Fast Facts

Population:
9,776,000
Capital:
Minsk; 1,705,000
Area:
207,595 square kilometers (80,153 square miles)
Language:
Belarusian, Russian
Religion:
Eastern Othodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim
Currency:
Belarusian ruble
Life Expectancy:
69
GDP per Capita:
U.S. $8,700
Literacy Percent:
100
Flag: Belarus
Map: Belarus

Belarus, meaning "White Russia," is in Eastern Europe and consists of flat lowlands separated by low hills and uplands. Forests cover a third of this republic, and the Pinsk Marshes occupy much of the south. Settled by a Slavic people, Belarus was dominated by Kiev during the 13th century, by Lithuania and Poland into the 18th century, and by Russia after 1772. The region suffered grievously during World War II, losing more than two million people. Postwar years saw heavy industrial development, centered at Minsk. The 1986 nuclear disaster at Chornobyl (Chernobyl), just south of Belarus in Ukraine, contaminated one third of Belarus—70 percent of the radiation fell on its territory. Belarusians continue to suffer from high incidences of cancer and birth defects, and about 25 percent of the land is considered uninhabitable.

With independence in 1991 came economic decline. The government continues to stifle democracy and oppose privatization of money-losing state enterprises. Belarus remains heavily dependent on Russia—especially to meet its energy needs. Minsk is the administrative headquarters for the Commonwealth of Independent States, and Belarus uses this organization to seek greater economic and political integration with Russia.

ECONOMY

  • Industry: Metal-cutting machine tools, tractors, trucks, earthmovers
  • Agriculture: Grain, potatoes, vegetables, sugar beets; beef
  • Exports: Machinery and equipment, mineral products, chemicals, metals, textiles

—Text From National Geographic Atlas of the World, Eighth Edition

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