Belarus History

The derivation of the name Belarus (Belarus) is controversial. The western part of the former Kievan Rus (principalities of Polotsk, Turow, Minsk, Vitebsk, Smolensk), which did not come under Mongol-Tatar rule in the 13th century, was probably referred to as “White Rus”. Other explanations lead the name back to the Grand Duke Andrei Bogolyubski, who after the conquest of Kiev (1169) assumed the title “Grand Duke Beloruski”. Rather folkloric interpretations relate the attribute “bely” (“white”) to the beauty of the country or the snow-covered landscape in winter.

Early and Middle Ages

The settlement of the area since the late Paleolithic around 27,000 to 24,000 years ago and a complete settlement for around 9,000 to 5,000 years are archaeologically documented. Here, in the second half of the first millennium AD (according to another opinion, already in the first century), three East Slavic tribes emerged: the Dregowitschen in Polesia and in central Belarus, the Radimitschen on the Sosch and the Kriwitschen on the western Daugava and on the upper Dnieper; in addition, the northern branch of the Drewljanen lived in this area. The Varangians have already found princes here. In the 9th / 10th In the 19th century, Belarusian territory became part of the Kiev Empire, whose grand princes introduced Orthodox Christianity in 988. In the 11th century, a.o. the cities of Brest, Minsk (first mentioned in 1067), Pinsk and Vitebsk. With the collapse of the Kiev Empire (11th / 12th centuries) Pinsk came under the sovereignty of Greater Novgorod, Minsk and Vitebsk belonged to the Principality of Polotsk, Brest to the Principality of Vladimir-Volynia. At the end of the 12th century, there were a number of partial principalities on the territory of Belarus, of which the Principality of Polotsk had the greatest geographical expansion and military strength.

Belarus and Poland-Lithuania

Since the 13./14. In the 19th century (beginning with the Lithuanian Grand Duke Mindaugas) Belarus formed the geographic heartland of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, whose capital was Nawahrudak (Nowogrudok) and from 1323 it became Vilnius (Vilnius). The Grand Duchy entered into a personal union with the Kingdom of Poland in 1385/86 (Union of Krewo, marriage of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Jagiełło with the Polish heir to the throne Hedwig [Jadwiga] and conversion to Catholicism). After the failure of another Lithuanian-Polish eastward expansion (1399 defeat against the Tatars an der Worskla) the Lithuanian Grand Dukes had to defend themselves against the territorial claims of the emerging Moscow Grand Duchy. In 1514, the Moscow Grand Duke Vasily III. Conquer Smolensk, and during the Livonian War (1558–82) Tsar Ivan IV took the Polotsk area for several years from 1563.

Through the Lublin Union (1569) the Lithuanian-Polish connection was strengthened (creation of a real union); in this “Rzeczpospolita”, the largest national territory in early modern Europe, the Belarusians were of great importance; they made up the majority of the population (predominantly Christian Orthodox farmers) and Belarusian was the language of the chancellery until 1697 (the three Lithuanian statutes of 1529, 1566 and 1588 were also drafted in the old Belarusian language, in which the first book – a translation of the Bible from Franzischak – was published as early as 1517/19 Skaryna [* around 1490, † around 1551]  - had been printed; from 1520 printing in Vilnius). During this “golden age” numerous Belarusian cities developed into centers of trade and handicrafts; the Magdeburg city charter granted to a number of them (including Polotsk 1498, Minsk 1499, Vitebsk 1597) allowed them to self-govern. The state ruling class and the princely dynasty were, however, Lithuanian, although the more recent Belarusian historiography emphasizes the existence of a Belarusian nobility who (like the Lithuanian nobility) soon underwent a Polonization (conversion to the Catholic faith, 1697 elevation of Polish to the official language). The most important families were (in their Polish spelling): the Radziwiłł, the Gasztołd, the Ołcikowicz, the Zabrzeziński, the Hlebowicz, the Chodkiewicz, the Sołtanowicz. The old Belarusian language was replaced by Polish as the official language in 1696. The conflict with Russia came to a head (1654–67 war between Russia and Poland-Lithuania mainly on Belarusian territory, there in Great Northern War 1700-21 great population losses).

Under the rule of the tsarist empire

In the course of the partitions of Poland in the second half of the 18th century, Belarus became part of the Russian Empire (in 1772 the eastern part with Gomel, Mogilev and Vitebsk, in 1793 the central part with Minsk, and in 1795 the rest of the territory). This process was mostly interpreted by Russian and Soviet historiography as “reunification” with Russia; Belarusian historians today, however, often see it as the dissolution of the first form of Belarusian statehood.

During the Russian campaign of 1812 led by Napoleon I , Belarusian territory was briefly conquered; When the Napoleonic “Great Army” withdrew, it suffered heavy losses in the Battle of the Beresina (November 1812).

In the course of Russification in 1839, Nicholas I abolished the Uniate Church in Belarus, to which around 80% of Belarusians had belonged after the Union of Brest (1595/96); In 1840 the Lithuanian Statute of 1588 was repealed and Russian legislation was extended to Belarus. In 1842 the names “Belarus” and “Lithuania” were banned from official documents. An uprising against tsarist rule led by Kastus Kalinoŭski (* 1838, † [executed] 1865) in 1863 failed. Expression of the intensification of the linguistic and cultural Russification afterwards was, among other things. a 1867–1905 printing ban for Belarusian fonts.

In the second half of the 19th century, the first beginnings of a Belarusian national movement emerged, which however (due to only a small class of Belarusian intellectuals, a 99% rural population, insensitive to national ideology and an illiteracy rate of 75%) gained relatively little influence. The social upper class in Belarus recruited v. a. from Polish landlords and Russian officials; in addition, the Jewish population played an important role in the cities.

According to petsinclude, the revolutionary movements of Russia and Poland also had an impact on Belarus: in 1898 the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party was founded in Minsk; In 1903, the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly (“Hramada”), which was oriented towards the Polish Socialist Party, sought to awaken the national consciousness of Belarusians. The magazine “Nascha niwa” (German our field, 1906–15) was of great importance; published in it, inter alia. regularly the writers J. Kupala and J. Kolas, who are now considered national poets.

During the First World War, German troops initially occupied western parts of Belarus in 1915 and, in February 1918, other areas of Belarus, including Minsk.

Belarus History

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