Belarus or Republic of Belarus, as it is officially called, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe. It was formerly a republic of the Soviet Union and went by the name Byelorussian Soviet socialist Republic. It was in the year 1991 that Belarus regained its independence from the Soviet Union, as the later stood dissolved, after perestroika and glasnost being introduced by the then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Long before its annexation by the Soviet Union in the year 1922, Belarus was an independent state. It was in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution in 1917 that Soviet Russia conquered Belarus and integrated it as a republic. As long as the country was part of the Soviet Union it was formerly known by its Russian name Byelorussia. Geography and physical boundaries
Belarus has no access to sea. It shares its borders with Russia to its northeast, Ukraine to its south, Poland to its west and Latvia as well as Lithuania to its northwest. It has its capital at Minsk, which is also the most populous city in Belarus. Around 40% of the landmass is covered with forested areas. It also has large tracts of swampy marshlands. The terrain as a whole is relatively flat. Belarus is also a land of rivers, streams and lakes. In fact, there are more than 11,000 lakes in the region. The rivers, three of them, empty into the Baltic and the Black seas respectively. How flat the region is better understood from the fact that the highest elevation is 345 metres and the lowest point 90 metres.History
Belarus has a history as old as 5,000 BC. It was in the 3rd and later in the 5th century that first Baltic tribes and then Slavic tribes took over the region. Belarus, as we know it now, is an amalgamation of Baltic and Slavic cultures. In the 13th century, the region had to bear the brunt of the Mongol invasion from the east. In later years, the region became a part of the Lithuanian and Polish kingdom. In the late 18th century Belarus came to be a part of the Russian Empire. Russian influence increased in the region in all matters related to language as well as religious practices. During the First World War, Belarus was taken by the Germans. During the war in 1918, while still under German occupation, Belarus declared independence and formed the Belarusian People’s Republic. But soon after, during the Polish-Soviet War, the territories of the new republic got divided between Russia and Poland. Belarus, however won back its territories after the end of World War II. It was again in 1991 that Belarus finally won its independence from the Soviet Union, after the latter’s dissolution.Politics and government
The Republic of Belarus has a presidential form of government. The President is the head of the state and is elected for a term of five years. The parliament of Belarus is bicameral, the lower house being called the House of Representatives with 110 members and the upper house with 64 members is called the Council of the Republic. The parliament is known as National Assembly. The country is relatively stable politically, even though the same President has been serving Belarus ever since his election in 1994. The government is headed by a Prime Minister, who is appointed by the President. The all important executive power rests with the President. Belarus has numerous political parties, but they are not popular with the electorate. Economy
The economy of Belarus is state controlled. Even after independence in 1991, the country still follows Soviet styled economic policies. As such, it has suffered in terms of economic freedom and prosperity of the people. Almost a quarter of the population still lives under poverty. Inflation rate is also on the higher side. Being socialist in nature, unemployment rates are, however, very low. Soon after its independence there was a tremendous blow to the country’s economy. The country went for partial privatization of its enterprises. On the economic scale, Belarus is ranked poorly among all European countries. The government has not been into full scale liberalization. As a result, the country has not been able to fully reap the benefits of economic growth that has otherwise swept Western Europe. The country heavily depends upon its manufacturing and the agriculture sector for its economic growth. Most of its trade is with Russia.International standing
As a Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, Belarus was a founding member of the United Nations in 1945. After its independence, it also took membership of the Commonwealth of Independent States, a grouping of former Soviet republics, the Non Aligned Movement, Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Eurasian Economic Community. As of now, it is not a member of the European Union, but nevertheless, participates in projects involving the European Union. Since 2000, Belarus has a treaty signed with Russia for greater economic cooperation between the two former Soviet republics. In recent years, cooperation between the two states have been on the rise. There have even been talks of monetary union between the two countries, with single citizenship, common foreign policy, common defense and equal rights. Because of many political controversies and human rights issues, relations between Belarus and the western world is not that harmonious.Climate
Winters in Belarus are mild to cold. The average temperature in January ranging from -4 degree to -8 degree C. Summers are moist and cool. The average temperature ranging around 18 degree C. the monsoon sees lots of rain.Tourism and travel
Covered with lush green forests and numerous lakes, the country has a number of hot spots to visit. Some of the important tourist spots in Belarus are the beautiful Chalk Pits, Nesvizh and Nesvizh Castle, Naroch National Park, Boris and Gleb Church, Brest Fortress, Lake Narach and the Minsk Sea.
- Minsk is the political and financial capital of Belarus. It is a well developed city and a green one too, because of its numerous trees.
- Minsk has been devastated as many as 18 times, during the world wars and otherwise. Each time it has resurrected back, thus being given the title, ‘Hero city’.
- Belarus has a total population of 9.4 million. Two million of them reside in Minsk. The official currency is Belarusian Ruble (BYN). One US dollar equals two Belarusian ruble.
- The official language is Russian as well Belarusian. Most Belarusians are proficient in the Russian language. In fact, most education and official documentation are all conducted in Russian.
- The dominant religion in Belarus is Eastern Orthodox. A sizeable minority are Roman Catholics. Belarus however, has no state religion, even though there is full freedom to worship one’s own God.
- Shimon Peres and Shaim Weizmann are two popular Israeli Presidents who were born in Belarus.
- Even though a small nation, the country has been able to produce as many as five Nobel Laureates.
- Potato is the most popular food item with the Belarusians. More than 300 dishes here are made from potatoes.
- The city of Polotsk in Belarus is the geographical centre of Europe.
- Belarusians have a compulsory military training cum service for 1.5 years. For those with a university degree it is reduced to one year.
- The National Library in Belarus is one of the largest libraries in the world.
- Ever since his election in 1994, Alexander Lukashenko, has been serving as the first and only President of Belarus.
- Russia is the major political and economic partner of Belarus.
- World War II had taken the lives of almost 25% of the Belarus population.
- Except for Belarus the death penalty has been abolished all across Europe.
- The Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident in neighbouring Ukraine had a very devastating effect on Belarus. There was mass evacuation, agriculture was badly affected and long-term costs have been substantial.
Admission Process in Belarus
To apply for a study program in Belarus, you first need to research your options for higher study in the country. In case you are from India, it will be of interest to you to know that most Indian students visit Belarus for studying medicine. In fact, almost everyone does so. So weigh in the advantages first. There are four medical universities in Belarus. Visit their websites and ensure that they are fully recognized by the government of Belarus and WHO. Once you ensure that, it can be safely presumed that MCI or Medical Council of India will very well recognize your foreign degree.
As mentioned earlier, it is reasonably cheap to study in Belarus, especially for studying medicine. Once you have weighed in the advantages, it is for you to decide upon the university or college depending upon the merit of each. Few other things are to be taken care of while deciding to study in Belarus. You need to check for accommodation, availability of dormitories, their rents and other living expenses, including food. Since Russian is the lingua franca in Belarus, it will be better if you seek a program that is in Russian. The English medium programs may not be up to the mark. In any case in your third year of medical study you will have to learn Russian for interacting with the local patients who may not be that much familiar with the English language. The Russian language programs are thus way better.
After having decided the college and the course, the next step for you will be to apply to the college directly, specifying your academic credentials and sending them copies of your documents, wherever necessary. Since, getting admission to a foreign university is a time consuming process, you need to start quite early, perhaps a year in advance. Find out when the academic term begins in Belarus and apply accordingly. On scrutiny and approval of your application, you will receive an acceptance letter or formal invitation from the respective university.
Armed with the acceptance letter, visa application form and other documents as mentioned earlier, visit the Belarus embassy in your country. Submit the documents and the necessary fees, attend the interview, if scheduled, and then simply wait for the approval. It may take around two weeks for the visa to be approved, if all documents and all information are in order. Once armed with the student visa, pack things up and head straight for the airport. It is essential for you to keep all your original documents safe. Once you arrive at Belarus, get started with the process to obtain the resident permit within your first 90 days of stay in the country. Within the first 5 days itself you have to report to the local passport and visa office for registering your name.
Student Visa Application Process
A student visa is a mandatory requirement for anyone coming to Belarus for study for a period more than 30 days. A valid passport is essential for obtaining a student visa from your nearest Belarus embassy. The visa is issued by the Belarus embassy or consulate for an initial period of 90 days. Countries where an embassy or consulate office for Belarus is not available have to obtain the visa on arrival at the airport in Minsk. On arrival at Belarus, through the help of your university, you have to apply for a temporary residency permit. The permit is valid for a year. Before being issued with the permit, a mandatory HIV/AIDS test will be carried out by a clinic in Belarus.
Lifestyle of the people in Belarus is quite modest. It is not as western or modern as in western societies. Belarusians are God fearing people. Almost 60 percent of them attend church regularly. Since a sizeable number of Russians live here in Belarus, both Russian and Belarusian languages are commonly used in the country. There are also many Polish, Ukrainian and Lithuanian people who have brought with them their region’s own culture. Belarusians are very friendly and hospitable people. They are also very humble and don’t complain unnecessarily.
Life in the cities is way different from what it is in the countryside. In cities, people are more used to the modern comforts of life with the latest gadgetry. Use of internet is on the rise in the cities. Whereas in the countryside, old world charm still prevails. Outside the cities, people hardly understand English. More than Belarusian, Russian is more popular among the people and is most commonly used.
On the entertainment front, people have cafes and restaurants to visit. There are night clubs too, in cities like Minsk. People also love to attend performances by western bands and pop groups.
Belarusians are very fond of sports. A number of games are very popular with the masses, such as football, hockey, rowing, swimming, wrestling, ice hockey, fencing, volleyball and so on. Among all these sports, ice hockey is one of the most popular. Belarusians have performed well in international events, winning more than 90 medals in both, summer and winter versions of the Olympics. As a whole, living in Belarus is quite a beautiful, calm and peaceful experience.
Cost of Living for Students
Living costs are quite affordable in Belarus compared to many other European countries, especially the western ones. Living in dormitories on-campus costs as less as 15 to 30 US dollars. If adequate hostels are not available in the campus, then the university itself helps in looking for suitable accommodation for the students outside the campus. For this, most universities have their own housing departments to help with the search. Food is also quite reasonably priced, especially the ones that are locally grown in the country.
Travelling is relatively easy and affordable. There is an efficient public transportation system in most cities. The capital city, Minsk has trams, buses and a subway system of its own, which come very handy while travelling around the city.
The tuition fees are also considerably less. It costs around 2000 to 2500 US dollars annually to take up a study program in Belarus, the actual cost depending upon the course and the college. The prices for text books and many other types of stationery are included in the tuition fees.
Among the extra expenses are expenses on medical insurance. It is essential to purchase one in Belarus, even though you might be having one that you purchased at your home country. The annual costs come to around 110 US dollars.
Documents for University Admissions in Belarus
A whole set of documents will be required to process your student visa for Belarus. The list of documents are as follows.
- Your original passport with sufficient validity and adequate number of pages to put in the visa stamp. The validity date should be six months beyond your actual stay in Belarus.
- Letter of acceptance or official invitation letter for study from the university you have applied for and approved by the immigration authorities in Belarus.
- Filled in visa application form with all necessary details.
- Recent passport size photographs in colour with a light background.
- Important academic documents, like certificates and mark sheet in original.
- Your travel itinerary or proof of booking return tickets.
- Medical fitness certificate issued by a registered doctor with stamp.
- Medical insurance to cover your medical expenses in Belarus.
- Evidence to prove that you have sufficient funds to cover your expenses during your stay in Belarus. This you can do by submitting the bank documents that are in your name.
- Visa application cum processing fees that comes to around 60 US dollars. You will have to check for the exact fees at the time of your application.
- A few other optional documents are birth certificate, especially for those who are minor in age. Character certificates issued by the school or college HOD and reference letters too may be attached as per the requirement.