Belarus (/bɛləˈruːs/ bel-ə-ROOSS; Belarusian: Белару́сь, tr. Bielaruś, IPA: [bʲɛlaˈrusʲ]; Russian: Беларусь, tr. Byelarus; IPA: [bʲɪlɐˈrus]), officially the Republic of Belarus, formerly and sometimes known as Byelorussia is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe bordered by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital is Minsk; other major cities include Brest, Hrodna (Grodno), Homiel (Gomel), Mahilioŭ (Mogilev) and Vitsebsk (Vitebsk). Over 40% of its 207,600 square kilometres (80,200 sq mi) is forested. Its strongest economic sectors are service industries and manufacturing. Until the 20th century, different states at various times controlled the lands of modern-day Belarus, including the Principality of Polotsk (11th to 14th centuries), the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the Russian Empire.
In the aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution, Belarus declared independence as the Belarusian People's Republic, which was conquered by Soviet Russia as the Socialist Soviet Republic of Byelorussia, which became a founding constituent republic of the Soviet Union in 1922 and was renamed as the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (Byelorussian SSR). Belarus lost almost half of its territory to Poland after the Polish-Soviet war of 1919-1921. Much of the borders of Belarus took their modern shape in 1939 when some lands of the Second Polish Republic were reintegrated into it after the Soviet invasion of Poland and were finalized after World War II. During WWII, military operations devastated Belarus, which lost about a third of its population and more than half of its economic resources. The republic was redeveloped in the post-war years. In 1945 Belarus became a founding member of the United Nations, along with the Soviet Union and the Ukrainian SSR. The parliament of the republic declared the sovereignty of Belarus on 27 July 1990, and during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Belarus declared independence on 25 August 1991. Alexander Lukashenko has served as the country's president since 1994. Lukashenko continued a number of Soviet-era policies, such as state ownership of large sections of the economy. Elections under Lukashenko's rule have been widely criticized as unfair by the international community; and according to many countries and organizations, political opposition has been violently suppressed.
In 2000 Belarus and Russia signed a treaty for greater cooperation, with some hints of forming a Union State. Belarus's Democracy Index rating was the lowest in Europe until 2014 (when it was passed by Russia), the country is labelled as "not free" by Freedom House, "repressed" in the Index of Economic Freedom, and is rated as by far the worst country for press freedom in Europe in the 2013–14 Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders, which ranks Belarus 157th out of 180 nations. Over 70% of Belarus's population of 9.49 million resides in urban areas. More than 80% of the population is ethnic Belarusian, with sizable minorities of Russians, Poles and Ukrainians. Since a referendum in 1995, the country has had two official languages: Belarusian and Russian. The Constitution of Belarus does not declare any official religion, although the primary religion in the country is Eastern Orthodox Christianity. The second most widespread religious group, Roman Catholicism, has a much smaller following; nevertheless, Belarus celebrates both Orthodox and Catholic versions of Christmas and Easter as national holidays. Belarus is the only country in Europe which retains capital punishment in law and in practice.
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