Since 1991, there has been a sovereign state at the crossroads between the east-west and north-south trade routes in the heart of Europe. In Western Europe, very little is known about this country which bears the delightful name Belarus (or White Russia, if you prefer).
Belarus is beautiful and we can prove it. Let the mystery unfurl and see for yourself…
The Republic of Belarus is located in Eastern Europe and borders on Poland to the west, on Lithuania and Latvia to the north-west, on Russia to the east and on the Ukraine to the south. In all, the national borders extend over 2969 kilometres. The country is composed of lowlands, which were favourable to the development of trade routes and economic relations. It is of fundamental importance that the country lies at the crossroads of the main European trading routes.
The shortest route from Russia’s central and eastern regions to Western Europe passes through Belarus. The same applies to the route from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Vilnius is 185 kilometres from Minsk (the capital of the Republic of Belarus), Warsaw 550 kilometres, Moscow 700 kilometres and Bern 2000 kilometres.
Scientists in many countries argue about where the centre of Europe lies. It depends on how the calculations are made. In 2000, it was proved to be in northern Belarus, near the oldest town of Polotsk. Today you will find a monument there, marking this central point.
Belarus covers a surface area of 207 560 square kilometres, but is nevertheless quite compact. It measures 650 kilometres from west to east and 560 kilometres from north to south. Belarus is the 13th largest country in Europe and five times the size of Switzerland.
Generally speaking, Belarus is flat or slightly hilly – on average 160 metres above sea level – and the highest point is 345 metres. The minimal relief is ideal for human settlement, agriculture, industrial construction and tourism.
Belarus is divided into six regions (Russian: Oblast), each with a capital, namely Minsk, Grodno, Vitebsk, Mogilev, Gomel and Brest. The regions are further subdivided into 118 districts.
The moderate continental climate, which is influenced by air masses from the Atlantic, is characterized by warm, wet summers, mild winters with frequent thaw periods and unstable weather in spring and autumn. However, seasonal shifts are not uncommon in Belarus thanks to climate change.
According to the latest figures, the population of Belarus is about 9.5 million people. The largest town is Minsk, where approximately 2 million people live.
More than 100 peoples and ethnic groups live in Belarus, although the majority is of course Belarusian. The largest minorities are Russian, Polish and Ukrainian.
Most Belarusians are Orthodox Christians, some are Catholic (mainly in the west). In addition there are many Jews, Moslems and Protestants. This has had an effect on Belarusian architecture and by looking at this you can determine which confession is prevalent in the respective area.
There are two official languages in Belarus: Russian and Belarusian. Most people use Russian in daily life. In recent times a language phenomenon called Trasjanka has developed. This is a mixture of the Russian and Belarusian languages. Most youngsters also speak German and English.
The most important public holidays include Constitution Day (15th March), Independence Day (3rd July) and Victory Day (9th May).
Women’s Day is celebrated on 8th March and the Day of Defenders of the Fatherland on 23rd February. As an echo of the past, Labour Day is celebrated in Belarus on 1st May and the October Revolution on 7th November.
In addition, certain religious festivals (e.g. Easter, Whitsun) and public festivals (e.g. Ivan Kupala Day) are also celebrated.
Despite numerous wars on its territory, Belarus has retained the atmosphere and spirit of former times – to which the castles from the Middle Ages, tiny village churches, ancient heathen mounds, virgin forests, clear rivers and lakes all bear witness.
East and West, old and new are closely interwoven here and today Belarusians live alongside other peoples in peace and harmony. This is what makes a journey of discovery to Belarus so worthwhile.