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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a nation (natsiia, nation in the historical sense).

Together with Russians and Ukrainians, Byelorussians constitute the East Slavs. The borders of the compact settlement of Byelorussians basically coincide with the present boundaries of the Byelorussian SSR. Byelorussians also live in the western oblasts of the RSFSR, the Lithuanian SSR and Latvian SSR, the Ukrainian SSR, the Kazakh SSR, and Siberia. There are 9,052,000 Byelorussians in the USSR (according to the 1970 census). Outside the USSR, a significant number of Byelorussians live in Poland and the countries of North America. They speak Byelorussian. Among the Byelorussians, Poleshuks (Poleshchuks), inhabitants of Poles’e, may be distinguished; the most distinctive among them are the Pinchuks, inhabitants of Pinsk Poles’e. There are some distinctively Ukrainian phonetic features in the speech of the Pinchuks and some of the Brest Poleshuks. Byelorussian believers are predominantly Orthodox; there are Catholics and Uniates in the northwestern regions.

The earliest ethnic bases of Byelorussians were East Slavic tribes—the Dregovichi, the southwestern Krivichi and Radimichi, and in part the neighboring Drevliane, Severiane, and Volynians. East Slavic ancestors of the Byelorussians also partially assimilated Letto-Lithuanian tribes (specifically, the Iatviagi tribes). In the ninth century the East Slavs who had inhabited the territory of present-day Byelorussia, together with other East Slavic tribes, moved into Kievan Rus’, in whose boundaries these tribes consolidated to form the Old Russian nationality. In the period of feudal division, the Polotsk principality was no longer dependent on Kiev, but it soon broke down into a series of small domains.

From the middle of the 13th through the 14th century, Byelorussian lands were included in the structure of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In the 16th century, under the Union of Lublin, which joined the Grand Duchy of Lithuania with Poland (1569), these lands came under the rule of the Rzecz Pospolita (the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania). Influenced by socioeconomic factors, under conditions of enslavement and the struggle for independence, the formation of the Byelorussian nationality began to solidify in the 16th century. A Byelorussian national culture was developed; its leading representatives were F. Skorina, V. Tiapinskii, and S. Budnyi. In the 18th century, after the partitions of Poland (1772, 1793, and 1795), Byelorussian lands came under Russian rule. With the development of capitalism, economic and cultural ties strengthened among the inhabitants of separate districts of Byelorussia and a Byelorussian nation arose in the 19th century. Formation of a Byelorussian nation was accompanied by a rise in the national consciousness of the Byelorussians. After the Great October Socialist Revolution, in the process of socialist building, the Byelorussians consolidated into a socialist nation. After years of Soviet power, the class structure of the population as well as working and living conditions changed fundamentally.

Some ethnographic peculiarities of Byelorussian culture have been preserved in the village dwellings and clothing, food—an abundance of potato courses (bul’ba), wedding loaves, and so on—and family customs. A distinctive Byelorussian national culture has been highly developed in the years of Soviet power. Folk dances, music, and oral poetry are inexhaustible sources for professional Byelorussian art and literature. Artistic work is being mass-produced by the Byelorussians—decorative weaving and embroidery, artistic woodworking, and the manufacture of ceramics.


Istoriia BSSR, 2nd ed., vols. 1–2. Minsk, 1961.
Narody Evropeiskoi chasti SSSR, vol. 1. Minsk, 1964. (Bibliography.)
Sedov, V. V. “K proiskhozhdeniiu belorusov.” Sovetskaia etnografiia, 1967, no. 2.
Tret’iakov, P. N. “Vostochnye slaviane i baltiiskii substrat.” Sovetskaia etnografiia, 1967, no. 4.
Zhuchkevich, V. A. “K voprosu o baltiiskom substrate ν etnogeneze belorusov.” Sovetskaia etnografiia, 1968, no. 1.
Grinblat, M. la. “K proiskhozhdeniiu belorusskoi narodnosti (po povodu teorii substrata).” Sovetskaia etnografiia, 1968, no. 5.
Grinblat, M. Ia. Belorusy: Ocherki proiskhozhdeniiu i etnicheskoi istorii. Minsk, 1968.
Bandarchyk, V. K. Gistoryia belaruskai etnagrafii XIX st. Minsk, 1964.
Molchanova, L. A. Material’naia kul’tura belorusov. Minsk, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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