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File:Balkan topo en.jpg

The Balkan peninsula as defined by the Soča-Krka-Sava border in the north.

The Balkans (often referred to as the Balkan Peninsula although the two are not coterminous) is a geopolitical and cultural region of southeastern Europe. The region takes its name from the Balkan Mountains, which run through the centre of Bulgaria into eastern Serbia. The region has a combined area of 550,000 km2 (212,000 sq mi) and a population of about 55 million people.

"Balkan" comes from a Turkish word meaning "a chain of wooded mountains".[1] The ancient Greek name for the Balkan Peninsula was the "Peninsula of Haemus” (Χερσόνησος τοῦ Αἵμου, Chersónēsos tou Haímou). The Balkans are also referred to as Southeastern Europe.

Definitions and boundaries

The Balkan Peninsula


The Balkan Peninsula, as defined by the Danube-Sava-Kupa line.

The Balkan Peninsula may be defined as an area of southeastern Europe surrounded by water on three sides: the Adriatic Sea to the west, the Mediterranean Sea (including the Ionian and Aegean seas) to the south and the Black Sea to the east. Its northern boundary is often given as the Danube, Sava and Kupa rivers.[2]

Countries which are geographically fully located within the Balkan peninsula:

Countries which are significantly located in the peninsula:

Countries which are located mostly outside the peninsula:

The Balkans

The term "The Balkans" covers not only those countries which lie within the boundaries of the "Balkan Peninsula", but may also include Croatia, Slovenia, and Romania.[2] Slovenia, which was part of Yugoslavia from 1919 to 1991, lies north of the Danube-Sava line and therefore outside the Peninsula, but prior to 1991 the whole of Yugoslavia was considered to be part of the Balkans.[3] The European territories of Turkey, which are located geographically in the Balkan Peninsula, are not generally included in the Balkan region.[3] The father of the term "The Balkans" August Zeune defined it in 1808 to describe areas that remained under Turkish rule after 1699.

In most of the English-speaking world, the countries commonly included in the Balkan region are:[4]

Other countries sometimes included are:

Etymology and evolving meaning

The region takes its name from the Stara Planina mountain range in Bulgaria, commonly known as the Balkan Mountains (from the Turkish balkan meaning "a chain of wooded mountains").[1] The name is still preserved in Central Asia where there exist the Balkan Mountains[5] and the Balkan Province of Turkmenistan. On a larger scale, the mountains are only one part of a long continuous chain of mountains crossing the region in the form of a reversed letter S, from the Carpathians south to the Balkan range proper, before marching away east into Anatolian Turkey. On the west coast, an offshoot of the Dinaric Alps follows the coast south through Dalmatia and Albania, crosses Greece and continues into the sea in the form of various islands.

The first attested time the name "Balkan" was used in the West for the mountain range in Bulgaria was in a letter sent in 1490 to Pope Innocent VIII by Buonaccorsi Callimaco, an Italian humanist, writer and diplomat.[6] In English traveler, John Morritt, introduced this term into the English literature at the end of the 18th century, and other authors started applying the name to the wider area between the Adriatic and the Black Sea. The concept of the “Balkan peninsula” was created by the German geographer August Zeune in 1808.[7] As time passed, the term gradually obtained political connotations far from its initial geographic meaning, arising from political changes from the late 1800s to the creation of post-World War I Yugoslavia (initially the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes). Zeune's goal was to have a geographical parallel term to the Italic and Iberian Peninsula, and seemingly nothing more. The gradually acquired political connotations are newer, and, to a large extent, due to oscillating political circumstances. The term Balkans is generally used to describe areas that remained under Turkish rule after 1699, namely: Bulgaria, Serbia (except for Vojvodina), Macedonia, Thrace, Albania, Valahia, Moldavia, Epirus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro (except for the Boka Bay and Budva), central Greece and the Peloponnese. Vojvodina and Transylvania, it is argued, do not belong to Balkans. After the split of Yugoslavia beginning in June 1991, the term 'Balkans' again received a negative meaning, even in casual usage (see Balkanization). Over the last decade, in the wake of the former Yugoslav split, Slovenes have rejected their former label as 'Balkan nations'. This is in part due to the pejorative connotation of the term 'Balkans' in the 1990s, and continuation of this meaning until now. Today, the term 'Southeast Europe' is preferred or, in the case of Slovenia and Croatia, 'Central Europe' and Greece has almost exclusively been regarded and referred to as a 'Southern European' country.

Southeastern Europe

Because of the negative connotations of the term 'Balkan', writers such as Maria Todorova and Vesna Goldsworthy have suggested the use of the term Southeastern Europe instead.[8] The use of this term is slowly growing; a European Union initiative of 1999 is called the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, and the online newspaper Balkan Times renamed itself Southeast European Times in 2003.

The use of this term to mean the Balkan peninsula (and only that) technically ignores the geographical presence of Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, and Ciscaucasus, which are also located in the southeastern part of the European continent.

Western Balkans

File:Western Balkans.PNG

The Western Balkan states according to the European Union

European Union institutions and member states define the "Western Balkans" as Albania and the constituent republics of the former Yugoslavia, minus Slovenia.[9] The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development uses "Western Balkans" to refer to the above states, minus Croatia.[10]

Regional organizations

File:SEECP members.png

Southeast European Cooperation Process (SEECP) member states

File:SP for SEE members.png

Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe      members     observers      supporting partners


Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA)      members      former members, joined the EU

File:CEI members.png

Central European Initiative (CEI) member states

File:SECI members.png

Southeast European Cooperative Initiative (SECI)      members      observers

File:BSEC members.png

Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC)      members      observers

See also the Black Sea Regional organizations

Nature and natural resources

Most of the area is covered by mountain ranges running from north-west to south-east. The main ranges are the Dinaric Alps in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia, the Šar massif which spreads from Albania to Republic of Macedonia and the Pindus range, spanning from southern Albania into central Greece. In Bulgaria there are ranges running from east to west: the Balkan mountains and the Rhodope mountains at the border with Greece. The highest mountain of the region is Rila in Bulgaria, with Musala at 2925 m, with Mount Olympus in Greece, the throne of Zeus, being second at 2919 m and Vihren in Bulgaria being the third at 2914 m.

On the coasts the climate is Mediterranean, in the inland it is moderate continental. In the northern part of the peninsula and on the mountains, winters are frosty and snowy, while summers are hot and dry. In the southern part winters are milder.

During the centuries many woods have been cut down and replaced with bush. In the southern part and on the coast there is evergreen vegetation. In the inland there are woods typical of Central Europe (oak and beech, and in the mountains, spruce, fir and pine). The tree line in the mountains lies at the height of 1800–2300 m.

The soils are generally poor, except on the plains where areas with natural grass, fertile soils and warm summers provide an opportunity for tillage. Elsewhere, land cultivation is mostly unsuccessful because of the mountains, hot summers and poor soils, although certain cultures such as olives and grapes flourish.

Resources of energy are scarce. There are some deposits of coal, especially in Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Bosnia. Lignite deposits are widespread in Greece. Petroleum is most notably present in Romania, although scarce reserves exist in Greece, Serbia, Albania and Croatia. Natural gas deposits are scarce. Hydropower stations are largely used in energetics.

Metal ores are more usual than other raw materials. Iron ore is rare but in some countries there is a considerable amount of copper, zinc, tin, chromite, manganese, magnesite and bauxite. Some metals are exported.

History and geopolitical significance

File:Balkans Animation 1800-2006.gif

Political history of the Balkans

File:Stielers Handatlas 1891 50.jpg

The Balkans at the end of the 19th century

The Balkan region was the first area of Europe to experience the arrival of farming cultures in the Neolithic era. The practices of growing grain and raising livestock arrived in the Balkans from the Fertile Crescent by way of Anatolia, and spread west and north into Pannonia and Central Europe.

The identity of the Balkans is dominated by its geographical position; historically the area was known as a crossroads of various cultures. It has been a juncture between the Latin and Greek bodies of the Roman Empire, the destination of a massive influx of pagan Slavs, an area where Orthodox and Catholic Christianity met, as well as the meeting point between Islam and Christianity.

In pre-classical and classical antiquity, this region was home to Greeks, Illyrians, Paeonians, Thracians, Dacians and other ancient groups. Later the Roman Empire conquered most of the region and spread Roman culture and the Latin language but significant parts still remained under classical Greek influence. During the Middle Ages, the Balkans became the stage for a series of wars between the Byzantine, Bulgarian and Serbian Empires.

Possibly the historical event that left the biggest mark on the collective memories of the peoples of the Balkans was the expansion and later fall of the Ottoman Empire. By the end of the 16th century, it had become the controlling force in the region, although it was centered around Anatolia. Many people in the Balkans and Carpathians place their greatest folk heroes in the era of either the onslaught or the retreat of the Ottoman Empire. As examples, for Croats, Nikola Šubić Zrinski and Petar Kružić; for Serbs, Miloš Obilić and Tzar Lazar; for Albanians, Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg; for ethnic Macedonians, Nikola Karev; for Bosniaks, Husein Gradaščević; and for Bulgarians, Vasil Levski, Georgi Sava Rakovski and Hristo Botev. In the past several centuries, because of the frequent Ottoman wars in Europe fought in and around the Balkans, and the comparative Ottoman isolation from the mainstream of economic advance (reflecting the shift of Europe's commercial and political centre of gravity towards the Atlantic), the Balkans has been the least developed part of Europe.

The Balkan nations began to regain their independence in the 19th century (Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro), and in 1912–1913 a Balkan League reduced Turkey's territory to its present extent in the First Balkan War. The First World War was sparked in 1914 by the assassination in Sarajevo (the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina) of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. The Ottoman empire was one of the three most important parties of the Central powers. An important contribution towards the entente victory took place in the region, after Greece joined the war in 1917, with the capitulation of Bulgaria and the Ottoman empire, which led to the swift capitulation of Austria-Hungary.

The Greek success against the Axis forces during World War II, and the subsequent Albanian, Greek and Serb resistance, changed the course of the war and gave the allies a decisive step towards victory[citation needed]. After the Second World War, the Soviet Union and communism played a very important role in the Balkans. During the Cold War, most of the countries in the Balkans were ruled by Soviet-supported communist governments. Greece remained the only non Soviet country, but was also the only country in Europe to which the cold war turned 'hot' due to the Greek Civil War.

However, despite being under communist governments, Yugoslavia (1948) and Albania (1961) fell out with the Soviet Union. Yugoslavia, led by marshal Josip Broz Tito (1892–1980), first propped up then rejected the idea of merging with Bulgaria, and instead sought closer relations with the West, later even joining many third world countries in the Non-Aligned Movement. Albania on the other hand gravitated toward Communist China, later adopting an isolationist position.

The only non-communist countries were Greece and Turkey, which were (and still are) part of NATO.

In the 1990s, the region was gravely affected by armed conflict in the former Yugoslav republics, resulting in intervention by NATO forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Macedonia. The status of Kosovo and ethnic Albanians in general is still mostly unresolved.

Balkan countries control the direct land routes between Western Europe and South West Asia (Asia Minor and the Middle East). Since 2000, all Balkan countries are friendly towards the EU and the USA.

Greece has been a member of the European Union since 1981; Slovenia and Cyprus since 2004. Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007. In 2005, the European Union decided to start accession negotiations with candidate countries; Croatia, Turkey, and Macedonia were accepted as candidates for European Union membership. As of April 2009,[11] Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Slovenia are also members of NATO. Bosnia and Herzegovina and what was then Serbia and Montenegro started negotiations with the EU over the Stabilisation and Accession Agreements, although shortly after they started, negotiations with Serbia and Montenegro were suspended for lack of co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

All other countries have expressed a desire to join the EU but at some date in the future.

The Balkans today is a very diverse ethno-linguistic region, being home to multiple Slavic, Romance, and Turkic languages, as well as Greek, Albanian and others. Through its history many other ethnic groups with their own languages lived in the area, among them Thracians, Illyrians, Romans, Pechenegs, Cumans, Avars, Celts and various Germanic tribes-folk.


File:Edward Stanford 1877.jpg

Ethnic composition map of the Balkans by E. Stanford of 1878 during the Russo-Turkish war, when the state of Bulgaria was created. Upon it the Congress of Berlin determined its decision


Ethnic map of the Balkans prior to the First Balkan War, by Paul Vidal de la Blache.

The region's countries ordered by population are:

  • Greece (11,257,285)[12]
  • Turkey (9,799,745 European part)[13]
  • Bulgaria (6,655,210) [14]
  • Serbia (5,466,009 in Central Serbia.[15])
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina (4,613,414)[16]
  • Croatia (4,489,409 if all of Croatia is considered to be included in the Balkans)[17]
  • Albania (3,639,453) [18]
  • Kosovo (2,180,686)[19](UN-approved Census not yet undertaken)
  • Macedonia (2,048,619)[20]
  • Slovenia (2,038,733 if all of Slovenia is considered to be included in the Balkans)[21]
  • Romania (971,643 in Dobruja)[22]
  • Montenegro (672,180)[23]

The region's principal religions are Christianity (Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic) and Islam. A variety of different traditions of each faith are practiced, with each of the Eastern Orthodox countries having its own national church.

Eastern Orthodoxy is the principal religion in the following countries:

  • Bulgaria (Bulgarian Orthodox Church)
  • Greece (Church of Greece)
  • Macedonia (Macedonian Orthodox Church)
  • Montenegro (Serbian Orthodox Church)
  • Romania (Romanian Orthodox Church)
  • Serbia (Serbian Orthodox Church)

Roman Catholicism is the principal religion in the following countries:

  • Croatia (87.83% Catholics (3 897 332); according to 2001 census official data)
  • Slovenia (57.80% Catholics (1 135 626); according to 2002 census official data)

Islam is the principal religion in the following countries:

  • Kosovo (absolute majority)
  • Albania (principal religious group)
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina (relative/partial majority)
  • Turkey (absolute majority)

The following countries have significant minority religious groups of the following denominations:

  • Albania: Orthodoxy, Catholicism
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina: Eastern Orthodoxy (see Orthodoxy in Bosnia and Herzegovina), Catholicism
  • Bulgaria: Islam
  • Croatia: Orthodoxy
  • Greece: Islam
  • Macedonia: Islam
  • Montenegro: Islam
  • Serbia: Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism
  • Romania: Catholicism, Protestantism

Jewish communities of the Balkans

The Jewish communities of the Balkans were some of the oldest in Europe and date back to ancient times as well as having received a large influx of Sephardic Jews and later Ashkenazi Jews. In Slovenia, there were Jewish immigrants dating back to Roman times pre-dating the 6th Century settlement of the region by the Slavic peoples.[24] In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the tiny Jewish community is 90% Sephardic and Ladino is still spoken among the elderly. The Sephardi Jewish cemetery in Sarajevo has tombstones of a unique shape, inscribed in ancient Ladino.[25] However the Jewish communities in the Balkans suffered immensely during World War II and the vast majority were killed in the Holocaust. Most of the remainder emigrated to Israel and elsewhere.

See also

  • History of the Balkans
    • Historical regions of the Balkan Peninsula
    • Balkan wars
  • Balkan languages
    • Balkan sprachbund
  • Balkanization
  • Balkan Insight
  • Balkan ethnic conflict in the 1940s
  • Orient Express
  • Music of Southeastern Europe
  • The Islamization of Bosnia and Herzegovina


  1. 1.0 1.1 ""Balkan."". Encarta World English Dictionary. Microsoft Corporation. http://encarta.msn.com/dictionary_/balkan.html. Retrieved 2008-03-31. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Jelavich, Barbara (1983). History of the Balkans: Eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Cambridge University Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-521-27458-6. http://books.google.ie/books?id=qR4EeOrTm-0C&printsec=frontcover. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Tintero, Felipa L.; Felicitas R. Manacsa. World Geography Affected by World Upheavals. Goodwill Trading Co., Inc.. p. 51. ISBN 9715740413. http://books.google.ie/books?id=jsnlxH9nnn4C&printsec=frontcover. 
  4. britannica.com; encarta.msn.com; The Columbia Encyclopedia.
  5. ""Balkhan Mountains."". World Land Features Database. Land.WorldCityDB.com. http://land.worldcitydb.com/balkhan_mountains_3522246.html. Retrieved 2008-03-31. 
  6. Todorova, Maria (2009). Imagining the Balkans. Oxford University Press US. p. 22. ISBN 0-19-538786-4. 
  7. Pavic, Silvia (2000-11-22). ""Some Thoughts About The Balkans."". About, Inc.. http://geography.about.com/library/misc/ucbalkans.htm. Retrieved 2008-03-31. 
  8. Bideleux, Robert; Ian Jeffries (2007). A history of Eastern Europe. Taylor & Francis. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-415-36627-4. http://books.google.ie/books?id=PTB0gn_qwTcC&printsec=frontcover. 
  9. "Western Balkans: Enhancing the European Perspective". Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council. 2008-03-05. http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/pdf/balkans_communication/western_balkans_communication_050308_en.pdf. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  10. Marjola Xhunga (2006-05-21). "Western Balkans Initiative launched". European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. http://www.ebrd.com/new/stories/2006/060521a.htm. Retrieved 2008-05-17. 
  11. Ceremony marks the accession of Albania and Croatia to NATO, NATO - News, 7 April 2009, retrieved 2009-04-18
  12. "Total population". Eurostat. 2009-01-01. http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/tgm/table.do?tab=table&language=en&pcode=tps00001&tableSelection=1&footnotes=yes&labeling=labels&plugin=1. Retrieved 2009-08-02. 
  13. Turkish Statistical Institute (2008). "2008 Census, population by provinces and districts". Turkish Statistical Institute. http://www.tuik.gov.tr/jsp/duyuru/upload/adnks_Harita_TR/HaritaTR.html. Retrieved 2008-02-02. 
  14. "POPULATION BY DISTRICTS AND ETHNIC GROUP AS OF 1.03.2001". http://www.nsi.bg/Census_e/Ethnos.htm. Retrieved 2009-08-19. 
  15. Census 2002
  16. CIA World Factbook
  17. "CIA World Factbook: Croatia". Central Intelligence Agency, United States. 2009-02-24. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/HR.html. Retrieved 2009-02-25. 
  18. "Anketa e Matjes së Nivelit të Jetesës 2008". http://www.instat.gov.al/. 
  19. Statistical office of Kosovo
  20. State Statistical Office, Republic of Macedonia
  21. Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia
  22. The 2002-census counted 715,151 persons in the Constanţa County and 256,492 persons in the Tulcea County [1]
  23. CIA World Factbook
  24. Jews of Yugoslavia 1941–1945 Victims of Genocide and Freedom Fighters, Jasa Romano
  25. European Jewish Congress - Bosnia-Herzegovina [Accessed July 15, 2008].


  • Banac, Ivo (October 1992). "Historiography of the Countries of Eastern Europe: Yugoslavia" (fee required). American Historical Review (University of Chicago Press) 97 (4): 1084–1104. doi:10.2307/2165494. http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0002-8762(199210)97%3A4%3C1084%3AY%3E2.0.CO%3B2-O. Retrieved 2008-06-19. 
  • Banac, Ivo (1984). The National Question in Yugoslavia: Origins, History, Politics. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-9493-2. 
  • Carter, Francis W., ed. An Historical Geography of the Balkans Academic Press, 1977.
  • Dvornik, Francis. The Slavs in European History and Civilization Rutgers University Press, 1962.
  • Fine, John V. A., Jr. The Early Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Sixth to the Late Twelfth Century [1983]; The Late Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Late Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, [1987].
  • John R. Lampe and Marvin R. Jackson; Balkan Economic History, 1550–1950: From Imperial Borderlands to Developing Nations Indiana University Press, 1982
  • Jelavich, Barbara (1983-07-29). History of the Balkans. Cambridge University Press. 
  • Jelavich, Charles and Jelavich, Barbara, eds. (1963). The Balkans In Transition: Essays on the Development of Balkan Life and Politics Since the Eighteenth Century. University of California Press. 
  • Király, Béla K., ed. East Central European Society in the Era of Revolutions, 1775–1856. 1984
  • Komlos, John (1990-10-15). Economic Development in the Habsburg Monarchy and in the Successor States. East European Monographs #28. East European Monographs. ISBN 978-0-88033-177-7. 
  • Mazower, Mark (2000). The Balkans: A Short History. Modern Library Chronicles. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-679-64087-8. 
  • Stavrianos, L. S. (2000-05-01) [1958]. The Balkans since 1453. with Traian Stoianovich. New York: NYU Press. ISBN 978-0-8147-9766-2. 
  • Stoianovich, Traian (September 1994). Balkan Worlds: The First and Last Europe. Sources and Studies in World History. New York: M.E. Sharpe. ISBN 978-1-56324-032-4. 
  • Kitsikis, Dimitri (2008). La montée du national-bolchevisme dans les Balkans. Le retour à la Serbie de 1830. Paris: Avatar. 

External links

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