Republic of Belarus
Belarus is a landlocked state in Eastern Europe bordering Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia to the west; Ukraine to the south; and Russia to the east and north. It has a total border of 3,100 kilometers (1,900 miles), with almost one-third of its border (960 kilometers, or 600 miles) touching Russia. Slightly smaller than the state of Kansas, Belarus covers an area of 208,000 square kilometers (80,000 square miles). Belarus is divided into 6 oblastsi (provinces). The cities of Minsk, Gomel, Brest, Vitsyebsk, Grodno, and Mogilev are the capital cities of these oblastsi.
Belarus is the smallest of 3 Slavic republics (with Russia and Ukraine) that were once part of the Soviet Union. These Slavic republics, along with 12 other regions, gained their independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
The population of Belarus was estimated at 10.4 million in July 2000, with almost 75 percent living in urban areas. The population of the city of Minsk alone was estimated at 1.67 million in July 2000. The number of people living in Belarus peaked in 1993 and has been declining at an average annual rate of 0.5 percent. It is estimated that by 2015 the population will fall to 9.8 million. The negative population growth rate is partly due to a falling life expectancy (68 years; 62 years for males and 74 for females), a low fertility rate, and emigration . Belarusians are marrying at an older age and
Ethnic Belarusians make up more than 77 percent of the country's population. Russians, many of whom were migrants to Belarus while it was still part of the Soviet Union (1917-91), form the second largest ethnic group (13 percent). The remainder of the population are Poles (4 percent), Ukrainians (3 percent), and Jews (1 percent), with a small number of Latvians, Lithuanians, and Tartars (0.1 percent). Before World War II, Jews constituted the second largest ethnic group in the country.
Belarusians emigrate from their country for economic, military, political, and religious reasons. Some estimates put the number of Belarusians living abroad at between 3 to 3.5 million. The United States is one of the principal countries of Belarusian emigration. Since 1946, more than 500,000 Belarusians have emigrated to the United States, many fleeing a country devastated by World War II (1939-45).
Both Belarusian and Russian are official languages. The Belarusian language is an East Slavic language, closely related to Russian and Ukrainian. Like many of the Slavic languages, Belarusian uses the Cyrillic alphabet. Most Belarusians who profess a religion adhere to the Eastern Orthodox Church. There is, however, a sizable minority of Roman Catholics, and the Eastern-rite (Uniate) church is experiencing a revival after centuries of persecution under Eastern Orthodox-dominated Tsarist Russia and atheistic (not subscribing to any religion) Soviet rule.
The main industrial products include metal cutting tools, trucks, earth movers, motorcycles, bicycles, television sets, radios, refrigerators, and chemical fibers. In addition, tires, timber, paper, board, textiles, and clothing are produced. Agricultural machinery is one of the specialties of Belarusian industry. Basic agricultural machinery produced in Belarus includes tractors, harvesters, fertilizers, and equipment for livestock-raising farms. Engineering and metalworking plants account for as much as 25 percent of the industrial output. The automotive industry specializes in the production of heavy-duty trucks. The Minsk tractor plant produces tractors, tractor engines, and spare parts. In 2000 alone, 26,500 tractors were produced. The electrical engineering industry produces alternating current motors, power transformers, electric bulbs, and cable products. In addition, computer-aided control systems, clocks, watches, cameras, and electrical measuring and process monitoring instruments are produced. Furthermore, road building machines, building and reclamation machines, roller bearings, passenger elevators, gas cookers, and equipment for the food industry are also produced. In 2000, exported manufactured goods included 7,800 trucks, 26,100 tractors, 3,200 metal-cutting machine tools, 505,100 refrigerators, 161,000 television sets, and 120,000 bicycles.
The chemical and petrochemical industries are well-developed. There are large complexes for the production of mineral fertilizers, tires, artificial fibers, and filament. In 2000 they produced 502,000 tons of nitrogen fertilizers, 2.8 million tons of potash fertilizers, 51.7 million tons of phosphate fertilizers, 209,000 tons of artificial fiber and filament, and 1.3 million tires for motor vehicles and farm machinery. The state dominates the chemical and petrochemical sector of industry, owning 73 percent of production. In 2000, 1 million tires, 2.6 million tons of potash fertilizers, and 161,400 tons of artificial fiber and filament were exported.
Belarus has fewer visits by tourists than its neighbors, but the numbers are increasing. In 1997, a reported 250,000 tourists visited Belarus, an increase of 36 percent from 1994. Tourists spent US$25 million in 1997. There are several reasons behind the low number of visitors to Belarus. There are few historic assets on which to build a tourist industry. Many of the country's historic buildings were destroyed during World War II. Minsk was completely flattened and is now characterized by grim Stalinist architecture (Stalin was the former dictator of the USSR) and high-rise buildings. In addition, as opposed to most Eastern European and Baltic countries that have dropped visa (government approval to enter a country) requirements for most visitors, Belarus requires visas for most tourists. The potential for increased tourism in Belarus is still favorable because it is considered a good candidate for ecotourism . Ecotourism could generate urgently needed revenue, create jobs, and help conserve the natural environment. The Ministry of Sports and Tourism and Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection have looked into establishing national parks and protected territories and monuments to stimulate an increase in tourism.
After independence in 1991, the Gosbank (state bank) of the USSR was converted into the National Bank of Belarus (NBB). The specialized Soviet banks, including Sherbank, Agroprombank, Promstroibank, and Vnesheconombank, were turned into commercial banks offering corresponding specialized services. By mid-2000, Belagroprombank and Belarusbank together accounted for 51 percent of all Belarusian banking sector assets. There are 22 locally owned and joint venture banks. The largest joint venture bank was the Russian Mossbusinessbank. By mid-2000, the banking system of the republic, with a total of 28 banks, held an estimated BR1.5 trillion worth of assets (approximately US$1.6 billion). As a percentage of GDP, this made Belarus one of the lowest among the CIS countries. Assets in local currency accounted for 43 percent of total banking assets. Among the problems with the banking sector was a relatively high rate of lending to government enterprises (constituting 47 percent of all lending), considered to be economically unwise.
Belarus has no territories or colonies.
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The Belarusian ruble (BR) became the official currency in May 1992. New bank notes introduced in 2000 include 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1,000 and 5,000 ruble notes. The currency contains no coins. As of February 2001, BR1,244 equaled US$1.
Machinery, transport equipment, chemicals, metals, textiles, foodstuffs.
Fuel, natural gas, industrial raw materials, cotton fiber, sugar, foodstuffs.
US$55.2 billion (1999 est.).
Exports: US$5.95 billion (2000). Imports: US$6.55 billion (2000).