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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 and a population of around 55 million. The archaic Greek name for the Balkan Peninsula is the Peninsula of Haemus (Χερσόνησος του Αίμου). The region takes its name from the Balkan Mountains which run through the centre of Bulgaria into eastern Serbia.
 Definitions and boundaries
 Balkan Peninsula
The Balkans are sometimes referred to as the "Balkan Peninsula" as they 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 owes as much to its fragmented and often violent common history as to its mountainous geography. The region was perennially on the edge of great empires, its history dominated by wars, rebellions, invasions and clashes between empires, from the times of the Roman Empire to the latter-day Yugoslav wars.
Its fractiousness and tendency to splinter into rival political entities led to the coining of the term Balkanization (or balkanizing). The term Balkan commonly connotes a connection with violence, religious strife, ethnic clannishness and a sense of hinterland. The Balkans, as they are known today, have changed dramatically over the course of their history.
Although the former characterization of the Balkans is widely used and extremely common today, it is important to note that this characterization is also widely exaggerated and may be connected to historically negative connotations the Balkans have amongst Western European nations and political elites. Recent problems and conflicts in the Balkans have more to do with a complicated set of factors having to do with recent political and social divisions rather than the so-called age-old 'tendency' of the Balkan peoples to engage in war and conflicts. The tendency to portray the Balkans in this way has been studied extensively by Maria Todorova, whose book Imagining the Balkans deals with these issues.
It should be noted that the Southern and Eastern parts of the Balkans were relatively stable despite the turmoil in the Western part. Countries in the south such as Greece and in the east such as Bulgaria and Romania haven't experienced the horrors of the recent wars such as their Western counterparts, even if the latter two have suffered internal problems. Not withstanding that, Bulgaria and Romania are also set to join the European Union on January 1, 2007, and Greece has been a member since 1981.
 Etymology and evolving meaning
The region takes its name from the "Balkan" mountain range in Bulgaria (from a Turkish word meaning "a chain of wooded mountains" ). 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.
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. 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, Croatians and especially 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 sometimes Croatia, 'Central Europe'.
Even if incorrect, both historically and politically, it is probable that "Balkans" will continue to have a wider, and pejorative, meaning.
 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 and Ukraine, which are also located in the southeastern part of the European continent.
 Ambiguities and controversies
Some other definitions of the northern border of the Balkans have been proposed:
- the line Danube - Sava - Krka (river in Slovenia) - Postojnska Vrata - Vipava River - Isonzo River (also known as Soča river)
- the line Danube - Sava - Ljubljansko polje - Idrijca river - Soča river
- the line Dniester - Timişoara - Zagreb - Triglav
- the line Trieste - Odessa (Trieste-Odessa line) 
- the line Bay of Trieste - Ljubljana - Sava - Danube ()
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 (together with Romania and 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).
The aforementioned historical justification for the Sava-Kupa northern boundary would exclude a big part of Croatia (whose territories were by and large part of the Habsburg Monarchy and Venetian Republic during the Ottoman conquest). Other factors such as prior history and culture also bind Croatia to Central Europe and the Mediterranean region more than they bind it to the Balkans. Nevertheless, its peculiar geographic shape (as well as its recent history with Yugoslavia) inherently associates it with the region Bosnia and Herzegovina is part of.
 Current common definition
In most of the English-speaking, western world, the countries commonly included in the Balkan region are:
- Image:Flag of Albania.svg Albania
- Image:Flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina.svg Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Image:Flag of Bulgaria (bordered).svg Bulgaria
- Image:Flag of Croatia.svg Croatia
- Image:Flag of Montenegro.svg Montenegro
- Image:Flag of Greece.svg Greece
- Image:Flag of Macedonia.svg Republic of Macedonia
- Image:Flag of Serbia (state) (bordered).svg Serbia
- Image:Flag of Turkey.svg Turkey, but only the European part of it, including Istanbul (traditionally called Rumelia or Thrace)
Some other countries are sometimes included in the list as well:
Some countries, including Romania, Croatia, Slovenia, and sometimes also Greece, usually prefer not to be called Balkan countries.
 Related countries
Other countries not included in the Balkan region that are close to it and/or play or have played an important role in the region's geopolitics, culture and history:
- Austria (see also Austria-Hungary, Assassination in Sarajevo)
- Cyprus (see also Cyprus dispute)
- Hungary (see also Austria-Hungary)
- Italy (see Croatia: Dalmatia, Zara, Fiume; History of Slovenia)
- Moldova (see History of Moldova)
- Russia (see History of Serbia)
 Regional organizations
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 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
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.
In pre-classical and classical antiquity, this region was home to Greeks, Illyrians, Paeonians, Thracians, 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.
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.
Greece has been a member of the European Union since 1981; Slovenia and Cyprus since 2004. Bulgaria and Romania are set to become 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 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
The region's principal nationalities include Turks (12.3 million, 11 million of them inhabiting Turkish Thrace), Greeks (10.5 million, with about 10 million of them being in Greece), Serbs (8.5 million), Bulgarians (7.5 million), Albanians (6 million, with about 3.3 millions of them being in Albania), Croats (4.5 million), Bosniaks (2.4 million), Macedonians (1.4 million) and Montenegrins (0.265 million). If Romania and Slovenia are included, then also Romanians (22 million) and Slovenians (2 million). Practically all Balkan countries have a smaller or larger Roma (Gypsy) minority. Other much smaller stateless minorities include the Gagauz, the Gorani, and the Vlachs.
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)
- Montenegro (Serbian 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 Herzigovnia
The following countries have many religious groups which exceed 10% of the total population:
- Albania: Islam, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism.
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: Bosniaks are mostly Muslim, Serbs are mostly Serbian (Eastern) Orthodox and Croats are mostly Catholic.
- Bulgaria: Eastern Orthodoxy, Islam.
- Republic of Macedonia: Macedonians are Eastern Orthodox, Albanian population is mostly Muslim.
- Montenegro: Montenegrins and Serbs are Eastern Orthodox, Albanians are mostly Catholic and Bosniaks are Muslim.
- Serbia: Serbs are Eastern Orthodox, Albanians and Bosniaks are mostly Muslim.
For more detailed information and a precise ethnic breakdown see articles about particular states:
- Albania, Demographics of Albania
- Croatia, Demographics of Croatia
- Bosnia and Herzegovina, Demographics of Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Bulgaria, Demographics of Bulgaria
- Greece, Demographics of Greece
- Montenegro, Demographics of Montenegro
- Republic of Macedonia, Demographics of the Republic of Macedonia
- Serbia, Demographics of Serbia
- Turkey, Demographics of Turkey
- Banac, Ivo. Historiography of the Countries of Eastern Europe: Yugoslavia, American Historical Review, v 97 #4 (October 1992), 1084-1104.
- Banac, Ivo. The National Question in Yugoslavia: Origins, History, Politics Cornell University Press, .
- 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 ; The Late Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Late Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, .
- John R. Lampe and Marvin R. Jackson; Balkan Economic History, 1550-1950: From Imperial Borderlands to Developing Nations Indiana University Press, 1982
- Jelavich, Barbara. History of the Balkans, 2 vols. Cambridge University Press, .
- Jelavich, Charles, and Jelavich, Barbara, eds. The Balkans in Transition: Essays on the Development of Balkan Life and Politics since the Eighteenth Century University of California Press, 1963.
- Király, Béla K., ed. East Central European Society in the Era of Revolutions, 1775-1856. 1984
- Komlos, John, ed. Economic Development in the Habsburg Monarchy and in the Successor States: Essays 1990.
- Traian Stoianovich; Balkan Worlds: The First and Last Europe 1994.
 See also
- History of the Balkans
- Balkan languages
- Orient Express
- Music of Southeastern Europe
 External links
- The South East Europe Media Organisation
- South-East Europe Review
- BalkanBaby travel writing, analysis and photos from the Balkans
- BalkanBrother travel photography from the Balkans
- Balkan Point
- Balkan History by Steven W. Sowards
- Civilitas Research
- Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Balkan Weekly Report
- SEEurope.net - news coverage on Southeastern Europe
- Southeast European Times
- The Centre for South East European Studies
- Balkans region: Oil and Gas Fact Sheet - United States Department of Energy Analysis Brief
- Balkans urged to curb trafficking - BBC
- News from Balkans
- Life from the Balkans - blog (Romanian)
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