"White Russia" (Белая Русь ~ White Ruthenia) is a name that has historically been applied to various regions in Eastern Europe, most often to that which roughly corresponds to present-day Belarus. In English, the use of "White Russia" to refer to Belarus is dated. Many other languages, however, continue to use a literal translation of "White Russia" to refer to Belarus. Because the term "White Russian" has the alternative (and potentially confusing) meanings of the post-Russian Revolution, anti-Communist White movement or White emigre - with perceived Russian imperialism that came with them - some people in Belarus consider the name "White Russia" to be derogatory.
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 related to the present-day Russian Federation, whereas it has nothing to do with the Russian Federation, but is related to the ancient lands of Ruthenia (or Rus’—see also Etymology of Rus and derivatives).
Although Belarus translates to White Russia in many modern languages for historic reasons (starting from Russian Belorussiya and most Germanic languages), the equation of Rus’ and Russia is controversial today and is disputed by a number of historians. Many Belarusians rankle at its implications on their national self-determination, particularly in the light of imperial Russian and Soviet rhetoric calling for the reunification of "one indivisible Russia".
Conversely, in some languages there is a clear distinction between the two words ("Russia" and the ancient "Rus"). For example:
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.
Many other variants of this name appeared in ancient maps: for instance, Russia Alba, Russija Alba, Wit Rusland, Weiss Reussen, White Russia, Hvite Russland, Hvíta Rússland, Weiss Russland, Ruthenia Alba, Ruthenie Blanche and Weiss Ruthenien (Weißruthenien), assigned to various territories, often quite distant from that of present Belarus. For example, at one time the term was applied to Novgorod.
Only by the late 16th century did it become a name for the area of the present Belarus. Until this time and for a long time afterwards the population of this territory (Belarusians) were known as Litvins (i.e., Lithuanians), by the name of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, into which the land had been integrated since the 13th - 14th centuries, or as Ruthenians, by the name of the Ruthenian state which this area used to belong to.
The origins of the name are somewhat unclear, but it may have had its origins in the efforts made by Russia's tsars to distinguish themselves from their predecessors in Rome and Byzantium (on the basis that Russia was the "Third Rome"). The Rerum Moscoviticarum Commentarii by Sigismund von Herberstein explains that the Muscovite rulers wore white robes to distinguish themselves from the purple of the Roman rulers and the red of the Byzantines. The Russian Tsar was thus called the "White Tsar": Sunt qui principem Moscovuiae Album Regem nuncupant. Ego quidem causam diligenter quaerebam, cur Regis Albi nomine appellaretur, or Weisse Reyssen oder weissen Khünig nennen etliche unnd wöllen damit ain underscheid der Reyssen machen (from Rerum Moscoviticarum Commentarii).
The Tsar himself was often called the "Great White Tsar", while he included among his official titles the style (literal translation): "The Sovereign of all Rus': the Great, the Little, and the White". This appellation, together with the solemn wording "White Tsardom", was in use till the very end of the Russian Empire. Ultimately, this colour was transferred onto the name of the counter-revolutionary White Army that fought against the Red Army.
Alternatively, it may have its origins in the four colored cardinal directions used in many central Asian cultures, where white is an indicator for west.
It is noteworthy that some other peoples have been referred to by colour. There have been White, Red and Black Croats (White Croats and White Croatia were in today's Croatia, western Bosnia and Herzegovina and in south-east Poland and western Ukraine, beyond the Carpathians; Red Croats and Red Croatia were in today's south-eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina and southern Montenegro, and in area beyond the Don river; Black Croats in today's north-east Czech Republic); White Serbs in today's East Germany. In the People's Republic of China Red, Black, and Green Miao are known.
There is also a region historically known as Black Ruthenia (Black Russia, Чорная Русь). It covers Northwestern lands of modern-day Belarus: Hrodna, Slonim, Navahrudak, Vaukavysk, and partly Minsk region.
Michael Kellogg, The Russian Roots of Nazism: White Emigres and the Making of National Socialism, 1917-1945.(Book review)
Jan 01, 2007; Michael Kellogg, The Russian Roots of Nazism: White Emigres and the Making Of National Socialism, 1917-1945. 327 pp. Cambridge:...