The Polish part of Belarus (in the west) was subject to the imposition of elements of Polish culture, while Soviet Belarus (in the east) became one of the original republics which formed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR.
On September 17, 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Poland, and consequently seized western Belarus. Some twenty months later, Germany invaded the Soviet Union (including Belarus) on June 22, 1941.
Belarus suffered greatly during the subsequent fighting and German occupation, and by the end of August, 1941, the present-day Belarus territory was totally occupied by the German army.
During World War II, Jews and others died in regional concentration camps; the third-largest Nazi concentration camp was set up at Maly Trostenets (near Minsk) where over 200,000 people were executed.
In 1944, because of the efforts of the Americans, British and other allied forces, it became clear that Nazi Germany would not win their war in Europe, or for that matter in Russia, and in the end it was soundly defeated.
That fact meant little to Belarus, as it had lost 25% of its pre-war population, over 9,000 villages were destroyed and the towns of Minsk and Vitsebsk were in ruins.
As the German forces were in retreat across Europe, the Red Army drove the remaining Germans out of Belarus, and the long rebuilding and recovery process began.
The Soviet Union, in an effort to help spark the Belarus economy, established new industries and it wasn't long before Belarus became a serious center of manufacturing; new jobs were the result and some levels of prosperity returned.
And then on April 26, 1986, an explosion and fire at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine released large quantities of radioactive contamination into the atmosphere, which spread over much of western Russia and Europe.
Nearly 60% of the radioactive fallout landed in Belarus. Large areas were contaminated, forcing the evacuation and resettlement of 200,000 people.
To contain the contamination and to avert a greater catastrophe, the Soviets spent a billion rubles which all but crippled its economy. Regardless, some contamination effects still linger and Belarus struggles with environmental conditions in the southeast, and the overall health of its people.
In the very late 1980's, Soviet President Gorbachev introduced policies in Russia to help reduce the corruption at the top of the Communist Party. That move called 'Glasnost' sparked a passionate desire for freedom across The Soviet Union, and in the end freedom from Communism caused the total collapse of the country in 1991.
With that Russian breakdown in progress, the doors of individual freedoms opened and on August 25, 1991, Belarus issued a declaration of independence, and in 1994 elected Alexander Lukashenko as its first president.
Since then, Lukashenko has tightened his grip on authoritarian power, and although his methods are consider harsh by some in the west, the economy remains stable, people are some what prosperous, and that was certainly not the case during the Soviet era.
Belarus has retained closer political and economic ties to Russia than any of the other former Soviet republics. In fact, Belarus and Russia signed a treaty in 1999 that envisions greater economic and political and integration.
As for tourism, our staff has been to the capital city of Minsk, and it has an excellent mass-transit system (spotless subway), wide prospects (streets), and plenty of gregarious people to make any visitor feel welcome.
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