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People, Language & Religion


Ethnic Belarusians constitute 81.2% of Belarus's total population. The next largest ethnic groups are Russians (11.4%), Poles (3.9%), and Ukrainians (2.4%).


Belarus's two official languages are Belarusian and Russian, spoken at home by 36.7% and 62.8% of Belarusians, respectively. Minorities also speak Polish, Ukrainian and Eastern Yiddish.

Belarussian belongs to the eastern group of Slavic languages and is very similar to Russian. It did not become a separate language until the 15th century, when it was the official language of the grand duchy of Lithuania. It is written in the Cyrillic alphabet but has two letters not in Russian and a number of distinctive sounds. The vocabulary has borrowings from Polish, Lithuanian, German, Latin and Turkic.


Belarus has historically leaned to different religions, mostly Russian Orthodox (in eastern regions), Catholicism (in western regions), different denominations of Protestantism (especially during the time of union with Protestant Sweden). Sizable minorities practice Judaism and other religions. Many Belarusians converted to the Russian Orthodox Church after Belarus was annexed by Russia after the partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

As a consequence, now Russian Orthodox church has more members than other denominations. Belarus's Roman Catholic minority, which makes up perhaps 10% of the country's population and is concentrated in the western part of the country, especially around Hrodna, is made up of a mixture of Belarusians and the country's Polish and Lithuanian minorities. About 1% belong to the Belarusian Greek Catholic Church.

Belarus was a major centre of the European Jewish population, with 10% being Jewish, but the population of Jews has been reduced by war, starvation, and the Holocaust to a tiny minority of about 1% or less. Emigration from Belarus is a cause for the shrinking number of Jewish residents. The Lipka Tatars numbering over 15,000 are Muslims.

According to Article 16 of the Constitution, Belarus has no official religion. While the freedom of worship is granted in the same article, religious organisations that are deemed harmful to the government or social order of the country can be prohibited.





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