Belarus is an Eastern European country which gained its independence in 1991 after decades as an involuntary constituent republic of the former Soviet Union.
In order to provide a sense of size, the CIA World Factbook compares Belarus to Kansas, the state in which the Center for Belarusian Studies at Southwestern College is located. Belarus is a country of 207,600 square kilometers (80,134 square miles) while Kansas has 211,921 square kilometers (81,823 square miles).
Both the state of Kansas and the country of Belarus are landlocked. Belarus is the more densely populated, though, of the two. Belarus, according to the CIA World Factbook has a population of 10,293,011. By contrast, a 2000 figure on the http://www.Kansas.gov site estimates the population of Kansas to be 2,603,200.
The two areas both are associated with a relatively flat terrain. Belarus, however, has extensive wetlands in its southern regions while Kansas has only a few marshy areas. Belarus is also more heavily forested than are the plains of Kansas.
The capital of Belarus is Minsk (Miensk) and the monetary unit the Belarusian Ruble.
International attention was focused on Belarus in April of 1986 when radioactive fallout from Chornobyl (alternatively spelled Chernobyl), a nuclear reactor in Ukraine, drifted over Belarus, contaminating large portions of the country. Studies on the affects of the Chornobyl disaster on Belarus are still ongoing.
Recorded history begins with settlement by Baltic and Slavic tribes in the early centuries A.D. With distinctive statehood features by the ninth century, Belarus in the 13th century formed the nucleus of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a multinational state which among others included Belarus as well as the present day Lithuania. Belarusian was the state language of the Grand Duchy until the end of the 17th century, in part owing to the strong flowering of Belarusian culture during the Renaissance. Occupied by the Russian empire from the end of the 18th century until World War I, Belarus declared its independence on March 25, 1918.
Independence was brief, as the new Soviet Union imposed control in 1919. Belarus’ territory was then divided for the next 20 years between Poland and the Soviet Union along the line of the armistice which ended the 1919-1920 Polish-Soviet war. The government of the Belarusian Democratic Republic went into exile, where it has operated continuously to the present except for a brief hiatus during World War II. The exiled government’s executive is currently located in North America.
With the dissolution of the USSR at the end of 1991, the newly independent Republic of Belarus (Respublika Belarus) came into existence. Since 1994 Aleksandr Lukashenka has been president of Belarus. The CIA World Factbook notes that the Belarus constitution provides for a presidential term of five years; reelection for a second five-year term is envisaged in the constitution.
Those provisions were altered in a series of non-democratic actions, and President Lukashenko has “consolidated power steadily in the executive branch through authoritarian means…to broaden his powers and illegally extend his term in office,” according to the Department of State .