Belarus , officially the Republic of Belarus, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe bordered by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital is Minsk; other major cities include Brest, Hrodna (Grodno), Homiel (Gomel), Mahilyow (Mogilev) and Vitsebsk (Vitebsk). Over 40% of its is forested, and its strongest economic sectors are service industries and manufacturing.
Until the 20th century, the lands of modern-day Belarus belonged to several countries, including the Principality of Polotsk, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the Russian Empire. In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, Belarus declared independence as the Belarusian People's Republic, succeeded by the Socialist Soviet Republic of Byelorussia, which became a founding constituent republic of the Soviet Union and was renamed as the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR). Much of the borders of Belarus took their modern shape in 1939 when some lands of the Second Polish Republic were incorporated into it after the Soviet invasion of Poland and were finalized after World War II. The republic was redeveloped in the post-war years. In 1945, Belarus became a founding member of the United Nations, along with the Soviet Union and the Ukrainian SSR.
The parliament of the republic declared the sovereignty of Belarus on 1990, and during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Belarus declared independence on 1991. Alexander Lukashenko has been the country's president since 1994. Lukashenko continued a number of Soviet-era policies, such as state ownership of large sections of the economy. According to some organizations and countries opposed to Alexander Lukashenko, elections have been unfair, and political opponents have been violently suppressed. In 2000, Belarus and Russia signed a treaty for greater cooperation, with some hints of forming a Union State. Belarus' Democracy Index rating continuously ranks the lowest in Europe, the country is labelled as "Not Free" by Freedom House, "Repressed" in the Index of Economic Freedom, and is rated as by far the worst country for press freedom in Europe in the 2013-14 Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders, where Belarus is ranked 157th out of an overall total of 180 nations.
Over 70% of Belarus's population of 9.49 million resides in urban areas. More than 80% of the population is ethnic Belarusian, with sizable minorities of Russians, Poles and Ukrainians. Since a referendum in 1995, the country has had two official languages: Belarusian and Russian. The Constitution of Belarus does not declare any official religion, although the primary religion in the country is Eastern Orthodox Christianity. The second most popular, Roman Catholicism, has a much smaller following, although both Orthodox and Catholic versions of Christmas and Easter are celebrated as national holidays.