Food and Culture from Belarus
Belarus is currently a nation of approximately ten and a half million people wedged into a tiny region between Russia and Poland. Formerly called Byelorussians or White Russians, the people of Belarus now call themselves Belorussian. They are members of the Eastern Slav nations which include Greater Russia and Ukraine.
In the early 800s they made up a part of several independent feudal princedoms, but in
1240, a Mongol invasion captured their territories and they became known as the Grand Duchy of Lithuania or Litva. The people we know today as Lithuanians were at that time called Samogitians. With the Treaty of Lublin, in 1569, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania merged with Poland until 300 years later when Poland herself was partitioned between Russia, Prussia, and Austria.
The hapless Litvanians were subjected to forcible Russification: the historic name of Litva was changed to White Russia and its language, traditions, and customs were suppressed. Despite the ensuing hardships that continually saw their lands as the battleground for nations around them, a slowly emerging Litvanian middle class found expression in the nationalistic movement around 1800. This emergence climaxed in the Russian Revolution, only to be dashed once again by the Bolsheviks, who claimed the land as a Soviet Republic in January 1919.
As if this were not enough, White Russia was again divided after the brief Polish-Russian War of 1919-1920. About 5 million Belorussians fell to Polish rule and 4 million to Russian rule. Following the Second World War, the entire country of about 10 million again ceded to total Russian domination.
Belorussians who emigrated to North America before the Second World War were largely illiterates from the poorer villages (the czar encouraged a deliberate state of illiteracy); those who came later were mostly political exiles, professionals, and intellectuals who stimulated the growth of cultural organizations in North America aimed at preserving their heritage.
For so long a part of Lithuania, Belorussia’s cuisine most resembles that of Lithuania but also has strong elements of Polish and Russian traditions. Festive occasions are marked by devout religious observance: the Greek Orthodox Church in the East, the Roman Catholic Church in the West, with approximately 10 percent of the population estimated to be Jewish.