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The Balkans is the historic and geographic name used to describe a region of southeastern Europe.

The region has a combined area of 550,000 km² (212,000 sq mi) and an approximate population of 55 million people. The archaic Greek name for the Balkan Peninsula is the Peninsula of Haemus (?e?s???s?? t?? ??µ??, Chersónisos tou Aímou). The region takes its name from the Balkan Mountains which run through the centre of Bulgaria into eastern Serbia.


Definitions and boundaries

Balkan Peninsula

Line stretching from the northernmost point of the Adriatic to the northernmost point of the Black SeaThe Balkans are adjoined by water on three sides: the Black Sea to the east and branches of the Mediterranean Sea to the south and west (including the Adriatic, Ionian, Aegean and Marmara seas).

The Balkans
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.

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 Celts, Illyrians, Romans, Avars, Vlachs, Germans and various Germanic tribes.

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. There is not a people in the Balkans that doesn't place its greatest folk heroes in the era of either the onslaught or the retreat of the Ottoman Empire. For Croats it is Nikola Zrinski, for Serbs, Miloš Obilic, for Albanians, Skanderbeg, for ethnic Macedonians, Nikola Karev, for Bosniaks, Husein Gradašcevic and for Bulgarians, Vasil Levski.

In the 20th century, the Balkan nations—except Greece and Yugoslavia—were made part of the Warsaw pact (as a result of Soviet hegemony after the ending of World War II). Following the pact's collapse and the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Balkan states have acceded to the European Union, or are in the process of doing so.

Etymology and evolving meaning
The region takes its name from the "Balkan" mountain range in Bulgaria (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[2] and the Balkan Province of Turkmenistan. On a larger scale, one long continuous chain of mountains crosses the region in the form of a reversed letter S, from the Carpathians south to the Balkan range proper, before it marches 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 word was based on Turkish balakan 'stone, cliff', which confirms the pure 'technical' meaning of the term. The mountain range that runs across Bulgaria from west to east (Stara Planina) is still commonly known as the Balkan Mountains.

The first time the name "Balkan" was used in the West for the mountain range in Bulgaria was in a letter by Buonaccorsi Callimarco, an Italian humanist, writer and diplomat in 1490. An 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 [1]. 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 includes areas that remained under Turkish rule after 1699., namely: Bulgaria, Serbia (except for Vojvodina), Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro (except for the Boka Bay and Budva), Kosovo, and continental Greece. Vojvodina and Transylvania (in Romania) 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. Over the last decade, in the wake of the former Yugoslav split, Slovenians 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'.

Southeastern Europe
Due to the aforementioned connotations of the term 'Balkan', many people prefer the term Southeastern Europe instead. 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 northern Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, and Ciscaucasus, which are also located in the southeastern part of the European continent.

Ambiguities and controversies
The northern border of the Balkan peninsula is usually considered to be the line formed by the Danube, Sava and Kupa rivers and a segment connecting the spring of the Kupa with the Kvarner Bay.

Some other definitions of the northern border of the Balkans have been proposed:

the line Danube - Sava - Krka River - Postojnska Vrata - Vipava River - Soca
the line Danube - Sava - Ljubljansko polje - Idrijca - Soca
the line Dniester - Timisoara - Zagreb - Triglav
the line Trieste - Odessa (Trieste-Odessa line) [2]
the line Bay of Trieste - Ljubljana - Sava - Danube ([3])

Balkan peninsula (as defined by the Danube-Sava-Kupa line)The most commonly used Danube-Sava-Kupa northern boundary is arbitrarily set as to the physiographical characteristics, however it can be easily recognized on the map. It has a historical and cultural substantiation. The region so defined (excluding Montenegro, Dalmatia, and the Ionian Islands) constituted most of the European territory of the Ottoman Empire from the late 15th to the 19th century. Kupa forms a natural boundary between south-eastern Slovenia and Croatia and has been a political frontier since the 12th century, separating Carniola (belonging to Austria) from Croatia (belonging to Hungary).

The Danube-Sava-Krka-Postojnska Vrata-Vipava-Isonzo line ignores some historical and cultural characteristics, but can be seen as a rational delimitation of the Balkan peninsula from a geographical point of view. It assigns all the Karstic and Dinaric area to the Balkan region.

The Sava bisects Croatia and Serbia and the Danube, which is the second largest European river (after Volga), forms a natural boundary between both Bulgaria and Serbia and Romania. North of that line lies the Pannonian plain and (in the case of Romania) the Carpathian mountains.

Although Romania (with the exception of Dobrudja) is not geographically a part of the Balkans, it is often included in the Balkans in public discourse.

According to the most commonly used border, Slovenia lies to the north of the Balkans and is considered a part of Central Europe. Historically and culturally, it is also more related to Central Europe, although the Slovenian culture also incorporates some elements of Balkan culture.

However, as already stated, the northern boundary of the Balkan peninsula can also be drawn otherwise, in which case at least a part of Slovenia and a small part of Italy (Province of Trieste) may be included in the Balkans.

Slovenia is also sometimes regarded as a Balkan country due to its association with the former Yugoslavia. When the Balkans are described as a twentieth-century geopolitical region, the whole Yugoslavia is included (so, Slovenia, Istria, islands of Dalmatia, northern Croatia and Vojvodina too).

Current common definition

Current political map of the Balkans. Countries firmly considered part of the region are in green; countries sometimes considered part of the region are in turquoise.In most of the English-speaking, western world, the countries commonly included in the Balkan region are:

Bosnia and Herzegovina
Turkey, but only the European section of it (traditionally called Rumelia or Eastern Thrace)

Some other countries are sometimes included in the list as well:


Nature and natural resources

Southeastern Europe seen from NASA's Terra SatelliteMost 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 Musala in Bulgaria 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.

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 and brush. 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
Main article: History of the Balkans

Animated history of the Balkans from 1800 to the 2006The 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.

In pre-classical and classical antiquity, this region was home to Greek city-states, Illyrians, Paeonians, Thracians, Epirotes, Mollosians, Thessalians, 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.

By the end of the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire became the controlling force in the region, although it was centered around Anatolia. In the past 550 years, 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 Balkan Wars. 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.

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.

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, Kosovo and the Republic of 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 became members in 2007. In 2005 the European Union decided to start accession negotiations with candidate countries Croatia and Turkey and the Republic of Macedonia was accepted as a candidate for the European Union membership. As of 2004, Bulgaria, 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.

Population composition by nationality and religion

Ethnic map of the Balkans prior to the First Balkan War.
Ethnic map of the Balkan Peninsula from 1877, by A.SynvetThe region's principal nationalities include:

Greeks (10.5 million)
Turks (10 million)
Serbs (8.5 million)
Bulgarians (7.8 million)
Albanians (7.5 million)
Croats (5.1 million)
Bosniaks (2.8 million)
Macedonians (1.3 million)
Montenegrins (0.3 million)
Romanians (20 million)
Slovenes (2 million)
others (Roma, Jews)
The region's principal religions are (Eastern Orthodox and Catholic) Christianity 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)
Republic of Macedonia (Macedonian Orthodox Church Although not recognized by other Orthodox Churches)
Montenegro (Serbian Orthodox Church and uncanonical Montenegrin Orthodox Church)
Romania (Romanian Orthodox Church)
Serbia (Serbian Orthodox Church)
Roman Catholicism is the principal religion in the following countries:

Islam is the principal religion in the following countries:

Bosnia and Herzegovina
The following countries have many religious groups which exceed 10% of the total population:

Albania: Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism.
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Bosniacs are mostly Muslim, Serbs are mostly Serbian (Eastern) Orthodox and Croats are mostly Catholic.
Bulgaria: Islam.
Republic of Macedonia: Albanian and Turkish minorities are predominantly Muslim.
Montenegro: Albanians and Bosniacs are Muslims.
Serbia: Albanians and Bosniacs are mostly Muslim, Hungarians and Croats are mostly Catholic, Slovaks are mostly Protestant (Evangelic).