On the contrary, for a significant part of its history Belarus was a center of the Belarusian–Lithuanian State Grand Duchy of Lithuania (1230–1596) which was one of the largest European states of that time. This Duchy controlled almost half of Eastern Europe. The first capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was Navahradak (contemporary Belarus). The Grand Duchy of Lithuania, comprised of the lands of contemporary Belarus, Lithuania, Ukraine, and a part of Russia, was one of the largest, most powerful and flourishing states in medieval central Europe. For several centuries of its existence, the old Belarusian language was the only official language.

In the past, Belarusians have participated in several uprisings to defend their lands from the Russian empire. In 1794 Belarusian nobleman Taddeusz Kasciuszka headed an uprising against Russian-Prussian intervention and the reactionary nobility of Rzercz Pospolita. He also took part in the War for Independence in North America, was a friend of Thomas Jefferson, and knew George Washington. Nowadays the monuments to Tadeusz Kosciusko, national hero of Belarus, Poland, Lithuania, the USA, and honorable citizen of France, can be seen in Washington, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Cleveland, as well as in France and Poland.

In 1863-64, Kastuś Kalinoŭski led another uprising against Russia’s occupation. Today, most Belarusians favor economic integration, but not incorporation of Belarus into the Russian Federation.