Ethnic Composition

Belarus Table of Contents

The 1989 census of the Soviet Union, its last, showed a mainly Slavic population in Belorussia: Belorussians (77.8 percent), Russians (13.2 percent), Poles (4.1 percent), Ukrainians (2.9 percent), and others (2.0 percent). Other ethnic groups include Lithuanians, Latvians, and Tatars. A large number of Russians immigrated to Belarus immediately after World War II to make up for the local labor shortage, caused in part by Stalin's mass deportations, and to take part in rebuilding the country. Others came as part of Stalin's program of Russification.

There has been little conflict with the major non-Belarusian group, the Russians, who account for about 13 percent of the population. The Russification campaign in what is now Belarus used a mixture of subtle and not-so-subtle coercion. The campaign was widely successful, to the extent that Russian became the language of choice for much of the population. One-third of the respondents in a 1992 poll said they consider Russian and Belarusian history to be one and the same. A large number of organized Russian cultural bodies and publications exist in Belarus.

Ethnic Poles, who account for some 4 percent of the population, live in the western part of the country, near the Polish border. They retain their traditions and their Roman Catholic religion, which has been the cause of friction with Orthodox Belarusians, who also see a decidedly political bent to these cultural activities.

Ukrainians account for approximately 3 percent of the population. Belarusians and Ukrainians have been on friendly terms and have faced similar problems in trying to maintain their ethnic and cultural identities in the face of Russification by Moscow.

Jews have been present in Belarus since medieval times, but by the late eighteenth century were restricted to the Pale of Settlement and later to cities and towns within the Pale. Before World War II, Jews were the second largest ethnic group in Belorussia and accounted for more than 50 percent of the population in cities and towns. The 1989 Soviet census showed that Jews accounted for only 1.1 percent of the population, the result of genocide during World War II and subsequent emigration.

More about the Population of Belarus.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress