Belarus

Introduction

Introduction

Belarus , officially the Republic of Belarus, formerly and sometimes known as Byelorussia, is a landlocked countryin Eastern Europe bordered by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital is Minsk; other major cities include Brest, Hrodna (Grodno), Homiel (Gomel), Mahilioŭ (Mogilev)and Vitsebsk (Vitebsk). Over 40% of its 207,600 square kilometres (80,200 sq mi) is forested. Its strongest economic sectors are service industries and manufacturing. Until the 20th century, different states at various times controlled the lands of modern-day Belarus, including the Principality of Polotsk (11th to 14th centuries), the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the Russian Empire.

In the aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution, Belarus declared independence as the Belarusian People's Republic, which was conquered by Soviet Russia as the Socialist Soviet Republic of Byelorussia, which became a founding constituent republic of the Soviet Union in 1922 and was renamed as the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (Byelorussian SSR). Belarus lost almost half of its territory to Poland after the Polish–Soviet War of 1919-1921. Much of the borders of Belarus took their modern shape in 1939, when some lands of the Second Polish Republic were reintegrated into it after the Soviet invasion of Poland, and were finalized after World War II. During WWII, military operations devastated Belarus, which lost about a third of its population and more than half of its economic resources. The republic was redeveloped in the post-war years. In 1945 Belarus became a founding member of the United Nations, along with the Soviet Union and the Ukrainian SSR.

The parliament of the republic declared the sovereignty of Belarus on 27 July 1990, and during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Belarus declared independence on 25 August 1991.

In 2000 Belarus and Russia signed a treaty for greater cooperation, with some hints of forming a Union State. Over 70% of Belarus's population of 9.49 million resides in urban areas. More than 80% of the population is ethnic Belarusian, with sizable minorities of Russians, Poles and Ukrainians. Since a referendum in 1995, the country has had two official languages: Belarusianand Russian. The Constitution of Belarus does not declare any official religion, although the primary religion in the country is Eastern Orthodox Christianity. The second most widespread religious group, Roman Catholicism, has a much smaller following; nevertheless, Belarus celebrates both Orthodox and Catholic versions of Christmas and Easter as national holidays. Belarus is the only country in Europe to retain capital punishment in law and practice.


Geography and climate

Belarus lies between latitudes 51° and 57° N, and longitudes 23° and 33° E. Its extension from north to south is 560 km (350 mi), from west to east is 650 km (400 mi). It is landlocked, relatively flat, and contains large tracts of marshy land. About 40% of Belarus is covered by forests.

Many streams and 11,000 lakes are found in Belarus. Three major rivers run through the country: the Neman, the Pripyat, and the Dnieper. The Neman flows westward towards the Baltic sea and the Pripyat flows eastward to the Dnieper; the Dnieper flows southward towards the Black Sea.

The highest point is Dzyarzhynskaya Hara (Dzyarzhynsk Hill) at 345 metres (1,132 ft), and the lowest point is on the Neman River at 90 m (295 ft). The average elevation of Belarus is 160 m (525 ft) above sea level. The climate features mild to cold winters, with average January minimum temperatures ranges from −4 °C (24.8 °F) in southwest (Brest) to −8 °C (17.6 °F) in northeast (Vitebsk), and cool and moist summers with an average temperature of 18 °C (64.4 °F). Belarus has an average annual rainfall of 550 to 700 mm (21.7 to 27.6 in). The country is in the transitional zone between continental climates and maritime climates.

Natural resources include peat deposits, small quantities of oil and natural gas, granite, dolomite (limestone), marl, chalk, sand, gravel, and clay. About 70% of the radiation from neighboring Ukraine's 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster entered Belarusian territory, and about a fifth of Belarusian land (principally farmland and forests in the southeastern regions) was affected by radiation fallout. The United Nations and other agencies have aimed to reduce the level of radiation in affected areas, especially through the use of caesium binders and rapeseed cultivation, which are meant to decrease soil levels of caesium-137.

Belarus borders five countries: Latvia to the north, Lithuania to the northwest, Poland to the west, Russia to the north and the east, and Ukraine to the south. Treaties in 1995 and 1996 demarcated Belarus's borders with Latvia and Lithuania, but Belarus failed to ratify a 1997 treaty establishing the Belarus-Ukraine border.Belarus and Lithuania ratified final border demarcation documents in February 2007.

Average daily maximum and minimum temperatures for the six largest cities in Belarus
Location July (°C) July (°F) January (°C) January (°F)
Minsk 23/14 74/57 –2/−6 28/20
Gomel 25/15 77/58 −2/−7 28/19
Mogilev 23/12 74/55 –1/−6 30/21
Vitebsk 23/13 74/56 –3/−7 26/18
Grodno 24/12 75/55 –1/–6 30/21
Brest 25/14 83/61 –0/−5 31/23


Demographics

According to the National Statistical Committee, as of January 2016, the population is 9.49 million people. Ethnic Belarusians constitute 83.7% of Belarus's total population. The next largest ethnic groups are: Russians (8.3%), Poles (3.1%), and Ukrainians (1.7%). Belarus has a population density of about 50 people per square kilometer (127 per sq mi); 70% of its total population is concentrated in urban areas . Minsk, the nation's capital and largest city, was home to 1,937,900 residents in 2015. Gomel, with a population of 481,000, is the second-largest city and serves as the capital of the Homiel Voblast. Other large cities are Mogilev (365,100), Vitebsk (342,400), Hrodna (314,800) and Brest (298,300).

Like many other European countries, Belarus has a negative population growth rate and a negative natural growth rate. In 2007, Belarus's population declined by 0.41% and its fertility rate was 1.22,well below the replacement rate. Its net migration rate is +0.38 per 1,000, indicating that Belarus experiences slightly more immigration than emigration. As of 2006, 69.7% of Belarus's population is aged 14 to 64; 16% is under 14, and 14.6% is 65 or older. Its population is also aging; the median age of 37 is estimated to rise to between 55 and 65 in 2050. There are about 0.87 males per female in Belarus. The average life expectancy is 68.7 years (63.0 years for males and 74.9 years for females). Over 99% of Belarusians aged 15 and older are literate.


Religion

According to the government sources, as of November 2011, 58.9% of all Belarusians adhere to some kind of religion; out of those, Eastern Orthodoxy (Belarusian Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church) makes up about 82%.Roman Catholicism is practiced mostly in the western regions, and there are also different denominations of Protestantism. Minorities also practice Greek Catholicism, Judaism, Islam and Neopaganism.

Belarus's Catholic minority, which constitute about 9% of the country's population and is concentrated in the western part of the country, especially around Hrodna, is made up of a mixture of Belarusians and the country's Polish and Lithuanian minorities. In a statement to the media regarding Belarusian-Vatican ties, President Lukashenko stated that Orthodox and Catholic believers are the "two main confessors in our country". The total Roman Catholic population has dropped to 12% of religious believers, according to a 2011 report by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Belarus was once a major center of European Jews, with 10% of the population being Jewish. But since the mid-20th century, the number of Jews has been reduced by the Holocaust, deportation, and emigration, so that today it is a very small minority of less than one percent. The Lipka Tatars, numbering over 15,000, are predominantly Muslims. According to Article 16 of the Constitution, Belarus has no official religion. While the freedom of worship is granted in the same article, religious organizations deemed harmful to the government or social order can be prohibited.


Economy

At the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Belarus was one of the world's most industrially developed states by percentage of GDP as well as the richest CIS member-state.In 2015, 39.3% of Belarusians were employed by state-controlled companies, 57.2% were employed by private companies (in which the government has a 21.1% stake) and 3.5% were employed by foreign companies. The country relies on Russia for various imports, including petroleum. Important agricultural products include potatoes and cattle byproducts, including meat. In 1994, Belarus's main exports included heavy machinery (especially tractors), agricultural products, and energy products. Economically, Belarus involved itself in the CIS, Eurasian Economic Community, and Union with Russia.

In the 1990s, however, industrial production plunged due to decreases in imports, investment, and demand for Belarusian products from its trading partners. GDP only began to rise in 1996; the country was the fastest-recovering former Soviet republic in the terms of its economy. In 2006, GDP amounted to US$83.1 billion in purchasing power parity (PPP) dollars (estimate), or about $8,100 per capita. In 2005, GDP increased by 9.9%; the inflation rate averaged 9.5%.

In 2006, Belarus's largest trading partner was Russia, accounting for nearly half of total trade, with the European Union the next largest trading partner, with nearly a third of foreign trade. As of 2015, 38% of Belarusian exported goods go to Russia and 56% of imported goods come from Russia.

Due to its failure to protect labor rights, including passing laws forbidding unemployment or working outside of state-controlled sectors, Belarus lost its EU Generalized System of Preferences status on 21 June 2007, which raised tariff rates to their prior most favored nationlevels. Belarus applied to become a member of the World Trade Organization in 1993.

The labor force consists of more than four million people, among whom women hold slightly more jobs than men. In 2005, nearly a quarter of the population was employed by industrial factories. Employment is also high in agriculture, manufacturing sales, trading goods, and education. The unemployment rate, according to government statistics, was 1.5% in 2005. There were 679,000 unemployed Belarusians, two-thirds of whom were women. The unemployment rate has been in decline since 2003, and the overall rate of employment is the highest since statistics were first compiled in 1995.

Until 1 July 2016, the currency of Belarus was the Belarusian ruble (BYR). The currency was introduced in May 1992, replacing the Soviet ruble. The first coins of the Republic of Belarus were issued on 27 December 1996. The ruble was reintroduced with new values in 2000 and has been in use ever since. As part of the Union of Russia and Belarus, both states have discussed using a single currency along the same lines as the Euro. This led to a proposal that the Belarusian ruble be discontinued in favor of the Russian ruble (RUB), starting as early as 1 January 2008. The National Bank of Belarus abandoned pegging the Belarusian ruble to the Russian ruble in August 2007.

A new currency, the new Belarusian ruble (ISO 4217 code: BYN) was introduced in July 2016, replacing the Belarusian ruble in a rate of 1:10,000 (10,000 old rubles = 1 new ruble). From 1 July until 31 December 2016, the old and new currencies will be in parallel circulationand series 2000 notes and coins can be exchanged for series 2009 from 1 January 2017 to 31 December 2021. This redenomination can be considered an effort to fight the high inflation rate.

The banking system of Belarus consists of thirty state-owned banks and one privatized bank. On 23 May 2011, the Belarusian ruble depreciated 56% against the United States dollar. The depreciation was even steeper on the black market and financial collapse seemed imminent as citizens rushed to exchange their rubles for dollars, euros, durable goods, and canned goods. On 1 June 2011, Belarus requested an economic rescue package from the International Monetary Fund.

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