Independence Day is the main national holiday of Belarus. It is marked every year on 3 July, the day when Minsk was liberated from the Nazi invaders. The parade is the biggest draw of Independence Day celebrations. Hundreds of military equipment units, dozens of columns, thousands of the military personnel take part in the march. The parade traditionally features infantry and mechanized columns and a fly past by the country’s air force. Apart from the military equipment, the parade showcases civil machinery, best products of Belarusian industry giants that have become the landmark of sovereign Belarus. Theatrical performances and rallies take place all over Belarus. The parade culminates with the traditional campaign Let’s Sing the Anthem Together! At 22.50 the first chords of the anthem begin to play and hundreds of thousands of people across Belarus – children and adults, locals and visitors – join in singing. “Our dearly beloved Motherland, may you live long and prosper, Belarus!” These heartfelt lines are a declaration of love and loyalty to the Motherland, a wish for peace and prosperity.
The All-Belarusian People’s Congress was first convened in the Sports Palace in the autumn of 1996 to discuss all the key problems faced by the country. Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko addressed the forum with the report “Only the people have the right to decide their fate”. The congress adopted the program of social and economic development for the five-year term, the first ever in the history of sovereign Belarus. It identified three priorities for the country: export, housing, food. Starting from the second edition, the congress has been held in the Palace of the Republic every five years. The goal of this large-scale and representative forum has not changed, which is to discuss pressing issues for the society and to shape a development strategy for the country. Among its participants are heads of government bodies, enterprises and organizations, MPs, deputies of local councils, political and public figures and also several thousand delegates from regions who are nominated by labor collectives. Representatives of the diplomatic corps, diasporas, international organizations and foreign guests are also invited to attend the congress. The All-Belarusian People’s Congress has become a special form of democracy, a democratic institution that enables citizens to realize their right to participate in public affairs on a larger scale.
Thanks to historical wisdom and healthy conservatism, the country did not only preserve the legacy of the USSR but also built on it. Belarus did not sell its land, factories and plants for a song. The government kept the biggest public assets in public hands and mobilized all the available resources to pave the way for a vibrant economy. Belarus’ industrial complex is still one of the most advanced in terms of industrial capacities among the former Soviet Union republics. It shapes the country’s image and status and is the foundation of its economic and political sovereignty. Thanks to the products made by Belarusian industry giants such as Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ trademark), Belarusian Autoworks (BelAZ), Minsk Tractor Works (MTZ), Gomselmash, Belaruskali, Naftan and Mozyr oil refineries, Grodno Azot, Belarusian Steel Works (BMZ), Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant (MZKT), Belarus is well known all over the world today. These manufacturers are not just brands but symbols of independent Belarus. Belarus’ industrial complex generates one fourth of the country’s GDP and two thirds of the country’s commodity exports. These achievements have been made possible thanks to the policy of comprehensive support by the government and large-scale technological upgrade of the industry.
Victory Day is a sacred holiday for Belarusians. It draws attention to war veterans and children of the war, and pays tribute to their gallantry, resilience and willpower. The Belarus Remembers campaign takes place all over the country. People walk carrying portraits of their grandfathers and great grandfathers as a token of respect for war heroes and a token of gratitude to the generation that won the war. Belarusians pay tribute to their fallen during a nationwide one-minute silence. Dozens of various events take place in every town and district on this day: flowers are laid at memorials, meetings with veterans are arranged, festive concerts and theatrical and musical performances are organized as well as sports competitions, exhibitions, and flash mobs. The Great Patriotic War songs are played all over the country. People dance to the tune of the legendary May Waltz in parks and squares. The celebration ends with colorful fireworks in all the regional capitals.
Every year the Belarusian head of state delivers an address to the nation and the parliament from the Oval Hall of the Seat of Government in late April. The address represents a constitutional norm and a tradition of over twenty years. It is the key program document of the year that lays down political and economic guidelines for the society and the government. The address traditionally focuses on economy and hot-button topics that every Belarusian is concerned about. Those are employment, salaries, pensions, prices, utility rates, and other things. The document also pays attention to the international agenda and invariably emphasizes that Belarus remains committed to principles of development, cooperation, and a multi-faceted foreign policy. After delivering the address the head of state takes questions from Belarusian MPs. Following the established tradition, top government officials, members of the Cabinet, heads of government agencies, the largest companies, leading universities, banks, representatives of the diplomatic corps and mass media are invited to attend the event in the Oval Hall.
The sovereign country of Belarus has a good tradition of commending agricultural workers for their hard labor. The first harvest festival and fair Dazhynki was arranged in 1996 upon the initiative of Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko. For many years, it has been a genuine feast for agribusiness workers, scientists, engineers, designers of new machines and vehicles, and everyone else, who helps agricultural enterprises achieve great performance. The harvest festival has its roots in centuries-old traditions and celebrate people who work hard. Until 2014, the festival was held on a nationwide basis. Now every region arranges its own harvest festival in one of district centers. By changing locations every year, the festival helps spruce up small Belarusian towns. Ceremonies to award winners of harvest competitions have always been the highlight of the festival. The best harvester operators and drivers are honored with valuable gifts and rewards. During the festival small towns turn into perfect places for outdoor festivities with open-air stages, artisan fairs, cultural, sports and entertainment zones. The Belarusian Dazhynki festival shows that the government’s concern about harvest begins with the government’s concern about farmers.
Back in the Soviet times, the inauguration of many grandiose buildings in Minsk such as the Seat of Government, department stores GUM and TSUM was timed to 7 November. Independent Belarus continues this constructive and glorious tradition. Landmark venues are commissioned all over the country by October Revolution Day. Several stations of the Minsk metro, ice palaces, a number of sports facilities, as well as theaters, hospitals, outpatient clinics, kindergartens were opened early in November. A unique multi-purpose sports facility Chizhovka Arena in Minsk opened its doors in the run-up to 7 November 2013. A reconstructed bridge over the Pripyat River in Zhitkovichi District, Gomel Region was unveiled on the same day in 2018. Belarusian builders do their best to finish the construction of apartment buildings and even big residential communities by this glorious date. Happy owners of brand-new apartments, including young specialists and families with many children, move into their own comfortable housing.
During New Year and Christmas celebrations, the Spiritual Revival Award is presented to Belarusian people in recognition of their big contribution to the promotion of humanism and charity. The awards ceremony at the Palace of the Republic is traditionally attended by the Belarusian head of state. It brings together teachers, doctors, members of the clergy, culture and art luminaries. The Spiritual Revival Award is a testimony to continuous focus of the state on promotion of spiritual values, artistic and moral traditions, and ideas of humanity in the society. Winners of the special prizes of the Belarusian president are also announced during this festive season. Words of gratitude go to people whose talent and success stories inspire people and demonstrate an example of true patriotism.
Belarus is home to some 140 nationalities and ethnic groups. They have preserved their national identity, honor traditions and pass them on to next generations, thus enriching the Belarusian culture. There are more than 200 national cultural public organizations in the country. Belarus warmly welcomes everyone who comes in peace. The government guarantees support to every citizen who wants to preserve and develop their culture, ethnic awareness and national identity. Belarus has become home to people of not only different ethnicities but also of different religions. Christians, Jews, Muslims treat each other with respect, honor religious holidays and holy sites. For centuries, they have been living side by side in peace, concord and mutual understanding. Interethnic, ethnocultural, and interfaith harmony and tolerance have become Belarus’ signature feature. Prayer for Belarus in All Saints Church, Budslau Fest, the opening of the Cathedral Mosque in Minsk, the Festival of National Cultures in Grodno are just some of the initiatives Belarus has launched to bring peoples and cultures together. They demonstrate respect for the glorious deeds of the ancestors who left a rich intangible legacy to humanity.
State Flag Square in Minsk is a venue with the status of a state symbol. The flag of almost 100m² big flies proudly some 70m above the square. Thanks to an elaborate lighting design, the flagstaff serves as the city’s lighthouse. A new tradition was born with the official inauguration of the square on 2 July 2013. The best representatives of the country’s scientific, cultural and sports communities swear an oath of allegiance to the State Flag here. The square hosts official ceremonies to welcome Minsk schoolchildren into the ranks of the Belarusian Pioneer Organization and the BRSM Youth Union. Graduates of the Academy of the Internal Affairs Ministry receive diplomas here. Young people attend ceremonies in State Flag Square to be granted the right to be called cadets, while border guards take an oath of allegiance to the people of Belarus. State Flag Square is on the country’s list of most visited places. It welcomes the biggest number of visitors on the second Sunday of May when the country celebrates the Day of the State Emblem and the State Flag of Belarus.
The Christmas Amateur Ice Hockey Tournament for the Prize of the Belarus President is held in the first week of a new year. This is a true celebration of ice hockey that brings together fans, professional and amateur athletes from around the world. It started out 15 years ago to turn into a major event with impressive victories, fierce sports clashes and friendly get-togethers. The tournament is co-located with the Golden Puck national junior ice hockey competition. This competition is meant for aspiring hockey players, for our “backstreet boys”. Elite sport starts with childhood enthusiasm. Hockey is played on ice arenas of small towns and also on ice rinks that can be found in dozens of thousands of locations across the country. The Christmas hockey tournaments are not just about winning titles, but also about a possibility to become part of the ice hockey community and to enjoy your personal accomplishment, which is just as important. Prizes to Golden Puck winners are presented by famous hockey players.
A healthy lifestyle is another signature feature of Belarus. There are over 23,000 sports facilities in the country. In 2018 alone, several landmark facilities were commissioned: the indoor football center in Brest, the National Olympic Rhythmic Gymnastics Training Center in Minsk, the biathlon facility in Senno, sports and recuperation centers in Liozno, Verkhnedvinsk, Ostrovets, and Osipovichi. Every year the country holds about 22,000 mass sports events. Minsk sets trends in healthy living. Thousands of people flock to the capital city for the Minsk Half Marathon. Taking part in this sports event are famous athletes, politicians, community leaders, artists, doctors and running amateurs. The Minsk Ski Race is held on the ski-roller track in the Vesnyanka neighborhood of Minsk every winter. In 2019 the event attracted a record 5,000 participants. Other spectacular mass sports events include Snow Sniper, Leather Ball, Brave Run, the Legends Race biathlon festival and the VIVA Rovar cycling carnival. These events help promote a healthy lifestyle and encourage young people to take up sports.
Belarus is the CIS leader in high technology. In line with the ordinance on digital economy, the information and communication sector is one of the national development priorities. The National Academy of Sciences is the country’s innovative and intellectual hub. It has implemented a host of ambitious projects. By launching its Earth remote sensing satellite, Belarus has joined the list of the world’s space superpowers. Our scientists have developed new-generation lasers, a powerful personal supercomputer, and unique unmanned vehicles. The Belarusian top-notch healthcare service is on par with the world’s best standards. Belarus is ahead of many European countries in transplant surgeries. The construction of the Belarusian nuclear power plant is currently underway. Once up and running, it will considerably enhance the country’s energy security. Cutting-edge technology and the economy of knowledge are the future of the national economy. The country has embraced a progressive development model titled Intellectual Belarus. Its key components are comprehensive digitalization and establishment of an IT country, a well-developed neo-industrial complex and a highly intelligent society.
Protection of mothers and children is among the priorities in Belarus. The country is among the states with the lowest maternal and infant mortality rates, and has made great strides in improving reproductive health. State-of-the-art Mother and Child National Research Center, National Children’s Heart Surgery Center, hundreds of maternity homes are at the disposal of Belarusians. The country provides long-term support for large families in the form of the family capital program. Large families are entitled to housing construction subsidies, financial assistance with back-to-school supplies, textbook rentals, pre-school and school meals. With such significant support from the state, the number of large families increases in the country every year. Mothers who have raised five or more children are entitled to a high state award – the Order of Mother. In Belarus, the family is regarded not only as a tool to solve demographic problems but also as an important social institution to ensure continuity of generations and cement spiritual values. The thesis “A Strong Family, A Strong State” is one of the bricks in the strategic framework consolidating the Belarusian society.
In run-up to the New Year and Christmas holidays Belarus traditionally holds the Our Children campaign that immerses young citizens in the magical world of the long-awaited holiday. Senior officials, heads of public administration bodies and local authorities visit children who are in a difficult situation: those who live without parental love and warmth or are in hospitals sick. The marathon of good deeds attracts business people, artists, athletes, pop stars. Guests usually come to visit these kids accompanied by the Father Frost with a bag full of books, computers, toys and, of course, sweets, without which winter holidays are unthinkable. The party usually wraps up with a round dance around the Christmas tree. One of the most ambitious charitable initiatives in the country brings together thousands of caring hearts. The Our Children charity campaign is held under the patronage of the Belarus president who has repeatedly extended his sincere thanks to all those who responded to his call and visit children during the Christmas and New Year holidays. “You have no idea, if you have not seen that by now, how a child’s eyes glow with joy when he has guests who come to wish him Happy New Year. He will remember this for the rest of his life. He understands that the state needs him,” the Belarusian leader once said.
The special fund of the president of the Republic of Belarus for social support of gifted students and the special fund of the president of the Republic of Belarus for support of the talented youth were set up in 1996. It was the time when the best young professionals and people of culture sought to leave the country. To encourage talented young people to stay and work in their homeland, the state devised programs to support the Belarusian science and national culture. The funds pay scholarships, prizes, one-time payments to gifted young boys and girls. The funds are used to help organize national and international student science conferences, contests, seminars, competitions, to finance the participation of creative youth in international competitions, exhibitions, symposiums and other activities in culture and art. The title of fellow or winner of the presidential fund is not just an award. It demonstrates that the state assumes the responsibility for the further development of young talents. Over the years, the special fund of the president of the Republic of Belarus for social support of gifted students has made payments to over 20,000 people and the special fund of the president of the Republic of Belarus for support of the talented youth to over 2,000 people.
Young Belarusians are expected to secure dynamic upturn of all spheres of the society. The national ball of university graduates takes place in late June. The head of state attends the ball to present awards and congratulate the most talented and promising students, winners of international academic excellence competitions, holders of scholarships awarded by the head of state’s special fund. The ball represents one of the largest and memorable events in the life of the newly minted programmers, historians, engineers, designers, and philologists, who come to Minsk from various parts of the country. Professors, who have co-authored brilliant achievements of their students, stand next to those who have just become young professionals. Heads of Belarusian universities and top government officials are traditionally invited to the ball. The solemn ceremony takes place in one of the country’s most opulent venues – the Palace of Independence. In his valedictory the president always wishes young Belarusians to believe in themselves, set ambitious goals and strive for them, constantly build their knowledge, and justify the trust of their parents and mentors. “Your happiness is in your hands. You can achieve it only through work and the relentless desire to make your country the most beautiful place on Earth,” the head of state is convinced.
Floor-length gowns, tailcoats, and live music… Hundreds of boys and girls gather up in the Palace of Independence in the run-up to the New Year in order to become utterly absorbed in the age of classic balls of the 18th century. Invitations to the official event are granted to university and high school students who excel at studies, art and sport, scientific and public activities. The captivating program, surprises, and an opportunity to talk to the head of state represent a genuine gift for Belarusian young prodigies. The national New Year ball for young Belarusians embodies traditions of famous classic balls while leaving some space to modern trends: internationally recognized pop and jazz music is performed in the second part of the event. However, one thing remains the same: the ball is a triumph of impeccable taste, live communication, and interesting meetings. It is an opportunity for young men to demonstrate gallantry and an opportunity for girls to demonstrate femininity and elegance. As they get ready for the important New Year event, the young people take dancing classes and select exquisite attires.
Belarusian Written Language Day is marked in Belarus in early September, in the first days of the new academic year. Education, information technology, and culture are the three branches that shape the nation’s intellectual elite, its present and future. The first Belarusian Written Language Day took place in Polotsk in 1994. In 2017 this ancient city, where the great enlightener and printing pioneer Francysk Skaryna was born, once again had the honor of hosting the festival timed to the 500th anniversary of Belarusian book printing. Over the past 25 years various historical and cultural centers of the country have had the honor of hosting the festival, including Turov, Novogrudok, Nesvizh, Orsha, Pinsk, Zaslavl, Mstislavl, Mir, Kamenets, Postavy, Shklov, Borisov, Smorgon, Khoiniki, Gantsevichi, Glubokoye, Bykhov, Shchuchin, Rogachev, and Ivanovo. The cities and towns that host Belarusian Written Language Day get a new development impulse with new social and cultural facilities, specimens of architecture and art unveiled there. Thousands of guests from various countries come to Belarus to participate in key events of Belarusian Written Language Day. The idea of the festival is to demonstrate that the history of the written Belarusian language based on Slavonic traditions remains connected to today’s present. National literature prizes are bestowed upon winners as part of the festival.
The restoration of historical and cultural heritage is a priority for Belarus. Under the instruction of Aleksandr Lukashenko, ancient Slutsk belts weaving traditions were restored in the country. A unique weaving technique of the 18th century is a global art phenomenon and a priceless contribution of the Belarusian nation to the cultural legacy of the humanity. Historical sites are renovated under the patronage of the state. Huge funds are allocated for these purposes from the state budget. Such architectural and historical landmarks as the Architectural, Residential and Cultural Complex of the Radziwill Family at Nesvizh and the Mir Castle Complex, which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List, have been renovated over the years of Belarus’ sovereign history. The Gomel Palace and Park Complex, a unique museum ensemble featuring the Rumyantsev-Paskevich Palace, a family chapel, a winter garden, a watchtower and a magnificent old garden, has been given a new lease of life. Many other castles and palaces, religious and cultural sites have been renovated. As a rule, all renovation programs are implemented by Belarusian specialists.
Ancient Belarusian rites reflect the history, lifestyles and spirit of the nation. Our ancestors worshiped nature and believed that its forces could protect them from the evil. They performed rites for it such as Gramnitsy, Gukanne Vyasny, Radzimichy, and Bidding Farewell to a Mermaid. Some of them, for example, the rite of the Kolyady Tsars, have been added to the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. On New Year’s Eve, carolers called “tsars” visit local houses to sing songs and give performances in the village of Semezhevo, Kopyl District, Minsk Region. The ancient rite known as Bagach celebrates the end of harvesting works. People go from home to home, sing joyful songs and collect grain in a wooden box where it is kept till next year.
The first edition of the Kupala Night Festival in Alexandria took place in 2011. At the beginning of July every year, the village of Alexandria in Shklov District, Mogilev Region gathers friends for amazing outdoor festivities. All events are held on the bank of the Dnieper River that once was an integral part of a big trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks. Since ancient times, the Dnieper has been a connecting link for Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian people. Even today the river helps bolster interregional ties. The festival aims to show the evolution of Kupala traditions and to promote cultural exchange between various countries. Alexandria gathers friends from Russia, Ukraine, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, and the geography of the festival expands every year. Delegations of countries include folk art groups and artisans. Colorful fairs with original souvenirs and national cuisine are spaced at several kilometers along the picturesque banks of the Dnieper River. Guests of the festival enjoy ancient songs and dancing, take a steam bath, try to tell fortunes, perform fire rituals at night, and look for a magical fern flower that blooms once in a year in local forests.
The International Festival of Arts Slavianski Bazaar in Vitebsk is the country’s top cultural event. With more than 25 years under its belt, the festival has welcomed guests from all over the world in ancient Vitebsk. Since 1995, the festival has been held under the patronage of Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko. Over the time thousands of participants from almost 100 countries, including Argentina, Guinea, Egypt, China, Cuba, Malta, Mexico, Romania, the United States, Uruguay, and Finland, have visited Marc Chagall’s hometown. The Summer Amphitheater, the main stage of the festival, has hosted hundreds of concerts that have been watched by millions across the globe. The cornflower, pictured on the logo of the forum, symbolizes the purity and beauty of Belarus. Bright as the sky, it looks as if it is destined to spark love for true art in the hearts of millions. This love knows no boundaries, no religious or political differences. The festival promotes the dialogue of cultures between different nations and countries. In July, world stars and fledgling artists flock to the city standing on the Dvina River. The lofty mission of the Slavianski Bazaar is formulated in its motto that says Through Art to Peace and Mutual Understanding. The special award that the president of the Republic of Belarus presents at the festival bears the same name.
2018-2020 have been declared the Years of Native Land in Belarus. The initiative is a good reason for every citizen to make their contribution to the beautification of cities, villages or rural communities where they were born, and encourage their compatriots to get involved. Every year Belarus hosts a nationwide voluntary clean-up day in late April. Thousands of enthusiasts, from ordinary citizens to the head of state, join the campaign to tidy up and landscape local communities. The clean-up day is held both indoors, at workplaces, and outdoors. Urban and rural dwellers clean up streets, public gardens, yards and parks. Schoolchildren, teachers, college and university students beautify flowerbeds and plant trees. Men help on construction sites. The youth tidy up war memorial sites. Millions of people join the nationwide clean-up day every year. Money raised as part of the event is used to build social facilities, maintain historical and cultural monuments, or is donated to children’s recuperation camps. It is no wonder that tidiness is a calling card of Belarus, which is acknowledged by numerous tourists.
Belarus does its best to preserve unique biological diversity. Specially protected natural areas, among which are nature reserves, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, wetlands, rivers and lakes, account for almost 8% of the country’s territory. Belarus’ biggest nature reserves are Berezinsky Biosphere Reserve, Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park, Braslav Lakes National Park, Pripyatsky National Park, Narochansky National Park, Vygonoshchanskoe Reserve, Yelnya Reserve, Zvanets Reserve, Olmanskiye Wetlands, Osveysky Reserve, Sporovsky Reserve and Srednyaya Pripyat Reserve. Flora and fauna, the wealth of forests and fields, are protected at the government level. About 189 animal species and 274 plant species have been included into Belarus’ Red List of Endangered Species. Bison, the “kings” of Belovezhskaya Pushcha, were on the brink of extinction not long ago. Thanks to the country’s recent efforts, their number has reached 1,886 individuals and continues to increase. Belarus is the world’s leading country in the number of free-roaming bison. Respect for forests, the main natural wealth, is the number one task of the country. The country runs Forest Week campaigns in April, which are actively supported by businessmen, politicians, journalists, MPs, and heads of various departments. Ten million seedlings are planted during every such campaign every year.