Before Russian rule

From 1386 to 1569, Belarus was part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a large multi-ethnic state that stretched from the Baltics to what is now western Ukraine. Its official language was Belarusian. Despite its name, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania is regarded as a precursor of present-day Belarus. Belarus’ flag and emblem are based on those of the Grand Duchy.

Belarus absorbed into the Kingdom of Poland

In 1569, the Grand Duchy was absorbed into the Kingdom of Poland. As a result, Belarus came under strong Polish influence. In the 17th century, Poland fought for control of Belarus against an expanding Russia. In 1795 Poland was divided between Russia, Prussia, and Austria; and Belarus was incorporated into the Russian Empire.

Belarusian republic established

Intellectuals in Belarus started to think of themselves as belonging to a Belarusian nation in the mid-nineteenth century. However, the Russian government suppressed expression of Belarusian identity, and the nationalist movement remained weak.

In March 1918, an independent Belarusian People’s Republic was proclaimed, made possible by the chaos that followed the Russian Revolution. In 1920-21, Poland and now Soviet Russia again fought over Belarusian territory. The newborn Belarusian republic was crushed, and the treaty that ended the Polish-Soviet war divided Belarus in two. Western Belarus came under Polish rule, while eastern Belarus became the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic (Belarusian SSR), within the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).