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The territory of Belarus started to be populated from the middle of the Old Stone Age (100-40 thousand B.C.), the first settlements appeared 27-24 thousand years ago. In the 7th-9th centuries the Belarusian territory was inhabited by Slavonic associations of Dregovichi, Crivichi and Radimichi tribes. The first administrative entities on the Belarusian territory were the Duchies of Polotsk, Turov and Smolensk. The city of Polotsk has been known since 862 A.D. The first Polotsk Duke mentioned in the chronicles and ruling late in the 10th century was Rogvolod. During certain periods the Duchies of Polotsk and Turov, and other Belarusian lands, were subordinated to Kyiv authorities, however, with the start of feudal disintegration they split into smaller shares. By the end of the 10th century Byzantean style Christianity began to spread across Belarusian territory, thus facilitating the development of culture, the appearance of monumental stone architecture, painting art and literature.
The Belarusian language started to be shaped in the first half of the 13th century.
Early in the 13th century the Belarusian lands and duchies took part in the creation of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which was necessitated by the threat from Crusaders and Mongols and Tartars (the latter captured eastern and southern provinces of Russia in 1230-1240's). The Duchy was headed by Mindovg who in 1253 assumed the title of a king. Novogorodok (Novogrudok) became the first capital of the new state, while from 1323 the capital was shifted to Vilno (modern Vilnius). As a result of captures, agreements, dynastic marriages, etc., the Grand Duchy of Lithuania incorporated in the 13th-14th centuries all Belarusian lands. Later, some Ukrainian and Russian lands were added to the State. The administrative structure, socio-economic and cultural development of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was influenced by the Slavonic population. The Old Belarusian language was the official state language from mid-14th to late 17th century.
By the 16th century the state structure of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was completed. Its basis was fixed by the Statutes of 1529, 1566 and 1588. The State was headed by the Grand Duke and the Rada of noblemen. The Seim functioned as a body of representative.
The struggle for influence in the Eastern Baltic region resulted in the Livonian war of 1558-1583 between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Moscow state. Failures of the army of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, including the loss of Polotsk, led to a closer union with Poland. As a result of the Liublin Unia of 1569, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland united into a federal state called Rzecz Pospolita with a common monarch and Seim. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania preserved its government, finances, army and state emblem. The Unia allowed the new state to complete the war by returning the previously lost territories and standing firm in Livonia. During the new war with Russia in early 17th century Smolensk and the lands lost at the beginning of the 16th century were returned.
In the 16th century, under the influence of Reformation, Lutheranism, Calvinism and other Protestant movements started to spread across Belarusian territories. Religious tolerance existed for a long time, but in late 16th century counter-reformation movement developed. The compromise between Orthodox and Catholic Church adherents resulted in the 1596 Brest Church Unia under which the Orthodox Church of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania recognized the supremacy of the Pope and the Catholic dogmas, while preserving its own rituals and organization. The implementation of the Church Unia faced resistance in the Orthodox environment, which, together with a hard economic state of peasantry and town grassroots resulted in an anti-feudal war.
Russia took the advantage of the external problems in Rzecz Pospolita and started a new war on its territory (1654-1667) having soon occupied most of Belarus.
The Northern war (1700-1721) waged by Swedes against Russia and Rzecz Pospolita also inflicted great losses on Belarus. The war actions were conducted on the Belarusian territory and brought about more destruction. The war caused another economic crisis which was overcome only in mid-18th century. At the time, economic life on the Belarusian lands started to recover and capitalist tendencies in the economy to grow.
The durable political crisis connected with the anarchy in Rzecz Pospolita and the fact that the country fell under the influence of neighbouring states resulted in still more serious problems. Stanislav August Poniatovski, the last king of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania (1764-1795), strove to strengthen the central power but faced an opposition which was looking for support from the outside. Taking this opportunity, as well as appealing to the unequal position of Orthodox believers and Protestants as compared with Catholics within Rzecz Pospolita, Russia, Prussia and Austria organized the first division of Rzecz Pospolita (1772) under which the eastern part of Belarus became part of the Russian empire. Pursuant to the second division of Rzecz Pospolita (1793) Russia acquired the central part of Belarus. The growth of patriotic spirits resulted in a resurrection headed by T. Kosciuszko, which Russia suppressed by sending its troops. In 1795 the third division of Rzecz Pospolita took place, under which the western lands of Belarus became part of Russia, while Rzecz Pospolita seized to exist as a state. Belarus was subjected to territorial-administrative division according to the Russian pattern, Russian taxes and duties were introduced.
During the war of Russia against the French aggression the territory of Belarus was the main theatre of the war action, the country sustained huge material losses, its population significantly decreased.
After the 1812 war, democratic ideas spread amidst the national liberation movement in Belarus. In 1830-1831 a national liberation uprising burst out for the restoration of Rzecz Pospolita within the boundaries of 1772.
Catholic churches and monasteries were closed, the estates of the uprising participants were confiscated. The Vilno University was closed, and the 1588 Statute of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was invalidated.
In 1863-1864 a national liberation uprising against tsarism broke out in Poland, Belarus and Lithuania.
A new growth of the democratic and national liberation movement in late 19th - early 20th century created the conditions for the revival of Belarusian culture and statehood. In 1903 the Belarusian Socialist Gromada, the first political party, was founded, which advocated the overthrow of absolutism and the creation of the Russian Federative Democratic Republic with a free self-determination and cultural and national autonomy of nations.
When Russia entered World War I, martial law was declared in Belarus. The western part of Belarus was occupied by German troops until September 1915. After absolutism had been overthrown as a result of the February 1917 Revolution, the political life in Belarus was revived.
Following the armed uprising in Petrograd, the Soviet power was proclaimed in Minsk, too.
On January 1919 the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed in Smolensk. However, already in February 1919, taking into account the political situation, the Lithuanian-Belorusian Soviet Socialist Republic was created with the capital in Vilno.
On July 1920, following the withdrawal of German occupants, the second proclamation of the BSSR took place.
During the pre-war period about one thousand industrial enterprises were built, almost 900 enterprises were reconstructed in Belarus; the industrial development rate in the Republic was higher than in the USSR. Sciences, national culture and arts were developed. However, the mass political repression delivered a heavy blow on all population strata.
Upon the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, the Belarusian territory from 22 June 1941 until 28 July 1944 was occupied by the German fascist troops. Mass guerrilla movement spread across the occupied Republic, which involved about 400 thousand people, and another 400 thousand people were enlisted as guerrilla reserve. There functioned clandestine party bodies, patriotic and anti-fascist organizations. Under the pretext of fighting guerrillas, the Fascists carried out 140 punitive actions in Belarus, in the course of which hundreds of villages were burnt, often together with their inhabitants. The memorial complex Hatyn (Logoisk District) built on the place of a village burnt together with its inhabitants is dedicated to the memory of victims of Fascism.
In June-July 1944 the Soviet troops liberated Belarus in the course of the Belarusian campaign. As a result of the war, Belarus sustained huge losses, one out of each four people perished, all towns, major and middle-size enterprises were destroyed, more than 9 thousand villages were burnt. About 380 thousand people were taken to Germany by force.
The admission of the BSSR to the United Nations Organization proved to be the recognition by the world community of the contribution of Belarusian people into the defeat of Hitler's Germany and the huge losses in their struggle with fascism.
By the end of the 1970's Belarus turned from an agrarian republic into a developed industrial and agrarian republic maintaining multilateral co-operation with the republics of the USSR and Socialist Community countries.
On July 27, 1996 the Supreme Soviet of the BSSR adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Belarus. In August 1991 it was given the status of a constitutional law. On September 19, 1991 the BSSR was given the name of the Republic of Belarus. In December 1991, in Viskouli (Belovezhskaya Pushcha), the heads of states and governments of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus signed the document denouncing the Union treaty of 1922. The USSR seized to exist. The Republic of Belarus became an independent sovereign State.
On March 15, 1994 the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Belarus adopted a new Constitution in which Belarus is proclaimed a unitary democratic State with the rule of law.
On July 10, 1994 Alexander Lukashenko was elected the first President of the Republic of Belarus.
The new version of the 1994 Constitution with amendments and additions was adopted pursuant to the referendum of November 24, 1996.
In March 1996 the Republic of Belarus signed an agreement on a closer economic co-operation and the creation of a customs-free zone with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and the Russian Federation, in April 1996 an agreement was signed with the Russian Federation on a more profound economic integration and the creation of a Commonwealth of the two States.
The national holiday of the Republic of Belarus is Independence Day which is celebrated on July 3.