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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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A territory formerly also known as Belorussia (White Russia) which had been under Polish and Lithuanian domination for centuries, until it came under Russian control in the late eighteenth century. As a result, it has had comparatively few national traditions of its own.

Foreign rule (until 1991)

When the Tsarist Empire collapsed after the Russian Revolution of 1917, independence was proclaimed briefly in July 1917, until the territory became a Soviet Republic during the Russian Civil War. It was occupied by Polish troops in the Russo‐Polish War, and then partitioned in the Peace Treaty of Riga (18 March 1921), with its western areas becoming part of Poland, while the east became a founding Soviet Republic of the USSR in 1922. The western parts were reclaimed for good after the Soviet invasion of eastern Poland, in accordance with the Hitler–Stalin Pact. It was devastated by the German army, during whose occupation around two million people, mostly, but not exclusively, Jews, were killed. After World War II the poor country benefited economically from its membership of the USSR, as it was industrialized despite its lack of mineral resources. It became a sovereign state amidst the collapse of the USSR, in the wake of the August coup, on 26 August 1991.

Independence (since 1991)

Following independence, a tug of war developed between the reformist President, Stanislav Shushkevich, and a parliament that had retained its Communist composition of the Soviet era. Shushkevich was deposed by a no‐confidence vote in 1994, and was replaced by Aleksandr Lukashenka (1994– ) on an anti‐corruption platform. This did not end the confrontations with parliament, whose composition remained the same after the 1995 elections were made void through their low voter turnout. Of the former Soviet republics, Belarus has remained most closely attached to Russia: in a 1995 plebiscite, Russian was reintroduced as an equal language with Belorussian, and the old Soviet Belorussian flag was readopted. In 1999 it entered into a formul union with Russia. Lukashenka's pro‐Russian policy became increasingly contentious among the population, and discontent was fuelled further by his autocratic governing style. Lukashenka suppressed the opposition by curtailing freedom of speech and closing down independent media outlets. The Orange Revolution in neighbouring Ukraine boosted the domestic opposition movement, but in the 2006 elections it failed to topple Lukashenka, who maintained power through corruption and vote‐rigging. At the same time, Lukashenka was not without popular support, as real income and growth rates grew in the early years of 2000. Lukashenka's dictatorial regime made him a persona non grata in the EU, the USA and other democratic countries.

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500).

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