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:. . The Balkans

The term Balkans is a geographical designation for the southeastern peninsula of the European continent. Europe has many regions, of course, and has two other southern peninsulas--the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal) and the Italian peninsula. But no other region of Europe contains as many different peoples (in the technical sense, "nations") as the Balkans.

To understand who the peoples of the Balkans are, one must first know which countries make up the Balkans. The countries that make up the Balkans today include Greece, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, rump Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), and Bosnia Herzegovina (referred to as Bosnia throughout this text). Geographically, "European Turkey," a small region around Istanbul, is located in the Balkans. Some scholars also consider Croatia to be part of the Balkans.

Balkan peoples are nations that live in the countries listed above. Most, but not all, share certain historical characteristics such as several centuries of association with the ruling Turks in the Ottoman Empire. A list of Balkan peoples today would include Greeks, Albanians, Macedonians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Serbs, Montenegrins, and Bosnian Muslims. Other smaller groups of people are also found in the Balkans such as the Vlachs and the Roma (Gypsies), neither of whom have a national state anywhere. Other population groups who inhabit the Balkans are members of nations which have countries elsewhere. For instance, Romania has a large minority of Hungarians, but there is also the country of Hungary right next to Romania. There is a Turkish minority in both Macedonia and Bulgaria, but the country of Turkey is close by.

Sometimes scholars define the Balkans as the region that was conquered and ruled by the Ottoman Turks for varying periods of time after 1300. The Turks brought the Muslim faith, which is maintained today by Turks in the region and which was adopted by some Europeans as well.

Aside from using the regional definition of the Balkans, one can simply and effectively classify European peoples by their languages. Most Europeans (and North and South Americans, also) speak related languages that are members of the Indo-European language family. Some of this family's main branches, such as the Germanic branch, are not currently represented in great numbers in the Balkans, as are the Romance, Albanian, Greek, and especially the Slavic branches. The Romanians speak a Romance language related to Italian, Spanish, and French. Greek and Albanian each comprise branches of the Indo-European family. The Slavic peoples  in the Balkans--the Serbs, Croats, Bulgarians, and Macedonians--speak languages related to Russian and Polish.

There are also several non-Indo-European languages in the Balkans such as Turkish, Romany (the language of the Roma, sometimes called Gypsies), and Hungarian, which is spoken by the Hungarian minorities in Romania and Serbia, as well as in Hungary.

Some people use the word Balkan in a derogatory way to imply that people who live in the Balkans are economically backward, spiteful, ill-disciplined, and untrustworthy. It is more appropriate and productive to use the term Balkan simply as a geographical, linguistic, or historical designation.



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