An early Western influence on Belarusian culture was Magdeburg Law--charters that granted municipal self-rule and were based on the laws of German cities. These charters were granted in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries by grand dukes and kings to a number of cities, including Brest, Hrodna, Slutsk, and Minsk. The tradition of self-government not only facilitated contacts with Western Europe but also nurtured self-reliance, entrepreneurship, and a sense of civic responsibility.
In 1517-19 Frantsishak Skaryna (ca. 1490-1552) translated the Bible into the vernacular (Old Belorussian). Under the communist regime, Skaryna's work was vastly undervalued, but in independent Belarus he became an inspiration for the emerging national consciousness as much for his advocacy of the Belorussian language as for his humanistic ideas.
From the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries, when the ideas of humanism, the Renaissance, and the Reformation were alive in Western Europe, these ideas were debated in Belorussia as well because of trade relations there and because of the enrollment of noblemen's and burghers' sons in Western universities. The Reformation and Counter-Reformation also contributed greatly to the flourishing of polemical writings as well as to the spread of printing houses and schools.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when Poland and Russia were making deep political and cultural inroads in Belorussia by assimilating the nobility into their respective cultures, the rulers succeeded in associating "Belorussian" culture primarily with peasant ways, folklore, ethnic dress, and ethnic customs, with an overlay of Christianity. This was the point of departure for some national activists who attempted to attain statehood for their nation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The development of Belorussian literature, spreading the idea of nationhood for the Belorussians, was epitomized by the literary works of Yanka Kupala (1882-1942) and Yakub Kolas (1882- 1956). The works of these poets, along with several other outstanding writers, became the classics of modern Belorussian literature by writing widely on rural themes (the countryside was where the writers heard the Belorussian language) and by modernizing the Belorussian literary language, which had been little used since the sixteenth century. Postindependence authors in the 1990s continued to use rural themes widely.
Unlike literature's focus on rural life, other fields of culture--painting, sculpture, music, film, and theater--centered on urban reality, universal concerns, and universal values.
Since 2004, Belarus has been sending artists to the Eurovision Song Contest.
Traditional two piece Belarusian dress originated from the time of Kievan Rus, and continues to be worn today at special functions. Due to the cool climate of Belarus, the clothes were made out fabrics that provide closed covering and warmth. The outfits were designed with either many threads of different colors woven together or are adorned with symbols called ornaments. The Belarusian nobles usually had their fabrics imported and chose the colors of red, blue or green. Males wore a shirt and trousers adorned with a belt and the females wore a longer shirt, a wrap-around skirt called a "paniova", and a headscarf. The outfits also were also influenced by the dress worn by Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians and other European nations and have changed over time due to improvements in the techniques used to make clothing.
Belarus has four World Heritage Sites, with two of them being shared between Belarus and its neighboring countries. The four are: the Mir Castle Complex; the Niasviž Castle; the Belovezhskaya Pushcha (shared with Poland); and the Struve Geodetic Arc (shared with Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Moldova, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine).
Belarusian literature began with 11th- to 13th-century religious writing; the work of 12th-century poet Kiryla Turauski is representative. Rhyming was common in these works, which were generally written in Old Belarusian, Latin, Polish or Church-Slavic. By the 16th century, Polatsk resident Francysk Skaryna translated the Bible into Belarusian. It was published in Prague and Vilnius between 1517 and 1525, making it the first book printed in Belarus or anywhere in Eastern Europe. The modern period of Belarusian literature began in the late 19th century; one important writer was Yanka Kupala. Many of the writers at the time, such as Uładzimir Žyłka, Kazimir Svayak, Yakub Kolas, Źmitrok Biadula and Maksim Haretski, wrote for a Belarusian language paper called Nasha Niva, published in Vilnius. After Belarus was incorporated into the Soviet Union, the government took control of Belarusian culture, and until 1939 free development of literature occurred only in Polish-held territory. Several poets and authors went into exile after the Nazi occupation of Belarus, not to return until the 1960s. The last major revival of the Belarusian literature occurred in the 1960s with novels published by Vasil Bykaŭ and Uładzimir Karatkievič.
In 2005, playwrights Nikolai Khalezin and Natalya Kolyada founded the Belarus Free Theatre, an underground theatre project dedicated to resisting Belarussian government pressure and censorship. The group performs in private apartments and at least one such performance was broken up by special forces of the Belarusian police The Belarus Free Theatre has attracted the support of notable Western writers such as Tom Stoppard, Edward Bond, Václav Havel, Arthur Kopit and Harold Pinter.
After the Partitions of Poland, the Imperial Russia had a policy of de-polonisation of the Ruthenian people. However, even after many cases when the Belarusian peoples were subjected to what some call Russification, it was clear that this created a destinct ethnicity and a destinct culture that was neither Polish and Russian. In 1897 census most of the population referred to their language as Belarusian rather than Ruthenian (and wrongly interpreted as Russian by Tsarist authorities), as they did during Polish rule.
It was the 20th century that fully allowed Belarus to show its culture to the world. Notable Belarusian poets included Yanka Kupala, Vasil Bykau. Also helped was the korenizatsiya policy of the Soviet Union which encouraged local level nationalism. The Belarusian language was numerously reformed to fully represent the phonetics of a modern speaker. However, some contemprory nationalists find that the Russian influence has taken its toll too much. At present the Russian language is still being used in official business and in other sections of Belarusian society.
Receiving heavy sponsorship from the President, himself, ice hockey is the nation's most popular sport. Team Belarus finished a surprising fourth in overall competition at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. Belarusian players have become commonplace in the NHL and international competitions.