A Brief Recent History of Belarus: Background information when reading The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko

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The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko

by Scott Stambach

The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko by Scott Stambach X
The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko by Scott Stambach
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2016, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2017, 336 pages

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Beyond the Book:
A Brief Recent History of Belarus

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The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko deals with the aftermath of Chernobyl and is set in a hospital in Belarus.

While most of us think of Belarus as a part of the now fragmented Soviet Union, the country has a colorful history of being handed back and forth between Poland and Russia for centuries. Belarus was part of Poland (which borders Belarus on the West) until Poland was partitioned after a series of wars towards the end of the 18th century and Belarus became part of Russia. The early twentieth century saw more conflict. Taking advantage of Russia's preoccupation with the First World War, Belarus decided to break away and become independent while still under the protection of German forces.

A contemporary map of Belarus. It is bordered by Russia to the East, Poland to the West and Ukraine to the South. Unfortunately this newly established sovereignty, the Belarusian People's Republic, didn't last too long. With the Allied victory in WWI, Germany was forced to leave Belarus leaving it vulnerable to Russian attack. Russia invaded promptly and wrested the country back into its fold christening the country as the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1919. Seizing an opportunity to right old wrongs, Poland in turn attacked and wrested part of Belarus back into its fold, the boundaries established by the Treaty of Riga of 1921.

These arrangements lasted until World War II. When Germany invaded Poland, Russia jumped on the chance to invade Poland in return and take back what it had lost in the 1921 accord. The new borders were confirmed by Poland and the USSR in a treaty after WWII.

Belarus and its southern neighbor, Ukraine, were both part of the USSR when the Chernobyl disaster took place in 1986. Chernobyl is located in the north of Ukraine close to the border of Belarus. About 70% of the fallout from the nuclear power plant explosion ended up in Belarus, contaminating at least a fifth of the agricultural land.

In 1991, the country broke from the USSR even though it continues to maintain close economic ties with Russia. Alexander Lukashenko has been governing the country in what has labeled an authoritarian style since 1994. He has won re-elections ever since, amid allegations about vote-rigging and illegal modifications to the constitution that ensure successfully longer terms for himself.

Map of contemporary Belarus from Depositphotos.com

This article was originally published in August 2016, and has been updated for the August 2016 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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