Belarus and Russia are still seen as one country. Millions of people around the world keep wondering ‘Is Belarus Russia?’, ‘Are the Belarusians Russian?’ and ‘Is Belarus a part of Russia?’.
BelarusFeed made up a list of four reasons why Belarus is not Russia but still everyone believes so.
It all starts with the name – Belarus.
Many are probably confused with the ‘RUS’ ending in BelaRUS that may sound misleading and should be clarified.
Belaya Rus’, White Ruthenia, Russia Alba, White Rus’ or White Russia are just some of the names that had been used to refer to the territories that belong to present-day Belarus, Russia, and other states. Plus, there are many mutually excluding versions of when exactly the name of Belarus emerged. Let’s recall some of them.
Some experts suggest that the name White Russia was used to describe the lands within the Grand Duchy of Lithuania that had been populated mostly by early Christianized Slavs.
Others believe the colour of the clothes (as well as hair and complexion) of the White Russians may have contributed to the name. A third theory suggests that White Russia was used to refer to the lands not conquered by the Tatars during the Mongol invasion of Rus’ in the 13th century.
Belarus or the Republic of Belarus as the official name of the country the way it is written and known today did not exist until the 20th century. It happened when Belarus gained its independence in 1991 during the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Belarus and Russia are close neighbours.
No wonder we have such a long and troublesome history together. Our borders changed as two countries were included in different states or forged alliances with them. We were friends and foes, conquerors and conquered, shared joy and sorrow.
From the late 9th to the mid-13th century Belarus and Russia were in Kievan Rus’ and both derived their names from it. After Kievan Rus’ finished its existence due to the Mongol invasion, the countries broke up for a while following their own paths and evolving into different worlds.
In the 18th century, the Belarusian territories said goodbye to the union between Poland and Lithuania and became a part of the Russian Empire. This is when Polonization was replaced by Russification that later affected the Belarusian culture and language.
Then there was a brief period of the Belarusian People’s Republic after which the country was divided between Poland and Soviet Russia. Eighteen years later the World War II started and wiped out a quarter of Belarus’ pre-war population. And only in the 1990s, Belarus proclaimed its sovereignty and independence after the USSR collapsed.
Another reason for confusion may be the fact that Belarus has two official languages – Belarusian and Russian. Both are written in a Cyrillic alphabet, have a common Slavic basis and share many grammatical and lexical features.
Nonetheless, despite the affinity, the differences between the two languages are still significant. Many Russians say they don’t understand the Belarusian language. At the same time, the Belarusians understand Russian and Polish, which is quite reflective of the country’s history.
Due to the numerous government policies favouring the Russian language, it is now more widely used than Belarusian. Only 23% of the 9.67 mln population speak their native language favouring Russian. Less than 10% of Belarusians use Belarusian in their daily lives. According to the UNESCO, Belarusian currently belongs in the “vulnerable” category.
Being connected by our common past we still have strong ties at present.
At the moment, Belarus and Russia are in the Union State that was founded to promote greater political, economic, and social integration. Besides, the countries have only a formal border that is not subject to customs checks or duty thanks to the Union State treaty and the Eurasian Union.
With pretty similar historical, cultural and economic features, Belarus and Russia are still two different states. The independent states with their own names, languages, history, and nations.