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The Balkans, often referred to as the Balkan Peninsula, and recently also as "Southeast Europe", although none of the three covers exactly the same area, is a geopolitical and cultural region of southeastern Europe. Many linguistic families meet in the region, including the Slavic, Romance, Hellenic, Albanian and Turkic language families. The main religion is Orthodox Christianity, followed by Catholic Christianity and Sunni Islam.
The region takes its name from the Balkan Mountains in Bulgaria and Serbia. The term "Balkan" is generally believed to come from Turkish balkan, meaning "a chain of wooded mountains." Alternately, the name may have derived from the Persian bālkāneh or bālākhāna, meaning "high, above, or proud house," and brought to the region in the 11th and 12th centuries by Turkic tribes who applied it to the area. The name is still preserved in Central Asia with the Balkan Mountains and the Balkan Province of Turkmenistan.
In classical antiquity (and until the Ottoman conquest), the region was referred to in Greek and Roman sources as the "Peninsula of Haemus". The mountain range itself was known as the "Haemus Mountains", the name itself being of possibly Thracian etymology.
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. The Balkan Mountains include the Stara Planina (Old Mountain) mountain range in Bulgaria and part of Serbia. 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.
In the languages of the region, the peninsula is known as:
The Balkans are also referred to as Southeast Europe.
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. 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 "Balkans" was created by the German geographer August Zeune in 1808. During the 1820s, "Balkan became the preferred although not yet exclusive term alongside Haemus among British travelers... Among Russian travelers not so burdened by classical toponymy, Balkan was the preferred term."
As time passed, the term gradually acquired political connotations far from its initial geographic meaning, arising from political changes from the late 19th century 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.
After the dissolution 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, many Slovenians and Croatians, as well as Serbs of Vojvodina (also Belgraders, western Serbs "Prečani" and Serbs from other regions) have attempted to reject their 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 often used 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.
Because of the negative connotations of the term "Balkan", the use of the term "Southeastern Europe" has become increasingly popular even though it refers to a much larger area and thus isn't as precise. 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 Balkan Peninsula is 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) and the Marmara Sea to the south and the Black Sea to the east. Its northern boundary is often given as the Danube, Sava and Kupa Rivers. The Balkan Peninsula has a combined area of about 490,000 km2 (189,000 sq mi).
Territories whose borders lie entirely within the Balkan peninsula (excluding islands):
Territories that are mostly located inside the Balkan peninsula:
Territories that are mostly located outside the Balkan peninsula:
Until World War II Italy included Istria and some Dalmatian areas (like Zara, known as Zadar) that are located within the general definition of the Balkan peninsula. The current territory of Italy includes only the small area around Trieste and Gorizia inside the Balkan Peninsula. However, the regions of Trieste and Istria are not usually considered part of the Balkans by Italian geographers, due to a definition of the Balkans that limits its western border to the Kupa River.
The term "The Balkans" covers not only those countries which lie within the boundaries of the Balkan Peninsula, but may also include Slovenia and Romania. Prior to 1991 the whole of Yugoslavia was considered to be part of the Balkans. The term "The Balkans" is sometimes used to describe only the areas in the Balkan peninsula: Moesia, Macedonia, Thrace, Kosovo, Šumadija, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Dalmatia, Thessaly, Epirus, Peloponnese and others, but more often it includes the rest of former Yugoslavia (Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia) and Romania, namely the provinces of: Vojvodina, Slavonia, Banat, Wallachia, Moldavia, Transylvania, and others. Italy as a totality, is generally accepted as part of Western Europe and the Apennines. The term "the Balkans" was coined by August Zeune in 1808.
The Balkans comprise the following territories:
European Union institutions and member states define the "Western Balkans" as Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania (or Albania plus the former Yugoslavia, minus Slovenia). Today Western Balkans is more of a political than geographic designation for the region of Southeast Europe that is not in the European Union.
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, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, the Šar massif which spreads from Albania to Macedonia, the Pindus range, spanning from southern Albania into central Greece and the Albanian Alps, the Balkan mountains, running from the Black Sea Coast in Bulgaria to its border with Serbia, and the Rhodope mountains in southern Bulgaria and northern Greece. The highest mountain of the region is Rila in Bulgaria, with Musala at 2925 m, Mount Olympus in Greece, the throne of Zeus, being second at 2917 m and Vihren in Bulgaria being the third at 2914 m. The karst field or polje is a common feature of the landscape.
On the Adriatic and Aegean coasts the climate is Mediterranean, on the Black Sea coast the climate is humid subtropical and oceanic, and inland it is humid 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. The humid continental climate is predominant in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, northern Croatia, Kosovo,[a] Macedonia, northern Montenegro, the interior of Albania, Romania, Serbia and most of Slovenia, while the other, less common climates, the humid subtropical and oceanic climates, are seen on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria and Turkey; and the Mediterranean climate is seen on the coast of Albania, southern Croatia, Greece, southern Montenegro, the coast of Slovenia and the Aegean coast of Turkey.
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. 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 landscape provides habitats for numerous endemic species, including extraordinarily abundant insects and reptiles that serve as food for a variety of birds of prey and rare vultures.
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, except in the territory of Kosovo, where considerable coal, lead, zinc, chromium, silver deposits are located. Other deposits of coal, especially in Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Bosnia also exist. 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 is in wide use, with over 1,000 dams. The often relentless bora wind is also being harnessed for power generation.
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.
The time zones are situated as follows:
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. The Romans considered the Rhodope Mountains to be the northern limit of the Peninsula of Haemus and the same limit applied approximately to the border between Greek and Latin use in the region (later called the Jireček Line). The Slavs arrived in the 6th century and began assimilating and displacing already-assimilated (through Romanization and Hellenization) older inhabitants of the northern and central Balkans. During the Middle Ages, the Balkans became the stage for a series of wars between the Byzantine Roman and the Bulgarian and Serbian Empires.
By the end of the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire had become the controlling force in the region after expanding from Anatolia through Thrace to the Balkans. Many people in the Balkans 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 Greeks, Constantine XI Palaiologos and Kolokotronis; and for Serbs, Miloš Obilić and Tzar Lazar; for Montenegrins, Đurađ I Balšić and Ivan Crnojević; for Albanians, George Kastrioti Skanderbeg; for ethnic Macedonians, Nikola Karev and Goce Delčev; 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. According to Suraiya Faroqhi and Donald Quataert, "The population of the Balkans, according to one estimate, fell from a high of 8 million in the late 16th century to only 3 million by the mid-eighteenth. This estimate is in harmony with the first findings based on Ottoman documentary evidence."
Most of the Balkan nation-states emerged during the 19th and early 20th centuries as they gained independence either from the Ottoman Empire or the Austro-Hungarian empire (Greece in 1821, Serbia, Bulgaria and Montenegro in 1878, Romania in 1878, Albania in 1912).
In 1912–1913 the First Balkan War broke out when the nation-states of Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro united in an alliance against the Ottoman Empire. As a result of the war, almost all remaining European territories of the Ottoman Empire were captured and partitioned among the allies. Ensuing events also led to the creation of an independent Albanian state. Despite its success, Bulgaria was dissatisfied over the division of the spoils in Macedonia and provoked the Second Balkan War when it attacked its former allies, Serbia and Greece. The Serbs and the Greeks repelled them, and after the Greek army invaded Bulgaria followed by a Romanian intervention, Bulgaria collapsed. The Ottoman Empire used the opportunity to recapture Eastern Thrace, establishing its new western borders that still stand today.
The First World War was sparked in the Balkans in 1914 when Mlada Bosna, a revolutionary organization with predominately Serbian and pro-Yugoslav members, assassinated the Austro-Hungarian heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Bosnia and Herzegovina's capital, Sarajevo. That caused a war between the two countries which—through the existing chains of alliances—led to the First World War. The Ottoman empire soon joined the Central Powers becoming one of the three empires participating in that alliance. The next year Bulgaria joined the Central Powers attacking Serbia, which was successfully fighting Austro-Hungary to the north for a year. That led to Serbia's defeat and the intervention of the Entente in the Balkans which sent an expeditionary force to establish a new front, the third one of that war, which soon also became static. The participation of Greece in the war three years later, in 1918, on the part of the Entente finally altered the balance between the opponents leading to the collapse of the common German-Bulgarian front there, which caused the exit of Bulgaria from the war, and in turn the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, ending the First World War.
With the start of the Second World War all Balkan countries, with the exception of Greece, were allies of Germany, having bilateral military agreements or being part of the Axis Pact. Fascist Italy expanded the war in the Balkans by using its protectorate Albania to invade Greece. After repelling the attack, the Greeks counterattacked, invading Italy-held Albania and causing Nazi Germany's intervention in the Balkans to help its ally. Days before the German invasion a successful coup d'état in Belgrade by neutral military personnel seized power.
Although the new government reaffirmed Serbia's intentions to fulfill its obligations as member of the Axis, Germany, using its other two allied countries in the region, Bulgaria and Romania, invaded both Greece and Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia immediately disintegrated when those loyal to the Serbian King and the Croatian units mutinied. Greece resisted, but, after two months of fighting, collapsed and was occupied. The two countries were partitioned between the three Axis allies, Bulgaria, Germany and Italy, and two independent states, Croatia and Montenegro, were created.
During the occupation the population suffered considerable hardship due to ethnic cleansing policies, repression and starvation, to which the population reacted by creating a mass resistance movement. Together with the early and extremely heavy winter of that year (which caused hundreds of thousands deaths among the poorly fed population), the German invasion had disastrous effects in the timetable of the planned invasion in Russia causing a significant delay, which had major consequences during the coursee of the war.
Finally, at the end of 1944, the Soviets invaded Romania and Bulgaria while the Germans evacuated the Balkans. They left behind a region largely ruined as a result of wartime exploitation, but by making use of the post-war separation of Germany into two independent entities, the German states successfully and legally avoided paying any reparations or repaying the forced loans given by the occupied countries. The official Yugoslav post-war estimate of victims in Yugoslavia during World War II is 1,704,000. Subsequent data gathering in the 1980s by historians Vladimir Žerjavić and Bogoljub Kočović showed that the actual number of dead was about 1 million. Greece suffered more than 300,000 casualties during the occupation.
During the Cold War, most of the countries on the Balkans were governed by communist governments. Greece became the first battleground of the emerging Cold War. The Truman Doctrine was the US response to the civil war, which raged from 1944 to 1949. This civil war, unleashed by the Communist Party of Greece, backed by communist volunteers from neighboring countries (Albania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia), led to massive American assistance for the non-communist Greek government. With this backing, Greece managed to defeat the partisans and, ultimately, remained the only non-communist country in the region.
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 spearheaded, together with India and Egypt the Non-Aligned Movement. Albania on the other hand gravitated toward Communist China, later adopting an isolationist position.
In the 1990s, the region was gravely affected by the wars between the former Yugoslav republics that broke out after Slovenia and Croatia held free elections and their people voted for independence on their respective countries' referendums. Serbia in turn declared the dissolution of the union as unconstitutional and the Yugoslavian army unsuccessfully tried to maintain status quo. Slovenia and Croatia declared independence on 26 June 1991, followed by the Ten-Day War in Slovenia. Till October 1991, the Army withdrew from Slovenia, and in Croatia, the war between the Croatian government and local Serbs would continue until 1995. In the ensuing 10 years armed confrontation, gradually all the other Republics declared independence, with Bosnia being the most affected by the fighting. The long lasting wars resulted in a United Nations intervention and NATO ground and air forces took action against Serb forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia.
From the dissolution of Yugoslavia six republics achieved international recognition as sovereign republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. The Albanian institutions in Kosovo, currently under UN administration, declared independence in 2008 (according to the official Serbian policy, Kosovo is still an internal autonomous region). In July 2010, the International Court of Justice, after a UN General Assembly's request, opined that, since there is not an active rule in international law limiting the declarations of independence, the unilateral Kosovar proclamation does not violate it (leaving unanswered the questions about the consequences of said act, including whether with said declaration Kosovo achieved the status of a State). The international community is still divided on the matter and while the majority of the UN members do not recognize it as independent, most NATO and EU countries do. After the end of the wars a revolution broke in Serbia and Slobodan Milošević, the Serbian communist leader (elected president between 1989 and 2000), was overthrown and handed for trial to the International Criminal Tribunal for crimes against the International Humanitarian Law during the Yugoslav wars. Milošević died of a heart attack in 2006 before a verdict could have been released. Ιn 2001 an Albanian uprising in Macedonia forced the country to give local autonomy to the ethnic Albanians in the areas where they predominate.
With the dissolution of Yugoslavia an issue emerged over the name under which the former (federated) republic of Macedonia would internationally be recognized, between the new country and Greece. Being the Macedonian part of Yugoslavia (see Vardar Macedonia), the federated Republic under the Yugoslav identity had the name Republic of Macedonia on which it declared its sovereignty in 1991. Greece, having a large region (see Macedonia (Greece)) also under the same name opposed to the usage of this name as an indication of a nationality. The issue is currently under negotiations after a UN initiation.
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 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, Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Slovenia are members of NATO. Bosnia and Herzegovina and what was then Serbia and Montenegro started negotiations with the EU over the Stabilization 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. During the 2008 Bucharest summit Greece vetoed Macedonia's NATO membership bid over the Macedonia naming dispute between the two countries.
All other countries have expressed a desire to join the EU at some point in the future.
Currently all of the states are republics, but until World War II all except Turkey were monarchies. Most of the republics are parliamentary, excluding Romania and Bosnia which are semi-presidential. All the states have open market economies, most of which are in the upper-middle income range ($4,000 – $12,000 p.c.), the remaining – Greece, Slovenia and Croatia have high income economies (over $12,000 p.c.), which are also classified with very high HDI in contrast to the remaining states which are classified with high HDI. The states from the former Eastern Bloc that formerly had planned economy system and Turkey mark gradual economic growth each year, only the economy of Greece drops for 2012 and meanwhile it is expected to growth in 2013. The Gross domestic product (Purchasing power parity) per capita is highest in Slovenia and Greece (over $25), followed by Croatia (up to $20), Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia ($10 – $15), Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo[a] (below $10). The Gini coefficient, which indicates the level of difference by monetary welfare of the layers, is on the second level at the highest monetary equality in Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia, on the third level in Greece, Montenegro and Romania, on the fourth level in Macedonia, on the fifth level in Turkey, and the most unequal by Gini coefficient is Bosnia at the eighth level which is the penultimate level and one of the highest in the world. The unemployment is lowest in Romania and Slovenia (below 10%), followed by Bulgaria, Turkey, Albania (10 – 15%), Croatia, Greece (15 – 20%), Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia (20 – 30%), Macedonia (over 30%) and Kosovo[a] (over 40%).
See also the Black Sea Regional organizations
The Balkans have a population of 60–71 million and a population density of 80-91/km2, depending on whether the Turkish and Italian parts are counted within the peninsula. Without those, the peninsula has a population of about 48 million and a density of 99/km2.
Population by territories:
|Territory||Total population||In the peninsula *||Density||Life expectancy|
|Albania||2,831,741||2,831,741 ||98.5/km2||77.4 years|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||3,839,737 ||3,839,737 ||75.0/km2||74.9 years|
|Bulgaria||7,364,570 ||7,364,570 ||66.4/km2||73.0 years|
|Croatia||4,290,612 ||2,700,000 ~||75.8/km2||75.3 years|
|Greece||10,815,197 ||10,815,197 ||81.7/km2||79.5 years|
|Italy||Not a part of the region (see )||~330,000 ||–||–|
|Kosovo[a]||1,733,872 ||1,733,872 ||178.7/km2||–|
|Macedonia||2,057,284 ||2,057,284 ||80.0/km2||74.2 years|
|Montenegro||625,266 ||625,266 ||45.3/km2||–|
|Romania||19,042,936 ||832,141 ||90.2/km2||72.5 years|
|Serbia||7,120,666 ||~3,500,000 ||91.9/km2||73.9 years|
|Slovenia||Not a part of the region (see )||~360,000 ||–||–|
|Turkey||Not a part of the region (see )||10,620,739 ||–||–|
|Balkans **||59,764,374 (excl. Turkey, Slovenia and Italy's parts)|
70,610,355 (incl. Turkey, Slovenia and Italy's parts)
|44,888,282 (excl. northern Croatia and Serbia)||–||–|
[*] The islands are not taken into account.
[**] Both census figures of Serbia and Kosovo in the table do not include North Kosovo, therefore in the population of the Balkans, made up of sum of the populations in the table, is added separately an additional number of 70,000 to include the missing population of North Kosovo.
The region's principal religions are Christianity (Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic) and Islam (Sunni). Eastern Orthodoxy is the majority religion in both the Balkan peninsula and the Balkan region. A variety of different traditions of each faith are practiced, with each of the Eastern Orthodox countries having its own national church.
The Jewish communities of the Balkans were some of the oldest in Europe and date back to ancient times. These communities were Sephardi Jews, except in Slovenia, Croatia and Romania where the Jewish communities were 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. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the small and close-knit 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 and inscribed in ancient Ladino. Sephardi Jews used to have a large presence in the city of Thessaloniki, and by 1900, some 80,000, or more than half of the population, were Jews. However the Jewish communities in the Balkans suffered immensely during World War II, and the vast majority were killed during the Holocaust. However, an exception were the Bulgarian Jews, many of whom were saved by Boris III of Bulgaria, who resisted Adolf Hitler opposing their deportation to concentration camps. Almost all of the few survivors have emigrated to the (then) newly founded state of Israel and elsewhere. No Balkan country today has a significant Jewish minority.
The Balkan region today is a very diverse ethno-linguistic region, being home to multiple Slavic, Romance, and Turkic languages, as well as Greek, Albanian, and others. Romani is spoken by a large portion of the Romanis living throughout the Balkan countries. Throughout history many other ethnic groups with their own languages lived in the area, among them Thracians, Illyrians, Romans, Celts and various Germanic tribes. All of the aforementioned languages from the present and from the past belong to the wider Indo-European language family, with the exception of the Turkic languages (e.g., Turkish and Gagauz).
Most of the states in the Balkans are predominantly urbanized; the countries in which the rural population is the majority are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo[a] and Slovenia, each being about 50% rural and 50% urban.
A list of cities with population of over 200,000 inhabitants:
|14||Banja Luka||Bosnia and Herzegovina||238,353 |
|15||Novi Sad||Serbia||231,798 |
[*] Besides comparison between the cities of the Balkan countries, the table also shows cities of non-Balkan countries that are located (Çorlu and Trieste) or that are partially located (Istanbul) in the Balkan peninsula
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