The beginnings of Belarus
The oldest settlements of people were found in the Gomel region, near the villages of Yurovichi and Berdyzh. Already at the beginning of the first millennium, Slavic tribes began to settle in Belarus. Gradually, they assimilated the Baltic tribes that lived in these areas, and from the 6th century the first political associations – tribal unions – began to take shape. There were three such unions on Belarusian lands: Krivichi, Dregovichi and Radimichi.
One of the oldest cities in Belarus is Polotsk, which is first mentioned in chronicles in the year 862. At the same time, the Principality of Polatsk emerged – one of the first state formations in modern Belarus.
Time passed quickly, and at the same time the world view of the people changed. Thus, in 988, Prince Vladimir baptized pagan Russia (and then Belarus was part of it) by the Byzantine rite.
The establishment and development of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania
At the end of the 13th century, Duke Mindaugas began the construction of a huge state that later received the name of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Ruthenia and Samogitia and became one of the most popular and strongest countries. The Grand Duchy consisted of the modern territories of Belarus, Lithuania, and partially Ukraine and Russia.
Until the 16th century, the Grand Duchy was very strong and played an important role among the European states, but after several wars it lost its strength and power.
The establishment of the Rzeczpospolita
At the end of the 16th century the Grand Duchy signed an agreement called the Union of Lublin with the King of the Polish state. Two countries made the decision to unite into a single state called Rzeczpospolita, although despite the founding of the union, the state suffered greatly from internal disputes and foreign wars. The military actions between the Grand Duchy and Moscow and the Northern War were the most devastating for the territories of Belarus. These events gave rise to three partitions of Rzeczpospolita: in 1772, in 1793 and in 1795. That country was divided by the Russian, Prussian and Austrian states.
The history of Belarus in the period of the Russian Empire (1772-1917)
In the 18th century, after the three partitions of Rzeczpospolita, most of the Belarusian territories were part of the Russian Empire. During the 18th and 19th centuries, several huge military actions took place there. In 1794 Tadeusz Kosciuszko led the action against the partition of Rzeczpospolita. The leader wanted the Polish state to unite and wanted to gain its independence. This uprising was suppressed by the Russian General Suvorov.
In 1806 Poland was occupied by Napoleon and the French troops were welcomed as liberators and fighters for the independence of Rzeczpospolita. In 1812 Belarus became the main scene of a battle between the Russians and the French. On August 26, 1812, the biggest action of the war took place near the town of Borodino, where the Russian troops were defeated. During the war against Napoleon a great guerrilla war appeared that acted in those territories. Although the French troops lost the war, the consequences were quite harsh for these places: heavy casualties, destroyed settlements, famine, poverty and disease.
In 1863 Kastus Kalinovsky and his young followers organized an uprising against Russia. However, there was a division among the rebels called the division between “Los Blancos” and “Los Rojos.” For this reason, the protest of the Belarusian people against the Russian Empire failed.
After these harsh events, peace was finally restored in Belarus and was only interrupted by the First World War in 1914.
During the 4-year war the Belarusian territories again became the war line between Russia and Germany. On March 3, 1918, the peace treaty was signed in Brest-Litovsk. It ended Russian participation in military actions.
The revolutions and the territory of Belarus
In 1917 Tsar Nikolay II abdicated the throne of the Russian Empire and then the October Revolution began. When the Bolshevik Party came to power in 1918, the Republic of Belarus was declared. In that time period, Belarus was occupied by German troops. In 1919 the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed and Minsk became its capital.
In 1921, at the end of the war, the Treaty of Riga was signed. It fixed the borders of western Belarus within the Polish territories.
The territories of Eastern Belarus remained in the name of the USSR. From 1921 to 1939 in western Belarus the Polish government promoted active colonization policy and the eastern part of the Belarusian lands suffered from famine and economic collapse. From 1936 to 1940 more than eighty-six thousand people living in Belarus were eliminated during Stalin’s reprisals.
The Great Patriotic War (1941-1945)
This war is an important historical part of the Second World War that lasted from 1939 to 1945 and took place between the USSR with Belarus as a part of it and Germany with its allies. In Belarus, the actions began on June 22, 1941 after the invasion of the territory of the Brest region by German troops and the defense of the Brest fortress for six weeks. In September 1941 all the territories of Belarus had been occupied by German troops.
Throughout the war, German soldiers massacred Jews living in Belarus. At the end of 1941 a guerrilla movement was actively formed in these territories and was the largest in Europe until 1944. In July 1944 the Belarusian lands were liberated as a result of Operation «Bagration». After the war, the western territories of Belarus remained in the USSR.
The most recent history of Belarus
In 1945, Belarus became one of the members of the United Nations. In 1954, Belarus joined UNESCO.
In 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster occurred in Ukraine. It brought harsh consequences to all nearby territories, especially to Belarus and its lands.
In 1990 the sovereignty of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic was declared and in 1991 the country was named “The Republic of Belarus”.
In 1994 the first presidential elections were held, and as a result, Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko was elected President of the Republic of Belarus.
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