The Balkans are made up of several countries in the south-eastern part of Europe. They stretch from Slovenia in the north to Greece and the European part of Turkey in the southeast. The region has been troubled by many conflicts and wars throughout the centuries. It has often been called the “Powder Keg of Europe” because conflicts and wars have started there.
The countries that make up the Balkans are Greece, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia Herzegovina . Sometimes parts of Croatia, and Slovenia as well as Romania are considered to belong to the Balkans.
Map of the Balkans - Image : Perconte
Land, Climate and Vegetation
The Balkans are a mountainous region. The Dinaric Alps, the main mountain range, reach from Croatia to Greece along the Adriatic Sea. The Balkan Mountains are somewhat lower and extend from Serbia eastwards into Bulgaria. The southern section of the Carpathian Mountains reach into Romania and Serbia. The Danube, the region’s main waterway, flows through many countries of the Balkans into the Black Sea. Its broad plains provide fertile fields for farming.
Most of the Balkans have a harsh, continental climate with hot, dry summers and cold winters. The coastal regions are influenced by the Mediterranean Sea. The peninsula was once covered with many forests. However, over the centuries, they have been cut down to make room for settlements and agriculture.
Most of them region’s 80 million people are Slavs , who are divided into different ethnic groups. They live in Bulgaria, Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro. Albanians, Greeks and Romanians do not belong to the Slavic population.
The three large groups - Serbs, Croats and Bosnians - fought against each other for many years after the breakup of former Yugoslavia.
The Balkans are also the crossroads of major religions. Roman Catholics live in in Slovenia and Croatia; Orthodox Christians populate Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Montenegro and Romania. Muslims live in large areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Albania. Smaller groups, including Romani, are spread across all of the Balkans.
Ethnic Map of the Balkans
The Balkans belong to the poorer regions of Europe. Only Romania, with large deposits of oil and gas, has important raw materials. A large part of the population makes their living through farming and raising animals . Because large parts of the Balkans were under Communist control for many decades, industries are not as highly developed as in Western or Central Europe. Tourism plays a major role along the Adriatic coast.
The Balkans have a long and troubled history. In the 6th century Slavs moved into the region from the northeast. By the latter part of the Middle Ages the Ottoman Empire had established a power base in the Balkans and spread Islam to the south-eastern part of Europe.
In the 19th century , countries started breaking away from the Ottoman Empire, which started to lose influence in the region. Greece, Serbia, Montenegro, as well as Bulgaria and Romania, were the first to become independent. Wars between the Balkan countries and the Ottomans followed.
Many areas of the Balkans had been part of Austria-Hungary. When Austrian Archduke Ferdinand was shot on the streets of Sarajevo in 1914 World War I broke out. After the war a new country, Yugoslavia, emerged as a united country of Slavs. During World War II many countries of the Balkans were occupied by Germany and Italy.
After 1945 most of the Balkan states became Communist, except for Greece and Turkey. They were closely connected to the Soviet Union, especially Romania and Bulgaria . Yugoslavia was ruled for decades by Josip Tito, who refused to let Moscow influence his country.
The breakup of Yugoslavia began when Tito died in 1980. Nationalist movements spread across the country, from Slovenia in the north to Montenegro in the south. Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic wanted to take over Yugoslavia’s role and be the leader of all Slavic states. In 1991 Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia - all Yugoslav republics - broke away from the multi-ethnic nation.
Smoke in Novi Sad after NATO air strike - Image : Darko Dozet
The 1990s were dominated by wars in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, then a part of Serbia, and Macedonia. In 1999 NATO air strikes ended attacks on Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians wanted to break away from Serbia. By the beginning of the new millennium Serbia had lost all power in the region. In 2003 Yugoslavia officially became Serbia and Montenegro, a union of two states that separated in 2006. Two years later Kosovo declared its independence.
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- agriculture = farming
- air strike = to attack a region with airplanes, especially in a war
- archduke = prince who belonged to the royal family of Austria before 1914
- broad = wide
- breakup = something that falls apart
- century = a hundred years
- coastal = where land meets the sea
- connect= here: to be friends with
- considered = thought
- crossroads = place where important things come together
- decade = ten years
- declare = to say officially
- deposit = layer in rocks
- dominate = here: the most important events
- emerge = arise, grow
- especially = above all
- establish = create, make
- ethnic = belonging to a certain race, nation or culture
- except = but, apart from
- extend = reach from one place to another
- fertile = good area to produce food
- flow = when water moves slowly
- former = what was once
- harsh = difficult to live in, uncomfortable
- highly developed = advanced , with much technology
- however = but
- independence = freedom
- independent = free
- influence = have an effect on
- latter = end
- lose influence = here: not so powerful any more
- main = most important
- millennium = the beginning of the next thousand years
- mountain range = line of mountain tops
- mountainous = with many mountains
- movement = group of people who have the same ideas and feelings
- multi-ethnic = many different groups of people
- nationalist = if you want to be independent from another country
- occupy = to enter a county with an army and take control
- officially = formally
- Ottoman Empire = large empire with its centre in Turkey ; it included large areas of Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa and it lasted from the 13th century until World War I
- peninsula = piece of land with water on most sides, but it is connected to a large area of land
- plains = large area of flat, dry land
- powder keg = area in which it is always possible that a war or conflict can break out
- power base = where the centre of power is
- provide = give, offer
- raise animals = feed animals so that they can later be used as food
- raw materials = important things that we find in nature and need to live , for example wood, water, coal etc..
- refuse =to say no; not allow
- Roma = people who originally come from India but live in groups in Europe and North America ; also known as gypsies
- rule = to govern a country
- separate = split
- settlement = small town or village
- several = a few, some
- somewhat = a bit, a little
- stretch = reach from one place to another
- throughout= all over, during all of
- troubled = here: hit, upset
- united = bring groups of people together
- waterway = river