Myths & Facts about Belarus
Belarus is far from Europe
Belarus is geographical center of Europe!
The exact geographical center of Europe is located around Belarussian city Polatsk city 55°30′0″N 28°48′0″E.
The closest European capital, Vilnius, is just two hours’ drive from Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Also Minsk is around an hour flight from Warsaw or Moscow, less than a two hour flight from Berlin and less than three hours from London.
The Belarusian language is a Russian dialect
They are two different languages. They both belong to Slavonic group of languages; but the differences between them are great. The Russians cannot understand the Belarusian language well, especially if authentic Belarusian words are used, though it is possible for the Russians to catch the general idea of speech. The Belarusians can understand Russian, however, because almost all of them are bilingual.
The old Belarusian language was an official language of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (1230–1596) – the state that comprised of contemporary Belarus, Lithuania, Ukraine, and part of Russia.
In 1517, a great Belarusian teacher, scientist, philosopher and humanist Francisc Skaryna published the Bible in the Belarusian language. The Belarusians became the third nation after the Germans and the Czechs to have a printed Bible in their native language.
At the end of the XVI-th century the third edition of the Grand Duchy Statute came out. Written in the Belarusian language it was the only full code of laws in Europe since the Roman Law and until the Napoleonic Code adopted in 1804.
All the Belarusians speak the belarusian language
While in the cities Belarusian people predominantly speak Russian, in rural areas people tend to speak Belarusian. Moreover, most of Belarusian Russian speakers consider Belarusian as their native language.
According to the 1999 census, 85.6% of over 8,000 Belarusians surveyed consider Belarusian their mother tongue, and 41.3% of them said they used Belarusian at home.
Many Belarusians do indeed speak Russian primarily. Some researches came to the conclusion that this is the result of discrimination against the Belarusian language during the country’s past in the Russian empire (from 1794) and then in the Soviet Union (from 1922). Both Russian and Belarusian have been the country’s official languages since the referendum in 1995. According to the 1991 census, the first census in independent Belarus, Belarusian was spoken at home by 36.7% of the population and Russian was spoken by 62.8% of Belarusians.
Do you want to speak Belarusian? Welcome here: http://mylanguages.org/belarusian_alphabet.php
The word "Belarus" means "White Russia"
Until the middle of the XVI-th century the word combination “White Russia” was used referring to the region to the North and North-East from the contemporary territory of Belarus, they were Russian lands. In the map issued in the XVI-th century by a German scientist Nikolai Kusanski the name "White Rus (Russia)" refers to Moscow state.
And in the world map, which was made by a Venitian monk Fra Mauro in 1495, "Whate Russia" was the area of Novgorod and Moscow Rus (Russia), in the map it has the name as Rossia Biancha. And the territory of current Belarus was called as "Black Rus (Russia)" - Rossia Negra. Would like to have a look at the map? Come here:
In the XVI-XVII-th centuries "White Russia” spread to the Vitebsk and Mogilev (North and North-East of Belarus), but to all the area that now we call Belarus it spread in the XIX-th century only.
The origin of the name "White Russia" some researchers associate with the meaning "independent and free", others associate it with the appearance of the population in Northern Russia, as the predominant color of clothing in the region was white. Some more researches think that the lands of our country were not explored enough at those times, and were considered as “white spots” in a map and later gave birth to the mane of the area.
The Belarusians don't have their national identity
Indeed, Belarusians have a lower level of consciousness about their national language and history than most of their neighbors. Several reasons explain this. Belarus (called Belarusian People’s Republic) first declared independence on March 25 1918 under the German occupation. However, independence lasted only several months until the Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed.
Belarus’ human and material losses were tremendous during both the First and Second World Wars. In 1939, much of Western Belarus constituted a part of Poland. Coupled with the intense Russification during the Soviet times, these realities have left Belarusians with a very specific legacy. Belarusians are highly risk-averse and obedient. They learned to be content even with the most basic freedoms, which look like luxuries after the years of war and brutal Soviet repression.
The lack of strong national identity contributed to Lukashenka’s ability to manipulate public opinion in a highly atomized Belarusian society. It also contributed to Russia’s strong influence – ideological, political and economic – over the situation in Belarus.
The Belarusians always use only Cyrillic alphabet
The Belarusian language now predominantly uses the Cyrillic script. Most texts in Belarusian are written in Cyrillic. Nevertheless, since the Middle Ages, there has been a strong tradition of Latin script usage. Following independence some people revived the historic tradition of writing in the Latin script, both in private and in some publications.
Under Western European influence, the Catholic and Greek-Catholic communities preferred the Latin script in their everyday lives and publications up until the 1950s. Major Belarusian language periodicals in the beginning of the 20th century appeared in both scripts. Later, the national awakening activists organized a wide-scale public discussion on the scripts dilemma which by rather a small margin resulted in choosing Cyrillic.
Both the Cyrillic and Latin scripts have been modified to meet the needs of Belarusian phonetics. In particular, Belarusians added to the Cyrillic script і, apostrophe, and ў, and to Latin – č, ž, š, ŭ as well as some other peculiarities.
The Belarusian nation also has a tradition of writing its language in the Arabic script, perfectly modified to suit Belarusian sounds by the local Muslim community in medieval times. There were thousands of manuscripts published– so called kitab literature – written in Belarusian with Belarusian-Arabic script up until the early 20th century.
Minsk has always been the capital of Belarus
The history of belarusian statehood dates back to old Belarusian town of Polotsk. For a long time Polotsk was the center of powerful and independent Polotsk princedom. For the first time Polotsk was mentioned in chronicles in 862.
In the middle if the XIII-th century Novogrudok town (to south-west from Minsk) became the first capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Belarusian lands were a part of it.
Later Vilna (today, Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania) was the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
The capital of the briefly existing Lithuanian–Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic, or Litbel, that existed within the territories of modern Belarus and eastern Lithuania in 1919, was initially Vilnius.
In April 1919 the capital was moved to Minsk as Vilnius had been seized by the Polish Army with the onset of the Polish–Soviet War.
Smolensk (now in Russia) is the first Soviet Belarusian capital. In Smolensk on the 1, January, 1919 Soviet Socialist Republic Belorussia (SSRB) was announced, it was a part of Soviet Russia. On the 31, January 1919 it left Soviet Russia and was renamed into Belarussian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR) with the capital in Minsk. So, Minsk became the Belarusian capital in 1918 only.
Belarus has the world’s largest population of aurochs
They are the heaviest and largest land mammal of Europe. The giant makes a great impression, it smells with old times and the age of the last glaciation, as an aurochs is a contemporary of a mammoth. In 1920-s they were under the treat if extinction, but fortunately now they are not in danger anymore. The majority of them live in South-West of Belarus in Belovezha Forest which we call pushcha.
Belovezha Forest is the largest ancient forest in Europe
Antique historian Herodotus (fifth century B.C.) wrote about the forest. It was also mentioned in the Hypatian Chronicle (in 983). In the late XIV-th century, Duke Yagailo of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania declared the forest a protected area and prohibited hunting there. The ancient forest has been protecting for almost 600 years! There are nearly 2,000 giant trees in the Belovezha Forest, some of them pre-dating Columbus' discovery of America. The Belovezha Forest has been added into the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Pripiats National Park is the only place where you can find primeval lowland oak-woods
The Park is in South-East of Belarus, this area has the name Poesie. The lowlands of the Belarusian Polesie have survived in their primeval state. Over 30 lakes are hidden in oak and ash-tree woods. Polesie’s natural marshes are the biggest in Europe.
The huge area of the Belarusian Amazon land is home to the pristine natural systems with a wide variety of flora and fauna – vast swamps, wide inundated lands, oak woods, and broad-leaved forests.
Polesie area is truly the lungs of Europe since it is home to the continent’s largest complex of forests and swamps are the best at generating oxygen.
Fifteen Nobel Prize winners have Belarusian roots
This most prestigious international prize was instituted more than 100 years ago. Several Nobel Prize winners have Belarusian roots.
None of them was a Belarusian by nationality, but most of them held their childhood on our lands, some of them finished here secondary education.
Almost all of them left the country during or after the October revolution, later they were admitted to prestigious U.S. institutions and achieved the highest recognition in the scientific world.
They are: a physicist Martin Lewis Perl, an economics Simon S. Kuznets (Smith), Alan J. Heeger (discovered and developed the theory of conductive polymers), Zhores Alferov (developed semiconductor heterostructures and the created of fast opto-and microelectronic components), a cemist Aaron Klug, a physicist Sheldon Lee Glashow, Menahem Begin (the Nobel peace prize), Shimon Peres (the Nobel peace prize), Yitzhak Rabin (the Nobel peace prize), a physicist Frederick Reines,
a mathematician and economist Leonid Kantorovich, a physicist Jerome Isaac Friedman, a physical chemist Ilya Prigogine, a physicist Richard Feynman.
And of course, we are proud to say that in 2015 our belarusian Svetlana Alexievich got the Nobel Prize in the sphere of literature!
One of three East-Slavonic St. Sophia Cathedrals is situated in Belarus
The 11th-century St. Sofia Cathedral was a special piece of the ancient Russian architecture. The temples in Kiev, Novgorod and Polotsk have a similar cross-dome system, 5 naves, and galleries.
St. Sophia Cathedral in the ancient town of Polotsk does not look like other Eastern Orthodox churches of the same name. It is one of the oldest temples constructed by Eastern Slavonic peoples and the first church built from stone on the territory of Belarus.
St. Sophia Cathedral in Polotsk was the third cathedral of this kind built in Ancient Rus and the fourth in the world. St. Sophia Cathedral in Polotsk like its “elder sisters” in Kiev and Novgorod was constructed to the same design as the famous Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Constantinople.
This architectural specimen has been nominated for the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Belarus is one of the first nations in Europe to have its own printed Bible (1517)
Belarus’ first printer Frantsysk Skorina started his publishing business in Prague where he printed 23 illustrated Bibles. They were published in the old Belarusian language. In the early 1520s he moved to Vilno where he founded a publishing house. It printed the Small Travel Guide and Book of the Apostles. Frantsysk Skorina's works were distinguished by high print quality, unique illustrations and distinctive typefaces.
Tadeush Kostiushko, the national hero of Belarus, Poland and United States, is a native of Belarus
Tadeush Kostiushko, political and military figure of the Polish and Lithuanian Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita), leader of the rebellion in 1794. National hero of Belarus, Poland and the USA, honorary citizen of France.
Born in 1746, in Brest region.
In 1776 - 1783 he volunteered to participate in the War of Independence in the USA. He returned home in 1784 and joined the Polish army in 1789. He was declared commander and head of the rebellion of the year 1794. In the battle of Matchevitz (1794) T. Kostiushko was heavily wounded, captured and imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress. He was released in 1796 and went to the USA. He returned to Europe in 1798.
T. Kostiushko died in Switzerland in 1817, and is interred in Krakow.
During the American Revolution (1776-1783) T. Kostiushko was an associate of the US founder George Washington and the national hero of France La Fayette. In 1794 he led an uprising in Rzeczpospolita. He received cooperation offers from French Emperor Napoleon I and Russian Tsar Alexander I, but refused them.
The Belarusian partisan movement in WWII was the strongest resistance movement in Europe
By 1943 the partisans controlled about 60% of Belarusian territory. Europe’s largest Jewish partisan detachment led by the Belsky brothers fought in Belarus. The heroic struggle of the detachment is depicted in a movie Defiance directed by Edward Zwick from a screenplay by Zwick and Clay Foreman. The movie premiered in January 2009.