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"Balkan" and "Balkan Peninsula" redirect here. For other uses, see Balkan (disambiguation).
"Balkan states" redirects here. Not to be confused with Baltic states.

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The Balkan Peninsula, popularly referred to as the Balkans, is a geographical region of Southeast Europe.[1] The region takes its name from the Balkan Mountains that stretch from the east of Serbia to the Black Sea at the east of Bulgaria. The Balkans are generally considered to include, in whole or in part, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo,[a] the Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, and the European part of Turkey.[2]

The region is inhabited by Albanians, Bulgarians, Bosniaks, Croats, Gorani, Greeks, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Serbs, Slovenes, Romanians, Aromanians, Turks, and other ethnic groups which present minorities in certain countries like the Romani and Ashkali.[2] The largest religion on the Balkans is Orthodox Christianity, followed by Catholic Christianity and Islam.[3]

The total area of the Balkans is 666,700 square km (257,400 square miles) and the population is 59,297,000 (est. 2002).[2] The Balkans meets the Adriatic Sea on the northwest, Ionian Sea on the southwest, the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea on the south and southeast, and the Black Sea on the east and northeast. The highest point of the Balkans is mount Musala Script error: No such module "convert". on the Rila mountain range in Bulgaria.

The Balkans have been inhabited since the Paleolithic and are the route by which farming from the Middle East spread to Europe during the Neolithic (7th millennium BC).[4][5] The Balkans are also the location of Europe's first advanced civilizations, beginning with the Bronze Age in Greece around 3200 BC.[6]


Classical Antiquity

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 being of possibly Thracian etymology.[7] Other possible etymology for "Haemus" (Αἵμος) comes from the Greek mythology. 'Haemus', still being used in Modern Greek, derives from the Greek word "haema" (αἵμα) meaning 'blood'. The myth goes about the fight of Zeus and the monster/titan Typhon. Zeus injured Typhon with a thunder bolt and Typhon's blood fell on the mountains from which they got their name.[8]

Early Middle Ages

The name Balkan is believed to be brought to the region in the 7th century by the Bulgars who applied it to the area, as a part of their First Bulgarian Empire.[9] In Bulgarian language the word balkan (балкан) means "mountain".[10] At this time the name Balkan may have derived to Bulgarian from the Persian bālkāneh or bālākhāna, meaning "high, above, or proud house."[11] The name is still preserved in Central Asia with the Balkan Daglary (Balkan Mountains)[12] and the Balkan Province of Turkmenistan.

Middle Ages

During the Ottoman rule of the area the name Balkan was used, as in Turkish it means "a chain of wooded mountains" (balkan).[13][14] It was also used in the general meaning of mountain, as in Kod̲j̲a-Balkan, Čatal-Balkan, and Ungurus-Balkani̊, but especially it was applied to the Haemus mountain.[15] In this period the name Balkan was first documented.[9]


On a larger scale, the mountains are only one part of a long continuous chain 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 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 islands.

In the languages of the region, the peninsula is known as:

  • Slavic languages:
    • Bulgarian: Балкански полуостров, transliterated: Balkanski poluostrov
    • Macedonian: Балкански Полуостров, transliterated: Balkanski Poluostrov
    • Serbo-Croatian: Балканско полуострво/Balkansko poluostrvo (Serbian and Bosnian), Balkanski poluotok (Croatian), Balkansko Poluostrvo/Балканско полуострво (Montenegrin)
    • Slovene: Balkanski polotok
  • Latin languages:
  • Albanian: Gadishulli Ballkanik and Siujdhesa e Ballkanit
  • Greek: Βαλκανική χερσόνησος, transliterated: Valkaniki hersonisos
  • Turkish: Balkan Yarımadası (or alternatively: Balkanlar)

Evolution of meaning

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.[16] 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.[17] 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."[18]

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).

Southeast Europe

Main article: Southeast Europe

In part due to the historical and political connotations of the term "Balkans",[19] especially since the military conflicts of the 1990s, the term "Southeast Europe" is becoming increasingly popular even though it literally refers to a much larger area and thus isn't as precise.[20] 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.

Definitions and boundaries

The Balkan Peninsula

File:Balkan Peninsula.svg
The Balkan Peninsula, as defined by the Danube-Sava-Kupa line
File:Cedid Atlas (Greece and the Balkans) 1803.jpg
1803 Cedid Atlas, showing the Balkans from the perspective of the Ottoman Empire

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.[21][22] The Balkan Peninsula has a combined area of about Script error: No such module "convert". (slightly smaller than Spain).

Countries whose territories lie mostly within the Balkan peninsula:

Countries that lie partially within the Balkan peninsula:

As of 1920 until World War II Italy included Istria and some Dalmatian areas (like Zara, known as Zadar) that are 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.[23]

The Balkans

The abstracted term "The Balkans" covers those countries which lie within the boundaries of the Balkan Peninsula.[21] Before 1991, the whole of Yugoslavia was considered to be part of the Balkans.[24] The term "The Balkans" is sometimes used to describe only the areas in the Balkan peninsula: Moesia, Macedonia, Thrace, Kosovo, Šumadija, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Thessaly, Epirus, Peloponnese and others, but often it includes Croatia, Serbia and Romania,[21] namely the provinces of Vojvodina, 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.

Broadly interpreted, the term Balkans comprise the following territories:[25]

Western Balkans

Some institutions[citation needed] and member states of the European Union have defined the "Western Balkans" as the south-east European area that includes countries that are not members of the European Union, while others refer to the geographical aspects. The Western Balkans is a neologism coined to describe the countries of "ex-Yugoslavia (minus Slovenia) and Albania".[26] Countries of the western Balkans are Croatia (now an EU member), Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania — or Albania plus the former Yugoslavia, minus Slovenia.[27][28][29][30][31][32][33][34] Each of these countries aims to join the EU and reach democracy and transmission scores but, until then, they will be strongly connected with the pre-EU waiting program CEFTA.[35]

Nature and natural resources

File:Todorini kukli north.jpg
Panorama of Stara Planina. Its highest peak is Botev at a height of 2,376 m.
File:Marichin cirkus IMG 1452.jpg
View toward Rila, the highest mountain in the Balkans which reaches 2925 m

Most of the area is covered by mountain ranges running from north-west to south-east. The main ranges are the Balkan mountains, running from the Black Sea Coast in Bulgaria to its border with Serbia, the Rhodope mountains in southern Bulgaria and northern Greece, the Dinaric Alps in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Montenegro, the Šar massif which spreads from Albania to Macedonia, and the Pindus range, spanning from southern Albania into central Greece and the Albanian Alps. 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, northern Croatia, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Macedonia, northern Montenegro, the interior of Albania, Romania and Serbia, 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, coast of Croatia, Greece, southern Montenegro 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.[36] 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 and Albania. 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:

  • Territories in the time zone of UTC+01:00: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia
  • Territories in the time zone of UTC+02:00: Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Turkey

History and geopolitical significance


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 cultures. It has been a juncture between the Latin and Greek bodies of the Roman Empire,[citation needed] the destination of a massive influx of pagan Bulgars and Slavs, an area where Orthodox and Catholic Christianity met,[37] 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. The Achaemenid Persian Empire incorporated parts of the Balkans comprising Macedonia, Thrace, Bulgaria, and the Black Sea coastal region of Romania between the late 6th and the first half of the 5th century BC into its territories.[38] 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).[39] The Bulgars and 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, forming the Bulgarian Empire.[40] During the Middle Ages, the Balkans became the stage for a series of wars between the Byzantine Roman and the Bulgarian Empires.

Early modern period

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.[citation needed] As examples, 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[41] and Goce Delčev;[41] and for Bulgarians, Vasil Levski, Georgi Sava Rakovski and Hristo Botev.

File:Balkans Animation 1800-2008.gif
Modern political history of the Balkans from 1800 onwards.
Hagia Sophia, an Eastern Orthodox cathedral built in the 6th century in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, Turkey), later an imperial mosque, and now a museum.

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."[42]

Most of the Balkan nation-states emerged during the 19th and early 20th centuries as they gained independence from the Ottoman Empire or the Austro-Hungarian empire (Greece in 1821, Serbia, Montenegro and Romania in 1878, Bulgaria in 1908, Albania in 1912).

20th century

Tsarevets, a medieval stronghold in the former capital of the Bulgarian EmpireVeliko Tarnovo.
File:Ohrid Lake.jpg
The 13th-century church of St. John at Kaneo and the Ohrid Lake in Macedonia. The lake and town were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980.

World wars

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. Bulgaria insisted on its status quo territorial integrity, divided and shared by the Great Powers next to the Russo-Turkish War (1877–78) in other boundaries and on the pre-war Bulgarian-Serbian agreement. Provoked by the backstage deals between its former allies Serbia and Greece on allocation the spoils at the end of the First Balkan War, while it fights at the main Thracian Front, Bulgaria marks the beginning of Second Balkan War when attacked them. The Serbs and the Greeks repulse single attacks, but when the Greek army invaded Bulgaria together with an unprovoked Romanian intervention in the back, regardless of the single won battles, Bulgaria collapsed. The Ottoman Empire also 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.[43]

With the start of the Second World War all Balkan countries, with the exception of Greece, were allies of Nazi 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.[44] Days before the German invasion a successful coup d'état in Belgrade by neutral military personnel seized power.[45]

Although the new government reaffirmed Serbia's intentions to fulfill its obligations as member of the Axis,[46] Germany, using its other two allied countries in the region, Bulgaria and Hungary, invaded both Greece and Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia immediately disintegrated when those loyal to the Serbian King and the Croatian units mutinied.[47] 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 the Independent State of Croatia, a puppet state of Italy and Germany.

During the occupation the population suffered considerable hardship due to repression and starvation, to which the population reacted by creating a mass resistance movement.[48] 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,[49] which had major consequences during the course of the war.[50]

Finally, at the end of 1944, the Soviets entered Romania and Bulgaria forcing the Germans out of 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.

Cold War

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.

File:Shkodra old bridge.jpg
The Mes Bridge near Shkodër, Albania, built by the Ottomans in the 18th century

As the only non-communist countries, Greece and Turkey were (and still are) part of NATO composing the southeastern wing of the alliance.

Post–Cold War

In the 1990s, the transition of the regions' ex-Soviet bloc countries towards democratic free-market societies went peacefully with the exception of Yugoslavia. Wars between the former Yugoslav republics broke out after Slovenia and Croatia held free elections and their people voted for independence on their respective countries' referenda. 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 25 June 1991, followed by the Ten-Day War in Slovenia. Till October 1991, the Army withdrew from Slovenia, and in Croatia, the Croatian War of Independence 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, but these are traditionally included in Balkans: Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. In 2008, while under UN administration, Kosovo declared independence (according to the official Serbian policy, Kosovo is still an internal autonomous region). In July 2010, the International Court of Justice, ruled that the declaration of independence was legal.[51] Most UN member states recognise Kosovo. 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) 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.[citation needed]

Greece has been a member of the European Union since 1981 while Bulgaria and Romania are members since 2007. In 2005, the European Union decided to start accession negotiations with candidate countries; Turkey, and Macedonia were accepted as candidates for European Union membership. In March 2004, Bulgaria and Romania have become members of NATO. As of April 2009,[52] Albania is a member 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[citation needed].

All other countries have expressed a desire to join the EU at some point in the future.

Politics and economy

File:Santorini , 2005.jpg
View from Santorini in Greece. Tourism is an important part of the Greek economy.
Drvengrad (also known as Mećavnik or Küstendorf), an ethno village in Serbia and home to the annual Kusturica film festival

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.), however, Greece has high income economies (over $12,000 p.c.), and is 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 was expected to grow in 2013. The Gross domestic product (Purchasing power parity) per capita is highest in Greece (over $25), followed by Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia ($10 – $15), Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo (below $10).[53] 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 and Serbia, 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 (below 10%), followed by Bulgaria, Turkey, Albania (10 – 15%), Greece (15 – 20%), Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia (20 – 30%), Macedonia (over 30%) and Kosovo (over 40%).

Regional organizations

File:SP for SEE members.png
Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe
  supporting partners
File:BSEC members.png
Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC)

See also the Black Sea Regional organizations


Map showing religious denominations
File:Distribution of Races on the Balkans in 1922 Hammond.png
Distribution of races in the Balkan Peninsula and Asia Minor in 1922, Racial Map of Europe by Hammond & Co.
Ethnic composition of the southern part of the region in 1898 by the French geographer Paul Vidal de la Blache
Ethnic composition of the northern part of the region in 1880 by the English-German cartograge E.G. Ravenstein
File:Distribution Of Races 1918 National Geographic.jpg
Distribution of races in the southern Balkan Peninsula and Asia Minor in 1918 (National Geographic)

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
23x15px Albania 2,831,741[54] 2,831,741[54] 98.5/km2 77.4 years
23x15px Bosnia and Herzegovina 3,839,737[55] 3,839,737[55] 75.0/km2 74.9 years
23x15px Bulgaria 7,364,570[56] 7,814,570[56] Ref. 66.4/km2 74.5 years
23x15px Greece 11,123,034[57] 11,123,034[57] 81.7/km2 82 years
23x15px Kosovo 1,733,872[58] 1,733,872[58] 178.7/km2
23x15px Macedonia 2,057,284[59] 2,057,284[59] 80.0/km2 74.2 years
23x15px Montenegro 625,266[60] 625,266[60] 45.3/km2
23x15px Romania 19,042,936[61] 832,141[61] 90.2/km2 72.5 years
23x15px Serbia 7,209,764[62] 7,209,764[62]2 93.06/km2 74.2 years
23x15px Turkey 76,667,864[63] 10,620,739[64] 447.0/km3 75 years[65]
Balkans ** 132,473,148 40,850,676

[*] 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, Catholic) and Islam (Sunni).[3] 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 Romania where the Jewish communities were Ashkenazi Jews. 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.[66] 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.[67] The Jewish communities in the Balkans suffered immensely during World War II, and the vast majority were killed during the Holocaust. An exception were the Bulgarian Jews, most of whom were saved by Boris III of Bulgaria, who resisted Adolf Hitler, opposing their deportation to Nazi 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.


Further information: Balkan sprachbund

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).

  • Territories where the predominant language is from the Albanian language family:
    • Albania and Kosovo
  • Territories where the predominant language is from the Hellenic language family:
    • Greece
  • Territories where the predominant language is from the Latin language family:
    • Romania
  • Territories where the predominant language is from the Slavic language family:
    • Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.
  • Territories where the predominant language is from the Turkic language family:
    • Turkey
  • Territories in which there are minority language families encompassing over 10% of the population:
    • Macedonia: Albanian language family


Most of the states in the Balkans are predominantly urbanized; the countries in which the rural population is the majority are Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo each being about 50% rural and 50% urban.[68]

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File:NoviBG Nov30 2005.jpg
View of Belgrade and the Sava river which defines the border of the Balkan peninsula
View of Thessaloniki's port and part of city's center.
View of Sofia from the parliamentary square
File:Tirana with Dajti 2009.jpg
Central Tirana with Mount Dajt in the distance

A list of cities with population of over 150,000 inhabitants:

Rank City Country Urban pop. Metro pop. Census
1 Belgrade 23x15px Serbia 1,344,844 1,659,440 2011[69]
2 Sofia 23x15px Bulgaria 1,204,685 1,359,520 2011[70]
3 Thessaloniki 23x15px Greece 788,952 1,104,460 2011[71]
4 Zagreb 23x15px Croatia 686,568 1,107,115 2011[72]
5 Athens 23x15px Greece 664,046 3,737,550 2011[71]
6 Skopje 23x15px Macedonia 506,926 668,518 2002[73]
7 Tirana 23x15px Albania 418,495 749,365 2011[74]
8 Sarajevo 23x15px Bosnia and Herzegovina 369,534 438,443 2013 (preliminary)[75]
9 Plovdiv 23x15px Bulgaria 339,077 403,153 2011[70]
10 Varna 23x15px Bulgaria 334,870 343,544 2011[70]
11 Ljubljana 23x15px Slovenia 282,994 N/A 2013[76]
12 Novi Sad 23x15px Serbia 277,522 341,625 2011[69]
13 Burgas 23x15px Bulgaria 200,271 223,902 2011[70]
14 Niš 23x15px Serbia 183,544 260,237 2011[69]
15 Pristina 23x15px Kosovoa 198,000 205,133 2011[77]
16 Split 23x15px Croatia 167,121 178,102 2011[citation needed]
17 Prizren 23x15px Kosovoa 178,000 181,756 2011[77]
18 Patras 23x15px Greece 171,484 260,308 2011[71]
19 Podgorica 23x15px Montenegro 156,196 189,937 2011[78]
20 Banja Luka 23x15px Bosnia and Herzegovina 150,997 199,191 2013 (preliminary)[79]
21 Kragujevac 23x15px Serbia 150,835 179,417 2011[69]
Cities located within the Balkan peninsula, whose countries are not regarded as part of the Balkans
Istanbul* 23x15px Turkey 12,919,000 14,160,467 2013[80]
Constanța 23x15px Romania 254,693 N/A 2011[81]
Çorlu 23x15px Turkey 215,293 N/A 2010[82][better source needed]
Trieste 23x15px Italy 205,374 N/A 2009[83]
[*] İstanbul is partly located in the Balkans, and partly in Asia.


See also


a.   ^ Kosovo is the subject of a territorial dispute between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia. The Republic of Kosovo declared independence on 17 February 2008, but Serbia continues to claim it as part of its own sovereign territory. Kosovo's independence has been recognised by 108 out of 193 United Nations member states.


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External links

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