Belarusans are a Slavic people who trace their national roots to the 9th-century principality of Polacak. Present-day Belarus was the central part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (Litva) until its occupation by Russia (Muscovy) at the end of the 18th century; the Grand Duchy was the superpower of 15th-century Eastern Europe, governed by Belarusan nobility through statutes of laws written in the Belarusan language. These provided unparalleled freedoms to the population and tolerance for a plurality of religious faiths.
Torn by conflicts between competing powers to both the west and east, the Belarusan people lost their political power, but the nation, their language and their culture survived. Belarusan was the first language of one of the heroes of American Independence, Thaddeus Kosciuszko, who would carry the principles of liberty and freedom from the young United States back to Eastern Europe.
Through the 19th century, Belarusan writers and thinkers planted the seeds of national reawakening. On March 25, 1918, the Belarusan Democractic Republic (BNR) was declared. The spread of communism gave ample pretense for the political powers in Moscow to overrun the young country, despite many uprisings against the Bolsheviks. But the principle of Belarusan independence remained. As part of the Soviet Union, a Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic was established, while a democratically-elected government-in-exile preserved the legitimacy of the original BNR. In 1991, in Belarus’ ancient Belavezha Forest, the leaders of Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia agreed to dissolve the Soviet Union.