Belarussometimes called the Western Gate of the Soviet Union”has been placed by history between powerful states to the east and west. Soldiers of Muscovy and Poland, of Napoleon and Hitler, and of Alexander I and Stalin have all left their mark. Its territory has been laid claim to by both the Russians and the Poles, and religious and political echoes of their challenges continue to be heard. In this timely volume, Jan Zaprudnikhimself a native Belarusanpaints a vivid picture of the complex past of Belarus (formerly known as Belorussia), paving the way for his analysis of the challenges facing the newly independent republic.In recent years Belarus has been less visible to the world than the Baltic republics to the north or Ukraine to the south, yet this multiethnic republic has undergone a significant demographic, social, cultural, and political evolution since 1956. A proclamation of state sovereignty in July 1990 combined with the accelerated fragmentation of the Soviet Union to push Belarus along the uncertain road to independencea process that culminated with a declaration of full independence in August 1991.Although perestroika contributed to a dramatic rise in national consciousness among the people of Belarus, the new nation-state is notable for in its quest for interethnic coexistence and for peaceful solutions to the problems brought about by independence.