIS.
MAIN PRIMARY PRODUCTS: Buckwheat, Chalk, Chloride, Clay, Limestone,
Peat, Potassium, Quartz Sand, Rye, Sodium Chloride, Sugar Beets, Timber,
MAJOR INDUSTRIES: Bicycles, Clothing, Farm Machinery, Fertilizers,
Food Processing, Furniture, Glass, Motorcycles, Motors, Oil Refining, Paper,
Potash Processing, Prefabricated Houses, Radios, Textiles, Tools, Wine
Making, Wood Processing.
MAIN EXPORTS: Farm Machinery, Fertilizers, Glass, Machine Tools,
Synthetic Fibers, Textiles.
TRANSPORT: Railroads; route length 5,587 km (3,472 mi) (1990),
passenger-km 16,525,000,000 (10,268,000,000 passenger-mi) (1989), cargo
ton-km 81,734,000,000 (55,980,000,000 short ton-mi) (1989). Roads; length
48,100 km (29,888 mi) (1990). Vehicles; cars 498,700 (1988). Merchant Marine;
N/A. Air Transport; passenger-km 5,754,000,000 (3,575,000,000 passenger-mi)
(1989), cargo ton-km 49,000,000 (34,000,000 short ton-mi) (1989).
COMMUNICATIONS: Daily Newspapers; total of 10 with a total circulation
of 1,899,000 (1992). Radio; receivers 3,185,000 (1993). Television; receivers
2,775,000 (1993). Telephones; units 1,814,400 (1993).
MILITARY: 98,400 (1995) total active duty personnel with 51.3%
army, 0.0% navy and 27.4% air force while military expenditure accounts
for 1.8% (1993) of the Gross National Product (GNP).
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