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:. . The Balkans

Today, the Balkans include these independent countries: Greece, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, rump Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), and Bosnia Herzegovina (referred to as Bosnia throughout this text) These countries are based mostly on the presence of one main national group, or people, and it is this people that gives the country its name. For instance, in Romania, the Romanians are the largest segment of the population; in Serbia, the Serbs are most numerous; and in Albania, the majority of the population is Albanian. All the countries, however, contain smaller minority groups as well. One can say that the idea of the "nation-state" has made considerable strides in the Balkans, but it does not yet predominate.

From the late Middle Ages up to the 1800's, most Balkan peoples lived as minorities, usually conquered, in multinational empires run by the Turks and Austrians. As these empires declined, the Balkan nationalities reemerged and began building their own countries.

After World War I, though, the basic territorial pattern of the Balkans was set. Romania, Greece, Bulgaria, and Albania were independent countries and, with some exceptions, occupied their current borders. Today's countries of Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia were then part of Yugoslavia--a new country formed in 1918. From its inception to 1991, Yugoslavia included most of the territory of today's Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Slovenia. Yugoslavia broke up in the years after 1991. Slovenia is not considered a Balkan country, either by its history or its geography.

From late 1944 to the late 1980's, the Soviet Union dominated many of the Balkan states. Yugoslavia and Albania were communist, like the Soviet Union, but were "maverick" states that were not part of the USSR's system of military and economic satellites. With the inauguration of Mikhail Gorbachev's massive reform program of perestroika in the Soviet Union, Balkan countries achieved full independence again, and the communists fell from power throughout Eastern Europe.

But this new period of freedom has been fraught with problems. Democratic institutions have grown slowly in the Balkans, and economic woes combined with legal and cultural issues involving assimilation or autonomy for minority groups have troubled the political waters there.

 





 


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