At the end of 1991, the formal liquidation of the Soviet Union was the surprisingly swift result of partially hidden decrepitude and centrifugal forces within that empire. Of the fifteen "new" states that emerged from the process, many had been independent political entities at some time in the past. Aside from their coverage in the 1991 Soviet Union: A Country Study, none had received individual treatment in this series, however. Belarus and Moldova: Country Studies is the second in a new subseries describing the fifteen post-Soviet republics, both as they existed before and during the Soviet era and as they have developed since 1991. This volume covers Belarus and Moldova, two nations on the western border of what was once the Soviet Union.

The marked relaxation of information restrictions, which began in the late 1980s and accelerated after 1991, allows the reporting of extensive data on every aspect of life in the two countries. Scholarly articles and periodical reports have been especially helpful in accounting for the years of independence in the 1990s. The authors have described the historical, political, and social backgrounds of the countries as the background for their current portraits. However, in general, both Belarus and Moldova (especially the former) have been written about to a lesser extent than other former Soviet republics. In each case, the authors' goal in this book was to provide a compact, accessible, and objective treatment of five main topics: historical setting, the society and its environment, the economy, government and politics, and national security.

In the case of Belarus, providing a definitive spelling of a personal name or place-name has been a challenge. All names have been transliterated according to the transliteration schemes devised by the United States Board on Geographic Names (BGN); which is widely used by the United States government, although not by the Library of Congress or in most scholarly works. According to the BGN system, most Cyrillic letters are transliterated similarly from both Belarusian and Russian. But some letters are transliterated from the two languages differently (for example, "e," which remains "e" in transliterated Russian but becomes "ye" in transliterated Belarusian), and some letters exist in Belarusian but not in Russian.

Because Belarusian names often differ from the Russian versions that have been used predominantly by the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and the world in general, the Russian version is given in parentheses at the first occurrence of a name. Otherwise, the Belarusian names have been used throughout. The few exceptions to this are well-known names (Moscow) and words (perestroika) that have acquired a standardized spelling in English usage.

Another problem in writing about Belarus is what to call it and when. In its early history, the region was known as "Belaya Rus'," "Belorussia," "White Ruthenia," or "White Rus'." (A number of explanations have been proffered for the term "white.") As if this were not confusing enough, the terms "Rus'" and "Russia" have often been confused, sometimes deliberately. The original Rus' was Kievan Rus', which existed for centuries before Muscovy (which would later become Russia) gained significance. Russia later claimed to be the sole successor to Kievan Rus' and often blurred the line between the two. In the Russian language, both "russkiy" and "rossiyskiy" mean "Russian."

During the time when Belarus was part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, it was commonly known as Belorussia, and the language was known as Belorussian. Occasionally, nationalist groups would form and take a name that included the word "Belarusian," but this use of the word was the exception. It was only after the Supreme Soviet declared the country independent that the name was changed from the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic to the Republic of Belarus, despite the title of the earlier Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. The policy in this volume has been to use "Belarus/Belarusian" in the earliest historical times; "Belorussia/Belorussian" while it was a part of either the Grand Duchy, Poland, the Russian Empire, or the Soviet Union; and "Belarus/Belarusian" after the country declared independence in August 1991. The exceptions are names in which "Belarus/Belarusian" was deliberately chosen over "Belorussia/Belorussian" by the groups themselves.

The body of the text reflects information available as of May 1995. Certain other portions of the text, however, have been updated. The Bibliography lists published sources thought to be particularly helpful to the reader.

Country Studies main page | Belarus Country Studies main page