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Balkanization, or Balkanisation, is a geopolitical term, originally used to describe the process of fragmentation or division of a region or state into smaller regions or states that are often hostile or non-cooperative with one another. It is considered pejorative by some.
The term refers to the division of the Balkan peninsula, formerly ruled almost entirely by the Ottoman Empire, into a number of smaller states between 1817 and 1912. It was coined in the early 19th century. The term however came into common use in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, with reference to the numerous new states that arose from the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire.
There are also attempts to use the term Balkanization in a positive way equating it with the need for decentralisation and sustenance of a particular group or society. Current research on the positive aspects of Balkanization is carried out by Srđan Jovanović Weiss with Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths College.
The larger countries within Europe, often being the result of the union of several historical regions or nations, have faced the perceived issue of Balkanization. The Iberian Peninsula and Spain especially has from the time of Al-Andalus had to come to terms with Balkanization, with several separatist movements existing today including the Basque Country and Catalan independentism.
Quebec has been the scene of a small but vociferous partition movement from the part of anglophone activist groups opposed to the idea of Independence of Quebec. One such project is the Proposal for the Province of Montreal, which wishes for the establishment of a separate province from Quebec from Montreal's strongly anglophone Anglo-Saxon and immigrant communities.
In January 2007, regarding the growing support for Scottish independence, the then-Chancellor of the Exchequer of the United Kingdom, and later Prime Minister, Gordon Brown talked of a "Balkanisation of Britain". Independence movements within Britain also exist in England, Wales, Cornwall and a reunification movement in Northern Ireland.
The term is also used to describe other forms of disintegration, including, for instance, the subdivision of the Internet into separate enclaves, the division of subfields and the creation of new fields from sociology, and the breakdown of cooperative arrangements due to the rise of independent competitive entities engaged in "beggar thy neighbour" bidding wars.
The term has been used in American urban planning to describe the process of creating gated communities.