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    Norway: Sunnylvsfjord. Go Now!

    Known for its natural beauty, Norway is home to isolated villages, fjords, and mountains that create a culture and landscape without compare. Begin Your Journey!

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    Vatican City: Vatican Museums. Go Now!

    Vatican City
    The smallest country in the world offers the heart of Catholicism and among the world's finest art collections, including the Sistine Chapel and the Raphael Rooms (ceiling pictured). Go to Vatican City!

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    Austria: Belvedere Palace. Go Now!

    Belvedere Palace (pictured) is just one of many palaces found in Vienna. The capital is a good start to Austria, which also features the Alps, the Lakes District, and incredible history & food. Go Now!

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    Spain: Guell Park and Gaudi architecture. Go Now!

    Fusion foods, lively music, historic ruins, and cultural events like the Running of the Bulls and La Tomatina make Spain and Barcelona (pictured) a favorite tourist destination. Explore Spain!

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    Ukraine: Traditional Village. Go Now!

    Ukrainian culture is based on village life, particularly that found in the Carpathian Mountains (pictured). Begin Your Journey!

History of Belarus

The Belarusian history and ethnicity begins with a unity between the Slavs and Balts in about the 800s. Being located between the Kyivian Rus, Moscovite Rus, Poles, and the Lithuanians the people emerged as a distinct group. Their identity and separation from other groups began at about this same time as many of them converted to Christianity.

In the 1200s the Lithuanians took over much of the Belarusian people's land and by the 1400s the Lithuanians and Poles united to create one of Europe's more powerful kingdoms. The Belarusians continued to live under this rule as the Lithuanians and Poles continued to alter Belarusian culture and language, sometimes with Belarusian willingness and sometimes not. Much of these alterations subsided in the early 1500s when the Polish king allowed the Belarusian Orthodox Church complete autonomy from the Polish political entity. This change allowed the re-introduction of historic eastern orthodox writings and words and allowed the Belarusian language to essentially become what it is today.

Despite an increasingly large number of freedoms, the predominantly rural Belarusians were unsettled. In the late 1500s, to reflect these positive changes, many of the Belarusian nobles converted to Catholicism as many of the peasants, who remained orthodox, fled the region and united with rural Ukrainians to become what later became known as the "Cossacks." During this same time the entire region was invaded by the Tatars, a remnant of the Mongols westward movement through Russia into what is today Ukraine and Belarus.

After the Tatar raids on the region, the Swedes and Russians fought with the Poles and Lithuanians to control the land the Belarusians lived in. This slow crumbling of the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom began in the mid-1600s and ended in the late 1700s when the country was partitioned by the Russians, Prussians, and Austrians; most of the Belarusian people fell under Russian rule in 1795.

After the Russians took over the region they tried to expel Polish influence by Rusifying the Belarusians. The Russians implemented a number of changes and tried to make the people view themselves as Russian, but instead the Belarusian people, for the first time, found an independent identity that was neither Polish nor Russian.

The 1800s brought the industrial revolution to the region and destroyed all remnants of the feudal system, including the freeing of all serfs. These changes were followed by many Belarusians fleeing the region to find a better life.

During World War I the Germans took over much of the Belarusians, but by war's end the Germans fell and the Belarusians were quickly retaken by the Russians, under their new Soviet government. At first this relationship was cordial, but under Josef Stalin in the 1930s the Belarusians, like many ethnic minorities, were severely condemned as Russia's culture and language was forced upon the people. Their difficulties continued during World War II (WWII) when the Germans ruthlessly destroyed the land and the Soviets came back through, acting in much the same way. During this time most of the Jews and Poles in the region left or were killed.

One of the results of WWII was a shifting of the Soviet Union's borders to the west. This shifted the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic and forced many of the people to leave their historic homes to occupy this newly taken land.

Since WWII, the Soviets based Belarus's economy on industry and technology, as ethnic Russians came in to oversee these important factories. In 1986 the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl (in Ukraine) exploded and the winds blew much of the radiation north into what is today Belarus, creating a devastating long-term effect on the Belarusian people.

In 1990 Belarus finally gained independence from the collapsing Soviet Union, but remain on fairly good terms with the Russians. Since 1990 the country has struggled to thrive as reports on the government's corruption are common. The economy is stagnant and nearly every election is deemed to be neither free nor fair.

This page was last updated: March, 2013