Literally “White Russia,” Belarus lies landlocked in eastern Europe. It reluctantly became independent when the USSR broke up in 1991. It has few resources other than agriculture.
Geography: Mainly plains and low hills. The Dnieper and Dvina rivers drain the eastern lowlands. Vast Pripet Marshes in the southwest.
Climate: Extreme continental climate. Winters are long, sub-freezing, but mainly dry; summers are hot.
People and Society: Only 2% of people are non-Slav, so ethnic tension is minimal. Russian culture dominates. Belarus was the slowest ex-Soviet state to implement political reform; President Lukashenka has been labeled as Europe’s last dictator. Enthusiasm for a merger with Russia has waned. Wealth is held by a small ex-Communist elite. Fallout from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine still seriously affects health and the environment.
The Economy: Low unemployment. Industry outmoded and mainly state-owned. Depends on Russia for energy and raw materials: tensions over natural gas prices.
Insight: The number of cancer and leukemia cases soared after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
Official Name: Republic of Belarus
Date of Formation: 1991
Population: 9.63 million
Total Area: 80,154 sq. miles (207,600 sq. km)
Density: 120 people per sq. mile
Languages: Belarussian*, Russian*
Religions: Orthodox Christian 60%, other (including Muslim, Jewish, and Protestant) 32%, Roman Catholic 8%
Ethnic Mix: Belarussian 81%, Russian 11%, Polish 4%, Ukrainian 2%, other 2%
Government: Presidential system
Currency: Belarussian rouble = 100 kopeks