White Russia

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"White Ruthenia" (White Russia, Belarusian: Белая Русь = White Rus) is a name that has historically been applied to various regions in Eastern Europe, most often to that which roughly corresponds to the eastern part of present-day Belarus including the cities of Polatsk, Vitsyebsk, Mahiliou.

In English, the use of "White Russia" to refer to all of Belarus is dated. Many other languages, however, continue to use a literal translation of "White Russia" to refer to Belarus.

The term "White Russian" has the alternative (and potentially confusing) meanings of the post-Russian Revolution, anti-Communist White movement or White émigré. Some people in Belarus consider the name "White Russia" to be derogatory because of an unwilling verbal association of their country with Russia.

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Meaning of the name and its translation

The name "White Russia" is a literal, although not entirely correct translation of the names Belaya Rus (Белая Русь). The problem with this translation is that the name "White Russia" seems to suggest that this territory is describing the present-day Russian Federation, whereas it is a demonym deriving from the more ancient toponym Rus or Ruthenia (see also Etymology of Rus and derivatives, Etymology of the name Belarus).

Ruthenia is the latinized version of Rus’, a region in Eastern Europe inhabited by Slavs and the cradle of Kievan Rus’, a 9th to 12th-century state that existed in the territories of modern-day Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and Eastern Poland.

Belarus translates to White Russia in many modern languages (particularly, most Germanic languages). However, in some languages there is a distinction between the modern country of Russia and the suffix "-rus". For example:

  • Polish: Białoruś (White Rus), but Rosja (Russia);
  • Ukrainian: Білорусь Bilorus (White Rus), but Росія Rosia (Russia);

In the German language, the usual name for the state of Belarus still today is Weißrussland (White Russia). In official use (e.g. by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), the name Belarus is often preferred. However, even the German Chancellor Angela Merkel used the term Weißrussland in her speech to the European Council Summit in March 2007. Likewise, it is still Wit-Rusland in Dutch, Hviderusland in Danish, Hviterussland or Kviterussland in Norwegian, Vitryssland in Swedish, Λευκορωσία in Greek and Valko-Venäjä in Finnish.

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