The Balkan peninsula is a region of southeastern Europe, usually considered to comprise Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, the European part of Turkey and the former (pre-1991) republics of Yugoslavia, with a combined area of 550,000 sq. km. and population of 53 million. The northern boundary of the peninsula is frequently considered to of the Sava and Danube rivers, excluding the Julian Alps which make up part of north-eastern Italy and all of north-western Slovenia. Some times Romania is also considered a Balkan state.
The countries included in the Balkan region are:
- Serbia and Montenegro (including Kosovo)
- Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Turkey, but only the European part of it, west of Istanbul (sometimes called by the Greeks as Eastern Thrace).
Countries that some people include in the Balkan region:
Other countries not included in the Balkan region that are close to it and play or played an important role in the region’s geopolitics and culture:
- Cyprus (see Cyprus dispute)
Up to 1991, Soviet Union was playing a very important role in the Balkans.
During the Cold War, Balkans were dominated by Communism, except Greece and Turkey. Yugoslavia and Albania were not cooperating well with the Soviet Union: Yugoslavia had different politics than the Soviets and it was more friendly towards the West, while Albania was a satellite or an ally of communist China. Only Greece and Turkey were (and they still are, as of as 2003) NATO members. Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey may become EU and/or NATO members some time (likely between 2004 and 2007). As of 2003, all Balkan countries are cooperating with the EU and the USA.
Some people believe that the term Balkan is politically incorrect or even abusive, so they prefer the term Southeastern Europe. For example, an on-line newspaper titled Balkan Times[?] recently (2003) renamed to Southeast European Times[?]. See http://www.balkantimes.com
In the past Balkans were united politically under the Byzantine and the Ottoman rule.
Once the most developed part of Europe, in the past 550 years it has been the least developed, reflecting the shift of Europe’s commercial and political centre of gravity towards the Atlantic and comparative Balkan isolation under the Ottoman Empire from the mainstream of economic advance.
The region’s principal nationalities include Serbs (11 million), Greeks (10.8 million), Turks (9.2 million in the European part of Turkey), Bulgars (7 million), Albanians (6 million, with about 3 millions of them being in Albania), Croats (4.5 million), Bosnians (2.4 million) and Macedonian Slavs (1.9 million).
The region’s principal religions include Christianity (Eastern Orthodox and Catholic) and Islam.
Eastern Orthodoxy is the principal religion in the following counries:
Catholicism is the principal religion in the following countries:
Islam is the principal religion in the following countries:
These countries have mixed religious backgrounds:
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: Islam, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism
- Cyprus (the whole island): Eastern Orthodoxy and Islam. Usually Orthodoxy is practiced by the Greeks (about 70-72% of the island), while Islam is practiced by the Turks (about 28-30% of the island).
- Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Slavic population is mostly Eastern Orthodox, Albanian population is mostly Muslim.
- Kosovo, a region nominally part of Serbia, has a considerably large Albanian population who are largely Muslim.
- There is a Muslim minority in Greece (in a region called Thrace). Greece also has Albanian immigrants. In Greece there are some people called Arvanites, who settled various Greek lands during the Middle Ages. They are Orthodox Christians. Their language is Arvanitika, which is a form of Southern Albanian. Their culture is greatly influenced by the Greek culture. See http://go.to/arvanites.
- South Albania (or Northern Epirus, as it is called by some Greeks) has some Greek population, who are mostly Orthodox Christians.
Many Balkan countries include a number of atheists, since most of the Balkan countries had communists governments for about 50 years.
In recent years the region has been affected by conflict in the former Yugoslav republics, resulting in intervention by NATO forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
As a matter of trivia, the peninsula takes its name from the Balkan mountains (Bulgarian “Stara Gora”) which run down the center of Bulgaria, and the term ‘Balkan’ itself is derived from the Turkish word for mountain. In earlier times the mountains were known as the Haemus Mons, a name that is believed derived from the Thracian “Saimon”, meaning ‘chain’.