Belarus is a beautiful country in Eastern Europe bordered by Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. The landscape of Belarus is characterized by fertile soil, extensive forests, and one of the largest marshlands in Europe.
Alternately controlled and influenced by its neighbors, particularly Russia, Lithuania and Poland, Belarus was never an independent state until it gained independence from the USSR in 1991. The country has endured the machinations of Hitler and Stalin, to whom much of the population was lost. It has suffered the fallout of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in neighboring Ukraine; about one-fifth of the country’s land is still affected by radiation. Building on this turbulent history, Belarus continues to work to forge its national identity. Creativity in art, literature and architecture lie at the heart of the Belarusian culture.
The first Bible printed in the East-Slavonic region was printed by Frantsysk Skaryna of Belarus. Today, most Belarusians are at least nominally Orthodox or Catholic; the end of Communist rule has brought a renewed interest in spirituality and religion.
Belarus has retained closer political and economic ties to Russia than any of the other former Soviet republics have. In December 1999, Belarus and Russia signed a treaty on a two-state union, envisioning greater political and economic integration. Alexander Lukashenko, elected in July 1994 as the country's first president, remains in power. Government restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, peaceful assembly, and religion continue.