Belarus country profile

  • Published
Map of Belarus

The present borders of Belarus were established during the turmoil of the Second World War.

The former Soviet republic was occupied by the Nazis between 1941 and 1944, when it lost 2.2 million people, including almost all of its large Jewish population.

Belarus has been ruled with an iron fist since 1994 by President Alexander Lukashenko. Opposition figures are subjected to harsh penalties for organising protests. In 2005, Belarus was listed by the US as Europe's only remaining "outpost of tyranny".

In the Soviet post-war years, Belarus became one of the most prosperous parts of the USSR, but with independence came economic decline. President Lukashenko has steadfastly opposed the privatisation of state enterprises, and the country is heavily dependent on Russia for its energy supplies.


Republic of Belarus

Capital: Minsk

  • Population 9.5 million

  • Area 207,595 sq km (80,153 sq miles)

  • Major languages Russian, Belarussian (both official)

  • Major religion Christianity

  • Life expectancy 69 years (men), 79 years (women)

  • Currency Belarussian rouble

Getty Images


President: Alexander Lukashenko

Image source, AFP/Getty Images

Alexander Lukashenko, often referred to as Europe's last dictator, won a fifth term as president in October 2015, with no significant opposition candidate allowed to stand.But his next attempt at prolonging his rule was met with mass street protests in August 2020, demanding that he step down after an election that the opposition said was rigged.

A former state farm director, Mr Lukashenko was first elected president in 1994, following his energetic performance as chairman of the parliamentary anti-corruption committee.

He has managed a balancing act between Russia, his closest economic and political partner, and overtures to the West, while maintaining authoritarian rule at home.


Image source, AFP/Getty Images

Belarus has been heavily criticised by rights bodies for suppressing free speech, muzzling the press and denying the opposition access to state media.

TV is the main news source. National channels are state-controlled. Their main competitors are Russian networks.

The internet is used by the opposition to make its voice heard. The government has sought to increase its online controls.


Some key dates in the history of Belarus:

1918 - Towards the end of the First World War, Belarus proclaims its independence as the Belarusian National Republic.

Image source, AFP/Getty Images
Image caption,
Victory Day celebrations in the capital Minsk. The 9 May holiday commemorates the capitulation of Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union at the end of Second World War.

1919 - The Russian Red Army establishes communist rule in Belarus.

1921 - The Treaty of Riga divides Belarus between Poland and Soviet Russia.

1941-45 - Nazi Germany invades during the course of the Second World War. More than one million people are killed during the occupation, including almost all of the country's large Jewish population.

1986 - Belarus is heavily affected by the fall-out from the nuclear explosion at Chernobyl in neighbouring Ukraine.

Image source, AFP/Getty Images
Image caption,
A priest blesses easter cakes and Belarusian soldiers during an Orthodox Easter ceremony

1991 - Belarus declares independence as the Soviet Union breaks up.

1994 - Alexander Lukashenko elected president on a platform of fighting corruption and re-establishing close ties with Russia.

2020 - President Lukashenko faces mass protests after the opposition says the presidential election was rigged in his favour.

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