Jews have been living in Belarus since the 13th century. They have suffered pogroms and hate attacks, but the communities produced many noted artists, poets and rabbis.
The Jewish population of Belarus numbers 52,000 making up 0.5% of the total population and is the third largest in the former Soviet Union (following Russia and Ukraine) despite their near complete annihilation during the Nazi Holocaust and religious intolerance of the Soviet era. The Belorussian population continues to fall due to increasing death rates and decreasing birth rates – the birth rate has declined by 25% since 1990 but has begun to increase again in recent years.
Belarus also continues to suffer from the fallout that remains from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in Northern Ukraine. The disaster significantly impacted Belarus’ health and economic situation, resulting in poverty amid a crumbling infrastructure. It affected, and continues to affect, nearly a quarter of the country’s land mass. Around 13% of the country’s children live in affected areas and these children are susceptible to thyroid cancer.
Vast amounts of workers are underemployed and a high inflation rate has persisted since 1991, equal to 12.9% in 2009, threatening GDP growth and leaving elderly Jews struggling to survive on inadequate pensions. The risk increases during the freezing cold winter months when heating costs and food prices are far beyond peoples’ means.
Population = 9,612,632
Jewish population = 52,000
Life expectancy at birth = 71 years
Unemployment rate = 1%
GDP per capita = $13,400
Inflation rate = 7%