Republic of Belarus Trade relations. Area. History. Climate. Shopping. Passports/ Visas

Republic of Belarus
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Name: Republic of Belarus
Conventional short form: Belarus
Nationality: Belarusian
Time Zone: UTC +2
Government type: Republic
Legislative branch: bicameral National Assembly or Natsionalnoye Sobranie consists of the Council of the Republic or Soviet Respubliki and the Chamber of Representatives or Palata Predstaviteley
Head of State: President
Language: the official languages of the country are Belarusian and Russian
Religion: major denominations - Orthodox and Catholic, Christianity, others - Jewish, Protestant, Islamic
Official Currency: Belarusian ruble
Administrative divisions: Belarus consists of 6 regions (oblasts' in Russian, voblasts' in Belarusian): the Brest, Vitebsk, Gomel, Grodno, Minsk and Mogiliov regions, which include 118 political units called districts (rayon in Russian) and the city of Minsk.

The republic of Belarus is situated in the center of Europe on the watershed of the Baltic and Black Seas. The capital is the city of Minsk. Belarus borders on Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Russia and Ukraine. Geographic and climatic conditions favor the development of transport and economic relations.

The history of Belarus is ancient. The first people inhabiting that territory appeared 40 thousand years ago. In about the third millennium B.C. the eastern part of Belarus had been inhabited by tribes belonging to the Ugro-Finnish branch of the Ural group of people while its southern part was inhabited by Indo-Europeans.
At the beginning of A.D. Indo-Europeans predominated with the major portion of the territory of Belarus being inhabited by Balts and only a few locations in the south-west being inhabited by Slavs as evidenced by archaeological excavations. In V-VIII centuries A.D. Slavs had been actively settling over the entire territory of Belarus assimilating local Baltic people. That resulted in formation of East Slavic ethnic communities of Krivichy, Drehovichy and Radimichy. When those and some other communities had been transformed into an ancient Russian community, their territories became their common ethnical territory called "Rus".
Originally (since XIV century), the term of "Belaya Rus" (White Rus or Russia) denoted one of dialect-ethnographic areas, mostly the North-East (Novgorod, Pskov, Polotsk and Vitebsk lands), of the all-east ancient Slavic community. In Russian sources of the XV century "White Rus" is frequently identified with the "Great Moscow Rus". There exist various interpretations of the "White Rus" term. Some researchers associate it with independence from the Tatar-Mongols ("white" is treated as "free"), from early Christianization and even with the more privileged status of the Polotsk and Vitebsk lands within the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
From the second half of XVI century the term "White Rus" was used to denote the territory between Lithuania and the Moscow State. They began to call the Slavic population of these territories "Belarustsy"(Belarusian's).
In the period from XIII to the first half of XIV century, the Belarusian and Lithuanian ethnical territories were united by local princes into a sort of federation: the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL). Since XV century it had been officially called the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Russia and Zhemojtia. As an early feudal monarchy, GDL had been formed during the reign of the Grand Duke Mindauh (c. 1200-1263). In the XIII century, the residence of the Lithuanian princes was the Belarusian town of Novogrudok. There were different ways of joining the Belarusian territories to GDL. Basically, the princes made agreements with feudal owners of these lands who were interested in strong state capable of safeguarding them from external aggression and ensuring favorable conditions for economic activity and trade.
On the Belarusian and Ukrainian territories of GDL the development level of feudal system was higher than that on the Lithuanian and Zhemojt territories, which could be attributed to predominance of the Slavic factor in many fields of the state's life. After acceptance of the Krevsk Union (1385) and conversion of the Lithuanian and Zhemojt people and GDL princes into Catholicism, Orthodox feudals began to lose their dominance. More and more the Grand Dukes began to support their fellow believers among feudals , grant them lands, high posts, economic and political privileges. However, Orthodox princes and gentry were striving to preserve their independence. As a result, various forces oppositional to the Grand Duke's vicegerents were formed on the Belarusian lands. The principalities of East Belarusian began to come over to the side of the Moscow State.
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania had been weakened by wars with the Moscow State, by the Crimean Khanate in XVI century, and by everlasting intestine wars between feudals and princes within the state. Thus pushed by the Lithuanian and Belarusian gentry striving for the same privileges and rights as those enjoyed by the Polish feudals, the GDL was forced to enter into an alliance with Poland. As a consequence of the Union of Lublin accepted in 1569, Lithuania and Poland were united to form a new feudal federative state: Rzecz Pospolita (Commonwealth). Originally, the GDL preserved its sovereignty, government, treasury, army and legislation. Polish Catholic influence was gradually increased. The decisive factor had been the acceptance of the Brest Church Union (1596), after which the authorities began to actually support the Uniates and the Catholics. Despite the religious contradictions, the level of culture in GAL was very high which had been recognized in Europe. They carried out office work and legal proceedings, wrote deeds, chronicles, annals and statutes in the old Belarusian language (or old Russian in Belarusian version as many researchers assume). In the old Belarusian (or old Russian) language, F. Skoryna of Polotsk had printed the first 22 books of Bible among East Slavs (1517-1579) and had been publishing books in the first printing house founded by him in the GDL (1522- 1525). Among the most prominent followers of F. Skoryna were S. Budny, I. Fedorov and P. Mstislavets. There were printing houses operating in Brest, Nesvizh, Vilno, Zabludovo, Minsk, Grodno and Mogilev. The names of V. Tyapinsky, S. Polotsky, L.Zizanij, M. Smotritsky and K. Narbut were renowned well beyond the country.
During the XIV to XVI centuries, the Belarusian architecture reached a high level (as evidenced by the castles in Grodno, Krev, Lida, Vilno, Nesvizh and Mir). A singular local Gothic style had been formed. In XIII century a peculiar style, the so called Vilnian baroque, had been developed. Castles and residences of magnates came to be evolved into palace-and-castle complexes, new palaces and town ensembles of buildings were built.
Long-lasting and devastating wars in the second half on the 17th and the early 18th century (anti-feudal war, 1648-1651; wars between Poland (Rzecz Pospolita) and Sweden in 1655-1660, Russia in 1654-1667, and the Northern War, 1700-17210 , social disturbances, intestine wars between magnates and gentry accounted for prolonged political decline and crisis of Rzecz Pospolita and the Belarusian lands.
Due to protracted crisis at the end of the 18th century, Rzecz Pospolita weakened as a state thereby allowing Austria, Prussia and Russia to take advantage of the fact. In 1772, 1793 and 1795, there were conducted three partitions of Poland, which caused Rzecz Pospolita to be deprived of its state independence. Incorporation of the Belarusian land into the Russian Empire had both the positive and negative effects. On the one hand, Belarus had been liberated from forced Polonization and integrated into the All-Russian economic system. Intestine feuds were stopped and anarchism of gentry was eradicated. On the other hand, the policy of Russification, long-lasting serfdom and its survivals hindered the development of its economy. The uprising (1863-1864) in Poland, Belarus and Lithuania had become an evidence of the crisis of feudal system and the necessity of socio-political and economic changes. Its leaders were under the strong influence of the ideas of the Russian revolutionary democrats such as A. Hertzen, A. Ogarev and N. Chernyshevsky, who called for overthrow of autocracy, liquidation of land ownership, transfer of land to peasantry and the right of nations to self-determination.
An important contribution to preparation and organization of the uprising of masses had been made by the Belarusian revolutionary democrat K. Kalinovsky who had close ties with the Russian revolutionaries of Petersburg and Moscow. He was confident that the actual freedom could be only achieved in alliance with the peoples of Russia. Due to vigorous activity of K.Kalinovsky and his comrades-in-arms, the uprising had assumed an international character. Hundreds of the Russians were struggling shoulder to shoulder with the Belarusian, the Lithuanians and the Poles in the ranks of insurgents. Despite its defeat, the uprising of 1863-1864 had become an important milestone on the road of the common struggle of the peoples of the Russian Empire for freedom and justice. Also its contributed to revival of democratic movements in Europe.
The reforms of 60-70s in Russia had accelerated the socio-economic development of Belarus, but they caused no improvement in the position of the people. Old contradictions gave way to new ones. Social tension had been aggravated by the lack of democratic freedoms and intensification of national oppression. A major problem for Belarus was the fact that peasants were landless. Revolution of 1905-1907 in Russia had involved Belarus too. The revolutionary wave that had taken up town and village greatly contributed to upsurge of the national-liberation movement. During the revolution, local organizations of All-Russian political parties appeared and the Belarusian nationalist parties and movements started to form.
In the World War I (1914-1918), the territory of Belarus had become an arena of combat since August 1915. The War had not only broken down the industry, transportation system and agriculture but aggravated the deep contradictions between the classes. Material conditions of the major part of population drastically worsened: the real wages of workers cut in half and the food crisis burst out. More than one million of Belarus' inhabitants became refugees.
February Revolution of 1917 had liquidated tsarist autocracy and proclaimed democratic freedoms. The position of the main body of population had not been improved.
The October Revolution of 1917 declared the right of the people of Russia for self-determination and liquidated land lord ownership. There were created new bodies of power in the form of the Soviets of Workers', Peasants' and Soldiers' Deputies, and introduced the workers' control over production and consumption of products. The October Revolution opened the possibility for Belarus to establish its statehood. Originally, some political figures in Belarus were favorably disposed to the idea of autonomy within the boundaries of the Russian Democratic Federative Republic. However, on March 25, 1918, while the country was under German military occupation, the Belarusian People's Republic (BPR) had been declared. The BPR Rada (Council) included representatives of all Left-wing parties except the Bolsheviks. The declaration of BPR should be treated only as an attempt to establish the Belarusian statehood. The point is that the power was fully in the hands of German invaders. There were no financial and judicial systems, armed forces, and state borders. The mere idea of Belarusian statehood, however, forced the general public of many countries as well as the Bolshevist leaders of the Soviet Russia to pay attention to the problems of that territory. Eventually that idea accelerated the process of creating the Belarusian Republic on the Soviet basis.
On 1 January 1919, the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic had been declared. It incorporated the territories of the Vitebsk, Smolensk and Kovno regions. The First All-Belarusian Congress of Soviets (2-3 February 1919) had adopted the Constitution of the BSSR and elected the Central Executive Committee of the BSSR. The Congress announced the decision of the Presidium of All-Russian Central Executive Committee on recognition of independence of the BSSR. The Congress agreed to hand the Vitebsk, Mogilev and Smolensk regions over to the RSFSR.
When Poland began its intervention to Belarus and Lithuania, according to the resolution of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), the Lithuanian-Belarussian Soviet Socialist Republic was established on February 27, 1919 with Vilno as its capital. Once the Polish invaders had been driven out, the BSSR was re-announced on 31 July 1920 in Minsk. The territory of the restored BSSR incorporated 6 districts of the Minsk region. According to the Treaty of Riga (1921), the western part of Belarus was annexed by Poland. As proposed by the Party and Soviet leaders of the BSSR, the Central authorities of the USSR and the RSFSR agreed to return to the Republic parts of east territories in 1924 and 1926.
In 20-30s large-scale industry was created. New industries, such as metal-processing, machine-building, peat and others, were established. Woodworking, light and food processing industries had been intensively developing. Despite severe blunders and miscalculations of collectivization, agriculture was progressing toward industrialization. Certain advances were noted in the cultural policy. The universal compulsory elementary education was introduced. By the end of 1932, there were 31 higher educational institutions and 104 specialized secondary education schools. By the end of 1928, the Institute of Belarusian Culture had been transformed into the Academy of Sciences of the BSSR. Great achievements were noted in literature and arts. Unfortunately, the 30s are marked with deformations in socio-political life, with severe infringement of democracy associated with the personality cult of Stalin. Many innocent people were suspected to cruel repressions. Repressions assumed wide scope in 1937-38.
Belarus happened to appear in the focus of tragic events of World War II (1939-1945). In September 1939, the Soviet Armies crossed the Soviet-Polish border and occupied the territory of Western Belarus. In response to an appeal of the People's Assembly of Western Belarus, an extraordinary session of the Supreme Soviet of the BSSR passed a resolution on incorporation of Western Belarus into the BSSR. In October 1939, the USSR government handed over Vilno and the Vilno district to Lithuania. Incorporation of Western Belarus into the BSSR was an act of historic justice which put an end to participation of Belarus, restored its territorial integrity and contributed to the unity of the people of Belarus.
On 22 June 1941 the fascist Germany treacherously attacked the USSR. That was the beginning of the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union which lasted from 1941 to 1945. Belarus had become an arena of heavy fighting. As a consequence of the Red Army retreat, a Hitlerite occupation regime was temporarily established on the territory.
The Belarusian economy was completely devastated by the events of the war. Most of the industry, including whole production plants was removed either to Russia or Germany. Industrial production of Belarus in 1945 amounted for less than 20% of its pre-war size. Most of the factories evacuated to Russia, with several spectacular exceptions, were not returned to Belarus after 1945. During the immediate postwar period, the Soviet Union first rebuilt and then expanded the BSSR's economy, with control always exerted exclusively from Moscow. During this time, Belarus became a major center of manufacturing in the western region of the USSR. Huge industrial objects like the BelAZ, MAZ, and the Minsk Tractor Plant were built in the country. The increase in jobs resulted in a huge immigrant population of Russians in Belarus. Russian became the official language of administration and the peasant class, which traditionally was the base for Belarusian nation, ceased to exist.
On April 26, 1986 the Chernobyl accident occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine situated close to the Belarus border. It is regarded as the worst nuclear accident in the history of nuclear power. It produced a plume of radioactive debris that drifted over parts of the western Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and Scandinavia. Large areas Belarus, Ukraine and Russia were contaminated, resulting in the evacuation and resettlement of roughly 200,000 people. About 60 percent of the radioactive fallout landed in Belarus. The effects of Chernobyl accident in Belarus was dramatic: about 50,000 sq. km. (or about ј of the territory of Belarus) formerly populated by 2.2. mln people (or 1/5 of the Belarusian population) now require permanent radioactive monitoring (after receiving doses over 37 kBq/mІ of caesium-137). 135,000 persons were permanently resettled and many more were resettled temporarily. After 10 years since the accident the occurrences of thyroid cancer among children increased 15x (the sharp rise started in about 4 years after the accident).
On 27 July 1990, Belarus declared its national sovereignty, a key step toward independence from the Soviet Union. The BSSR was formally renamed the Republic of Belarus on 25 August 1991. Around that time, Stanislav Shushkevich became the chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Belarus, the top leadership position in Belarus. On December 8, 1991, Shushkevich met with Boris Yeltsin of Russia and Leonid Kravchuk of Ukraine, in Belavezhskaya Pushcha, to formally declare the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
In 1994, the first presidential elections were held and Alexander Lukashenko was elected president of Belarus. Under Lukashenko, economic reforms were slowed. The 1996 Belarus Referendum resulted in the amendment of the constitution that took key powers off the parliament. In 2001, he was re-elected as president in elections described as undemocratic by Western observers. At the same time the west began cruising him of authoritarianism. In 2006, Lukashenko was once again re-elected in presidential elections which were again criticized as flawed by most EU countries. Despite numerous achievements in relations with Russia and other CIS countries, radical right wingers use to call Belarus "the last dictatorship in Europe", a propaganda cliche used against left wing governments by private owned enterprises lobbying for its appropriation of public owned state controlled resources.
Left-wingers of the world and supporters of Lukashenko dismiss these claims as representative of frustrated capitalist interests in privatization of public enterprises. Under Lukashenko Belarus has seen economical prosperity with continuity of state control of the economy ("communism"). 80% percent of Belarus economy remains under state control, just as it was in the Soviet Socialist Republic of Belarus. This is irritating to right-wingers, such as many in "the West" who fear that the example of Belarus demonstrates viability of communism in comparison to Russia's experience with privatization and subsequent corruption and stealing of public resources.

Geography

Area:
207,600 km2 (80,153 sq. miles). Belarus is a bit bigger than Austria, Ireland, Portugal or Greece. Minsk (the capital) lies roughly on the same latitude as Hamburg, Dublin or York. From east to west Belarus covers 650 km; north to south - 560 km. Most of the country consists of flat lowlands. Forests cover the northern part.

Topography:
Belarus is predominantly lowland - flat plains occupy 60 percent of the territory, plate aux 10 percent, and highland hilly areas nearly 30 percent. The north-west has broken and highland relief, while in the south-eastern part the land is mainly level. The south of the Republic is occupied by vast areas of Belarusian Polesje (wood land) which is a large waterlogged flat depression stretching for 450 km from the river Bug to the Dniepr. The relief of Belarus is divided into 4 regions:
I. Belarusian lake-land occupies the northern part. Altitudes are 120-160 m. The relief consists of an alternation of hills and bottomlands with relatively colder humid climate and loamy boulder soils. There are nearly three thousand lakes in the region including the largest, Narotch.
II. The central region of Belarus glacial hills and ridges in the central part of the republic. The greatest heights of Belarus are here (Mt. Lysaja - 242 m, Mt. Dzerzhinskaja - 345 m). The region also contains the watershed of the Chernomorsk and Baltic basin. Sandy - loam soils dominate.
III. The region of plains and bottomlands of Predpolesje occupies an intermediate position between the hills of the centre and the bottom land of Polesje. General height is 160-190 m and the relief is made up of typical river valleys.
IV. The regions of the Polesje bottomlands occupy the southern lower part of Belarus with flattest plain, waterlogged relief and sandy peat soils.

The useful information

Passports/ Visas
Visas are required to enter Belarus. Exceptions are made for the citizens of the CIS, Cuba, Korea (the Democratic People's Republic), Macedonia, Mongolia, Vietnam, Serbia and Montenegro and holders of diplomatic passports from several states.
Belarusian visa is normally issued by a Belarusian embassy or consulate in 5 working days, there is also a possibility to get it urgently (in 48 hours) by paying a double fee.
The fee for Belarusian private or business single visa varies from US$ 40 to $ 80.
Visas for children under 16 are issued free of charge, though a visa processing fee can be levied in this case by certain Belarusian embassies or consulates.
There is no possibility to get a Belarusian entry visa on the border (except for the National airport Minsk-2).
To get a Belarusian business visa a foreigner has to present an original invitation of any Belarusian legal person, which is officially registered in the Republic of Belarus.
To get a visa for private purposes foreigner has to present an invitation issued to a Belarusian resident by his citizenship and migration office. The original invitation should be handed over to an embassy/consulate or Consular office at the National airport in this case; no fax or photocopy is accepted. Multiple private visas are issued upon presentation of the original invitation to foreigners, visiting their close relatives.
Belarusian tourist visas are issued upon presentation of the original of the tourist voucher received from any Belarusian tour operator or tourist agency.
Additional information:
Visas can be valid for one, two, three or multiple entries. They are to be used within the period indicated therein.
In case of need, private or business visa can be extended up to 90 days when staying in Belarus. It will be done by the Minsk city citizenship and migration office (contact phone + 375 17 231-38-09) or Regional citizenship and migration office in Grodno, Brest, Minsk, Mogiliov, Gomel upon presentation of all required documents. Tourist visa cannot be extended.
Exit permits required for all foreigners intending to leave the country with expired visas. They are issued by the Minsk city passport and visa office or Regional passport and visa offices in Grodno, Brest, Minsk, Mogiliov, Gomel.

Customs
Do not impose to import customs duties:
the goods for personal use, the customs value of which does not exceed the amount of 1000 EURO, and total weight of not more than 35 kilograms;
alcohol is not more than 2 liters, cigarettes - not more than 200 pieces, either tobacco or tobacco - not more than 200 grams per individual, 18 years of age;
jewelry is not more than 5 units;
food: not more than 5 kilograms;
the goods for personal use, regardless of their customs value and weight, including those for hunting, sport, tourism, temporarily imported by non-residents of Belarus, pets;
precious metals in the form of bullion indicative total mass of not more than 500 grams of gold and platinum, not more than 5 kilograms of silver;
prohibited removal from the country of non-ferrous scrap and waste metals, including semi-finished and half-finished, as well as cultural values. If you have purchased a work of art in Belarus may need permission for their removal.

Health
Medical insurance is required for all foreign citizens traveling to the Republic of Belarus.
To be eligible for emergency medical care in Belarus all foreign citizens should have the medical insurance agreement with a Belarusian insurance company or with an authorized foreign insurance company and possess the insurance certificate (policy) issued by the company.
The insurance certificate (policy) issued by a foreign insurance company should be valid on the territory of the Republic of Belarus during the stay and should cover the insurance cases established by the Law of the Republic of Belarus. The minimum limit of insurance responsibility is five thousand US dollars.
The representatives of Belarusian insurance companies will provide foreign citizens with necessary insurance agreements and certificates on any border crossing point of the Republic of Belarus.
Citizens of the Republic of Belarus and corporate bodies registered in Belarus inviting foreign citizens to visit Belarus are entitled to complete the medical insurance agreements for their invitees.
Medical insurance is not required for tourists with transit visas crossing Belarus, diplomats and official delegations, crew members of air and rail vehicles, citizens of the CIS states, holders of the Travel documents ("Titre de Voyage") issued to stateless persons and refugees.
Insurance premium for foreign citizens ranges from US$1 for up to 2 days stay to $ 85 for a one year stay.

Currency
Foreign currency should only be exchanged at banks, money-changing kiosks and official bureaux de change, and all transactions must be recorded on the currency declaration form which is issued on arrival. It is wise to retain all exchange receipts. Most aspects of a tour, including accommodation, transport and meals, are paid before departure (through Belintourist or a recognized tour operator), so large amounts of spending money are not necessary. The US dollar or Euros are the preferred foreign currencies. Some foreign currencies may be hard to exchange.
Major European and international credit cards, including American Express, MasterCard and Visa are accepted in some larger hotels and at foreign currency shops and restaurants. Check with your credit or debit card company for details of merchant acceptability and other services which may be available.
Travelers' cheques may be accepted at larger banks, but cash is easier to exchange. To avoid exchange rate charges, travelers' cheques should be taken in US dollars or Euros.
The import and export of local currency is prohibited. All remaining local currency must be reconverted at the point of departure. The import of foreign currency is unlimited, subject to declaration. The export of foreign currency is limited to the amount declared on arrival. Foreign banknotes and coins must be exported within two months of import.
Banking hours Mon-Fri 0930-1730.

Transport
There are several ways of moving between towns in Belarus.
Certainly, if you arrived in Belarus in your own car this problem is solved for you. All you need then is a road map that you can buy at a bookstore.
For those visitors that did not bring their vehicle with them there is an option to rent one. There are offices of Avis and Europcar in Belarus as well as some other local renting companies.
As regards public transportation there are the following options: bus, train and air.
There are very few local flights in Belarus and they are not very frequent. That means that you can only get to some oblast centers once or twice a week.
More useful are bus and train.
Tickets and timetables are available at respective train and bus terminals.

Climate
Belarusian climate is moderately continental, a transitional form from maritime to continental climate with mild and humid winters, warm summers and damp autumns. During last decades the continental component has become less pronounced with winters becoming warmer. The climate's general properties are conditioned by the country's location in middle latitudes, domination of flat relief and relative remoteness from the Atlantic Ocean.
Average July temperatures range from +17 C to +18.5 C, January temperatures vary from -8 C to -4.5 C. The period with temperatures above zero lasts about 230-263 days.
Belarus is situated in the zone of sufficient moistening. The average rainfall is 600-700 mm; in the uplands the average is 650-700 mm and in the lowlands it is 600-650 mm. About 70% of yearly precipitation falls on the warm period. Occasional droughts and floods are conditioned by spatial and time precipitation changeability.

Electricity
220 volts. Plugs - European 2 pin

Tipping
10 per cent is usual. In some hotels in Minsk and other cities a 10 to 15 per cent service charge is added to the bill. Porters expect a tip of US$1-2.

Shopping
Skoriny Avenue and Masherov Avenue in Minsk are the main streets with antique and souvenir shops, department stores. Most shops are closed on Sunday, but tourist shops are usually open every day. Antiquities, valuables, works of art and manuscripts other than those offered for sale in souvenir shops require an export license. Shopping hours: food shops 08:00/09:00-20:00/21:00 Monday to Saturday; all others 10:00/11:00-19:00/20:00 Monday to Saturday.

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